In the file where we keep all the important family documents, there is a folder which we open from time to time. The papers in it are aging; some, indeed, are quite yellow, but we refer to it often.

There is a letter my wife received when she was a child, the response to the announcement of our engagement, some advice we received at turning points in our lives, and blessings for our children.

Our interest in the folder is more than sentimental. The answers which the Rebbe gave us in the past serve as guideposts for our present and our future. The advice that he gave us then helps us focus our energies and highlight our individual missions.

My friends have similar folders, and at times they have allowed me to read some of the letters which they received. Here, I did not have the same degree of personal interest. Nevertheless, the guidance the Rebbe gave them was always eye-opening. I enjoyed seeing how the Rebbe related to the issues they raised and the depth of insight in the answers he gave them.

On occasion, people with whom I share less close ties have shown me letters they received from the Rebbe. I remember a retailer in Manhattan where I purchased some computer equipment, an Israeli army major whom I met on a visit to the base he commanded, and a Jewish communal leader in Cleveland. It was with special feeling — something not unlike the reverence a chassid would display — that they took out the letter they had received from the Rebbe. And after reading it, I felt that I could sense why: There was a message that hit home, an insight that lifted the person above the vantage point from which he operated previously and gave him the perspective to find a solution to his difficulties.

In these situations, the setting was important. I wasn’t just reading a letter, I was seeing it in its context. That made it more alive. On the other hand, when the first volume of the Rebbe’s collected Igros Kodesh was published, the feelings I had when reading those letters was not very different. In most instances, I did not know the recipient personally. Nevertheless, the letters opened up windows through which I could observe their lives, and more significantly, see how the Rebbe’s insights enhanced their world view.

These feelings repeated themselves as each of the 24 volumes of Igros Kodesh was published. For these volumes tell us an ongoing story of the manner in which the Rebbe reaches out to people and gives them advice, compassion, and direction.

Together with these feelings came a strong desire to share these letters with people for whom English is their primary language. We had already published many translations and adaptations of the Rebbe’s sichos and maamarim. But the way the Rebbe relates in letters is different — and we wanted English readers to appreciate this dimension as well.

The Art or the Artist?

When contemplating the translation of these volumes, we were faced with the question of whether to collect letters on various subjects or to proceed through the volumes chronologically. There are advantages to each approach; we chose the latter.

Were we to highlight subjects, our readers would be given a chance to receive a comprehensive picture of every particular topic. By choosing the chronological option, we endeavored to allow our readers to gain a picture of the Rebbe.

Going through the letters one by one enables a reader to see how the Rebbe relates to the widest variety of people and situations. Scholars, communal leaders, children — the diverse range of people to whom he wrote is staggering. Equally striking is the individual manner in which he would address and relate to each person.

On one level, each letter is carefully tailored for the particular recipient, providing him with insights that relate to him personally. But while the Rebbe is speaking to the recipient, he is sharing a message that transcends the individual’s sphere, and is sweeping in its relevance.

Certainly, the letters contain profound lessons. But more exciting are the larger lessons – an insight into the Rebbe-chassid relationship, and a novel vantage point from which we can see the Rebbe. These are highlighted by the chronological approach.

We therefore began with Vol. I,1 which presents letters written by the Rebbe before the nesius, before he assumed the mantle of leadership. Nevertheless, despite our desire to present the fullest picture of the Rebbe, preparing this anthology required a certain degree of selectivity. For one thing, several letters may center on one theme; secondly, the unique scholarly content of certain letters, even in the original, can be understood only by experts in the field. These and similar reasons advocated selectivity.

The Fading of the Pastand the Building Blocks for the Future

The letters in this volume range from the year 5692 (1932) to 5704 (1944), well before the beginning of the Rebbe’s nesius. At the beginning of this period — from which we have very few letters — the Rebbe lived in France and was primarily involved in his personal studies.

At the end of 5699 (1939), the Nazis invaded Poland. The Previous Rebbe was living in Warsaw at that time. As reflected in Letter No. 19, the Rebbe was involved in the rescue effort to bring him from Poland to America. In the following year the Germans began their conquest of France. The Rebbe fled from Paris to Vichy and from there to Nice, until ultimately he and his wife, Rebbitzin Chayah Mushka, were able to arrive in New York on Sivan 28, 5701 (1941).

Almost immediately upon the Rebbe’s arrival, the Previous Rebbe appointed him head of two newly-established institutions: Machne Israel and Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch. In HaYom Yom, published in 5703 (1943), the Rebbe outlines the purpose and scope of these two institutions:

Machne Israel

Its mission: Through the actions and conduct of its members, to strengthen the practice of Yiddishkeit, the observance of the Torah and [the performance of] mitzvos; to rouse the hearts of the Jewish people and draw them close to teshuvah, Torah, and good deeds.

To publicize the truth — that [through] LeAlter LiTeshuvah (“Immediately to teshuvah”), [we will proceed] LeAlter LiGeulah (“immediately to Redemption”) — the ultimate Redemption, led by Mashiach.

Membership: There are no monetary dues required of anyone who desires to be a member of Machne Israel. Every Jew who observes the Torah and its mitzvos can join as a member of Machne Israel. His actual deeds — both his individual conduct and his influence on others — are the only membership dues required of him.

Operation: The work of the members is performed in an unpublicized manner… Their objective is, through their exemplary conduct in the spirit of the Torah and its mitzvos, to influence their families, their business acquaintances and the members of their synagogues.

A special branch named Mazhirei Shabbos Machne Israel has been founded to spread the concept of Shabbos observance.

Mishnayos B’al Peh — A society has been founded to study Mishnayos by heart. All Six Orders of the Mishnah are divided among its members by lot… so that the entire Mishnah will be studied and reviewed [continually] throughout the year.

This project, initiated at the suggestion of the Rebbe [Rayatz], is intended to purify the air through the recitation and review of Mishnayos at home, and outside: in the street, in one’s store, in the subway, [indeed,] in any clean place. [It is] a great mystic process to “ease the birthpangs of Mashiach and brings Mashiach’s [approaching] footsteps closer with kindness and mercy….”

Chevros Tehillim: Machne Israel establishes new societies for the recitation of Tehillim and strengthens existing ones. All of these societies are united with the International Tehillim Society in Jerusalem, founded by the Rebbe [Rayatz]….

Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch

Mission: To act out of concern for the education of Jewish boys and girls in the spirit of our Patriarch Yisrael.

The activities of Merkos extend to all branches of education and encompass all matters connected to the field of education. These efforts include:

a) An endeavor to make Jewish parents recognize the vital necessity that their sons and daughters be educated in purity and holiness….

b) [The organization of] study sessions in the evening in the study of holy [texts] for those who are involved in business occupations throughout the day.

c) The establishment of schools to educate Jewish girls in the spirit of the Torah and its mitzvos. Such schools, named either Beis Rivkah or Beis Sarah, have been established in and outside New York….

d) The establishment of Shabbos parties for Jewish children, to come together on Shabbos under the supervision of expert educators….

e) Pedagogical instruction: [This program intends] to make it possible for religious teachers to augment their knowledge… and expertise in the professional instruction of holy subjects.

f) The design of curricula for educational institutions.

g) A statistical division.

h) An employment bureau for teachers.

i) A division for the financial support of religious institutions, teachers, and students.

j) A division for publishing books and magazines. Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch publishes books for youth in the Holy Tongue, in Yiddish and in English, as well as two monthly magazines.

A year later, the Previous Rebbe established Kehot, the Lubavitch publishing house, and entrusted the Rebbe with the directorship of this institution as well. These three institutions established the basis for Lubavitch activity in America: outreach efforts, schools and other educational activities, and publications.

As reflected in these letters, the Rebbe was involved in the minute details of all these institutions. At the beginning, there were no supporters, no workers, and there was no plan of action. The Previous Rebbe had outlined the mission, but it was the Rebbe’s responsibility to make that mission a reality, to make a functioning organization out of an abstract ideal.

The majority of the letters focus on the activities of these institutions. There are, however, many treatments of scholarly themes. Deserving of special mention are a treatise on the Resurrection of the Dead, an exposition of Hashgachah Peratis, and an explanation of the importance of studying Mishnayos from memory. In these three extensive works the Rebbe combines research, analysis, and his own insights.

Moreover, even the letters that focus on the functioning of the institutions are generally not restricted to the practical sphere alone. At the conclusion of many letters, the Rebbe includes a directive for Divine service or the explanation of a spiritual concept. Indeed, one of the unique characteristics of these letters is a free flow of thought. In one letter, guidelines for outreach grow into a discussion of a concept in nigleh, the revealed teachings of the Torah, and this in turn invites parallels in the mystic secrets of pnimiyus HaTorah.

For this reason, although we have prepared a detailed table of contents, listing the subjects mentioned in every letter, it is not complete. The sheer variety of topics contained in many letters would make such a listing awkwardly long.

In the Shadow of Darkness

The letters in this volume were all composed in the specter of the Holocaust. In some, the Rebbe relates to that theme directly, outlining the Divine service necessary to turn the tide and humble the enemy. Others are directed to Jewish soldiers serving in the American army, encouraging them to maintain high spirits and continue Torah observance. And in many letters in which the Holocaust is not mentioned directly, allusions are certainly present.

Significantly, there is never a tone of despair. Instead, the Rebbe speaks with hope and determination, focusing on the Jewish future and the spiritual endeavors necessary to make that future present.

LeAlter LiTeshuvah: LeAlter LiGeulah

Less than a month before the Rebbe arrived in America, the Previous Rebbe issued this clarion call: “Immediately to teshuvah: immediately to Redemption.” This was not a slogan; it was — as emphasized by the Rebbe’s inclusion of it in the mission statement of Machne Israel quoted above — a declaration of purpose.

The Rebbe concludes the overwhelming proportion of letters with this expression. This highlights how he regarded the efforts to spread Yiddishkeit and establish the foundation for Lubavitch activity in America, not as endeavors of a limited scope, but as part of a greater — indeed, the greatest — picture: the preparation of the world for Mashiach’s coming. Anyone who thinks that “the Mashiach campaign” was a new dimension that surfaced in the Rebbe’s later years is shutting his eyes to the driving force which — as the Rebbe testifies in a later letter2 — motivated him from childhood and set the tone for his initial labors of leadership.

With Our Readers in Mind

The personal dimension of these letters enhances their universal relevance, rather than detracting from it. Every one of us can find points in which he feels that the Rebbe is speaking to him, and giving him personal direction.

We tried to structure our translation so that this tone characterizes the book. For example: According to the polite conventions of correspondence in the Torah world, the recipient is addressed indirectly, in the third person. Since this sounds foreign to English readers, we have employed the second person instead. Similarly, we have dispensed with certain formalities and titles that are frequently used in the Torah community. For example, the abbreviation כת׳׳ר, kvod toraso, addressing an “honored Torah sage,” we have translated simply as “you.”

Also, to make the text more accessible to an English reader, we have added certain explanatory sentences and phrases. These are set off by square brackets. Squiggle brackets { } and parentheses ( ) are used as they appear in the original text.

Some of the references cited were included in the original letters; others were added when the letters were published in the series Igros Kodesh; and others, including certain explanatory footnotes, were added by our staff. Notes and explanations that were not authored by the Rebbe are enclosed in square brackets. At times we took the liberty of relocating references that were originally recorded in the body of the letters as footnotes.

A Shepherd and His Flock

The Rebbe would receive a prodigious amount of mail; hundreds of letters and faxes would arrive at “770” every day. And the Rebbe would respond. At all times — even after his heart attack in 5738 (1977) and during shivah for the Rebbitzin in 5748 (1988) — he would reply to letters. And even after the stroke of 5752 (1992), to the fullest extent possible, the Rebbe endeavored to respond to the many questions sent to him.

At present, we are unable to receive a written reply from the Rebbe. Nevertheless, chassidim — and indeed, many Jews and even non-Jews — continue to write to the Rebbe. For, as he assured us when speaking of the Previous Rebbe,3 he will find a way to answer.

May studying the Rebbe’s letters encourage us to shoulder the mission of spiritual responsibility with which he has charged us: to prepare the world for the coming of Mashiach. May our efforts draw down abundant blessings, including the ultimate blessings: the coming of the Redemption and the Resurrection of the Dead, when “those who repose in the dust will arise and sing.”4

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 TougerSichos In English

Purim, 5759 (1999)