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Hayom Yom: Tackling Life's Tasks - Foreword

Hayom Yom: Tackling Life's Tasks - Foreword

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The shtetl was aflame — not any one shtetl, but the entire culture that had nurtured our people for centuries. In the first half of last century, a raging fire ravaged world Jewry. Like many major conflagrations, it was not ignited at one point alone, and the confluence of its separate blazes jeopardized the very survival of our people.

The natural reaction to a fire is panic. Even level-headed people focus on the immediate response necessary: to rescue what can be saved. Tzadikkim, however, are called “the eyes of the community.”1 They have the vision to see not only the immediate, but also the larger picture.

R. Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn — often referred to among chassidim as “the Rebbe Rayatz2 — had felt the fire on his person. In 1927 he had undergone torture, incarceration and a capital sentence because his underground Torah schools defied Stalin’s ruthless campaign to stamp out Jewish life in Russia; in 1929, during his visit to Eretz Yisrael immediately before the massacre in Chevron, he had witnessed how the British High Commissioner cynically abandoned the Jewish settlers to Arab marauders; in 1939 he had survived the Luftwaffe’s bombardment of Warsaw; in 1942 his youngest daughter had perished in the gas chambers of Treblinka.

In these and other settings, he not only fought to salvage and preserve Jewish life; beyond that, his eyes looked ahead to a more distant horizon.

Viewing the volcanic inferno from a cosmic perspective, he wrote: “At this time, when the world is quaking, when the entire world is shuddering with the birth pangs of Mashiach, and G‑d has set the walls of exile afire…, every Jew — man and woman, old and young — is obligated to ask himself: ‘What have I done and what am I doing to ease the birth pangs of Mashiach and merit the ultimate Redemption that will come about through Mashiach?’”3

With this vision, he left Europe and settled in America in 1940. From the beginning, at the reception held in his honor on the day of his arrival, he made it clear that he had not come to America “to eat of its fruit and be satiated with its goodness,4 but on a Providential soul-mission.5 In his mind’s eye he recalled the sweet spirituality of the vanished shtetl; before his eyes he saw — side by side with an encouraging element of receptive goodwill — crass materialism. Between the warmth of the first picture and the frigidity of the second lay a gaping chasm, and he was determined to bridge it: he would transplant the spiritual environment of the Old Country in the fertile soil of America. As he declared on the very first evening of his arrival, “America is not different!

Six weeks later he shared his conception of a vital tool that would help actualize his vision: “It would be a good idea to compile a compendium of all the customs of our revered predecessors, the Rebbeim (May their merit stand us in good stead!), and construct a book of customs that would relate to and be matched with one’s daily life — a book of daily readings for Chabad chassidim, including Chabad customs, selected teachings, and very short narratives.

He continued: “A well-organized compendium like this can be composed only by a person of deep-seated spiritual integrity,6 who is fundamentally methodical, and whose mind is broad and profound.7

Soon after, in 1941, the Rebbe Rayatz was joined in America by his son-in-law and eventual successor, the Rebbe, whom he duly asked in 1942 to compile the above-described calendar.8 The book was to be entitled HaYom Yom9 — literally, “today is the day” — and was intended to serve as “a calendar sowing light10 for Chabad chassidim.”

A book transports a reader beyond his immediate surroundings. Day after day, this book enables a reader to live virtually in the rich spiritual environment of Chassidus. Generations of Rebbeim and chassidim come alive before his eyes; davenen becomes rich; studybecomesa consuming endeavor; and life, a mission. As the Rebbe Rayatz described this book:11 “Small in format…, but studded with pearls and diamonds of choicest quality.... Every day has something to say. This is a true HaYom Yom (‘today is the day’): each of its days is indeed a day.”

*

To compose this work, the Rebbe reviewed the writings and talks of his father-in-law,12 culling gems. Usually quoting, sometimes paraphrasing, and occasionally condensing, he fashioned a pocket-size Hebrew/Yiddish handbook that has sown seeds of light in the hearts and minds of grateful generations of Chabad-Lubavitch chassidim.

Many an honest person, after pushing his unenthused way through yet another day, has hankered for a capsule that would empower him to tackle his life-tasks with zest.13 And here, finally, was an answer to this wish. In this spirit, many chassidim regularly start off their day with its encapsulated inspiration. After his earnest morning prayers and Tehillim-reading, a chassid looks around for a reliable bridge that will connect his davenen to the spiritual tasks of the day ahead. He takes out his HaYom Yom and suddenly, “the day is a day.”

The same pattern is followed in larger spheres. In some congregations, someone reads the daily entry aloud after the morning prayers. Speakers often use it as the theme for their talks. And many parents who seek to give their homes a chassidisher tone read it aloud every evening when the family is gathered together at the dinner table. And then the day is not merely a block of time: it is charged with purpose and direction.

*

The reader of the present bilingual edition will find not only a fresh translation of each daily teaching,14 but also, under a separate heading, a creative comment or story or mini-farbrengen that will help him find a point of contact between that idyllic chassidic teaching — and the gray realities of his own life in the busy here and now.15 Moreover, for those who would like to pursue an idea to new horizons, numerous sources and crossreferences are provided.

Most books are read from beginning to end, or at least whole chapters at a time, and in a given sequence. This book, by contrast, will often be opened for a single day’s entry. For the convenience of such readers, some of the explanatory footnotes are repeated. And wherever a footnote invites the reader to see the entry for a certain date, “the entry” signifies everything appearing under that date — its teachings, customs, commentary and footnotes.

The present English text translates the complete Hebrew/Yiddish text of the original edition as published by the Rebbe in 5703 (1943), without the biographical and bibliographical additions and minor emendations that were introduced in later editions. Hence, no significant dates since that time have been added.

Hebrew abbreviations: When this work first appeared over 60 years ago, it was beamed primarily to a homogeneous audience — insiders who shared memories of similar childhoods, yeshivos, and oral and linguistic traditions. An integral ingredient of their insiders’ jargon was the use of Hebrew initials to signify scores of chassidic terms and concepts. Since the present edition is beamed to a far more varied readership, these Hebrew acronyms have been spelled out here in full.16

Hebrew syntax, vocalization and punctuation: In order to preserve the classic flavor of the original, the traditional linguistic influence of Yiddish on Rabbinic writings has been left intact. However, since the Hebrew text is vocalized (menukad), a chirik, for example, sometimes renders the optional letter yud superfluous.

Rabbinic titles: The abbreviation “R.” sometimes stands for “HaRav”; sometimes for “Rabbi,” its approximate English equivalent; and sometimes for “Reb. The latter title, informal but reverential, is a Yiddish version of the Hebrew rabi (“my master”), and is used before personal names only.17

*

As the Rebbe Rashab taught, 19 Kislev (Yud-Tes Kislev) is “the New Year for Chassidus.”18 In this spirit, this calendar was designed for the chassidic year extending from 19 Kislev of the year úù”â (5703) to 18 Kislev of the following year, úù”ã (5704).19 However, the number of months per year and the number of days per month vary from year to year. Accordingly, as one year makes way for the next, its dates do not continue to march in step with the days of the week. For example: The first day ofPesach is always 15 Nissan, and in the year 5703 it fell on a Tuesday. However, the reader will soon discover that in his present year, 15 Nissan can also fall on a different day of the week. Sometimes, not only the date but also the day of the week is significantly connected to the teaching or to the customs presented. In every such case, the reader will find a friendly footnote waiting to help him find his bearings.

Likewise, every day’s Chitas directives20 remind the reader that the texts indicated in this work are the daily readings for 5703 (1942-43), not the readings that match the calendar of his present year.

The daily Chitas readings listed in the original edition are reproduced in the present edition nevertheless, because sometimes their content invites speculation as to why a particular teaching was linked to a particular day or date. Numerous instances are proposed in the footnotes to the edition of HaYom Yom edited by R. Michael Aharon Seligson.21 For example: The text for 12 Teves22 speaks of a communal burial society; the Chumash reading of that date speaks of the burial of Yaakov Avinu. Similarly: The text for 27 Iyar23 records that the Alter Rebbe used to refer to himself as the son of his mentor, the Maggid of Mezritch; in the Chumash reading of that date, Rashi cites the teaching of the Sages that one who teaches another’s son is regarded by Scripture as if he were his father.

*

The translation, comments and footnotes were researched and composed by Uri Kaploun and R. Eliyahu Touger. As each of those components of the text evolved and crystallized into its present published form, it was finetuned and enriched at every stage by the astute and erudite input of two eminent scholars: R. Sholom B. Wineberg, Executive Director of Chabad-Lubavitch activities in the states of Kansas and Missouri, acclaimed lecturer on Jewish Law and Chassidism, author of The Chassidic Dimension, translator of Lessons In Tanya and of compilations of the Rebbe’s teachings on marriage, mental health, and other subjects; and R. Levi Yitzchok Raskin, Dayan (rabbinic judge) of the Lubavitch community of North London, and Moreh Horaah (halachic authority) for London’s Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, whose published works include an analytical study of the Alter Rebbe’s Siddur entitled Siddur Rabeinu Hazaken Im Tziyunim Mekoros V’heoros. The spirit of openminded collaboration that animated the intensive electronic traffic between the above four participants is something that many a publisher might well envy.

The present publisher is also indebted to: R. Sholom Ber Levin, Head Librarian of the Central Chabad-Lubavitch Library in New York, for his bibliographical counsel; R. Aharon Leib Raskin and R. Michael Aharon Seligson for their scholarly research and suggestions for source material; Yosef Yitzchok Turner, for tirelessly perfecting the typographical text of successive stages of countless files; R. Avrohom Rainitz, for persuading the original pages of text to fit comfortably into the concise format of the present Pocket Edition; and Efraim Gotbeter, for designing its cover. The content and logistics of the entire project were monitored by the publisher, R. Yonah Avtzon, Director of Sichos In English.

In conclusion, the undersigned would like to record their warm appreciation of the input of Mr. Chaim Rittri of Books&Bagels, whose dedication to this project was far more than financial. Mr. Rittri was also instrumental, together with R. Levi Sternglantz, in introducing the contemporary design and typography of Ms. Cynthia Madansky that characterized the full size editions of this work.

*

The First Edition of the present work was entitled HaYom Yom: Tackling Life’s Tasks. The subsequent editions, including the Pocket Editions, are entitled Tackling Life’s Tasks: Every Day Energized with HaYom Yom. The content of all the editions is virtually identical. The only differences are in layout, cover design, minor corrections, typography and pagination. In the Pocket Editions, the page numbers in the crossreferences and in the Index have been adjusted accordingly.

*

In the language of Chassidus, yom (“day) is a code word for the revelation of spiritual light and also for the era of Mashiach. The two concepts go hand in hand. When a person decides to cease wearily pushing his way through days that are spiritually dull, and to tackle his life-tasks with the zest and direction that chassidic insights offer him, he creates a microcosm of that Future Era. The life in his eyes and his contented but driving spirit are contagious, helping those around him to “ease the birth pangs of Mashiach and merit the ultimate Redemption.”

Footnotes
1.
The sources of this phrase (including Rashi on Taanis 24a) are detailed and explained in the entry for 23 Adar I.
2.
The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe (5640-5710/1880-1950), also known in Yiddish as “der frierdiker Rebbe” (i.e., “the previous Rebbe”). “Rayatz” is an acronym of his Hebrew name.
3.
The letter, dated 11 Tammuz 5742 (1942), was addressed to the delegates attending a conference of Young Israel (Igros Kodesh of the Rebbe Rayatz, letter #1824, Heb. Vol. 6, p. 372). See p. 693 below.
4.
Siddur, p. 96.
5.
Sefer HaSichos 5705 [1945], (Kehot, N.Y., 5746/1986), p. 75.
6.
In the original Yiddish, a tiffer pnimi. On the critical but untranslatable term pnimi, see the entry for 2 Adar I.
7.
Sefer HaSichos — Kayitz 5700 [1940] (Kehot, N.Y., 5716/1956), p. 80.
8.
The mandate defining the scope of the original work is translated in the Introduction by the Rebbe to the First Edition of HaYom Yom (Kehot, N.Y., 5703/1943), on p. 690 below.
9.
These words are borrowed from the phrase in the Morning Service that introduces each Psalm for the Day (Siddur, p. 71ff.).
11.
Igros Kodesh of the Rebbe Rayatz, letter #2024, Heb. Vol. 7, p. 231.
12.
Hence, any teaching or narrative recorded in the first person relates to the Rebbe Rayatz; each mention of “my revered father” is immediately identified in this edition as a reference to R. Sholom DovBer, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, usually referred to among chassidim by the acronym of his name as “the Rebbe Rashab”; “my revered grandfather” relates to R. Shmuel, the fourth Rebbe, usually referred to among chassidim by the acronym of his name as the Rebbe Maharash; and so on. For biographical information on the respective Rebbeim, see p. 697 below.
13.
See the entry for 2 Elul, and the entry for 2 Kislev.
14.
The pioneering translation was produced by R. Yitschak Meir Kagan (Kehot, N.Y., 5748/1988).
15.
Many comments or mini-farbrengens are based on the text from which the teaching was excerpted.
16.
The few exceptions are listed in the Table of Hebrew Abbreviations on p. 714 below.
17.
Hence, for example: “Reb Yosef,” but not “Reb Cohen.”
18.
See p. 694 below.
19.
This period corresponds to November 28, 1942 to December 15, 1943.
20.
See the entry for 19 Teves.
21.
Kehot, N.Y., 5741 (1981).
22.
See p. 41 below.
23.
See p. 323 below.
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