We’re known as the People of the Book. That book, of course, is the Torah, the Bible, the Chumash, the Five Books of Moses — different names often used to refer to the same thing. But I think that, really, we became known by this appelation not because we have one book on our shelves, but because we have many books on our shelves.
When my family was still living on Jewel Avenue, a student who joined us for Shabbat dinner motioned with her hands to the bookshelves lining the room with hundreds of Hebrew, English and Yiddish volumes and said, “Who’s the big reader?”
I attempted to explain that we don’t read books of Torah, per se, but we study them — sometimes spending days or even weeks (dare I say even a lifetime?) on a single passage.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe prioritized publishing new manuscripts. One of the famous manuscripts which was published under the Rebbe’s watch, is a series of profound mystical discourses by the 5th Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber Schneerson. This epic is commonly known as Samech-Vov (in reference to the last two letters of the Hebrew year in which the series of discourses were written and recited publicly; it would be analagous to referring to the text as “oh-six” instead of “1906”).
In the course of a Farbrengen during the holiday of Sukkot in 1965, the Rebbe’s brother-in-law inquired why the printing of Samech-Vov had been curtailed. Printing had already commenced, but for some reason, it had ceased.
“I received a letter from a young man,” answered the Rebbe, “who has been printing Samech-Vov on his own copier (i.e., not through the official Chabad-Lubavitch publishing house, Kehot Publication Society). He wrote to me that if we were to continue printing Samech-Vov, it would negatively affect his parnassa (income).
“This young man ended up regretting sending that letter to me [for he felt that he had overstepped his bounds]. Nevertheless, if I had only received a letter from someone else stating that he was negatively affected by not having Samech-Vov printed, then we would have something to consider…
“Yet not a single person wrote me such a letter; on the other hand, there is the letter from the young man saying he would be negatively affected if we did continue printing it… so you certainly understand what the outcome was!”
Between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot is a time period known as Sefirat HaOmer, the counting of the Omer. Today is the 34th day of the Omer, which means we still have two weeks left until Shavuot, when we celebrate the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. Jewish law considers this time to be a period of mourning, and therefore people refrain from listening to music and cutting their hair. While many suspend these customs beginning with the 33rd day of the Omer (which we celebrated here at Chabad of Queens College with a rockin’ Lag BaOmer BBQ!), the author of Samech-Vov and his students continued the mourning practices.
This is a time of spiritually refining ourselves, and being extra vigilant in how we treat other people. We can learn from the Rebbe how sensitive we must be to other people. Even if we are doing something noble and holy, we should ask ourselves, Is this harming anyone? Let’s ensure that our actions not only have positive intentions, but also positive outcomes.
L’chaim & Shabbat Shalom!