[New York]


Ahavas Yisrael the obligation to love a fellow Jew — is one of the major foundations in the teachings of our mentor the Baal Shem Tov and of his disciples, the Rebbeim whose links perpetuate his holy chain. And indeed, among the behaviors which characterize the spiritual lifestyle that chassidim exemplify, loving a fellow Jew occupies a cherished place of honor.

For over 150 years, the following brief teaching of the Baal Shem Tov has been repeated by hundreds of thousands of chassidim, regardless of whether they were the most eminent of Talmudic and chassidic scholars, or the most unlettered of peddlers in the village marketplace.

The Baal Shem Tov addressed it to a large assemblage on one of his visits to Brody,1 in the following words: “The Holy One, blessed be He, sends a soul down to this world for a lifetime of 70 or 80 years, and the ultimate purpose of its mission here is to do a favor to a fellow Jew in some material matter, and how much more so in a spiritual matter.”

This teaching of the Baal Shem Tov has become engraved in the hearts of hundreds and thousands of Jewish men and women, and the sweet and precious attribute of ahavas Yisrael has yielded untold fruits — in the practice of hospitality; in the help extended to a pauper in a way that safeguards his self-respect; in the caring rehabilitation of an individual who has fallen on hard times; and in the sympathy shown to a widow or an orphan, expressed in consolation for their pain and practical support for their needs.


One of the elder disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch was R. Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, author of Pri HaAretz, and a mighty scholar in both the revealed and esoteric planes of the Torah. Though he was an original thinker, he used to deliver his novellae in both these planes in extremely concise form. Indeed, the Alter Rebbe once remarked that understanding them as they were delivered demanded a concerted effort of concentration.

After the saintly R. Menachem Mendel settled in Horodok, in the province of Vitebsk, a number of the other elder disciples of the Maggid used to meet a couple of times a year in Horodok in order to discuss together the teachings of the Maggid that messengers had brought them in writing from Mezritch. These luminaries included R. Yissachar Ber from Lubavitch, the Alter Rebbe from Liozna, R. Avraham of Kalisk, R. Yisrael of Polotzk, and R. Yosef Noach of Bichov.

One day, as these members of the Holy Brotherhood were profoundly engrossed in such a discussion under the tutelage of R. Menachem Mendel, one of the regular chassidim of the Maggid ran in with a scream of woe and sobbed out his story: his son-in-law Velvel Velvel/R. Ze’ev: The former name is an affectionate diminutive Yid. form of the Heb. name Ze’ev. was critically ill and the doctor had despaired of his recovery. All those present were of course deeply affected: they knew this young R. Ze’ev as a scholar of chassidic refinement.

At this point the Alter Rebbe stood up and said that when he had been studying in Mezritch, the Maggid had relayed to him a teaching that he had heard from his Rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov — that a blessing offered by good friends is rated more highly by the Heavenly Court than a recommendation for Divine compassion entreated by the Angel Michael.

Hearing this, the members of the Holy Brotherhood, with the senior disciple R. Menachem Mendel at their head, rose to their feet and blessed R. Ze’ev with a complete recovery.


The Alter Rebbe, founder of the Chabad school of chassidic thinking, was accustomed to explaining every subject in the conceptual terms of Chabad. In the case of the above teaching of the Baal Shem Tov, then, he explained its underlying reason in terms of the verse that says, “You are children2 to the L‑rd your G‑d” — the Jewish people are G‑d’s children.

The divine realm conducts itself just as the mortal realm is conducted. Just as mortal parents will do anything for the good of their children, so, too, does G‑d cherish every individual Jew, being pained by his suffering and gladdened by his happier times. If, then, G‑d punishes a Jew (Heaven forfend!) in matters relating to his health or his children or his livelihood, His intention is that this individual should better himself.

In the mortal realm we observe how happy parents are when their children love each other. The parallel delight in the heavenly realm explains the Baal Shem Tov’s statement on the superiority of a blessing offered by mortal friends over a blessing invoked by the Angel Michael. For however good or great the Angel Michael may be, he is, after all, no more than an angel — and the souls of mortals stand higher than the angels.


These two concepts — that a soul can be sent down just to do a favor out of ahavas Yisrael, and that mortal blessings are more highly prized in heaven than those of angels — are preludes to a subject which a sense of brotherly love impels me to share with you.

When I was in Riga, before my family and I left Europe for America, my spirit was anguished. Exhausted by 45 years of difficult public service, my body shattered by life- threatening experiences, I had a yearning to find myself a place in the tent of the Torah and to derive tranquil pleasure from the sounds of Torah study — and in this regard, Lithuania and also Latvia were in those days veritable Lands of Life, with kosher chadarim in whose classrooms kosher melamdim taught.

Battered in spirit and shattered in body, I finally decided in my sixtieth year to take up the staff of a wanderer in exile and to travel abroad, in order to devote myself to public service and to the dissemination of the Torah.

Among those who visited me to say farewell during those last few days before I left Riga3 was a group of elder chassidim. One of them had been a chassid of my greatgrandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek;4 others had been chassidim of my grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, or of other sons of the Tzemach Tzedek, or chassidim of my father.

Sensing my anguish at what I was then undergoing, they said: “We are sure that it is not you who are traveling to America, but that it is G‑d Who is leading you there, whether you desire it or not. You must always keep in mind the iron chains5 that are spoken of in connection with Yaakov Avinu. We are sure that G‑d is leading you to America for arduous work. At the same time, we are sure that He will richly bless your endeavors with success, because you will be accompanied by all those who need to accompany you — the souls and the merits of your holy forebears, the Rebbeim who preceded you.

“Word has it that America is a wild land, a place in which a man can become immensely wealthy overnight. So our wish to you is that G‑d send your way an immensely wealthy magnate with a warm heart, who will contribute and raise the funds needed for your hard work.”

I assume that there is no need for me to spell out explicitly how this encounter connects with the two above-mentioned preludes: (a) that the ultimate mission of a soul down here is to do a fellow Jew a favor materially and spiritually, and (b) that a blessing offered by good friends has far-reaching effects.

The words and blessings of those elder chassidim centered on three matters: (a) G‑d is leading me to America for hard work; (b) in the merit of my holy forebears this work will be blessed with great success; and (c) they gave me their blessings that G‑d see to it that a warmhearted magnate should make my endeavors possible.

The first two of these three matters have certainly been fulfilled. [Firstly,] I toiled through these five years6 with bitter hardship. When my diary is published one day, upright men will be amazed to read of the difficulties which confronted those labors, and of the vile atmosphere which various people malevolently created in order to disrupt those holy endeavors. [Secondly,] the merit of our holy forebears shattered all the disruptions, and the five years of toil have (thank G‑d) been crowned with success.

The third matter, the blessing for a generous tycoon to make my difficult soul-mission feasible, has unfortunately not yet been realized. Nevertheless, though all my institutions for the teaching of the Torah with integrity — in this country and in other countries and in Eretz Yisrael — are in dire financial straits, I am confident that G‑d will yet fulfill the blessing of those elder chassidim. From day to day I live in hope for that happy moment, which will enable me to fortify and expand these institutions.

Together we are Yissachar and Zevulun:7 we represent Yissachar and you represent Zevulun. In practice, however, Yissachar is toiling with self-sacrifice, while Zevulun is lagging behind. I am certain that if Zevulun’s eyes and ears were open to see and hear what Yissachar is (thank G‑d) accomplishing, the half-million-dollar budget needed for the Central Tomchei Temimim Lubavitch Yeshivos would be readily covered.

As to what has already been done, and is currently being done, for these Yeshivos, I would like to thank each one of you individually and to offer my blessings to each one of you, together with your families, for good health and a prosperous livelihood. I would like people to be blessed with open eyes, so that they will be able to see what the Lubavitcher Yeshivos have accomplished during these five years, both in the study and in the dissemination of Torah. In the field of kosher education, the same applies to the attainments of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch (Central Organization for Jewish Education), which I founded with G‑d’s help. Whoever sees these things for himself will understand that it is an honored privilege to be a partner and a fellow builder of the Torah-education front throughout America and Canada. He will do everything possible to support the Lubavitcher banner — to transform America into a place of genuine Torah scholarship and of kosher education, which will give us true Jews and Jewesses who observe the Torah and its commandments.

For your own good and for the good of your families, and through you for the good of all your acquaintances and of all Israel, my request is that you act for the future of the Central Tomchei Temimim Lubavitch Yeshivos.

May you all be blessed both materially and spiritually.