Soul Wash


Editor’s Note: “May G-d appoint a man over the community,” prayed Moses, “A leader who can relate to the unique spirit of each and every individual” (Numbers 27:16; Rashi, ibid.). Such a man and leader was the Rebbe.

What follows is excerpt from a letters written by the Rebbe which exemplify his unique ability to relate to each and every individual in his or her terms and focus on his or her individual characteristics and strengths.

In this letter, the Rebbe probes the deeper significance of an aspect of modern life to inspire and motivate with a lesson that is both universal and distinctly personal to his correspondent.

The letter is dated Sivan 17, 5711 [June 21, 1951] and is addressed to Jacob Pearl, a launderer by profession.

Greetings and blessings!

As I told you during your visit here, my father-in-law the Rebbe[18] would often quote a saying by Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov: “From everything that a Jew sees or hears, he must derive a lesson in his service of the Almighty.” Obviously, one should look for a lesson in his daily occupation.

Clothes and linen, before we put them on, are clean and smoothly pressed – everything in its proper place. But after wearing them for a while they become creased, dusty or stained. Nevertheless, one need not discard these clothes; instead, one gives them in to a laundry or a cleaner’s. The laundryman puts them in a tub or machine that has a warm or hot temperature, with hot water, chemicals or soap that serve to remove the dirt and stains. He then presses it by applying a heavy weight or pressure. The garment can now be worn again.

So it is with the Jewish soul. When the Almighty gives the Jew- man or woman alike – his or her soul, it is clean and pressed and fitted individually to him or her. As we say every day in the morning prayers: “The soul that You have placed within me is pure.”

In time, however, as it is used for worldly matters, the soul becomes creased – creased through its use for things that are not the will of G-d. The soul may also become soiled and stained when one neglects, G-d forbid, to do an obligatory mitzvah or one transgresses, G-d forbid, on a divine prohibition.

Nevertheless, the Torah teaches us not to despair, G-d forbid, of the soul’s purity and its fittedness for mentchlich and Jewish living. One must immerse it in a warm temperature – that is, warm it with the warmth of Torah and mitzvot, so that it should “stew” in them and be vitalized by them. This warmth must be a moist warmth, so that the soul should have a moist adherence to all things holy; this is achieved by heartfelt prayer, of which it is said “Pour out your heart like water,”[19] and with heartfelt Torah study, of which it is said, “ ‘Ho, all who thirst come to water’ – water being Torah.”[20]

One should also mix in other things: the giving of charity, the observance of kashrut and other mitzvot, thereby restoring the soul to its spotless purity. And if one adds to this the “weight” and “pressure” of Torah – a weight and pressure that may seem, at first, to be a burden – this not only does not bother the garment, on the contrary, it presses it smooth and sets each thing in its place, restoring it to its proper form and shine. In other words, through Torah and mitzvot the soul becomes what it ought to be.

I conclude with a blessing of long life for you and your wife, may she live. May you have much nachas from all your children, may they live.[21]

Adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Yanki Tauber.


[18] Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880-1950), sixth leader of Chabad-Lubavitch

[19] Lamentation 2:19.

[20] Proverbs 9:5; Talmud, Bava Kama 17a.

[21] Translated from the Yiddish, Igrot Kodesh, vol. IV pp. 334-336.


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