When the infinite light of G-d withdraws, it leaves a vacuum and allows for the possibility of evil. --Lurianic Kabbalah
This Hanukkah, after terror struck Paris, city authorities didn't think it safe to conduct the annual public menorah lighting. So Chabad representatives worked with them to make it safe, denying evil its profit. Five thousand people came out of the darkness to an illuminated Champs-Élysées and reveled in hope and peace, as they did in thousands of cities around the world where public menorahs were lit.
In all of these places, in Europe, Asia (and even in the U.S.) where Jews feel themselves vulnerable targets, Chabad worked relentlessly to honor Chanukah and celebrate the holiday with all the particulars of our religious and cultural traditions. True, the easier and perhaps more sober path would have called for them to lay low just this once when nerves were so frazzled.
But giving up a chance to rejoice in our Jewish identity and share the light and lessons of Hanukkah would be a loss to Jews and their communities. As I watched the menorah lighting at the foot of the Eiffel Tower via live-stream, the Rebbe's powerfully enduring ideas that continue to mobilize men and women to go where few others will and disrupt the status quo, struck a lively note that took me back to my childhood.
We grew up with the Rebbe at the center of our lives, nurtured by him to take responsibility for the world we inhabit. We learned to imagine ourselves on the fast track to an exciting goal that demanded commitment and focus: each one of us, say the mystics, was put here with an individual purpose, a role to play in an unfolding drama. So no opportunity was to be missed, no time to be wasted.
I remember curiously observing my non-Chabad peers who seemed oblivious to the existential urgency we little people carried on our small shoulders. I wondered at their nonchalance toward missed chances to release sparks of holiness trapped in the coarse matter of our surroundings. To elevate the physical facts of life. To illuminate some dark cranny. To do that one more mitzvah that would become the tipping point.
Our imaginations were fired. We were empowered with a noble chutzpah and confidence in our agency -- young and inexperienced though we were. I remember that frisson of excitement we felt at every encounter with the Rebbe. He reached out to us, cultivating enterprising lamplighters who would bring repair and healing to a fractured, suffering world.
I think of this now that evil has cast its shadow. Dark forces seem to have gained the upper hand, and leaders of the free world have lost their way. In the words of Yeats, "the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity," and the urge to take our horror and protests out to the streets is irrepressible. Like the hero in Network, the 1976 satire, we want to see a nation holler in protest. But that would hardly be enough.
Well before the hi-tech possibilities that now make apparent what once required imagination, the Rebbe encouraged us to agitate for radical change as if we alone could make it happen. He believed in our ability to reshape attitudes and rethink useless assumptions. He taught us that just as the Hanukkah menorah is kindled in a way that adds more light to each day, we need to pile on the goodness. And he gave us the mitzvah campaigns, the tools by which we could achieve this.
When the Rebbe launched them, his campaigns raised the ire of some for being too brash. Chabad's drive to promote Jewish identity with mitzvahs and light at a time when all seemed well enough, was sometimes perceived as annoying. After all, Jews were no longer persecuted. Israel was the darling of the nations, anti-Semitism a thing of the past. Why the urgency?
The Rebbe spoke presciently of "raging fires" that call for urgent action proportional to the threat. Most of us did not see those fires raging, but today we know that the evil that has suddenly turned our world into a frightening place was long festering. We understand that the Rebbe was working proactively to thwart the danger.
He taught us to employ all of our resources and engage as many people as possible in our efforts to redeem this world of its darkness. Today, our youthful conviction that there really is no opportunity to be lost, no time to be wasted, rings with fresh urgency. For if we've learned anything in the past year, it is that this fight for the good is our fight for life.
As editor of Lubavitch International I see that readers have a real craving for good news, and are grateful to know that in a world thrown into disequilibrium by the menacing forces of darkness that never break for holiday and never call a truce, the Rebbe's lamplighters are working heroically, tirelessly, to bring on the light.