Once, a recognized Rosh Yeshivah from the Lithuanian Torah community and the Rebbe Rashab worked together on a number of projects for the communal welfare of the Jewish people. In the course of their work together, the esteem with which they held each other grew and they would share insights about many subjects.

Once, the Rosh Yeshivah asked the Rebbe: Why are Chabad chassidim so careful about adhering to the prohibition against removing one’s facial hairs by any means, and not as particular when it comes to speaking lashon hara (gossip)? After all, there are some legitimate halachic views which maintain that, as long as one does not shave with a razor, removing one’s facial hair is permitted. Others maintain that there is a prohibition, but that it is merely Rabbinic in origin. With regard to gossip, by contrast, all authorities agree that the prohibition has its source in the Torah and that it is very severe.

The Rebbe answered: When a person speaks lashon hara, he does so in the heat of the moment. He begins talking with a colleague and his yetzer hara (evil inclination) gets the best of him. This is undesirable, but it is also understandable. Within the setting of our daily lives, we often lose control and fall prey to temptation.

When a person removes his facial hair, he is not falling prey to a momentary weakness. On the contrary, he is making a calculated decision. Moreover, that decision changes the public image he projects. By removing his facial hair, he states to himself and others that he is willing to compromise his values.

The Rosh Yeshivah had asked the Rebbe a legitimate question. The Rebbe had replied by raising the level of focus. When one is speaking about differences in levels of religious observance, the question is valid. But when a person comes face to face with the nature of his relationship with G‑d, the answer becomes clear. The Rebbe took the focus of the question beyond its limited halachic context and directed the Rosh Yeshiva’s attention to something greater and more general in nature.

The broadmindedness and willingness to make this type of change of focus is the key to personal greatness. Which type of people do we identify as great? People who stand for values that extend beyond the scope of their personal existence, whose lives reflect a purpose and an idealism of universal import. When a person has a vision that empowers him to rise above his selfish concerns and achieve results that are of indisputable worth, he commands our respect.

All cultures proudly tell stories about people sacrificing their lives for an ideal or for their country.1 What motivates these people to make such a sacrifice? They see in this ideal something greater than themselves which they identify with, and they are willing to give up their personal existence for the sake of this greater goal.

But real personal greatness does not necessarily require giving up one’s life. On the contrary, in the most complete sense, it means living life in touch with our ideals and expressing them within the context of our day-to-day realities. People who do this feel an inner purpose guiding their lives; fusing the various fragments of life experience together into a single whole.

There are unique individuals who are capable of living their own lives in this manner. Then there are other more gifted souls who live, not only to integrate their own personalities, but to endow depth, meaning, and purpose to others.

Herbert Weiner, a rabbi and the author of the book 9 1/2 Mystics, tells of a conversation he once had with the Rebbe. “The Lubavitcher chassidim I see,” he told the Rebbe, “all have this ‘G‑d’s in His heaven, all’s well with the world’ look about them. On one hand, it’s enviable. On the other hand, it appears to reflect naiveté, as if they’re ducking the challenges that exist in the world at large.”

“It is not naiveté,” the Rebbe answered. “It’s a lack of dichotomy. People at large often have a split between their values and their selves; the way they would like to lead their lives and how they actually lead them. In Lubavitch, such a dichotomy does not exist. This brings them that peace of mind.”

The single-minded sense of purpose which permeates Lubavitch is unquestionably the Rebbe’s gift. Indeed, the dynamic through which he endows it to us is fundamental to the Rebbe-chassidrelationship. A Rebbe is identified with yechidah, the point within the soul that is entirely one with G‑d and has no conception of any other type of existence. As such, he sees all existence as an expression of Him. And when a person comes in contact with a Rebbe, his own yechidah is inspired. This gives him the potential to erase any trace of a dichotomy and live his life with single-minded purpose.

On a personal level, one of the ways to make sure such a dichotomy does not arise is to establish a mission statement that defines the goals one has for one’s life, and identifies them with the principles the Rebbe stands for. When a person continually refers to this mission statement and tries to internalize it within his thinking process, his conduct will be more likely to reflect the inner values and purposes that he holds dear.

When the Rebbe accepted the nesius on Yud Shvat, 5711, he made such a statement in the first maamar that he delivered:2

We are in the midst of the period called ikvesa diMeshicha (i.e., the time when the approaching footsteps of Mashiach can be heard). Indeed, we are at the conclusion of this period. Our task is to complete the process of drawing down the Divine Presence... so that it should rest within our lowly world.

For the Rebbe, Mashiach’s coming has always been a personal goal. In one of his letters,3 he writes, “From the days when I first began attending cheder, and even before then, I began to picture the Future Redemption in my mind.” What is unique about that Yud Shvat is that on that date, the Rebbe identified bringing the Redemption as the goal of the generation as a whole. He tied his acceptance of the nesius with a purpose: to make Mashiach’s coming an actual reality.

In the talks he delivered on the same occasion,4 the Rebbe explained that though Moshe could have constructed the entire Sanctuary himself, he refrained from doing so in order to enable the entire Jewish people to participate in this endeavor. Similarly, the Rebbe continued, the Rebbeim of past generations did not want the campaign to bring Mashiach to be their private undertaking, but rather an effort shared by the Jewish people as a whole, and by each individual Jew.

Once, after R. Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael, a person began blowing the shofar on the Mount of Olives, and word spread throughout the Jewish community that Mashiach had come. When his followers came to R. Menachem Mendel with the news, he opened the shutters, sniffed the air, and told the chassidim, “The atmosphere has not changed; Mashiach has not come yet.”

When chassidim retell this story, they ask: Why did R. Menachem Mendel have to open the shutters? He could have sniffed the air inside his home as well. They explain that since he was a Rebbe, Mashiach’s presence was always discernible in the air of his own home. The question was outside his home: Could Mashiach’s influence be felt in the world at large?

In a similar way, during the Previous Rebbe’s lifetime, the Rebbe once told chassidim at a farbrengen, “For whom do you think the Rebbe is suffering? For himself, he has Mashiach in his study. He wants you to have Mashiach.”

This goal has been at the heart of the Rebbe’s efforts throughout the decades of his leadership. The first of his shluchim were sent out shortly after the passing of the Previous Rebbe, and from that time onward, Chabad-Lubavitch has grown into a vast international movement with far-flung influence and a veritable kaleidoscope of activities. All of these efforts, directly or indirectly, share a single purpose: to hasten the coming of the Era of the Redemption. This blossoming of activity serves two purposes: a) it reaches out to all Jews, even those in a far corner of the world or far removed from Jewish involvement, and spreads the awareness of the Rebbe’s message; b) it enables every person to take an active role in this effort and to do his part in — to refer to the above analogy of building the Sanctuary — making the world ready to greet Mashiach.

As the Rebbe has frequently mentioned,5 that in contrast to the redemption from Egypt when four-fifths of the Jewish people did not merit freedom and instead died in the plague of darkness, in the Future Redemption, every Jew will be redeemed. Moreover, every Jew will play an active role in bringing about this Redemption; each of us will do his or her part to make the Redemption a reality.

It is possible, as we saw in the Rosh Yeshivah’s question to the Rebbe Rashab, to put the emphasis on the particulars, seeing each endeavor as a discrete and independent undertaking. The direction of Lubavitch, however, has always been to focus on the core of the issue. And as the Rebbe stated, for our generation, the core of the issue is actually bringing Mashiach. This should be the focus of all our efforts.

Our Rabbis teach6 that thought serves as a catalyst that brings about positive effects. When people start thinking about the Redemption as the purpose of their lives — hopefully before they have had time for extended contemplation — Mashiach will arrive.