This week, we present a letter from the Rebbe in which he encourages the recipient to adhere to the true and tested path of Torah and mitzvos – without having to investigate the worthiness of doing so. Making changes in life is not easy – but we are up to the task, just as our father Avraham, in our parsha, was able to break away from his environment and accustomed way of living in order to attain the “Promised Land.” The letter, written originally in English, is from the archives of the Rebbe’s trusted secretary Rabbi Nissan Mindel.
Mr. __________ 5732
San Francisco, California
Greeting and Blessing:
This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter and enclosure. In your letter you write about your background and some of your views and feelings.
I was gratified to note that you are doing all you can to advance in the way of our Torah and mitzvot, the Jewish way of life, as it has been clearly spelled out in the Shulchan Aruch.
It has often been emphasized that in daily life and routine, there are areas, even unimportant ones, where it is necessary to act upon reliance on authority. It is neither logical nor practicable to perform one’s own investigation or experiment, where this has been amply done by experts. Clearly, if a person should decide to investigate and experiment for himself, it is first of all possible that he may not succeed or, what is worse, might even arrive at the wrong conclusion. In any case, there is obviously a waste of time and energy which could be devoted to other and more productive efforts.
Similarly, and even more importantly, is everything in regard to Jewish life, in accordance with the Torah and mitzvot, which have enabled our people to survive in a hostile world over many centuries, while other far greater and more powerful nations have disappeared. At first glance, a person might be inclined to investigate all other possible systems, and decide for himself on the basis of his personal investigation. But, as mentioned above, this would be both illogical and wasteful and might even result in erroneous conclusions–all this in a matter which is of vital importance, since it affects an individual’s entire life. Actually, all that one has to do is to reflect on the long history of our people, and upon doing so without preconceptions and prejudice, one can clearly see that throughout the ages there have been individuals and groups who attempted to deviate from the way of the Torah, seeking their own way, and ending up in one of two ways: either they were completely alienated and assimilated into the non-Jewish environment, or they realized their mistake in time and returned to the Jewish fold and the way of the Torah and mitzvot.
Moreover, reflecting on Jewish history of the past two thousand years and more, one can see that what has united the Jewish people and given them strength to preserve their existence and even flourish under the most adverse circumstances was not their language–for even during the time of the Beit Hamikdash Jews spoke different languages, not to mention the various languages Jews have used in the lands of dispersion–nor was it any other factor, social, cultural or geographic, etc. The only thing that has been a steady and unchangeable denominator is the Jewish way of life in accordance with the Torah and mitzvot: the observance of Shabbat on the seventh day of the week, the laws of kashrut, and all other laws of the Shulchan Aruch as practiced by Jews everywhere and at all times, in accordance with the principle enunciated by our Sages, “The essential thing is the deed,”1 namely, the practice of the mitzvot in the daily life.
A further point to bear in mind is the basic principle in Judaism that the end does not justify the means, contrary to what may be a prevalent misconception in some quarters. The idea that the end justifies the means was a Jesuit slogan, and is abhorrent to the Jewish way, the way of the Torah, which teaches us that to do a mitzvah through a wrongdoing is like reciting a blessing over a stolen thing, which is like adding insult to injury.
In light of the above, the deviations you mention in your letter, which you yourself recognize as being wrong, but consider “justified” because of the good results they may bring–this is in itself contrary to the Torah.
Needless to say, my letter is not intended as a sermon, but is written in the strong hope that the above lines, though comparatively meager in relation to the vital aspects touched upon, will suffice to provide food for thought, and stimulate you to use your utmost influence to strengthen adherence to Torah and mitzvot in your surroundings.
In some cases this would call for a change in the way of life or outlook to which one has been accustomed, and might therefore be considered as difficult to attain; but the effort is certainly worthwhile and attainment is assured.
There is a well-known teaching2 of the Alter Rebbe, founder of Chabad, that the weekly portion of the Torah always contains a timely and practical message for the Jew. Accordingly, we can also find a meaningful lesson in this week’s Sidra, Lech lecha, in relation to the subject under discussion. For the Sidra3 begins with G-d’s directive to Abraham, the first Jew, to leave his land, birthplace and father’s house, in order to come to the land which G-d will show him. Symbolically, this is a call to every Jew who is in similar circumstances, where it is necessary to break away from his environment and accustomed living, in order to attain the “Promised Land.” There is surely no need to elaborate to you on this.
May G-d grant you hatzlachah in your efforts, for we have the assurance that words coming from the heart penetrate the heart and eventually effective, especially when accompanied by a living example.
The above letter is from Volume I of 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.