The Talmud1 discusses the case of a “tinok shenishbah bein ha’akum” — a child raised from infancy amongst gentiles and who therefore has no understanding of Judaism. Such a person is not held accountable for not living in accordance with the Torah because he cannot be blamed for his lack of belief and observance.

The Rambam, in a well-known comment regarding the children of the sectarian group the Karaites, elucidates an issue that can be relevant for us in this generation as well:

“However the children and the grandchildren of these errants, whose parents have misled them, those who have been born among the Karaites, who have reared them in their views; each is like a child who has been taken captive among them, who has been reared by them, and is not alacritous in seizing the paths of the commandments; his status is comparable to that of one who has been coerced. Even though he later learns that he is a Jew and becomes acquainted with Jews and [the Jewish] religion, he is nevertheless to be regarded as a person who is coerced, for he was reared in the erroneous ways [of his parents]. Thus it is of the children and grandchildren of the karaites who adhere to the practices of their Karaite parents who have erred. Therefore it is proper to cause them to return in repentance and to draw them near with words of peace until they return to the strength-giving Torah.”2

Many halachic authorities have applied this reasoning of the Rambam to all contemporary Jews who have been educated in a secular, agnostic/atheistic environment: all are to be considered a tinok shenishbah. The reader who wishes to read a full review of all opinions on this matter is referred to the book The Tinok Shenishbah written by Rabbi Chaim Rapoport for the London Beth Din in 5757. Rabbi Rapoport’s book also deals extensively with the issues of the tinok shenishbah vis-à-vis inclusion in a minyan and eligibility for an aliyah, etc. The reader is also referred to the book3 Chassidic Dimensions: The Dynamics of Ahavas Yisrael by Rabbi J. I. Schochet, who also deals extensively with the halachic aspects of this matter.4 In this chapter we shall limit ourselves to quotes from the Rebbes of Chabad on this subject. As a result, the source material presented is not exhaustive but will suffice to present the opinion of Chabad.

The Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, writes in a letter:5

In our generation there are, thank G‑d, hardly any heretics or apikorsim at all, because the terms “min” or “apikores” apply to those who deny Torah and mitzvos as a result of heretical theology; this was the case when there were baalei seichel (accomplished intellectuals) who were involved in intellectual investigation, but nowadays — even those people who are completely irreligious — the majority of them are very distant from true intellectual investigation and they just follow the opinions of those who deny the truth. The real reason that they do not keep the mitzvos is, by and large, because it is easier that way. It is not done, however, with the intention to rebel, G‑d forbid. Even when transgressing negative commandments, it is not lehachis, i.e., to arouse anger, but rather to fulfill their desires.

Therefore, even though they may compare in their actions to those whom the Alter Rebbe wrote in Tanya that it is a mitzvah to hate, i.e., to the apikorsim, in reality, looking at their true status, one should consider them in the category of those whom the Alter Rebbe says that a love/hate relationship must prevail ... and therefore, in truth, they should without too much difficulty be able to return to HaShem.

This has actually been demonstrated in that, thank G‑d, many (and many more) have done teshuvah, and in particular those who were conceived and born into homes that are very remote from Judaism. They were educated without any Yiddishkeit and naturally followed the ways of those who removed the yoke of Torah and mitzvos [from themselves], but now have come under the influence of Orthodox Jews and have been influenced. In particular, if they were aroused in the correct manner, they have accepted it with all their hearts — and I know of such people. And since every Jew is very precious, even where there exists a doubt, one must exert all efforts to draw them near....

Even in this matter one must, however, conduct oneself according to the Torah and not to one’s own intellect. One should draw the other nearer to oneself and not let oneself be drawn to the other.... Many make a mistake in this matter with bad results, and it must be stressed that all efforts in the area of kiruv must be only in the ways of the Torah.

In another letter,6 written in 1943 and printed in the journal HaKeriah VehaKedushoh, the Previous Rebbe responds in a most classic manner to the following question:

(In answer to your letter in which you write):

Q. “My brother-in-law Yaakov Leib and I came 54 years ago from a small town in Vholin. We grew up together and were friends, we learned in yeshivah together, and when the time came we both went to the Golden Land, worked hard for a number of years, made a living, and then we married two sisters and became brothers-in-law.

“I want to ask you why, when my brother-in-law worked hard for 20 years in the business and did not make such good business, he (together with me) was a member in our shul, would often sit by the shiur in Mishnayos and Ein Yaakov and used to love to hear the sermons of our Rav, a talmid chocham, who used to speak with fiery, G‑d-fearing words which made such a warm impression. Both my brother-in-law and I did much for the rabbi’s Yeshivah and Talmud Torah.

“When my brother-in-law worked his way up the ladder, he became apathetic to the Talmud Torah and Yeshivah work with the excuse that he was busy with the business; he could no longer come to the Ein Yaakov shiurim but would only come for half an hour in the morning and even then did not have time for the Mishnayos learning. A year or two passed and he worked himself up a bit further and then he stopped coming even on Mondays and Thursdays and only showed up on Shabbos, and about the Yeshivah work — not a word.

“Another few years passed and he left our shul to become a member in the “modern” shul, or in the “mixed” shul as we call it. The Rav is a student from R. Yitzchok Elchonon Seminar, and on Friday night the “mixed” shul is full with members who came by car. The rabbi with his members — both male and female — dance together, smoke, and the content of the rabbi’s sermons are heretical and full of mockery of practical mitzvos.

“My brother-in-law was a member of that shul for eight years. Because of the location of the factory and his store, he did not move out of the neighborhood; however, when he became the chairman of a group of companies which owned multiple factories and stores, he moved to Manhattan and became the vice-president in the large temple where the minister is a “Tishah BeAv dancer”7 and a “Yom Kippur chazir eater,”8 and [my brother] donates large sums of money to all their institutions.

“Notwithstanding his age, 74/75 years old, he still acts like a young man. He wantonly repeats the heretical words of his rabbi and he never reflects on the fact that in our age we should be thinking about the baggage that we will be taking to the World to Come.”

A. The general answer to your question is to be found in the words of the Torah:9

“Yeshurun thus became fat and rebelled. You grew fat, thick and gross. (The nation) abandoned the G‑d who made it, and spurned the Mighty One who was its support.”

The three classic commentators on the Chumash: Rashi, Ibn Ezra and the Ramban, do not make a comment on the first three words of the verse, and in truth it is difficult to understand why this happens, that in the majority of cases as soon as Yeshurun becomes fat — when he becomes rich and fat — he rebels.

The rebellion is proportional to how fat he becomes. There are three stages: One, you grew fat; two, thick; and three, gross. These three stages are the general cause of the evil acts of the “ones who became fat” and their rebellion is in two stages: One, he abandons the G‑d who made it, and two, spurned the Mighty One who was its support.

Regarding the “vayishmanik” (one who becomes fat) — when G‑d helps him and he works himself up and he becomes “fat,” he starts to forget and abandon the G‑d who made him. Previously, when on Shabbos he would look into a sefer, now on Shabbos he reads a romantic novel. Previously, when in the park he would peek at somebody else’s paper, now he buys his own. Previously, he would shave his beard with cream and now he shaves with a razor or with a shaver. Previously, he would pray in a Yiddisher shul and would listen to a Yiddisher Rav, and now he prays in a “mixed” shul and becomes a “thick” Jew: thick and fat with bloodshot, lustful eyes.

When the “thick” Jew becomes no longer happy with the Friday night parties in the “mixed” shul and the Jewish Centers, when he is no longer interested in hearing the Jewish jokes that the minister makes to entertain his members, he becomes a “gross” Jew, he is no longer friendly with the minister and his cohorts, and their “abandonment of the L‑rd” is by him almost of no consequence.

The “gross” Jew must have a progressive temple, a 100% progressive temple, with a minister who is a through and through progressive: a minister who is a Tishah BeAv dancer and a Yom Kippur chazir eater is not enough, the minister must be one who “has spurned the Mighty One who was his support.” Not only does he befriend other idolatrous priests, but he brings them in to lecture in his temple!

Why it is that Yeshurun becomes fat and rebels the three classic commentators do not explain; however it is a fact that a large number of the Jews who become fat, rebel, and when one rebels, one falls spiritually lower and lower, and when the individual falls he also wishes to have less spiritual leaders.

Everybody knows the explanation that the great gaon Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, zt’l, gives on the mishnah,10 “The face of the generation is like the face of a dog.”

In Moscow there was a Chassidic rabbi, a great scholar called Rabbi Yaakov Vidrevitch z’l. When the Jews were expelled from Moscow, he immigrated to America. Even his mundane conversations were repeated, and even from his jokes one could learn a great deal.

When Rabbi Vidrevitch was a Rav in Moscow, it was fashionable for the young Jewish aristocracy to take a walk with a dog. The dogs came in all sizes, small and large. All the dogs were well groomed and their owners held them with long leashes.

The nature of a dog is to run in front of its owner. The owner can possibly keep up with a small dog, however a large, healthy dog runs in front and leads its owner wherever the dog wants to go.

Mr. Zev Wissatzki, z’l, was at that time the head of the Jewish community in Moscow. Rabbi Vidrevitch always praised Mr. Wissatzki for his personal good deeds and charitable work, however the Rav was not happy with the way Mr. Wissatzki conducted communal affairs. Numerous matters were given over to people who were by no means religious.

Once Rav Vidrevitch and Mr. Wissatzki were walking in the street together, and on the way they saw the young and rich strolling with their dogs large and small. They knew most of the people and saw that in the case of those who had small dogs the owner was leading the dog, but with those who had large dogs, the dog was leading the owner.

Mr. Wissatzki commented, “What do you think about that Rabbi, the young generation have found new friends — dogs!”

“What should I say?” answered the Rabbi. “They want to create a new world order — that we should all be led by dogs, and the richer the person the larger the dog.”

The present thunder and lightning marking thebirth-pangs of Mashiach, have also reached the walls of the temples and the Jewish centers. The black clouds of anti-Semitism — G‑d’s punishment — have darkened the sunshine of the “thick” and “gross” Jews, and these birth-pangs will definitely shake their hearts.

It is of the greatest ahavas Yisrael importance not to allow them to fall G‑d forbid into a crisis; the obligation of all those believing Jews is to stretch out a spiritual hand to all those sons of believers, to save them from a crisis which could lead to suicide.

Give your brother-in-law, Mr. Yaakov Leib, this letter to read over. Speak to him with the true feelings of your aching Torah and mitzvos heart, call him by his old Vohliner Yeshivah name Yaakov Leib, and not with his new American name Leon, and tell him, “Return Yaakov Leib, do teshuvah and come to us in shul, help our Yeshivah and Talmud Torah and G‑d will help that you should not be a sacrifice of the time.

It is certain that not only is it possible to help the “thick” Jews who have abandoned their G‑d, but one can also help those who have spurned Him — the “gross” ones — because the truth of truths is that even with them, the “pintele Yid” (the quintessential point of being Jewish) is still whole.

The Sages in Sanhedrin 44a tell us that even if a Jew sins, he is still called a Jew. Even one who discards his Judaism and becomes Heaven forfend an apostate remains a Jew, because to stop being a Jew is an impossibility. Whether he wants to or not, one who is born a Jew remains a Jew and sooner or later he will feel the sentiment expressed at Sinai, “We will do and we will hear,” because the pintele Yid always remains whole.

The A-lmighty wants the Jew to go on the correct path and He arouses the Jew with kindness and mercy. Only upon occasion that the first ways of mercy and kindness do not work does G‑d use other ways to arouse the Jew, even ways which can arouse third generation sinners — as is happening now in this period of the birth-pangs of Mashiach when G‑d is asking from all Jews — without exception — to do and to hear.

May the A-lmighty have mercy on the people of Israel and on us amongst all Israel and lighten the birth-pangs of Mashiach. He should arouse our hearts with kindness and mercy to repent in truth, and He should send the righteous Mashiach very soon.

Immediately to repentance and immediately to Redemption.

From these and other letters of the Previous Rebbe it is clear that even 50 years ago when these letters were written, the Rebbe was of the opinion that the act of kiruv must extend to all Jews, even those who are severely spiritually estranged.

Strengthen the Nation

On Shabbos Parshas Vayechi 5751, the Rebbe elaborated on the theme of tinok shenishbah and stressed that in this generation we must always seek to strengthen and look favorably upon our brethren.

“...And from this point we learn a lesson how to strengthen the bnei Yisrael in the time of exile, particularly in this long exile, which because of its length has been much more difficult than all other exiles, and therefore it becomes more necessary to give strength and encouragement.

“The strengthening of bnei Yisrael is achieved through announcing: ‘And Yaakov lived,’ that ‘Yaakov our Patriarch did not die ... just as his seed lives, so too he is living,’ i.e., to emphasize the true level of each and every Jew — the seed of Yaakov — that he is a ‘Jew’ and therefore notwithstanding his standing and revealed situation, he can and needs to reveal his true level through doing teshuvah and keeping Torah and mitzvos — that is the way to strengthen and encourage.

“However when one stresses and emphasizes the disadvantage of those who are non-observant, also adding warnings of punishment and retribution, Heaven forbid, not only is this not the way to strengthen the keeping of Torah and mitzvos, rather it weakens observance and distances the non-observant from doing teshuvah. Particularly in this generation, the only way to draw the hearts of bnei Yisrael closer to our Father in Heaven is to rebuke in ways of pleasantness and peace with ahavas Yisrael.11

“This is all important in this generation in which those who are until now non-observant are in the category of a tinok shenishbah, and their status is as clearly ruled by Maimonides as quoted above; as the Rambam says — it is correct to bring them to do teshuvah and to draw them with peaceful words until they return to the strength of the Torah.

“Another fundamental point in not speaking derogatorily about bnei Yisrael — and particularly not mentioning words of impending retribution (which because of the imperative, ‘Do not open your mouth,’ it would not be right in repeating them, in addition to the negative effects it would have in kiruv as mentioned before) is that such words are completely untrue and the opposite of ‘respect’ for G‑d and the opposite of ‘respect’ for the Jews.

“The opposite of the truth:

Maimonides rules:12 ‘This balancing of iniquity and merit is not according to the number of sins or merits but according to their greatness. There is such merit that balances many sins, etc., and this balance can only be balanced with Divine Judgment; He who knows the true valuation of merits vis-à-vis debits.’

“In our case: Since, as mentioned above, those who are non-observant until now are in the category of a tinok shenishbah, who is like one who has been compelled or forced, the rule is that ‘Torah exempts one who is forced.’13 On the other hand, when a tinok shenishbah keeps even one mitzvah — and definitely one who keeps many mitzvos — as the Sages14 have testified that there is no man of Israel who has not kept many mitzvos15 — this is surely very precious and beloved by G‑d!

“Furthermore, it is particularly in this generation that there has been an arousal amongst the tinokos shenishbu to return to the ways of Torah and mitzvos, to the extent that tens of thousands of Jews have become observant, and this number is increasing.

“Who therefore has the right to weigh in his own human — of flesh and blood — mind the weight of the sins of this generation and to pronounce that because of these sins will come retribution. G‑d forbid such a thing. This is the opposite of that which the Torah rules: that these people are in the category of a tinok shenishbah whom Torah exempts!

“The opposite of Heavenly honor:

“To describe G‑d as One who sits and calculates the number of sins and waits until there is enough to take retribution, G‑d forbid, and then when punishment is exacted again starts counting, etc., this is surely the opposite of respect for G‑d, as it gives the impression that G‑d can be compared to a cruel king who is waiting to punish. This is in fact the opposite of the truth that G‑d is a ‘Merciful Father’ as explicitly stated in numerous verses, particularly in the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy.16

“G‑d is primarily engaged in creating additional simchahs for the Jewish people, as the Midrash17 states: ‘What has G‑d been doing since creation until now? He has been making shiduchim!’ i.e., creating additional brides and grooms and fulfilling the command of ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ by creating more children18 — which is connected with the simchah of the Redemption19 — the marriage of G‑d and the Jewish people20 as it says in the wedding blessings, ‘Speedily ... will be heard in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem the voice of delight, and the voice of joy, the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride.’21

“Moreover, when the A-lmighty does punish for sins — after He has been abundantly patient22 — the punishment is not G‑d forbid a revenge, rather it is for the good of the person, in order to cleanse and purify him from the impurity of the sin.23 In the words of the Alter Rebbe:24 ‘Like a merciful father who is wise and righteous who strikes his son ... like a great and awesome king who himself washes the excrement off his only son out of his great love for him.’

“And since this cleansing is done out of love, it causes pain to G‑d and He also shouts, ‘Woe to Me...,’25 ‘I (G‑d) am with man in all his troubles.’26

“The opposite of honor to the Jewish people:

“Since the bnei Yisrael are the children of G‑d, as it says explicitly in the verse,27 ‘You are children to the L‑rd your G‑d,’ and additionally referred to as ‘My son, My firstborn Israel,’28 and the A-lmighty loves them as it says,29 ‘I love you, says G‑d,’and as the Baal Shem Tov taught,30 that the love of the A-lmighty to every one of Israel is greater than the love of elderly parents to an only child born to them in their latter years, it follows that G‑d does not wish to hear derogative words regarding His people, and such words are insulting as it says in the verse in Zechariah31 ‘One who touches you is as if he has touched the apple of His (G‑d’s) eye.’

“Even the prophets of whom it is said32 that, ‘The spirit of the L‑rd spoke in them and His word was on their tongue,’ are warned that, ‘The A-lmighty does not desire one who speaks badly of His people.’33 We find that Yeshayahu, one of the greatest of the prophets,34 was punished when he said, ‘and in the midst of a people of impure lips I dwell.’35

“Maimonides, in his famous epistle Iggeres HaShmad, writes: ‘If the pillars of the world (i.e., the Prophets) were punished for speaking unfavorably ofthe people, how much more so less important personalities who loosen their tongue against communities of Israel to call them wicked.... Any orator should not speak in public until he has reviewed what he wishes to say a number of times ... and how much more so the written word should be reviewed a thousand times....’

“It is also important to bear in mind the warning the Torah gives us about ‘not opening our mouth to the Satan.’36 Strong words can arouse the Divine attribute of judgment and bring about punishment, whereas with good words and seeking merit in the people, one causes that G‑d accepts this merit.37 An example of this concept is found with Gideon,38 in whose days Israel was in great danger and the A-lmighty was looking for a person who would see merit in them.... As soon as Gideon saw merit in them an angel appeared to him. It was only in the merit of Gideon seeking merit in the people that they were redeemed.39

“We find many examples in Jewish history of great leaders seeking merits for the Jewish people even though they were on a spiritual low. How much more so in our generation where the only reason why Jews are not more observant is because they are ‘forced,’ and in the category of a tinok shenishbah, it is not necessary to search for merits for the merits are obvious. Each and every mitzvah today, whether in thought, word or deed, is very precious, and multiplied manifold is the merit of the vast teshuvah movement which is growing in momentum.

“Most important on the agenda is that all this positive merit should hasten the Redemption. The Talmud40 already states that ‘All the end dates for Mashiach’s arrival have passed.’ This was true in the times of the Talmud, how much more so today after a lengthy and difficult exile lasting longer than 1900 years and Mashiach has still not come!

“As regards teshuvah — (as the Talmud41 states that Mashiach’s arrival is dependent on teshuvah) — the Jewish people have already done teshuvah, for there is no member of the people who did not have a ‘thought of teshuvah’ at least once in their lives (if not many times), and with one thought of teshuvah one can be transformed in a moment42 from a complete rasha to a perfect tzaddik, as the Talmud43 rules that one who betroths a woman on the condition that he is a (perfect44 ) tzaddik, even if we know him to be a rasha, he is considered married because perhaps he had a thought of teshuvah.

“In light of all the above, Mashiach should and needs to come immediately. And in addition to all the above, many prominent rabbis in this generation have issued a halachic ruling that Mashiach needs to come immediately, and since Torah is ‘not in the heavens,’45 the halachic ruling of an earthly court can force the Heavenly Court to confirm with the ruling!

“One further point: ‘Closing the Satan’s mouth’ on this issue and looking meritoriously at the Jewish people is of particular relevance to this generation.

“In the Haftorah of Shabbos Chanukah which is taken from the prophecies of Zechariah,46 it is written: ‘And G‑d said to the Satan, “G‑d shall denounce you, O Satan, and G‑d Who chooses Jerusalem shall denounce you (again); this is indeed a firebrand rescued from the flames.’” G‑d denounces the Satan for wishing to bring evil upon the people. G‑d declares that He chooses Yerushalayim. Yerushalayim is compound of two words:47 yirah=fear (or awe), shalem=perfect: Yerushalayim=a perfect state of awe.48 The true essence of every Jew is a state of perfect awe. G‑d adds in His denouncement of the Satan, ‘this is indeed a firebrand rescued from the flames,’ i.e., there are only a few of Israel remaining like a firebrand saved from the fire, and you (the Satan) want Me to destroy them?

“Of relevance to us:

“This generation, the remnant of the Holocaust in which six million Jews — may G‑d avenge their blood — were killed, may be compared to a ‘firebrand rescued from the flames.’ G‑d forbid therefore to speak ill of them to the extent to warn them of another holocaust! Heaven forfend it should never take place — ‘A trouble shall not appear twice.’49

“Such an outburst against this generation is made sevenfold worse when it is connected with desecrating the honor of those who died in the Holocaust by stating that the Holocaust happened because of their sins.

“By way of introduction:

“There are things that happen in the world that do not happen as a punishment for sins, but rather as a result of a Divine decree that does not have any rationale in the wisdom and intellect of Torah. In reference to Rabbi Akiva who was murdered in a most horrific manner when the Romans raked his body with iron rakes — and similar horrific deaths of the Ten Martyrs — the Sages say that G‑d’s response when challenged with this question was, ‘Be silent,it has risen thus in My thoughts,’50 and ‘it is a decree before Me.’51 In no place is G‑d challenged with injustice.52

“The prime example of this is the decree of the Covenant Between the Parts, where G‑d says to Avraham,53 ‘Know with certainty that your children shall be aliens in a land not their own; they will serve them, and they will oppress them four hundred years.’ This decree was not due to any sins, rather it was a Divine decree.54

“So it is with the Holocaust.

“The destruction of six million Jews in such a horrific manner that surpassed the cruelty of all previous generations could not possibly be because of a punishment for sins. Even the Satan himself could not possibly find a sufficient number of sins that would warrant such genocide!

“There is absolutely no rational explanation for the Holocaust except for the fact that it was a Divine decree — definitely not the inner will of G‑d — rather a moment when, ‘for a brief moment I left you.’55 Why it happened is above human comprehension — but it is definitely not because of a punishment for sin.56

“On the contrary: All those who were murdered in the Holocaust are called ‘Kedoshim’ — holy ones, since they were murdered in sanctification of G‑d’s Name57 since they were Jews58 and it is only G‑d who will avenge their blood. As we say on Shabbos in the Av HaRachamim prayer,59 ‘...the holy communities who gave their lives for the sanctification of the Divine Name ... and avenge the spilled blood of His servants, as it is written in the Torah of Moshe ... for He will avenge the blood of His servants.... And in the Holy Writings it is said ...“Let there be known among the nations, before our eyes, the retribution of the spilled blood of Your servants.” ’ G‑d describes those who were sanctified as His servants60 and promises to avenge their blood since their murder is the opposite of His will.

“So great is the spiritual level of the Kedoshim — even disregarding their standing in mitzvah performance — that the Rabbis say61 about them, ‘No creation can stand in their place.’62 How much more so of those who died in the Holocaust, who, as is well known, many were of the finest of Europe’s Torah-observant Jewry.

“It is inconceivable that the Holocaust be cited as an example of punishment for sin, in particular when addressing this generation, which as mentioned before is a firebrand plucked from the fire of the Holocaust. In fact, such words will have no effect whatsoever and there should be fulfilled the continuation of the verse in Zechariah: ‘See I have removed your iniquity from upon you and had you clothed in fresh garments.... Let them place a pure turban upon his head.... The angel who spoke with me returned and woke me as a man is awakened from his sleep. He said to me, “What do you see?” I said, “I see and behold! — There is a menorah made entirely of gold...,” ’ i.e., the true and essential level of every Jew63 is revealed through the illumination of ‘the lamp of the mitzvah and the light of the Torah.’”64

* * *

On Shabbos Parshas Shemos 5751, the Rebbe again criticized those who speak ill of our generation65 and added the following point:

“There are those who wish to suggest that such a path of rebuke and citation of punishment, retribution, etc., is authentic as it is the path of the Mussar Movement. This is how the Maggidim of old used to rebuke their congregations. They further add that all the writings of the Prophets are full of such rebuke.

“The answer:

“In addition to the fact that in most recent generations the way of Chassidus has been embraced in most Jewish circles, and it has been demonstrated as the most effective way to draw the hearts of Jews to Our Father in Heaven, in particular the tinokos shenishbu of this generation who, when spoken to sharply are turned off, whereas when spoken to warmly show interest — the saying of mussar also has to fall within the parameters of Torah as demonstrated by all the gedolei Yisrael who walked in that path.

“There are many preconditions to saying mussar:

“1.Ahavas Yisrael:66

“It is written,67 ‘Listen my son to the rebuke of your father,’ ‘and one who loves (his son) will give him mussar.’68 Words of mussar need to be said like a father says them to a son, i.e. in such a way that even when the father rebukes the son, and on occasion punishes the son, it should be recognizable at that moment the true love that the father has for the son.

“When one Jew rebukes another, a precondition must be ahavas Yisrael, and the test is if the recipient of the rebuke feels that he is being rebuked out of love.

“2. Humility:

“A main precondition to public rebuke is that the one rebuking should not laud himself over the community and direct rebuke down at them, rather he should put himself on the same level as the community,69 i.e., that he is personally upset and pained about the situation of the community whom he is rebuking, and it is very noticeable in the rebuke that the words are being delivered with a humble heart, and indeed the orator includes himself in the rebuke with the need to correct himself for the same things in which the community needs correction,70 albeit perhaps in a more subtle way. How much more so when he could be accused of “practice what you preach.”71 When the community hears words of self-rebuke, it definitely has an effect on them.

“This matter is highlighted by the teaching72 that when one sees a defect in another, it is proof that in some way one also possesses the same defect, similar like looking in the mirror: if you have a clean face then you only see a clean face, but if you see some dirt, then there is dirt on one’s own face, in which case the Rabbis tell us, ‘Adorn yourself before you adorn others.’73

“From the above it is understood that when words of rebuke do not meet these conditions, i.e., they are said without mention of self-improvement and with no feeling for the recipient, then they are not mussar but empty words and G‑d help us from their effect.74

“As regards the words of the Prophets:

“1. The words of the Prophets are words of G‑d: ‘He revealed His secret to His servants the Prophets,’75 ‘The spirit of the L‑rd spoke in me and His word was on my tongue.’76 The Prophets gave over the word of G‑d, whereas the words of any mortal are his own — and certainly when they are said in a manner unlike that of a ‘Merciful Father’77 and contrary to the ways and teachings of the Torah.

“2. Even regarding those Prophets who did give over the word of G‑d, the Sages tell us that ‘G‑d does not desire one who speaks badly of Israel,’78 and in fact brings punishment upon them even though they were obligated to say the words.79 If this was the case with the Prophets, then how much more so today when there is no more prophecy80 — nobody should take upon himself to speak such words81 in such a style as to loosen their tongues upon the people and to call them sinners.82

“It should be G‑d’s will that such negative words about bnei Yisrael should cease, and only through increasing in ahavas Yisrael will the cause of the exile83 — baseless hatred — be rectified, which will bring Mashiach speedily in our days.84

Seek Only Merit

On Shabbos Parshas Ki Sisa 5751 the Rebbe elaborated further on the theme of seeking only merit for this generation:85

“Another fundamental lesson that one can learn from this week’s parshah:

“Even in such a depressed state as the Jews were in after they had sinned at the Golden Calf (and before they had repented and there was a revelation of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy), Moshe did everything in his power — even suggesting that his name be erased from the Torah — and was in fact successful in achieving forgiveness and pardon for the people through seeking merit for them.86

“So, too, do we find that great Jewish leaders throughout the generations searched only for merits upon the people. Such a leader was the famed tzaddik, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, who was known to be a ‘Lover of Israel’87 and was renowned always to search and to seek the merits in his fellow man.88

“One may possibly suggest that such a ‘search for merit’ does not only have a great effect in the heavenly spheres, but also upon those whom merit is sought, that the good that was seen would eventually be actually revealed....89

“...From this we can learn that together with the great effort to return to the fold those who have been ‘lost,’ one must view them with a favorable eye and to seek merits for them starting from the fact that the reason they are ‘lost’ is not their own fault, rather they are tinokos shenishboo, and seeking merits in them will eventually cause them to find their path back to Yiddishkeit.”90

The Final Word

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said: “I can absolve the entire world from judgment.”91 From this we learn that the Rashbi was willing to give all his personal merits for those who did not have any merits — “the entire world” — meaning even for those whom he never saw in his life, and even for those on the other side of the world. How much more so his relatives and close friends. Let the conduct of the Rashbi be a lesson for us.92