The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s first published work in Hebrew was Hayom Yom, containing 354 short entries – one per day – from the teachings of various chassidic leaders. Since its publication, it has become an essential element of a Chabad chassid’s daily Torah study.
The entry for the 22nd of Iyar is a remarkable excerpt from a letter of the Rebbe Rayatz about a farbrengen 250 years ago: “The theme of their discussion was [the innovation of] their Rebbe, the Alter Rebbe…that [the Rebbe and chassidim] are not alone. Previously, a rebbe…was alone and his disciples were alone.”
The letter was written in response to a chassid’s anxious inquiry about the Rebbe Rayatz’s welfare after his escape to America shortly after World War II started, noting how eager chassidim were to hear news about him. The Rebbe replied that just as chassidim are concerned for his welfare, so was he anxious to hear about their welfare.
The path of Chassidus, he explained, had introduced intimate love between a rebbe and his chassidim – paralleling the intimate relationship between loving parents and their children. In previous generations, he wrote, Torah teachers felt lonely, separate from their disciples, perhaps because their profound Torah knowledge and exalted spiritual level gave them an overarching perspective far transcending that of their disciples. They thus felt incapable of communicating with them at their level.
Disciples, too, sensing that their rebbe’s exalted level far transcended their own, felt unable to communicate with him, for how could their personal concerns – which he would consider so petty – seem relevant to him? Teacher and disciples thus existed in separate realms, each alone and lonely.
Chassidus, the Rebbe Rayatz explained, bridged this chasm. First, the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidus, emphasized ahavas Yisrael and taught that everyone should be deeply concerned even about other Jews’ material welfare: “A soul descends to the world for 70-80 years,” he said, “to do even one material favor for another Jew and, how much more so, a spiritual favor.”
And then came the Alter Rebbe, the founder of Chabad Chassidus. Chabad Chassidus emphasizes explaining and understanding divine concepts intellectually, thus bridging the chasm between a rebbe and disciples – not just on an emotional level – but on an intellectual one.
By expressing, in terms they could comprehend, the Torah’s profound mystical secrets, he provided his disciples a window into his own overarching perspective and exalted vision. Now they too could view the world – at least to some degree – as their Rebbe saw it, through a divine lens.
In every generation, we see the leaders of Chassidus, particularly Chabad Rebbes, relating to their followers as loving fathers and shepherds, involving themselves in their disciples’ concerns. In return, the chassidim have always related to them, too, with love and devotion.
The Rebbe Rayatz as well as the seventh Rebbe extended this special love to all Jews, seeking their material and spiritual welfare and working to elevate all Jews to view the world, as much as possible, from G-d’s perspective.