The talks appearing in Likkutei Dibburim were delivered by the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, R. Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880-1950, commonly referred to as the Rebbe Rayatz), in the course of the years 1929-1950 — in Latvia, Poland and the United States. In point of fact these “Collected Talks” as published are not exactly a record of the talks as delivered. The usual procedure was that at some time after a public address the Rebbe would select and amplify certain seminal themes, clothing them meanwhile in a literary garb more suited to their appearance in print. One of the inner circle of chassidim would then prepare them for publication (usually in chronological order), put them hastily through the press, and promptly distribute them among the chassidim free of charge, for it was their voluntary contributions that had covered the cost of publication.

Our Sages teach us that “No two prophets prophesy in the same style” (Sanhedrin 89a). And indeed, the reader is struck at once by the very different nature of a farbrengen in those years. For one thing, because of the circumstances of time and place, the attendance at those gatherings was relatively small. The style of delivery is accordingly familiar, and includes answers to questions posed by elder chassidim who were present at the time.

Furthermore, the audience to which the Rebbe R. Yosef Yitzchak addressed himself was varied in the extreme. On the one hand it comprised Torah scholars of worldwide repute. Rubbing shoulders with them, in characteristically chassidic camaraderie, stood men of goodwill — men of mesirus nefesh who were perhaps without a great deal of book-learning. For this was a generation that under the tyranny of the Old World had been battered by accustomed adversity, and in the freedom of the New World was to be confronted by unaccustomed prosperity. Hence, perhaps on account of the very diverse composition of his audience, the style of presentation favored by the Rebbe Rayatz is often deceptively simplistic. For the most part he spurns the formality of a learned quotation couched in technical terms, preferring a homely paraphrase, a pointed parable, or a heartwarming anecdote. But whatever his message may lose thereby in the smoke of impressiveness, it gains in the fire of its impact.

The reader’s imagination is overwhelmed by the sheer range of this work, both in subject and in atmosphere. For these talks embrace (for example) childhood memories; insightful stories; the family traditions of a family of tzaddikim; recollections of Stalinist dungeons and interrogations; nostalgic glimpses of faces and sounds and townlets that conjure up the mystique of a vanished world; delicately-drawn vignettes of exalted villagers and humble giants; eloquent and sometimes impassioned passages of exhortation; fascinating chronicles of the early history of the chassidic movement, treasured heirlooms that are lovingly passed on; and, of course, creative and instructive expositions of concepts crucial to the teachings of Chassidus. But one theme links all of these subjects like a thread of gold — the intense spiritual and personal bond with all his fellow Jews, that is of the essence of the very concept of Rebbe.

“When one hears a story of a good deed from one’s Rebbe,” the Tzemach Tzedek once said, “one becomes bound to the Rebbe’s faculty of action; when one hears a Torah discussion from one’s Rebbe, one becomes united with his faculty of speech; when one listens to one’s Rebbe singing a niggun, one cleaves to his faculty of thought. The bond with one’s Rebbe thus exists on the levels corresponding to each of the three names for the soul — nefesh, ruach, neshamah.”

And this is the sensation experienced by the reader who follows Likkutei Dibburim along all the manifold paths mapped out above.

Not that the journey is always smoothly predictable. From time to time the reader will discover that the Rebbe has unexpectedly forsaken the beaten road and is suddenly leading us along some charming but seemingly irrelevant byway, as if unable to resist the claims of a mere digression. A moment’s patience — and after a paragraph or two we find ourselves with equal suddenness back on the familiar highway. Yet another moment — and in a flash of illumination the relevance of the detour finally becomes apparent: we now have a refreshingly new frame of reference, a new lamp to light up the road before us.

In this, the technique of the Rebbe Rayatz echoes the manner in which his illustrious forebear, the Alter Rebbe, once provided solutions for all the scholarly problems bothering the rabbinic academicians of Shklov. Instead of confronting his listeners with exposition and argumentation, the Alter Rebbe lent them perception: he sang a sublime melody — and thereby elevated them to a spiritual perspective from which all their seeming contradictions vanished.

In harmony with this teaching technique, the literary style and arrangement of the present work are quite unlike the ordered, logical, expository style to which the chassidim of another generation are more accustomed. Indeed, the style of Likkutei Dibburim is typically that of an Impressionist artist, luminous and evocative — except that the beauty portrayed here is not the mere prettiness of color and light that bewitches the physical eye, but the exalted beauty of spiritual perception that enraptures the eye of the soul.

This distinctive texture of course makes translation a daring and delicate task — the more so, since the author of these talks, finding the existing linguistic resources inadequate for his purpose, on occasion even coins words, exploiting the delicious versatility of Yiddish to the utmost. In fact, the original text is written in a unique blend of the Holy Tongue and Yiddish. Within one resonant paragraph, even within one and the same sentence, the two languages either alternate solo, or sing in unison, or harmonize with each other.

Tackling a work of this nature, and of this stature, the translator is repeatedly reminded of the parable that a gifted teacher once told the local chazzan on the eve of the Days of Awe.

“As you stand at your lectern,” he said, “the envoy of your congregation, charged with the weighty responsibility of ushering their New Year’s supplications to their heavenly destination, consider yourself to be a muleteer. Men to whom you are answerable have entrusted you with the task of transporting a cargo of the most precious and fragile crystalware over a treacherous mountain path. Any slip on your part can be calamitous.”

Embarking on his anxious way, the undersigned muleteer was fortunately able to depend on the services of an expert navigator — the director of Sichos In English, Rabbi Yonah Avtzon, whose familiarity with the pitfalls and byways of publishing helped guide the cherished manuscript along the tortuous path leading to its ultimate destination.

The translation throughout was fine-tuned by the explanations and definitions suggested by my learned brother-in-law, R. Yitzchak Ginsburgh, and by many other willing consultants, including R. Tuvia Blau, R. Shalom Ber Levin, R. Avraham Baruch Pevsner, and R. Yosef Wineberg ע"ה.

After having been hounded all their lives by the NKVD in Moscow and Leningrad, and after having barely caught their breath in postwar Displaced Persons camps, when lesser men might have thought that it was time for a well-deserved retirement, six self-sacrificing chassidim asked the Rebbe R. Yitzchak for their marching orders. Thus it was that they eventually found themselves in an obscure Australian outback township called Shepparton. This tiny community, with its miniscule weatherboard shut, was the cradle of today’s vast and multifaceted Chabad-Lubavitch educational network in Australia, for it was the home of my revered grandfather, Reb Moshe Zalman Feiglin ע״ה. For many years this solitary, noble chassid had been urged by the warm and visionary letters of the Rebbe R. Yosef Yitzchak to bring these families from the other end of the world, in order to patiently and lovingly change the face of Australian Jewry. And this they have certainly done (even literally...). Over the years, moreover, the dynamic emissaries of the Rebbe of our generation have refueled and buttressed the mighty lighthouse raised by the founding fathers.

Out of respect and gratitude, this translation is dedicated to the unforgettable memory of that pioneering band of stalwart shluchim1 — R. Bezalel Wilschansky, R. Shmuel Althaus, R. Nachum Zalman Gurewicz, R. Issar Kluwgant, R. Abba Pliskin, R. Zalman Serebryanski, and to their respective self-sacrificing wives — for in their private and public lives, these men and women furnished living models of the ideal that was envisaged by the Rebbe Rayatz, the author of this work, when he spoke of what constitutes an authentically chassidisher Yid.


Jerusalem, עיר הקודש ת״ו

9 Adar2 5747 (תשמ"זl; 1987)