These translations are not a word-for-word translation (“targum miluli”). Well-known are the words of the Rambam regarding the work of translation:
Whoever wishes to translate, and purposes to render each word literally, and at the same time to adhere slavishly to the order of the words and sentences in the original, will meet with much difficulty; his rendering will be faulty and untrustworthy. This is not the right method. The translator should first try to grasp the sense of the subject thoroughly, and then state the theme with perfect clearness in the other language. This, however, can not be done without changing the order of the words, putting many words for one word, or vice versâ, and adding or taking away words, so that the subject be perfectly intelligible in the language into which he translates. (Letter of the Rambam to R’ Shmuel ben Yehuda ibn Tibbon, translator of the Rambam)
More than that, the talks that we are working with in this project are far too complex and wide-ranging to be effectively communicated to most readers via a straight translation (even one composed with the Rambam’s advice in mind). These talks are upwards of 15 pages in the original Hebrew/Yiddish, with copious footnotes, assuming a broad knowledge of Torah sources in Jewish Law, Midrashic Commentary, and the teachings of Kabbalah and Chassidus — they require a “step-down transformer” in order to draw their powerful lights into the vessels (and attention span) of the average English reader.
This we hope to do, with G-d’s help, in a way that remains true to the original as much as possible. But those who are able to learn these Sichos in the original Yiddish or loshon hakodesh should by all means do so, and not be satisfied with these translations. However, those for whom it would be difficult or impossible to learn the original Sichos, we present these worked-over translations to bring the Rebbe’s critical and unique message to a broader audience.
Eve of 24 Teves, 5774, the 202nd anniversary of the Hillula of the Alter Rebbe