Weekly Letter: What Purpose do those with Limited Capacities Serve?

In this weeks letter, The Rebbe responds to the chairman of the “Conference on Issues and Needs of Jewish Retarded” – on the question of “what purpose do those with limited capacities serve?” – where the Rebbe gives a clear explanation and revolutionary suggestions. 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

25th of Teves, 5741

Brooklyn, N.Y.


Brooklyn, N.Y.

Greeting and Blessing:

Thank you very much for your letter and for the Conference kit received separately. I appreciate the trouble you have taken to report to me on the Conference and its recommendations. May G-d grant that the Conference will produce the desired fruits, even in excess of expectations. Especially as the zechus Horabim helps, particularly when the Rabim are, in this case, our Jewish youngsters.

With reference to the question at the conclusion of your letter, raised by a mother, to the effect that if the primary purpose of existence is to fulfill G-d’s commandments; and if a Jew is unable from childhood to carry out any of these commandments because of physical or mental limitations; what then is the purpose or meaning of his/her existence?

The answer to this question must be sought in the context of a more embracing general problem, of which the above is but one of many possible facets.

It should be remembered that according to the Torah itself, it is impossible for every Jew, as an individual, to fulfill all the 613 Mitzvos. Apart from mitzvos which are applicable only in Eretz Yisroel  and during the time that the Beis Hamikdash is in existence, there are mitzvos which are obligatory only to Kohanim for example, while there are mitzvos which a Kohen is precluded from fulfilling.  But by virtue of  the fact that all Jewish people are one entity, like one organism, every individual who fulfills his or her obligations to the extent of their G-d-given capacities, share in the totality of the effort and accomplishment.

A similar principle prevails also in every human society in general, where everyone has to contribute  to the common weal, though each one is necessarily limited in one’s capacities, be one a plain farmer, producing food or a scientist or inventor of farm machinery and the like. One who excels in one’s particular field of endeavor may be limited or useless in another area. Who is to say which one is more important, which one makes a greater contribution?  Only harmonious collaboration and utilization of all human resources make for the utmost completeness and perfection of the society. As for the individual, all that need be said – as indeed our Rabbis have emphasized, is that G-d does not demand of an individual anything that is beyond the individual’s natural capacities. It is not for a human being to question why G-d has endowed one individual with greater capacities than another individual.

To return to the subject of the correspondence, namely, the needs of the special children (or the so-called retarded or developmentally limited, as often spoken of), they are, to be sure, limited in certain areas (and who is not?), but there is no reason nor justification, to generalize all into one and the same category of “limited” or “retarded.” Human experience is replete with examples of individuals who have been severely limited in some aspects, yet they subsequently excelled and made great extraordinary contributions to society in other aspects.

I am quite convinced that if a proper system of aptitude tests were instituted, to determine the particular skills of our special children at an early age and appropriate classes were established to enable them to develop these skills, the results would be enormously gratifying, if not astounding. Needless to say, such an educational method would greatly enhance their self confidence and general development, not to mention also the fact that it would enable them to make an important contribution to society.

With esteem and blessing,


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.


  • 1. Dr Wilkes Coney island wrote:

    This letter is part of a rich correspondence Between the Rebbe and Dr Wilkes
    For more you can check it out on chabad.org search for special needs

  • 2. F.S. wrote:

    Yes, indeed.
    The correspondence that the Rebbe had with Dr. Wilkes was a fascinating and groundbreaking one.

    Volume III of The Letter and the Spirit has one of these letters (in the Education section) – in which the Rebbe outlines, at length, guidelines and advice in the education of those with special needs,

    As in all other areas, we see the Rebbe’s broad, forward looking and all encompassing Torah wisdom – especially as taught in Chassidus.

    F.Schapiro, Editor NMP (Nissan Mindel Publications)


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