In this volume we relive some of the most electrifying moments in two centuries of Lubavitch history.

It opens with the memorable gathering marking the first anniversary of the passing of the Rebbe’s revered father-in-law and predecessor — Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, who is commonly known by the acronym of his name as the Rebbe Rayatz נ"ע. There are hoary chassidim among us who, as young men, were present at that gathering on the tenth of Shvat, in the year 5711 [1951], in the packed ground-floor study hall at 770 Eastern Parkway. As they recall, they took their places among the elder chassidim of those times in an anxious mood of tense expectation.

They were not kept waiting long, for in the course of that farbrengen, the Rebbe delivered his first maamar. A tape recording has preserved the clear and measured voice with which it was spoken, in the unmistakable intonation reserved for maamarim. To the eager listeners, who were fondly familiar with the oral traditions of Rebbeim and chassidim, the delivery of that original discourse on the teachings of Chassidus was momentous: a clear signal that the Rebbe had finally consented to formally accept the Nesius, the mantle of leadership.

The air was electric. In the course of the maamar the Rebbe extended a three-dimensional spiritual invitation to his six predecessors, whose souls were now alive in the Other World — the Alter Rebbe, the Mitteler Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, the Rebbe Maharash, the Rebbe Rashab, and the Rebbe Rayatz. One by one he expounded a profound insight from each of them, a teaching that had been handed down with love and awe. (“He who cites a teaching in the name of its author should visualize that mentor standing before him.”1 ) In another dimension of communication, he asked all the chassidim present to sing together, between the various passages of his discourse, an evocative niggun that was associated with each of those Rebbeim. (“A melody is the quill of the soul.”2 ) And in a third dimension, the Rebbe summoned their spiritual presence by recounting a story about each of them, illustrating how they loved their fellow Jews with all their heart. (“When we used to hear a Torah teaching from the Rebbe — the Maggid of Mezritch — we saw this as the Oral Law, and when we heard a story from his mouth, this was our Written Law.”3 )

The mantle, as the Rebbe well knew, was weighty indeed. Speaking in the above maamar of the cosmic task facing the seventh generation, the Rebbe said: “The fact that we are in the seventh generation is not the result of our own choosing and our own service, and indeed in certain ways perhaps contrary to our will....” And one can well imagine the anguish in the air when on Purim, only five weeks after the above gathering, the Rebbe made a clear metaphorical reference to his own situation. Weeping bitterly, he described the plight of Queen Esther at the doorstep to a mortal king’s inner court. On the one hand, “All the king’s courtiers and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman enters the king’s presence in the inner court without having been summoned, there is but one verdict for him....”4 On the other hand, whether Esther’s entry was lawful or not, the urgent need of her stricken brethren impelled her to dare. So, too, for the Rebbe himself: despite his sense of unworthiness (“Who am I, and what am I...?”), the times demanded that he don the mantle and approach the King.

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This volume, like its three predecessors, comprises a broad variety of informal talks (sichos) and letters that together constitute a vibrant, first-person documentation of that historic period. The sole exception is the above-mentioned maamar which, though more demanding, is included here by virtue of its unique status. All the other maamarim that were delivered during this period are scheduled to appear in translation in a separate volume of maamarim.

In the present volume, page references to the Siddur are to the edition (with English translation) entitled Siddur Tehillat Hashem, Annotated Edition (Kehot, N.Y., 5763/2002.

Footnotes appearing in boldface were authored by the Rebbe. The other footnotes were either translated from those written by the editors of the Hebrew edition, or were newly added to the present edition by the translator.

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In one of the farbrengens recorded in this volume,5 the Rebbe quotes the Rebbe Rashab: “When Mashiach arrives, people will start hankering after the bygone era of exile. It is then that they will start feeling regret for not having devoted themselves to Divine service; it is then that people will feel anguish over their lack of avodah. As for now, during the era of exile, these are the days of avodah to prepare oneself for the imminent coming of Mashiach.”

On this the Rebbe asks: Surely the exact opposite would be more reasonable! After all, in this era of exile we live in a world of dense darkness, whereas in the future era, we will be “free to engage in the Torah and its wisdom.”6

And the Rebbe answers his own question by explaining what is so precious about the avodah that a Jew tackles in the sometimes-inhospitable conditions of the present: “The task of this era is to shatter and nullify the concealment of the Divine light that is veiled by the dense darkness of this world.”

As the Rebbe repeatedly reminds us throughout these talks, the remaining phases of the above task are the last obstacle to the advent of the imminent era in which “there will be neither famine nor war, neither envy nor competition..., and the occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G‑d.”7

Sichos In English

Lag BaOmer, 5769 [2009]