Editor's note: Beginning in the 1950's, the Chabad-Lubavitch community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn has hosted student groups for "Encounter with Chabad" weekends. In the earlier years, one of the highlights of the weekend was the audience the students had with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, in which they would pose their questions to him.

The following transcript is of one such dialogue between a group of students and the Rebbe in 1963, as recorded by Rabbi Shmuel Lew.

Dating and Marriage

Student Representative: The students have two or three problems that they would like to discuss.

Rebbe: They only have two or three? That would be quite good!

Student: What is your opinion concerning dating for people our age?

Rebbe: Every young man and woman looks forward to a happily married life, but this starts only after marriage. If you "try out" the relationship too much before marriage, this influences all of one's married life. The relationship between a man and woman prior to marriage should be only in the same measure as the relationship between two people of the same gender. But if more is added — and usually after a while much more is added than at the start — then you are taking away very much from the relationship between this man and woman after they marry....

All relationships make people closer, and everyone wants to be happily married. But the idea of trying out the relationship in a certain measure before marriage started a few decades ago, or less. Yet there have been happy marriages for thousands of years. This is just an experiment of a few years' duration, and it is very difficult to be sure about the effects. The effects can show strongly non-beneficial results of a premature relationship before marriage.

Student: Isn't there a difference between relationships before and after marriage? Isn't this the way that society accepts?

Rebbe: I'm speaking of the personal feelings of the man and woman themselves — not whether society will be happy or not. Nowadays some are happy with the extreme right, some, with the extreme left, or any level in-between. Society is multicolored and differently shaded, and every kind of behavior is tolerated.

My opinion is that this influences the feelings of the married couple after their marriage. They hope for a marriage for many decades or years, and it is not worth allowing the pleasure of a few months to spoil something for decades, for tens of years.

Judaism Today

Student: What do you say of the state of Judaism in the present day?

Rebbe: Every era had those Jews who moved away from Judaism, and the same is true of 1963. But this is only for a certain period, and after that a large percentage return.

Student: They still believe in everything, in spirit.

Rebbe: You mustn't separate the spirit from actual life. There are also differences in spirit, but not within the practice. Not all pray with the same prayer rite, which is a difference of the spirit. Some pray according to mystical intentions, some according to Chassidic meditations, some according to Hungarian meditation and some pray with no special meditation at all. But the basic prayer rite in the essential parts is the same. Tefillin (phylacteries) had a different interpretation in Alexandrian Egypt, and yet the same tefillin were put on the left arm and the head, then and now.

Student: What is your opinion of the Jews of today, compared to those of long ago?

Rebbe: In my opinion you are very lucky in relation to the Jews of thousands of years ago. In the past, when a Jew was asked the reason why his behavior was different from all the people around him, he had no history to persuade people that he was right, for the Jewish people were only a few years or a few generations old. But now, after three thousand years of history in many different countries and conditions, 99% of these times under non-beneficial conditions, though no trace remains of the people who oppressed them—the Egyptians, Babylonians, Romans, Greeks—the Jews survived all their oppressions, including Hitler's.

As previously said, you can't come with a ready-made theory, and you must study history and see where it points. The power to survive oppression is not something accidental, because they have the same history for over 3,000 years. All of recorded human history is only 4-5 thousand years, no longer. And for 3,000 of 5,000 years a single unusual phenomenon has occurred. A people who were always persecuted and a minority, always survived its oppressors who were many times bigger. If you study books to see what their behavior was, you can answer the question of why we are different, why we seclude ourselves and refuse to assimilate.

Student: Are people as religious today or less religious than those long ago?

Rebbe: Probably the same. However, it was much harder to understand then. For 2,000 years ago they could only base themselves upon belief without any facts. Now, in the twentieth century, we have solid facts to support us as to why we existed with the same behavior all these 3,000 years.

Student: Do you think that the Jewish people will always be a minority?

Rebbe: They probably will be in the future also. But this doesn't bother me. If we compare vegetable life to inorganic matter, the inorganic is more abundant, and vegetable life is more in quantity than animal life, and animal life more than humans. Nevertheless, we do not expect humans to be more in number than the animals, vegetables and inorganic matter around them. The important factor is, who directs things: if the human is kind and peaceful, or like an animal, a vegetable or an inorganic thing.

One more point: many circles today devote too much time to discussions. We live in an era when people need actions and deeds. It is the same as if there is an emergency case, there is no time to discuss all the possibilities and how to counteract them, if necessary. We must take all measures that are possible, from a day or a decade or a year before.

Our era has many emergency cases. If every one of us has time and ample time, and discusses all the possibilities and tries to invent, and postpones doing something until then, it will take many years, and decades, and I don't know if it's right to do this. Maybe it is more rational to use the measures and merits, virtues and treatments used 100 and 500 and 1,000 years ago, to strengthen things around us. Then we could take the time for proper research. In other words, it is not in order that we experiment, we must first keep the patient alive.

Student: Must we, then, be just men of action?

Rebbe: One should not think, "I want to show my inventive mind." It is more important to find good applications for the treatments used many years ago.

Student: Can a Jew in the army keep the Torah?

Rebbe: Many soldiers in the last war observed all the laws of Kosher, as it was their sincere wish. They brought to the Commanding Officer their sincere wish, and kept it even overseas in trenches. It does not mean that they always had the same tasty meal as everyone else, but they always had a healthy menu. They got permission from their officer to observe the laws, because it would not take away their capability to be strong, healthy soldiers.

Jewish Identity

Student: Do you believe that the Jews are the Chosen People?

Rebbe: Yes. Not because of our endeavors, but because we are given additional obligations; and additional obligations require additional powers in order to fulfill them. That is, you are expected to follow these instructions, and if not, you are wasting your possibilities and distorting everything for all around you. In a system that is very settled and everything is calculated, every part must be used to the full capacity for which it was meant.

If an individual — and certainly a society — has certain possibilities, it is not only their own private business, but it concerns the entire society around; and in a larger outlook, it concerns the entire universe.

Modern science teaches that all parts of the universe influence each other. And if one has additional powers, they must be used in the right direction, not only for one's own benefit, but also for all the people around.

Student: What has kept the Jews together, and has caused the Jews to last all these years?

Rebbe: According to the approach of science to all historic events, we must study history and find out the common points and denominators that have not changed. If for three thousand years we withstood all the persecution and all the pogroms and all pressures, then there must be something special during all these three thousand years—a common point that was present throughout. If this element would have been interrupted for a certain period, then the Jewish people could not possibly have overcome the persecution and pogroms during the period when the common point was not present.

If we study Jewish history, we see that all things change: the language, the territory, the government, the clothing, the culture and the outside world. Here we speak English; in Russia the Jews speak Russian; in the land of Israel, Hebrew. The same differences existed one thousand years ago also, and the only unchanged thing in all these years is the commandments (mitzvot), the precepts we perform in daily life.

The tefillin have not changed all these three thousand years. The same goes for Shabbat and the dietary laws. We have the same Torah as one thousand and two thousand and two thousand five hundred years ago.

At all times, there were certain groups and individuals who deviated from the course. Some of these groups were were very powerful, but no trace was left of them five or six generations later. Forty days after the giving of the Torah, a powerful group made the Golden Calf. During the time of the Temple there were idol worshipers, as during the Second Temple. In Spain, at the time of the Inquisition, there was a very influential circle. Strictly from a point of historical research, we must accept the facts even if we don't understand them: the common point has been the practical mitzvot.

Student: Would you explain the Chabad Movement?

Rebbe: It would be better if you would study this from printed literature. It is difficult to explain in a nutshell, and it is not fair to all the members of the group, who might have studied some (and don't want to hear it now). You can get literature in English in the office, which you can study at your leisure, and will be able to study it more deeply than through conversation and my English explanation.

Student: How can we use our knowledge of the Torah in everyday life?

Rebbe: Study the Torah, Prophets, Scriptures, their commentaries, and afterwards it is not difficult; when you are not prejudiced, if you are ready to make small sacrifices. You cannot expect to achieve everything right now but every day there must be self-sacrifice. You must accept... The same condition applies to all who have an ideal in life — they cannot have all the same pleasures as those without a certain goal.

Student: How can a Jewish teenager behave within the Jewish religion, to be strong enough to follow the kind of social behavior you mentioned?

Rebbe: Follow the instructions of the code of Jewish law. This is the simple way. My reasoning before is not only applicable to the Jewish community, but is valid for a gentile also. He expects real happiness of marriage, something he evaluates as pure and untouched. If there was too much before marriage, it is not the same thing. But on top of all that, are the restrictions of the code of Jewish law. If something is special about a Jewish teenager, in addition to what was said before, it is that everyone looks upon the Jews who received the Torah many thousands of years before society was established, expecting and believing—rightly—that the Jew should be a role model. He is expected to be more exact about what is necessary than the gentiles around him.

Ethics and Religion

Representative: We discussed this point in class: why can one not better himself without keeping Kosher and the Jewish holidays, through good ethical practices?

Rebbe: To illustrate my point: It is the same as a human body, which has many limbs and members. You can do something to better every part, and you can restrict medical care to one part. You can observe only the rules applying to health of the hands, but not of the feet, or only the rules for health of the respiratory organs and not the digestive organs. There may be good results to this part, but not to all parts. But in the long run, since all the limbs are connected, the condition of one influences all the others. If something is good for one part, it ultimate good for the other parts as well; and if it is not, it influences the others in the wrong direction.

If you are observing a certain part of the 613 mitzvot you are doing a good job; however, this does not exempt you from observing the others. Even more so, not observing one disturbs also that category which is observed.

Representative: Do you say that if one does not keep Shabbat, he can't keep the laws of ethics?

Rebbe: I cannot deny the fact that many people keep the ethics and not Shabbat, and many observe Shabbat but not the ethics. Each has its own merits, and cannot be substituted; but all are connected. Each brings another. "A good deed brings another good deed," and by not observing "one bad deed causes another bad deed."

Many study the Ethics of our Fathers, which has a curious beginning. It is one of the tractates of the section of Damages (the 4th of the six sections of the Talmud), and in that section it is one of the last; yet the beginning of Ethics of our Fathers tells us that Moses received the Torah on Mount Sinai and gave it to Joshua, and so it was passed on to our times. This statement surely belongs at the beginning of the entire Oral Torah — at the beginning of the tractate of Blessings — to tell us that all the rulings of the oral Torah were given on Mount Sinai.

Nevertheless, we find this statement in Ethics of our Fathers, with the ethical rules. For it is not necessary for putting on tefillin (which can be done without believing)... There is no condition that one must know what’s the reason for fulfilling the commandment of tefillin. But if one is ready to keep the moral laws all his life, they can't be based only on human reasoning and consulting friends. For then, one can deviate and stretch until you distort a mitzvah. From an ethical rule you make a sin, and from a sin, an ethical rule. And therefore we find this introduction, which was expressly meant to introduce the tractate which contains ethical rules.

To our sorrow, in our era and generation we all saw this distortion take place, in Germany. I studied in Germany for many years, before Hitler, and people in influential circles always quoted from Kant, Goethe and the ethical philosophers. They made no move without a footnote — with the book and page number. Then Hitler came to power with a new theory and philosophy, and an overwhelming majority of people, in my opinion 99 percent, were on his side — not after rejecting Goethe, Kant, but continuing to accept them, and they joined Hitler in all his actions, even the massacre of people.

This is an illustration of an ethical system based on philosophical theories and human reasoning, without a solid basis which will not change.

 Israel and America

Student: Do you think the government in Israel is religious enough to be constitutional for religious Jews?

Rebbe: Are you asking whether the government is religious or not?

Student: I mean to ask whether all religious Jews should emigrate there.

Rebbe: We are now only a few days before the holiday of Shovuoth, the festival of the receiving of the Torah. As a preface to the giving of the Torah, G‑d Almighty outlined what He expected of the Jewish people, and one point and highlight which is expected of the Jewish people, is that they should be a "Kingdom of Priests." If we find a proper government for a Kingdom of Priests, including every Jew and Jewess, then this government is fit to become the government of every Jew. The main purpose is to fulfill the Torah's institutions, to make the Jews become a Kingdom of Priests. This is not my own opinion — it is what the Bible says.

Student: Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the American Jew is confronted with the problem of dual allegiance. Which should have priority?

Rebbe: I don't find a contradiction between them. The main thing is spiritual values, then come the secondary ones — the army, guarding the borders, and all other things.

One's main purpose must be to become a Holy People and a Kingdom of Priests. Do not be afraid: you can become part of a Kingdom of Priests even if you are a professional or a businessman, an engineer or doctor...


Student: Do you think the Moshiach will come when all the Jews become a Kingdom of Priests?

Rebbe: I hope he will come sooner.

Student: What will the Jews achieve when Moshiach comes?

Rebbe: After he comes?

Student: Before he comes.

Rebbe: What must we do to accelerate his coming?

Student: Yes.

Rebbe: To be as much prepared as possible for the order of things after he comes, when there will be justice and peace, we must fulfill the instructions to us and to those around us, in Torah, Prophets and Scriptures. Every act must be in accordance with these instructions, and we must influence others. When you do this, you will do your share to accelerate his coming.

Student: Do you believe that Moshiach will come within the next fifty years?

Rebbe: Much sooner! Don't postpone it for so long!

Many people feel unable to accept the idea of Moshiach. They cannot understand with human reason how Moshiach can come and transform the order of things around us, to the extent that all basic aspects of our lives will be different.

This notion would be expected to exist many generations ago. However in our times, so many changes take place in a day, or even in an hour or minute. If someone makes a momentous discovery or invention he can change things quickly. In today's world, it should not be difficult to accept that Moshiach could arrive and change the world. And perhaps even more: not only is it acceptable but it can be believed.

To put it more bluntly: If tomorrow morning a more powerful weapon than any other country possesses should be invented, it would give its inventor the power to dictate. He can dictate to all governments, and demand certain behaviors and certain rules in their countries and governments. They have no choice: they must accept his conditions, for it is now possible for him to destroy a large section of the earth even without an army on his side.

In other words, if a mighty intellectual should dictate instructions to millions around him, this does not need a miracle, through some electronics or the like. So, if you must understand Messiah in physical terms, he may be great even in electronics and power.

Representative: This is very interesting, understanding the idea of Messiah as a natural concept. You usually hear of Messiah in terms of the supernatural.

Rebbe: I also believe in Messiah as supernatural. But people today find it hard to understand the super-natural. Maybe by understanding it in these terms, this will prepare the way for them to prepare themselves before he comes, and they will save Moshiach the job.