1 By the Grace of G‑d

15 Teves, 5705 [1944]


To my staunch friends, beloved in heart and soul: the rabbinical teachers in the Lubavitcher Tomchei Temimim and Achei Temimim Yeshivos and Chadrei Torah Temimah:2 May G‑d be with you.

Greetings and blessings!

Let me resume the theme of my talks during the Yom-Tov season on education and guidance.

From the letters that I receive from you,3 my cherished disciples – the rabbis, teachers and directors of the Lubavitcher Achei Temimim Junior Yeshivos – I perceive that you are not yet aware of the weighty responsibility that your holy educational work entails. G‑d in His compassion has enabled me to recover from my recent illness. Nevertheless, on account of my current frailty, I am still unable to write to you at length as I had wanted to do, and is called for by this issue, for the life-mission of Jewish souls depends on it.

Accordingly, since the issue at hand is education and guidance in the spirit of the Torah in general, and in particular in the spirit of ahavas Yisrael as highlighted in the teachings of Chassidus, let me write at least in brief. And I hope to G‑d that my words will be effective.

What a delight of the soul to speak with the fruits of the Divine garden, that pleasant vineyard – the dearly-loved students of Tomchei Temimim! (May G‑d shower them with every kind of blessing, both material and spiritual.) Every single day I entreat the One Above that He cause the zechus of my revered father, the founder of Tomchei Temimim and its eternal head, to abide over them in all their towns and in all their regional branches – the senior students in their batei midrash, the younger students, and the children. May they all reap success in their holy tasks, and so too the rabbis who teach and guide them. May there be ever-increasing numbers of able students who accept the yoke of Heaven, and who dedicate themselves to their studies and to a life of praiseworthy conduct. May the activities of the Torah teachers be discernible not only in their students, but also in their towns at large – by promoting the study of Torah in all its aspects, and by fostering noble character traits that exemplify ahavas Yisrael, in the characteristic spirit of Chassidus and chassidim. And by virtue of these endeavors, may all those Torah teachers be granted all kinds of material and spiritual blessings, and may their daily lives be filled with happiness, both material and spiritual.

The towering gaon, R. Yitzchak Aizik of Homil, once told my mentor, the Rashbatz,4 that in the course of the yechidus at which the Alter Rebbe instructed him to accept a rabbinic post, he said: “You are about to undertake a high calling – to become the rav of a Jewish community. You will be required to monitor every aspect of the lives of your townsmen, and to give them halachic rulings derived from all four parts of the Shulchan Aruch. But in addition, you must realize that their merits and their sins, their good and bad character traits, and their good and bad behaviors, all depend on the rav of their town. They will scrutinize him with seven eyes, and from him they will learn to act positively or negatively. Their merits and their sins thus depend on him.”


There was once a chassid – a disciple of one of the Alter Rebbe’s foremost chassidim, R. Michele of Opotzk – called R. Nechemiah Zalman of Shventzian. He was a brilliant scholar who generated innovative insights in every area of nigleh and Chassidus, but by nature he was a loner.

Every moment of his was scheduled and maximized. Every day, whether it was a weekday or Shabbos or Yom-Tov, he would daven Shacharis at nine, after a preparatory six-hour meditation with his tallis still on his shoulder. In the summer his davenen took another six hours, after which it was time to go home for a meal and to take a rest. This routine continued for many years.

Whenever he visited the Tzemach Tzedek he would remain in Lubavitch for five or six weeks, in the midst of which was Shavuos. He was counted among the most prominent rabbinic guests who were invited to the Rebbe’s “Torah table” on the second day of Shavuos, the anniversary of the passing of the Baal Shem Tov.

At that seudah the Tzemach Tzedek would deliver a maamar, and would relay teachings and traditions that he had heard from the Alter Rebbe relating to the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezritch. In addition, he would engage the visiting scholars in lively debate on classic topics in the revealed plane of the Torah, and his creative originality would leave them amazed.

On the outskirts of Lubavitch there was a little thicket of pine trees on a hill to the left of Zaretchiye Road, about 300 steps on the way to the Hanarova Estate. Among those trees stood a hut made of plaited branches, and at the foot of the hill there ran a narrow brook with a lively current. In this hut R. Nechemiah Zalman spent every weekday, from 2:00 a.m. until an hour or two before Maariv.

In the summer, chassidim were received for yechidus during the four or five hours before Maariv, and in the winter, after Maariv. Until the years 5613-5614 (1853-1854), when the informers of the Haskalah5 made their presence felt, the custom was that as each chassid left the yechidus room he was greeted by his comrades who had been at yechidus that day. He would immediately join them in a lively yechidus-dance, while all the other chassidim surrounded the dancers eagerly, singing and clapping to their rhythm. Even R. Nechemiah Zalman, loner as he was, longed to behold this lofty expression of the dominance of Form over Matter.

After Tikkun Chatzos he would return to his little forest, immerse in the brook, sit down to meditate on classic themes in Chassidus, and daven, as described above. He would then take water from the brook for netilas yadayim, partake of his meal of bread and salt and cold water, rest for an hour, study until Minchah, and return to town. That was his routine on every weekday, Sunday through Thursday.

For about forty years he was supported by his father-in-law, R. Gavriel Shlomo, a storekeeper in Griva on the outskirts of Denenburg. He was a wealthy chassid of the Alter Rebbe, a man of moderate scholarship in nigleh and Chassidus, but a generous and hospitable “master of good deeds.” After his father-in-law’s passing, R. Nechemiah Zalman was supported by the business that his wife ran. In fact he never worked for a living, devoting his life instead to Torah and avodah with a strenuous “exertion of the flesh and exertion of the soul,”6 thus becoming an outstanding scholar in both nigleh and Chassidus, and attaining lofty heights in avodah shebalev.

My grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, spoke very highly of him. In fact he once told my father that several times he had secretly visited that forest to observe, through the chinks in the walls of the little hut, the face of R. Nechemiah Zalman while he was engrossed in meditation on a concept in Chassidus: his eyes were closed and his face was ablaze. Unencumbered by worldly affairs and bodily concerns, he was wafting in a higher realm.


And now, my dear ones, I would like to share with you part of a talk that I was privileged to hear from my father during one of our walks in the summer of 5660 (1900) in the Serebrinka resort.

At a yechidus in the year 5638 (1878), the Rebbe Maharash told my father that a neshamah does not descend into a body only for the purpose of its own Torah study and its own avodah with mesirus nefesh, at the level of a tzaddik gamur. By that alone, an individual does not discharge his obligation to fulfill the mission for which his neshamah was dispatched to This World. Moreover, that mission is perilous, especially since the neshamah has to be vested in a natural soul,7 and indeed in an animal soul.8 Yet despite the risk involved, the Compassionate Father sends the neshamah down to be enclothed in a body that is not only material9 but also physical,10 where it is vested in a natural soul and an animal soul.

Why? In order to refine the world’s chumriyus, its coarse physicality, and to transform the world’s gashmiyus, its more readily redeemable materiality, into a vessel for Elokus. How? By an individual’s personal toil in the avodah of beirurim,11 and also by his efforts to motivate others to work harder in that avodah.


It was at that yechidus that the Rebbe Maharash spoke to my father about R. Nechemiah Zalman, as recounted above. He then added:

All of that is a personal avodah. It is good for the individual, because by means of the strenuous “exertion of the flesh and exertion of the soul” in his intense avodah in Torah and mitzvos, accompanied by all the appropriate kavanos, he ascends to ever loftier heights. However, that is no more than the avodah of an individual – and that alone is not the Divine intent in dispatching a neshamah to be enclothed in a body here below. The Baal Shem Tov revealed to us that the ultimate purpose of that descent is to light up the world by means of avodah that is carried out specifically by a multitude. The avodah of every individual must also relate to those around him, and then “the merit of the multitude is attributed to him.”12 This obligation applies in particular to a rav, a halachic decisor,13 or a Torah teacher, for they are the shepherds and leaders of the Jewish people. They ought to have mesirus nefesh in order “to bring merit upon the public.”14 Apart from their obligation to toil in avodah15 for their own sakes, they must also toil in avodah and exemplify positive character traits so that others will emulate them.

R. Nechemiah Zalman and others like him are no doubt great chassidim, scholars, maskilim16 and ovdim17 – but that alone is not the Divine intent in the descent of a neshamah into a body. The Divine intent underlying the descent of a neshamah into a body is the avodah of a chassid called R. Yosef Hillel, who taught little children in Droye, and a chassid called R. Shmuel Chaim, who was the rav of Lutzin, and others like them.

R. Yosef Hillel had been schooled by the elder chassidim of Droye, who in turn had been taught by chassidim of the Alter Rebbe – that an individual’s ultimate goal should be to motivate others to share his noble endeavors in avodah, in the refinement of middos, and in ahavas Yisrael.

It was this upbringing that caused R. Yosef Hillel, despite the scholarly excellence that would have enabled him to earn more by teaching advanced students, to choose to be a teacher of little children – in order to implant within their hearts a love of Torah and the awe of Heaven. What he planted there in the course of some fifty years will never be uprooted or even weakened by all the winds in the world. And this is the ultimate purpose for which a neshamah was sent down to This World – to motivate Jews to become the kind of Jews that G‑d desires.

As to Lutzin, it is true that its population included noteworthy chassidim, maskilim and baalei avodah. Most of the townsmen, however, were coarse and argumentative, their speech was tainted with gossip and slander, and their business dealings disclosed envy and unfair competition.

In the year 5627 (1867), the chassidim of that town asked me to send them a rav, so I sent them R. Shmuel Chaim, a chassidisher schoolteacher from Tcharei, whose rabbinic ordination18 was signed by prominent halachic authorities. Being a man of refined character who loved his fellows, he had seen considerable success as a mentor to the young chassidim of Tcharei.

Now, despite his dismay and concern at the sorry state of affairs that he encountered in Lutzin, he was not fazed, but tackled his educational task – banishing darkness and introducing light. The result was that after five or six years of patient and self-sacrificing toil he transformed the local townsmen.

The self-sacrificing endeavors of the rav of Lutzin, and the schoolteacher from Droye, and others like them – these constitute the true purpose for the descent of a neshamah into a body. It is these endeavors that refine the world and light it up.

My father highlighted the contrast between the avodah of R. Nechemiah Zalman, which focused on the individual, and the avodah of people like R. Yosef Hillel and R. Shmuel Chaim, which focused on the public. True, both those modes of avodah spring from mesirus nefesh. Nevertheless, in addition to the difference between the benefit of an individual and the benefit of a multitude, the above two modes of avodah are motivated by two distinct kinds of mesirus nefesh. In the individual-centered avodah, the mesirus nefesh is motivated by one’s own benefit and one’s own spiritual delight; in the public-centered avodah, the mesirus nefesh is motivated by the benefit of the multitude, while the person undertaking it sets himself utterly aside.

Continuing this theme, my father contrasted the positive qualities that characterized R. Akiva and those that characterized Avraham Avinu. Both were giants in their conception of Elokus: Avraham Avinu pioneered the “two thousand years of Torah,”19 and R. Akiva “entered [the orchard of Torah] in peace and departed from it in peace.”20 Moreover, both underwent mesirus nefesh for the Sanctification of the Divine Name.21 Nevertheless, there is a clear distinction between the two modes of self-sacrifice. R. Akiva’s self-sacrifice al Kiddush HaShem was undertaken for his own benefit and spiritual delight. (In fact, all his days he had yearned for it.22 ) Avraham Avinu, by contrast, gave his life for the benefit of the public.

My father then said: “I invest physical and spiritual effort, and shall invest even more effort, to see to it that the students of Tomchei Temimim23 should become Yosef Hillels and Shmuel Chaims, that is, Jews who live with mesirus nefesh for the sake of benefiting and uplifting the public. This ideal was revealed by the Baal Shem Tov, and was built into a solid path by the Alter Rebbe, with his mesirus nefesh for the teachings of Chassidus, the middos of Chassidus, and the lifestyle of chassidim. I am certain that by virtue of G‑d’s lovingkindness, the artless Yosef Hillels and Shmuel Chaims will become the luminaries that will diffuse the light of the Torah and the mitzvos, for although [in the future time] ‘darkness will cover the earth,’24 the light of G‑d will shine forth, upon them and through them, throughout every country.”

The Alter Rebbe25 gave chassidim his blessing that at all times and in every place their spiritual labors in Torah and avodah will reap success. As time goes on, and from generation to generation, that blessing becomes ever more potent, and our predecessors, the Rebbeim, constantly pray that the spiritual labors of chassidim should be successful. It is my hope that the temimim will be the first to experience the fulfillment of that blessing in their avodah.

However, in order to receive that blessing, one must first prepare a vessel to contain it. That vessel is mesirus nefesh. After all, the true meaning of “chassid” is the ability to forego one’s own spiritual ego for the sake of another’s welfare, in general, and more specifically, for the sake of uplifting a multitude. Hence, Tomchei Temimim should aspire to educate and motivate its students to become Jews who are willing to undertake spiritual self-sacrifice in order to uplift a multitude.

When the Alter Rebbe was freed from the Peter Paul Fortress before evening on Yud-Tes Kislev, 5559 (1798), he was asked where he wanted to be taken, and he named the address of a chassid called R. Mordechai of Liepli. He was duly taken to that building, but by mistake he was taken to a different apartment nearby, which was the residence of the most outspoken of the misnagdim, R. Nota Notkin.

One of his complaints to the Alter Rebbe was this: Why did chassidim assume such a pretentious name – “chassidim” [which means “pietists”]?

The Alter Rebbe answered that chassidim did not assume this name themselves. On principle, he explained, chassidim do not take anything themselves, because they believe in the teaching of the Baal Shem Tov on specific Divine Providence.26 The name “chassidim” was given to them by Divine Providence, via their opponents, the misnagdim. Actually, the Alter Rebbe went on to say, the misnagdim should have called chassidim “misnagdim” [which means “opponents”]. However, Divine Providence bestowed upon the misnagdim a ray of truthful light, so that it was they who gave chassidim the honestly-earned title of “chassidim,” while calling themselves “misnagdim.”

Chassidim were privileged to be called “chassidim” because this school of thought demands that one should set oneself utterly aside for the benefit of a fellow Jew. This we see in the teaching of the Sages that a person who after paring his fingernails burns them is called a chassid,27 because he overlooks a possible risk to himself in order to avert a possible risk to another. That is why Rashi comments that “a chassid is superior to a tzaddik,”28 for a tzaddik merely buries them [and at some time they may possibly be uncovered].


And now, dearly cherished teacher – for now I am addressing each one of you individually:

Take careful note of what has been said above. Read it, word by word. Focus your attention and sharpen your ear to every statement that was uttered by the lips of our holy predecessors, the Rebbeim. Moreover, “Whoever cites a teaching in the name of its author should envisage the author of that teaching standing before him.”29

As we cited above, the Alter Rebbe says that a rav or communal head is not only required to give halachic rulings and to see to it that all the laws of the Torah are properly observed by his congregants. Beyond that, their merits and their sins depend on him. By inappropriate conduct, he causes the public to sin in the area of negative character traits, and conversely, if his personal conduct is upright and springs from positive character traits and ahavas Yisrael, “the merit of the public is attributed to him.”l

My grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, says that as noble and praiseworthy as the avodah of an individual may be as he soars to wondrous spiritual heights, even loftier and more praiseworthy is the other-directed avodah of schoolteachers who invest mesirus nefesh in implanting in the hearts of their charges an awe of G‑d, a love of Torah, and a love of mitzvos and beautiful middos. The Rebbe Maharash goes on to say that the same is true of rabbanim who work with mesirus nefesh – to guide the members of their community “along the paths of righteousness,”30 to uproot negative middos, and to inculcate positive middos and ahavas Yisrael.

My father, as cited above, says that the teachings of Chassidus and the lifestyle of chassidim demand avodah to the point of self-sacrifice for the sake of uplifting one’s environment. Avodah of this kind emulates the level of Avraham Avinu, which is higher than the self-sacrificing avodah of R. Akiva.

The Alter Rebbe blesses chassidim with success in their avodah, and our predecessors, the Rebbeim, constantly pray that chassidim should see the ever-growing fulfillment of that blessing, including material prosperity. I firmly hope to G‑d that [you, my disciples,] the temimim, will be the luminaries who will diffuse the light of the entire Torah in every country, that you will focus intently and with mesirus nefesh on your holy task, and that you will succeed in bringing up G‑d-fearing students whose lives express positive middos. And together with you, may all those who help and support you be blessed both spiritually and materially.

In brief: In addition to the requirement to teach, every yeshivah faculty member who is responsible for a particular group of students is obligated to educate and guide them toward an awe of Heaven, good middos, and respectful conduct. The responsibility for their future lot depends on your personal conduct and on your own middos. If teachers bicker and insult each other, then apart from their own sorry state, they are also causing grievous damage to their students. Conversely, if they relate to each other with respect and their conduct springs from middos tovos, their students will follow in their footsteps and advance higher and higher.

I pray that G‑d help you. May He bless your mental eyes with light, and rouse your hearts to devote yourselves utterly to the task at hand. May He cause His Countenance to shine upon you and prosper your endeavors both materially and spiritually.

Temimim! Rabbanim, householders, rosh yeshivos, and the students of all the Lubavitcher Tomchei Temimim and Achei Temimim Yeshivos in every land, and the students of the Toras Emes Yeshivos – here is your command:

Grant the wish of our holy Nasi:31 Become Yosef Hillels and Shmuel Chaims, working with the highest degree of mesirus nefesh to disseminate the study of Torah with yiras Shamayim and to promote the realm of kosher education!

Your staunch friend, who seeks your welfare and blesses you,

Yosef Yitzchak