Likkutei Sichos-Introduction & Historical Background

Introduction & Historical Background

1. The uniqueness of Likkutei Sichos-The Rebbe’s organized edited work:

Likkutei Sichos is the most authoritative and significant published work of the Rebbe’s talks and teachings which were said throughout the years of the Rebbe’s leadership. The Rebbe publicly spoke on thousands of occasions throughout his more than 40 years of leadership, often for several hours at a time. These talks were transcribed into writing by a select committee of listeners known as “Chozrim.” Being that many of these talks were said during times that they could not be recorded [i.e. until 1959[1], Shabbos, Yom Tov,] therefore those who were chosen to be the Chozrim had to have a remarkable memory[2], in order to put it all down on paper at the conclusion of the Shabbos or holiday.[3] These transcribed talks of the Rebbe are known as “Hanachos,” and have been published in the 53 volumes of Sichos Kodesh, and the Toras Menachem series, which currently contains 138 volumes and is still growing. These transcribed talks, however, for the most part have not been reviewed or edited by the Rebbe and have only been allowed to be published baring the unedited title of Bilti Mugah.

It is in this regard that the series of Likkutei Sichos is most unique, as these transcribed talks were personally reviewed and edited by the Rebbe, and then authorized for publishing and distribution. Furthermore, they are not a transcription of one specific talk with all of its myriads of subjects, but rather are an organized essay of a specific subject and idea that may have been spoken about on various occasions. The work comes to collect the various ideas of the Rebbe on a specific subject and compiles it into a single essay. This work gives us a clear and proper understanding of the Rebbe’s teachings and contains the main bulk of his novel understandings of Torah. Likkutei Sichos became the authoritative medium with which the Rebbe chose to use to disseminate his core teachings. [In this regard, it is different than the set of Sefer Hasichos, which contain the edited talks of the Rebbe that were said throughout the years 1988 until 1992. While these transcripts were also edited by the Rebbe and prepared for publication, they represent the transcript of the talk said on their specific date, which may contain a myriad of unconnected topics that were discussed and are not a compiled essay of the teachings of the Rebbe on a specific topic, as is the case with the series of Likkutei Sichos.]

There is no better description of the value of the Likkutei Sichos series than that which Harav Yoel Kahn was prone to say, which is that it is considered the Shulchan Aruch of the Rebbe’s Torah. It covers a range of topics, including ideas in Jewish philosophy and theology, biblical and Talmudic commentary, kabbalistic expositions, moral and practical directives, and perspectives of life.

2. Fuel for the soul of the Jew living in modern times-The revolutionary ideas and perspectives of Likkutei Sichos:

Having a proper perspective and outlook is the key to successfully handling many of life’s struggles and setbacks. The talks printed in Likkutei Sichos contain hundreds of revolutionary philosophical ideas that can really change the way one views life and the different challenges that he faces. In this current work, we have generally chosen the talks from which the most important and revolutionary ideas are conveyed, which can help fuel a Jew in his struggles and dilemmas with the proper perspectives, aiding him with the psychological ammunition needed for victory. In our chosen talks, the Rebbe discusses the proper motivations that one should have in studying Torah, the amount of Torah and level of observance that G-d really expects from us, and the obligations of women towards Torah study. The way that one should look at another Jew and how to always judge another Jew favorably, looking at him with a good eye. There are some revolutionary ideas in the field of Chinuch, and beliefs in divine providence. Especially, many of the talks give the struggling Jew inspiration and motivation to continue his fight for good over evil and not to feel dejected and give up hope. In the table of contents one can find the various subjects of discussion in the various Sichos.

               

3. The initiation of its publication:

Throughout the years, starting from the very beginning of his leadership, the Rebbe would urge his followers to visit different congregations and to share with them ideas from the Chassidic teachings. In the late 1950s, two young men[4] who were involved in giving lectures in such congregations asked the Rebbe for permission to publish a compilation of the Rebbe’s talks on the weekly Parsha in order to help them with the content of their lecture. The Rebbe consented to this idea, and the first four volumes of Likkutei Sichos were the fruit of this initiative, being compiled and published by the above said young scholarly lecturers. Eventually, a formal committee was established to put together the talks, and they would present them to the Rebbe for editing and authorization of publishing. This committee was known as the Vaad Lehafatzas Hasichos, through whom most of the talks were compiled and published, with the logo of Kehos. When they were first printed, they were published under the title of “thoughts for reviewing Chassidus in congregations.” It was only years later, after the first four volumes were published, that it received the official name of Likkutei Sichos.

4. The Rebbe’s editing of the talks:

As stated above, amongst the uniqueness of Likkutei Sichos, is that all of the talks were scrupulously edited by the Rebbe who invested many hours into editing and researching the content of each Sicha and its citations. Usually, each talk would go through two phases of editing by the Rebbe. After being reviewed and edited for its first time, and being returned to the compilers for the corrections, it was then reviewed and edited a second time, prior to being published as a pamphlet for the weekly distribution. Quite often, the Rebbe would cross out complete sections of the first draft and have them omitted. The Rebbe would also direct which part of the talks should be in the footnotes and which part in its main body. The Rebbe would also take much time to research all of the references that were cited in the footnotes and make sure that they were exact and accurate. Many changes of this effect were made to the first draft because of the Rebbe’s editing.

5. The dates of the publication:

The compiled Sichos of Likkutei Sichos were first published and distributed on a weekly basis, as a pamphlet known as a Likut, in correspondence to that week’s Parsha. It was only later that these published pamphlets were put together and printed as a full volume. Throughout the 1960s and 70s these talks were periodically edited and distributed, with many breaks in between. The first two volumes were published in 1962, and in the coming years each volume was published after enough pamphlets were issued to make a new volume of the book.

6. The general format of the Sichos:

The general format of the talks in Likkutei Sichos is as follows:

  1. A question on the Parsha: Often, especially in the Rashi Sichos, the formation of the question can take up the first couple of pages of the talk, including within it several questions and nuances.
  2. A search for an answer to the dilemma: Often, an initial answer or answers is then given, which is then rejected for one reason or another, as related in the Sicha.
  3. A final conclusive answer.
  4. A lesson that can be derived from the novelty of the answer: After the final answer is given, the Rebbe often concludes with a lesson in divine service that one can learn from the content of the talk.

The Rebbe desired that the reading be as user-friendly as possible and be accessible and understandable by a wide range of the public audience, even if this meant compromising on the original way that the talk was delivered. The Rebbe instructed that it be written in a most professional manner, analyzing every word and letter for correctness and exactness.

7. The language:

The first 10 volumes of Likkutei Sichos were written in Yiddish, which was the language in which they were given over by the Rebbe. In the year 1973, the Rebbe authorized the initiative of publishing the talks in Hebrew to benefit those who do not understand the Yiddish language, including the many Israeli Baalei Teshuvah who had then come into Chabad. Thus, volumes 10 through 14 were published in Hebrew. However, after receiving many complaints of the quality of the Hebrew translation and compilation, this was stopped in the year 1975, and hence volumes 15 through 29 were printed in Yiddish during the years between 1975 in 1987. In the year 1987 a new and professional committee was set up to once again compile the talks in Hebrew, and hence volumes 30 through 39 are printed in Hebrew.

8. The content:

The content of the talks can basically be split to three subjects:

  1. Talmud and Jewish law, including Rambam.
  2. Jewish and Hasidic Philosophy.
  3. The Parsha & commentary of Rashi.

Some of the talks, are dedicated to understanding a certain matter of difficulty that is found in the Talmud or Rambam, or Jewish law and Chabad custom. In other talks, the main theme is an idea in Jewish and Hasidic philosophy. Other talks are dedicated towards understanding difficulties in the weekly Parsha, especially within the words of Rashi. The common theme in all the talks, is that they almost always bring out a most novel and revolutionary way of understanding the subject under discussion. Whether it be a new and revolutionary way of understanding a certain difficult passage in the Talmud, or Jewish law, or it be a revolutionary new philosophy and understanding of life and Judaism. Often, these themes become intertwined, as what begins as an analytical study on a passage in the Talmud or Jewish law, eventually leads to a new revolutionary philosophy, which concludes with a most valuable divine lesson.

9. The Rashi Sichas:

One of the most revolutionary ideas of scholarship that the Rebbe introduced, is his in-depth analytical studies on the commentary of Rashi on the Parsha. The Rebbe began sharing his teachings on the commentary of Rashi starting from the year 1965 after the passing of his mother, during the weekly Shabbos farbrengen. A large portion of the talks printed in Likkutei Sichos are these “Rashi Sichas.” The format of a Rashi Sicha begins with a number of analytical questions on a given commentary of Rashi. An initial answer, which is then later rejected, is usually given. After the concluding explanation, the talk usually concludes with a lesson in Jewish law, and Jewish philosophy, which can be derived from the presented explanation. While these talks are some of the hardest to study and understand, they often contain great revolutionary conclusions in the fields of Jewish philosophy and Hasidic teachings. In this book, several of these Rashi Sichas have been chosen for publication, due to their most important content and concluding message.

10. The number of volumes and the Parshiyos they correspond to:

The classic set of Likkutei Sichos contains 39 volumes, with a 40th volume having been recently printed by one of the factions in charge of the original publishing. The first four volumes contain two sets of talks on all 53 Parshiyos of the Torah. Volume 1 and 3 contain one talk per Parsha for the books of Bereishis, Shemos, and Vayikra. Volumes 2 and 4 contain one talk per Parsha for the books of Bamidbar and Devarim. Starting from volume 5, each book contains Sichos corresponding to only one of the Chumashim. Thus, in total there are nine volumes printed on every Chumash of the five Chumashim, and on almost every Parsha in the Chumash.

 

11. Learning Likkutei Torah versus Likkutei Sichos-what has precedence?

The Rebbe stated in a public talk on Simchas Torah in the year 1971 that he was going to stop publishing Likkutei Sichos for that year and one of the reasons is because he saw that the Chasidim were studying it instead of studying the works of Torah Or and Likkutei Torah, and that the intent of the Likkutei Sichos was to be in addition to the regular studies of Torah Or and Likkutei Torah and not instead of them. In the Rebbes words from that talk of: “I already discussed before that in the past the custom was that on Shabbos, they would learn Torah Or/Likkutei Torah, or other discourses relevant to that week’s portion. However, from the time that the Likkutei Sichos have been printed it has become the main subject of learning of the week as being that he is a Shpitz Chabad he claims that since it was printed that week this is a sign that this is the main subject of learning of the week and he thinks throughout the entire week that since he needs to learn the Likkutei Sichos therefore he is now exempt from learning Torah Or/Likkutei Torah… Therefore, since we are now beginning a new year from now on everyone should learn the discourses in Torah Or/Likkutei Torah and the other discourses that begin with verses of the weekly portion, and they should learn it in depth.”

 

 

[1] Until the year 1959 the Rebbe did not allow his talks to be recorded on a tape recorder and therefore the Chozrim had the transcribing from memory

[2] Amongst those chosen for this purpose were the following Chassidim: Rabbis Yoel Kahn [the main Chozer who started 1951], Dovid Feldman, Simon Jacobson, Yisrael Shimon Kalmanson, Tzevi Greenblat, Shalom Ber Levin, Dovid Olidart, Yosef Yitzchak Jacobson, Yosef Weinberg, Levi Yitzchak Ginzberg, Yaakov Altein, Michael Zeligson, Eliezer Brod, Shalom Charitanov, Eliezer Brod, Shalom Charitanov, Efraim Demichavsky, Yisrael Friedman, Avraham Shemtov, Yisrael Levkovsky, Leibal Shapiro, Avraham baruch Gerelitzky, Nasan Wolf, Dovid Fisher,Shlomo Zarchi, Nachum Greenwald, Nachman Shapiro, Yosef Karasik, Yosef Hecht, Feitel Levin, Efraim Pikarsky, Berel Levitin

[3] While they do not manage to get everything down, in estimation, approximately 80 to 90% of the Rebbe’s talk would be transcribed from memory by the group. This can be factually seen when comparing the amount of pages, a one hour talk of the Rebbe takes up when transcribed from the audio recording and comparing it to the transcripts of the Hanachos which were jotted down from memory. While the transcribing of a five hour talk from the audio would take up about 100 pages, the transcribing from memory would take about 80 to 90 pages. Thus, they managed to transcribe 80 to 90% of the five hour talk from memory. A most magnificent achievement!

[4] Eliyahu Chaim Carlebach and Uriel Tzimmer

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