A Source of Guidance

After turning to the Rebbe for guidance in every conceivable situation for over forty years, where does a Lubavitcher chassid turn for guidance at a time like this? - Instinctively, he turns to the words of the Rebbe at a comparable time.

The earliest talks and letters of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, soon after the passing of his father-in-law and predecessor, the Rebbe Rayatz (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn) נ״ע on Yud Shvat 5710 [1950], have been assembled in Hebrew in a work entitled Toras Menachem.1 Its chapter headings speak for themselves: The Shepherd Will Not Forsake His Flock; The Rebbe in Heaven Will Bring Mashiach; Connecting To and Through the Rebbe; How to Receive the Torah; Reason and Beyond; and so on.

The Rebbe once pointed out2 that when the Rebbe Rayatz cited the teaching of the Sages3 that “Mordechai in his generation was equivalent to Moshe in his generation,” he was in fact describing his own function, as the shepherd of faith for his contemporaries. In exactly the same way, it is self-evident that when, in the talks and letters before us, the Rebbe was offering guidance for the situation of 5710 [1950], he is in fact also offering us guidance for the situation that began on the third of Tammuz, 5754 [1994]. In fact, many of the teachings in this book are so timely that to people of our generation they almost appear to have been delivered especially for us.

The Links of Hiskashrus

The lifeblood that pulsates through these pages is hiskashrus, the bond of heart, mind and soul that connects chassid and Rebbe. A spiritually mature Chabad -Lubavitch chassid, so we are reminded, does not allow himself to be over-impressed by external manifestations of his Rebbe’s greatness: stepping beyond this, his hiskashrus is nurtured by elements that are of the essence of his Rebbe, and the essence of a Rebbe is distilled in his teachings. Even when his Rebbe is in the other world, a mature chassid maintains the freshness of his bond with him by remaining steeped in these teachings, and by energetically fulfilling the Rebbe’s directives in this world.

Souls in Flight, Feet on the Ground

Another recurring theme: On the one hand, we are urged to transcend ourselves; at the same moment, we are reminded to keep our feet on the ground. Thus, for example, we are encouraged to seek order and intelligibility when we are studying a text of Chassidus; to fulfill mitzvos not merely on a metaphysical level but within the parameters of the natural order; to discover and elevate the holy sparks hidden in the materiality of the world; and throughout our divine service, to maintain a balance between reasoned understanding and unquestioning kabbalas ol.


The theme of togetherness, another major message of this book, calls to mind a critical moment in the life of the Tzemach Tzedek which the Rebbe highlighted more than once.

In 1843 the Czar convened a Rabbinical Commission with the intent of imposing religious and educational reforms on Russian Jewry.4 Fearlessly and repeatedly, the Tzemach Tzedek resisted the brutal intimidation of the Czar’s ministers to the point of literally risking his life. One of his colleagues, the illustrious Reb Itzele of Volozhin, thereupon queried his conduct: After all, what would happen to the chassidic community if he were to have experienced actual self-sacrifice?

Replied the Tzemach Tzedek: “Following the style of the Gemara, I will give you one answer followed by an alternative answer. The first answer is: I have children. The alternative answer is: The togetherness of chassidim will lead them to greet Mashiach.”5

In times like these, then, we have a clear directive from the Rebbe: There is one consideration that overrides and overrules all other considerations, even such considerations as who is supposedly right and who is supposedly wrong on any particular cosmic question. And that overriding consideration is, that chassidim hold tightly together.

A Unique Forum: The Farbrengen

The above themes are only a few of the many seminal concepts, basic to the thinking of a chassid, that the Rebbe clarified and defined at the intense early farbrengens that resonate in this book. For the hundreds of thousands of chassidim and other earnest seekers who found their way to “7706 over the years, these informal gatherings remain an unforgettable experience. For tireless hours on end, a series of talks on a mind-boggling range of subjects - Talmudic and philosophical, mystical and topical, abstruse and heartwarming - would be punctuated by niggunim, as eager listeners joined together in singing meditative or rousing chassidic melodies. After participating in a farbrengen and studying and digesting its lessons, their minds were no longer petty; their hearts were no longer weary; their souls were no longer dormant.

Spirituality and Materiality

At frequent intervals in these talks the Rebbe speaks of the spiritual life of a tzaddik both during his physical lifetime and thereafter. A well-known episode in the spiritual life of R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Chabad -Lubavitch dynasty, throws penetrating light on these terms.

One day in 1812, the Alter Rebbe was about to breathe his last, a barely-embodied soul from Atzilus hovering between this world and the next. Looking up at the ceiling, he asked his grandson: “What do you see?”

“I see a beam,” came the reply.

The Alter Rebbe differed: “And I see the word of G‑d and the spirit of His mouth that animates that beam and grants it ongoing existence...”7

When a tzaddik speaks of gashmiyus, of materiality, he conceives of a state of being which is far, far removed from anything that our relatively coarse perceptions can relate to. Likewise, though even a tzaddik himself has a physical body, that body’s gashmiyus is so ethereal, so translucent, that it cannot be sensed by even the most highly-sensitized antennae of our ruchniyus.

By the same token, when the Rebbe describes spiritual truths as he perceives them, we should be wary of concretizing those spiritual truths through the insensitive gaze of our fleshly eyes. We should humbly bear in mind that the Rebbe is not seeing a beam: he is attuned to the word of G‑d and the spirit of His mouth that animates that beam and grants it ongoing existence.

It is in this spirit that one should read the himmel-verter, the whispers from another world, which the Rebbe shared with the circle of chassidim who surrounded him in the early weeks after the passing of the Rebbe Rayatz.

Another point: In order to maintain a correct and reverent perspective, it will be noted that in the very same sentences in which the Rebbe, using a variety of figures of speech, repeatedly reassured us of the ongoing spiritual presence in this world of the Rebbe Rayatz, who had just passed away, he himself referred to the Rebbe Rayatz as כ״ק מו״ח אדמו״ר זצוקללה״ה נבג״מ זי״ע הכ״מ. Spelled out in full, this would literally mean: “His holy honor, my mentor and father-in-law; our master, mentor and Rebbe; may the memory of a holy tzaddik be a blessing, for the life of the World to Come; his soul is in the hidden realms on high; may his merit protect us; and may I serve as an atonement for his resting place.”

It is in this spirit, too, that in one of these talks the Rebbe quotes Tanya,8 the basic work of the Chabad -Lubavitch school of thought, as follows: “In the case of a mortal king, one’s awe [of him] relates mainly to his inner essence and vitality, and not to his body.” To this the Rebbe adds the reminder that “as far as the Rebbe [Rayatz]’s inner essence and vitality are concerned, nothing has changed.”

Looking Ahead

Many of us recall having visited the Rebbe’s house on President St. in 5748 [1988] in order to console the Rebbe after the passing of his wife, the saintly Rebbitzin Chayah Mushka, of blessed memory. Though the Rebbe was visibly pained, many of us were struck by a strange paradox: we went there to lend strength, but came out strengthened.

The fact is, that from the very first day, throughout his private and public talks, the Rebbe adopted the theme,9 והחי יתן אל לבו - “The living shall take it to heart.” Fond recollections of the past, no matter how comforting, are best preserved when they build a lively springboard for the future.

The Rebbe once spelled out his practical expectations of his chassidim through a historical metaphor.

In the times when the Beis HaMikdash stood, and the Yovel (Jubilee Year) was celebrated every fifty years, every Kohen who had a Shofar in hand would sound it vigorously at the beginning of the year. In this way, he and his colleagues signaled together that all bondmen were now to be free. If someone met a Kohen who did not sound his Shofar, he was likely to challenge him: “It would seem that you are not a Kohen!”

Borrowing this image, the Rebbe once applied it to us, his chassidim.

By definition, a Lubavitcher chassid should of course be busy vigorously sounding his Shofar, so to speak - whether by actively reaching out to strangers, or by studying and teaching people about Mashiach, or by calmly reassuring those around him that the Rebbe’s promise of the imminent Redemption will in fact be fulfilled. If not, then surely his best friend (or he himself) should confront him with a contemporary equivalent of the ancient challenge, “It would seem that you are not a Kohen...!”

A Debt of Gratitude

Indeed, as we read in this book, the bond between chassid and Rebbe is interactive: the Rebbe’s input obligates the recipient to repay in kind.

In one of these talks, the Rebbe describes the mesirus nefesh of the Mitteler Rebbe and the Rebbe Rayatz. As for our own generation, every one of us can testify to the tireless mesirus nefesh with which the Rebbe has constantly encouraged us through life’s rougher patches, has given us goals to yearn for and has lent us the strength to work towards them, and has flashed light into our minds and warmth into our hearts.

Realizing this, we often seek to translate our ardent debt of gratitude into deeds of equal ardor, by beginning with outreach.

At one of the farbrengens recorded below, the Rebbe launched a historic campaign - to urge and inspire every chassid and all chassidim to give of themselves in an earnest and brotherly endeavor to reach out to the less knowledgeable fellow Jews around them. Many of the readers of these pages will be able to relate to that call, having themselves been (for a start) its rich harvest, and having become (in due course) its dynamic torchbearers.

Yet never for a moment did the Rebbe ever forget that his chassidim are mere mortals who have to cope with the frailties of mere mortals. In the context of his above demand for outreach work, for example, he warns us to be wary of deluding ourselves that our favorite pretexts for passivity are inspired by holy motives, when in fact they may be simply - pretexts. Evidently addressing himself to any venerable chassid who may think that he can sit back in the cozy knowledge that he has already produced a younger generation of active shluchim, the Rebbe makes it clear that there is no room in the Lubavitch lexicon for the concept of a “retired mashpia.” No one, it transpires, is exempt from outreach.

In the same vein, the Rebbe shows a discerning chassid how to unmask the seemingly pious calculations which might make him dissatisfied with the life-tasks with which he, as a chassid, has been charged. This passage is recommended reading for any chassid who is asked to roll up his sleeves and join in an outreach project, and who responds by musing that he was really made for higher things...

Over to Us

The shepherd, the Rebbe reassured us after the passing of the Rebbe Rayatz in 1950, will not forsake his flock.

For his part, the Rebbe never for a moment ceased being the faithful Rebbe of his flock, and he is that same faithful shepherd today. We, for our part, can cultivate the same constancy, never for a moment ceasing to be his faithful chassidim - in disciplined study, in eager mitzvos, in earnest prayer, in chassidic togetherness, and in loving outreach, exactly as the Rebbe expects of us. And in this way, as the Rebbe has tirelessly taught us, we will all work together to prepare the world for the time when10 “those who repose in the dust will awaken and sing joyful praises.” “And11 our Nasi among them will bring us wondrous tidings, and guide us along the path that leads up to the House of G‑d.”

Sichos In English

9 Adar II, 5755 [1995]

the anniversary of the arrival
of the Rebbe Rayatz נ״ע in N.Y.
in 5700 [1940]


As has been the case with preceding publications of Sichos In English, the production of the body and soul of this unique book too has proved to be an agreeable and uplifting experience of chassidic togetherness, an ongoing comradely farbrengen conducted (via fax and modem) by Rabbi Yonah Avtzon, Director of Sichos In English. Yosef Yitzchok Turner attended to the layout and typography with loving patience, Avrohom Weg designed the cover, and Rabbi Eliyahu Touger was a source of constructive ideas.