“One does not build monuments for tzaddikim: they are remembered by their deeds.”1 With these words our Sages teach us that no special steps are needed to recall the memory of tzaddikim. The activities which they themselves initiated, and which live on forever even after their passing from This World, remind us of them constantly.

How much more does this apply to a tzaddik who was renowned throughout the world for his self-sacrificing activities for the material and spiritual benefit of Jews at large. In the case of the Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak,2 writing a conventional memoir is thus superfluous, because the fruits of his lifework are apparent at every turn. They are his living monuments.

Entire volumes would not suffice to describe his manifold activities. Accordingly, the present document only outlines obvious biographical facts, each of which should be regarded as a mere chapter heading that summarizes an entire sphere of profound influence.

* * *

The Rebbe Rayatz was born in Lubavitch on 12 (Yud-Beis) Tammuz, 5640 (1880). When he was fifteen years old, his father, Rabbi Shalom DovBer,3 inducted him into work in the public arena by appointing him as his private secretary. From that early age the Rebbe Rayatz participated in all the significant rabbinical meetings and conferences and other activities for the benefit of Jewry worldwide, particularly those concerning the spiritual and material status of Russian Jewry. In 5655 (1895), for example, soon after the above appointment, he participated in the major conference of rabbanim and communal leaders that was held in Kovno, and again a year later in Vilna.

On 13 Elul, 5657 (1897), when he was seventeen years old, he married Rebbitzin Nechamah Dinah, daughter of the tzaddik R. Avraham Schneerson, a renowned chassid and scholar. During the week of Sheva Berachos, his father announced the foundation of Tomchei Temimim, the famed Lubavitcher Yeshivah, and a year later appointed his son as its director. Under his direction, and under the auspices of his father, the Yeshivah blossomed and grew, and sprouted branches throughout Russia.

The Rebbe Rashab, in the course of his endeavors to improve the economic status of Russian Jews, dispatched his son to take steps towards the opening of a textile factory in Dubrovna, in the province of Mohilev. In the year 5661 (1901), this project took the Rebbe Rayatz to Vilna, Brisk, Lodz and Koenigsberg. With the cooperation of the leading rabbis of the age, including world-famous geonim and communal activists such as R. David Karliner, R. Eliyahu Chaim of Lodz, R. Chaim Brisker, R. Chaim Ozer of Vilna, and likewise well-known magnates such as the brothers Yaakov and Eliezer Poliakov, the Dubrovna factory was established. It provided two thousand families with a livelihood.

* * *

Like all his predecessors, the Rebbe Rashab worked with self-sacrifice to moderate the oppressive hand of the czarist regime on the Jews of Russia, both in the courts and in government circles. Like his predecessors, he made full use of the hereditary status of Privileged Citizenship which the Alter Rebbe had been granted for his patriotism during Napoleon’s invasion of Russia [in 1812]. The Rebbe Rashab’s contacts with the ruling powers necessitated frequent – and usually fruitful – visits to Petersburg4 and Moscow.

* * *

During the Russo-Japanese War that began in 5664 (1904), the Rebbe Rayatz was an active partner in the campaign spearheaded by his father to dispatch matzos to the Jewish soldiers who had been conscripted to the Far Eastern Front.

In the turbulent times that followed that War, and in the face of the suppression and unrest during the wave of pogroms that surged throughout the Pale of Settlement,5 the Rebbe Rashab took an active stance. His son, the Rebbe Rayatz, set out on a mission to Germany and Holland, where he persuaded prominent diplomats and bankers to intervene with Russia’s rulers on behalf of its oppressed Jewish population who were suffering under the wave of pogroms. These efforts, too, proved to be successful.

In 5668 (1908) the Rebbe Rayatz participated in the rabbinical conference in Vilna. A year later he traveled to Germany to meet with Jewish leaders, and on his return made preparations for the rabbinical conference that had been convened for 5670 (1910). However, his energetic and widespread activities, his vigilant defense of Russia’s Jews, and his constant battles with the national and regional authorities, all aroused the displeasure of the czarist regime. During the years 5666-5671 (1906-1911) he was repeatedly arrested, both in Moscow and in Petersburg. Since these numerous interrogations produced nothing incriminating, he was freed each time, though under stern warnings. None of this deterred him from pursuing his work for the public good. This included his leading role in the conferences of rabbanim and communal leaders that were held in 5677 (1917) in Moscow, and in 5678 (1918) in Kharkov.

* * *

After the passing of his father, the Rebbe Rashab, on 2 Nissan, 5680 (1920), the Rebbe Rayatz undertook the leadership and nesius of Chabad.

This was an era of drastic change in Russia and throughout the Jewish world. Russia was embroiled in a bloody torrent of war, revolution, and constant internal conflict. As in all such cases, the first and most severely attacked victims were the Jews. At that time, facing superhuman tasks, the Rebbe Rayatz stood alone. He immediately set about reconstructing the religious and communal life of Russian Jewry. He was forced to battle on two fronts. On one side, the material status of the Jews was abysmally low, with poverty and suffering on all sides. On the other side, the future of Yiddishkeit was in mortal danger, thanks to the ill-famed, shameful activities of the Yevsektsia,6 the “Jewish Section” of the Communist Party.

While conducting his single-handed battle, against overwhelming odds, to rescue Yiddishkeit in Soviet Russia, he realized that Russia’s Torah-center must be transplanted abroad. A sizable Lubavitcher Yeshivah was therefore established in Warsaw in 5681 (1921) by a number of students and teachers who, with his help, managed to cross the border to Poland. There, as in Russia, the Yeshivah flourished, and sprouted an entire network of branches with hundreds of students.

At the same time, the Rebbe Rayatz continued fearlessly to advance his work in Russia, constantly establishing yeshivos and Talmud Torah schools and other religious institutions throughout the country. He simply ignored the threats of the Yevsektsia. At that time, his headquarters were in Rostov,7 which disturbing circumstances now forced him to leave. He therefore relocated to Leningrad, and resumed his work from there. At that time, too, he established an organization to help craftsmen and workers to observe Shabbos. He would send out rabbanim, teachers and speakers to communities in the furthermost corners of Russia to fortify their observance of Yiddishkeit. In those days it was extremely difficult to secure financial aid, so he often helped to support rabbanim and institutions by taking loans on their behalf from people he knew.

During this period, Chabad circles were also founded overseas, such as Agudas Chassidei Chabad, the Association of Chabad Chassidim, of America and Canada. Likewise, in 5687 (1927), he established the Lubavitcher Yeshivah in the remote Russian province of Bukhara.

* * *

As time went on, his fight against those who sought to uproot Jewish religious practice grew increasingly severe. The Yevsektsia was determined not to allow him to proceed with his work, and threatened and harassed him with a battle of nerves. The following episode gives a picture of their tactics:

One fine morning, while the Rebbe Rayatz was observing the yahrzeit of his father, three armed agents of the Cheka, the dreaded Special Department of the police force,8 made their way into the shul, to arrest him. After placidly completing his prayers, he accompanied them to their headquarters. Confronted by a panel of severe armed officials, he once again declared that no pressure would force him to halt his religious activities.

One of the agents thereupon pointed his revolver at him and said: “This little toy has made many men change their minds.”

The Rebbe responded calmly: “That little toy can terrorize only someone who has many gods and only one world. But since I have only one G‑d and two worlds, that little toy doesn’t make me afraid.”

* * *

The Yevsektsia’s battle of nerves peaked on the night of 15 Sivan, 5687 (1927), when the Rebbe was actually arrested. The charge, concocted by the informers of the Yevsektsia, was “illegal, counter-revolutionary activities,” and he was promptly incarcerated in Leningrad’s most fearsome prison, Spalerno.

The Yevsektsia knew full well that the main obstacle to their goal of uprooting the last vestiges of Jewish religious activity in Russia was the Rebbe. They therefore decided that he must be removed from their proposed route. He was thus now in actual mortal danger. After confining him to his cell and trying to coerce him by means of cruel torture, his captors eventually realized that he would never submit. The only remaining solution was a death sentence. However, due to the intervention of foreign diplomats, and due to the impression that he made even on his judges, that verdict was never carried out. Instead he was sentenced to a three-year exile in Kostroma, in the Ural Mountains. Then, too, his chassidim and followers overseas knew no rest – until on 12 Tammuz, his birthday, he was permitted to settle in Malachovka, a village in the Moscow province. Soon after, on the day after Sukkos, 5688 (1927), he left Russia with his family and settled in Riga, the capital city of Latvia. He also succeeded in taking his rich library with him.

* * *

Living now in a free country, the Rebbe was able to expand his activities without hindrance. He established a yeshivah in Riga, and influenced Jewish communal leaders there and elsewhere to exploit their influence to improve the bitter lot of their brethren in Russia. Likewise, in the years 5688-5689 (1928-1929), he succeeded in supplying Russian Jews with matzos. In the course of his activities for the benefit of Jewry he visited various countries, including Germany and France, between 5688 and 5690 (1928 and 1930).

Late in 5689 (1929) the Rebbe visited Eretz Yisrael. From there he proceeded to America, and in New York he was warmly welcomed, among others by governmental personages including President Hoover.

Returning to Europe he resumed his public activities. In 5694 (1934) he moved to Warsaw, and two years later settled in nearby Otvotzk. During this period the Lubavitcher yeshivos in Poland grew significantly, and many new branches were established. The central yeshivos in Warsaw and Otvotzk attracted hundreds of students from Poland at large and from other countries, including even America.

* * *

Early in 5700 (late 1939), the horrendous storm of World War II broke out over European Jewry. The Rebbe, who was in Otvotzk and Warsaw at the time, refused to accept any of the proposed possibilities of his leaving Poland – until such time as he would have done whatever could possibly be done for his yeshivos and for the suffering Jews of Poland’s capital. He remained in Warsaw throughout the fierce bombardment,9 the siege, and the capitulation to the Nazi invader. The suffering and risk that he underwent during the bombardment were not in vain: he succeeded in relocating many of his local students to safer regions, and the American students were enabled to return to their homes. His spirit restored the morale of Warsaw’s suffering Jews. Only after he saw that there was nothing further that he could do for them, he decided to acquiesce to the insistent requests of his chassidim and followers in Warsaw and abroad: he left the ruins of Warsaw behind him and set out for America. The efforts of his American chassidim and followers enabled him to be transferred from Warsaw to Berlin, and from there to Riga.

While in Latvia, which at that time was still independent and neutral, the Rebbe was able to help the numerous refugees who had fled from Poland to Lithuania and Latvia. Among them were many rabbanim and yeshivah students.

At the end of winter, he set out from Riga to America.

On 9 Adar II, 5700 (1940) the SS Drottingholm docked in New York, where the Rebbe received an enthused welcome by thousands, including delegations of various organizations and government representatives.10 Immediately after his arrival he announced that he had not come to America for his own safety. Rather, he had come there in order to carry out a vital mission – to create in America a center of Torah study and Yiddishkeit, at a time when the great, blossoming centers in Europe had been laid waste.

The ten years that had elapsed since the Rebbe’s first visit to America – the indescribable suffering to which he had been subjected and his self-sacrifice – left a serious impact on his physical health. He nevertheless plunged into his mission, heart and soul. Within several days the Central Lubavitcher Tomchei Temimim was established, the first of many yeshivos and Talmud Torah schools throughout America. At the same time he furthered his relief endeavors for his deprived brethren overseas, and exerted considerable effort to bring about a rebirth of Yiddishkeit among the Jews of America.

After a short while the Rebbe transferred his headquarters from Manhattan to Brooklyn. That period also saw the publication of the first issue of the monthly HaKeriah VehaKedushah, the official organ of the worldwide Agudas Chassidei Chabad, which continued to appear throughout the War.

* * *

At this time, too, the Rebbe founded two organizations – Machne Israel, whose goal was the advancement of Yiddishkeit throughout America and beyond, and Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, which was to focus on Torah education of all kinds. Both organizations were not intended to serve the Chabad community in particular, but to serve Jewry at large. The same applies to the Kehot Publication Society, whose influence has spread worldwide. (The name “Kehot” is an acronym of the three Hebrew words, karnei hod Torah – “the rays of the Torah’s glory.”) True to the ideal of the above bodies, to ignore a Jew’s allegiance to a particular party or any other particular body, Machne Israel has disseminated literature written in the spirit of the Torah throughout very diverse circles and among Jews in many situations. During the War, for example, significant projects were undertaken among Jewish soldiers serving in the US army.

Another meaningful project – making Yiddishkeit accessible to Jewish farmers in far-flung regions of America – is actually a continuation of the work of chassidic Rebbes from the time of the Baal Shem Tov. For those farmers this has been a breath of life.

The publishing arm of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch has produced almost three million books of various kinds, including schoolbooks, monthly journals, and numerous brochures – in the Holy Tongue, Yiddish, English, French, and even Spanish.

The program of religious instruction called Shiurei Limudei HaDas (acronym: Shelah) has enabled access to public schools, thereby implanting Yiddishkeit in circles that otherwise would have never been reached. It has not been rare for children attending such lessons to bring their parents back to Jewish observance.

Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch has also set up girls’ schools, named Beis Rivkah and Beis Sarah, which are to be found throughout America and also in countries on the other side of the ocean.

The Shabbos afternoon gatherings known as mesibos Shabbos have introduced great numbers of children to the observance of mitzvos, or have upgraded their previous level of observance.

The above activities were all directed by the Rebbe. His goal, as he himself expressed it, was to shatter the prevalent false assumption that “America is different” – that America could never become a center of Torah scholarship and the awe of Heaven. With G‑d’s help, he succeeded in attaining that goal: he sparked a revolution in Jewish America.

* * *

After the terrors of the Second World War were over, a new situation arose, a new world. Great and culturally-rich Jewish communities had been annihilated; other communities, neither as great nor as rich culturally, but Jewish communities nevertheless, had arisen. In response to the new era of wandering through Displaced Persons camps and from country to country, a body was set up on the Rebbe’s initiative – Refugee Aid and Settlement.11

At that time an event of far-reaching significance took place. About a year after the end of the War, a large group of Lubavitcher chassidim managed to break free and leave Soviet Russia. However, the time has not yet come to recount the saga of what they endured before they finally left. Suffice it to say that those families had not only continued to observe mitzvos, but had also remained faithful chassidim. Moreover, in the thick of Soviet Russia, they had guided their sons and daughters along the path of the Torah in the spirit of Chassidus. The mere sight of those families is enough to give one a clear picture of what the Rebbe’s earlier work in Russia accomplished.

* * *

Like all the postwar Jewish refugees, those Russian Jews, too, trudged the long trek through East European countries, wandering through D. P. (Displaced Persons) camps in Germany and Austria, and from there traveling either westward or to Eretz Yisrael. Yet wherever they arrived, whether in the barracks of the D. P. camps or whether in hotel rooms in Paris, they acquired a name as centers of Yiddishkeit. They set up yeshivos and Talmud Torah schools and girls’ schools – not only for their own children, but for all and any Jews. These activities, too, were carried out according to the Rebbe’s directives. Thus, those chassidim did not save themselves alone. Their initiatives revived an old-new soldierly strength in the Jews who observed them. By their initiatives, they demonstrated the practical possibility, which was boosted by the current necessity, of widespread work for the dissemination of Yiddishkeit, and especially of education, in all the new and old communities.

Following the directives of the Rebbe and with the help of the Refugee Aid organization, a large group of those chassidim settled in Eretz Yisrael, mostly in their own village, Kfar Chabad, near Lod, as well as in other cities and townships. Those olim not only provided examples of a pure and holy Jewish life. Beyond that, they embarked on far-reaching projects for the much-needed, genuinely Jewish education of the Israeli public. In addition, they opened a vast network of boys’ and girls’ schools throughout the country, especially for the benefit of the recent olim from the Orient.

* * *

A short time before his passing, the Rebbe directed his nearest followers to start working for the provision of Yiddishkeit in northern Africa, especially in Morocco, where the very large Jewish population was in urgent need of teachers and instructors. Immediately after his passing, and after due preparation, his emissaries began to set up a battery of educational institutions, which bore his name, as Oholei Yosef Yitzchak. On the Rebbe’s initiative, likewise, similar activities began in other countries, such as Australia on one side and England on the other.

* * *

A list of the maamarim of Chassidus that he either delivered or wrote during the time that he was Rebbe, and likewise a list of his books, talks, notes, letters, memoirs, and so on, is now being prepared for publication. The list includes over a thousand maamarim, more than a hundred of which had appeared as individual booklets.

* * *

On Yud Shvat, 5710 (1950), ten years after his arrival in America and thirty years after undertaking the nesius of Chabad, the Rebbe Rayatz passed away.

The entire Jewish world was shaken up by the news of his passing. Grief was apparent in all circles, and tens of thousands attended his funeral.

However, as was cited above, “One does not build monuments for tzaddikim: they are remembered by their deeds.” The wide-branching activities, through which the Rebbe with his sublime comprehensive soul12 stood at the helm of the Jewish community at large, live on and will endure. His deeds will serve as his everlasting memorial.