Wednesday, November 12, 2008

the lubavitcher rebbe's letter on intermarriage and assimilation (one of many)

The threat facing Jewry today is that of assimilation. The Rebbe explains the urgency of the situation and outlines the Chabad approach to stilling the problem through Ahavas Yisroel.

5724 (1964)

New York, N.Y.

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 may partly be 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 speak of philosophy, psychology and various attitudes in general.

Parenthetically speaking, many aspects of your points of interest have been dealt with in books, not only in Hebrew but also in English. About these books you probably know or can find out. There are also similar sources which deal with Chasidus in general and Chabad in particular. However, this is mentioned only by the way.

The essential purpose of my writing is an 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 been fruitless so far. However, inasmuch as the reasons which impelled me to take up our discussion in the first place are still there, and perhaps have even grown 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 priority over others. But this may be justified only in normal circumstances. When an a 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 therein, old ones, younger ones, and children. At such a time there can be no difference of opinion as to the imperative need to fight the blaze and save the trapped ones. 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 has been successful in fire-extinguishing activity.

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 desires; especially if the enemy has shown persistent effort to attain his end. For then it would be clear that the opposite of what the enemy desires is good for that individual, group or nation.  

In our generation, we have seen with our own eyes what the arch-enemy of our people - Hitler and his followers - desired, plotted and unfortunately succeeded to a considerable degree, 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 whereby our enemies hope to attain our annihilation, G-d forbid. To Hitler's twisted mind the obvious method was to simply send Jewish men, woman 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 just as devastating.

The crematoria where Jewish bodies were incinerated, are a thing of the unforgettable horrible past. Thanks to the grace of the Almighty, these butchers were stopped before their work of destruction reached its goal. But the spiritual  crematoria, where Jewish souls are being consumed, are to our great distress still ablaze, and more fiercely than ever. The House of Israel is on fire (may G-d have mercy), and the young 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 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 physical genocide; for the heinousness of the latter can be understood without too much philosophical inquiry, while for the spiritual extermination there are certain groups which do not recognize this as a calamity, and some groups even champion it in the name of "freedom," "equality," integration," and other misconceived "ideals".

In light of the above preface, let us - you and I - consider our position. Surely, in the face of the situation as it now exists and is deteriorating, all debates and philosophical speculation must be set aside. The existing emergency demands immediate action to save Jewish souls, of the old, middle-aged and the young. This is the primary obligation of each and every one of us who desires to counteract the Hitler objective. This obligation is particularly imperative in regard to one's immediate environment where one has been raised, and to whom one owes a debt of gratitude, for many benefits. More compelling still is this duty to one who has tried his ability 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 if such a person fails to see it. I can only explain it as follows:

If the Yetzer Hara (our internal enemy) should come to a thinking person and tell him, "Forget about those spiritual crematoria; instead, go out and have a good time, give yourself up to the pleasures of the flesh!" - this line would not work, of course. But the Yetzer Hara has a better tactic, which is more "discreet" and "diplomatic." It follows in the opposite direction, something like this: "for a person like you, mundane pleasures are too trivial. You should think in terms of universal ideas, ideas which embrace the whole of mankind, based in 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 part also," and so on, and so on. Unfortunately, this deception often succeeds with many a well meaning individual, and induces him to concentrate his attention on some utopian ideas, to the neglect of the immediate environment.

All that has been said above - 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 topics, or in some research which, as all will agree, could at any rate wait for a while; whereas, the boy or girl in college cannot be left to wait, and unless helped and guided immediately, might soon be swept and irretrievably lost, G-d forbid, by the tide of intermarriage and assimilation.

3) Chabad exemplifies the right approach, and this will answer one of your questions, namely, what does Chabad aim at?

One of the basic tents of Chabad is that of 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 Ahavas Yisroel. And Ahavas Yisroel is not necessarily expressed in an attempt to save the whole Jewish people, but in helping even a single individual. Remember: "He who saves even one soul, is deemed to have saved the whole world." our Sages declared. Indeed, the founder of Chabad himself showed an example of it: When a poor woman gave birth at the far end of town, R. Shneur Zalman, we are told, took off his Talit and Tefillin, and went to her dingy hut to light the fire, and prepare some food for her. The Alter Rebbe saw no contradiction in interrupting his prayer to G-d (and be it remembered that the prayer even of an ordinary Jew, if it is sincere and wholehearted, achieves unity with the Creator of All) in order to help a woman in need; on the contrary, such help is the best expression of being attached to G-d. How can you - and I say this with all due respect to you - sit by idly in this city, surrounded by thousands upon thousands  of fellow Jews who are starving for guidance and direction towards the right path in life, the way of the Torah, Torat Chayim? Can you turn a deaf ear towards the cries of the Jewish children who, if denied immediate help, may be consigned to a spiritual crematorium, G-d forbid? Surely you should wish to dedicate all you energies and capacities to this life-saving work.

It is my prayerful hope that from now 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 Torah and Mitzvot, to help save them from the clutches of complete assimilation.

Moreover, as explained in Chabad 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 form the heart, will find the proper response in your heart.

With blessing.

(Signature of the Rebbe)

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