The Rebbe began with introductory remarks:
This year has special significance, being the 200th anniversary of the histalkus of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of general Chasidism.
The word histalkus does not mean death in the sense of coming to an end but rather an elevation from one level to another on a higher plane. When one has accomplished his mission in life, he is elevated to a higher plane. The significance of this for us is that everyone can now lift himself easier to a higher level by studying the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and taking an example from his life.
From the very beginning, one of the first things the Baal Shem Tov did, was to teach small children simple things, like blessings, and to explain to them how they could be near to G‑d Almighty -- that G‑d was very real for them and close to them and not far-removed in some "seventh heaven." He worked not only with teenagers but even with six- and seven-year-old children, making them understand how G‑d Almighty watches over them all the time -- not only Sunday, Monday or Tuesday, but all the days of their life, and that by obeying G‑d's will they would be assured of a happy and harmonious life, materially and spiritually.
The epoch of the Baal Shem Tov came after the Chmielnitzky pogroms, which left the Jews in a state of dejection and despair. It was the aim of the Baal Shem Tov to encourage the Jews and to show them how they could meet the problems of their day while living a life of Torah and Mitzvos.
Our present age is similar in many ways to the times of the Baal Shem Tov. One-third of the Jewish population has perished under Hitler and has been cut off from us. How great, then, is the obligation that lies upon each and every one of us to do as much as is within his power to spread the light of Torah and Mitzvos in his own surroundings and throughout the world in general.
The Rebbe paused for questions and asked whether the students preferred to first ask all their questions and then he would answer, or did they want each question answered as it was asked. The latter was decided upon and the students began:
Question: The Rebbe said that one should spread Torah. How and in what manner is this to be done?
Rebbe: Everyone must do as much as possible in his immediate surroundings by speaking with other people in a way that shows his certainty and confidence in the matter. For confidence is a characteristic of the youth specifically. An older person is often beset with doubts and hesitancies, while the young are sure of themselves. It is this characteristic that we must utilize in spreading Torah and Mitzvos, and everyone must work at 100% capacity.
Every means must be employed: the newspaper, the radio. But, above all, the most vital is the personal example we set in our everyday living.
Question: There appears to be a contradiction in the view of death as we find it in Job and in Ecclesiastics. In Job it is considered a redemption, but in Ecclesiastics it is thought of as an evil that transforms everything into vanity. What is the view of Chasidus concerning an afterlife?
Rebbe: As was explained earlier, death is not a cessation of life, but rather, one's spiritual life takes on new dimensions or is, as we said, elevated to a higher plane. This is logical and follows also from the principles of science which are considered to be the "absolute truth." In science, the principle of the conservation of matter states that nothing physical can be annihilated. This table or a piece of iron can be cut up, burned etc., but in no case could the matter of the table or the iron be destroyed. It only takes on a different form.
Likewise, on the spiritual level, our spiritual being -- the soul -- can never be destroyed. It only changes its form, or is elevated to a different plane.
Question (same questioner): Is the after-life of a soul personal or impersonal?
Rebbe: In conjunction with what was said before, the soul takes on a new and higher form. In this, the term "after-life" is inappropriate. Rather, it is a continuation of life. Until 120, life is experienced at one level, and at 121, 122 and 123, etc., it is carried on at another level, and thus we go higher and higher in the realm of spirit.
Question: What was the role that the Baal Shem Tov played in the Chasidic movement?
Rebbe: We can understand what the Baal Shem Tov did by the simile of the relationship of an electric powerhouse with a lamp that is connected to it by a wire. In order to light his lamp, one must find the right switch, or push the correct button. The soul of every Jew is a part of and is connected with G‑d Almighty, but in order that one can enjoy the great benefits of it, the correct switch must be found or the proper button pushed. It was the Baal Shem Tov's mission to explain and proclaim that every Jew without exception is connected with "the powerhouse," and every one of them has a switch in his innermost, that will be found if searched for.
So also every one of us in our own work in strengthening Judaism, must try to find the switch in the soul of every Jew. One can never know what will make the connection, perhaps one word. But by this, you open up the well or inner fountain of his soul.
Rabbi Levy, director of the Hillel Foundation at Princeton University, brought greetings to the Rebbe from Kfar Chabad. He had visited there during the summer and related his admiration for the love that is shown the Moroccan children. Never had he seen such love between Jews of such different backgrounds, upbringing, etc.
Question: Can Israel exist as a political state?
The Rebbe asked whether the questioner was speaking from an economical, religious, or political point of view.
The questioner replied that he meant whether a political and religious state could coexist harmoniously.
Rebbe: A machine, system, etc., can be used at different degrees of efficiency, for a small job or a big maximum job. The State of Israel can be a State of Jews -- another Levantine State, as Syria is the State of Syrians, or it can become something exceptional, unique, namely a Jewish State. But to be a Jewish State it must be run according to the Jewish Torah and tradition. This is not a contradiction to its being a "normal" State with men, women and children, institutions, etc. as any other. But only in this way will it be a Jewish State, exceptional.
Question: What is the difference between Lubavitch and other Chasidic groups?
Rebbe: Lubavitcher Chasidim are often called Chabad Chasidim, an abbreviation of the Hebrew words Chochmah, Binah, and Daas, which indicate different aspects of understanding.
To serve G‑d with the emotions alone or with faith alone or even with intellect alone is not enough, for it would be an incomplete service. Rather, there must be a fusion of all of these elements, the service must permeate the entire being of a Jew and every single day. However, the intellect is the "Ruler" of these elements, and it is this that the Alter Rebbe stressed when he said that a Chasid must use his intellect and not be content with a service of G‑d centered only in the emotions or in faith alone.
Question: Can Chasidism bring non-religious Jews back to their Judaism?
Rebbe: Certainly! Today it is expected that one understands his doing and therefore many Jews can be reached only through their intellect. But in order to reach the intellect of someone else you must use your own intellect, for only through your mind can you reach the mind of another.
Question: Why did many Chasidim refuse to leave Jerusalem during the war when their very lives were in danger?
Rebbe: It was surely because Jerusalem has special holiness and sanctity and therefore living a Jewish life on a high spiritual level is easier there.
The questioner then asked whether it was proper for them to remain there even if it cost them their lives?
Rebbe: No. They probably hoped to be taken prisoner and later released.
Question: Why is Chabad so successful in its activities?
Rebbe: Today everyone tries to understand before he does something. I am not discussing whether this is good or bad, but only stating a fact. Everyone requires proofs and understanding. Chabad Chasidus provides it. It explains aspects of Judaism so that they can be understood by the intellect. As a Chabad Chasid I have a more categorical answer: I have no doubt that Chabad Chasidus is the Truth and Truth must be successful.
Question: What is the function of a Rebbe?
Rebbe: As was said earlier, to find the switch in every Jew and help him become connected with the power house.
Question: What is the Jewish attitude towards conversion?
Rebbe: Never were Torah Jews enthused about conversion. A Jew should be a good Jew and a gentile should be a good gentile. There is for us enough to do in just seeing that Jews are good Jews. Every limb of a body has its particular function. Each limb has its activity to which it is fitted. Likewise, every created thing has its particular function. The Jew has his and the gentile has his.
Question: This afternoon we heard a lecture by Dr. Block in which he explained that a Jew has a Divine spark. He didn't say explicitly, but he intimated that only a Jew has this Divine spark but a non-Jew does not. Is this so?
Rebbe: A non-Jew and every created thing does have a Divine spark, but it is not the same kind of the Divine spark that a Jew has. To illustrate from the body again, each part has its own function: the brain to think, the heart to feel, and the legs to carry one about. So the mission of a Jew in life is to transform the physicality of the world into spiritual, divine. The non-Jew has a different purpose and therefore the two do not have the same Divine spark.
Question: I understand that Chasidism elevates the woman to a state higher than she had before in Judaism. Could you explain this?
Rebbe: Traditionally, women were not taught Torah except those laws that were directly relevant to herself and her duties. Chasidus however, teaches and demands of every one, man or woman, that the Mitzvos, all of them, must be done with joy and inspiration, not automatically. But we cannot expect someone to be inspired unless he understands or feels. The woman has a right, more -- must know of the individual providence, of the omnipresence of G‑d Almighty that He created not only the heavens but also the home and the kitchen, and then she can be inspired by the Mitzvah to make the home and kitchen a Jewish home and kitchen. We must explain to her in detail the teachings of the Jewish religion and the reasons why of Judaism. Especially as the woman has a great effect on her children and her husband. It is necessary, then, that she be taught the basic ideas of Chasidus.
Question: Can a Jew be a Chasid even though it is necessary for him to work on Shabbos, especially in the case of a physician?
Rebbe: You mean he thinks it is necessary for him to work on Shabbos. Really, it cannot be that it is impossible for a Jew to keep Shabbos. For G‑d would not have commanded us to do something and then have put us in a position where it would be impossible to perform.
The questioner continued and asked what a physician should do if a life is in danger?
Rebbe: Under ordinary conditions, a physician must not desecrate Shabbos, and his entire life must be as holy and Jewish as of every Jew. However, when an emergency arises and a life is at stake, it is not only not a desecration but it is a Mitzvah. One is commanded to save the person. And it states (in the Jewish code) if one is a גדול (gadol) -- very pious, and a talmid chocham, the Mitzvah should not be given to another but he himself must save the person.
Question: How far does the power of the Rebbe extend in natural law? Does the Rebbe have preferred status as regards prayer?
[Someone added that what is meant is whether the Rebbe can perform miracles.]
Rebbe: This world is not separate from the higher worlds but is another step, the last one, in a long chain of worlds.
Everything in this world comes from and is influenced by the higher ones. A miracle is something that happens which you could not have calculated. When a Jew connects himself through his Divine spark with G‑d through fervent prayer, Torah, and Mitzvos, he can affect things in this physical world "from above" -- that means by a way which is beyond calculation. This power is not the prerogative of one Jew but of every Jew.
Rabbi Gurewitz, of the Brooklyn Hillel Foundation, thanked the Rebbe for the interview and started to leave, but then the Rebbe said:
Now I want to ask you a question, and at the same time try to perform a miracle.
Everything has a purpose. What was the purpose of our coming together here tonight? Certainly it was not merely to ask questions and receive answers, good or bad. Rather it was to achieve something.
All of us here are young, myself included, and have tens of years yet before us. Since six million of our people in Russia, Poland and Hungary have been lost to us through Hitler, we have a special task to accomplish -- the work that they could have done, at least a major part of it.
Everyone counts. No Jew is expendable. We all must work to the fullest capacity, every one of us. In our day-to-day life we must use our full strength to add to the side of good, and by this we will gain a life of happiness and harmony -- and all this can be done only through a life of Torah and Mitzvos tested by our 3,500 year history. This obligation lies upon every Jew and G‑d has given him the power to carry this through successfully.
And if each of us, beginning tomorrow, should add in his own personal life more Torah and Mitzvos and influence the environment in the same direction, if we all will do this, myself included, this indeed will be our miracle.