In celebrating Yud Tes Kislev this Shabbos, we share an interesting letter of the Rebbe to an author of a newspaper article about the Old Rebbe – in which the Rebbe corrects some inaccuracies. This letter is from volume 5 of The Letter and The Spirit.
By the Grace of G-d
Greeting and Blessing:
Thank you very much for your letter enclosing your article on the Founder of Chabad, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, whose 150th Yartzeit Anniversary is being celebrated this year, and inviting my comments.
First of all, I want to congratulate you on succeeding to compress highlights of the Old Rebbe and his shitta into so little space. I trust, however, that you will find the opportunity to elaborate on this and the the newspaper will permit you more adequate space for such an important topic which is of particular interest to our day and age. Indeed, the interest in the Old Rebbe and his shitta has been particularly lively among the widest circles of Jewry everywhere. A newspaper, which surely desires to serve the interests of the community, should be willing to provide adequate space for such a subject. I am not familiar with this newspaper, or with its policy, but we are taught to judge everyone and everything in the scale of merit.
In compliance with your request, and especially because of the importance of the subject matter, I will refer to some of the points in our article, even some that may seem “minor”, with a view to rectifying them.
- At the beginning of your article, you write that the Old Rebbe changed his mind “on the way” to Meseritch. This is not accurate, since he had decided to go to Meseritch before he set on his way. It may seem a minor point, but actually it is not, for it indicates that the turning point in his life came after due deliberation.
- You describe how the Maggid of Meserich inspired the Old Rebbe. In this connection, it is characteristic to note how the inspiration came about inasmuch as it has to do with the basic aspect of Chabad.
It happened when a complicated shaala came before the Maggid and his disciples, at which the Old Rebbe was present. The Maggid tremendously impressed the Old Rebbe by the way he dealt with this shaala, analyzed all its intricacies and substantiated his reasons before declaring the psak din. The profundity of the Maggid’s knowledge in Talmud and halacha so impressed young but scholarly Schneur Zalman, that he decided to remain in Meserich and become the Maggid’s disciple for the rest of his life.
- You mention that Rabbi Yaakov Yosef “relinquished his Talmudic background” to become a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov. This, again, is not very accurate, for even after he became the Baal Shem Tov’s disciple, he not only retained his Rabbinic position, but aldo indulged in halachic discourse in his works.
His sharp critique was directed against the conduct of certain Rabbis who used their Rabbinic positions and Talmudic scholarship in a way that was no becoming to their station. But this is not a matter that can be entered into here.
- You state that the Old Rebbe negated the concept of the Baal Shem Tov that it is the emotion which governs the mind. You will surely pardon me if I say that it is not so, for it is well known that the Old Rebbe elaborated and expanded on the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, but has not, G-d forbid, negated any of the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings.
The concept that the “mind governs the heart” in not an innovation of the Old Rebbe, but is found in the Zohar (Part III, page 224a). Hence, the Baal Shem Tov could not differ from this concept. What can be said, however, is that inasmuch as the Baal Shem Tov lived and worked in the southern part of Russia (although occasionally he visited the northern part as well), where, for various reasons, the majority of the Jews were not the scholarly type, he emphasized the way most suitable for them to attain the greatest spiritual uplift, namely through prayer and emotional expression.
On the other hand, the Old Rebbe, who lived and worked in the northern part of Russia, where Lithuania was the citadel and center of Talmudic scholarship, he emphasized the power of the mind and intellectual activity in Divine Service.
We are now on the eve of the auspicious days of the 12th-13th of Tammuz, the Anniversary of my father-in-law’s liberation from Soviet imprisonment for the selfless and relentless fight to preserve the Torah and traditions even under that totalitarian and anti-religious regime. May we all be inspired by his example to do our full share in spreading and strengthening Yiddishkeit, especially as we are so fortunate to be able to do so in freedom and conducive circumstances.