In a letter dated 14 Sivan 5697 (1927, which was also the day before the Previous Rebbe was captured by the Soviets) Reb Rafael Nachman Kahn, then living in Europe, writes to his comrade from Tomchei Temimim (the Lubavitcher Yeshiva) Reb Yisroel Jacobson, who had immigrated to the US:
How are you, my brother? I take it that the spirit of America has not yet entered you, and you still recall the way you were just as if you were here. However, I feel for you, for your loneliness, that you don’t have those companions and friends that you had here. Before your journey we discussed this, and agreed to write to each other, so that at least we would communicate by correspondence.
Zikaron Livnei Yisrael, p. 123.
This letter is so beautiful. It expresses such a deep, personal relationship between chassidim. Even after his friend traveled to the other side of the world (and of course then the US was much further away from Europe than it is today, with modern transportation) one chossid reminds his friend that he is still thinking about him, cares for him, and worries about his feelings of loneliness in not having other chassidim with whom to interact and from whom to draw inspiration, and reminds him of their pact to maintain their friendship despite the vast distance between them. He also subtly reminds him to stay on guard against foreign influences in his new place of residence.
If only chassidim of today would learn from the example of chassidim of earlier generations in the way chassidim should learn to establish deep, lasting friendships with one another, and truly care for the material and spiritual welfare of one another. This would provide them with tremendous strength in their Avodah, and thus automatically forestall many problems. Of course, this type of chassidishe friendship is just as necessary for girls and women to establish among themselves.
Unfortunately, at least in my own small experience, for many this type of relationship is sorely lacking. Moreover, there is often a sense of aloofness, loneliness, “every man for himself,” and indifference even when one is in the company of other chassidim with whom one is acquainted from the same community. I’m not saying that there aren’t still warm chassidim; there are definitely many, but sadly they are rarer, as are friendships of the kind described above.
The only way to change this situation is through conscious effort. It simply won’t happen on its own. Our Sages say K’nei lecho choveir—“acquire for yourself a friend” (Avos 1:2). I.e., one must actively pursue a friend in order to have one. For this one must search, because various people may not be suitable candidates, whether because of a personality clash, or because they do not qualify as peers, whether because they are on a much lower level than oneself or because they are on a much higher level than oneself.
Yet we have been assured, “if you toil, you will find.”