Opening Talk at the Convention of Agudas Chabad1

Gut Yom-Tov, fellow Jews!2

“Who is like Your people…, the one nation on earth!”3 At this time, when every heart is pained by public and personal woes, at the present moment of this agonizing era throughout the world, for us today is a Yom-Tov, and I’m addressing you with the festive greeting, “Gut Yom-Tov, fellow Jews!” For Jews do not live under their own sovereignty but under the sovereignty of the Torah. Indeed, according to the Torah one ought to sublimate his ego – and according to the Torah, now is a time of Yom-Tov.

Every chassidic gathering is a meeting place of souls, and this convention of Agudas Chabad, too, is a gathering of souls.

The One Above crowned Jews with the title, “a stiff-necked people.”4 When Moshe Rabbeinu sought to arouse the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy for the Jewish people, he could find no loftier characteristic than to describe them as “a stiff-necked people.” Mortal reason cannot grasp the full value of this characteristic, but being stiff-necked has given us Jews the power to survive the entire length of the present exile, and being stiff-necked will give us the power to survive the present anguish – until we finally arrive in Eretz Yisrael with Mashiach.

This is neither the time nor the place to go into a lengthy discussion, but this can be said: Among Jews there is no division. True, we comprise Twelve Tribes, but with regard to the obligations of the Torah and the mitzvos we are all equal, except for the particular mitzvos of kohanim and of women. In all other respects there is no differentiation. All Jews share the characteristic of the stiff-necked people, for this characteristic is the very nucleus of Judaism, the innermost defining-point of a Jew.5 The only difference is that in one person it is hidden, and in another it is more apparent. When such a person steps into a beis midrash and hears Yisgadal veyiskadash and so on, he spontaneously responds, Amen, yehei shmei rabbah. And Chassidus serves to unlock a Jew’s innermost Jewish nucleus.

Chabad chassidim have their own approach, not only with regard to applying Chassidus in their own lives, but also with regard to the task of fortifying the study of Torah and the practice of Yiddishkeit in general. In recent years, Chabad chassidim have demonstrated self-sacrifice in this cause, for the benefit of Jews at large, because Chabad chassidim are not a separate party or the like.

Let me conclude with my warm wishes to all those present. I am happy that people have come to hear a few words about fortifying the study of Torah in general and of Chassidus in particular.

Closing Talk at the Convention of Agudas Chabad

Someone recently asked, “What is a chassid?”

A chassid is someone who lives by the directive, “Say little and do much.”6 The soul finds expression through the faculties of thought, speech and action – and a chassid should think a lot, speak little, and do much. The Alter Rebbe taught that fulfilling the obligation to “love your neighbor as yourself”7 is a means towards fulfilling the obligation to “love the L‑rd your G‑d.”8 One ought to have a gift for loving a fellow Jew, and a chassid should spend time thinking about how he can do a favor to a fellow Jew.

Chassidim are not a separate party. The brotherhood of chassidim includes people who are outstanding in their Torah scholarship or their wisdom or their awe of Heaven, and also quite ordinary people. Chassidim are not a distinctive party. The defining characteristic of a chassid is that he thinks a lot, speaks little, and does much. In addition, since he belongs to the “stiff-necked people,” he is stubborn in matters of Yiddishkeit. Nothing can block his way. And indeed, chassidim have even trodden dangerous paths, in order to arrive at their goals.

Everyone can see the woeful events that are happening around the world, but not everyone understands what they mean. These events are screaming out to us: Shuvah Yisrael! Return, O Israel!”9 We and our wives and children are now standing on the threshold between life and death, G‑d forbid, between the hammer and the anvil. However, everything depends on our hearts, on teshuvah – on regret for the past and on a positive resolve for the future. In that way, with G‑d’s help, we will arrive at the Palace of Life. Without that, G‑d forbid, no one can promise what will be tomorrow.

There is a lamp, there is a light, but it cannot compare to the light of the sun… (There is no record of the continuation of this thought).10 There are people who believe that they have discharged their obligations as Jews simply by contributing tzedakah. Charity, to be sure, is a very lofty thing, but one cannot release himself through that alone. What is needed is teshuvah.

With regard to observing Shabbos: Some people think that it is permitted on Shabbos to carry a newspaper in a public thoroughfare. Such a person reassures himself with the thought that since for $700 he has bought himself a spot in a cemetery for Shabbos-observers, Dumah, [the presiding angel in the Other World,] will no doubt leave him alone, even though he is carrying a handkerchief in a public thoroughfare on Shabbos. When he then steps into the local beis midrash and hears someone teaching a mishnah, such as a passage from Pirkei Avos,11 it doesn’t affect him in the slightest.

It is hard to say such words, and it is not permitted to say them, but one must say that on this matter his life and the lives of his family depend. This same Jew who in the Old Country wore a beard and peyos, in America has become light-minded as a result of frigidity, a lack of ardor. The old lady who hails from a Jewish shtetl in Europe, in America goes out to do her shopping precisely on Shabbos, not realizing that she is thereby bringing [misfortune] on her children, G‑d forbid. Parents who do not observe family purity are doing their children a spiritual disservice. This lady has utterly forgotten her family’s lineage in Europe. Here, everything has become permissible. In America you can do as you please – as if America created a different Master of the Universe and a different Torah, G‑d forbid. We have already seen clearly what has come of those who distanced themselves from Yiddishkeit. (May no one know of such things!)

It is not our business to meddle in G‑d’s mysteries,12 but we must take current events into account. There’s only a short time during which to do teshuvah.The present birth pangs of Mashiach are crying out to us: “Shuvah Yisrael! Return, O Israel! Return, O sons of the Jewish people! Return, O daughters of the Jewish people!”

We all have an obligation and a mitzvah to rescue each other. Every individual must say to another individual out in the street: “Brother! Have pity on yourself and on your family! Bring up a generation that Mashiach will be happy to see!” People must do teshuvah. Teshuvah is effective for everything. Even if someone hasn’t put on tefillin for twenty years, the little Jewish nucleus within him can rouse him to do teshuvah. Teshuvah does not mean tearing one’s hair in remorse. Teshuvah takes place in the heart. It means using the mikveh in the vigilant observance of family purity; it means observing the laws of kashrus and of tefillin, and so on. And in the wake of genuine teshuvah, one must hope that the birth pangs of Mashiach will be eased considerably.

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By the way: Apropos the earlier mention of the responsibilities of Agudas [Chassidei] Chabad, I would like to state that HaKeriah VehaKedushah and Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch13 are unrelated to Agudas Chassidei Chabad.

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By the way: Apropos the earlier mention of the responsibilities of Agudas [Chassidei] Chabad, I would like to state that HaKeriah VehaKedushah and Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch14 are unrelated to Agudas Chassidei Chabad.