Perhaps one of the most common associations people have with the name Lubavitch is the Rebbe’s mitzvah campaigns. Be it the chassidim who put on tefillin with the visitors to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the self-sacrificing Rabbinical students who man the mitzvah tanks that operate in the streets of New York and many other cities, the girls who visit women in hospitals and nursing homes and give them the opportunity to light Shabbos candles, or the thousands of shluchim, both those employed in that capacity and those who give up their spare time to accept this mantle upon themselves, who tirelessly work to spread Jewish observance,- at one point or another, almost every Jew in the world has met a Lubavitcher who has invited him to perform a mitzvah.

Why such an emphasis on observance? Why not spread Jewish ideas, and let the actual observance of the mitzvos come totally on the person’s own initiative?

First of all, there is a pragmatic dimension. Our Sages teach:1 One mitzvah draws another after it.” As the many thousands whose Torah observance has increased because of casual exposure to one of the Lubavitch mitzvah campaigns can attest, this maxim is as true today as it was in Talmudic times.

But there is a deeper reason that surpasses even motives of this nature. The word mitzvah relates to the Aramaic term tzavsa, meaning “connection.” Every mitzvah is a bond connecting us to G‑d’s essence. When a Jew performs a mitzvah whoever he is and wherever he is he is uniting himself with G‑d. The bond achieved at that moment reflects the fundamental purpose of creation; there is nothing higher, nothing more perfect.

For the Rebbe, these were not abstract points, but realities that he lived, and encouraged others to live.


Rabbi Shabsi Katz, the Rabbi of Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa, and the Jewish Chaplain for the Department of Prisons in that country, maintained a relationship with the Rebbe for many years.

In Kislev 5737 (Dec. 1978), he came to visit the Rebbe for the third time. At yechidus a few days before Chanukah, the Rebbe asked Rabbi Katz what was being done for Jewish prisoners in South Africa. Rabbi Katz explained that conditions in South African prisons were much harsher than in New York, but that Jewish prisoners were not obligated to work on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur or Passover, and on Passover, they were given food certified kosher for the holiday by Pretoria’s Chevra Kadisha.

The Rebbe asked: “And what about Chanukah? Can the inmates light Chanukah candles?” One must appreciate, the Rebbe said, how important it is for a person sitting alone in a cell to light a Chanukah menorah. One cannot fathom the warmth and hope this brings, and how this will uplift his spirits in such a dark environment.

Rabbi Katz promised that when he returned to South Africa he would begin working on the project, so that next year the inmates could light Chanukah candles. The Rebbe, however, was not satisfied, and inquired: What about this Chanukah?

Rabbi Katz pointed out that Chanukah was only a few days off. Since he was in New York, he doubted it would be possible to do anything. The Rebbe replied that when Rabbi Katz left the yechidus he should use the telephones in the outside office to make any calls that were necessary.

Rabbi Katz then reminded the Rebbe that in South Africa it was four o’clock in the morning; at that hour, he dared not wake the general in charge of correctional facilities.

The Rebbe did not accept Rabbi Katz’ reply, saying that, on the contrary, when the general saw that the matter was so important that he was called from overseas in the middle of the night, he would be impressed, and would appreciate the need for Jewish prisoners to light this year.

As soon as Rabbi Katz left the Rebbe’s office, one of the secretaries led him to the small side office in the front of 770. He showed him the phones and told him to make himself at home.

Rabbi Katz first called his secretary in Pretoria to find the home number of General Sephton, who was a Dominee of the Dutch Reformed Church and Religious Director of Prisons. At the same time, he asked his secretary to call the general and tell him he would soon be receiving a call from overseas. And so, when he called General Sephton a few minutes later, the general was not upset, but instead, inquired how he could help.

Rabbi Katz explained that he had just completed a private meeting with one of the leaders of world Jewry, who had expressed concern about the Jewish inmates in South African prisons. The leader had explained how important it was for the prisoners to light Chanukah menorahs, and how this would bring them warmth, light and hope.

General Sephton was moved. In spite of the fact that his office was due to close that day for their religious celebration, he said that if Rabbi Katz was calling at that time of night from overseas, he could understand how urgent the matter was, and that as soon as he got to his office in the morning he would send a telex to all the prison facilities in South Africa telling them to make it possible for all Jewish prisoners in South Africa to light candles this Chanukah.

Next morning, when the Rebbe came to 770, Rabbi Katz was in the foyer. “Nu ?” motioned the Rebbe. When he heard that the mission had been accomplished, the Rebbe gave a broad smile and told Rabbi Katz that he wanted see him after shacharis.

When Rabbi Katz entered the Rebbe’s room, the Rebbe told him that there are 50 states in the US, and all but one allowed Jewish inmates to light Chanukah candles. “Would you believe it,” said the Rebbe, “It is only here in New York State that prisoners cannot light menorahs for Chanukah!”

The Rebbe asked that Rabbi Katz see to it that the inmates of New York State prisons lit Chanukah candles that year. “Tell them what you did, that they should learn from South Africa, and do the same here,” he advised.

Rabbi Katz did not know where to start; he told the Rebbe that he did not know whom to contact first.

“Rabbi J. J. Hecht has been working hard on this project, and will know whom to turn to,” the Rebbe answered him.

When Rabbi Katz sought out Rabbi Hecht, it was Rabbi Hecht’s turn to be astonished. He pointed out that it was Dec. 24, and already past noon; nobody would be at their desks at that time. Could officials be reached at their office parties?!

But after Rabbi Katz told him about his yechidus with the Rebbe, and his personal call to General Sephton in South Africa, Rabbi Hecht relaxed. Past experience had told him, he said, that if the Rebbe asked somebody to do something right away, things worked out well even if the timing seemed bad.

After a few calls, Rabbi Hecht was able to locate the director of the New York State Correctional System, and found him in a jovial mood. Rabbi Hecht then introduced Rabbi Katz, who informed the director that Jewish prisoners in South Africa would be lighting Chanukah candles that year, and suggested that if this could happen in South Africa, surely it should happen in New York. The director agreed, remarking that if in South Africa, where Jews are such a minority, the prisons gave them permission to light, there was no reason why it shouldn’t happen in New York. He promised to attend to the matter in time for Chanukah.

Rabbi Katz looked at his watch. It was several minutes before three, and the Rebbe would come out for the minchah prayers at 3:15. He hurried back to 770 and positioned himself outside the Rebbe’s room. When the Rebbe came out for the afternoon prayers, he saw Rabbi Katz and motioned “Nu ?” Rabbi Katz indicated that the mission had been accomplished. “I want to see you after minchah !” the Rebbe smiled.

Rabbi Katz was surprised. What mission would be waiting for him after minchah ? When he entered the Rebbe’s room, however, the Rebbe did not have another project for him. Instead, the Rebbe said that as he had done him a personal favor, he would like to do something in return.

Rabbi Katz was bewildered. He told the Rebbe that it had been a privilege and an honor to do what he had done. He had received so much in blessings and guidance throughout the years that he certainly did not expect anything more.

The Rebbe did not accept this answer, explaining that he didn’t want to be indebted to anybody. So Rabbi Katz thought quickly, and asked the Rebbe for a Tanya for his son, who would certainly appreciate it. The Rebbe told him that one would be in the outer office shortly. When Rabbi Katz returned to pick it up, he found a Hebrew Tanya waiting for Rabbi Katz himself, a leather-bound, deluxe Hebrew/English Tanya for his son, “Challenge” for General Sephton in South Africa, and “Woman of Valor” for the general’s wife.

When Rabbi Katz returned to South Africa, he called General Sephton. Before he could say anything, the general reassured him that he had sent the telexes the day he had received the call from America, and that the Jewish prisoners had indeed kindled Chanukah candles that year. When Rabbi Katz told the general that the Rebbe had sent gifts for him, the general said he would be right over to pick them up.

Indeed, within an hour, the general was sitting in Rabbi Katz’s living room. Asked why he had hurried so, he replied that when a person sitting in New York thinks about somebody living on the other side of the globe especially somebody imprisoned for wrongdoing and seeks out someone to bring him light and warmth, he is a genuine leader.

“And if such a leader sends something for me, I want it as soon as possible,” exclaimed the general.


It was 9:30 one night in 1943, during the lifetime of the Previous Rebbe. The daily study program at 770 had just concluded, and Rabbi Hershel Fogelman and several of his fellow students were standing in the hallway, discussing the subject which they had been reviewing. Suddenly, a young man burst through the main door. He was not wearing a yarmulka and appeared very agitated.

“Where’s the Rabbi?” he called out. “I must speak to the Rabbi!”

Rabbi Fogelman went over to the young man and calmed him, while one of the other students went and brought a yarmulka.

The stranger’s name was Herbert Goldstein. His brothers had just called him from Boston, informing him that one of their relatives was very ill, and asking him to go to the Lubavitcher Rebbe at once to seek a blessing.

Rabbi Fogelman requested him to wait while he asked Rabbi Eliyahu Simpson (the Previous Rebbe’s secretary) if it was possible for the Rebbe to receive the young man.

Rabbi Simpson said he would ask the Rebbe shortly, and Rabbi Fogelman returned to Herbert. By this time, the young man had collected himself, and opened up to Rabbi Fogelman. He lived at the Hotel Mayflower in New York, organizing commercial receptions. He and his brothers had seen the Rebbe three years ago. At that time, he had been an alcoholic. The Previous Rebbe had taken his hand in his own, and spoken to him reassuringly, encouraging him to control himself and refrain from drinking.

And it had worked! From that moment onward, Herbert had been able to bridle his desire to drink. Every night, he said, he would kiss the hand which the Previous Rebbe had held.

Rabbi Simpson came back and told Herbert he would be able to see the Rebbe shortly. Herbert continued talking to Rabbi Fogelman until the time came for the yechidus.

When Herbert emerged from the Rebbe’s room, he was brimming with excitement: The Rebbe had remembered him! He told him exactly where he had stood during their meeting three years earlier, and where Herbert’s brothers had stood. He had also given him a blessing for the recovery of his relative, and spoken to him about the importance of putting on tefillin every day.

Rabbi Fogelman and Herbert parted warmly. Shortly afterwards, the Ramash that’s the way the Chassidim would refer to our Rebbe during the lifetime of the Previous Rebbe and Rabbi Simpson came over to Rabbi Fogelman and asked about Herbert’s story.

There was no hesitation on the part of the Ramash. He did not want Herbert’s inspiration to remain in the clouds, but rather to be connected to actual deeds. He told Rabbi Fogelman to take a pair of tefillin from Rabbi Simpson, go to the Hotel Mayflower the next morning, and put on tefillin with Herbert. Rabbi Fogelman was then to give Herbert the tefillin , though it would be preferable if he paid for them.

Rabbi Fogelman did as he was told, and Herbert was happy to see him. “It was smart of the Rebbe to send you while I’m still enthused,” he smiled, as he willingly donned the tefillin.

When Rabbi Fogelman came back to 770, he informed Rabbi Simpson (and the Ramash, for the two worked so closely together that by informing Rabbi Simpson, you would automatically be informing the Ramash) of the episode. He was told to go back and pay Herbert another visit the following morning.

Herbert was glad to see Rabbi Fogelman again: “You’ll never believe what happened this morning,” he told him. “When I woke up, I remembered that as a child my parents had told me to say Modeh Ani upon arising, and so that’s what I did!” He put on the tefillin a second time and paid for them, promising to put them on every day.

Rabbi Fogelman was sent to see Herbert a third time, and the young man reiterated his promise to observe the mitzvah.

“Today,” Rabbi Fogelman explained, “it’s hard to appreciate how big a step it was in those days for a non-observant American to begin putting on tefillin daily. When the Rebbe saw that such a thing was possible, he refused to let the opportunity pass.”


In the 1970s, Mivtza Neshek, the branch of the Lubavitch Women’s Organization dedicated to spreading the practice of kindling Shabbos candles, organized a series of radio ads encouraging women and girls to fulfill this mitzvah. Because federal law required that every ad have a commercial aspect, the notices mentioned that if the listeners sent one dollar to the Candlelighting Division of the Lubavitch Women’s Organization at 770 Eastern Parkway, they would be sent a special set of Shabbos candle holders.

Thousands of these holders were distributed. At times, people would err, and instead of addressing their letters to the Lubavitch Women’s Organization, they would send them to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

On one occasion, a woman living on Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn wrote to ask for the Shabbos candle holders. She too erred, and addressed her letter to the Rebbe. The Rebbe received the letter in the Friday mail. On Friday afternoon, he had his secretary, Rabbi Binyomin Klein, call Mrs. Esther Sternberg (who ran the Shabbos candle campaign) and ask her to see to it that this woman had the opportunity to light Shabbos candles that Friday.

Mrs. Sternberg is not one to take a request from the Rebbe lightly. With 45 minutes left before Shabbos started, she tried to get the woman’s phone number, but was told it was unlisted. Then, noting that the woman’s address was not far away, she resolved to deliver the candle holders personally. If the woman was not home, she would leave it with a neighbor.

Taking two of her daughters along, Mrs. Sternberg drove (flew!) to the woman’s apartment. She rang the bell and knocked several times, but there was no answer. She tried several of the neighbors’ apartments, but they too did not answer. Finally, a woman from an apartment down the hall replied that, yes, she knew the woman who had asked for the candle holders. She was an elderly lady, said the neighbor, and hard of hearing. That’s probably why she had not answered her bell; she hadn’t heard it ringing!

And so Mrs. Sternberg, her two daughters, and the neighbor all knocked hard on the woman’s door. Eventually, an elderly Jewish lady answered. She was grateful to see visitors, and even more grateful when she found that she would be able to light Shabbos candles that week.

Mrs. Sternberg was happy to give the woman the candle holders, but couldn’t help wondering: The woman seemed sincerely committed to the mitzvah ; why then hadn’t she lit candles before? “Don’t you have candle holders of your own?” she asked.

“Of course I have Shabbos candles,” the woman told Mrs. Sternberg, taking her into her kitchen and showing her a large silver candelabra on top of one of the cabinets. “But when my children moved me here,” she explained, “they put my candelabra up there. Neither I nor any of my neighbors can reach it! That’s why I haven’t been able to light.” (Apparently, this woman, as do many others, mistakenly felt that Shabbos candles had to be lit in a ritual candelabra.)

One of Mrs. Sternberg’s daughters climbed up and brought down the woman’s candlesticks. And so, thanks to the Rebbe’s concern and Mrs. Sternberg’s commitment, the woman was able to light candles in her own candelabra that Shabbos.

On another occasion, the Rebbe received a letter from a man from Bowie, Maryland, asking that Shabbos candle holders be sent to his daughter. Again, the letter arrived on Friday, and again, the Rebbe had his secretary ask Mrs. Sternberg to see to it that the girl lit candles that Friday.

This time, it was only 20 minutes before Shabbos when Mrs. Sternberg was contacted. She immediately phoned one of the shluchim in Maryland and asked if he could deliver candles to the girl. But the shliach replied that Bowie was over two hours away; he had no way of delivering the candles in time.

Not seeing any alternative, Mrs. Sternberg located the family’s phone number. The mother answered the phone. Yes, her husband had asked for the candleholders. She didn’t light candles herself, but thought that it was a good idea for her daughter to light.

Mrs. Sternberg told her that she would be mailing the candle holders, but meantime, she would instruct her on how to make candle holders from aluminum foil so that her daughter would be able to light that Shabbos. And with no more than a drop of convincing, the mother agreed to join her daughter and light candles herself.

She listened diligently to Mrs. Sternberg’s instructions, and wrote down the transliteration of the blessing word for word.

As they were talking, Mrs. Sternberg asked the woman if her daughter had any other friends who would like candle holders. The woman mentioned that there were several girls in her daughter’s Hebrew School class who would probably appreciate such a gift. And in her own Chavurah group, she could think of a few women, and she had some other friends….

All in all, when Mrs. Sternberg prepared the package of candle holders to send to Bowie, it contained more than 40!

On the following Friday, Mrs. Sternberg received another call from the Rebbe’s office. “The Rebbe wants to know what’s happening with the girl in Bowie,” the secretary told her.

Mrs. Sternberg again called the woman. Yes, her daughter had lit candles the previous Shabbos, and they had received the candle holders in the mail. Everyone was overwhelmed. Women were talking about it all over town.

“Could you send more?” she wanted to know. “My daughter has other friends… and I have other friends….”

And so, the following week, Mrs. Sternberg sent an even larger order of candle holders to Bowie.

The following Friday, Mrs. Sternberg did not wait for a call from the Rebbe’s office. Instead, she phoned her new friend in Bowie herself. Yes, the candle holders had arrived and the women were very happy. What’s more, the woman’s friends and neighbors wanted to meet some of the ladies who had reached out and brought Shabbos light into their homes.

A Shabbaton was arranged. Women and girls from Crown Heights came and shared a Shabbos encounter with the community.

So it was that a few words from the Rebbe snowballed into an ongoing positive Jewish experience.