Weekly Letter: No Adding or Detracting

This week we present a fascinating letter the Rebbe writes in answer to an artist who wishes to add a stone to the Western Wall. In it the Rebbe explains the injunction in Parshas Vo’eschanon (as well as in another parsha) to neither add nor detract from the words of the Torah. The letter, written originally in English, is from the archives of the Rebbe’s trusted secretary Rabbi Nissan Mindel.

By the Grace of G-d

7th of Elul, 5729

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Mrs.

Teaneck, N.J.

Blessing and Greeting:

I am in receipt of your letter. I appreciate very much the sentiments expressed therein in connection with the passing of Rabbi Isaac Schneersohn.

I was particularly impressed to see that you have taken note to the the review of the recently published comprehensive  biography of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad, authored by our Dr. Nissan Mindel. From this I draw the gratifying inference that you follow the Lubavitch activities as reflected in the press.

In this connection I requested the office to send you a complimentary copy to this volume, s I think you will be interested to read it. And although the book deals with the founder of a movement which began about two centuries ago, it is interesting to see how timely its principles and doctrines are also in our day and age.

With blessing,

P.S. In reply to your writing about your desire to place a small carved stone into the Western Wall, my view is as follows:

No doubt you know that each and every word and letter in the Torah is significant. Even in an ordinary book, written by a human author, one does not expect repetition; how much more so in the Divine Torah. Yet, although words are used in the Torah sparingly, we find certain matters repeated which, obviously, indicate their special importance.

One such matter is the injunction neither to add nor detract from the words and commandments of the Torah. This is repeated twice (Deut. 4:2; 13:1). Significant is also the order, namely, (1) not to add and (2) not to detract. For at first glance the transgression would seem much more serious if it involved detraction rather than an addition, and logically the order in the said admonition should have been reversed. Consequently our Commentators explain this as follows: there is a smaller chance for anyone who knows and appreciates holiness to detract from anything holy. On the other hand, because of a strong feeling for holiness a person may wish to add something to it. If the question be asked, what is wrong with that? The same Commentators explain that everything of Divine origin is very exact and must not be tampered with, not only in a way that would diminish it, but also in a way that would add to it, since it would take it out of a specific Divine dimension.  To use a simple illustration, it would be like “gilding the lily,” in an effort to make it look even more beautiful than G-d created it. And because a person may be moved by his natural desire to “add,” the injunction not to do so comes first.

From the above my position in the specific question which you raised will become obvious. The Wall has a sanctity of its own, which has been preserved for thousands of years, serving as a most sacred place for Jews to pray there. Consequently, it is quite understandable that it must not be diminished in any way. By the same token, however, and out to the same sense of piety and appreciation of the holy, nothing should be added to it.

And artist, who is usually particularly sensitive, wi easily appreciate the above. I am sure there is no need to elaborate further.

***

The above letter is from The Letter and the Spirit by Nissan Mindel Publications (NMP).

These letters were written originally in English and were prepared for publication by Rabbi Dr. Nissan Mindel, whose responsibility it was the Rebbe’s correspondence in English and several other languages.

We thank Rabbi Shalom Ber Schapiro, who was entrusted by his father-in-law Rabbi Mindel with his archives and who is Director of the Nissan Mindel Publications (NMP), for making the Rebbe’s letters available to the wider public. May the merit of the many stand him in good stead.

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