Rising From the Ashes

This volume presents letters that were composed during the latter part of 5710 and the early part of 5711 (1950). World Jewry had been living with the trauma and the horror of the Holocaust for several years. Initially, the shock and dismay had been overwhelming. The entire cultural environment that had nurtured our people for centuries had been destroyed. For several years, individuals and communities had groped with the challenge of climbing back onto their feet and facing the depths of the tragedy.

By this time, however, on both a personal and a national level, the international Jewish community was absorbed in the task of rebuilding. Transported to societies that promoted new social norms, Jews in the U.S., Eretz Yisrael, and Europe sought to insure that the transition to these different social orders did not lead to a break with our national heritage, but instead to an extension of the golden chain of the Jewish tradition to new frontiers.

A similar process had been going on within the Lubavitch movement. The passing of the Rebbe Rayatz 1 had shaken the chassidim to the core. For months, they had struggled to come to terms with the matter. Although the passage of time had not yet healed the wounds, energy was welling up from within and seeking to be expressed in positive activity.

The individuals involved in confronting both the above challenges were strong, but the struggles were daunting, even for them. They turned to the Rebbe 2 who offered strength, encouragement, and guidance. As he writes in one of the letters in this volume: 3

With regard to your statements that you feel alone and forlorn... and that great weakness overcomes you in all your work:... [These feelings of despondency] are the counsel of the yetzer [hara],which endeavors to weaken every person in the fulfillment of his mission....

He also gave the philosophical underpinning for the optimism, drive, and purpose he nurtured within others. No matter how strong his ambitions and desires, as a person interacts with others and adapts his goals to his surroundings, he may feel the need to compromise his principles and values. If, however, he is able to rise above his self-concern and focus on his soul and his mission, he uncovers a new source of energy. To use the Rebbe’s wording: 4

Every created being has two opposite dimensions. From one perspective, i.e., from his own perspective, he is absolute nothingness. But from a second perspective, since he is a created being brought into existence by G‑d’s Essence — and that is the totality of his being — this created being is also boundless in potential.

Although for ordinary Jews and chassidim [these two contrary thrusts] may be difficult to feel, this perception must be inherently felt by temimim who are bound to their Nasi, my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, הכ"מ.

Wearing Bifocals

When advising the people who wrote to him about the new directions their lives would take, the Rebbe was careful not to think in generalities and issue universal directives. On the contrary, there was an expressed intent to relate to the individual needs and concerns of each person involved, as he writes: 5

As far as it is known to me, my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe... did not respond to the question of the settlement of the members of the chassidic brotherhood who were refugees as a general issue involving them as a collective, [to be resolved by giving] a command and an order. Instead, he judged and considered the situations and the desires of every person individually.

Nevertheless, when addressing these individual concerns, he would always emphasize the importance of aligning oneself with the larger picture and mission incumbent on our people, as he writes: 6

There is a well-known adage 7 of the Rebbe (Rashab) that the temimim 8 are “candles to illuminate.” As my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, הכ"מ, would frequently emphasize...: “The steps of man are established by G‑d.” 9 [The intent is that] a Jew does not make a journey [solely] for the sake of his material sustenance. Instead, [his inner motivation is] his soul’s mission which he must carry out in a particular place and a particular country....

The beginning of the activity must be to be, as stated above, “a candle to illuminate,” i.e., to bring “the candle of mitzvah and the light of Torah10 into all of one’s surroundings.

Gently, the Rebbe would chide those who were intimidated by the challenges of their new surroundings and consequently sought, first and foremost, to care for their immediate material needs. For example, he writes: 11

There is a well-known saying of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, הכ"מ, to a person who was journeying to our Holy Land: “Make Eretz Yisrael into a holy land.” We are not aware of the secret of [the path destined for each person to] refine [the material entities designated for him].... Nevertheless, making Eretz Yisrael into a holy land by becoming a math teacher appears to be a very distant path. Mashiach is “standing behind our wall,” 12 waiting for the completion of the task of refinement in this era of ikvesa diMeshicha.

Outward Orientation

A hallmark of the Rebbe’s approach is the knowledge that all the positive qualities granted to a person are given to him to use in fulfilling a greater mission. In letter after letter, he emphasizes the responsibility incumbent on people who were blessed to have gained knowledge to share that treasure with others. The possession of Torah knowledge is not something in which to take smug satisfaction, nor should the quest for personal refinement lead to a spiritual snobbery that causes one to seclude himself from others. Instead, these and other attainments are to be seen as resources to be shared with others, as he writes: 13

In ..., there are thousands of Jews who do not know about Chassidus or the Rebbe.... And yet, there is a Jew, a vintage tomim, who knows many stories that he heard [from the chassidim of yesteryear] and many chassidic concepts, and he thinks: “What connection do I have with [these Jews]?” True, the Rebbe [Rashab] said that he must be a candle that shines forth light, but he is willing to postpone that until a later time.

Many of the letters involve shlichus, the initiative to send Lubavitch representatives to distant places to build and sustain Jewish communities there. Letters to people in Morocco and Australia are featured in this volume, for in these places, Lubavitch representatives had already begun to establish institutions. The Rebbe writes to the heads of these institutions, the teachers employed there, local Rabbis and communal leaders, and even to students.

Beyond giving guidance to the shlichus centers that were already operating, the Rebbe repeatedly encourages a shlichus mentality, training the chassidim to focus their energies in this direction. At a time when the Jewish community at large was worried about how to get ahead and establish themselves financially, the Rebbe taught that dedicating oneself to a mission was the most fulfilling and satisfying life goal. Moreover, he emphasized that this could serve as an effective springboard to personal and even financial success. As he writes to the parents of a prospective shluchah: 14

This proposition is, in my opinion, as good for them in a material sense as it is spiritually.... During the time you were in Brooklyn, you certainly contemplated what occurred to the young men who are in similar situations as your future son-in-law and your daughter and how they established themselves in Brooklyn and in New York. 15

In contrast, if my suggestion will be acted upon and they will travel to one of these places, there is hope that the blessings of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, הכ"מ, will accompany them on their journey in life and that in a brief amount of time, [your future son-in-law] will be able to establish himself as befits a leader of a community in Israel.

A Revolutionary Approach

Shlichus is only one example of the way the Rebbe encouraged his followers to change the way they perceived their circumstances, opening them up to a radically unconventional, yet fundamentally Jewish understanding. A prime example of this reorientation is the perspective he encouraged people to adopt regarding giving tzedakah. Most people understand that after receiving G‑d’s blessings, they should give a certain portion to tzedakah. The Rebbe taught how giving tzedakah could serve as a medium to draw down those blessings and indeed open up new pathways of influence, as he writes: 16

G‑d has two ways [of granting blessings]. One is that He grants money first and sees what proportion a person gives to tzedakah. Another way is for a person to give even more tzedakah than he can. G‑d does not remain indebted and pays the person back, calculating how many portions [are due him] if he had given a tenth, or if he had given with abandon, how many portions [are due him] as a fifth. 17 As a consequence, the result is that for every dollar that one gives beyond what appears to him as his present capacity, G‑d gives him, in addition to that dollar, many times that amount, as is well known [and explained] in several texts.

Therefore when reading your letter... and then seeing the amount of your check, I was amazed to what degree you are being merciful to G‑d. Why would it bother you if your check would be so [large] that G‑d would have to give you an income and earnings immeasurably greater than you had reckoned was possible?

Grasping the Lifeline

The underlying motif resonating through all the Rebbe’s efforts is hiskashrus, bonding himself to his Rebbe, the Rebbe Rayatz. As he writes: 18

There is a well-known adage of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, הכ"מ: 19Chassidus brought about [a situation in which] one is not alone. Wherever one is found, the Rebbeim are there.” This applies, in particular, to my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, הכ"מ, who himself writes... that “the shepherds of Israel will not abandon their flock.” 20

As explained in [Tanya,] Iggeres HaKodesh, Epistle 27 and its explanation, [after a tzaddik’s] passing, the boundaries of a physical body are removed, and [the Rebbeim] are found together with all those connected to them and bonded with them wherever they are. In particular, this applies in the places where they were sent to fulfill a mission [from the Rebbeim], and more particularly, when the mission involves spreading the wellsprings of [the teachings of] the Baal Shem Tov outward.

And: 21

One should think about the Rebbe: how he is always together with those who are bonded with him and how he leads them at every step and every turn. This very thought — even without special contemplation — should strengthen all the powers of one’s soul.

The Rebbe did not view hiskashrus as simply appealing to the Rebbe Rayatz for blessings. Instead, he spoke about work­ing to establish such a connection, be it through basic ongoing acts like reciting the Rebbe Rayatz’s kapitle, or more involved efforts, like studying his teachings. And he emphasized: 22 “Par­ticipating in the holy work of our Nasi represents a very great form of bonding.”

When the Body Is No Longer a Hindrance

As a natural consequence of the Rebbe’s hiskashrus, he would respond to people’s various requests by saying that he would remember them at the gravesite of the Rebbe Rayatz. In several letters, he explains the significance of that act. For example: 23

Regarding your request that I remember you at the gravesite of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, הכ"מ: I will do as you ask. You write that you do not have any understanding in this matter. [That is not an impediment.] When you eat, drink, and sleep, you certainly don’t meditate beforehand how that affects your body and soul. [Instead,] you perform all these activities even if you do not understand how it causes those effects. Similar ideas apply with regard to the above....

When coming to the Rebbe to ask for a blessing [during his lifetime, people] would come, not because of the qualities of his body, but because of the qualities of his soul. Now the entire concept of death involves the body alone, because the soul is eternal. In particular, this applies to the soul of a tzaddik....

Nerve Center for the Jewish People

During the months encompassed by this volume, the Rebbe had not yet formally accepted the position of Rebbe. Although requests were made for him to do so, he continuously demurred, as he writes: 24 “With regard to what you write: ‘Please, have mercy on us....’ For this, one must have the potential, essential powers, quintessential powers, revealed powers, and perfection in the garments of thought, speech, and deed, etc., etc.”

Nevertheless, in many respects, he was already acting as Rebbe. For example, he would lead farbrengens on Shabbos Mevorchim and on festivals. The letters that he wrote as introductions to the maamarim of the Rebbe Rayatz, distributed before the holidays and chassidic festivals, were of general inspirational content. And before Rosh HaShanah of 5711, he wrote the first of his letters addressed “To our brothers and sisters, the sons and daughters of Israel, wherever they may be.” 25

Most importantly, his leadership was manifest in concrete activities, shepherding the institutions the Rebbe Rayatz had pioneered and cultivating their expansion. As he writes: 26

Gevald, Gevald! Until when will we keep silent? How will we justify ourselves? What will we reply to the question of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, הכ"מ: “Is this your participation in the work of my hands and efforts for which I sacrificed my soul?”

A Rebbe is not, however, merely the leader of institutions. Primarily and fundamentally, he is “a shepherd of souls.” In these letters, we get a glimpse of the care and attention he showered on people from all walks of life. For example, 27

Regarding what you write concerning your daughter..., I remember [her] from the time that I was in Paris.... At that time, a Siddur was sent to her. I am certain that since she is being educated in Beis Rivkah, she often uses that Siddur and it is probably torn by now. Therefore, I have just given instructions that a new Siddur be sent to her. May G‑d help that [the prayers] which she will recite from this Siddur will find favor before the Master of all things....

And: 28

I inquired about the curriculum and the textbooks employed there. According to the information I received, I believe that this is not the reason [for her crying]. Instead, the reason is that she is lacking the right friends and the like.

Seeing the Larger Picture

In an ultimate sense, all of the letters contained in this volume are directed toward a single goal: the spiritual purpose to which the Rebbe dedicated his life and encouraged others to dedicate theirs. As he writes: 29

Every Jewish man and woman has to know that with each positive deed that he or she performs, he brings the end of exile and darkness closer and brings closer the complete and true Redemption [to be led] by Mashiach.

May the publication and study of this volume bring us closer to the consummation of that purpose and the time when we will no longer have to content ourselves with reading letters written years ago, but will hear new teachings from the Rebbe.

Rabbi Eliyahu Touger
Sichos In English

24 Teves, 5768