Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Since I have not posted on this blog for a while, I have decided for the foreseeable future to post all content related to the topic of this blog—the concept of Tzaddikim and a Rebbe—on my other, main blog, A Chassidishe farbrengen, which, thank G-d, has attained a significant readership.

Below are links to the posts from that blog that are relevant to the topic of this blog, and I will bli neder update this blog post if and when I post more on that topic:

Im yirtzeh Hashem, I hope to compile these posts into a booklet, and I invite anyone willing to co-sponsor this publication to contact me.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Reb Yisroel of Ruzhin once related (the lesson from this story is the same as the lesson described earlier here):
Once there lived an innkeeper who did not believe in the power of Tzaddikim, while his wife believed in Tzaddikim very sincerely. It happened that his business dealings took a turn for the worse, and he had not paid the landowner his rent for three years. The landowner set a date, and warned him that if he would not pay his debt, he would throw him in prison and evict his family.
His wife said to him: “I heard that in Ruzhin there is a Tzaddik who works miracles. Travel there, and you will be saved.” Her husband laughed at the suggestion: “Will the Rebbe give me money?!”
When the date approached and the required sum was still lacking, the wife returned and urged her husband until he became so sick of it that he said: “What do you want from me? If you want, travel there yourself!” So the woman did. When she arrived, she met another woman who had come to the Ruzhiner to ask for a blessing for her husband to have a speedy recovery. Both women wrote their written requests, and the assistant took their letters and delivered them to the Ruzhiner.
However, when the assistant left the Ruzhiner’s room, he mistakenly switched the responses that the Ruzhiner had given him: To the woman who asked for a blessing for her husband’s speedy recovery, the assistant responded in the Ruzhiner’s name that G–d would help her; while to the woman whose husband was an innkeeper, the assistant responded in the Ruzhiner’s name that she should put bankes (small hot glass cups that were placed on the back of the sick person, which sucked in the flesh until blood would flow, thought to be a remedy).
When the woman returned home, she told her husband about the Ruzhiner’s response. Her husband laughed in scorn at the Tzaddik, exclaiming: “Am I sick?! Do I need bankes? I need money!”
But as the date of payment drew closer and the innkeeper was unable to pay, his wife said to him on the day of the repayment: “Look, the landowner is preparing to throw you into prison regardless. What do you have to lose by listening to the Tzaddik’s advice? Lie in your bed, and I will affix bankes to your back.” At a loss, this time the man consented.
Shortly after, the servants of the landowner arrived to bring the Jew to the landowner’s mansion. The woman brought them into her husband’s room, and showed them that he was lying sick in his bed. The messengers returned to the landowner and told him that the Jew was sick. The landowner angrily cried out: “He is just pretending! Bring him here, alive or dead!”
The messengers returned to the inn, and saw that the Jew was lying on his bed and the sheet was covered with blood. They had pity on him, and carried him on his bed to the landowner. However, the landowner still did not believe, and told them to remove the sheet. But when he saw the wounded back of the Jew, he asked him in shock, “what happened to you?”
At that moment, the Jew had an idea. In a broken voice, he responded: “I knew that today is the day of payment, so I went yesterday to the city in order to borrow money. I borrowed the entire sum, and returned to the village via the forest. But on the way bandits attacked me, injured me, and robbed me of all the money. Now I owe a double amount—to you, my master the landowner, and to those from whom I borrowed the money!”
The landowner had pity on the Jew, and said: “If so, I forgive the entire debt. And since it was on my account that they hit you so cruelly, I will even forgive the payment for the next three years in advance!” So did the bankes save the tenant and his family.
When the Ruzhiner finished relating the story, he added: “When the woman’s note reached me, I saw that it was not possible to help her, so I wrote, ‘May G–d help’ [which was a way of saying that the Tzaddik would not give a blessing]. Obviously it did not occur to me to tell her to prepare bankes for her husband, and that was a mistake of the assistant. Rather, it was the woman’s pure faith in Tzaddikim that brought the salvation!
Translated from Sippurim Chasidiyim, Vol. 1, p. 68.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

This teaching expresses the greatness of the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid of Mezeritch, and the Alter Rebbe, and explains that through learning their Chassidus, we connect with their lofty level.
The Tzemach Tzedek writes about the Alter Rebbe: Also from my grandfather, may his soul rest in Gan Eden, we heard predictions of the future [that were fulfilled] to a hairsbreadth [i.e., with total precision].[1]

This appears difficult to understand: Does the Tzemach Tzedek mean to praise the Alter Rebbe for miracles, which are a superficial thing? Does this define the Alter Rebbe’s greatness? Rather, this comes in continuation to what is written there earlier: He [the Baal Shem Tov] and his student, the Maggid [of Mezeritch], would see from one end of the world to the other with a seeing eye ...

This was possible because the light that was created on the first day that G–d hid in the Torah was revealed before them. Of this the Tzemach Tzedek says “also from my grandfather, may his soul rest in Gan Eden, we heard predictions of the future ... ” The expression “also” implies that the “predictions of the future” expressed by the Alter Rebbe is the same idea as what was written earlier concerning the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid—the revelation of “the light that was created on the first day.” However, the Alter Rebbe perceived this in a manner “[that was fulfilled] to a hairsbreadth.”

“The light that was created on the first day” is a reference to the light that transcends the Hishtalshelus,[2] and “the light that reveals G–d’s very Essence.”[3] Although this light shone for the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid even in the physical world, the Alter Rebbe had the additional quality that this light shone in a settled manner—“to a hairsbreadth.”

In order for the light that transcends the Hishtalshelus to enter the world in a settled manner, the light is not enough; this can only be accomplished through G–d’s very Essence, which can reconcile all opposites. So will it also be in the Messianic age, when the purpose for which G–d created the world will be fulfilled—“to make a dwelling place for Him in the lower realms [i.e., this physical world].” [“For Him”] means a dwelling place for His Essence. G–d’s Essence will enable the combination of physicality and spirituality, such that “The glory of G–d will be revealed, and all flesh will see.”[4] This means that the physical flesh will perceive G–dliness, and it will rest there in a settled manner.

This is the inner meaning of the Tzemach Tzedek’s expression “also from my grandfather, may his soul rest in Gan Eden, we heard predictions of the future.” The expression “predictions of the future” alludes to the revelations of the Messianic age.

The Alter Rebbe imbued all this into the teachings of Chassidus Chabad. By learning Chassidus we “take” the highest levels, and even the “hidden light,” and even higher, and this descends into the intellect of the Divine Soul, until it reaches the understanding of the intellect of the Animal Soul, until the glory of G–d will be revealed, and even all flesh will see, with the arrival of our righteous Moshiach, may it happen very soon.

Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 4, pp. 1137-1138-1139.

Derech Emunah
[2] See Torah Ohr 44c.
[3] The “contraction,” in which G–d’s infinite light was hidden in order to make it possible for the worlds to be formed. This level of divine light stemmed from a level that transcended this one. See
Sefer HaMa’amarim 5670, Noach
Yeshaya 40:5.
In my own words: The Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezeritch were able to see from one end of the world to another, and perceive everything that took place, including future events. The Alter Rebbe had the additional power to perceive these events with total accuracy. The reason they possessed this power was that they perceived a level of G–dliness that transcends all limitations, G–d’s very Essence as it were, such as will be revealed when Moshiach comes. 

This enabled their perception to transcend the limitations of time and space. We are granted the ability to connect with these lofty levels through learning Chassidus in general. Chassidus Chabad enables these lofty levels to permeate the person, and even the intellect of his Animal Soul. This prepares us for and hastens the coming of Moshiach, when this sublime level will be revealed and permeate one and all.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

This is the first of a series of posts concerning the Tzaddik’s control over nature.

When we think about the greatness of my father-in-law, the [Previous] Rebbe, and the fact that he left us ...

I don’t know why Hashem did this, but that is the fact of the situation. This is clearly not against his will, for in the case of a Rebbe the whole concept of “against his will” is not applicable. When the Rebbe agrees to something, he does so because that is what he wants. [The Rebbe said this also to an individual concerning a personal matter, saying:] May Hashem help you to understand that nothing can happen to a Rebbe against his will.

Toras Menachem, Vol. 5, p. 183 .

Monday, February 2, 2009

Some ask, “Why is it necessary to connect to a Tzaddik? I know that the Tzaddik is great, but what could be greater than going to Hashem directly?” 

The Rebbe addresses this question in the sicha below:
There is another lesson from the combination of the Parshiyos [Torah portions, sing. Parsha] of Vayakeil and Pekudei. The Parshiyos of Terumah and Tetzaveh describe how Hashem commanded Moshe to construct the Mishkan and its vessels, while the [later] Parshiyos of Vayakeil and Pekudei describe how Moshe told the Jewish people to construct the Mishkan and its vessels, and they implemented this. However, in between these two activities there was something that separated and disturbed this, as described in the Parsha of Ki Sisa [regarding the sin of worshipping the golden calf].

However, when the command was issued by Moshe Rabeinu, as described in the Parsha of Vayakeil, the Mishkan was immediately built and completed. This is one of the ideas represented by the combination of the Parshiyos of Vayakeil and Pekudei.

In most years, Vayakeil and Pekudei are combined, and “we follow the majority.” Even when the evil inclination mixes in and several more days may pass (until the directive as issued via Moshe Rabeinu is carried out), still, nothing else occurs in between. Ultimately every Jew will certainly do Teshuva, but when the matter is revealed via Moshe Rabeinu and “the extension of Moshe in every generation” [Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 69, 112a, 114a] this matter will certainly be accomplished, i.e., the Jewish people will certainly perform their divine service, and this will surely bring “the glory of G–d to fill the Mishkan.”

Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 3, pp.936-937.
In my own words:
When a command is issued directly from Hashem, the Jewish people don’t necessarily follow through with alacrity. Moreover, they may become sidetracked with trivialities, or even sins. However, when they hear it from Moshe Rabeinu or his extension in every generation, there might be a slight delay, but then they move to carrying out the instruction without going through a stage of sinning.

As is known (for example, see here), the Tzaddikim are “the extension of Moshe in every generation.” Here the Rebbe is saying that knowing that the Mitzvos were commanded by Hashem is insufficient. Bonding with Tzaddikim and receiving their guidance in divine service has a special power to inspire the Jew, protect him from sin, and bring him to perform the Mitzvos with alacrity (see also here).

Monday, January 26, 2009

The following story took place during the first or second year of the Rebbe’s leadership:

A non-observant woman turned to the Rebbe in connection with her husband’s health. The Rebbe blessed her husband with a complete recovery and added that if until now she did not light Shabbos candles, she should begin to do so.

The woman contacted the secretariat and argued, “I don’t understand the connection between my husband’s health and my lighting Shabbos candles.” The secretary relayed this to the Rebbe, who responded that the secretary should tell her as follows: “If you do rely on me, and this brought you to write to me, then believe me that lighting Shabbos candles will help your husband’s health. And if you don’t believe in me, why did you turn to me in the first place?!”

Hiskashrus #704.

Explanation: In an earlier post we discussed the concept that the Tzaddik’s ability to help the person stems from one’s basic faith in the Tzaddik and  submission to him. Perhaps the story above can be explained in this vein. The Rebbe was telling this woman that since she did not believe in his ability to assist her, he could not assist her, not only because she wasn’t willing to follow his instruction, but because spiritually she wasn’t a vessel for it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The following story (see here)was told concerning the Rebbe Maharash, the fourth Chabad Rebbe.

A severe decree was being formulated against the Jews. Rabbi Menachem Mendel, known as the “Tzemach Tzedek” (the third Lubavitcher Rebbe), sent his youngest son, Reb Shmuel to Petersberg in an attempt to get the decree rescinded. Traveling with Reb Shmuel was his older brother Reb Yehuda Leib, twenty years Reb Shmuel’s senior.

Before commencing the journey, Reb Shmuel insisted that Reb Yehuda Leib agree not to bless anyone during their trip. “Our father is the Rebbe and he is the only one who should give people blessings,” he declared. Having no other choice, Reb Yehuda Leib agreed to these conditions.

In every town they visited along the way, people converged on Reb Yehuda Leib. They begged him, as the son of such a great Tzaddik (righteous person), to give them a blessing for health, a living, children, etc. To each person, Reb Yehuda Leib replied, “Go visit my father, surely he will bless you.”

In one particular village, there was a woman who was especially persistent. She had not been blessed with children and was certain that, with the blessing of a Tzaddik, she would indeed merit to have children of her own.

The woman stationed herself in front of Reb Yehuda Leib. She begged and pleaded, screamed and cried that he must bless her to have children. But still Reb Yehuda Leib refused to bless the woman. “Go to my father, the Rebbe,” he stated simply. “Surely he will bless you.”

The woman was not satisfied with this answer. She continued to cry out to Reb Yehuda Leib that he should bless her. Finally, at wit’s end, Reb Yehuda Leib said, “Go to my brother. Perhaps he will bless you.”

The woman repeated the entire scene in front of Reb Shmuel. She begged and pleaded, cried and screamed that Reb Shmuel bless her to have children. But nothing could move Reb Shmuel. He insisted that only his father, the Rebbe, could do anything for the woman. Seeing that she would not take “no” for an answer, Reb Shmuel told his brother and the carriage driver to get ready to leave. They quickly got into the carriage to begin their journey home and away from the woman.

But the carriage didn’t budge. The woman had cleverly placed a stick in the spokes of the wheels to keep them from turning.

Reb Shmuel climbed down from the carriage and, in annoyance told the woman, “Go eat a bagel” - equivalent in today’s vernacular to “go fly a kite.”

Satisfied at last, the woman left Reb Shmuel and Reb Yehuda Leib to continue their journey. She promptly went home and made bagels, concentrating all the while on the blessing that the bagel would surely elicit. It occurred to the woman that just to be sure that the blessing would really be actualized, she should maybe eat two bagels. So that is exactly what she did.

The following year, Rabbi Menachem Mendel passed away and Reb Shmuel, though the youngest of his seven sons, was chosen to succeed him as Rebbe.

One day, a man came into Reb Shmuel’s study with two cakes which his wife had baked for the Rebbe. “You blessed my wife last year that she would have a child, so she has asked me to bring you these cakes in gratitude.”

Reb Shmuel had no recollection of the event so the man recounted the entire episode to Reb Shmuel. He finished by saying, “You said to my wife, ‘Go eat a bagel.’ That is exactly what she did and your blessing came true.”

“But why,” asked Reb Shmuel in amazement, “are you bringing me two cakes?”

“My wife had wanted to make sure that the blessing would really materialize so she ate two bagels and had twins!” said the beaming father.

“Know,” Reb Shmuel told the husband, “I saw that there was a heavenly decree that you and your wife were not destined to have children. It was only in exasperation that I told your wife to eat a bagel, not as a means of blessing. But because of her simple faith, her strong faith in the blessing of a Tzaddik, the decree was annulled and you and your wife were blessed with children.”

What’s amazing about this story is not that the Rebbe Maharash was able to give a blessing for children, for the powers of Tzaddikim over nature is well-known. Rather it lies in the woman’s pure faith in the powers of a Tzaddik. This was so effective that it enabled the Tzaddik’s inadvertent words to be fulfilled.

A Jew goes to a Tzaddik in order to be inspired to love and fear Hashem, to connect with Hashem on the lofty level of the Tzaddik, or to receive a spiritual or material blessing or advice. In order to accomplish these important goals, one needs to study the Tzaddik’s teachings and follow his instructions.

However, this relationship will only work if the person approaches the Tzaddik with total emunah in the Tzaddik’s power to provide these things.

Often people follow certain instructions of the Tzaddik, and see that they’re not getting inspired! It’s not working! And instead of searching within themselves for the root cause, they start to doubt the Tzaddik’s powers. In reality, the fault is in the person. The reason that the Tzaddik’s prescription isn’t working is that in order for the recipient to be a vessel, he has to believe with full confidence that the Tzaddik can do it. However, if the person the efficacy of the Tzaddik’s powers, then it become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The solution then is to study Torah sources concerning the level and holiness of a Tzaddik, and read stories of Tzaddikim.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Yud Shevat, the Yom Hillula of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, is rapidly approaching.  Below is an excerpt of relevance to the topic of Tzaddikim from a Ma’amar that the Rebbe delivered on Yud Shevat 5715.

The divine service of Is’hapcha, transformation, involves transforming the “foolishness of the opposing side”[1] into “holy foolishness.” This means that instead of behaving in a manner of irrational foolishness, one acts in the realm of holiness in a manner that transcends logic and reason.[2] This is the concept of “cedar wood”[3] in the realm of holiness.

Through this a Mishkan and Mikdash is built [within the Jew] for Hashem, and through one’s divine service he creates “A dwelling place [for G–d] in the lowly realms [this physical world],”[4] for “When one bends the ‘opposing side’”—and especially when one does not merely weaken and nullify it, but one transforms it to holiness—“the glory of G–d is revealed in all the worlds.” The light of Sovev [transcendent G–dliness], which is present in all the worlds equally, then shines and is revealed.

This is drawn down and revealed in this lowly world through the heads of the generation, the Nesi’im of the Jewish people, who connect the generation with G–d’s very Essence, as it is written, “I [Moshe Rabeinu] stand between G-d and you  ...  to tell you the Word of G–d.”[5] This is the concept of an “intermediary who joins.” Through this bonding process [whereby the Nesi’im join the generation with G–d’s very Essence] they create a dwelling place for G–d down below [i.e., in this physical world].

Toras Menachem Hisva’aduyos, Vol. 13, p. 216.

[1] Le’umas zeh, “the opposing side,” refers to the spiritual energy that conceals G–dliness.

[2] I.e., one should take the raw intensity of the Animal Soul and uses it in the service of G–d, to act in a way of “holy foolishness,” going beyond the required measure in holiness.

[3] The Hebrew word for cedar is shtus, foolishness. Thus, the deeper significance of the fact that the Mishkan contained cedar wood is that it involved transforming unholy foolishness into holy foolishness. Every Jew should emulate this in the formation of his personal inner Mishkan.

[4] Midrash Tanchuma, Naso 16. Tanya, ch. 36. 

[5] Devarim 5:5.

In my own words: Although the Jew elicits a revelation of the transcendent light of Sovev through transforming the foolishness of the Animal Soul to “holy foolishness,” this revelation descends into the world through the efforts of the Moshe Rabeinu of the generation.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Reb Mendel Futerfas was once hosted by a Chossid who was a great scholar and oived (one who strives to change his character through Avodas HaTefillah, lengthy prayer accompanied by meditation). Reb Mendel observed that every night his host would cry profusely in Kerias Shema She’al Hamitah (the recital of the bedtime Shema). Reb Mendel asked him, “Why are you crying, if you learn and pray so much?” He answered, “ich lern un davven takeh, ober es shtinkt”—“indeed, I learn and pray, but it smells.”

This line should not be taken literally, as if this Chossid thought he was a person full of arrogance. This was a very refined, humble person, and he knew his level. On the contrary, because he was so refined, he felt that even the small sense of self that he did have was detracting from the total submission to Hashem that he longed for. His natural, human self-love and preoccupation with his own concerns bothered and distressed him.

In other words, even someone on a higher level (and perhaps especially such a person) should realize how low he is. This is discussed in Tanya ch. 29. There the Alter Rebbe explains that our self-awareness is in fact awareness of the Nefesh Ha’Behamis, the Animal Soul.

In order to get in touch with our true selves, the Nefesh Ha’Elokis, the Divine Soul, special Avodah (effort at self-improvement) is required such as Iskafya (self-restraint from indulgence), prayer with intense concentration, and intensive study of Torah in general, and the inner dimension of Torah in particular.

Yet even then one is only allowing the Divine Soul to be revealed in one’s body and consequently in the world. However, the Divine Soul still remains separate from one’s conscious self. His core identity remains his Animal Soul, also known as the Evil Inclination. This inner force is evil. Thus, the Alter Rebbe explains in that chapter that one should angrily scream at one’s Evil Inclination, “‘You are evil, wicked, abominable, loathsome, and disgraceful,’ and so forth, using all the epithets by which our Sages have called it in truth.”

(It should be clarified that the inner essence of every Jew is his Divine Soul; this is his true self. However, on a revealed level, if he is not a Tzaddik, his conscious self-awareness is of his Animal Soul.)

How do we have a hope of pulling ourselves out of this mire of ego, and connecting to Hashem and to our Divine Soul within? Especially in light of the fact that “a prisoner cannot free himself from prison” (Berachos 5b)?

The answer is the Tzaddik, the Rebbe. He has no evil inclination. He has truly transcended the natural human condition of selfishness. His entire being is nullified to G–dliness, and thus G–dliness shines through him without obstruction. Thus, by learning from him and devoting ourselves to him, he elevates us beyond our ego, and grants us the ability to transcend our personal limitations and devote ourselves to Hashem in the most sublime manner possible during exile, and thus prepare ourselves to submit to Hashem in the most sublime manner possible after Moshiach comes.