Every day, when he walked into the small study-hall to pray, hundreds of eyes would concentrate their attention upon him. We would watch his slightest move: how he adjusted his garments, opened his Siddur, and focused his glance on the words of prayer.

And after the prayers, as he walked back to his room, our eyes followed him, trying to get still another glimpse. Everything that he would do, whether it was greeting a visitor, giving a poor person a coin for tzedakah, or waving to a child was watched intently. Whenever he appeared in public, we couldn’t take our eyes off him. People would stand for hours at a farbrengen without understanding a word, perfectly satisfied just to gaze at him.

This motif continues at present. We eagerly read stories about him, listen to people relate their interactions with him, and study his works.

When Rambam speaks about loving G‑d,1 he uses the term obsession. The term does not seem appropriate when speaking about a spiritual relationship and yet the more we think about our relationship with the Rebbe, the more accurate it appears. It is not that among our many different interests and involvements, we also share a Rebbe-chassid relationship with him. Instead, that relationship dominates every dimension of our lives. Everything else we do is perceived in connection with it.

This treasury of letters should be appreciated in this context. Certainly, there are letters with significant content: There are treatises in Torah study, words of inspirational guidance in Chassidus, directives for the growth and development of the Lubavitch movement, and letters of human interest. But for a chassid, these particular dimensions are secondary. A greater message and more encompassing theme towers dominantly. Here is an opportunity to watch the Rebbe at work.

He writes a thank-you note for a modest donation; he asks distributors of Kehot texts to pay their bills; he reaches out to a yet-uncommitted American Jew and tries to evoke interest in chassidic thought; he writes a learned letter to a Rabbi and a note of congratulations to a yeshivah student for his wedding. The larger picture created by merging all these varied compositions together dwarfs the content of each one of them. As we read the letters one after the other, we expand our picture of him and deepen the bond we share.

As the Ice of America Melted

The letters of this volume span the years 5704 (1944) to 5706 (1946). To a large extent, they chronicle the Rebbe’s activities as the director of three organizations to which the Previous Rebbe appointed him to head:

a) Machne Israel: the outreach division of Lubavitch activities;

b) Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch: the educational wing of the Lubavitch movement; and

c) Kehot Publication Society: the Lubavitch publishing house.

The goals and activities of these three organizations are outlined in detail in the Publisher’s Foreword to Vol. I of this series.2 In the present volume, we see how the weight of the Rebbe’s responsibilities grew as his accomplishments whetted his — and the Previous Rebbe’s — appetite for more expanded activities. During these years, he nurtured each of these organizations, developing them into powerful forces that produced a decisive imprint on American Jewish life.

Though it is impossible to know how the Rebbe apportioned his time, these letters appear to indicate that, during these years, his priority was the publication of texts. Letter after letter discusses the preparation of books, the search for donors, the circulation of the texts, the collection of bills, and the expression of thanks for donation towards publications. In a unique note to one of the chassidim,3 he excuses his failure to respond promptly as follows:

To give you some idea of the above-mentioned work: Recently, I had to edit (aside from Kuntreis 47, and in particular, the addition it contains, the Shmuessen and Talks and Tales), the booklet on Purim and Pesach in French…, the booklet on Purim in English, Vol. I of Our People in English, and [complete] a final editing of Mayim Rabbim.

I am in the midst of editing the following: An addendum to Tzemach Tzedek…, the Kuntreis entitled “The Tzemach Tzedek and the Enlightenment,” and a collection of the Sichos of the Rebbe Rashab….

I have just started editing a book of maamarim entitled Yelamdeinu Rabbeinu, Kuntreis Etz HaChayim, a kuntreis on the Rebbe Maharash (a collection of sichos and a list of his maamarim), the sichos of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe Shlita, from 5700 until Rosh Hashanah, 5701)…, Sefer HaMaamarim by my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe Shlita (from 5700-5702), a book of questions and answers between a teacher and his student concerning the Jewish faith and its customs in English, a Kitzur Shulchan Aruch in English for youth, and other works.

Although the Rebbe mentions his other responsibilities with regard to Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch and Machne Israel in the same letter, from this and other letters, one cannot fail to appreciate how important the preparation of texts was to him and how much time and soul he invested in them.

Focusing Our Vision

This collection includes several major works of scholarship, for example: a lengthy and detailed treatise on resurrection,4 a learned explanation of the chassidic interpretation of the mishnah: “Akavya ben Mahalalel says:..”,5 and a dissertation with regard to why we remove our tefillin after the recitation of Uva L’Tziyon Goel on Rosh Chodesh.6

It also includes several letters which give us somewhat of a glimpse into the personal — if such a term can be used — dimensions of the Rebbe’s life. We see his responses to the condolence letters he received on the passing of his father and the letters he wrote asking chassidim for help in securing an emigration visa from Russia for his mother.

Several of these letters also provide us with insight into the Rebbe’s conception of the Rebbe-chassid relationship. From the guidance which he gives chassidim in establishing their connection with the Previous Rebbe, we can extrapolate on his conception of the bond connecting a Rebbe to his chassidim and chassidim to their Rebbe.

However, as mentioned above, the penetrating glances these letters give us into particular elements of the Rebbe’s scholarship, activities, and leadership are overshadowed by the larger picture the book produces. In one of these letters,7 when describing the different scholastic accomplishments of the Alter Rebbe, the Rebbe writes: “Such a list, with a little additional explanation would — even though it is ‘dry’ — serve as a clarion call: ‘This is a wondrous man.’” Similar expressions of reverence and admiration are evoked by the collection of letters before us.

But the book does more than fill out our picture of who the Rebbe is, it communicates his principles and values, his expectations and his hopes. In doing so, it gives us a clearer appreciation of the mission with which he charged us: to make the world ready for the coming of Mashiach.

Moreover, the letters place a heavy emphasis on application. An idea should not remain an intellectual abstract, but instead be put into practice. That certainly applies with regard to Mashiach. For the Rebbe’s intent was that Mashiach’s coming should not remain a dream and an ideal, but that it become reality.

This will enable the world to reach its ultimate perfection, ascending level after level until the Resurrection of the Dead, when “those who repose in the dust will arise and sing."8 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 Eli Touger
Sichos In English

2 Iyar, 5761