Letter and Spirit: An Exchange with Herman Wouk

As a follow up to last week’s edition of Letter and Spirit, we present a letter written by famed Orthodox Jewish author Herman Wouk to the Lubavitcher Rebbe (in response to the letter we published last week), as well as the Rebbe’s subsequent response to him. The Rebbe’s letter was written through his trusted secretary Rabbi Nissan Mindel, and both letters were made available by his son-in-law Rabbi Sholom Ber Shapiro.

This new weekly feature is made possible by a collaboration between CrownHeights.info and Nissan Mindel Publications. Once a week we will be publishing unique letters of the Rebbe that were written originally in the English language, as dictated by the Rebbe to Rabbi Mindel.

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                                                                                                                                      By the Grace of G-d

                                                                                                                                      15th of Av, 5745

                                                                                                                                      Brooklyn, N.Y.

Mr.

Palm Springs, Ca. 92262

Shalom u’Brocho:

Your letter reached me with considerable delay. Thus, by hashgocho protis, your letter, dated on the day of the Chag haGeula of my father-in-law the Rebbe, of saintly memory, is fittingly acknowledged on the auspicious day of the 15th of Av. Both these dates are connected with the dissemination of Torah. It was the cause of the arrest and eventual liberation of my saintly father-in-law under the Stalin regime (1927); while increased Torah study is the main feature of the 15th of Av, as explained at some length at the end of Mesachta Taanis.

This brings me to the paragraph in your letter wherein you refer to “very modest acts” on your part in the field of Torah education. I must challenge this self-assessment on the ground that the record speaks for itself. Moreover, in wide segments of Jewry, especially among American Jews, the impact of your “modest acts” strikes deeper and wider than similar acts of a Rabbi or Rebbe (myself included) could attain, for obvious reasons.

Incidentally, it is well to remember an admonition by my father-in-law to the effect that a person should not underestimate one’s achievements, since only then will one generate the inner incentive and drive to achieve the fullest utilization of one’s total capacities.

For the sake of a mutual consensus, I am prepared to accept your claim of “very modest acts” – in a relative sense, in terms of your potential and future acts, which will dwarf your past accomplishments by comparison. Indeed, this is a natural human aspiration, as our Sages assure us in the well-known adage: ”Whoever has 100 desires 200; and, (attaining) 200 (will not be satisfied with the increment of another 100, but desires double) – 400. And so forth in geometric-progression.

Me’inyan l’inyan. Some time ago I noticed in the JTA Bulletin an item about another “modest act” of yours, namely your involvement in a project to publish the Chumash in Braille. I do not have it on hand, so I am relying on memory. Needless to say, it’s a great zechus.

In light of the famous teaching of the Baal Shem Tov that anything that comes to the eyes or ears of an individual contains some personal message to the beholder or listener, I take the liberty – though I do not usually take such liberties – of volunteering a suggestion. I feel certain that whether you take it or leave it, you will surely accept it in the proper spirit.

My suggestion – that is all it is – is that you consider including in the said project the publication in Braille of the section of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch in English that deals with the month of Tishrei, with the preparations for it in the latter part of Elul. The need for it requires no elaboration to you, and if it is to be implemented without undue delay, there is time, I believe to have it done in good time before Rosh Hashanah הבעל”ט.

Should this suggestion be approved and acted upon, then – in keeping with Ps. 119:63 – I would like to participate in it with a financial contribution which I leave to your assessment, since I am not familiar with the actual costs involved in the publication and distribution of such an item in Braille. I will look forward to your response on this matter.

To conclude on the auspicious note of the 15th of Av, may Hashem grant the fulfillment, for you and all of us in the midst of Klal Yisrael, of the assurance of our Sages z’l כל המוסיף מוסיפין לו.

                                                                      With esteem and blessing,

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The above letters are from the archives of Rabbi Dr. Nissan Mindel, a personal secretary to the Previous Rebbe and The Rebbe, whose responsibilities included the Rebbe’s correspondence in English.

Many of the letters are now being published in The Letter and the Sprit, a series of volumes by Nissan Mindel Publications.

We thank Rabbi Sholom Ber Shapiro, director of Nissan Mindel Publications and the one entrusted by Rabbi Mindel, his father-in-law, with his archives, for making these letters available to the wider public. May the merit of the many stand him in good stead.

5 Comments

  • 2. Herman Wouk "This is My G-d" wrote:

    “This is My G-d” was the first book I ever read about authentic Torah Judaism. It was only due to this book that I began my “search for truth” and found Chabad and the Rebbe back in 1972.

    If I am correct I think Mr. Wouk states in the introduction of this book that he wrote the book to answer questions of a friend who was not as observant nor as educated as he was. So from this can we assume it was the Rebbe who encouraged him to write this venerable classic???

    Reply
  • 3. Gershon Beck wrote:

    heart warming. Simply beautiful !
    Thank you for publishing these letters.

    Keep up the great work

    Reply
  • 4. Herman Wouk wrote:

    I read “This is my G-d”, an incredible book, all incredible works somehow always end up associated with our Rebbe:)

    Reply
  • 5. Eliyahu wrote:

    Nu so in the end did Mr Wouk do as the Rebbe suggests and publish a shulchan aruch in Braille dealing on the month of tishrei ?

    Does anyone know the outcome of this ?

    Yasher Koach

    Reply

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