I write to the Rebbe almost every two weeks reporting on the latest news with Lubavitch in Manchester and relating the events and progress in various spheres of our activities. In one of those regular letters to the Rebbe, I proposed altering “gentiles” to “idol worshippers” or “heathens” at the end of the first chapter of Tanya. This, I reasoned, would avoid offending anyone who may “stumble” upon that quote in the now accessible Tanya. Additionally, it would reduce the chances of someone’s wishing “to make a fuss about it” or expressing anti-Semitic sentiments because of it.

There was nothing ambiguous about the reply I received; it was right to the point, slightly humorous and – in this instance – a good scolding and rebuke for me. (I always seem to receive a letter from the Rebbe when I write something controversial; it is even worth getting a reprimanding letter, always better than no letter at all!) Let this letter, once and for always, silence those critics who assert that the Rebbe does not give clear and concise direction. Here is that letter dated “23rd of Kislev, 5733” [November 29, 1972]:

I am in receipt of your letter of Kislev 13 and previous correspondence.

To begin with a good thing, I was pleased to see your daughter and two grandchildren, G‑d bless them, before their return to England. No doubt she will convey my personal regards, and also report on the test of “Shema Yisroel,” which passed with “flying colors.”

…Referring to your remarks about the translation of the concluding passage of chapter one of Tanya where it speaks of the souls of the nations of the world, raising the question of resentment that it might call forth in certain circles, and offering a suggestion in this matter – my obvious answer – if I may borrow your own phrase – “we cannot do anything without the Rebbe’s permission,” meaning of course the Alter Rebbe’s, i.e. author’s, permission.

Let me also add, with no offense intended, that your suggestion comes too late, for the passage has already been translated into Yiddish, English, French, and Italian editions years ago, in accordance with the intent of the author. Thus, there is no point to attempt to retract or forestall anything at this stage.

As a matter of fact, if any change were made, it would only accentuate the matter and provide an opportunity for anyone in any part of the world whose eye will catch it to make “a fuss” about it.

A further point – and this is the crux of the matter: In our day and age, one does not have to be a chossid, nor even a kabbalist (for the said doctrine of the Alter Rebbe is based on Kabbala and Talmud), nor even a confirmed believer – as long as one does not close one’s eyes to the stark facts – to see what kind of souls the nations of the world have. For all the nations of the world were witnesses to what was going on in Germany and the countries it overran [during WWII and the Holocaust], yet remained indifferent. In the light of this, the words of the Alter Rebbe (incidentally not original to him, as mentioned above) may even be an “understatement.”

To allay your apprehensions further, let me say this: If a goy [non-Jew] wants to keep his feelings to himself and not make trouble (and there are such), he will not make an issue of it. If he is the kind of goy that wants to make trouble (and there are “also” such), he can create issues without looking for them in books, as in the case of the Blood Libel which you cite in your letter.

I trust that you all had an inspiring Yud-Tes Kislev observance, and that the farbrengen here (which I am told was relayed also to Manchester [via telephone hookup]) did not completely rob you of a night’s sleep on motzoei Shabbos [Saturday night]. The important thing is that the inspiration should be lasting and permeate each and every day of the year….