Rabbi She’ar Yashuv Cohen, Chief Rabbi of Haifa, relates:
When I first became acquainted with the Rebbe, I was a member of the council and deputy mayor in Jerusalem. The Rebbe expressed great interest in my combined involvement, both in the needs of the public with Torah study and the Harry Fischel Institute. At a certain point, the Rebbe urged me to immerse myself in the world of Torah and to consider a position in the rabbinate and public leadership.
I was particularly impressed by things the Rebbe told me when asked about the purpose of the Mitzvah Tanks.
“If the Rebbe would forgive me, but . . . what benefit do we earn by enabling the non-observant to do a mitzvah? They’re just going to go back to doing what they did before.” I suggested that Chabad should seek out the “shul-goers” – the Jews who attended synagogue on Sabbath and holidays.
The Rebbe replied, “This was the Ba’al Shem Tov’s innovation,” referring to the founder of the Chassidic movement. “In our generation, the order that King David taught us changed.”
Then he quoted the Psalm of King David: “Who is the man who wants life, who loves days to see goodness? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceitfully. Shun evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it.”
The Rebbe continued, “In our generation, however, the order is reversed. We need to focus our efforts in the direction of good – and then the evil will automatically go away. First ‘do good,’ and then ‘shun evil.’”
While I was in charge of municipal education, the Rebbe spoke to me at length about the need to provide each child with a basic Jewish education.
“We cannot despair of any Jewish child,” the Rebbe stressed. He could not make peace with the fact that a child might go to school and graduate without knowing the concept of Shma Yisroel, Hear O Israel, regardless of the level religiosity of the school.
“The Mishna Sukkah says that a father must teach his son Torah Tzivah – the Torah commanded us and the Shma,” the Rebbe declared. “We must make sure every Jewish child knows at least these two verses by heart.”
In another private audience, the Rebbe addressed the question – how to educate children and youth of today? He drew a parallel between the concept of education and Chanukah, saying, “Just as it was the Temple attendant’s job to prepare the wicks of the menorah so that the flame went up of its own accord, so too, the teacher needs to ensure that the values he imparts and internalized by the students and maintained on their own.”