At the Agudas Chabad Convention Chai Elul1 5701 (1941) [New York]

(At the Opening Session)

1. Let there be light!

Today, Chai Elul, is the two-hundred-and-forty-third anniversary of a day that is holy and luminous for all of Jewry — the day on which the Almighty brought gratification2 both upon Himself and upon the House of Israel, by bestowing upon them a great pillar of light and pillar of fire, namely, the soul of our G‑dly master and eminent teacher, R. Yisrael the son of R. Eliezer (whose soul reposes in Eden), the Baal Shem Tov.

Chai Elul in the year תנ״ח,3 which the chassidic world calls by the name נַחַ״ת, is the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov, the day which proclaims to Jews at large, Yehi or — “Let there be light!”

The name Chai Elul includes a gematria that everyone is fond of. Even those who object to the use of significant initials4 and gematrias are fond of expressing the number 18 by a word that is its numerical equivalent — חַ״י, meaning “alive,” except that everyone uses this meaning according to his own understanding.

The Baal Shem Tov was born in the tiny village of Okup, on the border between Turkey and Wallachia. This is neither the place nor the time for a full account of his life and works in the Jewish world. However, one would like to honor his birthday. Fortunately, we have been privileged to celebrate the accomplishments of his soul in the world, leaving us, all the world’s chassidim — who constitute a large proportion of world Jewry — the teachings and the spiritual lifestyle of Chassidus. (The Baal Shem Tov based his Torah teachings on two foundations — the comprehension of G‑dliness5 and the love of a fellow Jew6 — which he made accessible to even quite ordinary folk.) Accordingly, at this significant celebration, I will now outline the various periods in our chassidic life, which is connected with almost 250 years7 of work for the public good.

2. A brief parting testament

The Baal Shem Tov was five years old when he lost his father. Lying on his deathbed, in the last moments of his life in this world, the saintly old sage uttered this brief parting testament to his only son: “My child! Fear no one and nothing in the world apart from G‑d alone. From the very depths of your heart and with the flame of your soul, love every Jew without distinction, whoever he may be and in whatever state he may be.”

These few words were the sum total of the provisions that the father gave his son for his journey through life. But this testament — the awe of Heaven and the love of a fellow Jew — served the Baal Shem Tov as his two Tablets of the Law, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of his lifework. In whatever circumstances he was ever to find himself, his path was lit up by a Pillar of Light, namely, the teaching that “I have set G‑d before me always,”8 and there burned within him a Pillar of Fire, namely, the love of his fellow Jew.

“This one” — the Baal Shem Tov — “shall console us”9 in this period, on the eve of the footsteps of Mashiach. It is he who brings comforting words of encouragement to the People of Israel in this most difficult of eras, the era of the dire exile that is extending from his time until the happiest of days, the day when Mashiach comes.

When he was fourteen years old, the Baal Shem Tov joined Machne Yisrael, the brotherhood of the hidden tzaddikim. The leader of this circle at the time was the scholarly R. Adam Baal Shem of Ropshitz, the close disciple and successor of R. Yoel Baal Shem of Zamosc, who in turn was the close disciple and successor of R. Eliyahu Baal Shem of Worms.

3. Discreet transmission of Kabbalah

Those who are unfamiliar with the history of the chassidic movement in general and of the Chabad chassidic movement in particular, think that Kabbalah and Chassidus are identical, though in different forms. For this reason I now find it necessary to clarify the subject very briefly.

Kabbalah is the mystical dimension of the Torah that deals with the loftiest of subjects — the Creator, the Torah, creation, souls and angels. The teachings of the Kabbalah have been transmitted from one generation to the next, from Moshe Rabbeinu to the Prophets, and then on to the Sages of the Mishnah and of the Talmud, then the Geonim, and certain select individuals in every generation.

Some of the responsa of the Geonim were written in reply to queries from various countries involving the Kabbalah, such as questions on the meaning of the Divine Names, the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, and the Ten Sefiros. Likewise, though the commentaries of Rashi (R. Shlomo Yitzchaki) on the Tanach and on the Aggados of the Gemara explicitly give the plain meaning, the pshat of the text, they nevertheless skillfully enwrap kabbalistic interpretations. So, too, Rambam (R. Moshe ben Maimon) opens his Yad HaChazakah with the four words Yesod hayesodos v’amud hachochmah,10 whose initial letters in the Holy Tongue spell out the Four-Letter Divine Name. Kabbalistic interpretations are also often hidden in the commentary of R. Avraham ibn Ezra. Similarly, Ramban (R. Moshe ben Nachman) and Bachaye (Rabbeinu Bachaye bar Asher) include explanations along the lines of the Kabbalah in their commentaries on the Chumash.

In this manner the teachings of the Kabbalah were studied and handed on in each generation to select individuals in the next generation.

4. Early Kabbalists

Beginning with five thousand years11 from the creation of the world, the Kabbalah was studied for a period of some 250 years — though to a limited extent — among certain circles of Torah scholars in Spain and Portugal. Indeed, the expulsions from those countries in the years 5250 and 525812 caused the study of the Kabbalah to be disseminated extensively throughout all the lands in which the refugees settled.

One of the most eminent Kabbalists among the Spanish exiles, R. Yosef Jospe, settled in Prague, where his son, R. Eliyahu, was born to him in his old age. In the year 5350 (1590) he settled in Worms, where in an earlier century Rashi had headed his yeshivah. There he established a prominent yeshivah expressly for scholars of stature, whom he used to regularly lecture in Kabbalah. Moreover, through his devout prayers he brought deliverance to many brokenhearted individuals — people who were seriously ill, or childless, and the like — and became renowned as a Baal Shem.13 Within a few years he had founded in Worms the circle of hidden tzaddikim, disciples whose mission was to disseminate the study of the Kabbalah in other communities.

In this way, though in the course of almost a century the study of the Kabbalah ran the gamut of both supporters and opponents, it did become a subject of public study, though generally not applied in a practical way to the refinement of character.

During the last years of the leadership of R. Yoel Baal Shem and during the first couple of decades of the leadership of R. Adam Baal Shem, their disciples — the hidden tzaddikim — pioneered a novel way of bringing the common people near to Divine service, through recounting the narratives of the Torah and the Aggadah.

In the year 5476,14 when our master, the Baal Shem Tov, was eighteen years old, he charged the hidden tzaddikim with a new path in Divine service: they were to address themselves to educational needs, by seeing to it that all Jewish townships be provided with Torah teachers for the young. His novel proposal was received by his colleagues as a personal responsibility for the establishment of proper chadarim, so that wherever a teacher was missing, one of them would take his place.

5. Nourishing the holy lambs

The Baal Shem Tov himself fulfilled the teaching that he who makes a suggestion should himself execute it.15 Thus it was that he became the helper16 of a melamed — taking little children to school, reciting their berachos with them, teaching them to make the blessing over the tzitzis and to recite Shema Yisrael and “Torah tzivah...,”17 playing games with them, telling them about Moshe Rabbeinu and the Giving of the Torah, taking them home to their parents, and reciting with them the bedtime Kerias Shema and “Beyadcha afkid ruchi….”18

In later days he was to tell his disciples that the period in his life in which he enjoyed the most satisfaction was when he used to teach those toddlers to recite “Modeh ani…” and Shema Yisrael with their pure little mouths, and repeating with them their kometz alef — oh; kometz beis — boh.

In his words: “I felt the gratification that was aroused in Heaven, and how envious the loftiest angels were of those flocks of holy lambs.”19

The Baal Shem Tov built up the community of Israel just as one builds a house, working from the bottom to the top, for when the foundations are sturdy, the house is strong. The whole People of Israel depends on the strength of its foundations, the education of its little children. In the past generation, it was the genuine chadarim and Talmud Torah schools — with their devout teachers implanting in young hearts faith, a love of the Torah and its commandments, and an awe of Heaven — that saved the remnant of our people from the spiritually lethal clutches of the disbelievers who threatened our people with destruction.

6. Have pity on your children!

On this occasion I would like to address myself to the parents of the children growing up in this country.

Brothers and sisters! Have pity on yourselves and on your children, and do not cast your beloved little ones into the most unwholesome of places — by which I expressly refer to those Talmud Torah schools in this country whose principals and male and female teachers are disbelievers who do not observe Shabbos and who eat and drink without the appropriate blessings, whose male teachers do not put on tefillin nor wear tzitzis.

The Jewish public domain ought to shudder at this spiritually lethal outrage, at the fact that the fate of Jewish children is entrusted into the hands of the irresponsible individuals who staff such schools. This kind of education and these sinful schools cause their students to utterly forsake their people and to find their way into missionary institutions, where most of them ultimately combat the Jewish People with venom.

Brothers and sisters! Observe the laws of family purity by the use of a kosher mikveh, and G‑d will bless you with fine and healthy children. Educate your children only in such Talmud Torah schools whose principals and teachers are pious, upright and responsible individuals who observe the commandments of the Torah as they were given to us, and then you and your children will be happy both spiritually and materially.

7. Hidden tzaddikim and unlettered fellow Jews

In due course the Baal Shem Tov became the spiritual leader20 of the circle of the hidden tzaddikim. Having established chadarim and yeshivos in hundreds of communities over the years, and having set up an educational network manned by teachers from among his circle, he disseminated a specific approach to Divine service and to ahavas Yisrael, whereby the hidden tzaddikim were to undertake the task of uplifting the common folk out of the swamp of ignorance, and bringing them to the table of Torah.

In this sense the Baal Shem Tov was the spiritual successor of the Ramban (R. Moshe ben Nachman), known to all as the kindly lover of his fellow Jew, who found a word of consolation for his suffering contemporaries when the decrees of baptism raged on all sides, and who extended a comforting hand to the Marranos, bringing them back into the Jewish fold.

In a Jew’s every move, the Baal Shem Tov saw a prayer addressed to the Creator; in every sigh he perceived a penitent turn toward the Master of the Universe.

It was he who told his disciples how once an outcry of “G‑d, have pity!” or the cock-a-doodle-do21 of a homespun village youth shattered all the partitions between G‑d and His people and quashed a dire decree of the Heavenly Court.

It was he too who told of a certain unlettered woman who stood in the women’s gallery of her synagogue one Yom Kippur, watching everyone around her weeping as they prayed.

“Master of the Universe!” she cried out tearfully. “Such weeping would melt even the heart of a Tartar!”

And as a result of her simple prayer her community enjoyed a year blessed with children, health and prosperity.

On another occasion, a visiting preacher was grimly rebuking a certain congregation and warning them of the horrors of Divine retribution that awaited them. 22

It was the Baal Shem Tov who addressed him with the following earnest entreaty: “The Midrash teaches that G‑d told Moshe Rabbeinu that he should rebuke Him. Why do you rebuke the Jewish People for not serving the Creator well enough? Instead, as it were, rebuke the Master of the Universe for not having compassion on His little children!”

The Baal Shem Tov had an especially warm word of comfort and encouragement for very simple folk. He extended his hand to them lovingly, thereby raising their spirits and bringing them near to the table of Torah.

8. Avraham Avinu and the Alter Rebbe

R. Yaakov Yosef of Polonnoye, author of Toldos [Yaakov Yosef], recounts that fifty years later,23 on Chai Elul 5508 (1748), in the course of the festive meal, the Baal Shem Tov expounded the following teaching of the Sages: “At three years of age Avraham recognized his Creator.”24

The Baal Shem Tov taught as follows: “Avraham Avinu underwent self-sacrifice for the path of G‑d, explaining to everyone the meaning of the unity of G‑d and Divine Providence.”25

Later on at the same festive meal the Baal Shem Tov said: “He who has the soul26 in Poland27 is three years old today.28 At three years of age, he recognized his Creator.29 He too will have to undergo the self-sacrifice of Avraham Avinu, in order to reveal the path of Divine service that involves the unity of G‑d and Divine Providence.”

This was our eminent master, the saintly R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi — the Alter Rebbe, founder of the trend within Chassidus that is called Chabad (an acronym for Chochmah, Binah and Daas), and the first Rebbe of Chabad chassidim, from the year 5535 (1775) to the year 5573 (1812).30 The Alter Rebbe founded distinctive educational institutions which he called chadarim,31 in which he gave spiritual guidance to the community of chassidim for over twenty-six years, from the year 5532 (1772).32

9. In response to a challenge

There is a well-known ruling that though the Torah does not require that a legal document be validated33 by a rabbinical court, the Sages do; moreover, a document that has been validated after having been challenged has greater validity34 in certain respects than a document which was never queried.

This would seem to imply that the enhanced validity of the document begins at the time of the challenge.

Fifty years later,35 a hundred years from the month in which the Baal Shem Tov was born, an unsavory informer by the name of (regretfully: Rabbi) Avigdor Pinsker36 slandered the doctrines of the Baal Shem Tov in general, and of Chassidus Chabad in particular, to the Russian government.

The leader of the Chabad chassidim, the Alter Rebbe, was consequently incarcerated in the greatest and most fearsome prison that Petersburg then boasted. There he was in danger of his life, having been sentenced as a traitor to the ultimate penalty. After fifty-three days of confinement he was released — on 19 Kislev 5559 (1798), which was the yahrzeit of his mentor, the Maggid of Mezritch, disciple and successor of the Baal Shem Tov. And with his release, the chassidic movement in general, and Chassidus Chabad in particular, scored a victory of truth — over the falsehood with which certain unscrupulous individuals had libeled chassidim and Chassidus.

10. Printeries closed – and reopened

Fifty years later,37 one hundred and fifty years from the year of the Baal Shem Tov’s birth, [governmental] permission was once again granted for printing works of Kabbalah and Chassidus.38

In the last couple of decades39 of the sixth century of the sixth millennium, the freethinking maskilim of Lithuania and Volhynia had declared war against the teachings of Chassidus. Their depraved tactics included not only the writing and publication of base lies and libels, but also the use of slander and informing. As a result, the Russian government outlawed the publication of works of Kabbalah and Chassidus, and a great number of Jewish printing houses were closed down, such as those in Shklov, Dubrovna, Kopust, Polonnoye and Slavita.

At the Rabbinical Conference convened in Petersburg in 5603 (1843), my great-grandfather the Tzemach Tzedek registered a strong protest against the above prohibition. His objection was futile. In fact, the Minister of the Interior imprisoned him for it.

Five years later, in 1848, when the prohibition was repealed, the Tzemach Tzedek published Likkutei Torah, which comprises maamarim of the Alter Rebbe on Vayikra, Bamidbar, Devarim and Shir HaShirim, with glosses of his own. This Book of Books of Chabad Chassidus articulates and explains in philosophical terms the true meaning of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov on two basic concepts — knowledge of the Creator, and the love of a fellow Jew.

11. Cold comprehension and fiery feeling

Elder chassidim used to refer to my father reverently as “the Chovas HaLevavos40 of the teachings and avodah of Chassidus.”

This work is distinctive among ethical writings in that each of its nine Portals — both the readily comprehensible ones, and those too whose philosophical speculation renders them more abstruse — has a touchstone, which is clear and definitive testimony to the truth of its contents.

Such was the style of my father, the head of Chabad chassidim. Everything he ever said, whether in the exposition of Chassidus or in his communal work, was stated definitively, after having been made clear in his own mind by reference to a particular touchstone.

In the summer of 5655 (1895), when my father was staying in a health resort,41 he was visited by a group of highly learned maskilim. These were not of the cheap kind of maskilim who once leafed through some freethinking booklet and ate up a roll with treifah fat and thereby qualified as maskilim, but maskilim in the literal sense of the word — learned men, and they posed a series of questions to my father.

Among their queries was the following: “What manner of doctrine is Chassidus? On the one hand it appears that the doctrine of Chabad Chassidus is a profound religious philosophy that deals with — and in certain respects finds — explanations of the deepest meanings of concepts such as the existence of the Creator and the creation of the universe; on the other hand, Chabad teachings appear to be a fiery igniter of the heart’s feeling in the fulfillment of a mitzvah, arousing an ecstatic pouring forth of the soul in prayer, and a certain tenderness in one’s love of a fellow Jew. Chabad teachings thus appear to comprise two polar opposites — cold comprehension and fiery feeling.”

“Yes,” agreed my father, “that is Chassidus: fiery emotion in one’s cerebral comprehension — but with a certain touchstone. When is one’s comprehension of Chassidus genuine? — When his davenen is enhanced by his comprehension. The ardor of his davenen is thus the test of how genuine his comprehension was. And when is his davenen genuine? — When it is followed by refined conduct. The tone of his conduct throughout the day is thus the test of his ‘service of the heart.’”

12. A vision fulfilled

In whatever my father did he always sought a touchstone, by reference to which he could be assured that the project at hand was as it ought to be. Thus it was that when he founded the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah he sought such a touchstone by which he could test whether it would realize his intentions.

On 15 Elul42 5657 (1897), my father announced that he was founding a yeshivah. Accordingly, out of a large number of young men, he chose the twenty best and most G‑d-fearing scholars, and entrusted them to the guidance of a chassidisher tutor.43 This tutor was not entitled44 “The Most Illustrious Rabbi”45 or “The Moralistic Mentor”:46 he was simply a man deeply learned, and steeped in the time-honored educational traditions of Chassidus Chabad. This was R. Shmuel [Gronem] Esterman, of blessed memory, and my father gave him directives as to how he should educate and guide these young men so that they should be willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of Torah, mitzvos and ahavas Yisrael.

A year later, early in Elul, the mashpia, R. Shmuel Gronem, arrived47 with his students so that my father could examine them; this examination lasted several days.

On the following Monday, on 18 Elul 5658 (1898), in the presence of a gathering of chassidim, my father declared: “Today is Chai Elul, two hundred years since the birth of the Baal Shem Tov. Today, after the examination, we have a yeshivah which with G‑d’s help will give expression to the Baal Shem Tov’s path of self-sacrifice — as expounded by the Alter Rebbe and all the Rebbeim of Chabad — for the knowledge of G‑dliness and for the love of a fellow Jew.”

13. Tomchei Temimim sprouts branches

Within its first three years the yeshivah of Lubavitch had won renown throughout the Torah world. It attracted great numbers of young men from various parts of Russia, and by its fifth anniversary the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah was in full swing with several hundred students.

Year after year it branched out, with offshoots in various parts of Belorussia and the Ukraine, Lithuania and Poland, Caucasia and Bukhara. A sizable branch, by the name of Toras Emes, was established in Eretz Yisrael, in the spacious building that my father owned in Hebron.48

These institutions occupied a prominent place in the yeshivah world on account of their solid educational policy, and on account of their hundreds of alumni who were working throughout Russia and abroad as rabbis, heads of yeshivos, shochatim, teachers, chazzanim, scribes, businessmen, manufacturers, craftsmen, bookkeepers and commercial employees. Every single one of them was equipped with provisions for his journey, namely, the Torah and the Chassidus and the refinement of character that he had absorbed during his stay in Tomchei Temimim.

Over the last couple of decades, the self-sacrifice of the alumni of the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivos has found true expression in diverse educational fields and in projects for the fortification of Judaism.

14. Temimim defy the Yevsektsia

When the despicably cruel anti-religious persecution by the Yevsektsia flared up, and with it the murderous suffering inflicted upon the religious Jews of Russia, these alumni scaled peaks of self-sacrifice in their remarkable work for the buttressing of Yiddishkeit.49

In Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivos occupied a place of honor in the yeshivah world, being held in esteem by our people’s greatest living scholars.

15. Temporary residents in the US

The Almighty brought us to this country not for permanent residence but for a temporary stay,50 just as with the arrival of Yaakov Avinu in Egypt. The Almighty brought us here for a short while, and will later lead you — all Jewish People with their families — together with Mashiach to Eretz Yisrael.

We must however keep in mind what is written in the Chumash about the movements of the Children of Israel and the Mishkan: “At G‑d’s bidding the Children of Israel would travel, and at G‑d’s bidding they would encamp.”51

They stayed at some of the sites in the wilderness from evening until morning, or for a day or two, or for a month, or even for a year52 or more. But irrespective of how short the time that they would have to stay in any particular place, they would always erect the Mishkan immediately.

The Tabernacle in our exile is the Yeshivah. As was said above, we came to this country for a short while, in order to go together with you and with Mashiach to Eretz Yisrael. But for that short while the Mishkan must be constructed.

I appeal to you all, and to American Jewry at large, to help me erect this Tabernacle. The Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah needs a good and spacious building; we have to raise the necessary funds for this, as well as for the maintenance of the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah which has been established in this country;53 and we have to raise funds for the support and transfer of my Tomchei Temimim Yeshivos from Europe.54

16. A worldwide fast

With the sanction of the revered admurim and learned rabbis, a worldwide public fast has been proclaimed for the forthcoming first day of Selichos.55 This will no doubt be observed by all. And may the Almighty accept our prayers and entreaties, and send us — all the Jews around the world — the righteous Redeemer.

17. Prayer for the FDR administration

The Sages teach us: “Pray for the welfare of the government.”56 Certain righteous gentiles are additionally fortunate in that we are obligated to pray for their health, and for success in their positive endeavors for the good of humanity. Accordingly, I have composed a special prayer57 — to be read in the synagogues after the Reading of the Torah on the forthcoming Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur — for the health of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and for the success of the good work that is being done through him and his colleagues for the benefit of humanity.

18. Additional prayers for the Days of Awe

I have called on American Jewry in writing58 — through the learned rabbis and the synagogue presidents — with the request that before Maariv on both nights of Rosh HaShanah, and before Kol Nidrei and before Neilah on Yom Kippur, Psalms 20, 22 and 69 be recited publicly, followed by a prayer (opening with the phrase, Yehi ratzon...) for the physical and spiritual welfare of all of Israel, that I have published.59

May the Almighty accept our prayers. May He be compassionate to all of Israel, and bestow upon us the ultimate Redemption through our righteous Mashiach.

(At the Closing Session)

19. Even in America

The Zohar teaches that [the People of] Israel, the Torah, and the Holy One, blessed be He, are all one.

This means that the Creator of All implanted a certain aspect of His own identity in the Torah and in the Jewish People. The Creator is the mightiest of the mighty, and it is He Who is truly eternal — and these very characteristics He invested too in the Torah and in the Jewish People.

In our orphaned generation the Torah stands invincible, and exactly as mighty as it was in the discerning generation60 of Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen. Despite all the critics, transgressors and violators of the Torah — both gentiles and disbelieving and unbridled Jews — who have arisen throughout all the bitterly gloomy eras of exile that the Torah and our people have undergone, the might of the Torah has not been diminished by even a hair’s-breadth. At all times and in all places the Torah is the victor.

The Torah is Divine eternity. At all times and in all places it is one and the same. From the first day on which G‑d gave us the heavenly gift of the Torah until this day, this is the selfsame Torah, and its commandments are the selfsame commandments. That which the Torah prohibits may not be done anywhere — not even in America; and the commandments that we are obligated to fulfill ought to be fulfilled everywhere — even in America.

20. The synagogue president reigns supreme

American Jews are practical people and logical businessmen. Whether it is a question of sewing a pair of shoes or trousers, managing a bank, or producing an automobile or an airplane, everything is carried out systematically and through expert craftsmen. But when it comes to religious needs — Shabbos, kosher food, tefillin, tzitzis, a synagogue, a mikveh, a rabbi, a shochet, a chazzan, a shammes, a butcher, a Talmud Torah, a school principal, or a male or female teacher, — here the American Jew loses his logical mind and his systematic nature.

Whatever the task at hand, the American businessman seeks out the best craftsman and the most skilled worker, salesman or director, and with well-earned trust and respect enables him to proceed with his business. But when it comes to the above-mentioned religious needs, the American Jew seems to undergo a transformation. The synagogue president has to be a man of genteel pretensions. He may be an ignoramus, but he must be unobservant, because if he does observe the Torah and its mitzvos he will ruin the business: they will not be able to collect or jot down the promised donations on Shabbos or Yom-Tov.

In addition to administering the synagogue, the president is also the dictatorial ruler over the rabbi, the chazzan and the shammes. They are all expected to be obedient and subordinate: beards and peyos are to be neither seen nor found,61 and all the laws and customs that govern a synagogue, a chazzan and the order of service, are sternly suppressed and virtually erased.

21. The “you’re-allowed-to” epidemic

American Jews are suffering from a dangerous spiritual disease called “You’re-allowed-to.” There are even those in whose religious world there is nothing that one is not allowed to do. Everything is allowed: one is allowed to desecrate Shabbos, eat treifah, conduct one’s family life without the use of a mikveh, razor one’s beard, do without tzitzis, address one’s rabbi brazenly, attend prayer services with mixed seating, and participate in mixed dancing, even in the synagogues. In a word, in America one is allowed to do whatever is forbidden in the rest of the world.

How spiritually and morally low have the synagogues fallen! Every moral and upright person should shudder when he considers the condition of the synagogues, their worshipers and their shelichei tzibbur.

The razored sheliach tzibbur transgresses five prohibitions whenever he shaves — unless this is done by means of a depilatory powder, as is permitted by certain authorities. There he stands before the Creator, as the emissary of a congregation of the sons and daughters of Israel, asking our Father and King to grant a good and healthy year to himself and to all those whose emissary he is, and to their families.

Would any of these flesh-and-blood businessmen tolerate a wretched situation in which a person who disobeys and mocks him should approach him for a lifetime favor?

That businessman would no doubt understand such a man’s request in this vein: “It is true that I rebel against your orders and make fun of them — but you ought to satisfy my demand.”

This is something beyond even immorality.

How a logical American businessman would deal with such a situation is not hard to imagine. And it is easy to imagine how any moral and honest person views such synagogue presidents and such shelichei tzibbur.

This state of affairs is a pernicious microbe of the “You’re-allowed-to” epidemic.

22. Rabbis need freedom of speech

Now there is one thing in America that one is not allowed to do, though all around the world one is allowed to do it.

In all Jewish towns and settlements the world over, the rabbi, who is the community’s spiritual leader, is allowed — and obligated — to say what he has to say about fortifying the practice of Judaism. He voices his expectation that his community observe Shabbos, keep a kosher diet, observe the laws of family purity, and put on tefillin. It is also in order for him to reprove those who do not comply.

In America, however, the spiritual leader’s synagogue sermons are not allowed to mention the observance of Shabbos, marital purity, the dietary laws, tefillin or tzitzis. The spiritual leader is allowed to speak about any subject in the world, and he is allowed to tell jokes — but to speak of religious issues, not a word.

How morally painful it is for the quite ordinary, average, upright person to observe that in free and democratic America everything is allowed — except for telling the truth. The rabbi, the shochet, the chazzan and the schoolteacher who do tell the truth, forfeit their positions. Supposedly enlightened American Jews hold on to certain positions that hamper and even violate religious life.

It is high time that people stopped enslaving the worthy rabbis and other religious functionaries, and that they be granted the freedom of speech to tell their congregations the truthful words that they ought and must say: that the sons and daughters of Israel ought to return to the path of the Torah and its commandments, and thereby avert — or at least mitigate — the suffering of the birthpangs of Mashiach.

23. Even now – no despair

Alone among all the nations around the globe, the Jewish People are divinely eternal and mighty — and hence invincible. Hundreds of minor and major nations that possessed their own lands and armies have long since been erased from the face of the earth; the very fact that they once existed has faded from the world’s memory.

We Jews, however, whose blood has been shed in almost every land over this millennia-long era of exile, are not only still in existence, but our people everywhere are doing beneficial and intellectually demanding work for the advancement of their host countries, in all conceivable areas of scientific and economic activity.

At this moment, too, when Jewish blood is being shed not only on the battlefields but also in non-belligerent regions, and when no one can be certain that the stream of suffering will not (G‑d forbid) overflow to other lands, — even at this moment Jews must not despair.

24. Rousing every Jewish heart

We Jews ought to — and must — be as strong as iron in our faith that the Almighty will protect us all from the wave of suffering and evil edicts. But all of us, irrespective of differences of hue and direction, must know and fully understand that the great bloodbath that the world is now undergoing is the birthpang that precedes the coming of Mashiach; we must know and understand that the Almighty demands that we should repent, so that we will not delay the happy arrival of our righteous Redeemer.

This call to repent must encompass not only all the masses of the Jewish thoroughfares, but also those who have unfortunately moved out of the Jewish thoroughfares, and have instead tagged themselves on to other, undesirable places. This cry from the heart: Shuvah Yisrael… — “Return, O Israel, to the L-rd your G‑d”62 — has to open up all Jewish hearts without distinction, so that all will return to Jewish observance.

When G‑d dispatched the prophet Yonah to the city of Nineveh with his call to repentance, he was not satisfied with simply speaking in various places of public assembly and mass meetings, but cried out in the streets: “In another forty days Nineveh will be upturned!”63

25. Cry out in the streets!

The task of those of us who are spiritual guides and influential party leaders is to cry out in the streets: “Fellow Jews! The calamities that are raging around the world are the destruction of the exile. The exile is collapsing, and the Almighty will send us the righteous Mashiach. A beautiful and luminous world will arise. But before that happens, the world — and Jewry in particular — is flowing with the blood of the birthpangs of Mashiach, and this calls for repentance.”

Fellow Jews, have pity on yourselves and your families! Desist from the desecration of Shabbos, from the eating of treifah food, from an impure family life, from the profanation of the mitzvos.

Brothers and sisters! For the sake of the life and health of yourselves and your families, grasp the seriousness of these times. Listen to our call, and return to the observance of the Torah and its commandments: observe the Shabbos, the laws of family purity, and the dietary laws; put on tefillin; entrust your children to devout educators; observe the Almighty’s commands.

The obligation to love one’s fellow Jew dictates that I address a word to those who continue on their casual way, or even scoff at our brotherly call and warning that proceeds from the heart. One hopes that they will not commit the mistake of Lot’s sons-in-law,64 or of the Jews of the three days of darkness.65

I am firm in my trust in the Jewish heart that responds to every positive call. I am certain that the call to repentance will be received as it ought to be, and that the Almighty will bless us, all Jews wherever they may be, with a year of life and blessing. I extend my blessings to the entire House of Israel for a good and a sweet year.

Immediate life: immediate redemption!