This volume presents letters from the year 5709 (1948-1949). This was a unique period for Lubavitch-Chabad. The Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, was suffering from a stroke that had incapacitated him to the point that, as one of the vintage chassidim of that era stated: “The world has become so dark that we cannot hear the Rebbe’s words.” His speech was severely hampered and only a few close confidants were able to understand him.

This impediment did not prevent him from spearheading efforts to spread Judaism through America and the world at large and lay the foundation for the rebuilding of the Lubavitch-Chabad community after the devastation wrecked upon it by the Communists and the Nazis. If the natural means at his disposal were limited, he had other, higher potentials at his command and he did not hesitate to use them for these purposes.

Throughout this period, the Rebbe stood at the helm of three organizations: Machne Yisrael, Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, and Kehot Publications, established by the Previous Rebbe for the purpose of spreading Jewish identity and observance.1 As the letters in this volume indicate, he worked tirelessly to advance these goals and spurred others to similar devotion.

Building the Inner Core

In chassidic lore,2 there is a concept of Anshei Moshe, “Moshe’s men,” people with absolute dedication to the leader of the generation. Continually, throughout these letters, the Rebbe encouraged chassidim – and not-yet chassidim – to bond with the Moshe of the generation, the Previous Rebbe, and carry out his directives.

In doing so, the Rebbe corresponded extensively with several people. Over the course of time, through the connection he established with them, there crystallized a core group of followers who revered his word and carried it out without question.

The above relates to one of the unique developments that figures in this collection of letters: the initiation of the michtav klali/prati (lit., "a public/private letter"), a letter of general import that was sent to various different individuals, addressed personally to each one.3 At this time, the Rebbe’s correspondence had expanded. To maintain contact with those with whom he had established an ongoing relationship, he would compose one letter in connection with the weekly Torah reading or a forthcoming auspiciousJewishdateand send it to various people, making pertinent additions for each one.

The Primary Focus of the Rebbe’s Attention

The letters in this volume point to the prominent importance which the Rebbe gave to publishing. Many of the letters translated contain directives concerning the publication and distribution of the books of Kehot Publications, the Lubavitch publishing house that the Rebbe headed. Also, from time to time, these letters give us a glimpse into how much time, effort, and soul the Rebbe himself dedicated to these publishing endeavors. As he writes:4

I remember that I promised you an explanation of the sichah included in the kuntreis for the Pesach holiday. But what can I do? Matters of immediate urgency cause the matters that are not of immediate urgency to be postponed until a more fitting time. For example, after publishing the kuntreis for the Festival of Redemption,5 I was compelled to complete everything that is necessary for the publication of the index to the maamarim of the Rebbe [Rashab] that have already been sent to print. Afterwards, it was necessary for me to be involved in the preparation of the Sdei Chemed for print (since, for various reasons, the first volume must not appear later than 12 Elul. Accordingly, the printer is pressing not to delay the other volumes). In the midst of my involvement with this, it became evident that we did not have a sufficient number of machzorim on hand. Thus, more had to be prepared before the appropriate time. Since [a new printing was being made,] I received a directive to prepare at least a short list of Chabad customs for the Ten Days of Repentance which are new or different [than those practice at large]. No doubt, within a week, the kuntreis for Chai Elul will be submitted [to be prepared for printing].... And all of the above comes in addition to [the work on] the maamarim of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe Shlita, that we began to print more than two years ago, as well asSefer HaMaamarim 5643, which is in print, and other texts.

All of this comes in addition to the concerns of the other departments of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch and Machne Yisrael that I cannot delegate to others. Nevertheless, I have not given up on [penetrating to] the depths of that sichah,and if I am able to comprehend anything regarding its explanation, I will not hesitate to write what appears to me, according to my humble opinion. I do not know, however, when I will have free time, or at least partially so....

From Generation to Generation

Among the other thrusts that characterized the Rebbe’s approach that is reflected in these letters is the importance granted to Lubavitch customs.6 To a significant extent, the Stalinist persecutions and the Holocaust had weakened the continuity the Chabad tradition. Children had not grown up at home with their parents looking over their shoulders to guide them in their practice. Moreover, the outreach activities in America and elsewhere had brought many people from other backgrounds to the Lubavitch fold and they certainly were not steeped in Lubavitch practice. As such, the Rebbe felt the need to clearly define the customs we observe. This he did in great detail, giving precise instructions on how to observe different mitzvos and practices and providing thorough explanations regarding the halachic basis of these instructions.

Back to Basics

The change in the makeup of the Lubavitch community mentioned above necessitated educational efforts not only in observance, but also in ideology. Fundamental concepts that in previous generations were known viscerally, without having to be spelled out and articulated intellectually, had to be communicated and ingrained within the Chassidic community.

One of these concepts was the relationship of chassidim to the Rebbe and the role played by the Rebbe within the Chassidic community and within the world at large. On a very basic level, the Rebbe wrote frequent letters to stress the importance of maamad,7 money given to the Rebbe by chassidim to support his household needs and distribute to others at his discretion. But far beyond teaching the chassidim to augment the material bonds between them and the Rebbe, he also taught them to heighten the inner connection they share. Thus the Rebbe wrote several letters8 encouraging the preparation of a book of pictures of Lubavitcher chassidim and their families all over the world to be given to the Previous Rebbe. He highlighted the result of this campaign, stating:9

Here, it is already possible to see the positive feelings that were aroused among different people who are bonded [to the Rebbe] from the knowledge that the Lubavitcher Rebbe desires their family pictures so that he will be able to recall them.

In clear and certain terms, he emphasized that a Rebbe is not merely the leader of a small group of followers but the leader of the entire people, who shows care and concern for every Jew. And he charged chassidim with communicating this concept to other, even those on the peripheries of the Jewish community, as he writes:10

As a result, just as he is not at all embarrassed to tell his acquaintances who are in need the address of an expert doctor, so too, when he sees a person who is confused or confronted by a fundamental life question, he tells him: “The Jewish people are not without assistance, Heaven forbid. There is someone we can ask.” Moreover, he does not wait until his acquaintances come to him to ask if there is a Rebbe, for by and large they don’t know what a Rebbe is. Instead, he goes to them and explains to them.

Time to Light Candles

In these letters, the Rebbe also begins to articulate the need for outreach activities, that beyond its efforts to preserve and maintain its own tradition, Lubavitch must spearhead the efforts to spread Chassidus to Jews of other backgrounds, those observant and those not yet observant. As the Rebbe writes:11

After all the years that you have been in your community, have you not been able to bring even one person under your influence?... When will you finally begin doing your share to spread forth the wellsprings of the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings outward? Mashiach is waiting for the activities each one of us will perform so that the answer he gave the Baal Shem Tov will be fulfilled and he will then come and redeem us from exile — the exile of the body and the exile of the soul.

And in another letter, he asks a distinguished chassid:10

How many [of those] people were added to [those involved in] the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe through your efforts?

Frequently, he would rouse chassidim to activity, refusing to let them content themselves with sighing over an undesirable situation, as he writes:12

Gevald! Reb.... How much critique will you give? Even if you were correct in all of your letters and demands, there is nothing but negativity. Why don’t you invest your energies in positive things, in building Chabad activities in your community, in your synagogue, and in your city?

He also was personally involved in these outreach efforts, corresponding with individuals and encouraging them both to make continued personal advance in Jewish practice and to share their growth with others. For example, he writes:13

You write that you have become depressed because the level of Jewish life in your city and in the surrounding cities is not good.

Do you think that this is a solution and a means to correct the situation?

You no doubt know that, as the Alter Rebbe writes in Tanya, ch. 26, the opposite is true. Sadness weakens a person [and holds him back] in the battle that he must wage with the yetzer hara and with the evil in the world. If he sees that the enemy is strengthening itself, Heaven forbid, he should become even more energetic and should seek methods to become victorious.

A Kaleidoscope of Activity

Beyond the individual points mentioned above, one of the unique dimensions of these collections of letters is the multifaceted picture of the Rebbe it presents. For example, the present collection includes letters that feature discussions with leading Torah scholars,14 revolutionary analysis of halachic issues,15 clarification of profound chassidic concepts,16 the encouragement of chassidim to write their memoirs,17 and a stress on the campaigns initiated by the Previous Rebbe, including the division of the Talmud.18

Towards the Ultimate Horizon

Publishing these letters is not intended merely to bring to mind pleasant memories – though it certainly will. Instead, it is a future-oriented endeavor, for the Rebbe’s advice to individuals and his general guidance in building Luabvitch-Chabad as it was transplanted to the American continent provide us with direction and encouragement as we shoulder the mission of spiritual responsibility with which he charged us: to prepare the world for the coming of Mashiach, the Redemption, and the Resurrection. Then we will no longer have to content ourselves with reading letters written years ago, but will hear new teachings from the Rebbe. May this take place in the immediate future.

Rabbi Eliyahu Touger
Sichos In English

Tammuz 3, 5764