Induced by the Czarist regime, waves of anti-Semitism would eventually break out in bloody pogroms, killing hundreds of Jews and intimidating the survivors. Laws which discriminated against Jews became ever harsher, limiting livelihoods and areas of settlement.
From within, too, winds of change threatened to uproot Judaism's message to the world. Frustrated by harsh conditions, young people sought panaceas in the “isms” of their time, but in the process, many deserted their great heritage.
The outstanding leader of Russian Jewry could not bear to sit back and watch. His heart bled for the physical and spiritual suffering of his people. Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber Schneersohn (1860-1920), known as the “Rebbe Rashab,” fifth leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, foresaw the advent of a difficult era; an era requiring special qualities of clear-sighted and devoted leadership.
Thus, he established a unique Yeshiva where students would excel not only in Talmudic scholarship, but also in the profound philosophy of Chabad Chassidism, imbuing them with the fiery spirit of Judaism. These students were to be the “lamplighters” of world Jewry – to ignite the spark in every Jewish heart, and to fan it into a bright flame.
Named “Tomchei Tmimim” by its founder, the Yeshiva nurtured many thousands of select students known as “Tmimim,” who proceeded to key positions of leadership in Russia and abroad.
Even under Stalinist persecution, the Tmimim were ready to give their lives to maintain a widespread underground network of Jewish education for the young, to ensure the future of the Jewish nation. Thousands of them were tortured to death, or condemned to a slower death in Arctic Gulags. Some emerged decades later from their harsh imprisonment, broken in body, but still vibrant in spirit.
The Tmimim of Lubavitch proved themselves capable, not only of withstanding the systematic oppression, but also of raising a generation loyal to its faith.
Thanks to the Tmimim, the heart of Judaism still beats in Russia. But Tomchei Tmimim didn't stop there. It was taken abroad by the Rebbe Rashab's son and successor, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880 - 1950).
Today, the challenges have taken on new form, but the struggle is still the same. If anything, it has taken on more urgency and vigour.
Under the inspiration of Rabbl Yosef Yitzchak's son-in-law and successor, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, Tomchei Tmimim academies operate around the globe, on every continent, producing “lamplighters” who are equipped to confront contemporary challenges.
In many parts of the world, Jewish life today would be inconceivable without the Tmimim of Chabad-Lubavitch, who presently serve in all areas of communal leadership. From hundreds of Lubavitch Centres around the globe, these devoted Tmimim continue to be the “lamplighters" of our time, navigating a troubled generation through turbulent waters, asserting their role as a “light unto the nations.”
Their goal will be fully attained when the others they effect become “lamplighters” in their own right; illuminating the world around them with the flame kindled at Sinai.
Excerpts of an address given by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, on the theme of the name “Lamplighter”:
“…I was once privileged to hear from my father-in-law (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, of saintly memory, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe) that his father, Rabbi Shalom Dovber, of saintly memory, was once asked, “What is a Chabad-Lubavitch chassid?”
“He replied, ‘A chassid is like a street-lamplighter.’ In olden days, there was a person in every town who would light the street-lamps with a light he carried at the end of a long pole. On the street corners, the lamps were there in readiness, waiting to be lit; sometimes, however, the lamps are not as easily accessible. There are lamps in forsaken places, in deserts, or at sea. There must be someone to light even those lamps, so that they may fulfil their purpose and light up the paths of others.
“It is written, ‘The soul of man is the candle of G‑d’. It is also written, “A mitzvah is a candle, and the Torah is light.” A Chassid is one who puts his personal affairs aside and sets out to light up the souls of Jews with the light of Torah and mitzvot. Jewish souls are ready and waiting to be kindled. Sometimes they are close, nearby; sometimes they are in a desert, or at sea. There must be someone who will forgo his or her own comforts and conveniences, and reach out to light those lamps. This is the function of a true Chabad-Lubavitch Chassid.
“The message is obvious. I will only add that this function is not really limited to Chassidim, but is the function of every Jew. Divine Providence brings Jews to the most unexpected, remote places, so that they may carry out this purpose of lighting up the world.”
May G‑d grant that each and every one of us be a dedicated ‘street-lamp lighter’, and fulfil his or her duty with joy and gladness of heart.”