While documenting the efforts of the Rebbe Rashab to provide Matzah for Jewish Soldiers in the Russo-Japanese war (1904-1905), we came a across an interesting letter, dealing with the role of Toimchei Temimim in this area. In this letter the Rebbe Rashab replies to a suggestion made by his son and successor, Rabbi Yosef Yitchok, that the offices of Toimchei Temimim be utilized in the efforts to gain support. In reply, the Rebbe Rashab sets out to explain the purpose for which Toimchei Temimim was founded, and clearly defines the limitations of its field of activity. As we will demonstrate, this letter is not merely of localized significance, but rather carries multifaceted ramifications that are relevant to this day.
Writing from Petersburg on the 18th of Teves 5665 (1905), the Rebbe Rashab briefly summarizes the general situation relating to the efforts to acquire government approval, before continuing:
Your proposal in this regard that the letters should be sent from Toimchai Temimim, doesn’t resonate with me and I don’t advise it all… This is a matter that relates to the individual and doesn’t enter into [the agenda of] a general matter such as Toimchai Temimim and the like…
The primary underlying purpose of Toimchei Temimim is to fortify the youngsters and guard them from any damaging entity… with G-d’s help, to plant within in them fear of G-d and love of G-d. Similarly in any place [not only within the established Yeshives of Toimchai Temimim] where they [the faculty of Toimchei Temimim] have the ability to strengthen hands [that are] weak in Torah and service [of Hashem], for instance to establish shuirim to learn with the youngsters in the villages… too draw them to Torah and to try and plant fear of heaven in their hearts, that they will separate themselves from forbidden things, and desire to fulfill Mitzves in practice. This is the certified purpose of Toimchei Temimim.
However its purpose is not to worry about the fulfillment of specific Mitzves or [to] guard against specific things, for instance its [Toimchei Temimim’s] purpose is not to ensure that there should be supervisors on the Kashrus of meat (which is one of the issues which are extremely pressing… and if we had a “committee for the strengthening of Yidishkeit” this would be one of its primary functions…) Similarly regarding the keeping of Shabboss and the like, and Sukkah and Lulev etc. Similarly its purpose is not to worry about the matter of the Matzah – it is self understood that each and every Jew, being that he is a Jew, must worry about this, and actively invest effort in this [endeavor] as much as he is able, however this is not the its [Toimchei Temimim’s] purpose and in this matter it [the faculty of Toimchei Temimim] is like each and every private individual of our Jewish brethren.
This letter provides far reaching insight into the problems confronting Russian Jewry at the time and the primary methods which the Rebbe Rashab employed to resolve them. In those days Yidishkiet and the practical observance of Torah and Mitzvos, came under the threat of the increasing influence of the Haskaleh (“enlightenment”) movement in general and various political and Zionistic elements, which promoted a cultural and ideological version of Judaism, rather than Torah true Yiddishkiet. Two possible avenues where open to the leaders of Torah true Jewry at the time, 1) to fight the Haskaleh head on with a campaign promoting Yiddishkiet on a very practical level, encouraging people and helping them to raise their standards of Yiddishkiet, 2) to instill the younger generation with the inspiration and fortitude necessary to withstand the attacks of the Haskalah, motivating hundreds of young men to themselves become proactive bastions for the promotion of Torah true Yidishkeit in whatever the situation and wherever they may be found.
While the first option may yield faster and more visible results, the Rebbe Rashab realized that in the long run the cultural and social appeal of the Haskalah movement would prove more popular than Torah true Yidishkiet. The only real solution would be to deal with the root of the problem, carefully grooming the younger generation to be impervious to the attraction of the Hakalah. In other words, rather than dealing with the issue on an external (and solely practical) level, the Rebbe Rashab set out to create a new type of individual, impervious to any damaging entity and inculcated with a sense of privilege and responsibility to act for the sake of heaven. Individuals, whose very presence in a particular locale would inspire an atmosphere of love and fear of G-d, and automatically encourage the furtherance of Torah true Yidishkeit on all levels. By establishing Toimchei Temimim, the Rebbe ensured that there would always be private individuals who would be ready to dedicate themselves to the needs of Yidden and Yiddishkiet whatever they may be.
The points made above are born out from many sources, however this letter adds an added dimension in that it describes the limitations of Toimchei Temimim’s function as well as its purpose: A clear distinction is made between the general purpose for which Toimchei Temimim was founded – a purpose to which its efforts are to be devoted to exclusively – and specific “projects” – which while worthy of attention in their own right, are not within the field of activities that Toimchei Temimim was set up to attend to. While the faculty are duty-bound as private individuals to invest their efforts in all areas of Yidishkiet without distinction, these activities must remain private and do not enter under the banner of Toimchei Temimim. Furthermore (as explained earlier) the success of Toimchei Temimim would automatically produce a large base of individuals who would themselves be instilled with a sense of duty to invest their efforts in all areas of Yidishkeit without distinction.
Apart from anything else, this letter provides us with important lessons in the conduct of communal affairs: 1) No matter how valid a particular cause, for the sake of efficiency and effectiveness each organization must stick to the particular field it was set up to address. 2) This certainly does not mean that an individual who has already committed himself to the efforts of one organization is relieved of his responsibilities elsewhere. Rather if a new issue presents itself a new committee or organization must be formed to deal with it and it is incumbent on every private individual to consider what he or she can do to further the efforts of that organization. 3) Obviously, no private individual can do everything all at once; one must therefore commit oneself more fully to the area where the individuals particular capabilities can be used to maximum effect and delegate in other areas, offering moral and monetary support according to one’s means.
Indeed, the vast majority of the original Temimim became Rabbonim, Shochtim and Melamdim throughout Russia (and later in America and Eretz Yisroel) who where Moiser Nefesh for Yidishkeit at every level, promoting Chinuch, Mikaveh and Kashrus at a very practical level. When the Friedike Rebbe came to America, his first step was to reestablish Toimchei Temimim. Although he later went on to found Merkoz L’Inyonai Chinuch and other organizations for the promotion of basic Yidishkeit, Toimchei Temimim remained the foundation upon which the future of Lubavitch would be built. To this day, this remains the basic model on which Lubavitch is set up to operate: the Yeshiva system is meant to cultivate and educate its Talmidim to be Temimim. As spelled out in the letter above, the purpose of Toimchei Temimim is (not to send Bochurim on Mivtzoim or to manufacture Shluchim, but) to create Temimim who live with an inner sense of אהבת ה' ותורתו – a sense of the responsibility and privilege of being a Torah and Mitzvah observant Yid. That sense of responsibility and privilege, automatically obligates the individual to invest all his efforts into the furtherance of Yiddishkeit in any way that he is can, helping his fellow Yidden to fulfill the will of Hashem, wherever they be found and whatever their situation.
Perhaps the most striking point which comes across is the simplicity with which the Rebbe Rashab treats the general issue of promoting such basic Mitzves as Kashrus, Shabbos, Sukkah, Lulev and Matzah. This is not in any-way seen as something unique to Chassidim or Lubavitch, but rather the natural responsibility and reaction of any every Torah Jew. In other words, the obligation of a Lubavitcher to be involved in activities referred to today as Mivtzoim should not be seen to stem from his identification with Lubavitch ideology specifically, rather, in this regard a Lubavitcher “is like each and every private individual of our Jewish brethren”. Indeed Mivtzoim was never instituted as an official part of the “curriculum” in Lubavitch Yeshivas, rather each Bochur as an individual takes it upon himself to spend his own free time on Friday afternoon taking care of his obvious responsibility to further the cause of Yidishkeit in whatever way he can.
ויהי רצון שע"י מעשינו ועבודתינו כל משך זמן הגלות נזכה להגאולה האמיתית והשלימה ע"י משיח צדקינו בקרוב ממש!