Motti Wilhelm

The Rebbe’s Call to Mobilize 15.7 Million Jews

The author, at 10 years old, receives a blessing and a dollar for Tzedakah from the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
The author, at 10 years old, receives a blessing and a dollar for Tzedakah from the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

In the fall of 1983, my parents, Rabbi Moshe and Devorah Wilhelm, asked the Rebbe’s office to assign them a Shlichus. They wished to become ambassadors of the Rebbe and join what was to become the world’s largest movement of Jewish education and outreach.

After their marriage, they were given a “temporary” assignment along with six other couples in Melbourne, Australia, and now they were requesting a permanent one.

After receiving their assignment to Portland, OR, my father met with the Rebbe’s lead secretary, the revered Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Aizek Hodakov, who asked my father, “When are you planning to move there?”

To which my father answered, “Our plan is to return to Australia, complete our term there, and move to Portland in just under six months, in time for Passover.”

“Efshar hostu nisht farshtanen,” perhaps you did not understand, said Rabbi Hodakov in Yiddish.

“Imagine someone calls the fire station to report a fire, and they are told that in just under six months, someone will arrive at the scene.

“There are Jewish children in Portland who still need a Jewish education, and it is your role to ensure they receive it. After our meeting, go into the offices, call your colleagues in Australia, and let them know you will not be returning. Ask them to pack your apartment and belongings and put them on a boat to meet you in Portland,” he instructed.

Shortly thereafter, my parents moved to Portland. One year later, the boat from Melbourne arrived. I was three years old at the time, but I recall my mother’s excitement in opening the boxes and remembering what they had.

With the words, “Efshar hostu nisht farshtanen,” perhaps you did not understand, the Rebbe’s secretary explained to my father that he is not a volunteer or a reservist; he has now been drafted to active duty.


They say the Rebbe has sent out 4,900 Shluchim to date, but it’s a mistake. The 4,900 Rabbis stand alongside the 4,900 Rebbetzins, who are the real change makers.

More importantly than the 9,800 adults are the nearly 50,000 children of Shluchim. There is a reason every Chabad Rabbi takes his kids with him when delivering matzot or Mishloach Manot. The children provide hope, inspiration, and leadership for the future.

But it’s not just the 60,000 people who are the “Rebbe’s Army.” Those sixty thousand are simply tasked with the mission of letting each of the world’s 15.7 million Jews know they have been called to active duty!

At this critical juncture of Jewish history, every single Jew has been called upon to lead, influence, teach, and serve as an ambassador for our people.

As the Rebbe famously stated, “If you know Aleph, teach Aleph!“.

A college student once approached the Rebbe in the middle of a chassidic gathering to greet him with a l’chaim. The Rebbe turned and asked him if he was involved with encouraging and helping his fellow students to put on tefillin every day. “But Rebbe,” admitted the young man, “I myself don’t put on tefillin every day!”

“Why is that their fault…?” replied the Rebbe with a smile.

As we approach the thirtieth Yartziet / Hilulah of the Rebbe, more than ever we need to heed the call, “We have each been called up to active duty.” Each and every one of the 15.7 million Jewish people are part of the Army of Good, tasked with making the world the place it is supposed to be.

About the Author
Rabbi Motti Wilhelm received his diploma of Talmudic Studies from the Rabbinical College of Australia & New Zealand in 2003 and was ordained as a rabbi by the Rabbinical College of America and Israel’s former chief Rabbi Mordecha Eliyahu in 2004. He was the editor of Kovetz Ohelei Torah, a respected Journal of Talmudic essays. He lectures on Talmudic Law, Medical Ethics and a wide array of Jewish subjects and has led services in the United States, Canada, Africa and Australia. His video blog Rabbi Motti's Minute is highly popular as are his weekly emails. Rabbi Wilhelm and his wife Mimi lead Chabad SW Portland as Shluchim of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
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