In one of his sichos,1 the Rebbe focuses on the concept of leadership and highlights our Sages’ statement that2 “I am not giving you authority, I am making you servants.” For a leader must transcend his own self-concern and dedicate himself to his people’s welfare. He must be sensitive to their needs and responsive to them, whatever the sacrifice this demands of him.

This includes not only relating to the needs his people perceive that they have, but also responding to those inner needs that his people do not appreciate, yet motivate their conduct. People look up to a leader because they feel that he knows them better than they know themselves and feel that he can help them satisfy the inner motivations of which they are not aware.

The real test of a leader, however, is not only his sensitivity to his people’s needs, but his ability to motivate them to accept a vision and a mission that lifts them entirely beyond their needs and wants. He inspires a commitment to a purpose that expands his people’s horizons, enabling them to dedicate themselves to goals and ideals that surpass their self-interest.

The collection of letters that followsenablesus to see all these three motifs expressed in the Rebbe’s leadership. Firstly, he is there for his people, at all times, no matter what they are asking for. For example, we see that on Yud-Alef Nissan, his birthday, he wrote at least seven letters, including one3 to a woman who complains that “we have already suffered enough afflictions and it is due time for everyone to be helped in the matters that he needs and, in particular, with proper health.”

He also addresses the inner, essential nature of his correspondents. Thus he addresses a person who was at that time non-observant, with the title “a G‑d-fearing man,”4 because as he continues in that letter, “that is [every Jew’s true] nature…. ‘A Jew is neither willing nor able to separate himself from G‑dliness.’” And he tells a learned rabbi that the time has come for him to “conduct himself beyond the measure of the law, without reservations,”5 explaining that “my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, endowed you with the potential for this…, not only with the words he spoke to you face to face, but also [with his words] when alone in his room, by saying a kapitl of Tehillim.

And beyond his encouragement to individuals as individuals, the Rebbe emphasized a greater sense of mission, stating emphatically:6

It is necessary to clarify to you the responsibility that Divine Providence has placed on you….

When a young man who is a Torah scholar is found in a city, it must be evident that there is a Jew in the city….

You must take the youth in hand.

A Link in a Chain

The Rebbe did not see his leadership as an independent initiative, but as a continuation of the leadership exhibited by his father-in-law, the Rebbe Rayatz. Significantly, the letters in the present collection begin from Teves, 5711 (1950), eleven months after the passing of the Rebbe Rayatz and one month before the Rebbe formally accepted his position as head of the Lubavitch movement. In several communal and individual letters, he speaks about the importance of maintaining — and upgrading — one’s connection with the Rebbe Rayatz, for example:7

It follows of necessity that every one of those who have a bond with my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe [Rayatz], ought to exert himself more than he has until now in strengthening his hiskashrus. Every individual should make an earnest reckoning in his own soul as to what he has done in this regard in the past eleven months, and should compensate for whatever is lacking — in the ways that we have been taught by our Nasi, i.e., my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, הכ"מ — in intensifying his connection with him (i.e., to him), so that as [the Rebbe] ascends, he, too, will ascend.

An Obligation and a Privilege

The bond with the Rebbe Rayatz, the Rebbe would frequently explain, creates a responsibility for each of his followers, as he writes:8 “In this as well, my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, הכ"מ, showed the path to every one of us individually. For throughout the duration of his life in this world, he would continually kindle the lamps of Jewish men and women.”

Needless to say, the Rebbe also highlighted how the connection with the Rebbe Rayatz serves as a source of blessing. Thus he writes:9

All of you, stand prepared, you, your wives, your sons, and your daughters, to receive G‑d’s blessings — the outpouring of life, plentiful sustenance, and satisfaction from your offspring — that G‑d will pour out to you and to us through the arousal of abundant mercies from the source of true mercy and kindness,… which my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, הכ"מ, whose hillula is being celebrated, will arouse. May you be blessed with children, health, and abundant sustenance.

This applies not only to the chassidic community as a whole, but to each man, woman or child who shared a connection with the Rebbe Rayatz. Frequently, the Rebbe urges his chassidim to trust that the blessings the Rebbe Rayatz gave them will be fulfilled. For example:10

Since you received a blessing from my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe… he can be trusted to keep his word. In particular, [this is true since] “the righteous are greater [after their passing than during their lifetime]”11 and “a tzaddik who has departed is to be found in this world more than during his lifetime.”12 He will see to it that his blessing is fulfilled. You will [certainly] convey good news concerning this.

Ultimately, you must remember that the Rebbe, my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe… blessed you and the blessing of a tzaddik will certainly be fulfilled. Therefore the blessing given you will also be fulfilled. But what? You have been given two choices: Until you see the fulfillment of the blessing, you will go about worry-ridden, anxious that perhaps, Heaven forbid, the blessing will not be fulfilled. And afterwards, when the blessing is fulfilled, you will have another worry: Why did you have to waste so much of your life worrying for nothing?

Caring for Every Individual

On the verse,13 “From behind the nursing ewes, He brought him to shepherd Yaakov His people,” the Midrash14 relates that it was David’s careful attention for the particular needs of every individual sheep that showed his fitness for the monarchy. For, as mentioned above, leadership involves not only an appreciation of the needs of the people as a whole, but also sensitivity to the distinctive needs of every person, whoever he or she is and whatever his or her situation.

These letters reflect that concern on the part of the Rebbe. Both chassidim and individuals who did not consider themselves his followers would write to him for advice and counsel. In some instances, the matters concerned life-changing decisions. For example, many of the refugees from Russia and other Eastern European countries consulted him regarding the countries to which to migrate.15 Young men and women consulted him about marriage partners.16 People with various health issues sought his advice and direction.17 And parents requested his blessings when their sons were called for service in the American army.18

In other instances, the questions were narrower in scope. For example, he advises a young man how to compensate for the fact that his parents were not buried correctly,19 tells a couple how to bring blessings into the new apartment into which they moved,20 and respectfully answers a rabbi who asks him to help him prepare his talks.21

In Good Hands

Frequently, the Rebbe’s correspondents wrote not only about their concerns and questions, but about anxieties that troubled them and caused them apprehension. Whether their issues involved health, earning a livelihood, or fears and worries of an undefined nature, the Rebbe responded by radiating trust. With a faith that is simple, but not simplistic, he would present the intellectual foundation for the serenity and confidence that he urged. As he writes:22

One must know, however, that it is G‑d Who controls the world. He wants Jews to receive goodness and He grants them goodness

Surely you remember our conversation [where it was stressed that] that the world is not without a master. Rather, just as G‑d created it, so too, He controls it at present, in every time and at every moment. Nothing happens without Divine Providence. This is the simple faith of every Jew, who is a believer, the son of believers.

[We] all also believe that G‑d is the ultimate of goodness. Thus everything He does is for the good.

Remembering this and contemplating it from time to time [makes it] easier to understand many events in life. Of primary importance — and this gives [a person] true security in his day-to-day life — is that, in the words of King David,23 “G‑d is my shepherd.” As a result, “I shall not lack... because You are with me.”

Now think about it: G‑d promises, “I will sustain you and I will deliver you.” Consider, is it possible for a gentile from this or that country to hinder G‑d from fulfilling His promise, Heaven forbid? And as a logical consequence, think: Does G‑d need you to worry how He will deal with your concern for worldly matters and how He will solve your problems? Even without your worries, G‑d will certainly find a way to reach a good solution [of the issues].

With a Smiling Countenance

One of the corollaries to the concept of bitachon, trust in G‑d, is simchah, “happiness.” When a person realizes that he is living in G‑d’s world and that everything that happens to him is governed by G‑d’s Providence, he will naturally be happy.24 In this light, in several of these letters,25 the Rebbe highlights the damaging influence of sadness. He refers to the teaching of the Zohar26 that the lower world is aligned opposite the higher world, but for it to evoke and receive influence from the higher world, it must open itself up through joy.

Sadness, the Rebbe explains, is crippling. Indeed, it harmful to one’s efforts concerning the very issue about which one is depressed. Happiness, by contrast, empowers. For “joy breaks through boundaries,”27 enabling what is lacking to be granted from Above.

Seeing the Larger Picture

The concern for the individual that features so boldly in these letters does not obscure the focus on the destiny of the Jewish people as a whole. In an era when most Jewish leaders were working hard to preserve their own core communities, the Rebbe’s attention was directed outward — toward those Jews who not only did not identify as his followers, but indeed, were losing consciousness of their Jewish identity in general. As he writes:28

There are children who are being separated from Jewish homes and a Jewish lifestyle filled with the light of Torah. They are being placed in foreign homes… in which darkness has become substantial.

If the subjugation of the body is bitter, how much more so does this apply to the subjugation of the soul.

As we come to celebrate the Season of our Freedom, it is incumbent on every one of us, man or woman… each one according to his potential, to free Jewish boys and girls from the terrible subjugation of the soul [that they are experiencing] and to lead them out “from darkness to great light”29 through kosher Jewish education based on a foundation of purity and holiness.

Many of these letters encourage outreach efforts. The Rebbe asks both private individuals and community leaders to extend themselves toward Jews whose Jewish awareness and observance needed to be upgraded, using a variety of means to accomplish that purpose.

Bridging Cultural Differences

Perhaps the most extensive outreach undertaking — and therefore the subject of many of the letters in this volume — of the Lubavitch movement at that time was the establishment of educational institutions in North Africa. As the Rebbe writes:. Letter no. 867.

Several weeks before the passing of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe… [he] told me: “There is… a large community of Jews in North Africa…. The poverty there… is very great…. As a result, the large majority of [the youth] do not receive any education…. Hence, we must begin working there. This is particularly true because the cost of living there is relatively inexpensive and with a little money, it is possible to achieve much. Moreover, [our Sages taught:] ‘Whoever maintains one Jewish soul is considered as if he maintained the entire world.’”30

Within a short amount of time, those efforts had borne fruit, yielding success beyond all expectations. As the Rebbe writes,31 the first year saw the establishment of a yeshivah gedolah,32 a yeshivah ketanah,33 a teacher’s institute, talmudei torahfor boys,34 schools for girls, evening classes, and other programs.

Needless to say, the fundraising burden these efforts created was not small and many of the Rebbe’s letters are devoted to soliciting funds for these endeavors and thanking donors. He underscores the urgency of the fundraising efforts, writing:30

It is obvious that the work is disrupted to a great degree because of a lack of funds. The heart is pained to an even greater degree when one contemplates that with only a few additional dollars, so much more could be achieved. For example, the education of one child for a month in yeshivah costs between eight and nine dollars, and one to one-and-a-half dollars in the Talmud Torah.35 This includes the wages for the teacher, rental of a facility, and giving a meal once or twice a day.

Eyes Upon the Land

The Torah describes36 Eretz Yisrael as “the land that G‑d… seeks out. The eyes of G‑d are always upon it.” Similarly, the degree of concern lavished by the Rebbe upon Eretz Yisrael was extraordinary. There is no way possible to introduce a collection of his letters without highlighting his bond to the land and its people.

This collection includes numerous letters to individuals in Eretz Yisrael. Some are personal in nature. Others focus on communal projects that will increase the awareness of Chassidus. For example, the Rebbe responds favorably to a suggestion to establish Lubavitch reading rooms in major cities in Eretz Yisrael.37 And when a stipend was withheld from a teacher of a public class in Chassidus, he offers:38 “If there is no other possibility, we will participate in the stipend of the aforementioned [person] from here.”

Nevertheless, beyond these more limited initiatives, this collection features letters that touch on endeavors of a larger scope. Thus, he reaches out to one of the leaders of the religious Zionist movement, drawing his “attention to the situation of the education of the children and the youth making aliyah to our Holy Land, and the great aggravation and danger involved in this matter.”. Letter no. 865.

The Rebbe emphasizes:40

Although there are various [other] problems that demand attention —including some of a pressing nature — the problem of the education of the above-mentioned [youths] demands priority because it is fundamental to the very continued existence of our people which is dependent on their religious and ethical standing (for even the teachings of ethics are rooted in faith). [This is] important, not only for our generation, but for future generations.

And the Rebbe encourages the leader to:40

Rise above your party affiliations in this matter and endeavor with all your resources of strength to do whatever is possible to correct the terrible situation that prevails….[In that way, you will be]… saving tens of thousands of Jewish boys and girls from the terrible danger that hovers over them — the danger of the denial of G‑d, Heaven forbid.

Similarly, there are letters39 that call on the leaders of the religious community to try to block the holding of new elections in Eretz Yisrael and, if that endeavor fails, to establish a united religious front that will bring all observant Jews together under one standard.

Looking to the Horizon

These letters include some telling personal glimpses. Thus the Rebbe writes:40 “R. Avraham, we must bring the Rebbe back down here. Like this, it’s difficult; both for me and you. And who benefits from it?”

And he writes to a chassid whose name was not released:41

Please — [this is directed to] you and to all the members of our brotherhood — endeavor to conquer the “outer reaches.”42 If, at the moment, you are lacking the mood to do this, contemplate that this is delaying the Redemption, the Resurrection of the Dead, and [the opportunity to] meet the Rebbe, my revered father-in-law,43 and the Rebbe, his father.44 Don’t you long for [them]? Is there any effort that would be too hard for you to undertake if only you could reach that moment? This is the simple fact, not a clever statement.

Such statements strike a chord within each of us. It is our hope that studying these letters will heighten our connection with the Rebbe and inspire us to shoulder the task with which our generation is charged — to heighten the awareness of the imminent redemption and create an environment in which this ideal can be realized. And then there will no further delay and our longing can be fulfilled.

Rabbi Eliyahu Touger
Sichos In English

Rosh Chodesh Kislev, 5772