The Lubavitcher Rebbe farbrenging at the wedding of Leibel Posner, after the aveilus of his father-in-law and predecessor Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson. This Shabbos, Yud Shevat marks the yahrzeit of the Rayatz and the day of succession of the Lubavitcher Rebbe one year later. Photo credit Photo credit: Menachem Kirschenbaum

By: 5TJT Staff

This coming Monday night and Tuesday, Gimmel Tammuz 5784 (July 8-9) marks the 30th yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Of Righteous Memory, one of the 20th century’s greatest Jewish leaders. The Rebbe’s leadership and vision continue to reverberate across the Jewish world, with an impact yet to be fully realized.

Early Years

Born in Russia in 1902, the Rebbe grew up as the son of the chief Rabbi of Ekaterinoslav, and assisted in the task of communal leadership from a young age. Moreover, the Rebbe mastered the foundational texts of the Jewish tradition early on and was widely reputed as a scholar even in his youth. The Rebbe studied closely with his father, and would go on to receive rabbinic ordination from the famed Rogatchover Gaon.

He married Chaya Mushka, the daughter of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak. After their marriage, the Rebbe studied philosophy, science, and engineering at universities in Berlin and Paris, while continuing a regimen of rigorous Torah study. During this time, the Rebbe lived the life of a contemplative Torah scholar.

Communal Leadership

In 1941, the Rebbe came to America and began full-time Jewish communal work. In 1951, one year after Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak’s passing, he assumed leadership of the Chabad movement. For the next forty-three years, the Rebbe taught, inspired, and created the largest network of Jewish communities and education centers with the iconic Chabad house.

An Uncertain Future

With the Rebbe’s passing in 1994, the Jewish world mourned the loss of this great leader. Many eulogized the Rebbe, who had brought such optimism and vitality to the Jewish people. Some wondered, what would become of the Rebbe’s movement?

The First Decade: Continued Growth

In the decade that followed the Rebbe’s passing, instead of dwindling, the ranks of the Rebbe’s shluchim only grew. More Chabad houses opened the world over. From exotic locations such as Nepal and Thailand, to the Former Soviet Union, and even closer to the major Jewish population centers of the United States and Israel, new Chabad houses opened and established ones expanded. Ten years later, the Rebbe’s vision was still very much alive.

The Second Decade: The Rebbe as a Leader

The year 2014 marked the twentieth anniversary of the Rebbe’s passing. That year, three biographies of the Rebbe were published exploring the Rebbe through different lenses.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s Rebbe (Harperwave) explored the Rebbe’s legacy through the lens of an admiring rabbinic writer. Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz’s My Rebbe (Koren) explored the Rebbe through the lens of a devoted, if unique, disciple, and Rabbi Chaim Miller’s Turning Judaism Outward (Kol Menachem) studied the Rebbe from a historical perspective. All of these books, and their market success indicates growing public interest in the Rebbe as a person and leader.

Chassidic philosophy teaches that the psyche can be divided into three domains: action, emotion, and intellect. Correspondingly, we can observe increased interest in the Rebbe’s impact in these areas over the three decades since his passing:

  1. The first decade marked wide recognition of the Rebbe’s action-oriented vision.
  2. The second decade saw growing interest in the Rebbe’s emotional dimension and personal relationships.
  3. As we close the third decade, many are connecting with the Rebbe’s intellectual legacy: his Torah teachings.

The Third Decade: The Rebbe’s Torah Teachings

Many think of the Rebbe as just a smiling grandfatherly tzaddik figure, and have seen pictures of the Rebbe leading lively singing at farbrengens. It is easy to think of the Rebbe as merely someone who inspired the largest and most vibrant network of Jewish communities on earth. As just someone who had boundless love for every Jew. The Rebbe was all those things, but he was also a Torah scholar of the first order, who offered a revolutionary body of Torah teachings covering the entire gamut of Torah. His teachings cover nearly 300 printed volumes, with the crown jewel being the 39-volume set Likkutei Sichos (Collected Lectures).

The Rebbe’s Magnum Opus

The Likkutei Sichos series is the cornerstone of the Rebbe’s expansive Torah library. A prolific teacher, for over four decades, the Rebbe delivered lengthy Torah talks during frequent public farbrengens (Chassidic gatherings) held on Shabbos, yom tov, and other significant occasions.

The talks in Likkutei Sichos were prepared in essay form and rigorously edited by the Rebbe himself. This process ensured their accuracy and clarity, making Likkutei Sichos an authoritative collection of the Rebbe’s teachings.

These works offer unparalleled access to the Rebbe’s Torah insights, discussing all areas of Torah with clarity, ingenuity, and compelling logic. Readers encounter not only a wealth of Torah knowledge but also a transformative vision for practical avodas Hashem (service of G-d).

Teaching for Transformation

To the Rebbe, teaching Torah was the primary way he guided his Chassidim and Klal Yisrael. He communicated a monumental perspective of Torah’s deep-rooted truth, wholesome oneness, and ever-applicable relevance.

The Rebbe demonstrated the inherent truth expressed in every iota of Torah, consistently framing a Torah perspective to navigate the challenges of everyday living and our task of bringing Mashiach.

Words That Breathe Life

What made the Rebbe’s sichos so captivating? It wasn’t just that the Rebbe believed what he said; his ideas breathed life. Rooted in sincerity and heart, his teachings brought vibrancy to age-old Torah ideas, igniting a transformative journey for everyone hearing them. The Rebbe’s teachings significantly impacted Jewish life and perspective, even for many who didn’t consider themselves his students.

Living Torah, Practically

The Rebbe often stated that “Torah” is related to hora’ah (instruction), emphasizing that Torah is a blueprint for life. He frequently quoted the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi’s teaching that “one must live with the times,” with the content of the week’s Torah reading. Accordingly, Likkutei Sichos is divided by the weekly parashah, allowing readers to explore timely lessons. Each Sichah provides guidance and empowerment for actualizing one’s Divine purpose.

Distilling the Entire Torah: Something for Everyone

Rav Yitzchak Breitowitz, a Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshivas Ohr Someach, shares:

Likkutei Sichos has so much of every single aspect of Torah. There is something for every conceivable interest. You can find every type of Torah. You can find a tremendous number of things that will speak to the Yeshivishe mind, the analytical mind, the Nigleh mind, and it’s all there. It’s full of jewels. Likkutei Sichos has a special place because the Rebbe deals with so many different aspects of Torah. The revealed, the esoteric, the halachic, the philosophical, even grammar and history.

Echoing Rav Breitowitz’s comments, Rav Shlomo Katz, Rav of the Shirat David community in Efrat continues:

One of the unique features of Likkutei Sichos is the mastery of how the breadth of knowledge covering all worlds and realms of Torah on every single level is woven into every single sichah. So, every time that we have the privilege of engaging with the sichah, you are getting a taste of Kol HaTorah Kula (the entire Torah), of everything.

Personally Relevant

Rav Katz reflects on the personal relevance many people experience when studying Likkutei Sichos:

Whenever we open up a Likkutei Sichos, whenever we open up anything from the Rebbe, you feel like you’re getting invited into the Pardes. You’re getting invited into an infinite orchard of wisdom. There’s a personal invite that leads you to what your soul is waiting to hear. The mastery of the way the Rebbe presents it before you is so warm, loving, and encompassing. Every single time you open a sichah, you feel that something there is waiting just for you.

Making the Teachings Accessible

Likkutei Sichos is a phenomenal work but these treasures are difficult to access in their original form. The sichos are profound scholarly works, written in Yiddish or Hebrew, and spoken in the language of the beis midrash.

In 1978, a group of yeshiva students began translating and elucidating the Sichos in the English language. Rabbi Yonah Avtzon of blessed memory turned this project into a full-fledged publishing house, Sichos in English (SIE). SIE’s work takes the sichos and renders them accessible to the layman in the English-speaking world.

As Rav Breitowitz frames the issue:

Likkutei Sichos is difficult because the Rebbe didn’t popularize or simplify things. He presented Torah as it is. It’s in Yiddish, so non-Yiddish speakers are stuck. It’s heavy reading. The text has scholarly footnotes the Rebbe wrote. The Marei Mekomos (references) can be bewildering. Many aren’t familiar with the books referenced. It’s a potpourri of Kabbalah, Chassidus, Halacha, Lomdus (Talmudic conceptual analysis), grammar, history. Someone familiar with one area may not know others. Likkutei Sichos is a treasure trove but not an easy read. The Yiddish, organization, style, mix of Torah strands, and references challenge even Talmidei Chachamim. Things need simplification to be accessible. I congratulate the Sichos in English project, which translates Likkutei Sichos, annotates them, and provides supplementary information. This opens the treasures of Likkutei Sichos to a generation of Jews. Exposing a hidden treasure is zikui harabim, bringing merit to Klal Yisrael. It’s one of the greatest things a Jew can do.

In a similar vein, Rav Katz shares:

Quite often a person can become intimidated after that initial spark of whatever this thing called the Rebbe really means for them. Then they open the sefarim, open the books, and so much of it is in Yiddish. Even if you know some Hebrew, what are you going to do with the Yiddish? And then even the Hebrew is intricate and complex.

Rav Katz praises the work of Sichos in English, stating:

Sichos in English takes a person that may feel a little bit intimidated and feel that this is not for him. And says to him, “We have you in mind too. The Rebbe had you in mind too.” We are blessed right now with access to this incredible world of Torah which is so needed now in this generation more than ever.

While Sichos in English has been at it for close to fifty years, the Rebbe’s original teachings have yet to reach all of the Jewish people. As Rav Moshe Elefant, COO of OU Kosher frames the point: “These sefarim reveal depths of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s lomdus (Talmudic conceptual analysis) unexplored by many.”

As the years have progressed, SIE’s work has expanded, and today, the institute offers a wide variety of the Rebbe’s teachings in the English language. Still, the flagship Likkutei Sichos set in English is one of the publisher’s most significant accomplishments.

Answers to Practical Questions

This article has focused on one dimension of the Rebbe’s teachings, namely the dimensions of Torah he unlocks in Likkutei Sichos. But there is a further dimension of the Rebbe’s teachings worth unlocking. In addition to sharing Torah insights in the abstract, the Rebbe applied the Torah’s teachings to diverse dimensions of life: mental health, relationships, parenting, education, governance, and so much more.

But no area of the Rebbe’s applied Torah teachings are more relevant at this juncture to the Jewish people than his teachings on Israel’s security. All Jewish people were close to the Rebbe’s heart, and the Jews living in the Land of Israel were no exception. Over the years of his teaching, the Rebbe devoted hundreds of hours to outlining a principled, strategic approach to Israel’s security, and a clear roadmap to lasting peace in the land. These teachings, spread across hours of talks, transcripts of meetings with Israeli politicians and security personnel, as well as extensive correspondence, have never before been systematically presented in the English language. To that end, Yonah Press, an imprint of Sichos in English devoted to elucidating the Rebbe’s teachings in the lexicon of the contemporary reader has published a work entitled Make Peace: A Strategic Guide for Achieving Lasting Peace In Israel.

In honor of the Rebbe’s 30th Yahrzeit, let’s take the time to study some of his transformative Torah, to uplift our lives and the lives of our family, friends, and community.

To learn more about how you can access the treasures of Likkutei Sichos in English including podcasts, video shiurim, and to purchase the set, visit sie.org/ls. To learn more about the Rebbe’s teachings on Israel’s security and to purchase Make Peace visit sie.org/makepeace.

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