“I am ascending to heaven, and I leave my writings with you.” These were among the last words uttered by Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch (henceforth: Rashab), shortly before his passing on 2 Nissan 5680 (1920). The statement served almost as Rashab’s “will”1 in a sense, instructing his chassidim to keep their connection to him alive even after his passing by living with his holy writings.

Shortly after his passing, Rashab’s only son and successor, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak (henceforth: “Rayatz”), the sixth Lubavitcher rebbe, wished to publish all of his father’s writings and make them available to the general public.

This would be no simple task, given the particularly difficult circumstances in which his movement found itself at the time. The Bolshevik revolution was on the rise, and Judaism in general, and Chassidism in particular, were not in the best state.

Realizing the unavoidable difficulties such an endeavor would entail at home in Russia, Rayatz decided to attempt the project in Warsaw, Poland. In a letter addressed to Rabbi Leib Raskin of Warsaw dated 27 Mar-Cheshvan, 5682 (1921), he writes of his intention to publish his illustrious father’s works:

“I intend, with G‑d’s help, to copy my father’s discourses so they will be available for study by members of our community in all locations. As doing so in our country is a very difficult task due to the lack of paper and ink here, I resolved to have it done in your place…”2

Rayatz goes on to specify the method by which he intended to have the writings made public. Rather than properly printing them, they were to be handwritten and copied via photostat, and then bound in large volumes.

It remains unclear what exactly was the outcome of that correspondence with Rabbi Leib, and whether the writings were actually published in that manner. In the meantime, the Second World War broke out, and Rayatz was forced to flee Europe and resettle in the United States in the year 5700 (1940).

“The Yellow Chest”

Throughout all the turmoil and in all his weary travels, Rayatz constantly held the collection of his father’s precious writings close by, never allowing it to wander out of his sight. Referring to the priceless collection in a letter, he writes: “…The yellow chest containing the writings of my father…which I have always taken along with me in all my travels…”3

But only with the arrival of his son-in-law, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson (subsequently Rayatz’s successor—henceforth: the Rebbe), to the United States in 5701 (1941) and the subsequent establishing of the Kehot publishing house which he headed, would the idea of publishing these writings actually come to fruition.

A quick glance through the Rebbe’s letters in that period tells of his insatiable desire to publish more and more books of Chassidus and make them accessible to the broader public. As soon as there was a go-ahead from his father-in-law allowing specific writings of one of the preceding Chabad rebbes to be printed, the Rebbe spearheaded major campaigns to ensure that the books would be published immediately.

In a letter to a Chabad activist in which the Rebbe asks him to form a committee and establish a fund for this purpose, the Rebbe writes: “It is my hope that the project of publishing the chassidic teachings of our rebbes should not be stopped due merely to a lack of means, since my father-in-law, the Rebbe, has already given permission to publicize them…”4

Establishing the “Keren Sholom” Fund

In his preface to Kuntres Uma’ayon, the Rebbe writes of a special meeting that took place on 2 Nissan 5702 (1942—shortly after Kehot was founded), during which it was decided to establish a new fund dedicated to printing Rashab’s writings, by the name of Keren Sholom. The plan was, at it seems, to print all of the letters, sichos (talks), and ma’amorim (discourses) of Rashab in one series.

The first volume chosen to commence the new series would be Toras Sholom—Sefer Hasichos, containing Rashab’s talks.

This volume is very unique in character as well as content.

Rashab held official gatherings for his chassidim (farbrengens) only three times throughout the year: on Simchas Torah, Yud-Tes Kislev and Purim.

These farbrengens were filled with profound explanations on the deepest concepts of chassidic thought, as well as many stories that had been transmitted down from one Chabad rebbe to next, generation after generation. Perhaps above all, Rashab added most interesting and telling anecdotes about his predecessors, elucidating each of their specific contributions in the chain of transmission of chassidic teachings.

Unlike his ma’amorim, which were all transcribed by Rashab himself (and subsequently published from his own handwriting), the sichos were never authoritatively recorded. The only remnants of these precious talks were the journals and transcripts of individual chassidim who had jotted down Rashab’s words from memory shortly after the farbrengens. These notes were scattered about in the possessions of private chassidim, and the Rebbe had the task of searching them out.

There were a substantial number of transcriptions written by Rayatz himself, which served as a basis for the collection, but most of the volume was compiled from the writings of the elder chassidim. The largest and most notable collection of all was received from Rabbi Eliyahu (Yaichel) Simpson. He handed the Rebbe his own notebook, which he had written while studying in Lubavitch between the years 5662–5666 (1902–1906).

Original Writers; Genuine Chassidim

As most of the talks had not been authoritatively recorded, the existing transcriptions needed to be revised and amended. The Rebbe undertook this challenging task and, in his preface to the published volume, he made note of the difficulties with which he had contended:

“In many instances we were unable to ascertain who wrote the transcriptions, and we therefore cannot be certain how accurate they are. Nevertheless, one must bear in mind that the writers were genuine chassidim, who held every word of their rebbe as most holy. Hence, it is without doubt that they made their best attempt to stay true to their rebbe’s actual words, without adding or omitting anything.”

The Rebbe, in addition to revising the existing text, also added footnotes and placed them at the end of the book. (In subsequent editions, these were included at the bottom of the pages throughout the book.)

The editing and preparation of the book proceeded for six months, and it was finally printed in Adar II 5706 (March 1946).5

Limited Edition

In accordance with Rayatz’s original instruction, the text was not printed in the usual way, but rather copied from a mimeograph (typewritten) draft. Presumably this was because the transcriptions were not official recordings, and Rayatz didn’t want them to be published as such.

Additionally, Rayatz wanted only a limited number of copies to be printed, and the words “Limited edition” were stamped on the inside cover, along with the number of that particular copy.

(Later the volume was reproduced in a standard format, and is available for purchase even today.)

The expenses incurred in editing and publishing the new volume were covered by two Chabad philanthropists: Mr. Shmuel Dov Ganeles, and another individual. In a letter to Mr. Yaakov Katz of Chicago, dated 1 Adar I 5706 (February 2, 1946), the Rebbe asks him to contribute financially:

“A long time ago, my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe shlita, gave permission to publish limited talks of his father, the Rebbe [Rashab], in mimeograph form. The printing of this book will be completed at the end of this week, and it will contain 330 pages.

“The publishing expenses totaled close to $1900. To meet that cost, we had made the following calculation: there would be two partners who would pay $500 each, and the remainder would be collected from sales. One of the two partners has already donated $500 to this account, but at the last moment, the second partner, no longer able to undertake such a commitment, was forced to retract.

“At this opportunity, I would like to call upon you to become the second partner, and to help in the printing of the aforementioned text.”6

Mr. Katz, a well-known good-hearted and passionate chassid, agreed without hesitation.

Waiting for the Rebbe at the Elevator

About one month later, on Friday of Parshas Zachor 5706 (March 15, 1946), the published volumes arrived at Lubavitch World Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway. As the delivery truck arrived, the Rebbe chanced upon Rabbi Yosef Goldstein, and motioned for him to assist with carrying the boxes into his office.

Meanwhile, the Rebbe opened one of the boxes and took out a book, and together with Rabbis Shmuel Levitin and Shlomo Aharon Kazarnovsky headed to Rayatz’s study to present him with the first copy.

Chassidim knew that whenever the Rebbe would return from visiting his father-in-law, he would relay parts of their conversation. Thus, while the Rebbe was in Rayatz’s room, a small crowd gathered around the elevator awaiting his return.

After a few minutes, the Rebbe returned and told the chassidim that when Rayatz received the new volume he showed great satisfaction, and with it in hand, he remarked, “With this, one can live for seventy years!”

It was clear to all that Rayatz greatly cherished the newly published volume of his father’s talks. The following year, during a Shavuot farbrengen, he turned to the chassidim and said: “One must set aside time each day to study a few lines from Toras Sholom. One need not study so much; a few lines will suffice, but it is there that one will see how to live his life as a chassid.”

In the ensuing years, the volume was reprinted several times with many additions. The Rebbe continuously urged the elder chassidim to record and hand in whatever they recalled from Rashab’s farbrengens, to be included in subsequent editions.7

In 1993, Toras Sholom was reprinted with many new additions, including an index.

As mentioned, Sefer HaSichos—Toras Sholom is replete with gems: explanations of the deepest concepts in chassidic thought, stories and anecdotes about early Chabad rebbes and their chassidim, and more.

In Rayatz’s words: “The main thing is not what is written on the paper; one must live with what it says!”89