There is a letter that the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, wrote upon his return from prison in Petersburg, right after the great victory he had over his opponents. It’s printed in the section of Tanya titled Iggeres HaKodesh, the second epistle, beginning with the word “Kotonti.”
In this letter, the Alter Rebbe guided the Chassidim on how they should relate to those who antagonized them. He instructed the Chassidim to emulate the attribute of Yaakov Avinu, viewing oneself as mere “remnants,” something truly superfluous and dispensable.
He continued, “Your heart should not grow haughty over your brothers.”
You may ask, “Are these my brothers? These people wanted to kill my Rebbe! The slanderous accusations against the Alter Rebbe focused on how he is a mored b’malchus, a traitor.
The background is that Rabbi Schneur Zalman supported “our brethren in the Holy Land” very strongly, as evident from his many letters. Avigdor and the other antagonists (misnagdim) accused the Alter Rebbe that the money he was sending to the Holy Land was intended to go to the Turkish Sultan, who governed over the Holy Land, to help overthrow the Russian government. This was a crime requiring capital punishment, and here the Alter Rebbe refers to them as “your brothers” and cautions the Chassidim not to act as if they are bigger than them!
What if a chossid meets a group of those antagonists? Can he scream at them and tell them that what they did was inhuman? Not attacking them physically, only talking to them. But the Alter Rebbe writes further, “Don’t open your mouth against them!”
What about whistling derisively at them (in Yiddish, zei unfaifin)? The Alter Rebbe forbids that as well, even adding, “Chas v’sholom – G-d forbid!”
How are we to understand this? G-d forbid to whistle against the one who wanted to kill your Rebbe? But that’s what the Alter Rebbe instructed.
Then, with a rare expression not found anywhere else in Tanya, the Alter Rebbe adds, “Azhoroh noro’oh – A strict warning: hold your peace! Don’t mention anything!”
What, then, should be the approach to those antagonists when seeing them?
“Lower your spirit” – act with absolute humility before them. And if you must talk to them, speak “softly… with a restrained spirit… And through all this, perhaps G-d will put [a conciliatory and loving response] into the heart of their brethren, [for] “as waters [reflect] one’s face, [so does the heart of one man reflect the heart of another].”
When you look at all this, it’s mind boggling – that in dealing with the harshest antagonists, our response shouldn’t be to scream at them but rather talk to them in a subdued manner as if we owe them the world.
Note that the Alter Rebbe did not write this years later but immediately after his release from prison.
This is an unparalleled form of Ahavas Yisroel that we don’t find anywhere else. And this is what the Alter Rebbe requested of the Chassidim.