Weekly Letter: To Redeem Books and Manuscripts of the Schneerson Library

In connection with the forthcoming “yom tov of the s’forim”/Hey Teves, we share a fascinating letter in which the Rebbe thanks a devoted friend who volunteered his services, with success, and exerted great efforts to redeem some of the books and manuscripts of the Schneerson Library. Many of them were pillaged during World War Two and some, like the ones discussed in this letter, found their way to the Holy Land after the war. In the letter, the Rebbe uses Chassidic concepts to explain the truly great significance of his noble mission to “redeem the captive” books and manuscripts. This letter will be included in a future volume of Letter and Spirit.

By the Grace of G-d
16th Iyar, 5739
Brooklyn, N.Y.
Philadelphia, Pa.
Greeting and Blessing:

This letter has been long overdue, especially considering its subject matter. But it also is the subject matter of this letter, more precisely the emotional aspect of it, that is the prime reason for the delay. For it is not easy to express in words, much less in writing, very deep personal feelings and I kept on delaying it for a calmer disposition. However, since these feelings have subsided, there is no point for further procrastination.

I refer of course, to your noble endeavor in the matter of restitution of the books and manuscripts that belong to the Library of my predecessor, my father-in-law of sainted memory, which you initiated with the help of friends and have already had considerable success in regard to a substantial part of them, having them restored to their rightful place and “home.”

As you know, the unique Schneerson Library included not only a valuable collection which my saintly father-in-law acquired during his lifetime, but also many rare books and manuscripts that were the legacy of his saintly forebearers, going back to the Alter Rebbe, founder of Chabad.

There is no need to elaborate on what these books and manuscripts meant to him, as to all the Lubavitcher Rebbes before him. He had a very special, profound and soulful attachment to them, over and above his attachment to books and manuscripts of similar sacred content. For many of them were precious heirlooms for generations, in part authored by his saintly predecessors or annotated by them, representing the heart and soul of the sacred Chabad literature, which is an integral part of our Torah, Toras Emes and Toras Chayim, by which we live.

You can therefore understand how deeply moved I was and will always be, by your great and noble endeavor in volunteering your time and effort and prestige to “bring home” these sacred books and manuscripts. It is truly a case of Pidyon Shvuim, since only by being at home can these spiritual treasures resume their full vitality and usefulness, not only for the benefit of those who are directly associated with the Chabad Lubavitch movement, but also for the benefit of all our Jewish people, through the dissemination of the teachings of Chabad Chassidus and Pnimius Hatorah, which has been termed the “soul of the Torah” (Nishmoso d’Orayso) and the intimate link between the soul of our people and our Father in Heaven.

If “the reward of the mitzvah is the mitzvah itself” and requires no human “thank you”, your noble endeavor clearly transcends any expression of gratitude. Nevertheless, I am impelled to express, however inadequately, in my behalf and in behalf of the movement which I am privileged to head, as well as in behalf of all who have an actual or potential stake in the matter – our boundless gratitude and heartfelt appreciation.

Permit me to add a further point, by way of a deeper insight into the subject at hand. This too is based on the teachings of Chabad, which with all its sublime philosophy is, as aforementioned, part of our Torah, Toras Emes and Toras Chayim, revealing the real truth in everything and at the same time, providing practical instruction and guidance in the everyday life. This calls for a foreword and to put it briefly:

One of the fundamental doctrines of Chabad which the Alter Rebbe expounds in, among other sources, the Shaar haYichud vehaEmunah section of his basic opus, the Tanya is that everything, even in an inanimate material object, there is a “soul” or a vital spiritual quality. To quote from the first chapter of the above-mentioned section:

“Gam b’domem mamash, k’mo avonim v’eifer u’mayim, yesh bechinas nefiesh v’chayus ruchanis”

Of course there are gradations in this spiritual quality. There is to begin with, a plain material object that, simply by the fact of being a created thing contains a “spark” of the Creative Force that keeps it in existence; on a higher level there is a material object which has served a good purpose; higher still – an object that is used in the performance of a mitzvah. It is explained in Chabad that when an ordinary material thing is used for a good purpose, especially in the performance of a mitzvah, it undergoes a “refinement” to the extent of becoming a sacred object (e.g. tefillin made from leather).

Applying the above principle in our case – books and manuscripts of the most sublime content, written by Jews whose whole life was dedicated to Torah and the Jewish people and studied with heart and soul, enriching and illuminating Jewish life – clearly these books and manuscripts, albeit “material” and “inanimate”, are imbued with eternal light and life of a higher order. Thus, when they are taken from their natural environment, from their very “home”, they are indeed in “exile” and captivity – who can never be happy even if well provided for with their material and even spiritual need, for they long to return home, to be united with their family and friends and whole milieu in which they belong. This is why pidyon shvuim in the ordinary sense is such a great mitzvah. Hence, it is impossible to overstate the great zechus that you and your associates in the endeavor have in the “Pidyon Shvuim” of these books and manuscripts.

I am aware that there may be those who may say that these are sentimentalities or mystical ideas, that should not be taken in account in rational considerations, etc. Needless to say, I do not include you and your friends in this category, but you may perhaps come across a person or persons who may attempt to argue in this vein, even though inwardly they are convinced. Be it as it may, in light of Jewish experience in our own eventful times, eventful from one extreme to the other, now brilliantly bright, now dismally bleak – I doubt if anyone can truthfully deny what has been said above, on the ground of it being intangible or mystical. Nor for that matter, can anyone dismiss as impossible something that appears to be inconceivable, much less something that transcends human intellect, but doe not necessarily contradict reason.

I am pleased about the timing of this letter on the eve of your departure on the second stage of your endeavor to return a further substantial part of the books and manuscripts that are in “exile.” I trust and am confident that you will not encounter any difficulties, since you will be dealing with fellow Jews, children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, especially whom Devine Providence has privileged to be the custodians of these books and manuscripts, after they had been pillaged during the war and Holocaust, miraculously survived, until they finally came under the custody of the present guardians, in order to be restored to their rightful owners and rightful home in the true sense of veshovu bonim lig’vulom. Indeed, the zechus of having taken good care of them in the interim will stand them in good stead and make them even more responsive to their pleasant duty in the joyful realization that they can now complete their term of guardianship.

There is further significance in that you will receive the letter around the time of Lag B’Omer , the day of the HIlulo/Rejoicing of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, who was one of the central links in the chai of tradition, transmitting the Torah and secrets of the Torah to his disciples and posterity to the present day, whose teachings (in the Zohar and other Kabbalah sources) are the cornerstone of Chasidus and Chasidus Chabad in particular, which is carrying the torch of “dissemination of the fountains” of the inner light of the Torah which is termed “Nishmoso d’Orayso” (Zohar, p’B’Ha’alosecho, p. 152b) – the soul of the whole Torah, from alef-beis to the most profound aspects of the Torah, which is “our life and the length of our days.”

Reiterating my heartfelt appreciation of your achievement in the past, I extend to you prayerful wishes for hatzlocho in your present trip and good wishes to your associates in the endeavor, as well as to the esteemed present guardians who will surely extend to you their kind and fullest cooperation.

The merit of your great mission will certainly stand you in good stead for additional generous Divine blessings in all your personal affairs, materially and spiritually.

With esteem and blessing,

P.S In accordance with a time-honored Jewish custom to make one who sets out on a journey a “Shliach mitzvah,” in addition to whatever great mission one’s journey is connected with, by giving him some money to distribution to tzedoko on arrival at his destination, I am taking the liberty of enclosing an amount of tzedoko to distribute in the Holy Land and if not too much trouble, part of it at the Western Wall.

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