1.

For more than four decades, Lubavitcher Chassidim, and world Jewry merited to have the Lubavitcher Rebbe in their midst in a physical body. After the ravages and destruction of the Holocaust, the Rebbe not only dedicated himself to the rebuilding and rejuvenation of Chabad, he was actually involved in the building of Jewish communities throughout the world.

As strange as it sounds, the Rebbe, this phenomenal Torah giant and leader of world Jewry, had sufficient time in his schedule to send a letter of greeting and blessing to each and every boy who notified him of his upcoming Bar Mitzvah.

On the surface the letters seemed identical. However, each letter was addressed individually to the respective Bar Mitzvah celebrant and signed personally with the Rebbe’s holy hand. To the Bar Mitzvah boy this letter was a cherished source of inspiration and he or his mentors would reflect on a lesson derived from the letter’s wording. In keeping with the popular adage that the words of the righteous are everlasting, tonight we followed the custom of reading the letter the Rebbe would address to a Bar Mitzvah.

While that practice went on for many years, in the early years of his leadership, the Rebbe sometimes would write an individual letter to a Bar Mitzvah celebrant with unique content. Such was also the case with the letter my brother Rabbi Shmuel Pesach שיחי' Bogomilsky (Shliach of the Rebbe to Newark/Maplewood, New Jersey) received in honor of his Bar Mitzvah, which took place in the week of our parshah, Parshat Bereishit.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, I would like to share with you and those present a free translation in English of the letter the Rebbe penned on the 28th of Tishrei 5713 (1953). Brooklyn.




The Avreich* Shemuel Pesach שי',

Greeting and Blessing,

On the occasion of your Bar Mitzvah on Shabbat Bereishit, I offer my blessings that it will take place in a good and auspicious time and that you should succeed in your learning and mitzvot.

There is a well-known saying of the Alter Rebbe, also found in the Shelah, that the weekly parshah is connected to the time it is read. This Shabbat we read Parshat Bereishit, beginning “In the beginning of G‑d’s creating of the heavens and earth, and the earth was [empty and void] … and darkness [was on the surface of the deep] … and G‑d said ‘Let there be light’” (1:1‑3) This is a general teaching for all Jews, and specifically for the Bar Mitzvah, who is beginning his life as one obligated in Torah and all mitzvot: As he approaches his service of Torah and mitzvot in the world, he must constantly remember the clear principle:

1) G‑d created the heavens and the earth, and therefore He is the sole Master of the world and everything it contains.

2) A person’s portion in the world is still dark and his task is to correct and illuminate it.

3) The beginning of this service is to reveal in the world the element of “And G‑d said.” This means learning Torah — the veritable word of G‑d — and fulfilling the mitzvot that G‑d commanded, as the Torah states “A mitzvah is a candle and the Torah is light.” (Proverbs 6:23) The person thereby converts the darkness of the world to light — in the words of the holy Zohar “to transform darkness to light and bitter to sweet.”

By maintaining this awareness constantly, one will certainly be on the correct path, the path of G‑d — to do “righteousness and judgment.”

With blessing,

My dear Bar Mitzvah, according to my understanding, in this letter the Rebbe is telling the Bar Mitzvah that the opening verses of the Torah contain a profound message that delineates the obligation and the life mission of every Jew at the moment he becomes Bar Mitzvah and throughout his entire life.

It is our prayer and blessing to you that you always have the ultimate faith in Hashem and dispel the darkness of the world through your Torah study, Mitzvot observance, and disseminating the importance of Hashem’s word — Torah and Mitzvot — throughout the world. We wish you success in fulfilling this mission.


2.

Man’s creation, which took place on the sixth day, is at first recorded in a very brief and sketchy way. Later on the Torah provides more details about man’s creation and formation. Hashem raised the waters of the deep (abyss) and made the clouds bear water to saturate the soil and man was created. Like the baker who puts water into the flour, kneads the dough, and then shapes it, similarly, Hashem watered the earth and afterwards — “Vayitzer” — “Hashem G‑d formed [the man].” (see Rashi 2:6).

The Gemara (Berachot 60a) questions that the word “Vayitzer” is usually spelled with a single yud — why is it written here with two yuds (וייצר)? Rav Nachman son of Rav Chisda expounded that the double yud alludes to Hashem’s creation of man with two inclinations: the Yeitzer Tov — Good Inclination — and the Yeitzer Hara — Evil Inclination.

King Shlomo writes “Tov yeled miskein vechacham, mimelech zakein uchesil” — “Better is a poor but wise youth, than an old and foolish king” (Ecclesiastes 4:13). Rashi explains that “yeled” refers to the Yeitzer Tov — Good Inclination — while “zakein” is the Yeitzer Hara — Evil Inclination. The Yeitzer Tov is called a “yeled” because he first fully enters a person at the age of thirteen (see Shulchan Aruch Harav 4:2). “Zakein” refers to the Evil Inclination because it is older — it clings to man from his earliest youth.

Accordingly, it could well be said that when one becomes Bar Mitzvah and reaches the age of thirteen, the Yeitzer Hara is already a long time resident and the Yeitzer Tov who is just arriving in his entirety, is considered a guest.

People usually go out their way when preparing to host a prominent guest. They clean up the house, prepare a sumptuous meal, and set aside appropriate guest’s room.

The Hebrew word for guest is orei’ach. Receiving guests properly is called hachnasat orchim.

How should you deal with your “guest”? What is the proper decorum? The answer to this question was given by King David in Psalms. He says “Bamah yezakeh na’ar et orcho, lishmor kidvarecha.” How should a youngster purify his path? By observing Your word” (119:9). This can, however, also be interpreted as follows: How should a na’ar — a young boy becoming Bar Mitzvah yezakeh et orcho — accommodate his visitor (guest), i.e. the Yeitzer Tov (who is now arriving in his full glory and is thus a guest, in comparison to the long time resident — the Yeitzer Hara)? The way is by “lishmor kidvarecha” — “observing Your word” — i.e., the word of Hashem — Torah and Mitzvot.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, I pray that you take good care of your guest — the Yeitzer Tov — and make him feel very comfortable residing in you. Thus, he will proudly proclaim of you “Kol mah shetarach ba’al habayit lo tarach elah bishvili” — “All my host’s efforts were entirely for my sake!” (Berachot 58a) and pray for you to be blessed with kol tuv — all the best materially and spiritually in abundant measure.


3.

The fate of Kayin and Hevel, the first two and only (at that time) brothers in the universe, is unbelievable. Kayin and Hevel, who had the entire world for themselves, and who each had a thriving unique profession without any outside competition, couldn’t get along among themselves. So in lieu of merely distancing themselves one from another, Kayin finished the relationship by murdering his brother in cold blood.

At that time Kayin’s occupation and business was working the land. Following this incident, Kayin was banished from his parents and exiled to the land of Nod, a place where exiles wander. According to the Abarbanel (Rabbi Yitzchak ben Yehuda Abarbanel 1437-1508), Cain strove to have children with whom he could associate so his wife bore him a son whom he named Chanoch. He undertook a new enterprise — construction. Torah records that “Vayehi boneh ir” — He became a city-builder — vayikra sheim ha’ir besheim b’no Chanoch — and he named the city after his son Chanoch” (4:17-18).

Torah does not give an explanation for his naming his son or the city with the name Chanoch. So it lets us come up with a reason.

Going through the writings of my father, Harav Hagaon Shmuel Pesach z”l Bogomilsky, (which my mother, Rebbetzin Chasya Hadassah, OBM, kept in safeguard since his passing in 1939, and conveyed to me and my brother שיחי', his namesake), I found a beautiful explanation that I would like to share with you, my dear Bar Mitzvah, and all the assembled here.

After Kayin committed this heinous crime, Hashem asked him “Where is Hevel your brother?” Rashi explains that Hashem indeed knew, but His intent was to engage him in a gentle conversation to give him the opportunity to confess and repent, i.e. do teshuva. Kayin took Hashem’s question to indicate ignorance about Hevel’s whereabouts, so he denied knowing the answer. Later, while in exile, he underwent self introspection and finally acknowledged the gravity of his sin. According to the Midrash (Rabbah, Bereishit 22:13) Adam met Kayin and asked “How did your case go?” To which Kayin replied I did teshuva — repented — and am reconciled.”

The meaning of Chanoch is education and training as in “Chanoch lana’ar al pi darko” — “Train/educate the youth according to his way (Proverbs 22:6).

When Kayin committed the terrible act of killing his own brother, he realized his demoralization and debased status. After much contemplation, he concluded that without proper education from early youth, a person can easily go astray and commit the most gross and inhumane crimes. To rectify this, he made it his mission to propagate the importance of education.

When his son was born, he named him “Chanoch,” which stems from the word “chinuch” — “education” — and also called the entire city by this name. Kayin was stressing that parents are obligated to educate their children as soon as they are born. Moreover, one should not suffice with this, but also see that the entire city receives a proper education.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, you are fortunate to have received a proper and thorough education from your early childhood that magnificently brought you to your current stage in life. You must, however, remember that education is something one must be involved in throughout his entire life. As the saying goes, “live and learn,” as long as one lives he must continue to learn. Hopefully, you will continue learning Nigleh and Chassidut and reach great heights.