Defining the Undefinable

In one of the letters in this volume,1 the Rebbe writes:

Many people seek to pinpoint and characterize the vir­tues and preeminence of each of the Rebbeim of Chabad, and in particular of the Nasi of our generation — my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, הכ"מ — in various terms: the paradigm of self-sacrifice, a gaon, a man of exemplary character traits, a tzaddik, an individual endowed with Divine inspira­tion, an individual accustomed to [performing] miracles, and so on….

Nevertheless, the essential point is missing…. That essential point is the fact that he is the Nasi, and the Nasi of Chabad.

For a Nasi by definition is referred to as2 the head of the multitudes of Israel; in relation to them he is the “head” and “brain”;3 their nurture and life-force reach them through him; and by cleaving to him they are bound and united with their Source….

This [essential] quality [of a Nasi] has characterized the leadership of the Nesi’im of Chabad from the very beginning, from the Alter Rebbe up to and including my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, הכ"מ4 …. They radiated both inward and encompassing influence — in Torah, in avodah, and in the practice of good deeds; and [they conveyed blessings, both] spiritual and material. Consequently, [the Nesi’im of Chabad] have been bound with all 613 organs of the soul and body of those who were connected with them.

Every single one of us must know — i.e., must think deeply and fix his thought on this — that [the Rebbe Rayatz] is indeed the Nasi and the head; from him and through him are directed all material and spiritual benefac­tions; and by being bound to him (in his letters he has taught us how this is accomplished) we are bound and united with the spiritual root, with the ultimate Supernal spiritual root.

The Rebbeim, the heads of the Jewish people, possess many superlative individual qualities. Beyond these qualities, however, there is a general quality, a dimension associated with the fact that a Rebbe is a collective soul who bonds the entire Jewish people to their Source above. This is what distinguishes him as a Rebbe, lifting him above other individuals who also possess great personal gifts. He is not just a great man or even a unique leader, he is a collective soul sent to this world with a mission.

From the Individual to the Collective

This volume begins with a letter from 3 Tishrei, 5710, and ends with a letter from 28 Av of that year. Now the Rebbe was always a Rebbe — his letters before Yud Shvat, 5710, in this and in previous volumes bespeak his unique leadership qualities. But there’s a difference between a potential and its realization. From Yud Shvat onward, the comprehensive dimension of the Rebbe’s leadership emerged and blossomed into expression. As the letters proceed, we come to appreciate the transition of the Rebbe from being a person of developed individual qualities to a “head of the multitudes of Israel.”

In characteristic humility, the Rebbe did not see this transition as his individual endeavor, but as part of his bond to the Rebbe Rayatz, as he writes:5

In general, every person, at all times and in every activity in which he is involved, is standing at a crossroads (at least with regard to his individual path)…. This applies in particular at a time of general shock and to a person [charged with] a general responsibility and an activity of general [scope].

The meaning of the word histalkus [generallyunderstood as “passing,”] is elevation to a higher spiritual plane. “The body is drawn after the head,”6 for they are bound together. [This also applies in a spiritual sense.] All of us who are bound to my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, הכ"מ, “the head of the multitudes of the Jewish people,”2 are also obligated to ascend to a higher spiritual level and thus perform activities that were not relevant to them until the present time....

Pointing the Way Forward

Prior to Yud Shvat, the Rebbe stood at the helm of three organizations: Machne Israel, Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, and Kehot Publications, established by the Rebbe Rayatz for the purpose of spreading Jewish identity and observance. Over the course of time, through the connection the Rebbe established with those involved in these organizations,there crystallized a core group of followers who revered his word.7 The content of the letters up until Yud Shvat reflects his stewardship of these organizations and the sage guidance and teachings he shared with these individuals.

From Yud Shvat on, the Rebbe wrote as “a head of the multitudes of Israel.” His assumption of leadership was not accompanied by fanfare; on the contrary, in the period spanned here, he refused official acceptance of the position of Rebbe.8 And yet, for individuals and for the community, he radiated leadership, not only inspiring and encouraging individuals, but initiating activities that proactively broke new ground both within and outside of the Lubavitch community.

From the first letter9 written after the passing of the Rebbe Rayatz and on, a different tone is reflected in his letters:

My revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, הכ"מ, in one of his letters10 after the passing of his father [the Rebbe Rashab], writes… concerning tzaddikim, who protect the world even after their passing: “Not only are they not separated from the flock whose shepherd they have been, but they lovingly present themselves before the footstool of the heavenly throne and take up their place before the splendor of the exalted and sublime G‑d, in order to protect the people of Yeshurun (Israel).”

All of this is also true of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, הכ"מ.

We, however, for our part, should maintain and strengthen our bond with him ever more intensely — by studying his maamarim, sichos and letters, and by thinking deeply upon the directives to be found in them, as well as upon the particular directives given to us. And then, we will proceed11 “in the straight course that he has shown us, [following] his paths, and we will walk in his ways forevermore.”

Lighting Candles Rather Than Bemoaning Darkness

Perhaps the area in which the Rebbe’s proactive initiative stands out most prominently was the institution of shlichus. The Rebbe Rayatz pioneered the concept of shlichus during the ten years (1941-1950) that he spent in the U.S., but both conceptually and in practice, it was the Rebbe who made shlichus a primary thrust of Lubavitch activity. In so doing, he transformed Lubavitch into a driving force, active in all sectors of the international Jewish community.

These efforts began immediately after the shivah period of mourning for the Rebbe Rayatz. While, to borrow the Rebbe’s own wording,12 “still baffled and shocked over the passing [of the Rebbe Rayatz],” he set out to ensure that “none of the efforts that were conducted under [the Rebbe Rayatz’s] leadership be weakened in any way, and that all those who are bound to him should strengthen and reinforce themselves in the fulfillment of their tasks with which he charged them, with greater strength and greater power.”

With that intent, he turned to certain individuals and asked them to begin outreach work in different communities. As the Rebbe writes in a letter dated 20 Shvat, 5710, only ten days after the Rebbe Rayatz’s histalkus:

One of the matters about which my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, הכ"מ, spoke to me in the days before his passing was the education of Jewish children in [North] Africa….

Since it has been decided to continue, with G‑d’s help, all the work that was conducted under the leadership of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, הכ"מ, and to reinforce it with greater strength and greater power, for that is certainly his desire, I am notifying you about the above and asking you if you agree to accept this position. There is no doubt in my [mind] that you will accept it with great happiness.

The letters in this volume show how the Rebbe invested himself in the establishment of that shlichus, writing many letters to R. Michael Lipsker, the first of the shluchim to be sent to Morocco, R. Benyamin Gorodetzky, who oversaw the activities, and several of the Rabbis in the local communities there. Similarly, the volume contains letters encouraging a hesitant chassid to take up the mantle of shlichus13 and a letter to a shliach who had been sent out by the Rebbe Rayatz, advising him of the direction his efforts should take.14

On a Cosmic Stage

The Rebbe saw these outreach efforts as part of a greater Divine initiative. As he writes in a letter to R. Michael Lipsker15 after the latter expressed his willingness to accept the shlichus in North Africa:

Look in the enclosed kuntres for Purim where my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, הכ"מ, writes:16

The king who is the chosen of the nation and the greatest of them... squanders all his cherished treasure-stores... those... that were collected generation after generation.... Moreover, the king casts away [concern for] his own life... and deals recklessly with his life.... The treasure-stores are opened... and all this is intended for the [ordinary] soldiers through whom the victory will actually come.

[With these words,] he gave all of us an allusion to what [later] transpired,17 and this serves as a general directive, [clarifying] the path for all of us to follow and giving a simple promise that “the cherished treasure-stores of precious riches that were gathered and collected for many years from generation to generation” have been opened for each one of us. For we are “the [ordinary] soldiers through whom the victory will actually come.”

From the Macrocosm to the Microcosm

The emphasis on constructive activity also characterized the approach with which the Rebbe encouraged the chassidim as individuals to overcome the brokenness and bitterness which many felt after the passing of the Rebbe Rayatz. As he writes:18

My revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, הכ"מ, instructed us that salvation will not come from sighing,19 and that despair, Heaven forbid, sadness, and weakness is not the path to take one out of his straits and difficulties and bring him to abundance and light.

Our way and goal is actual practice: thought, speech, and deed… “[going] deeper and deeper, [becoming] more truthful and even more truthful.”

And he counsels “the elder members of the chassidic brotherhood”:20

Upon you… is incumbent [the responsibility] to strengthen… [all those in] your surroundings without thinking of one’s own feelings, because every moment is important and the responsibility lies on your shoulders. Thus, there is no time for sighing; “One act [is better than a thousand sighs].”21

A Bond of Blessing

The Rebbe did not see these endeavors as the personal initiatives of the individuals who undertook them,22 but as a function of the bond chassidim shared with the Rebbe Rayatz. Over and over again, he would point to hiskashrus — maintaining and intensifying the bond with the Rebbe Rayatz — as the medium for every individual to continue to grow, proceed in his Divine service, and reach out to others, overcoming any challenges from within and without. To cite the Rebbe’s words:23

It is still difficult to write about the passing of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, הכ"מ, but it is necessary for us to remember at all times the increased responsibility which this has placed upon every one of us. In particular, this applies to those who merited to have seen him many times, and those who merited that he saw them many times and thought about them many times.

This memory should call forth a strengthening of the spiritual powers these individuals possess with greater intensity…. We must always remember that we are the Rebbe’s men and ask ourselves the questions: Is the Rebbe happy with the manner in which I am conducting myself? Have I subjugated and transformed [my character] to the extent appropriate for the Rebbe’s man?....

And on a more personal level, he writes:24

With regard to your statements that you [feel you] are alone, etc. The Alter Rebbe explains25 at length that the presence of a tzaddik is more cogently felt [even] in this world of deed [after his passing] than during his lifetime. It is merely necessary to follow in the paths that he showed to strengthen one’s bonding. And then, as a natural consequence, you will not feel alone and the bitterness of heart that you write about will be removed, for you will be a medium for the blessings which my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, הכ"מ, conveyed to you [and] which G‑d will fulfill in a complete manner.

Forging a Connection

The Rebbe did not only demand hiskashrus from the chassidim, he also taught them how to establish such bonds. As he writes, quoting a letter from the Rebbe Rayatz:26

You ask, what does your bond with me consist of, since I do not know you by face.... True hiskashrus is attained by the study of the Torah. If you study my maamarim of Chassidus, read the sichos, associate with my friends (the members of the chassidic brotherhood27 and the temimim28 ) in their studies and in their farbrengens, and fulfill my request concerning the daily recital of Tehillim29 and the observance of fixed times for Torah study — in this lies hiskashrus.”

Continuously, the Rebbe would emphasize the importance of studying the teachings of the Rebbe Rayatz, both individually and communally, as a means of establishing pathways for his blessing and influence to become manifest in this world.30 And as a means of affirming the bond with the Rebbe Rayatz on a personal level, he repeatedly highlighted the importance of reciting the Rebbe Rayatz’s kapitle ofTehillim.31

“The Small One Shall Become a Thousand”32
Making Others Leaders

Leadership empowers, enabling a follower to surpass his own individual potential. When a person identifies with the principles and goals of a true leader, he dedicates himself to the tasks necessary to make them manifest, without thinking of himself and his limitations. And as a consequence, he is not bound by them.

Following this motif, the Rebbe encouraged his followers to appreciate how something much larger than themselves can work through them and how they should endeavor to make themselves mediums for these forces. As he writes:33

We have seen concrete evidence of how my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, הכ"מ, draws down success to those standing on their watch, fulfilling the mission in which he charged them. It is merely necessary for them to make an effort and they will find prolific success.

Never Alone

In one of his letters,34 the Rebbe refers to the teaching of the Rebbe Rayatz:35 “In previous eras, the Rebbe – the Rosh Yeshivah and Gaon – was alone and his students were alone. The path of Chassidus which the Alter Rebbe founded produced the most awesome G‑dly innovation: [that] the Rebbe is not alone and the chassidim are not alone.” A chassid knows that precisely in the situations where he has no one to turn to, he can turn to his Rebbe.

This option, the Rebbe writes,34 applies to a greater degree after the Rebbe’s passing than during his lifetime and thus he tells a chassid:36

[In reply to] the question you raise: that now we cannot ask my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, הכ"מ, when there is doubt how to conduct oneself: If you will stand firm in your connection with him, without paying attention to the lures of the yetzer [hara], and send the question to the gravesite of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, הכ"מ, the Rebbe will find a way to answer you.

Seeing the Larger Picture

As in the previous volumes, this collection of letters spans a wide scope of subjects. People write to the Rebbe about health questions and business issues. Sages consult him about points of Talmudic and halachic scholarship; there are explanations about deep points of chassidic thought and advice on Jewish communal affairs. Nevertheless, as mentioned at the outset, the unique dimension of a Rebbe is not that he expresses one — or even many qualities — in a superlative manner, but that he is a Rebbe, manifesting leadership that relates to the people as a collective, connecting them to their Source Above and enabling them to focus on their true purpose in life.

Coming in contact with such an individual — even in the written form — calls forth a higher level of awareness in each of us, asking us to be larger than ourselves. Instead of getting bogged down in the details of our day-to-day lives, we are able to see them all as elements leading to mankind’s ultimate purpose, the establishment of a dwelling for G‑d in this world. Enabling that purpose to be manifest becomes each individual’s personal goal, and every element of his life is directed to that intent.

Once an individual is sparked by this motivation, he communicates it to others and ripples of change begin to spread. As more and more individuals are affected, the waves become larger. May this motif continue to spread until it encompasses all existence, enabling — as the Rebbe writes37 quoting the Rebbe Rayatz:38

every man and woman among you [to] serve as a lamp to light up the darkness of exile — in which you and we find ourselves — with the light of G‑d, until He fulfills the promise conveyed through His holy prophets, and lets us hear the voice of the herald who will bring tidings of salvation.39 “For40