The Midrash relates1 that several Sages once discussed the question: What is the most inclusive verse in the Torah? Ben Zoma postulated that it is Shema Yisrael. Ben Nannas argued that it is the charge,2 “Love your fellow man as yourself,” while Shimon ben Pazi maintained that it is the commandment,3 “You shall make an offering of one lamb in the morning and one lamb in the afternoon.” One Sage arose and concluded, “The halachah follows Shimon ben Pazi.”

Support can easily be found for the positions of Ben Zoma and Ben Nannas. After all, the oneness of G‑d and the love for our fellow man are cornerstones of the Torah and clearly recognized guidelines for our conduct. Shimon ben Pazi, however, takes us beyond the obvious. His opinion puts the focus on the day-to-day realities which may not seem that important.

To serve G‑d at times of inspiration (Shema Yisrael) or in matters that command attention (ahavas Yisrael) is almost easy; then the choice is obvious. The korban tamid, daily sacrifice for which the lambs mentioned by Shimon ben Pazi were brought, teaches a different focus. It highlights ongoing Divine service, serving Him not only during peak moments, but always, even in matters that seem insignificant. Precisely that is the uniqueness of its charge – that one serve G‑d consistently, carrying out His will day in, day out, even in the situations that are not glamorous or eye-catching.

A Time of Unique Divine Favor

Although these concepts lie at the core of chassidic thought and lifestyle, they were manifest to far greater degree by the Rebbe than the previous Rebbeim. The preceding Rebbeim focused on the pressing needs of their generation. They led Chabad chassidim through times of challenge, facing war, imprisonment, pogroms, and persecution. Often, they were forced to travel either to intercede on behalf of the Jewish people or to deal with their own fragile health.

In contrast, from the time the Rebbe accepted his position of leadership, he stayed in Crown Heights, barely every leaving the neighborhood. Never did he take a vacation. His everyday routine was a lesson in consistency. Day in day out, he would arrive at 770, tend to the massive amount of letters sent to him, supervise the functioning of Chabad institutions world-wide, and produce his scholarly works.

Certainly, the Jewish people faced challenges during his years of leadership, but by and large, it was a period of peace and prosperity. It was a time for systematic growth and development, every day building on the achievements of the preceding one.

Establishing the Foundation

From the day of the passing of the Rebbe Rayatz, the Rebbe assumed the mantle of leadership and there were many chassidim who related to him as Rebbe. Nevertheless, his formal acceptance of the position involved several stages and until Yud Shvat 5711 (1951), he had not accepted the leadership in full. It was only after that date that Chabad-Lubavitch as a movement knew they had a Rebbe and began to appreciate the path he would forge. Thus, the period when the letters in this volume were composed, the spring and summer of 5711 (1951), were the months when the chassidim as a whole – and the wider Jewish community – began their relationship with him and were exposed to this new mode of leadership.

As seen in the pages to follow, men, women, and children began writing to the Rebbe concerning personal issues of every type, the ordinary and the unique.4 Thus, we find responses to: a letter from a father asking for advice how to explain the passing of his wife to their children,5 queries from chassidim regarding where they should settle,6 parents seeking blessings from their sons who were drafted into the army,7 questions from young men and women regarding finding a marriage partner,8 a youth’s request for blessings for his Bar-Mitzvah,9 and men seeking guidance regarding their business activities.10

In all these instances, the Rebbe provides direct and applicable answers to the questions posed to him, but simultaneously, elevates the focus of the issue, opening the horizons of his correspondent to new plateaus of purpose and direction.

A Generation of Lamplighters

The transition undergone by Chabad-Lubavitch was paralleled by a transition in the larger Jewish community. The destruction of the structures that had guided Jewish communal life for centuries by the Holocaust had left world Jewry in uncharted waters. Reeling from the horrors of the preceding era, by and large, Torah Judaism had adopted a defensive posture. The Rebbe had a different perspective. He saw the seeds for revival, for young Jews to turn to their heritage for depth, meaning, purpose, and direction. Thus, he writes:11

If it appears to us that we are living in a redoubled darkness when compared to the previous generations, one of two options is true:

a) It is merely one’s imagination and merely one of the counsels of the [evil] inclination; or that

b) We have been given the powers to overcome [this challenge] and, as a result, the responsibility is incumbent upon us to gather together all our powers to dispel the darkness by adding light.

The Rebbe saw every Jew as charged with this mission of spreading light: 12

This obligates and gives a privilege to everyone who recognizes the needs of the Jewish people... to stand strong on his watch. Everyone who has influence over a particular area… should make prodigious endeavors to strengthen Yiddishkeit and spread the Torah.

G‑d does not bring a Jew to a given place only for the purpose of providing him with material sustenance, but also for the purpose of his spiritual sustenance: that he should illuminate the place in which he settles.

On the other hand, he also developed and expanded the initiative started by the Rebbe Rayatz for individuals to devote themselves 24/7 to this goal, sending shluchim to various communities to strengthen Jewish observance and identity. In these years, one particular shlichus, commanded large degree of the Rebbe’s attention. Chabad-Lubavitch established a host of educational and communal institutions in Morocco. Many of the Rebbe’s letters contain advice to the shluchim there and responses to letters written by both Rabbis13 and ordinary people from that country. He encouraged chassidim to move there14 and philanthropists and ordinary people to support these efforts.15

Investing in Futures

One of – if not the fundamental – thrusts of the Rebbe’s outreach initiative was chinuch, education, and particularly, the education of children. In this volume, we find letters which the Rebbe addresses to children directly, for example,16

You, dear children, must know that vacation does not mean an interruption — cutting oneself off — from study and education. A Jewish child cannot be without Torah study or Jewish education for even one day, whether in the summer or the winter. On the contrary, taking into consideration the many hours of free time students have in the long summer days, you should use them to solidly review the material that you have studied already and to prepare yourself to [advance] further on your way, the way of the Torah and its mitzvos.

and letters to educators and Jewish communal leaders emphasizing the importance of these endeavors:17

One should not remain content with the number [of children] that are studying at present, as evident from our Sages’ comments18 on the verse:19 “In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening do not withhold your hand.” And it is also known that “Whoever maintains one Jewish soul is considered as if he maintained the entire world.”20

Every hour and every day, boys and girls are continuously being grabbed away from their spiritual roots. Afterwards, it will be difficult to bring them back to kosher Jewish education.21

The Gem of the King’s Crown

While putting heavy weight on the importance of Jewish outreach, in these letters, the Rebbe also highlighted the importance of the study of Chassidus. Indeed, he did not see them as different initiatives, but as mutually reinforcing elements of the same mission. For the study of Chassidus awakens and motivates a Jew’s neshamah, “soul,” and when a Jew’s soul is aroused, he will feel a natural drive to increase his observance of the Torah and its mitzvos. Conversely, the study of Chassidus makes one aware of the Divine potential possessed by every Jew and spurs one to do whatever necessary to facilitate the expression of that potential. In that vein, the Rebbe writes:22

Physicality is merely an exterior which has to be refined so that it is no longer physical. As to material objects, one has to cause their innermost dimension to surface so that it fuses with their spirituality and soul.

When this is done, the person involved — his soul, his body, and all his affairs — becomes one undivided entity.

The path leading to this is pnimiyus haTorah,23 which demonstrates that within the Torah itself, everything is one.

Not only did the Rebbe highlight the importance of the study of Chassidus in general terms, he frequently encouraged people who sought his advice to begin or augment their study of this branch of Torah, occasionally peppering the suggestion with clever wit. Thus he writes to a young man who consulted him regarding different marriage proposals that were offered,24

Now, I am not an expert shadchan25 and not even an amateur shadchan. Nevertheless, you wish to hear my opinion. How much more so should you listen to my opinion regarding establishing a study session in Chassidus.

Where the Eyes of G‑d are Focused

As one looks over this volume, it is impossible not to notice the amount of attention the Rebbe devotes to Eretz Yisrael and also, the unique manner in which he viewed the settlement of our Holy Land. Thus, he writes to an American Jew who visited there:26

This is the fundamental point that I want to find out regarding the situation there. Do you have any information regarding this matter? Not information about the situation in the Land of Canaan, or even information about Eretz Yisrael, but information about our Holy Land, may it be rebuilt and established by Mashiach, speedily in our days

He did not ignore the political developments that were shaping the land’s future. Thus, he writes to the leaders of the different religious parties:27 “It is my strong hope that in this fateful hour, every party will recognize its responsibility to the collective and bring about the establishment of the United Front.” And he addresses the people as a whole:28

I am writing about a matter of immediate concern… to emphasize that it is both a holy obligation and privilege for all those who are G‑d-fearing and who revere the word of G‑d to participate in the elections, both [to vote] themselves and to influence others to do so. They should vote for the party that is most G‑d-fearing. Not one vote should go to waste.

His focus, however, was on the settlement and development of Eretz Yisrael as an embodiment of the Torah’s ideals and values. Thus, he writes to a delegation of Israeli sailors:29

You desire to present the uniqueness of Jewish life and the fundamental thrust of the Jewish nation. In this manner, it is distinguished and this is its unique positive quality. You must call attention to and emphasize the spiritual powers of the Jewish people, [their ability] to bring out the power of spirit over matter, to recall the wording of our Prophet:30 “‘Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit,’ says G‑d, Commander of legions.”

Towards the Ultimate Horizon

In an earlier period,31 the Rebbe would conclude almost all of his letters with the adage coined by the Rebbe Rayatz, LeAltar LiTeshuvah: LeAltar LiGeulah!, “Immediately to teshuvah, immediately to Redemption.” Though that adage itself does not feature in these letters, its spirit is apparent. Sometimes explicitly, at times subliminally, these letters make a reader conscious of Mashiach and spur him to create an environment that will enable his mission to be fulfilled. Reading them fills one with yearning for the time when, to quote the Rebbe’s words,32 “We be privileged to see and meet with the Rebbe here is this world, in a physical body, in this earthy domain — and he will redeem us.”

Rabbi Eliyahu Touger
Sichos In English

24 Teves, 5778