When Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch was in Petersburg to attend the Rabbinical Convention of 1843, he received a special permit from the Russian Minister of War to address the Jewish soldiers serving at the military installation in nearby Kronstadt.
When the Rebbe arrived, he was greeted by the waiting soldiers, who said to him: “Rebbe! We’ve been toiling all morning to prepare for your coming, polishing our buttons in your honor. Now it’s your turn to toil: polish our souls, which have been dulled and coarsened by our many years of disconnection from Yiddishkeit.”
Following his address, in which he encouraged their heroic efforts to cling to their faith, the Rebbe said: “You polished your buttons with sand and water. The soul, too, is polished with sand and water: with the holy letters of Tehillim (Psalms) recited with a generous infusion of tears.”
One of the soldiers spoke up: “But Rebbe, battles are won with joy, not tears.”
“So speaks a soldier!” said the Rebbe, with obvious satisfaction. “Yes, you’re right. A soldier enters the fray of battle to the tune of a joyous march, not with tears. It is by the power of his joy that he is victorious even in the most dangerous and challenging endeavors.”
Told by the Rebbe, Simchat Torah, 5727 (1966)
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber
. 1789-1866. Rabbi Menachem Mendel, also known as the “Tzemach Tzedek” after his books by that name, was the third leader of Chabad Chassidism.
. This was in the days of Czar Nikolai I, who had decreed that six- and seven-year-old Jewish children be conscripted into the Russian Army for a period of twenty-five years and be indoctrinated into Christianity, G-d forbid. The fact that the Rebbe was granted permission to address the Jewish soldiers at Kronstadt was nothing less than a miracle, since the primary purpose of their conscription was to tear them away from the faith of their fathers.