A chief U.S. chaplain from the Department of the Army in Washington DC, writes to the Rebbe of his challenging work with interfaith colleagues.
The Avner Institute presents the fascinating exchange of letters between the chaplain, who describes his success among Jews and non-Jews alike, and the Rebbe who, greatly impressed, write backs, encouraging the Seven Noachide Laws, the responsibility of the Jews, and respect for all individuals, both the “Children of Israel” and “Children of Noach.”
Special thanks to Rabbi Reuven Leigh, Director of Chabad of Cambridge, for the letters.
The Chaplain’s Letter:
Department of the Army Office of the Chief of Chaplains Washington D.C. 20310
22 October 1986
Dear Rabbi Schneerson:
During the farbrengen of 20 Av 5746, the Rebbe spoke to me at length and suggested that I use my office of Assistant Chief of Chaplains to discuss the Seven Noachide Commandments.
I have begun to do so. On 20 September I spoke in Los Angeles on the subject for an hour to 30 Christian chaplains, including the Chief of Chaplains of the U.S. Army. About a third took notes and several of them told me they intend to speak on the subject.
On 21 September in Los Angeles, the Chief of Chaplains spoke before 40 military commanders and the 30 chaplains and told them that Christian ethics cannot be understood without knowing its Jewish foundation. He praised me three times and told his audience that they should have heard my speech.
I gave a 40-minute version of the talk before 19 Christian chaplain assistants in Panama on 10 October. On 12 October I spoke on the subject for 20 minutes at the end of a Protestant service before 90 Christians and then, later, at the end of the Catholic service before 350 Christians. The Catholics clapped at the conclusion of my speech, an unusual occurrence for a Catholic service.
I described all of the Seven Commandments in each speech. I pointed out that there is a basic anthrocentric approach to the Commandments, as shown in the order of the Tosephta. However, I suggested that they try to rise to the higher theocentric approach of Maimonides.
I spiced the talk with Hasidic examples. I suggested that the seventh of command of ever min hachai [eating the limb of a live animal] may summarize those that precede: It encourages us to see the Divine ever in ba’al chai. It makes us sensitive, as the Rebbe’s father zt’l, to the change in the sound of the river on Rosh Hashana, and leads us to elevate ever domaim [inanimate].
I intend to continue to comply with the Rebbe’s wishes. I will have the opportunity to speak on the Seven Noachide Commandments in Europe to 600 Christian clergy in November; in Atlanta to 300 Christian clergy in December; and in Salt Lake City to 350 Christian clergy in January.
The Rebbe may also be interested in my message to the Jewish community in San Pedro Sulo in Honduras, Central America. On 8 October, about 35 Jews from this community welcomed me at their synagogue. This number included the Vice President of Honduras and represented all but three members of the adult Jewish community. I was with them for a couple of hours and spoke formally for about 15 minutes.
I told them I was overwhelmed with their kindness to me and would like to tell them about my meeting with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I said that the Rebbe requested that I pass on his message and, perhaps, he meant also in Honduras. I told them the story of the Alter Rebbe, his son and crying grandson and how the Alter Rebbe said that study of Torah is insufficient without heeding the cry of pain.
I suggested that the present Rebbe may have meant me to tell the Honduran Jewish community that they are doing well with their good deeds and should be complimented; they must not be discouraged by their difficulties but should use their admirable deeds as a stepping stone to higher levels, including Talmud Torah. Everyone clapped and accepted the speech very well. Everyone came to shake my hand and several attempted to relate to the talk by telling me about their Lubavitcher parents and grandparents.
Although I am not a Chossid and try to follow the ways of the Rambam, I have read much about Lubavitch, including all of the Rebbe’s sichot in the 24-volume Likutei Sichot to Breishit, Shemoth and Devarim. I hope that the Rebbe is pleased with my initial effort to comply with his shelichut [mission].
Chaplain, Brigadier General
Assistant Chief of Chaplains
The Rebbe’s Response:
By the Grace of G-d
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Bereishis, 5747
Greeting and Blessing:
This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 22nd of October.
Many thanks for the good news it contained, particularly about your talks and lectures on the Seven Noachide Commandments on a number of occasions, and that these were well received, even enthusiastically. I am certainly gratified that you intend to continue doing so.
There is, of course, no need to emphasize to you the importance of promoting these Seven Noachide Commandments among gentiles. In our day and age, it does not require much imagination to realize that, by way of example, had these Divine Commandments been observed and adhered to by all the “Children of Noach,” namely the nations of the world, individually and collectively, there would not have been any possibility, in the natural order of things, for such a thing as a Holocaust.
I trust that you have your major speeches on this subject on tape, and that you would publicize then in a suitable publication that could serve as a source, as well as an inspiration, for others to disseminate these Seven Commandments.
In keeping with a good old Jewish custom, I take the liberty of making a reservation in regard to your statement, at the conclusion of your letter, to wit: “Although I am not a Chossid; I try to follow the ways of the Rambam,” etc. As I surely mentioned it to you during our conversation, the dissemination of the Seven Noachide Laws among non-Jews is clearly stated in the Rambam as a duty and obligation of Jews, wherever and whenever possible (Code, Hil. Melochim, chps. 9 and 10).
May Hashem grant that the declaration of our Sages, “He who has 100 desires 200,” etc., be fulfilled also in connection with your said activities, namely that you should continue using your good influence in a manner that would be doubly effective, and then doubly again, from “200 to 400” (and not merely by another increment of 100).
Wishing you again the utmost hatzlocho in all your good efforts, particularly in the above,
With esteem and blessing,
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