Weekly Letter: The Secret of Our Survival in the Face of Great Upheavals

Following the sad period of the three weeks, culminating in the tragic events of Tisha b’Av and the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh – come the “Seven weeks of comfort.”

In his letter this week, written on Erev Shabbos Nachamu, the Rebbe reflects on the long history of our Jewish people – during which we suffered endless and harsh persecutions – and points out the uniqueness of our history. The Rebbe’s comforting words reveal the secret of our survival in the face of great upheavals – where the Jewish people has not only managed to survive but also to outlive the mighty empires of its tormentors and to thrive as well.

Why is that so?

By the Grace of G-d

Erev Shabbos Nachamu, 5739

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Dr. and Mrs.

West Orange, N.J. 07052

Greeting and Blessing:

This is to acknowledge receipt of you letter, subsequent to the visit with your sons, in connection with the forthcoming bar mitzvah.

In compliance with your request, I am pleased to reiterate the good wishes conveyed personally that in accordance with the Mishnah (Ovos,ch. 5). “From the age of thirteen – to the life of mitzvos,” he should go from strength to strength in fulfillment of the traditional blessing of “Torah, chuppah and good deeds,” and you should have much true nachas, Yiddish and chasidish nachas, from him and from each and all of your children, in good health and happy circumstances, materially and spiritually.

I take this opportunity of sharing with you some thoughts, based on the well known teaching of the Baal Shem Tov to the effect that one should learn from everything in one’s personal experience how better to serve G-d.

Since your field is history, I will dwell briefly on one aspect of Jewish History which is particularly instructive.

Anyone, especially a historian, reflecting on the long history of our Jewish people cannot fail to recognize it unique character, unparalleled in the histories of other nations. On the one hand, our people has suffered endless and harsh persecution and extreme vicissitudes and changes from time to time and from place to place. Yet, on the other hand, it has no only managed to survive, but also to outlive mighty empires and cultures which had been its tormentors and while these had long ago disappeared from the face of the earth – Am Yisroel Chai ve’Kayam!

Having recognized this plain and undeniable fact, the question is how to explain this extraordinary phenomenon; in other words, what is the secret of Jewish survival, its strength and eternal vitality?

The usual scientific method in establishing a so-called “law” of nature is to find that constant factor which keeps on appearing in all tests and experiments. In this way the essential correlation is established, which must then be accepted as an indisputable fact.

Applying this method in the case of Jewish history, we find that the usual factors which are important for national identity and preservation insofar as other nations are concerned, notably territory, statehood, language, dress, etc., cannot be said to have played an essential role in the preservation of our Jewish people, since these were not constant and changed fork time to time and from place to place. The only constant factor that runs like a golden thread throughout our Jewish history is Jewish adherence to our G-d given Torah and mitzvos: the same seventh day Shabbos, the same laws of kashrus, telfillin, mezuzah and so on, have been adhered to by all Jews in their everyday life, since the time of Moshe Rabbeinu.

And while the language in which the Torah was studied and expounded varied from ancient Aramaic to present day English, etc., and the level of exposition of the Torah and mitzvos varied from the plain to the most profound, and from the rational to the esoteric, the actusl performance of the mitzvos remained the same, down to the very text of the brochos – “Who sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us…” So also in regard to the details of the religious article involved in the performance of the mitzvos. For example, the tefillin which a bar mitzvah begins to put on for the rest of his life, the Hand Tefillin and the Head Tefillin, remained the same through the ages, nor has its significance been diminished as symbolic of the whole Torah, as it is written, “And it shall be for a sign upon your hand for a memorial between your eyes, in order that G-d’s Torah be in your mouth” (Exod. 13:9). And so also the very first mitzvah which a bar mitzvah boy performs as an adult Jew – the mitzvah of Shema, on the night before, by which the Jew proclaims daily (evening and morning) the unity of G-d, his love and fear of G-d and his total commitment to G-d’s mitzvos, with all his heart and all his soul and all his possessions. All this has not changed through the ages.

Clearly, therefore, it is the Torah and mitzvos as an everyday experience and way of life that has always been the true and eternal link that unifies and preserves our Jewish people, in good times and in emergencies.

If further proof be needed, our history has shown that those groups or individuals who deviated from this vital link (and we have them since the worshippers of the Golden Calf and thereafter), sooner or later ended up in one of two ways: either they returned to the fold or were completely lost to our people through assimilation, etc.

As a matter of fact (which I had occasion to point out before) our contemporary generation is more privileged than the early generations who received the Torah from Moshe Rabbeinu and his successors in that those early generations had yet to rely largely on faith as to the vital correlation between the everyday observance of the mitzvos and our survival as a nation and as members of this Holy Nation; whereas for us this is a matter of self-evident truth, reinforced by the facts and experience of our Jewish history.

This is also why Jewish parents never found any sacrifice too great in insuring their children’s Torah-true education, knowing how vital it is for their personal wellbeing as well as for the continuity and wellbeing of our Jewish people as a whole.

                 Once again, with prayerful wishes and

                                                                             With blessing,

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