As almost every reader of Likkutei Dibburim senses, a warm and gentle glow suffuses the stage on which many of the events of this unique work take place — Lubavitch, the village in White Russia in which its author was born and lovingly prepared for his momentous life-work; the spot on earth to which his vivid memory reverts so readily; the modest cradle of the most ambitious plan in Jewish history to educate and inspire a nation.

Seventy-five years later, though bereft of its towering tzaddikim and its two thousand chassidim, its stirring farbrengens and its lively chadarim, the village of Lubavitch still glows with that same ethereal luminosity. A year ago today, after having from early childhood soaked up stories and fond descriptions of its every beloved corner from a number of elder chassidim who studied there in their youth, the translator of these volumes was privileged to behold it with his own eyes.

After tottering and lurching through a restless night on board the ancient train that deafens its way westward from Moscow, after a long drive from Smolensk through hibernating hamlets with unpronounceable names, the visitor’s car skids to an icy halt as a miniature sooty locomotive puffs importantly past on its way from Vitebsk to the Rudnia railway station. This station was the closest contact that Lubavitch ever made with the twentieth century. Rudnia, the visitor recalls, was where old Reb Peisse the wagondriver, perched atop his home-made wagon with his black fur hat and high fur collar, used to singsong his way through his Tehillim as he waited patiently for his weary passengers. These were chassidim who had come by train all the way from distant provinces in order to spend a few precious days with the Rebbe whose presence at that time graced the nearby village of Lubavitch. Musing wistfully over that era, today’s visitor is awakened from his reverie by the clumsy clatter of a lazy draft-horse drawing an old-style wooden wagon, atop which is perched... a wagon-driver, complete with black fur hat and high fur collar. The visitor ventures a closer look at that driver. Couldn’t it perhaps be old Reb Peisse, waiting there all these years for an eager-eyed visitor with icicles in his beard, a sure passenger to Lubavitch?

But the car drives on, and after immersion in a freezing lake nearby, the visitor finally sights the humble signpost that says “Lubavichi.” He soberly recalls that during the four generations from 1813 to 1915, chassidim used to search their souls for months and years on end before daring to pass that signpost. Breathless nevertheless, he crosses the creaking wooden bridge over the Berezina River that reverently skirts the village, and there, sprinkled carelessly between sparse thickets of lank white Russian birch trees, stand a hundred or so picturesque and tumbledown thatched cottages and faded log cabins — the mortal remains of the Lubavitch that was.

The village appears to be deserted. Soon enough, though, plodding through its muddy lanes, the visitor stumbles upon a local peasant woman, who is busily doing her laundry in a copper basin under the water pump in the middle of the road. At the roadside lies a discarded wooden sleigh, alongside a few disused agricultural implements forged long ago by a backyard blacksmith. With the aid of his bilingual companions, the visitor is able to learn from this simple villager that apart from a solitary old woman who moved here from a nearby town, no Jews live in Lubavitch today.

In these cottages once lived the Mitteler Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, the Rebbe Maharash, the Rebbe Rashab and the Rebbe Rayatz. Along these roads, on their way to and from shul, walked generations of venerable chassidim, R. Hillel of Paritch and R. Aizik of Homil, the Rashbatz and R. Michael der Alter, while younger chassidim milled wordlessly around them in the hope of hearing a rich thought that would ignite their souls. And along these muddy lanes ran the author of Likkutei Dibburim as a young child on his way to visit his grandmother, for the sage and saintly Rebbitzin Rivkah used to sit with her grandson every Motzaei Shabbos, and pass on family traditions which he then preserved, in this book and in others, for posterity.

Over here bustled the Jewish market. Peddlers with loaded barrows from all the neighboring townships used to trundle in this direction early every Sunday morning, anxious to barter their home-grown produce in exchange for homemade wares and some fresh small-town news. Today it is a silent birch grove. Opposite was the nerve-center of Lubavitch — the courtyard flanked by the modest homes of the Rebbe Maharash, the Rebbe Rashab and the Rebbe Rayatz; the narrow yechidus-room; and the spacious wooden study hall of the pride of Lubavitch from 1897 — the world-renowned Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah, the last of whose students, in their nineties today, are stalwartly waiting for Mashiach. From this very courtyard hundreds of divinely-inspired maamarim were first uttered; for over a century this sacred soil generated profound scholarship, earnest prayer, and the most exquisite meditative melodies. Today it is sullied by a concrete proletarian supermarket.

A path leads the dispirited visitor beyond the outskirts of the furthest edge of the village through a ploughed field and past a somber wood. It is probably the very path taken by our author when at the age of fifteen he used to set out for his warmly-cherished daily stroll with his father, the Rebbe Rashab. Following this path, the visitor reaches the edge of the old cemetery. Fragments of inscriptions with the names of men of stature can be deciphered here and there on the shattered tombstones, though shaded by frosted bracken and grown over with moss. Significantly, the only monuments to survive the wrath of the German invader were those marking the holy resting places of the Tzemach Tzedek and the Rebbe Maharash; indeed, the latter stone is virtually intact.

Tzaddikim are greater after their passing hence than during their life in this world.” Surely, then, they can see what has come of this, their once-flourishing village; surely they can see how desperately the entire Jewish world is in need of Mashiach! Here, then, is a place for a Jew to pour out his soul in prayer.

Turning back for a parting glimpse before once again crossing the creaking wooden bridge over the Berezina River, the visitor is vexed: his eye is bewitched by the sheer beauty of Lubavitch; his soul exults at the privilege of his visit to this hallowed spot; but his heart is sore.

Yet around the lofty parent tree that was cut down so cruelly, lush and fruitful offshoots have sprung up on all sides. In the very near future, moreover, all those hundreds of houses of prayer and houses of study that the chassidim of the Rebbe Shlita have established throughout all the continents will be transplanted to the soil of the Holy Land. And in that resurrection of the glory that was Lubavitch, this visitor, together with his fellow Jews around the world, prays to find redoubled consolation for the vexations of the present. In place of the sad and gentle glow that suffuses old memories of Lubavitch, a new light will then shine over Zion. May we, with our Rebbe to guide us there, be privileged to witness it.