Reb Shlomo Feigin was one of several students of the Vilna Gaon hand-picked by the Gaon to study secular wisdom with the intent of developing a synthesis between the knowledge of the Torah and worldly science. For this purpose, the Gaon sent him and nine other disciples to Germany to study in the academies there.

The Gaon’s experiment failed. With few exceptions, Reb Shlomo and his colleagues all returned to Lithuania with severe doubts concerning their faith.

Reb Shlomo began to seek other sources of inspiration. Despite the Gaon’s ban against the chassidim, he visited the Alter Rebbe. The Rebbe told him: “Your commercial ventures often take you to Leipzig. On your way, pay a visit to R. Shlomo of Karlin.”

Reb Shlomo accepted the Alter Rebbe’s suggestion, and on his next journey made a short detour to visit R. Shlomo of Karlin. While waiting for yechidus, he could hear the Rebbe pacing furiously back and forth in his room. Suddenly, R. Shlomo emerged and came face to face with his visitor. With an intent look, he told him: “Young man, young man, what if there really is a G‑d in this world?!”

Without waiting for a reply, R. Shlomo returned to his room and again began pacing back and forth intently. Shortly afterwards, he appeared again and conveyed the same message to his visitor. After the Rebbe returned and then emerged to repeat his message a third time, Reb Shlomo Feigin understood that this was the lesson he was intended to receive in Karlin, and proceeded on his way.

Several months later, the young man made a decision. He forsook the Jewish faith and began to work for the Russian government. His intelligence and ambition stood him in good stead, and he began to rise in the ranks of the Czarist regime.

Years passed. The Alter Rebbe died and was buried in the city of Haditch. Not long thereafter, the Russian government conceived of building a new railroad line. According to the original blueprints, the line would pass directly through the Jewish cemetery of Haditch.

Fearful of the dishonor that might be done to the Alter Rebbe’s grave, the chassidim met to plan how to prevent this from happening.

Preliminary investigation revealed that the minister under whose charge the project had been placed was none other than Reb Shlomo Feigin. Hopeful that Reb Shlomo’s Jewish roots would motivate him favorably, the chassidim sent the elder chassid, Reb Moshe Vilenker, who had known Reb Shlomo when he was a youth, to try to prevail upon him to change the plans.

Reb Shlomo received Reb Moshe warmly and after hearing his request agreed immediately. He promised to move the proposed railroad line a few kilometers to the south so that it would not pass through Haditch at all. “I have one request of you, however,” Reb Shlomo asked Reb Moshe. “Before you depart, I want you to sit and farbreng with me as chassidim do.”

Reb Moshe agreed. An attendant was sent to get mashkeh and herring, and soon the table was set for a chassidic farbrengen. They sang, they shared memories, and Reb Shlomo opened his heart. “You see all the power, prestige, and wealth I have,” he told Reb Moshe. “I live a life of happiness and pleasure in every conceivable sense. There is, however, one thing that bothers me. From time to time, I see the face of R. Shlomo of Karlin staring me in the eye and cautioning me: ‘Young man, young man, what if there really is a G‑d in this world?!’ ”

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When the mashpia, Reb Mendel Futerfas, would tell this story, he would pose this query: “Why did the Alter Rebbe have to send the young man to R. Shlomo of Karlin? Couldn’t he have asked him that very same question himself?”

Reb Mendel would then explain that the Chabad thought system centers on absolute truth. Doubt, even when doubt serves the purpose of holiness, is a foreign characteristic. It has no place in the Chabad lexicon. To cast doubt in the young man’s mind, the Alter Rebbe had to send him to another address.

Reb Mendel’s explanation is also true with regard to the inner dynamics of Lubavitch life. Absolute certainty and single-minded purpose characterize the way a Lubavitcher understands and lives his ideals and principles, and the way he relates to others.

A Lubavitcher’s typical approach to any subject involves two elements:

a) the absolute certainty that comes from internalized knowledge and indeed, certainty that has deeper roots than conscious knowledge, and

b) an open-minded perspective that is not afraid to question itself, and therefore is not upset when others ask questions.

The two are dependent on each other. Because a person knows with surety and certainty, he is not afraid to ask questions and inquire. He is not worried that he will be confounded, for he is secure in his knowledge of the truth. That security gives him the inner strength that enables him to question, and then find answers to those questions.

Why have Lubavitchers been so successful in reaching out to others and infusing them with a commitment to the Torah and its mitzvos? Because a Lubavitcher’s commitment to the Torah and its mitzvos is part of his inner being, who he really is. He is not “convinced of the value of the Torah and its mitzvos.” Convincing means that there is room for doubt, and for a Lubavitcher, this is not relevant; he cannot think of the possibility of living life without the Torah.

For this reason, he does not feel challenged or defensive when questions are asked. If a person were to ask you questions about why you eat, drink, or breathe, you wouldn’t feel challenged. You know that these are essential to your life.

This absolute knowledge leads to inner calm and peace of mind, which in turn raise the level of communication with others, allowing one to patiently hear another person’s point of view. For when you do not feel pressured yourself, you can bend toward the other person and understand him. And when you understand him, he will understand you. For there is nothing more powerful than a calm conviction that radiates knowledge but does not impose itself on one’s listeners. And in such an interchange, when the questioner accepts the message that has been shared with him, he hasn’t been “convinced;” he has come to this understanding himself.

From the beginning of the Rebbe’s nesius — and even before — the absolute certainty of several fundamental axioms has been shared by everyone who identifies as a Lubavitcher. These are not points of faith; beliefs embraced without intellectual consideration. Instead, they are truths that are self-evident, known to a Lubavitcher with the same certainty as the daily rising and setting of the sun. Among them:

a) Mashiach’s coming is not a far-off future dream, but something that we can look forward to in our lifetimes — and not at the end of our lifetimes. The Previous Rebbe declared: L’alter LeTeshuvah, L’alter LiGeulah,” “Immediately to teshuvah; immediately to Redemption.” As mentioned above, in the first maamar he delivered, the Rebbe established the coming of Mashiach as the goal of the Divine service of our generation. And one of the adages he would frequently repeat was “Ut ut komt Mashiach,” which roughly translates as “Soon, at any moment, Mashiach will arrive.”

People at large often ask: “Do you really believe that Mashiach will come?” For a Lubavitcher, the question is the opposite: “Why hasn’t Mashiach come already?”

b) The Rebbe, the leader of the generation, is a collective soul. The very name Rebbe (רבי) serves as an acronym for the Hebrew words ראש בני ישראל, “the head of the Jewish people.” As explained in Tanya, ch. 2, and in other sources, the head includes all the limbs of the body and serves as the medium to convey life-energy to all those limbs. Similarly, the Rebbe has a connection to every person in the generation and he is the channel of Divine influence and blessing for the entire generation.

c) Mashiach will be the ultimate collective soul. Since he will infuse the Jewish people — and the world at large — with a new connection to G‑d, he must relate to everyone, sharing a point in his soul that bonds him with all mankind individually. This will be evident even in the preliminary aspects of his efforts, for he will “compel all of Israel to walk in the [way of the Torah] and repair the breaches [in its observance].”1 In other words, he will not be a solitary scholar or even the leader of an exclusive group. Instead, he will be the head of the Jewish people as a whole.

d) There is a potential Mashiach in every generation, waiting — or more specifically, working — for the time when the setting is appropriate for him to be revealed. We are “waiting each day for him to come,”2 i.e., each day, we anticipate the revelation of Mashiach. It follows that at all times, there must be a person actively engaged in the preliminary stages of preparing for the Redemption. When G‑d deems it fitting, he will “fight the wars of G‑d..., rebuild the Beis HaMikdash..., and gather in the dispersed of Israel.”3 With these achievements, he will be openly revealed as Mashiach.

These pointsare not mere theories or wishes. They are fundamental axioms upon which Lubavitcher chassidim build their lives.

Once, there was a Lubavitch yeshivah student waiting for a bus in Eretz Yisrael. This was more than forty years ago, a time when punctuality was not one of the virtues of the Israeli bus system. Together with the yeshivah student was an elderly Jew who had an appointment to make. Anxiously, he paced back and forth in front of the bus stop. “This bus is just like Mashiach,” he muttered. “You don’t know if it — or he — will ever come.”

The yeshivah student politely chided his companion. “The bus,” he said, “may not come. For after all, we are expecting it only because of mortal promises. Mashiach’s coming is a prophecy in the Torah. It will certainly be fulfilled.”

The Rambam4 explains that faith in Mashiach is not just one individual matter. It is not merely a particular prophecy that must be fulfilled, nor is it one of the important elements of our national creed. Instead, faith in Mashiach is an intrinsic element of the faith in the Torah and its mitzvos as a whole. For without Mashiach, the Torah and its mitzvos are not complete.

The Era of the Redemption is an age when the world at large will center on the Torah and its mitzvos. This is the purpose of creation — that the dichotomy between the world and the Torah be bridged, and that every aspect of our lives will revolve around its spiritual truth. And so a person who really believes in the Torah, believes in Mashiach, and anxiously awaits Mashiach’s coming, as the Rambam says in his Thirteen Principles of Faith.

With equal certainty and anticipation, a Lubavitcher holds to the above axioms. And taking the process a step further, he thinks about them in practical terms, makes associations, and starts to imagine what it will be like.

On the other hand, Lubavitchers are not dreamers. They’re busy people with a lot to do, for they realize that Mashiach’s coming is dependent on mankind creating an environment ready to receive him. So for many years, they were busy, working to prepare such an environment. Nevertheless, at special times, when chassidim got together and focused inward, they would talk about what really means most to them. Then they would speak about the Rebbe and Mashiach. As mentioned above, as a farbrengen proceeded into the early hours of the morning and the participants began to center on what were core issues for them, Rebbe and Mashiach were the topics most frequently spoken about.

Yet again, this was for the post-midnight farbrengens. During the day, there was work to do.

And then one evening, everything changed. Mashiach was projected into the forefront of our consciousness. From that time on, it was not merely the underlying thread tying all the different elements of Lubavitch life together, it became the movement’s stated mission.