The stern background music to some of the sichos of the year covered by this volume – 5698 (1937-1938) – is the ominous rumbling that was soon to erupt in the volcano of World War II. That rumbling is sensed most intensely in the sichos delivered soon after Hitler’s troops invaded Vienna, which the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (the Rebbe Rayatz1 ) had left for Paris two days beforehand.2

Actually, the home base of the Rebbe Rayatz during this period was neither Vienna nor Paris, but Otvotzk, Poland. He had relocated there from Warsaw two years earlier, together with the parent Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah. However, as is testified by his letters, and by the detailed updates that his loving aides sent to their anxious fellow chassidim abroad, much of his time was invested in an ongoing quest for medical advice that would invigorate his frail health. This need brought him for weeks on end to Paris, as well as to various health spas and sanatoria in Europe and Crimea.

Thus it was that the sichos in this volume, which were mostly brief, were often delivered in a soft voice to an audience that was restricted to twenty or thirty chassidim, who were eagerly joined by a number of rostered temimim. So, too, one erev Shabbos he told his faithful secretary, R. Yechezkel (“Chatshe”) Feigin, that he hoped he would have the strength to deliver a maamar on Shabbos. The reason: he would like a certain member of the chassidic brotherhood who was about to leave for America to convey his regards to Anash over there – “and in my case, ‘regards’ means Chassidus.”

Defying all of these medical and security challenges, the themes of this volume are predominantly upbeat. Above all, they seek to salvage and preserve the ideals that have traditionally characterized the Chabad brotherhood, such as: devoting to one’s daily davenen the full focus that it deserves; studying nigleh and Chassidus not only in order to ingest them intellectually, but also to internalize them to the extent that they color the way one thinks, and converses, and goes about the practicalities of his daily life; and fine-tuning one’s sensitivity to the feelings of others, as well as to their material and spiritual needs.

True to his characteristic style, the Rebbe Rayatz often makes these lessons spring to life by seasoning them with pregnant stories, glimpses into the avodah and the daily lives of Rebbeim and chassidim, colorful recollections from his own chequered life, graphic descriptions of memorable moments in farbrengens that he witnessed as a child, and a wealth of incisive Torah teachings that ignite the soul.

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This volume was translated and annotated by Uri Kaploun.3 It was designed and typeset by Yosef Yitzchok Turner, and scrutinized and prepared for publication by Rabbi Yonah Avtzon. Thanks are due to: Rabbi Sholom Dober Levin, editor of Toldos Chabad BePolin, Lita VeLatvia,1790-1946 (Kehot, N.Y., 5771/2011), for historical documentation; Rabbi Aharon Leib Raskin of Otzar HaChassidim, editor of the Heb./Yid. volume which is the original of the present translation; and to our many fellow chassidim who volunteered valuable background information.

Above all, thanks are due to Yossi Malamud, who is dedicating this volume in honor of the birthday (biz 120!) of his father, Shmuel Malamud. This is B”H the fifth volume to appear in a history-making series which from the outset has been inspired, guided and prodded along its path by its sponsor’s public-spirited initiative.

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In this volume the Rebbe Rayatz relates that at a farbrengen one day, R. Aizik of Homil, referring to himself, said: “When Mashiach comes, they’ll pick up little Aizl and stand him up on someone’s hand and say, “Just look! This tiny fellow lived in the era that could hear the approaching footsteps of Mashiach, and this tiny fellow used to talk about Yichuda Ila’ah!”

The diminutive R. Aizik, who was a giant of the spirit, said that of himself. A greater marvel surely is that today, inspired by the Rebbe of our generation, far tinier fellows than R. Aizik (such as ourselves) are privileged to be able to study nigleh andChassidus, and to try to daven as chassidim ought to daven, and to upgrade our mitzvah-observance, and to invest time and effort in mivtza’im – and thereby to prove that we are in earnest when we cry out for the imminent revelation of Mashiach.

May we be privileged to see that long-awaited vision materialize in our lifetime.

Sichos In English

Erev Shavuos, 5778 (2018)