Wednesday, December 23, 2009
The Avner Institute is pleased to present an insightful letter of the Rebbe, discussing the nature of the respective souls of Jews and non-Jews. (Special thanks to Rabbi Schapiro and The Nissan Mindel Archives for the letter.)
We have also included a photo of the Rebbe giving L’chaim at a farbrengen marking the Previous Rebbe’s passing in 1972.
Mr. _ Brooklyn, New York
Greeting and Blessing:
I am in receipt of your letter, in which you refer to a discussion that you had on the question of whether or not Gentiles have a neshama . . . .
I cannot see where there could have been any difference of opinion on this matter, inasmuch as it is explicitly stated in various sources, and statements are also found in various sections of Tanach (Isaiah 42:5, 57:16), to the effect that Gentiles also have a neshama . . . . It seems to me, therefore, that you may have been arguing at cross-purposes, and that perhaps the question related more to the fact that there are different levels and qualities of soul. Now if this was the point of contention, then it is true that the soul of the Gentile and the soul of the Jew differ in their nature, this being connected with one of the basic principles of the Torah – the fact that the Jews are a people chosen from among the nations of the world. This chosen-ness originates in the fact that when G-d was about to give the Torah at Mt. Sinai, He first offered it to all the other nations of the world, who refused to accept it. The Jewish people did accept it. Needless to add, this is in no way inconsistent with the statement of our Sages, to the effect that the righteous among the Gentiles have a special status and, according to the Rambam, also have a share in the World-to-Come.
Judging by your letter, it is surely unnecessary for me to emphasize to you what has already been indicated above, namely, that our belief in the chosen-ness of the Jewish people is not a matter of chauvinism or fanaticism, but rather the deep-felt realization that this uniqueness carries with it great responsibilities and special obligations. This is why, for example, Jews have to fulfill “Taryag (613) mitzvoth,” whereas Gentiles are not obligated to observe kashrut and various other restrictions connected with the idea of holiness, holiness being the essential aspect of the Jewish soul.
If I allude here to the special obligations which are incumbent upon a Jew, as a Jew, it is only for the sake of emphasizing that what is at issue is not whether a Jew should meet minimal, or even average standards, but that it is in fact incumbent upon him to attain the very maximum. In truth, this is self-evident for, inasmuch as G-d has given us the innate capacity to attain the very heights of the spiritual and the holy, it is only right that we learn how to recognize this incomparable Divine gift; while any lack of effort to utilize it to the utmost would be in the nature of a derogation. And if, in one’s business or profession, one always tries to give of one’s very best – for to do less would be to risk being branded a failure – how much more so in regard to spiritual capacities, which are of vital benefit not only to one’s self, but also to one’s surroundings and the world at large.
Posted by The Avner Institute / Menachem M Kirschenbaum at 9:21 AM