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The Rebbe Rayatz: Love and Fear of God in Hard Times

The Rebbe Rayatz, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, was the sixth Chabad Rebbe. Born to his father, the fifth Rebbe of Chabad, the Rebbe Rashab, in 5640 (1880), the Rebbe Rayatz worked tirelessly to keep Judaism alive in the Soviet Union and was jailed for his heroic efforts. Forced to leave Russia, he continued to conduct the struggle from Latvia, and then from the Warsaw Ghetto, eventually escaping the Holocaust to the United States. By the time of his passing in New York on the 10th of Shevat 5710 (1950) he had laid the foundation for the global renaissance of Chasidic Jewish life in the US and throughout the world.

The tzaddikim of Chabad did not generally relate their supernatural experiences, but no rule doesn’t have its exception. The Rebbe Rayatz related that once, while walking through a storeroom of boxes of chasidic writings of the tzaddikim of previous generations, the Alter Rebbe appeared before him. They debated as to whether in our generation it is possible to demand love and fear of God from young Torah scholars. The Alter Rebbe said that yes, there is no difference between the previous generations and the generation of the Rayatz. Furthermore, Chasidut is all about achieving love and fear of God, in the past and also in the present. The Rebbe Rayatz maintained that when young Torah scholars do not have food to put on the table or a place to sleep at night, it is impossible to demand love and fear of God from them.

In another place, the Rebbe Rayatz said in the name of the Maggid of Mezritch that Chasidut without love and fear of God is the injury that Amalek perpetrates on the Jewish soul. Does the Rebbe Rayatz in his debate with the Alter Rebbe agree with Amalek, our eternal enemy? How can he forgo the feelings of the heart?

We can explain that the Rebbe Rayatz’s position stemmed from a particular situation. The poverty that Communism brought to the world was even worse than the poverty during the Alter Rebbe’s times. Even if in ordinary times we cannot accept a fossilized heart, when reality strangles us, we cannot expect more…

There is, however, a deeper explanation: The words of the Rebbe Rayatz that Amalek prevents emotions from developing were not a theoretical statement that applies to generations of relative abundance. The husk of Amalek was personified in the Rayatz’s generation in the form of Communism itself.

In that period, physical poverty was just one expression of a much broader system that constantly demanded cold, frozen heresy. Philosophy and ideology, the regime and the government all promoted and demanded the Amalekian requirement to cast doubt on faith in God (as we learned from the Ba’al Shem Tov that Amalek is the same numerical value as safek [doubt]). When the young chasidim have to exist in that heretical environment and also have to battle daily for mere physical and spiritual survival, it is impossible to demand of them the inner service of the heart as in previous generations.

The Rebbe Rayatz was saying to his great-great-great grandfather that the husk of Amalek did succeed in preventing the young Torah scholars from fulfilling the mitzvah of love and fear of God. Between the lines, he turned the Alter Rebbe’s expectation and demand back to him and the rest of the tzaddikim in the upper world. If you help us to erase the memory of the spiritual and physical Amalek, we will once again be able to open our hearts to the love and fear of God.




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