1. Fifteen years ago, G‑d Himself sanctified His own Name.1 That was a victory of the light of the Torah over the tormentors of the Torah and over the tormentors of the Jewish people. Today, too, we need a victory of the light of the Torah over the tormentors of the Torah.

I have often wanted to recount those events in detail, but the appropriate opportunity did not present itself. Today, since they are connected to today’s date, we will relay part of it.

On Yud-Beis Tammuz, 5679 (1919), my father delivered a maamar of Chassidus for me alone. (On Yud-Beis Tammuz every year my father would deliver a maamar of Chassidus just for me, apart from the maamar that he would deliver publicly on Shabbos.) Yud-Beis Tammuz was my day, my Yom-Tov. In addition to the maamar he would relate narratives and expound various subjects. Stories of tzaddikim, especially when related by a tzaddik, are actual Torah.

My father’s maamar on that occasion focused on mesirus nefesh, self-sacrifice. (As a matter of fact it would have been appropriate to repeat it now, but because of various restraints I cannot do that, and it will appear instead in writing.) There it is explained that the Torah can be acquired only by means of mesirus nefesh. True, the Torah can also be studied without mesirus nefesh, except that by means of mesirus nefesh one draws down Atzmus, the very Essence of Elokus, into the Torah that one studies. The explanation for this lies in the difference between the mesirus nefesh of Avraham Avinu and the mesirus nefesh of R. Akiva. Now is not the time to explain this at length, but in brief:

R. Akiva sought and hoped for the opportunity to have mesirus nefesh for the Torah. In his words, “When will this [mitzvah] come my way so that I will be able to fulfill it?”2 The focus of Avraham Avinu, by contrast, was to disseminate G‑dliness widely, and not necessarily via mesirus nefesh, though if there would be no alternative, he was prepared to undergo that, quite literally. That is why for him, mesirus nefesh was not an innate desire, but in the cause of Elokus he was imprisoned for seven years in Kardu and three years in Kuta.3 Accordingly, we find that when a certain subject in Torah had to be heard from R. Akiva when he was in prison, he had to express himself by hints, as in the episode in which R. Yehoshua ben Chananiah stood at the entrance.4 By contrast, even when Avraham Avinu was in prison, he revealed and publicized Elokus in the world.

That was the last Yud-Beis-Tammuz-maamar that I heard from my father in This World. Over the years, he had often spoken to me about mesirus nefesh for the Torah, and a few days before his passing he told me that for the sake of the Torah one should actually give his life – not potentially, but actually, and he repeated this during his last moments in This World.

After his passing5 came the decrees against the Torah and the chadarim.6 Accordingly, in 5682 (1922), nine temimim, alumni of the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah, met in Moscow. I was the tenth person. We swore that we would be prepared to sacrifice our lives, to the last drop of blood, in the cause of the Torah. Each individual undertook responsibility for a particular region. That commitment made a great impact on the entire country. Hundreds of Talmud Torah schools and chadarim were established – but not like here in America, where the function of a Talmud Torah school is to teach a child how to say a blessing when called to the Reading of the Torah, or how to say Kaddish. Over there, there was earnest learning.

Then came the persecution by the Yevsektsia.7 Classes had to be held in hiding, in cellars – not cellars as in America, but simply dungeons dug in the ground. They were cold, without fire, without windows, and that is where children were taught for a few hours every day. Even there people were afraid, because if they were caught, the teachers were cruelly tortured and exiled [to Siberia], the children were tormented, and some people were shot – all at the lawless whim of the authorities. To protect the pupils against sudden discovery, their mothers would walk about in the streets near those dungeons as if they were peddling beans, so that in case of need they could give due warning.

Since some of the children fell ill because of the conditions in the cellars, some householders objected to the system. So, being then in Leningrad, I called together some of them and said:

Every part of the divine service in the Beis HaMikdash was carried out by kohanim and levi’im. The slaughtering of a sacrifice could be done by someone else, but every main avodah was done by a kohen. One solitary avodah was done on Yom Kippur by someone who was not a kohen – namely, leading the scapegoat to Azazel. That task had to be done by “a prepared person,”8 by someone who was prepared to do it. Even though we learn that this person would not survive that year,9 people vied for that avodah – because it was an avodah of the Beis HaMikdash. How much more so, when we are speaking of the avodah for the Torah, which gives life, should there be people to do this work.

These words made such an impact that many chassidim risked their lives for the sake of maintaining Torah classes, and hundreds of chadarim were established. Indeed, at the time of my arrest in 1927, I derived satisfaction from the certainty that this would result in the establishment of even more hundreds of chadarim.

Now, in this country, there is a decree against the Torah: there is a move to schedule the secular studies in the morning, before the sacred studies. That would mean (G‑d forbid) the destruction of the yeshivos.10 On no account may this be allowed to happen. This cause should rouse everyone, and not only the fathers of pupils in those schools. People should be crying out aloud in the streets and speaking urgently to their representatives and to the gabbaim of the shuls who are devout Shabbos-observers. (This matter should not be discussed with the gabbaim who desecrate Shabbos.) The observant gabbaim should be urged to approach their government representatives. This cause warrants intensive publicity. Ways and means must be found to annul this decree, for let it be known that on the day that (Heaven forfend!) it materializes, this country will undergo a mighty collapse. There are people who seek to undermine Torah study and to destroy the yeshivos!

The Alter Rebbe declared that a regime that opens a campaign against little children who study Torah will be erased. “Do not touch My anointed ones!”11 – and the Sages teach that this refers to little children who study Torah.12 People need to know that just as one needs material ammunition to conquer an enemy, so too does one need spiritual ammunition. That is the Torah, so it must not be tackled, and the campaign to block this decree calls for mesirus nefesh.

LeChaim! May G‑d grant that today, too, the light will overcome the darkness.

There are things that one cannot hide. So let me say: I am brokenhearted by my individual situation and by the state of local Jewry in general. In Russia, at the time of the anti-religious edicts, a mere word was enough to rouse people to action. Like one solitary spark in a wagonload of dry hay, it sufficed that one tamim should arrive in a town and talk about the need for a cheder or a mikveh and whatever else was needed, and they immediately materialized. Yet here in this country, there’s been talk, and more talk, yet the ice doesn’t budge. Not a single chunk of ice has melted into water. From this I, as an individual, am brokenhearted. Why did Divine Providence bring me to this country?

American Jews! Where are you? Are you so blind that you do not see the Mighty Hand13 relating to “what you have in mind? (May it never come to pass!)”14 Are you so deaf that you do not hear [the call of the Prophet], “Return, return [from your evil ways]! Why should you die, O House of Israel?”15 Have you become so coarsened that you are not sensitive to what is happening before your very eyes? You have made your materiality gross. Do you really think that [in this time and place] you are (G‑d forbid) different Jews, with a different Master of the Universe, and a different Torah?!

Here, in America, a father and his son and his grandson all look alike. I once wrote to someone about what a rav and a shochet look like here, in this country. They are not sinners, because they are acting according to the law of the Torah, but they do cause many others to sin. Unlettered fellow Jews are not aware of the halachic distinctions involved: in their eyes a razor and a shaving machine are all the same. Thus, by regarding the use of a razor as completely permissible, they unwittingly transgress five prohibitions. People follow the example of those around them, so that all in all, many prohibitions are involved.

In response to that letter, my correspondent asked: “If so, aren’t the shechitah and the halachic rulings of such shochtim forbidden?” And I answered, “That could be…”

Two responsa published in Shoel U’Meishiv16 relate to the status of a shochet who brought about a transgression by an unwitting blunder. In one responsum, the author ruled that the shochet should be suspended for a few days only, and that his shechitah henceforth should continue to be regarded as permissible even for the most exacting of consumers.17 In another responsum, the same author ruled that the shochet should be dismissed, and that his shechitah henceforth should be regarded as invalid.18 When asked to explain, the author replied that in the first case, the mistake was utterly unintentional and the shochet was pained by it, whereas the second case was caused by the light-minded laxity of the shochet, who had cast off the yoke of the awe of Heaven.

As was said above, those five transgressions multiply into a veritable swamp of thousands of transgressions – and you are driving your way right into it! I’m not a preacher of Mussar; I don’t deliver sermons; I don’t give warnings. Nevertheless…

Kosher Talmud Torah schools must be established. The treifah Talmud Torah schools, whose teachers do not keep Shabbos, or put on tefillin, or observe the Torah and other mitzvos, are houses of apostasy. When a child is enrolled there, he is being literally driven out of his Judaism. Contributing money for such institutions is like contributing to houses of apostasy. It would be better to contribute to churches. As Rambam writes: If a Jew needs a security guard as his traveling companion, and has to choose between a non-Jew with a religion and a non-Jew without a religion, one might think that the latter is preferable. Rambam however rules that one should prefer the former, because he is more likely to be of good character. When one contributes to a church, only non-Jews will attend it, whereas in the treifah Talmud Torah schools, Jewish children are on their way to being (G‑d forbid) apostasized.

I have personally spent time in the company of such children from such Talmud Torah schools. They were members of the Yevsektsia…19

The Midrash entitled Shocher Tov20 enumerates all the exiles. [In that source, the exiles of Babylon and Medea (i.e., Persia) and Greece and the current exile are alluded to by the metaphors applied to them in the prophecies of Yoel, Yeshayahu, Asaf and David, who foresaw them.]

Concerning the Egyptian exile, G‑d told Moshe Rabbeinu that he should tell the Jewish people: “I shall be Whom I shall be.”21 [On this the Sages teach that G‑d told Moshe Rabbeinu that he should reassure them: “I was with them in this bondage, and I shall be with them in their bondage under future kingdoms.”] Moshe protested: “[Why should I burden them by foretelling future distress?] For now, their current distress suffices!” To this G‑d responded: “Go and tell them that ‘I shall be’ sent Me to you…; the G‑d of your forefathers… sent Me to you.”22

From the time that Moshe Rabbeinu was shown our current exile, forty generations passed23 until the time of Rav Ashi,24 and more time has elapsed from that era until our era. The exile in our era is referred to as a winepress,25 where wine is produced by treading on grapes. In every era there have been tribulations, but nowadays people everywhere are suffering, and especially Jews.

[Now, to contrast the Egyptian exile with our current exile:] In Egypt, after the third plague the people already recognized, “This is the finger of G‑d!”26 Yet now, after so many plagues, people still recognize nothing

I am not chastising and I am not delivering sermons, but simply out of ahavas Yisrael, out of a love for fellow Jews, I am saying what I feel in the innermost depths of my heart – that everyone ought to turn back to doing teshuvah, studying Torah, and practicing good deeds.

The prospect of the next few months causes me heartache. Nevertheless, I hope that by Chai Elul, the luminous date on which the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe were born, I will be able to tell you the happy news that the yeshivah desk of Tomchei Temimim has established more branches. Moreover, since “envy between scholars increases wisdom,”27 other yeshivos will also want to establish branches. And through the good work of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch and of Machne Israel, G‑d will grant them success.

May G‑d grant that this summer be healthy and peaceful, and that we will soon go out to welcome the merciful arrival of Mashiach.