Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Incredible Yechidus with the Rebbe!

How would you define Judaism in a nutshell? Dose G-d creates evil? The following is a fascinating Yechidus of the Rebbe that took place in the winter of 5722/1962. With Special thanks to Rabbi Refoel Katz for his efforts in retrieving the documents of this meeting.

The Rebbe Archive would like to present a photo of the Rebbe leaving his room, in 1971, to welcome visiting Zalman Shazar, president of Israel.

This week’s email is sponsored by Shalom Israel Tours, Shalom Israel Tours creates incredible experiences for communities and families visiting Israel. Whether you’ve done Israel trips in the past or are considering the idea for the first time, we would love the opportunity to help you plan your Israel tour.

Good Shabbos

Question: How would you define Judaism in a nutshell?

The Rebbe: Judaism is not something abstract, detached from ordinary every activities. Judaism must concern the Jew twenty-four hours a day, in every environment and in every activity. The Jew proclaims, "G-d is One!" Not only did G-d create the world but He also constantly maintains it so that nothing happens by mere coincidence. His is the Divine systematic pattern of the universe into which every one of us fits so that we may accomplish our mission in life.

Question: What is the inter-relationship between Torah and the secular sciences?

The Rebbe: Everything in creation is included in the unity of G-d. One object of scientific discovery is to find unity in all matter, in all phases of life. To correlate electronics, chemistry, acoustics, physics, and mathematics. Einstein's achievement was to unite energy with matter; the unification of electricity with gravity will be an even greater accomplishment. All spheres of knowledge are all one entity. The formulas of their unification already exist – they are merely awaiting discovery. But we can utilize the consequence of these formulas even now to strength our monotheistic belief, for the Talmud states, "Heder yedia ano meakve," ignorance doesn't preclude performing the precept.

Question: How do you explain "Oseh shalom uboray re-aw," that G-d creates evil?

The Rebbe: Divine Unity is concealed in a mask of evil and temporary material pleasures. The mission of the human being is to lift this mask of the universe through "nisoyon," by withstanding temptations. This is the special power of free choice: it is part of the Divine Pattern of the universe. For example, if one has the possibility to give charity, and this would be the right thing to do; he also has the choice of keeping the money in his pocket, the wrong thing. However, this possibility of error elevates the achievement of one's purpose in life, and explains why there are so few tzadikim, for there is only one right road and many wrong ones.

Question: How can I overcome the feeling of apprehension when confronted with great responsibility?

The Rebbe: There is no need for despair or frustration. System and order are inherent in the universe; consequently, no one gets more responsibility than he can handle. This clear knowledge strengthens man's ability to complete his tasks, as he knows that there is a solution for every problem that confronts him. He must endeavor to use all the emotional and intellectual powers that G-d has endowed him with, in order to arrive at the correct solution. This is part of G-d's perfection – that He has given every Jew the potential to fulfill every precept that is incumbent upon him.

Question: How can G-d direct the universe according to a definite pattern without contradicting man's freedom of choice?

The Rebbe: Although G-d directs the universe in a systematic, compatible fashion, there is no contradiction to free will. For example, let us say that by some miraculous power a fortune-teller can accurately predict far into the future. He is only seeing what will be done by someone of his own volition. The fortune-teller's foreknowledge does not influence the other's freedom of choice. This freedom is the basis for reward and punishment. So that there be no chaos and confusion in the world-system, the Almighty has a prescribed plan wherein man may choose between many possibilities, but only one is the right way.

Question: What can be the relationship of science and religion?

The Rebbe: The latest scientific discoveries have shown that all the molecules in the universe fit into a definite united pattern. Wherever you observe order and system you must assume that there is some force or power maintaining this system.

No one is perfect. Each day we must strive to improve ourselves little by little so that we ultimately achieve our mission in life.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Why is a Mechitza so Important? Fascinating Letter of the Rebbe

Is the mechitzah in shul really necessary? Or is it a “male plot” to degrade Jewish women? And given the stress these days on Jewish unity, why make separations altogether? In the following letter to the president of a Brooklyn synagogue, the Rebbe spells out the reasons for a mechitzah, its impact on communal prayer, and the answer to a question on those who seem communally farthest away. We would like to thank Rabbi Simpson, a member of the Rebbe’s secretariat, for this letter.

The Rebbe Archive would like to present two unique photos of the Rebbe leaving 770 in the winter of 1975, on his way to the gravesite of his father-in-law. With special thanks to Hayward family for the photos.

Good Shabbos

By the Grace of G-d
10th of Nissan, 5721
Brooklyn, NY

Greeting and Blessing:

This is in reply to your letter and questions:

(1) Regarding the mechitzah in the synagogue.

You mention several explanations which have been suggested to you, according to which the necessity for a mechitzah would be qualified and limited to certain conditions only.

Let me preface my answer with a general observation about a misconception in this matter. It is a mistake to think that the mechitzah is degrading to the honor or dignity of the Jewish woman. The best proof of this is that although the love of parents for their children is not only a very natural one, but has even been hallowed by the Torah, as we pray to G-d to show us the same fatherly feeling (“As a father has mercy on his children”), yet there is a din in the Shulchan Aruch that it is forbidden to kiss one’s children in shul, and, moreover, even not during the time of prayer. Not to mention the din of the Torah to esteem and honor every human being created in the “image” of G-d. To think that there could be anything degrading in the mechitzah is to betray complete ignorance not only of the significance of the mechitzah but of the whole attitude and way of the Torah.

One of the inner and essential reasons for the mechitzah—since you insist on an explanation—is that the synagogue, and the time of prayer in general (even when recited at home), are not merely the place and time when a formal petition is offered to Him Who is able to fulfill the petition; it is much more profound than that. It is the time and place when the person offering the prayer unites himself with Him to Whom the prayer is offered, by means of the prayer. And as our Sages declare: Know before Whom you stand: before the Supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He. “Know” (da), as the term daas is explained in the Tanya, in the sense of unity, as in “And Adam knew Eve.” The union of two things can be complete only when there is not a third element involved, be it even a matter of holiness and the like.

From the above it follows that there certainly must be nothing to distract the attention and the attunement of the heart and mind towards the attainment of the highest degree of unity with G-d.

From the above it also follows that the separation of the sexes by a mechitzah has nothing to do with any particular condition or state in the women, as has been suggested to you.

It further follows also that the purpose of the mechitzah is not just to set up a visible boundary for which a mechitzah of several inches might do, but it must be one that completely hides the view, otherwise a mechitzah does not accomplish its purpose.

I have indicated above, though quite briefly, some of the basic facts about a mechitzah and the essential explanation behind it in order to answer your questions and satisfy your curiosity. I must say, however, quite emphatically, that the approach of measuring Torah and mitzvoth by the yardstick of the limited and often fallacious human reason is totally wrong. The human intellect is a very unreliable gauge, and quite changeable from one extreme to the other. Even in the so-called exact sciences, the unreliability of human reason and deduction has been amply demonstrated, and what was one day considered as an “absolute” truth is the next day abrogated with equal certainty and absoluteness. Hence to presume to make conditions in regard to the eternal and G-d-given Torah and mitzvoth is completely out of place.

Therefore, inasmuch as we have been instructed to have a mechitzah in the house of prayer, it would violate even the common sense to present a petition to the Almighty in a manner which displeases Him, and to add insult to injury, to declare that “the reason I do not accept this regulation is because my human intelligence suggests to act otherwise than is the will of the En Sof, yet, please fulfill my request anyway!”

Much more should be said on this subject, but it is difficult to do so in a letter.

(2) You ask, how can one accept the mishnah “All Israel have a portion in the world to come” and how, by the widest stretch of the imagination, can one believe that the worst apikores will have a share in the world to come?

The answer to your question may be found in various sources and is especially illuminated in the sources of Chassidus at length.

The belief of our Jewish people in true Monotheism is, of course, the very basis of our faith and way of life. This means not only that there is only One G-d and none other beside Him, but “nothing else beside Him” (ein od milvado). The whole Creation and all the worlds have no reality of their own, for there is only one Reality—G-d, inasmuch as a spark of G-dliness animates and keeps everything in existence, as it is written, “By the word of G-d the heavens were created,” etc. This “word” of G-d is the essence and reality of everything.

Thus, the individual you call “apikores” is also animated by the “word” of G-d, which is surely eternal, for that individual is also a part of Creation and is animated and sustained in the same way. Except that it was the will of the Creator that this individual, created by the word of G-d, should have complete freedom to choose good or bad, life or death, as it is written, “Behold, I place before you this day life and good, and death and evil.” The individual who misuses this gift of freedom and chooses evil loses and forfeits that part of this G-d-given energy which went into the commission of the sin or omission of the mitzvah, which, had he chosen otherwise, would have been imbued with an eternal quality. However, the very essence of his reality, that is, that which has been created and came into being by the word of G-d, cannot be destroyed, so long as it retains its essential character. It can only be soiled and stained by sin, G-d forbid.

But inasmuch as every individual Jew is a “whole world,” as our Sages said, and, moreover, the whole universe was created for his sake, and as the Sages commented on the word Breishis—for the sake of Yisroel called “Reishis,” the Jew who sinned most undergo various transformations and stages of purgatory to be cleansed of the impurities which had attached themselves to his soul, which is his essence, and which has a portion in the world to come because of its eternal quality.

This is also what our Sages meant when they succinctly said—as they often compress a far-reaching idea into a few concise words by way of explanation immediately following the statement in the said mishnah of Kol Yisroel: “For it is written, ‘and Thy people are all righteous . . . a branch of My planting, the work of My hand to be glorified (by them).’” Because every Jew contains in him something which is like a branch of the Divine Tree and the work of G-d’s own hands, it is eternal, and that is why “every Jew has a portion in the world to come.”

I trust that in harmony with your search for knowledge which you display in your letter, you have regular daily periods of study of the Torah and the Torah view, and that is the kind of study which leads to action and practice in the daily life, as our Sages emphasized that the essential thing is the deed.

The enclosed message will surely be of interest to you.

Wishing you and your fellow students a kosher, happy and inspiring Pesach.

With blessing,


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How to Deal with a Jews Challenges - Insightful Letter of the Rebbe

Jews in the world today face a myriad of issues. Is it still possible, or simple, to be a practicing Jew? The Avner Institute would like to present a first-time released letter to a Jew in Europe in which the Rebbe derives from the story of Chanukah a powerful message on overcoming daily challenges.

“Chanukah Live” was an event involving thousands of Jews who would join together with the Rebbe at “770,” Chabad headquarters. The Rebbe Archive would like to present two magnificent photos from “Chanukah Live” 1991, where holiday celebrations in New York, Paris, Moscow, Melbourne, Hong Kong and Jerusalem were united by satellite hookup. In the first photo you can see the Rebbe watching the menorah lighting in New York with Rabbi Shmuel Butman and mayor David Dinkins.

Good Shabbos

By the Grace of G-d
22nd of Kislev 5732
Brooklyn, NY

Greeting and Blessing:

I received your letter and, as requested, I will remember you in prayer when visiting the holy resting place of my father-in-law of saintly memory.

It is purely unnecessary for me to emphasize to you that the daily conduct in accordance with the Torah and mitzvoth is the channel and vessel to receive G-d’s blessings. Therefore, every additional effort in this direction brings with it additional Divine blessings in all one’s needs.

If it sometimes appears difficult to follow the Jewish way of life in a world under circumstances which are not conducive to it, the difficulty is imaginary than real, and when there is a will and determination, all obstacles can be overcome. This is also the message of Chanukah, which we are soon to celebrate, which teaches us that with selfless determination even a small and weak minority can overcome a strong and large minority, just as a small light dispels a lot of darkness. I trust you will spread the light of the Torah and mitzvoth all around you and in a growing measure, which is the essential lesson of the mitzvah of Chanukah lights which we kindle in increasing numbers each night of Chanukah.

Hoping to hear good news from you,

With blessing,

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Encounter With The Lubavitcher Rebbe & Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ZT’L

Regarding tefillin, the black leather casing donned by Jewish men during prayer, the Torah commands (Deut. 6:8): “Bind them as a sign upon your arm and they shall be for tefillin between your eyes.” Tefillin, which contain the four Scriptural passages mentioning this mitzvah, are worn differently, according to custom and community, and the “Rashi” tefillin was the pair for a Lubavitcher boy becoming bar mitzvah. However, during a public talk in 1976, the Rebbe mentioned the importance of donning two pairs of tefillin instead of one – a practice commonly known as “tefillin d’Rabbeinu Tam.”

This practice was slowly integrated into the Lubavitcher community. But there were those outside of Lubavitcher circles who adopted the practice as well—among them Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986), the most prominent scholar and authority of his day, whose Igrot Moshe, a compilation of responsa, addressed numerous legal and ethical issues. Who encouraged Rabbi Feinstein to follow the Rebbe’s directive? The following story contains fascinating details of this came about thanks to one of the Rebbe’s ardent supporters.

The Rebbe Archive presents two newly released photos of the Rebbe from 6 Tishrei 5732/ 1971, with special thanks to the Minkowitz family.

Good Shabbos

The Rebbe's Announcement

It was Purim, 5736/1976. The farbrengen, the Chassidic gathering, was in full sway, and the listeners were particularly festive, given the celebration of that glorious ancient holiday. It was enough to hear the Rebbe’s words extolling the triumph of Esther and Mordechai to feel the joy and energy.

Suddenly the Rebbe changed the topic and began to speak about the merits of putting on Rabbeinu Tam tefillin (in addition to the more widely used Rashi tefillin). On the tape recording one can hear the Rebbe say (in a voice that is especially mellifluous), “This is the place to clarify and respond to a question many have … the question of whether to put on Rabbeinu Tam tefillin. My view is clear that now is the time to put on two pairs of tefillin . . . . It is obligatory, during the times of the footsteps of Moshiach, to also put on Rabbeinu Tam tefillin . . . . Whoever wishes to should put on Rabeinu Tam tefillin in addition to Rashi tefillin will be blessed.”

To those gathered at the farbrengen, it was quite a shock. Although the Alter Rebbe (the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shneur Zalman of Liadi) writes in Piskei Ha’Siddur that every G-d fearing man should lay Rabbeinu Tam tefillin, Chabad Chassidim waited for the Rebbe’s permission, and not till after their wedding. Rarely—and only with authorization—did bar mitzvah boys do so! Nevertheless, in the sicha of parshat Va’eschanan 5749/1989, the Rebbe advised that they be worn even in the two months prior to the bar mitzvah.

Gradually, as a result of the Rebbe’s instruction, his followers began to don Rabeinu Tam tefillin. Yet, surprisingly, they were not the only ones. The legal authority of the time, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l, then Rosh Yeshivat Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem (MTJ) on the Lower East Side, also decided to take on this practice, despite not having heard the Rebbe directly. There is a fascinating story behind this that is being shared to mark the 41st year of Mitzvah Tefillin, which the Rebbe initiated on Lag B’Omer 1967.

In the years after Mitzvah Tefillin was introduced, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Spritzer worked assiduously to influence Jews to put on tefillin. In order to facilitate the daily practice, he would persuade them to buy a pair of tefillin, which ranged from $30 to $40 (the equivalent of $250 today), and strived to get the lowest price by purchasing the four Scriptural verses (parshiot) from a sofer (scribe), the battim (casings) from someone else, and the straps from yet a third person.

In 1974 the Rebbe announced Mitzvah Mezuzah, where he asked that every Jewish home have kosher mezuzos. The Rebbe compared a mezuzah to a helmet that protects one from harm. Rabbi Hershel threw himself into this campaign too, and made sure that affordable mezuzos were put up in hundreds of Jewish homes.

Fateful Encounter

One year, on the plane back from Eretz Yisrael where he had visited his father, a distinguished Belzer Chassid, Rabbi Hershel took out a sefer and invited his seatmate to join him. When this seatmate introduced himself as Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s son-in-law, Rabbi Spritzer thought this a good opportunity to reach Rabbi Feinstein. Describing the Rebbe’s mitzvah campaigns he asked, “When were Rabbi Feinstein’s mezuzos last checked?”

Rabbi Dr. Tendler was taken aback. He didn’t know what to say. He was unaware of when they were last checked and who had checked them. Despite his father-in-law’s having the finest mezuzos, they, like all mezuzos, needed to be checked periodically. Rabbi Hershel offered to do this and return them as quickly as possible.

A day or two later, Rabbi Hershel went to the home of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein to collect the mezuzos and bring them to the scribe. He then submitted a report of his activities to the Rebbe. Since the Rebbe had spoken of the importance of putting on Rabeinu Tam tefillin, Rabbi Spritzer considered discussing this with Rabbi Feinstein and the next day made an appointment, scheduled for a Wednesday a few weeks later.

Avid Listener

When he met Rabbi Feinstein and brought up the subject, he was surprised to learn that the sage had put on Rabbeinu Tam until age eighteen but then stopped. Rabbi Feinstein asked, “What did the Rebbe say at the farbrengen?”, and added that he would happily comply if the Rebbe were involved in their procurement—picking the scribe to write the verses and giving his opinion on the other details.

At Rabbi Feinstein’s request for the Beis Yosef script, Rabbi Hershel went that very day and asked Rabbi Eliezer Zirkind, a friend and scribe in Crown Heights, whether he could oblige. After Rabbi Hershel explained who the tefillin were for and the importance of having the revered leader put on Rabbeinu Tam, Rabbi Zirkind agreed to write them in Beis Yosef script specially for Rabbi Feinstein.

Rabbi Hershel immediately wrote to the Rebbe about the developments. A few hours later, at midnight, the phone rang at Rabbi Zirkind’s house. Mrs. Zirkind answered the phone.

The Rebbe’s secretary Rabbi Hodakov, asked, “Is Rabbi Zirkind awake?”

When a groggy Rabbi Zirkind came to the phone, Rabbi Hodakov asked whether he could come to the office right away. Shortly after, Rabbi Zirkind knocked on Rabbi Hodakov’s office door at 770.

“The Rebbe asked that you meet with Rabbi Feinstein to discuss the details of the
writing of the tefillin,” Rabbi Hodakov explained. “The meeting has already been arranged. Tomorrow at nine, Rabbi Feinstein will be waiting.”

The next day Rabbi Zirkind met with Rabbi Feinstein and introduced himself as the sofer who met the Rebbe’s approval and was proficient in Beis Yosef script. Rabbi Feinstein, greatly pleased, began discussing the writing. One of Rabbi Feinstein’s requests regarded the way in which Rabbi Zirkind should write the tefillin. Based on Kabbalah, Rabbi Zirkind generally wrote tefillin without interruption, not even speaking until after placing the verses into the boxes. The process took at least eight hours. Rabbi Feinstein asked that, given the Beis Yosef script, which Rabbi Zirkind didn’t usually write, each section be written separately. Rabbi Feinstein wanted to inspect each one upon completion before the next would be written.

Rabbi Zirkind sat down to write the first verse the very next day. When he was done, he sent it to Rabbi Feinstein, then went on to the next section.

The writing of the tefillin was completed two days later, on a Sunday afternoon. After Rabbi Feinstein approved all of the sections, Rabbi Zirkind brought them to him in size four by four-inch boxes, according to Chabad custom. After placing the tefillin on his head to check the size, Rabbi Feinstein asked for smaller boxes, since a small part of the base did not lay flat on his forehead. The boxes changed, Rabbi Zirkind brought the tefillin to Rabbi Feinstein, who resumed laying Rabeinu Tam that very same day.

The Rebbe's Letter

A letter from Rabbi Feinstein, dated Erev Shabbos Shekalim 5740, to the Rebbe appears in volume eight of Rabbi Feinstein’s Igros Moshe in which Rabbi Feinstein thanks the Rebbe for his help and mentions that in his youth, when he lived in Lublin, he had put on Rabbeinu Tam regularly. “I put them on after davening but on condition that it would be bli neder [without a promise]. But when questions arose about whether one could fulfill the mitzvah according to the view of Rabbeinu Tam, I did not do so anymore.”

Rabbi Feinstein humbly thanks the Rebbe for urging the wearing of Rabbeinu Tam tefillin. “And now, when I was informed in the name of the Rebbe that there are parshiyos of tefillin d’Rabbeinu Tam for me, to my specifications, this is a great thing, aside from being able to also fulfill the mitzvah of putting on tefillin d’Rabeinu Tam as I was accustomed to doing. As for the money, I thank Hashem Who helped me and will help me pay the sofer what he asks for, and the sofer will get good battim … and surely the sofer will also write ksav Beis Yosef.” Rabbi Feinstein ends the letter with the salutation, “who greatly esteems him [the Rebbe].”

A few days went by and Rabbi Feinstein received a response from the Rebbe in which the Rebbe acknowledged his letter and made some points about tefillin Rabbeinu Tam. In the letter, the Rebbe writes (free translation):

The Rabbi and Gaon… Rabbi Moshe Feinstein

Subsequent to inquiring after Shalom Toraso!

Recently, I received two letters from Kvod Toraso (of 27 Shevat and Erev Shabbos Shekalim) and am responding with haste to thank and bless you for the brachos and wishes, etc. And mainly as it says explicitly in the verse: “I will bless those who bless you” – Hashem with His blessing and His addition to the blessing, which is greater than the original (Devarim Rabba 1:13) and in Berachos (55a) – that you should live long, good days and years. And especially, since you attached a response discussing a number of matters regarding tefillin and the conclusion regarding the actual practice of tefillin (d’Rabbeinu Tam). And being that the middah [trait] of HaKadosh Baruch Hu is measure for measure with (but many times more), then according to this, (an increase in) one who puts on tefillin (brings an increase in the reward of) lengthens his days as it says, “Hashem is upon them, may they live… and He should fortify me (with health) and grant me life (end of Menachos 44a).” Particularly as regards (the arm that is opposite) the heart and (the head that is opposite) the brain – Chabad of our Holy Torah all the way to drawing conclusions according to halacha.

With honor and esteem and manifold blessings,
M. Schneersohn

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

“Pilgrimage to Eastern Parkway” NY Times Article about “770”

Friday, November 5, 2010

Feminism + Conversions Incredible Letter of the Rebbe

In the area of outreach the Rebbe displayed remarkable acuity mixed with compassion. He understood that not all Jews were alike, and that special cases involving coed learning or contact with those far removed from the faith required discretion.

The Avner Institute would like to present a fascinating letter to a young Russian student filled with advice on some of the most controversial issues that face the Jewish world today, with special thanks to the Zionist Archives of Jerusalem.

The Rebbe Archive presents a Photo of the Rebbe at a farbrengen in the mid-1970’s.

Good Shabbos

Greeting and Blessing:

For technical reasons it is more convenient to reply to your letter in English than in Russian. You may, of course, continue to write to me in Russian, but let me know if you prefer to receive the reply in Hebrew, Yiddish, or English.

Now to reply to the questions in your letter of 3 Cheshvan—which reached me with some delay:

Question 1: In a certain city there are Jews who converted to Christianity, and some of them now feel an urge towards Judaism and would like to join a Torah-study group. What should be the attitude towards them?

Answer: In general, each individual has to be considered as a separate case, and the criterion for admission to the study group should be an assessment of the expected result: is the individual likely to return to Judaism by attending the Torah study, or will it have the opposite effect?

In making such an assessment, two kinds of individuals should be borne in mind. There may be one who has become a missionary. In this case, he should not be judged in the “scale of merit.” Moreover, it is in the nature of such a convert to seek “justification” for his conversion at every opportunity. Hence he will not stop at deliberately distorting and misrepresenting the truth.

A further factor is this: The Torah classes are attended by Jews, not all of whom are 100% firmly entrenched in Judaism; some of them are rather weak and have doubts. Consequently, if these were to meet with the said element in an atmosphere of Torah learning and discussion, the association may be very harmful of them in view of the weakness of their own convictions.

On the other hand, there is a second type of convert, namely, those who convert not because they have been brainwashed, but for some foolish external reason, and more particularly those who come under the category of tinok nishba. In this case the prospect of helping those to return to Judaism is of course more promising.
The above are general guidelines, and each individual case should be considered on its own merits, as mentioned.

In addition there are other general points to be considered:

In view of the Holocaust—which was largely an outgrowth of centuries-long animosity and persecution systematically perpetrated against Jews, if there is a Jew who, despite living in such close proximity in time and place to this atrocity, yet finds it proper in his mind and heart to become a part of, and be identified with, the creed and its proponents who claimed so many innocent Jewish victims, men, women, and children, all in the name of Christianity—then perhaps it may be possible to bring him back to his senses in other ways, but hardly by means of Torah lessons.

At the same time, considering those among the study circle members who are so-called borderline cases, whose Jewish identity is still weak and who have to be strengthened in their commitment to Torah, it is easy to see how harmful it would be for them to come into close association with that element, all the more so since it would be difficult to limit such association to the period of Torah study and preclude them from meeting afterwards in other situations.

Question 2: When inviting non-observant Jews, who had been brought up in non-observant homes, is it right to drink wine with them?

Answer: In view of the fact that non-observant Jews constitute a wide range from one end to the other, and, for understandable reasons, it is impossible to check everyone’s Jewish credentials—why enter into a questionable situation, when there are many other drinks than wine that could be served in such company, with no sha’alah involved? Especially as the sha’alah (in most cases) involves also a question about the kashrus of the wine.

Where there is no question about the wine, and the occasion in inviting a guest (or guests) for Shabbos or Yom Tov, when Kiddush is involved, it is advisable that the host alone make Kiddush, and limit the partaking of wine to Kiddush only.

Question 3: There is a group of young women who would also like to learn Torah. Would it be permissible to admit them to men’s study classes, or should separate classes be formed for the women? In the latter case, would it be proper to have male instructors for them?

Answer: In view of the extraordinary circumstances and difficulties in that country, I would be inclined to take a more lenient view to admit women into the men’s classes. However, in order to emphasize the exception due to extenuating circumstances, and also in order to be mindful of the din, two provisions should be made: one, to teach in a coed class such subjects that are incumbent also on women, such as the laws obligatory also for women (kashrus, laws of Shabbos and Yom Tov, etc.),

and, of course, also the basics of our faith, love and fear of G-d, prayer, and the like—subjects that are dealt with in chassidus. Second, that separate seating should be arranged for men and women. This would preclude also other personal associations, such as mixed dancing, etc. Although we are speaking of persons who, by reason of background, are not otherwise averse to mixed dancing and socializing, it is obvious that this should not be permitted in these groups, and no heter should be given to such practices, explicit or implied.

I must emphasize again that the heter mentioned above in regard to coed study is based on the special extenuating circumstances prevailing in that particular country, there being no other way to save them from assimilation and intermarriage. It should in no way serve as a precedent for other cases where those circumstances do not prevail, not continued even in that same case when the situation improves sufficiently not to have recourse to that heter.

Turning to the rest of your letter, I will remember in prayer those you mention when visiting the holy resting place of my father-in-law of saintly memory, whose concern for his fellow-Jews, particularly in that country, knew no bounds, to the point of self-sacrifice. And, as our Sages of the Talmud, like the Shepherds of our Jewish people, do not forsake their flock even after the histalkus, and continue to intercede On High in their behalf.

By the way—indeed, more than that—you surely know that my father-in-law, when he was in that country, had organized a group of young Jews of higher learning, by the name of “Tiferes Bachurim,” under the successful leadership of an academician named Kazhdan (working under the guidance of Rabbi Y. Landau, now in Eretz Yisroel). I would be interested to know if the Kazhdan is related to you.

With prayerful wishes and with blessings,


Friday, October 29, 2010

The Rebbe writes to a College Student

Following a private audience of university students from New York, one of the attendees wrote the Rebbe a letter filled with questions: Why is the dissemination of Chassidism so important? Who – and what – truly benefits? The Rebbe answers, while taking fatherly interest in this writer’s personal life, and explains how Chassidism affects the world in more ways than one.

The Rebbe Archive would like to present a unique picture of the Rebbe entering 770 in the year 1983. Behind the Rebbe is a “Mitzva Tank” that was newly purchased and was on its way to Israel, first making a stop at Lubavitch headquarters.

This email is dedicated to Menachem Mendel HaKohen ben Shifra Aviva, may he have a complete and speedy recovery.

Good Shabbos

Blessing and Greeting:

Your letter of October 4th duly reached me, but owing to pressure of work I was unable to acknowledge it sooner.

I wonder why you do not mention anything about your health. I presume it is a sign that you are enjoying good health, and I trust you will continue to do so.

I trust that you have learned to take your personal problem in stride and you are not reacting to it as acutely as before. In time you will realize that it should never have given you so much anxiety in the first place, and that “This is also for good,” as our Sages said.

With regard to the question of furthering the cause of Chassidism, the first thing that everybody can and must do is to exercise a beneficial influence on the environment. This is so urgent that at times one cannot weigh one’s own merits, but simultaneously with improving one’s self it is necessary to try to benefit the other by spreading the light of the Torah in general and of Chassidism in particular.

Experience has also shown that in endeavoring to enrich the other spiritually, one becomes more receptive to spiritual influence himself. The important thing is that such endeavor should not remain confined to the intellect, but should be translated into practical experience, in thought, word and action of everyday life.

As I told you when you were here, one should not worry too much about personal problems, for we have a great G-d, Whose Divine Providence guides the whole universe, and the small universe (microcosm) of each and every individual. Thus it often happens that difficulties that at first seem surmountable, or goals unattainable, prove an illusion, and achievements are made sometimes even without undue exertion.
Wishing you harmonious wellbeing, and looking forward to hearing from you good news in every way.

M. Schneerson

A Photo of The Previous Rebbe Poland 1938

The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Joseph Issac (Yosef Yitzhak) Schneersohn (1880– 1950) was the epitome of self-sacrifice and keeper of the Jewish flame in the brutal Soviet regime that broke him physically but not spiritually. A prolific author and diarist, he spent hours writing his Chassidic discourses and memoirs. The Avner Institute would like to present a dramatic photograph dated 1938 of the Previous Rebbe, who is seated pensively in a hotel, in a suburb in Poland, while immersed in his customary learning and writing.

With special thanks to the Lishinsky family of Ramat Gan, Israel, for sending us this photo in it's original format.

We would also like to present a profound excerpt by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, director of the Ask the Rabbi team of, who quotes the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson’s admiration for his father-in-law.

Good Shabbos

"He Was Self-Sacrifice"

"Those who seek out self-sacrifice will find it eventually. But my father-in-law didn't seek self-sacrifice—he was self-sacrifice, wherever it was needed, in whatever form it might come.

And so, whether under Russian oppression, among Polish Jewry or in the freedom of America, in all three stages of his leadership, in all he did his entire being was there, to its very core."

(Yud Shevat 5734; Tammuz 12, 5735;
Likutei Sichos vol. 18, pp 300-307)

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Unique Photo With a Moving Story Behind it

To the Rebbe, honoring Jewish traditions—including those not of Chabad origin--was very important. Rabbi Kivi Bernhard, now living in Atlanta, GA, had the merit, while a bochur, to witness the Rebbe’s tremendous respect for Jews of all backgrounds. In the following photo, captured at just the right moment, he is standing and watching the Rebbe receive a visitor’s special greeting. “It was a very interesting exchange and a fascinating insight into the Rebbe and his appreciation of minhagei klal Yisroel (Jewish custom and practice).”

With special thanks to Rabbi Kivi Bernhard for the Photo and moving encounter.

Good Shabbos

Kivi Bernhard relates:

"It was 1982, and this was now my second Rosh Hashana that I would be traveling from South Africa to spend with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Before I departed from Johannesburg, my father Rabbi Nachman Bernhard (may he live and be well), a very close confidant of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, pulled me aside at the airport and shared the following with me: “There are many rabbis, rabbeim, teachers, sages and mentors the world over. But Kivi, a Rebbe is an entirely different thing altogether. As you go now to be at the Rebbe for the Yom Tov (High Holidays) you have the opportunity to observe what a Jew is in its essence. Watch the Rebbe intently and study the detail. You will glean gems of Judaism.”

My father had given me a mission, not just an instruction, and I was now on my way. His words were almost prophetic, as the following small but profound encounter took place while I was privileged to be nearby the Rebbe.

There is a well known tradition amongst Jews to share honey cake with one another the days before Rosh Hashana to induce a sentiment of “sweetness” as we head into the days of judgment. This was a converted practice of the Rebbe, and the day before Rosh Hashana he would distribute lekach [honey cake] and a short blessing for success, to hundreds of people for hours on end.

For me, as a visitor to Crown Heights (the Rebbe’s headquarters), this was a major opportunity to have some “private time” with the Rebbe, and I made sure to be there early and assume my place in line. I found myself behind a very nice man who was clearly of Sefardi tradition. We spoke awhile and he shared with me that he was a Yemenite Jew living in Brooklyn who made an effort to see the Rebbe of Lubavitch whenever possible. We stood on line for about an hour before finding ourselves in the Rebbe’s chambers about to receive lekach and a blessing from him.

My new friend was now up and stood in front of the Rebbe. In keeping with his Sefardi tradition, he instinctively sought to take the Rebbe’s hand to kiss it (a well known practice among many Sefardi Jews when greeting a great Torah sage and personality). Suddenly however, my friend withdrew in response to verbal and some light physical pressure that was suddenly thrust on him from some of the young “organizers” that were “helping out” the Rebbe.

They felt they were doing the Rebbe a big favor by zealously discouraging anything that was not in keeping with the Chabad tradition. Even though there were many occasions where Sefardi leaders and Jews did in fact kiss the Rebbe’s hand, it was not a custom of Chabad and might be seen as inappropriate amongst the “passionate” followers of the Rebbe. The Rebbe was clearly frustrated by this misplaced display of “righteous fervor” and the following fascinating and penetrating lesson unfolded.

As this Sfardi man responded to the pressure and retracted his hands that had reached out to kiss the hand of the Rebbe (in an effort to simply behave like everyone else), the Rebbe engaged him with a penetrating look and said, “Nu?” The Rebbe himself then extended his right hand back to the man, who then took it and kissed it.

The Rebbe then smiled at him, while all around registered what the Rebbe had just taught us. It was not only about the Rebbe insuring that another human being should not be embarrassed, but it was a critical message to validate the importance and bona-fide of a minhag klal Yisroel (established custom of the Jewish people) , even though not the personal custom of the Rebbe or Chabad.

This is why you see the Rebbe looking at the gentleman so intently while kissing his hand. The Rebbe wanted him to practice his tradition as a Sefardi Jew and to do so with joy, with passion and with completeness.

A Jewish custom and tradition is a holy thing. Through this encounter I had, the Rebbe certainly taught me, at least, that as we love our fellow Jews and draw them near, we must respect other Jewish traditions and practices, clearly understanding that they are not to become subject to our own personal interpretation or cultural whim and wham.

My father was of course right: the essence of the Rebbe served to show us who we are as Jews, not just what to do as Jews.

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Unique Letter to Professor Luchins

Torah and philosophy. How does the wisdom of our Sages differ from that of a modern-day secular scholar? Or do all “great minds” think alike? The following is an insightful letter to Dr. Abraham Luchins, famed American Gestalt psychologist and pioneer of group therapy, in which the Rebbe decries the ethics seriously lacking within western thought, versus the moral clarity of Torah.

With special thanks to his son, Dr. David Luchins, professor of American politics and international relations and founding dean of Touro’s Lander College for Women, for the letter and to Rabbi Ephraim Mintz, director of the Jewish Learning Institute.

The Rebbe Archive would like to present a photo of the Rebbe seeing off the thousands of guests who came to spend the month of Tishrei with him of 1961.

Good Shabbos

By the Grace of G-d
14 Teves 5731
Brooklyn, NY

Prof. & Mrs. Abraham S. Luchins
53 Fordham Court
Albany, NY 12209

Greeting & Blessing:

This is to thank you for Vols. II and III of Wertheimer’s Seminars Revisited, which I have just received. While I have had no time as yet to look into them more closely, I have thumbed through the pages. In doing so, I was again reminded of the saying of our Sages to the effect that “if anyone says the nations of the world have a Torah, do not believe it; but if one says that they have science, do believe it.”

In fact, I had occasion to discuss the subject at the farbrengen. The point of the said statement is that in the non-Jewish world it is possible to find outstanding thinkers and philosophers who might find solutions to the various problems confronting humanity, yet they can go through the process of thinking with complete detachment, so that the solutions which they come up with remains theoretical, and do not touch upon their own lives. Indeed, the thinker or philosopher or scientist might, in his personal life, act quite contrary to the high moral and ethical concepts which he expounds.

It is quite different in regard to our Torah, which is our wisdom and science in the eyes of the nations. For to us Torah means teaching and guidance (from the word horo’o), that is to say, that it penetrates and permeates our lives. This is because it has the power to compel, as it were, the Torah student and follower to translate the solution which it provides into practical deed. It gives the Torah Jew the strength to resist and subjugate the yetzer hara, as our Sages of blessed memory express it: barati yetzer hara, berati Torah tavlin (“I have created the yetzer hara, but I have also created the Torah as an antidote”).

With all good wishes for your hatzlocho in your work, as well as in your good influence to spread and strengthen the light of the Torah and mitzvoth to the utmost of your capacities.

With blessing,

P.S. I was pleasantly surprised to see in the press that your son actively participated in the Convention of the Union of Orthodox Congregations in Washington.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Rebbetzin Chana's Moving Memories

The Rebbe’s mother Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson, whose Yahrzeit is 6 Tishrei, was an extraordinary woman—a true helpmate to the Rebbe’s father Rav Levi Yitzchok Schneerson during the dark years of the Soviet regime. The Avner Institute would like to present a gripping anecdote from her memoirs in which she describes her husband’s commitment to observe the Tishrei holidays of 1934 in those terrible times, and his influence.

The Rebbe Archive would like to present a beautiful photo of the Rebbe, with special thanks to Mendy Heyward.

Good Shabbos

In her diary, Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson, remembers the profound dedication and Mesiras Nefesh of her Husband that took place during the Month of Tishrei 1934:

"By this year only two shuls remained in our city Yekatrinoslav. One of these had been founded and was being attended by a group of workingmen. The gabbai [caretaker] was a tailor, the treasurer a shoemaker. Precisely for this reason, that it housed a congregation of manual laborers—proletariats—it had not been seized by the Communists. It was in this shul that my husband the Rav prayed.

Once the Rav affiliated himself with this congregation, many other people joined as well. As most of these newcomers were from higher levels of society, it became somewhat difficult for the administrators of the shul to carry out their functions. Even so, they had to remain in their positions to ensure that there would be exclusively a "rule by the proletariat." (Indeed, I could relate many amusing incidents from their term of office, but it would be out of place here.)

The administrators asserted that they felt small and insignificant in the presence of the Rav, and they accorded him great respect. Although they had not been acquainted with him previously, once they came to know him they recognized that he was a person of noble character who was not at all part of the bourgeoisie—therefore a man whom they could trust completely.

By this time there were very few professional cantors in Russia. Those men who had strong and pleasant voices, who were able to carry a tune, and who knew well the mode of the liturgy would hire themselves out to lead the prayer-services for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

Most of these men had government positions and were therefore entitled to a month's vacation each year which they would strive to have coincide with the month of festivals, Tishrei. Then they would leave their homes to be employed in cities other than their own.

In their prayers they would give vent to all the emotions that had built up in their hearts over the course of the year. These cantors were paid very well, but in secret; to avoid the exorbitant tax levied on religious functionaries, their salaries were officially recorded as the bare minimum.

One day, two such gentlemen came to Yekatrinoslav. The first, Mr. Lieber, was a highly-regarded opera singer. His clothes resembled those of a theater performer. However, he was a Jew of illustrious ancestry, a descendant of the Maggid of Mezritch, successor of the Baal Shem Tov. He occasionally related stories that he had heard for his grandfather and other Chassidic stories too, but he would tell them in a halting, awkward manner.

The second, whose appearance was closer to that of a typical cantor, was employed as an accountant for a government company. He was knowledgeable of Torah and an offspring of the well-known rabbinical family Shapiro of Slavitta.

These two candidates declared that a proper Jewish atmosphere for prayer was of the utmost importance to them. Therefore, when the reputation of Rabbi Schneerson reached them, they decided to travel to Yekatrinoslav. Upon arrival, they immediately went to see the Rav and requested his advice on how to do well in this profession, as well as how to best utilize their talents to inspire people and strengthen their Jewish consciousness, an identity that the government was determined to eradicate.

The Rav discussed with them their concerns and invited them to Yekatrinoslav for the month of Tishrei to lead the prayers in his shul during the Days of Awe and the festival of Sukkot. Words are inadequate to describe the special mood and the overwhelming spiritual outpouring which pervaded the congregation during the Days of Awe that year, a result of the influence of the Rav and those two cantors.

On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur a considerable number of the members had to be present at their places of employment. The Rav arranged a special service for them that began very early in the morning, in order that by eight o'clock they would have completed the morning prayers and be on their way.

On Yom Kippur all of these people returned to the shul immediately after work and arrived just in time for the closing prayer, Neilah. By then the synagogue was so packed with people that many were forced to pray outside in the street. Weak from the twenty-four hour fast, weary from having walked great distances, and full of sorrow from having had to work on these holiest of days, these Jews stood, crushed in spirit, and prayed from the depths of their broken hearts.

All of these congregants were grateful to the Rav for having made the special efforts which enabled them to pray communally. For his part, he would cry bitterly whenever he discussed the situation with them. On the other hand, he was pleased by their tremendous spiritual arousal. With joy and amazement he would exclaim, "See, this is a Jew!"

When Yom Kippur ended, it was always difficult for him to return to a regular weekday existence. Instead, he would break his fast with a glass of tea and sit and talk until late at night with the many visitors who came to be with him and hear his words during those hours. His discussions would deal primarily with the exalted nature of the Jewish soul and the extraordinary power of self-sacrifice that is hidden in every Jew.

The same scene would be repeated on Simchat Torah. Anyone who wished to truly enjoy the festival would make sure to pass by our house as soon as darkness fell. Young people—with whom the government was even stricter in religious matters—would also arrive, each trying his best to not be seen entering the building. When they entered, the Rav would speak with each one personally; after a short time, they would forget about which country they were living in and the lives that they led there.

Professor Herman Branover & The Rebbe

While many Jews might eschew Western science, the Rebbe saw its enormous potential and its amazing compatibility with Torah thought. The Avner Institute would like to present a dialogue, recorded 20 years ago, with Prof. Yirmiyahu (Herman) Branover, famed scientist and refusenik, who relied on the Rebbe’s professional guidance and sophisticated knowledge.

The Rebbe Archive would like to present a charming photo of the Rebbe distributing lekach (honey cake) during the month of Tishrei 5734/1973. With special thinks to Mendy Heyward.

Good Shabbos

Professor Yirmiyahu (Herman) Branover, born in Riga, Latvia, is a world-renowned authority on magneto-hydrodynamics. While in Russia, Professor Branover's research in this field had won him an international reputation. When Professor Branover applied for an emigration visa to Israel his career in the Soviet Union ended. He was dismissed from the Academy of Sciences in Riga and prevented from continuing his research.

During this time, he was exposed to Chasidic philosophy by members of the Lubavitch underground. When he finally emigrated from the USSR to Israel in 1972, he was a fully observant Jew.

After making aliyah, Professor Branover was in constant demand as a lecturer on the subject of science and Torah. Campus audiences around the globe flocked to hear an acclaimed scientist reconcile his belief in the Torah with the supposed conflicts in modern science.

"In the winter of 1973," relates Professor Branover, "I was on a lecture tour in the United States. Shortly before I lectured at the University of Pennsylvania, I was privileged to have a private meeting with the Rebbe, Among other matters, I mentioned the trip to Philadelphia. The Rebbe commented: 'During your stay in Philadelphia, introduce yourself to a local professor who has an interest in your field.'

"The Rebbe's statement baffled me. I was well acquainted with the names of American scientists involved in magneto-hydrodynamics. I was certain there was no one in my field in Philadelphia.

"I traveled to Philadelphia and the emissary there convinced me that we should visit two universities and check the faculties. After hours of searching, we were introduced to Professor Hsuan Yeh, who was clearly knowledgeable in magneto-hydrodynamics.
"Professor Yeh told me: 'In six weeks there will be a Magneto-Hydrodynamic Energy Convention at Stanford University in California. I will insist that you be added to the list of lecturers.'

"I appreciated the professor's offer, but declined; we were anxious to return to Israel. I returned to New York. Just before leaving, I wrote the Rebbe a report of our trip to Philadelphia, mentioning my encounter with Professor Yeh. The Rebbe advised me to reschedule my plans and to accept the invitation, for the convention presented an important opportunity.

"My wife and I were taken by surprise. However, we were acquainted enough with the Rebbe to value his advice. I called Professor Yeh, who was happy to arrange for me to deliver a lecture.

"The significance of my participation became rapidly clear. I met two representatives of the Office of Naval Research who had read about my work and were prepared to finance further research. They added, 'We understand that you want to establish your laboratory in Israel. We are willing to provide you with funds for your work there.'
"As a result, I set up a laboratory in Beersheva, which has enjoyed worldwide recognition for its magneto-hydrodynamics research. My contract with the Navy has been renewed six times. I couldn't have imagined how far-reaching the Rebbe's advice would be. This year marks 20 years since the Stanford convention. My project has been awarded a 15-million dollar grant by the U.S. government for further research and development of this energy technology."

Professor Branover frequently briefs the Rebbe on his various research projects. In one report, he presented a very sophisticated study built upon extensive calculations that had been prepared by computer. As he reviewed the details, the Rebbe remarked:
"Two numbers here are inconsistent."

Professor Branover was stunned. "But all the calculations were done by computer and the program used is based on the most advanced theory we have."

The Rebbe smiled. "With all due respect to the experts, you will see that there is an error."

It took Professor Branover's research team six months to discover that some of the data entered in the computer's database was faulty.
"In the spring of 1985, I received word that the Rebbe requested to speak to me," relates Professor Branover. "I arrived at 770 as soon as I could. The Rebbe greeted me and informed me of his desire that I relay the message to various persons in Russia.

"The Rebbe unraveled the precise details of the unbelievable change that was going to take place in Russia. With Mikhail Gorbachev's ascent to power, a new era of openness and freedom would begin, the Rebbe prophesied. And waves of Russian Jews would emigrate to Israel.

"If I had heard these words from anyone but the Rebbe, I would have dismissed them as fantasy. As such, I was neither surprised nor offended when the various people in Russia whom I contacted were skeptical. 'Are you sure this is exactly what the Rebbe said?' they asked. And, may I add, these were people who were directing all the Lubavitch underground activities in Russia.

"It was simply that the Rebbe's prediction seemed so far-fetched. In the spring of 1985, newspapers had published front-page articles predicting that Gorbachev's government would follow a Communist hard-line. This was felt even more powerfully by people who were living in the then Soviet Union.

"When I related the response from Russia to the Rebbe, he requested that I contact them once again, assuring them that these changes would indeed take place. The realization of the Rebbe's words is now history.

“In 1992, when Mikhail Gorbachev visited Israel, we were introduced and I told him what the Rebbe had said seven years earlier.

“Gorbachev was stunned. 'When I assumed power in 1987,' he told me, 'I myself did not have the slightest idea which direction this would take. I had no concrete plan. I would like to meet this man who knew so much about the direction I and my country would follow.'"

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,


Sunday, August 8, 2010

"I am not Asking you For a Check"

Dear Readers.

With thanks to Hashem we would like to announce the birth of our twin baby Boys,May they be a true source of 'Nachas' to us all, and may we continue to only share blessings and happy occasions with one another.

The Rebbe Archive would like to present a First–Time Released Photo of the Rebbe, as well as a Transcript of a meeting that the The Young Leadership Cabinet of the UJA federation had with the Rebbe about the importance of giving children a proper Jewish Education. with special thanks to Mendy Hayward.

Good Shabbos

From a transcript published by the Young Leadership Cabinet after their meeting with the Rebbe:

"There is a special goal which takes priority over all others and that is education. By educating people you are preparing the young leadership of tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. Education is not a question of making someone who is not so learned, more learned, someone who is not fluent, more fluent, someone who is not charitable to become charitable or more charitable. Education now is a question of saving a soul, saving a human being for the Jewish people. And saving him even for humanity.

Taking into account that a child is someone whose need for education must be met at the first opportunity possible-money can be borrowed now and paid tomorrow or a year from tomorrow. Even if you have no money already in cash or in pledges it is the first priority and the first duty and the first obligation of every Jew who can do something in this realm to invest it in education.

I am not asking you for a check,what I am asking is that every one of you, before asking someone for a check tomorrow, to become more Jewish than today by adding at least one mitzvah in your personal life, in your private life and in the life of your family. And, in addition, and I know this from my personal experience, I am now seventy years old and nevertheless I hope that tomorrow morning, I will be a better Jew than today. Performing a mitzvah in your private life as a private person-has an immediate impact on your communal activities"

"The Rebbe is always Tired"

“Rebbetzin Chana,” obm, mother of the of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, was a heroine in her own right. A staunch helpmate to her exiled husband during the Stalinist regime, she was reunited years later, in postwar Paris, with her son, and was successfully brought to the U.S. She settled in Crown Heights, where she lovingly supported her son’s activities, and where the Rebbe tended to her faithfully until her death. The Avner Institute would like to present a charming encounter told by Mrs. Slonim from Jerusalem who merited to meet with the Rebbe’s mother on several occasions.

The Rebbe Archive would like to present a beautiful photo of the Rebbe, With special thanks to Rabbi Mendy Hayward.

Good Shabbos

Mrs. Slonim relates:

"In 1960, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Rebbe’s leadership, I traveled to New York. Upon my arrival Rabbi Hodakov, the Rebbe's secretary, asked me to address the annual Chabad Women's (N’shei Chabad) convention, which coincided with my visit.

Entering the convention hall, I immediately noticed Rebbetzin Chana, the Rebbe's revered mother, motioning with her hand that I should approach her. The Rebbetzin, who knew me from previous visits, looked at me after I had reached her, and confronted me. “You've been here for a while, and you still haven't called to say hello? Please get in touch with me, so we can make a date to meet.” A date was decided upon: Wednesday, at four o’clock my husband and I were to visit the Rebbetzin at her home.

Arriving at her Brooklyn apartment, we were greeted by the Rebbetzin’s legendary graciousness, as she had us sit down, trying to ensure that we would be at ease. Despite her courteous efforts, we nevertheless felt uncomfortable, aware that the Rebbe could walk in anytime while we were there. Discerning the cause of our discomfort, she assured us that the Rebbe, informed of the expected guests, had already visited and would not return during their visit.
As we began to relax, she told us several fascinating episodes from the Rebbe's childhood. I remember one of the incredible stories:

Once, when the Rebbe was a small child, people came to his mother’s home to partake in seudah shlishit, the third meal of Shabbos, after which the Shabbos is over. When the participants, wondering if Shabbos had not yet ended, inquired about the time, the Rebbe had simply looked, through the window, at the stars and told them the exact time.

This is just one of the stories the Rebbetzin shared with us. She also confided in us her worries over her son’s health, since the Rebbe was always so tired and busy.

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Moving Visit to The Jewish Community in Jamaica.

The Caribbean, once a refuge and vibrant center for Jewish life, became, literally, a Jewish graveyard in the end. How did the Rebbe predict what would come? The Avner Institute would like to present a fascinating yechidus with Mr. Marcus Retter in the fall of 1957, after a visit that he made to Jamaica, where he expressed to the Rebbe his dream to recreate the island’s Jewish community. Sadly, the Rebbe would prove him wrong. With special thanks to Chabad of Riverdale.

The Rebbe Archive would like to present a photo of the Rebbe, with special thanks to Rabbi Moshe Goldstein.

Good Shabbos

Mr. Retter relates:

"I was privileged to meet privately with the Rebbe in 1957 and in 1963, at a time when yechidut (private audiences) were rarely granted. The first time, I spent almost two hours with the Rebbe, on the second visit almost an hour.

In the fall of 1957, my appointment was scheduled for ten o'clock in the evening, but it was after 11 p.m. when I was actually admitted. Outside, there were at least a dozen people waiting who had expected my visit with the Rebbe to last no more than ten minutes. But it was not so. In fact, during my stay, the Rebbe received several reminders on the intercom from his secretaries that the "visitor" had overstayed his allotted time, and that people were waiting. The Rebbe responded by saying, "I know, I know, it won't take much longer."

After receiving my note and giving over his blessings for "spiritual and physical health" and success, the Rebbe, who had insisted that I sit down (I always stood when received by Rebbes elsewhere), turned his rich blue eyes towards me, exuding warmth and kindness, the likes of which I had never experienced. The Rebbe then asked whether I would prefer to speak to him in English or in “Mamme loshen (Yiddish).” He smiled when I responded in the latter language.

I felt at ease addressing the Rebbe and said that I had not come with a private request, but rather the need to communicate to him a matter in which he might be interested. He immediately corrected me by saying, "Not communicate, but share information."

After such an encouraging start, I reported to the Rebbe that I had just returned from an important visit to Jamaica, then a British colony in the West Indies, where I had stayed for four weeks and where I had met with several Jewish families, mostly assimilated Sephardim, as well as the rabbi of the Kingston Jewish community. I told the Rebbe that there were 400 Jewish families on the island and a synagogue in Kingston. But, the rabbi, although an Ashkenazi from England, paid no attention to the British Chief Rabbinate, claiming that it had no jurisdiction over a Sephardic community in the Commonwealth, despite its nominal affiliation with the Council of the United Hebrew Congregations of the slowly disintegrating British Empire. I further reported to the Rebbe that there were 30 or 40 Jewish children whose religious education was less than minimal.

The climax of this sad situation was what I saw in the Jewish section of the cemetery in Spanishtown, the former capital of Jamaica and the former center of Jewish life and communal activity. I showed the Rebbe several inscriptions of 300-year-old gravestones which were evidence that there had been vibrant Jewish life in Jamaica. The names Sosa, Setton, and Shalom appeared on a number with the description of the deceased as "Zakein V'Yoshev B'Yeshiva" (elderly and one who studied in depth), manhig (leader) and gaon (great scholar) of the community. The Rebbe knew of all of these Sephardic gaonim who lived in Jamaica centuries ago, and he told me how they had come there.

I told the Rebbe that a community with such a religious background and great history was about to disappear in complete assimilation, and that maybe something could be done. The rabbi in Jamaica had instructed his flock that kashrut was no longer operative because the laws of hygiene rendered it superfluous and that a blood-soaked beefsteak was healthy and nourishing. I had heard all of these statements from the rabbi's own mouth. Of course, there was no mohel in Jamaica, but the Jewish families (most of whom were wealthy) imported one from Panama every so often to perform several brissim on the same day.

The Rebbe told me that he was aware of all these facts, and that he knew the names of the leading Jewish families in Jamaica, but that Jamaica was not a fertile ground and could not be cultivated. Nevertheless, within one month, the Rebbe sent two emissaries there and had kosher meat imported from Miami and a mohel in Panama be available at all times. These emissaries brought over five boys to the United States to study in the Lubavitcher Yeshiva in Brooklyn.

During the course of my meeting, I was amazed to learn that the Rebbe had full knowledge of the political and economic conditions in Jamaica. The Rebbe knew all about the internal struggle between Sir Alexander Bustamente and his cousin and political rival Victor Manley. The Rebbe predicted that within a decade or so Jamaica would become an independent republic, "for a while steeped in the law," but soon to adopt the socialist and leftist path that would wreak havoc with the economy. He said that gradually the Jewish population would emigrate to Israel and Latin America, some to England, and that only the tombstones would remain as a monument to the Jewish community that disappeared because there was no influx of vital Judaism from Europe. The Rebbe was right.

Towards the end of the meeting, the Rebbe asked where I had been during the war, and he was particularly interested in hearing about the late Lord Wedgewood, for whom I had worked in the History of Parliament Committee. The Rebbe had firsthand in formation on every minute detail of the Jewish communities in England and predicted that Orthodox Jewish life would flourish there.

In 1963, six years later, when once again I was privileged to be received by the Rebbe, the Rebbe recalled all the details we had "shared," to use his language, in the course of our first meeting. At the time I asked for some personal advice, which the Rebbe gave me. I did exactly as the Rebbe told me. I never regretted it. To this very day, I practice what the Rebbe told me to do.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Rabbi Yosef Weinberg's Visit to Chicago & a New Photo.

What is a Jewish soul? Can it ever be tainted? The Avner Institute would like to present an insightful conversation that took place when Rabbi Yosef Weinberg, a famed Chabad Chassid who was sent by the Rebbe and the Previous Rebbe on various missions throughout the world, came to Chicago, on orders of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, to pay a visit to a Jew of Chabad lineage.

The Rebbe Archive would like to present a first-time released photo of the Rebbe at a children’s rally on Rosh Chodesh Av, 5742/1982. The children pictured are Chesky Holtzberg, who is standing in front of his brother Yudah. Special thanks to Chesky Holtzberg for sending the picture.

Good Shabbos

Rabbi Weinberg relates:

"Before he had left New York, the Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Y. Schneerson O.B.M., asked Rabbi Levitin to pay a personal visit to a Mr. Listner, a wealthy Jewish businessman in Chicago and a descendant of a prestigious Chassidic family. “ Send him my warm regards and blessings.” The Rebbe said

At the train station in Chicago, Rabbi Yosef Wineberg, then a young man, was waiting to greet Rabbi Levitin. As he stepped off of the train, one of the first questions Rabbi Levitin asked of Rabbi Wineberg was, “ Do you know Charles Listner?”

“Most definitely,” responded Wineberg.

“ Where can I meet up with him – which synagogue does he attend?” asked Rabbi Levitin.

Rabbi Wineberg, never to be at loss for words, responded with a smile, “ I can tell you which Synagogue he should attend, but I don’t think that’s the place you’ll find him. ”

A day or so later, Rabbi Levitin and Mr. Listner met in the businessman’s office. The welcome was very warm, and Listner was especially touched and inspired by the personal regards from the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

The conversation flowed easily, and at the end of the visit, Listner reached for his checkbook and asked, “ To which organization shall I address my contribution?”

“No one,” said Rabbi Levitin. “ Put away the checkbook because I did not come for a donation. Even if you will give me, I will not take.”

“ But why else would an elderly Rabbi come all the way from New York? Just to enjoy a cold drink in my office?” responded the surprised Listner.

“Let me explain it like this.” Rabbi Levitin began.

In the Old Country, there were many small Jewish communities spread all over the countryside. Each community had their own Synagogue, Torah scrolls, and other religious articles.

All Torah scrolls, Mezuzahs, and Tefillin are hand written with ink on parchment by a scribe and periodically checked for flaws – which then need to be fixed by the qualified scribe.

The smaller communities in Europe couldn’t generate enough work to support a permanent scribe, so it became common to see traveling, or wandering scribes who fixed, and rewrote erased letters and patched up these holy works.

“ Every Jew, Mr. Listner,” Rabbi Levitin continued, “ is a living Torah Scroll.”

There are sometimes when some “letters” of our Judaism get a little bit “rubbed off”, and we lose touch with some Mitzvot. I guess you can consider me one of the traveling scribes. My goal is to provide a little spiritual ink, a dab of inspiration and a brush of warmth to our intimate connection with G-d.”

Listner was deeply moved by this parable and Rabbi Levitin returned to New York. There he shared what he had said with the Rebbe, expecting positive acknowledgment for his innovative example. But to his surprise the Rebbe was silent.

Worried, he asked, “ Did I say something incorrect? Doesn’t the Talmud compare a Jew to a Sefer Torah?”

“Yeh,” responded the Rebbe warmly in Yiddish. “ But there is one big difference.”
The Torah is written with ink on parchment, two separate entities combined into one. The ink could be erased or rubbed off. But the Jew? The Jew is like a Torah Scroll but with engraved letters. The Torah is engraved in his heart, and on his soul. When letters are engraved, as were the Ten Commandments on the two Tablets, it is impossible for them to be rubbed off or separated in any way.

“At times a little dust can accumulate and cover the letters. ” Here the Rebbe picked up on the parable and concluded, “ Then, the job of the “wandering scribe” is to help brush off some dust. Instantly the letters will shine.”

As I sat at the conference and listened to this account, I found a new meaning for the term “engraving.”

Each and every one of us is a “scribe” with the ability to refresh dusty souls, but perhaps before we search for someone else’s dust, let’s begin with our own.

Friday, July 2, 2010

What Inspired Jimmy Carter?

The following is a profound letter from the Rebbe to a philanthropist involved in Jewish causes in New York and Israel. The Rebbe describes his thoughts on the Jewish Diaspora and the exciting Kiddush Hashem made by Israeli Prime Minster Menachem Begin at the White House, July 1977, during his meeting with President Carter.

The Rebbe Archive would like to present a photo from the historic visit of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin with the Rebbe, This meeting took place prior to Begin’s trip to Washington. Special thanks for the photo goes to Dan Patir, who served as adviser to two of Israel’s prime ministers.

Good Shabbos

By the Grace of G-d
17 Menachem Av 5737
Brooklyn, NY

Greeting and Blessing:

Thank you for your letter of July 22. I am pleased to note that you recall our discussion. However, your inference from the recent black-out in support of your thesis is debatable.

At any rate, following the example of your letter, I will also make reference to a recent event in support of my position. I have in mind the visit of Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and no doubt you also had an opportunity of meeting him and have evaluated the results of his visit to the USA.

One of the obvious elements of the Prime Minister’s visit is that it has demonstrated once again how vitally important it is for our people in the Holy Land to have strong and viable Jewish communities in the outside world. For, however important aliyah is, it would be a mixed blessing if it were to erode the Jewish voice and influence in such strategically important countries as the USA and others.

And speaking of the importance of Jewish communities in the Diaspora, the emphasis is not merely on numbers as they appear in a national census, but also and primarily on the quality of the Jewish population and leadership, namely, the extent to which Jews identify themselves with Jewishness and Jewish causes. Here again, as I pointed out in our discussion, it is not enough just to write a check—however indispensable financial assistance is, but it must be a more meaningful identification and personal commitment, touching deeply every Jew and reflecting in his daily life as a Jew.

Such identification is not limited to the home and synagogue or when one is in the society of fellow Jews, but it must be evident everywhere, even among non-Jews, and even in the White House, with truly Jewish self-respect and avowed trust in G-d, the Guardian of Israel, and with pride in our Jewish heritage and traditions—as was so eminently expressed in word and deed by Prime Minister Begin. It is the general consensus that this worthy deportment of the Jewish representative during his first encounter with the President of the USA had an immensely favorable impact and has established a personal rapport between the two leaders which will hopefully have far-reaching beneficial results also in terms of American support.

I trust you have followed closely the highlights and details of this visit and compared it with those of his predecessors. Here, for the first time, came a Jewish Prime Minister who declared in a loud and clear voice that he comes strengthened by the prayers of his fellow Jews at home and abroad and trusts in G-d and the security of his people that his mission will be successful. And, as you surely know, when he sat down to break bread with President Carter, he made sure that it would be a kosher meal, and as he put on a yarmulke and made a bracha and explained to the President the meaning of it. All of which has earned him the respect and admiration of the President and of all others who came in contact with him. Even from a pragmatic statesmanlike viewpoint this approach is bound to be a sure winner, though, regretfully, it had not been recognized by his predecessors.

To conclude on the concluding note of your letter, may G-d bless you with strength and wisdom to use your good offices and influence in the said direction, especially in view of your prominent position in the Jewish community.
With kind regards, and with esteem and blessing,