Publisher’s Foreword

“Books with souls.” This was a term the Rebbe Shlita once used to describe the vast library of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn.

In an effort to preserve the spiritual heritage of the Jewish people and the chassidic community in particular, the successive Rebbeim of the Chabad-Lubavitch chassidic movement over the last two centuries amassed a collection of many thousands of volumes including rare manuscripts, early printings, and classical texts that are no longer available.

A large portion of this collection, over twelve thousand volumes, fell into the hands of the Russian government in the turmoil that overwhelmed Russia in the years immediately following the Bolshevik Revolution. Subsequently, for over seventy years, the Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbeim have attempted to recover these books, but with no success.

Initially, in 1924, the Russian government demanded an exorbitant ransom. At that time, however, the chassidic movement was battling for sheer survival in the face of Russia’s relentless anti-religious persecution. Later, when the funds became available, the Soviet government brazenly denied having the books in its possession.

Since that time, the Previous Rebbe and the Rebbe Shlita never exhausted their efforts to locate the library and have it returned to its legitimate owners. In 1980, it was verified that the books were located in the Lenin Library in Moscow. In November of 1990, when the next step became possible, the Lubavitcher Rebbe Shlita sent a delegation of four Rabbis — Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Aharonov, Director of Chabad Activities in Israel; Rabbi Shlomo Cunin, Director of Chabad Activities in California; Rabbi Yitzchak Kogan, a prominent Russian-born Lubavitch educator; and Rabbi Shalom Dober Levin, the Senior Curator of the Central Lubavitch Library in New York — on a mission to bring these books home.

In the year that has passed since then the four met with leading figures in the Soviet academic, legal and political world, and all agreed that the library should be returned. American political figures including President Bush raised the matter with Soviet authorities and received assurances that it would be expedited. When these promises were not honored the matter was brought to a Soviet court, which ruled that the library must be returned to the chassidim. The decision was appealed, and the appeal rejected. And nevertheless, the books have not been returned.

The essay that follows is an adaptation of the Rebbe Shlita’s recent response to this chain of events.

13 Teves, 5752 [December 20, 1991]

Insights into a Power Struggle

The world is not governed by chance or caprice. Every motion within it, from the turning of a leaf in the wind to the transition of power from nation to nation, is controlled by a unique Divine Will.1

As we approach the advent of the Era of the Redemption,2 the workings of Divine Providence are becoming more apparent. This is surely true on the international political scene.3 The values of freedom, tolerance and generosity are spreading throughout the community of nations. Regimes that have defied them have toppled, giving way for greater communication and sharing.

Significantly, it is in the country in which Chassidism in general, and Chabad-Lubavitch Chassidism in particular, have roots,4 that this process has reached a turning point. On the one hand, its populace has undeniably been granted greater freedom than before. Nevertheless, anomalous trappings of the previous system persist. As that country confronts and grapples with change, a multifaceted power struggle has emerged, with varying influences competing for supremacy.

The motivating force behind this process is, however, a Divine thrust towards progress leading to the improvement of the world at large — according to the principles of justice and righteousness revealed by G‑d at Mount Sinai, and expressed in the seven universal laws commanded to the descendants of Noah.5 And those powers which contribute to such progress will ultimately prevail.

During the last year, as these divergent forces contend for authority, a striving of a different nature has been taking place in that country. A historic collection of books belonging to the Previous Rebbe is being held by the authorities without any cause or justification. All requests that the books be returned to their rightful owners have fallen on deaf ears. Although the matter has been taken to a court, which duly ruled that the law of the land requires that the books should be returned, to this day the powers that be have resisted this court order.

These two struggles are interrelated. When a regime does not observe its own avowed standards of justice, the indomitable dynamic of the Divine world-plan demands that it be replaced. And this is the inner motivating force underlying the events of the last several weeks.

A Matter of Public Concern

What is at stake is more than a library. The Previous Rebbe, his teachings, and the texts on which they are based are a single indivisible entity. This is not a matter of private concern. The books — and indeed, the Rebbe himself — are part of the heritage of the Jewish people as a whole.6 They must be redeemed from their state of captivity, and restored to an environment in which they will be appreciated, studied, and reprinted for the benefit of our entire people.

Every Individual Counts

Every individual should realize that he can exert an influence on the above question. Our Sages note7 that, in contrast to the other living beings which were created in pairs, the first man was created alone. Why? So that every individual should say, “The world was created for me” — so that he should learn to appreciate that his conduct can affect not only his immediate environment, but existence as a whole.

But how can a person influence what transpires in a country thousands of miles away?

On the verse,8 “G‑d is your shadow at your right hand,” the Baal Shem Tov explains9 that G‑d has implanted a spiritual dynamic into the universe: Just as the movement of a person’s body is reflected and magnified in his shadow, every step of our conduct in this world likewise arouses spiritual forces of incomparable power.

Accordingly, our efforts to show regard for Jewish holy texts will have an effect on the future of the Previous Rebbe’s library. By purchasing comparable texts, such as the ethical and philosophical literature of Chabad Chassidus, and subscribing to publishing houses in order to receive new texts on appropriate subjects as soon as they are printed,10 we can hasten the return of that library to its rightful owners. Even little children should be given books as gifts, in the hope that what is not yet fully appreciated today will be studied before long.

A Harmonious World is Just Around the Corner

The last owner of the library, the Previous Rebbe, had two names, Yosef (Joseph) and Yitzchak (Isaac). Significantly, each of these Hebrew names embodies an allusion to the forthcoming Era of the Redemption. In describing that Era, the prophet Isaiah states:11 “G‑d will again (Hebrew: yosif) extend His hand a second time to take possession of the remnant of His people.” Similarly, the name Yitzchak (lit., “he will laugh”) was first given in connection with an occasion for laughter12 — and it is in the Era of the Redemption that true happiness will be experienced, as in the verse, “Then will our mouths be filled with laughter.”13 For that age will bring perfection to the world at large: “There will be neither famine nor war, neither envy nor competition.”14 In that age, now near at hand, all nations will join together in the service of G‑d, thereby fulfilling the prophecy,15 “I will make the peoples pure of speech, so that they will all call upon the Name of G‑d and serve Him with one purpose.”

An Adaptation of an Address of the Lubavitcher Rebbe שליט"א
on Shabbos Parshas Vayigash, 5752