Before he passed away, the Rebbe Rashab said: “I’m going to heaven; I am leaving my writings for you.”1 Frequently, the Rebbe would explain2 that the Rebbe Rashab’s intent was to inform his followers that by studying his writings, they could maintain a connection with him as he is in heaven.

“The righteous will never forsake their flock;”3 even as they exist in the spiritual realms, they continue caring for all their followers. By studying their teachings, however, an interactive pathway is opened and all those whose lives were touched by the Rebbe can continue their conscious bond with him through this study.

The emphasis on the connection to the Rebbe should not be interpreted as an attempt to recreate the past. Our intent is to look to the Rebbe as a source of life and vitality, encouraging each person to reach deeper into himself and beyond himself to fulfill his human potential. Even now, the Rebbe’s example and his teachings provide us with the insight and energy to enhance our lives in the present and in the future.

Both these dimensions connecting to the Rebbe through his teachings, and using those teachings as a springboard for continued growth and personal development are reflected in the essays that follow. On one hand, these essays are the Rebbe’s thoughts. And yet, they are presented in the form of adaptations. Instead of merely translating the original texts, an effort has been made to structure the presentation in a form that internalizes the ideas and relates them to our contemporary experience. It is our hope that our readers will continue this process and focus on the Rebbe’s thoughts not merely as abstract theory, but as truths to be applied in their lives.

Living with the Times

The above thrust relates to one of the more frequently retold Chabad stories:4 The Alter Rebbe once told his chassidim: “We have to live with the times.”

The chassidim, trained as they were in holding fast to the eternal standards of the Torah despite the shifting trends of contemporary thought, reacted with puzzlement. They asked R. Yehudah Leib, the Alter Rebbe’s brother, to inquire about the Rebbe’s intent.

In reply, the Alter Rebbe answered that he had meant that the chassidim should “live with the weekly Torah reading.” And as the Rebbe frequently explained, this does not mean merely studying the weekly portion; this means living with the lessons of the portion and seeing them as practical directives for more meaningful and more satisfying life.

What’s In a Name

The above endeavor is challenging, for the Torah is multifaceted, and every Torah reading provides a multitude of different lessons. Frequently, the Rebbe would resolve this challenge by highlighting the lesson to be derived from the name of the Torah reading. For the name is a comprehensive theme, summarizing and conveying the thrust of the Torah reading as a whole. The Alter Rebbe teaches5 that an object’s name reflects its essential life force. If this applies with regard to worldly matters, surely it is true with regard to the names of the Torah readings.

The essays to follow blend together several of the Rebbe’s talks, underscoring a lesson to be derived from the names of every one of the Torah readings. Several of the essays, e.g., “Ongoing Life” from Parshas Chayei Sarah, illustrate how the lesson derived from the name relates to the entire Torah reading. In others, the connection is shown between the name of the parshah and only certain elements of the Torah reading. And in certain instances, the lesson of the name alone is explained, leaving to the reader the task of connecting this insight to the Torah reading as a whole.

“Out of the Many, One”

There are two unique dimensions to a Torah scroll: a) every letter must be a separate entity, surrounded by blank parchment. If two letters are touching, the scroll is unacceptable.

b) If any one of the letters is missing, the scroll as a whole is invalid.

When viewing these laws in a homiletical sense, two concepts stand out: a) the importance of every individual and the uniqueness of his contribution; and

b) the awareness that the most complete contribution an individual can make is when he joins together with others in a more encompassing mission.

These two initiatives found expression in the composition of the text which fused together the unique contributions of many individuals, each one enhancing the text as a whole. Acknowledgment must be made of Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, who adapted the Rebbe’s talks from their sources; Gershon Gale, who edited the text; Rabbi Aharon Leib Raskin, who researched the sources and references; Uri Kaploun, who gave many hours of consultation and critical reading; Yosef Yitzchak Turner, who took charge of the layout and typography; and Rabbi Yonah Avtzon, Director of Sichos In English, who harmonized all these different efforts and brought them to fruition in a polished work.

Proceeding Together

Writing a foreword to a collection of the Rebbe’s works is very different after Gimmel Tammuz. There’s a lot that could be said, so much that the foreword could be turned into a volume of its own.

But that would blur the focus. And the processing of focusing telescoping multidimensional ideas into practical applicable truths was one of the fundamental dimensions of the Rebbe’s leadership.

During 5748-5749 (1988-1989), the year which followed the passing of his wife, Rebbitzin Chayah Mushka, the Rebbe gave chassidim focus by continuously referred to the Biblical phrase,6 “And the living should take it to heart.” This is what is necessary at present to take the Rebbe’s message to heart, to apply it vigorously in our own lives, and to share it with our families, our friends, and all those with whom we come in contact.

And this will enable us to go forward with heads held high, in touch with ourselves, with the world around us, and with our spiritual purpose, and to dedicate ourselves to the task the Rebbe set out for us: To make the world conscious of the Redemption and to create an environment in which this ideal can be manifest.

Sichos In English

Erev Rosh HaShanah, 5755