The Avner Institute presents a letter from the Rebbe directing Chassidism to be a powerful agent against today’s “spiritual cremation” – assimilation, decadence, alien philosophies – and the continuation of Hitler’s work.
New York, NY
Greeting and Blessing:
I am in receipt of your letter, and of the preceding one. For certain reasons, I am replying in English, though your letters were written in Hebrew.
With your indulgence, I must begin with some prefatory remarks which run the risk of being a little repetitious, as I believe I touched on the subject during our meeting. However, there are words which must be said even at the risk of repetition, rather than be left unsaid altogether.
I am referring to the concluding lines of your letter, where you mention various schools of thought in Judaism, and speak of philosophy, psychology and various conceptual approaches in general.
Parenthetically speaking, many aspects of the points that preoccupy you have been dealt with in books, both in Hebrew and English. You probably know these books or can find out about them. There are also similar sources that deal with Chassidut in general and Chabad in particular. However, this is only mentioned in passing.
State of Emergency
The essential purpose of my writing to you is the attempt to clear up what is, to me, a puzzling thing: It is many months since we had our personal encounter, yet it seems that the discussion we had at that time, and my subsequent effort to help you find yourself, so to speak, have so far been fruitless. However, inasmuch as the reasons that impelled me to take up our discussion in the first place still obtain, and have perhaps grown even stronger than before, I must restate my views even at the risk of some repetition:
1) There may be valid differences of opinion among men as to what activity or interest in the daily life should have primacy over others. But this may be justified only in normal circumstances. When an emergency arises, however, all theoretical differences must be put aside in order to deal with the emergency.
To illustrate my point: It is one thing to debate what type of house – if it caught fire – is worth saving, or by what method, and by whom. It is quite another thing when one is actually facing a burning house with people trapped within – the elderly, the young, and children. At such a time there can be no difference of opinion as to the imperative need to fight the blaze and save those who are trapped.
This is the duty of everyone who is nearby, even if he is not a trained firefighter, and even if those trapped inside the burning house are strangers. The obligation is immeasurably greater, of course, if those inside are one’s own relatives, and especially if one has had experience and become proficient in firefighting activities.
2) Where a doubt exists as to what is good for an individual, or a group, or a nation, it is sometimes quite illuminating to consider what the enemy would desire; especially if the enemy has made persistent efforts to attain his end. For then it would be clear what precisely the opposite of what the enemy desires must be good for that individual, group, or nation.
In our generation, we have seen with our very eyes what the archenemies of our people – Hitler and his followers – desired, plotted, and unfortunately succeeded to a considerable degree in achieving, in regard to our people. He made no secret of his fiendish plan. His avowed intention was to exterminate the Jewish people and, above all, to eradicate the Jewish spirit. Therefore, his first victims were the Jewish books and synagogues, spiritual leaders, and rabbis.
There are several methods by means of which our enemies hope to attain our annihilation, G-d forbid. To Hitler’s twisted mind the obvious method was simply to send Jewish men, women, and children to the gas chambers and crematoria. But the method of spiritual cremation, involving not the Jewish body, but the Jewish soul – through assimilation intermarriage, etc. – is no less devastating.
The crematoria where Jewish bodies were incinerated are a thing of the unforgettable, horrible past. By the grace of the A-mighty, these butchers were stopped before their work of destruction reached its ultimate goal. But the spiritual crematoria where Jewish souls are being consumed are, to our great distress, still ablaze, and burning more fiercely than ever. The House of Israel is on fire, and the younger generation, as things now stand, is largely trapped. You are surely not unaware of the “dry” statistics of intermarriage and assimilation in this country, and of the fact that the situation is similar in other countries. The subject is too painful to contemplate, and much more so to write about at length.
In a sense, the danger of “spiritual crematoria” is graver than that of actual physical genocide; for the heinousness of the latter can be understood without too much philosophical inquiry, while in regard to spiritual extermination, there are certain groups which do not recognize this as a calamity, and some of these groups even welcome it in the name of “freedom,” “equality,” “integration,” and other misconceived “ideals.”
In light of these prefatory remarks, let us – you and I – consider our position. Surely, in the face of the situation as it now exists, which is one of continuing deterioration, all debates and philosophical speculation must be set aside. The existing emergency demands immediate action – to save Jewish souls, of the old, the middle-aged, and the young. This is the primary obligation of each and every one of us who desires to counteract the Hitlerian objective. This obligation is particularly binding in regard to the immediate environment where one has been raised, and to which one owes a debt of gratitude for the many benefits received. More compelling still is this duty for one who has put his abilities to work in the field of education and has met with success. So obvious should this be to the thinking and conscientious person, that it is puzzling that the latter should fail to see it. I can only explain this as follows:
If the yetzer hara should accost a thinking person with the words, “Forget about those spiritual crematoria; instead go out and have a good time, give yourself up to the pleasures of the flesh!” – such a line of approach would not of course work. But the yetzer hara has a better tactic, one that is more “discreet” and “diplomatic.” It takes a different tack altogether, somewhat like this: “For a person like you, mundane pleasures are too trivial. You should think in terms of universal ideas, ideas that embrace the whole of mankind based on the most profound philosophies, etc. Here you will find fulfillment of your soul’s mission, for in saving the whole world you will save its individual parts as well,” and so on, and so on. Unfortunately, this deception succeeds more often than not with many a well-meaning individual, inducing him to concentrate his attention on sum utopian idea or other, to the neglect of the immediate surroundings.
All that has been said thus far – in the hope of your kind indulgence – is, of course, not intended, G-d forbid, as a rebuke or argument for the sake of arguing. I simply want to understand how it is possible for a young man who contemplates what is happening around him to fall into such a misconception. Surely the daily newspapers cannot delude one into thinking that all is well and normal. The reports on juvenile delinquency and crime; the promiscuity among college students; the rising tide of intermarriage and assimilation, etc., surely must be a constant challenge to the decent and right-thinking young man, and should “sting” him into doing something practical, rather than engaging in some abstract topic of research which, as all will agree, could at the very least wait for a while; whereas the boy or girl in the college cannot be left to wait, and unless helped and guided immediately, might soon be swept away by the tide of intermarriage and assimilation and irretrievably lost, G-d forbid.
3) Chabad exemplifies the right approach to arresting this trend, which will, incidentally, answer one of your questions, namely, what does Chabad aim at?
One of the basic tenets of Chabad is that ahavat Hashem, namely unity with G-d, who is not only the Creator of mankind, but also the Creator of the universe, is synonymous with ahavat Yisrael [Tanya, ch. 32, Hayom Yom, 28 Nissan]. And ahavat Yisrael is not necessarily expressed in the attempt to save the whole Jewish people, but even in the help given to a single individual. Remember: “He who saves even one soul,” our Sages declare, “is deemed to have saved a whole world. [Sanhedrin 37a].”
Indeed, the founder of Chabad himself showed an example of it: When, we are told, a poor woman gave birth at the far end of town, R. Schneur Zalman took off his tallit and tefillin, and went to her dingy hovel to light the fire and prepare some food for her. The Alter Rebbe saw no contradiction in the fact that he was interrupting his prayer to G-d (and be it remembered that the prayer of even an ordinary Jew, if it is sincere and wholehearted, can achieve unity with the Creator of All), in order to help a woman in need; quite the contrary, such help is the best expression of attachment to G-d.
How can you – and I say this with all due respect to you – sit idly by in this city while surrounded by thousands upon thousands of your fellow-Jews who are languishing for want of guidance, and direction, towards the right path in life, the way of the Torah, Torat Chayim? Can you turn a deaf ear to the cries of Jewish children who, if denied immediate help, may be consigned to a spiritual crematorium, G-d forbid? Surely you would wish to dedicate all your energies and capacities to this life-saving work?
It is my prayerful hope that from this point on, at least, you will open your eyes and heart to what I have said and written to you; that you will, without further procrastination, fully utilize the gifts and capacities which Divine Providence has bestowed upon you, in helping to guide Jewish children and adolescents towards the path of the Torah and mitzvoth, to help save them from the clutches of complete assimilation.
Moreover, as explained in Chabad teachings, in which I am glad to see you are interested, this sacred work will give you new insights into ahavat Hashem and all that goes with it, and will help clear up many of the problems, enigmas, and conflicts which disturb your peace of mind at present.
I hope and pray that my words, coming from the heart, will find the proper response in your heart.
[The Rebbe’s signature]
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