Friday, August 20, 2010

A Profound Letter To a Sociologist

For many a ba’al teshuvah, the road to a consuming life of Torah observance is paved with difficulty, and questions and doubts inevitably arise. The Avner Institute would like to present a heartfelt letter of the Rebbe, encouraging a young sociologist to view the sacrifices as challenges that ultimately strengthen commitment. With special thanks to the Nissan Mindel Archives.

The Rebbe Archive would like to present a newly released photo of the Rebbe entering the upstairs corridor for minchah the afternoon prayer, in the late 1960s. With special thanks to Mendy Hayward.

Good Shabbos


Dr. Montreal, Que.

Greeting and Blessing:

I duly received your letter and thank you very much for sharing with me your good impressions and experience at Kfar Chabad, and subsequently at Hadar HaTorah.

I imagine that it will not surprise you if I take strong issue with the idea expressed further in your letter, to the effect that you do not think that you are able to live the full life that you saw and experienced at Kfar Chabad and Hadar HaTorah. Indeed, it amazes me that you should have come to such a conclusion. No doubt you are imagining that the difficulties involved in a total commitment to Yiddishkeit are more than you can cope with, especially since it will be necessary to give up certain things in life which would not be in harmony with such a commitment.

However, it is surely unnecessary to emphasize to a person of your background that if anyone wishes to attain any worthwhile objective, the road is not an easy one, and one must be prepared to make certain sacrifices. As a matter of fact, the more ambitious and worthy the objective, the greater must be the effort and sacrifice, which in themselves are criteria as to how important the objective is.

Furthermore, since you write that you have a doctorate in sociology, you surely have had occasion to observe various groups of people and individuals, and know that a person does not value highly things which he obtains easily and without sacrifice; and that it is only through facing up to a challenge and overcoming difficulties that the best qualities and capacities of a person are brought to the fore. To be sure, a person may experience a sense of satisfaction at obtaining something very easily, but this feeling cannot be lasting, for real satisfaction comes only from hard-earned accomplishments, particularly when the challenge comes not from outside, but from a personal inner impulse, etc.

Looking back into Jewish history, you have surely noted that the Jewish people became worthy of receiving the Torah only after going through the crucible of Egyptian bondage, after they had proved themselves able to retain their identity and not be assimilated in a culture which in those days was regarded as the highest and most advanced. And so it is in the personal experience of an individual; one can attain a life of Torah not by giving of himself on a particular day or days of the year such as Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, when a Jew readily makes sacrifices to live as a Jew, but by making the necessary sacrifices every day of the year.

This is also the meaning of the text of our daily prayer, referring to the Torah and the mitzvoth: “For they are our life and the length of our days.” A person must live continually, and cannot interrupt his living, deciding to live on certain days of the year and not on others. So it is in the case of Yiddishkeit. A Jew cannot decide to be alive on Shabbat and Yom Tov, and take a leave of absence during other days.

Now that we are coming out of the Ten Days of Teshuvah, I trust that there is no need for me to elaborate further on the above, all the more so as I think that the above lines—and especially what is in between the lines—should provide enough food for thought in order to make the proper inferences and conclusions. May G-d grant you hatzlachah in that fulfillment.

Also enclosed is a copy of a timely and pertinent message.
Wishing you a joyous and inspiring Yom Tov,

With blessing,