This letter was addressed to Mr. Tzvi Palmer, a philanthropist from New Jersey.

B”H, Thursday, 1 Tammuz, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Greetings and blessings,

Your brother, Shlomo Palmer,1 told me about you and on this basis, I am sending you this letter.

To start with a few lines describing the goals of the organization, Machne Yisrael:My father-in-law, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, Shlita, founded Machne Yisraelwith the intent — among others — of making known and publicizing to Jews in all different circles the correct meaning and lofty message of Judaism, and to answer any questions that might possibly arise with regard to Yiddishkeit, the Torah, and its mitzvos.

According to your brother’s description of you, you are interested in asking questions. By writing to you, I would like to clarify that we would be happy to remain in contact and, to the best of our knowledge, elucidate particular concepts involving the above issues.

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One of the fundamental concepts of Judaism is unity. This involves not only faith in one G‑d and one Torah, but also unity in the inner life of every particular individual.

[There are] approaches which say that we must make concessions to the body and not consider the soul. [And others] that say that we must continually oppress and burden the body so that the soul can always be at one with and connected to the body. In contrast, Chassidus emphasizes that the soul must direct a person’s [life]. The soul’s purpose, however, is not to oppress the body, but rather to see that the body will conduct itself in a healthy manner according to the guidelines of the Torah which is called the Torah of life.

[To focus on the concept of] oneness, in particular with regard to spiritual life: There are three approaches with regard to the proper direction for human conduct:

a) our conduct must be dictated by the cold logic of the mind;

b) we should follow our hearts and our vibrant feelings; and

c) what we think and what we feel is not that important; what is most important is actual deed, that we conduct ourselves in an appropriate manner.

The Torah states — and rules — that a person must be complete; he should strive for perfection. And a complete person must coordinate his head, his heart, and his hands (which symbolize [all the limbs of] the body) in unity and in harmony, having them conduct themselves according to G‑d’s guidelines.

This thrust is so important that our Sages tell us that it is one of the rationales for the mitzvah of tefillin. When a Jew puts on tefillin, he should remember that his hands ([indicated by] the arm tefillin), his heart (which the arm tefillin faces), and his head ([indicated by] the head tefillin) must be attuned to each other so that he can live a Jewish life and a Torah life.

From a deeper perspective, the fulfillment of the mitzvah of tefillin, the actual deed, strengthens a Jew and augments the powers of his soul, enabling him to establish harmony between the hand, the heart, and the head in a Torah way.

We do not understand how the deed of putting on tefillin has an effect on the powers of his soul, just like a child does not appreciate the connection between the bread that he eats and his soul which grants life to his body.

We can appreciate the importance of the mitzvah of tefillin from many narratives and quotes from our Sages. To cite a few:

a) “The entire Torah is associated with tefillin” (Kiddushin 35a). [Accordingly,] particular concepts concerning the Torah as a whole and all of its mitzvos can be derived from the mitzvah of tefillin.

b) We can fulfill our obligation for the mitzvah of tefillin by putting them on once during the day, either in shul or in one’s own home. In the era when people were purer and more devoted to spiritual matters, it was common practice to wear tefillin throughout the entire day, whether in shul, at home, or in the street.

We can see how dearly the mitzvah was held and with what devotion it was observed from the Talmud’s lament (Shabbos 130a) concerning the conduct [of the Jewish people] with regard to tefillin at a specific time. [The Romans] had decreed that anyone who put on tefillin would be slain.

One might think that the Jews stopped putting on tefillin. No, for this the Gemara has nothing to lament; they still continued wearing tefillin.

Moreover, one might think they contented themselves with the minimum requirement to fulfill the mitzvah of tefillin, i.e., wearing tefillin once a day. No, the Gemara continues, they wore tefillin while walking in the street without thinking about the mortal danger [it could cause]. This was how important and dear Jews held tefillin even at that time.

Nevertheless, since there were only a few select individuals who conducted themselves in this manner, e.g., Elisha of the dove wings, the Gemara considers the self-sacrifice shown by the Jews as insufficient for what tefillin behooves. Tosafos2clarifies further that this itself was not sufficient for the Gemara to lament. What then was the factor that caused the Gemara to lament and wonder why the Jews had not devoted themselves to tefillin as they should have?

The Gemara gives an example, relating that in the time of the decree [against tefillin], Elisha went out in the street, and obviously, he was wearing tefillin. A gentile officer saw him, pursued him [until he apprehended him], and then asked him what he was holding. Elisha answered: “Dove’s wings.” [A miracle occurred and in fact the officer saw dove’s wings in his hands.]

[Tosafos infers] that the fact that he did not have the inner strength to say that they were tefillin (even though this would have meant that he certainly would have been killed for this) shows that the Jews’ ardor for tefillin was not as great as the mitzvah of tefillin behooves.3

* * *

From every one of the mitzvos, we can learn how all the mitzvos strengthen the powers of a person’s soul (although, as stated above, we cannot always appreciate [how this is brought about]). In particular, this is true with regard to those mitzvos which like tefillin must be observed every day (with the exception of Shabbos and festivals) and which are called a sign, i.e., testimony that G‑d and the Jews are one.

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I would be happy to hear from you and I ask that you not hesitate in turning to us if you feel that we can help you in any manner as mentioned in the beginning of the letter.

With best wishes; “Immediately to teshuvah; immediately to Redemption,”

Rabbi Menachem Schneerson
Executive Director