Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Reb Rafael Nachman Kahn relates:

My mother related to me:

Once when the Rebbe Rashab and his son were in the country near Liozna, I was there as well. At the time I was pregnant.

One day I was walking with a chicken in my hand to the shochet, and in the other hand I was carrying my son’s hand, so I would be able to reach the shochet, who lived on the mountain.

The Rayatz was then sitting on the balcony, and when he saw a woman in such a situation (he did not know who I was then), walking with difficulty with a child and a chicken in my hands, he stopped me and said, “If you wish, I will slaughter the chicken for you.” In this way he saved me the walk to the shochet.

Here we see the tremendous ahavas Yisrael of our holy Rebbe’im.

Shemu’os V’Sipurim, Vol. 1, p. 193.

Some people only learn the lesson of a Rebbe’s superior powers of perception the hard way:

A Lubavitcher student told me [Rabbi Rafo’el Nachman Kahn] the following story. He had been a shochet[1] in one of the settlements near Moscow, and a dispute arose against him, and his opponents wrote to the Previous Rebbe, and the young man also wrote to him. The Previous Rebbe instructed him to give up slaughtering. The shochet was very angry at the Previous Rebbe, because on the surface there was no reason to warrant this prohibition.

When the Previous Rebbe was in Moscow, the shochet visited him for Yechidus in the house of Reb Chaim Zalman Gordon. When he left Yechidus, he told me that he had demanded of the Previous Rebbe, “Why had he been forbidden to slaughter? What had disqualified him?” The Previous Rebbe responded: “It is written, ‘For man sees [what is] before [his] eyes, and G–d sees the heart.’[2] We [referring to himself] are connected with the second half of the verse.” Once the Rebbe said this to him, he did not ask further.[3]

Shemu’os V’Sipurim, Vol. 1, p. 204:2.

[1] Ritual slaughterer.

[2] I Shmuel 16:7.

[3] The Previous Rebbe sensed that this shochet was not fit for his position, which requires exceptional fear of G–d.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Previous Rebbe discusses the dynamic of the Rebbe/chossid relationship:
One of the novelties that Chassidus introduced was that chassidim have a Rebbe, and they live with a saying, a gesture, or a melody of the Rebbe.

When a chossid hears a saying, a gesture, or a melody of the Rebbe, at that moment his Nefesh, Ru‘ach, and Neshamah [the three levels of the soul that are vested in a body] are connected to the Rebbe.

When one reviews an aphorism that the Rebbe said, or a melody that he sang, even if one only reviews the saying superficially, this is called “a knock on the door.”

The “knock on the door” indicates that he is here, and wants to come in. One will not knock on the door if he has no desire to enter; no one would have such arrogance, G–d forbid, to knock and not wish to enter. He is not such a type of person; rather, [he is acting] superficially. This is called “knocking on the door.”

The “knock on the door” is when a person with a chassidishe education says, “Rebbe, I’m yours. I devote myself to you completely. It is only that the sly one, who is ‘clever for doing evil’ [cf. Yirmiyahu 4:22], the evil inclination, who wants to deceive me, and put me in a sack. I do not want this. I am yours; I want to be as you desire. Have pity on me, Rebbe, extract me from where I am, and bring me to stand where I should be.”

Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. 3, p. 516.
Summary: The very act of reviewing an aphorism or a melody of one’s Rebbe, even if done half-heartedly, is a “a knock on the door,” i.e., it establishes a connection between the chossid and his Rebbe and indicates that the chossid desires to connect further with his Rebbe and receive from him even more deeply, and that this is his true desire, even if he falls occasionally, and that he asks the Rebbe to pull him out of the low spiritual state in which he finds himself.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The sublime level of a Rebbe can benefit a skeptic too:
Once someone came to the Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek and complained that he harbors doubts in Hashem. The Tzemach Tzedek asked him, “are you afraid of the king?”

“Have you ever seen the king?”

“No, never.”

“So why are you afraid of him?”

“My brother told me that he once saw the king.”

“Do you believe me?”


“If so ... ”

Shemu’os V’Sipurim, Vol. 3, p. 171.
Summary and lesson: The Hebrew word for world is olam, which is etymologically related to the word he’elem, concealment. We live in a world of tremendous spiritual darkness, and this darkness can weaken our faith and devotion to Hashem. In contrast, a Rebbe can “see” G-dliness in the sense that he relates to it as a reality; thus, by connecting with him, we too can come to “see” G-dliness to a significant extent, thereby strengthening our faith in Hashem, and making Him more of a tangible reality in our daily lives.

What is the impact of the actions of a Rebbe on the world? The Rebbe explains:

The reason that my father-in-law, the [Previous] Rebbe, related this episode[1] and instructed that it be publicized is in order to increase the spiritual energies endowed to each and every Jew to accomplish this. Since the episode occurred with a “Nasi,”[2] of whom it is written: “The Nasi is everyone,”[3] it endows spiritual energy within every single Jew. This is especially so since it did not just take the form of a verbal Torah discourse, but of an action.[4] Moreover, the fact that it was revealed and publicized by a Nasi increases this endowment of spiritual energies further still.

Sefer HaMa’amarim Melukat, Vol. 4, p. 26.

[1] See there for the specific episode and its lesson.

[2] The Leader of the Generation.

[3] I.e., his soul includes all the souls of his generation. See Rashi on Bamidbar 21:21 and Likutei Sichos, Vol. 18, p. 165.

[4] cf. Bava Basra, 130b.

The Rebbe repeated the same message on many occasions, in connection with many stories. Based on to the above, let us define levels of events:

  • Everything a Jew sees and hears holds a lesson, as the Baal Shem Tov teaches.
  • An episode that occurs to the Nesi’ei HaDor, the Leaders of the Generation. Here the lesson is even stronger, for the very fact that it happened to them affected the entire generation and endowed the people of that generation with extra inner strength—even if they don’t know it. Thus, when the story is told, even by a non-Nasi, the episode has an even greater impact.
  • When the Nesi’ei HaDor related and publicized the story of the event themselves, the event had an even greater impact on the generation. (This apparently implies that retelling these stories holds special priority and can have a special impact.)

Thus, an episode that occurred with one of the Rebbeim has already had an impact on the entire generation, and has a special power to inspire the generation further. Let us take advantage of this sublime divine gift and study these stories carefully, deriving the necessary lessons and implementing them.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

To what degree should a Chossid bond with his Rebbe? The Rebbe guides us:

The Hiskashrus (bond) with our Nasi (“leader”), my father-in-law, the (Previous) Rebbe, whose liberation we are commemorating today, must be forged in all faculties of the soul, such that no faculty or aspect remain that is not connected:

  • The Hiskashrus of one’s faculty of thought (with the Rebbe’s) is attained by contemplating the Rebbe’s words.
  • The Hiskashrus of one’s faculty of speech (with the Rebbe’s) is attained by verbally studying the Rebbe’s teachings.
  • The Hiskashrus of one’s faculty of action (with the Rebbe’s) is attained by doing the things that the Rebbe wanted and instituted.

Additionally, all the above ought to be done with feeling, i.e., the emotions, and understanding, i.e., intellect, and with willpower and pleasure, for through this he connects all the faculties of his soul.

However, each person knows that sometimes one of the faculties of his soul may be lacking in Hiskashrus. The solution to this is to give charity, for with this money “one could have bought the life of one’s soul (i.e., health)”; thus, giving charity is similar to the Hiskashrus with all “the life of one’s soul,” as explained in Tanya ch. 37.

This is especially applicable when one gives charity according to the law of Rabbi Nosson: “When someone is owed a maneh (100 units of currency) by his friend, and his friend in turn (is owed a maneh) by his friend, we can take from this one and give to that one (in order to settle the debt).”[1] Similarly, in this case: He devotes himself to our Rebbe, and therefore he gives his money for those things that our Rebbe devoted himself to, according to the law that “we can take from this one and give to that one.”

This is the reason for the good custom that has been introduced that on 12 Tammuz (during the farbrengen) everyone makes a donation for the “Oholei Yosef Yitzchok Lubavitch” in our Holy Land, may it be rebuilt, and in the Diaspora. This name is significant, for it indicates that those who study in it ought to be educated according to the wish and intent of our Rebbe, such that all who see them will recognize that “these are seed blessed by G–d.”

Since this donation is relevant to Hiskashrus, as explained above, there is nothing to be gained by publicizing it, which might well spoil it. Thus, the custom is that each person gives his donation quietly and in a modest manner, and he writes his name and his mother’s name on a special note, in order that he be mentioned (by the Rebbe) at the gravesite (of the Frierdiker Rebbe).

Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 4, p. 1325.

[1] Gittin 37a.

In my own words: The Chossid’s bond with the Rebbe should permeate every level of his soul and every aspect of his behavior. This is the ideal. However, even if the Chossid is yet to achieve this in the literal sense, by giving charity to one of the charity funds of the Rebbe, it is also considered in a sense as if he devoted all his faculties to the Rebbe, and bonded with him totally. Since this charity is intended as a means of forging Hiskashrus, which is a deep, personal bond, it should not be publicized.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Some find it difficult to grasp the concept of absolute obedience to a Tzaddik and a Rebbe. Based on a public address of the Previous Rebbe, the Rebbe explains that this obedience is necessary because the Rebbe/Chossid relationship is comparable to the relationship of a foot soldier and his king:

Obviously, in order to resurrect to others, one must be alive oneself. Here the evil inclination finds an opportunity to entice the person with the claim: “Who are you, and how do you have the power to resurrect others? You would do well to save yourself!”

However, the [Previous] Rebbe, my father-in-law, of blessed memory  explains, “Although it is true ... it is out of place ... what does a soldier know—he can only shoot, and he goes with self-sacrifice ... with joy, and this makes him a victor.”

The soldier does not design his rifle, nor is he able to. He does not intellectually grasp how the rifle shoots, or tactics of war in general. However, he devotes his life and his power of resolve to the general, and he does so joyfully, and only then is he the victor.

We see tangibly that the foundation of all of this is faith—faith in the head of all the generals, the king and the Nasi. As far as the spiritual war is concerned, this is the Nasi and the leader of the generation. In our generation this is the [Previous] Rebbe, my father-in-law, of blessed memory, who instructed and assigned every man and woman among us a specific role in the battlefield against the forces of evil.

Faith needs to be strengthened from time to time as well, so that it not remain in a manner of Makif (superficial), but rather, that it rule over all one’s faculties, and over one’s thought, speech, and action in actual day-to-day life.

May Hashem grant us full faith, and may we merit the fulfillment of the prophecy, “As in the days of your departure from Egypt”—when in the merit of faith, our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt—“I will show you miracles” (Micha 7:15).

Igros Kodesh, Vol. 3, pp. 265-266.

In my own words: Just as the foot soldier’s victory in war depends upon faith in the king and total devotion to him, so does victory in the war against the forces of evil depend upon cultivating one’s faith in the Rebbe and devotion to his directives, until one brings this faith to permeate one’s personality and inspire every aspect of one’s life.

Comment: This teaching, which compares the Tzaddik to the general/king who runs the war, and the disciple to the foot soldier who follows orders even without understanding them, fits nicely with the earlier post here comparing the Tzaddik to the head, and the disciple to the foot.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Why is it permitted to ask a Tzaddik to davven on one’s behalf, but it is not permitted to submit the same request to an angel? The Rebbe explains:

One meshulach (fundraiser), a fool, when given a pidyon (written request for blessing from a Tzaddik) to give to the (Previous) Rebbe, would refuse to take it, saying that one should request from Hashem directly, and not through intermediaries.

The truth is, as explained in the responsum of the Chasam Sofer,[1] ... that there is a difference between angels and [Jewish] souls. Requesting via angels is considered a request via intermediaries (which is forbidden), while the request via souls, who are higher than angels, is not considered a request via intermediaries, for “All Israel are partners, one body and one soul. When one Jew feels pain, his fellow also senses it, and shares his pain. ... Since they are both in pain, it is better for the head to enter (and plead for Heavenly mercy) than for the foot to enter. The Talmidei Chachamim (Torah scholars) are the head.” This is especially true of Jewish leaders (“nesi’ei Yisro’el”) who are the “heads of the thousands of Israel,” the level of the “head.”[2]

Thus, in this case the principle “The prayer of the sick person himself is more effective than the prayer of others for him”[3] is not applicable. This principle is referring to others, while nesi’ei Yisro’el are not others; rather, they are the “heads of the thousands of Israel.” Therefore their prayer is like “the prayer of the sick person himself,” just as the head prays for the foot.

On the contrary, the prayer of the nesi’ei Yisro’el is even more effective than the prayer of the sick person himself,[4] for the Nasi, who is the head, feels the illness more than the foot. The reason for this is twofold:

  • the head is higher than the foot, since the intellect resides there;
  • the only reason that the foot feels the illness is on account of the sinews that stem from the brain, for all sensation stems only from the brain.

However, all this only applies when the person recognizes that he is a foot, and devotes himself completely to the head—the Rebbe. However, if one thinks that he has a head as well, and comes to the Rebbe in such a state to hand over a pidyon, then it is indeed questionable to employ an intermediary.

To seek the Rebbe’s advice would not be problematic, for one can ask any Jew for advice. In fact, the Talmud relates[5] that Rav studied from a shepherd for twelve months. However, giving a pidyon (without recognizing the Rebbe as one’s head) raises the question of an intermediary.

All those here are surely devoted to the (Previous) Rebbe. Even those whose devotion is lacking (can be considered devoted, for) since their inner self is devoted to the Rebbe, it is sufficient for them to verbally declare that they are devoted to him (in order for their presentation of a pidyon not to be problematic; see also here). This is similar to Maimonides’ explanation concerning the benefit of “forcing him until he says, ‘I want.’”[6] Since his statement “I want” is consistent with his true desire “to be one of (the people of) Israel ... to perform all the Mitzvos.”

There is thus no basis for a question concerning the issue of (submitting a request for blessing to) an intermediary, not even concerning “an intermediary who joins.”

The knowledge that one is only a foot and the Rebbe is the head is also relevant to the manner in which one fulfills the Rebbe’s command:

The Rebbe may issue a command to do something that involves suffering, or even a command to increase in Torah study and prayer in a way that the person must sever himself from eating, drinking, and sleeping. Even when he carries out the command obediently—knowing that he is merely a foot, and as such he must follow the head’s command—the thought might enter his mind that were the Rebbe to know how hard It is for him to do this, the Rebbe would not have commanded him to do it.

This can be answered based on what was said earlier concerning the head and the foot: Not only is the head able to sense better than the foot, as it is higher, but even the foot’s sensation of pain is in fact the sensation of the head. Thus, if there is a separation, G–d forbid, between the foot and the head, the foot will feel no pain. Thus, when the head commands the foot to place the heel into boiling water, the foot must obey immediately, without thinking twice, and the foot must understand—this degree of understanding the foot is “allowed” to have—that the head feels the pain.

Toras Menachem—Hisva’aduyos, Vol. 2, pp. 31-32.

[1] Shut Chasam Sofer, Orach Chaim, 166.

[2] Tanya ch. 2.

[3] Bereishis Rabba 53:14.

[4] Bava Basra 116a.

[5] Sanhedrin 5b.

[6] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Divorce, end ch. 2. When a husband stubbornly refuses to give his wife a get, a certificate of divorce, the Jewish court forces him to do so until he says “I want.” Maimonides explains that since deep down, every Jew truly wishes to obey the Torah, this declaration of willingness is regarded as genuine, and the divorce is valid.

In my own words: Extending a request to Hashem via an intermediary is only problematic if he is indeed a separate entity from the person who submits the request. However, the Tzaddik is a Neshama klalis, a general soul that contains the souls of other Jews, just as the head contains the life of the body. Thus, the Tzaddik is not a separate entity, but an extension of oneself. Put differently, one’s own spiritual self is in fact an extension of the Tzaddik. Thus, just as my head can davven for my foot, so can I ask the Tzaddik to davven for me.

Therefore, not only does the Tzaddik feel my pain, but my pain is the Tzaddik’s very own pain, which he feels even more acutely than I do myself. Conversely, the Tzaddik’s pain is in fact my pain, even if I do not feel it tangibly.

Thus, the Tzaddik is my head regardless of whether I recognize it. However, if I fail to recognize it, or I recognize it on some level but do not devote myself sufficiently to him, and I treat him as a separate entity, then asking him to pray for me is indeed problematic. However, since the person believes in the Tzaddik and, at least deep down, wishes that he could be devoted to him, it may be derived from Halacha that a verbal declaration of his intent is sufficient to reveal his true desire, even if he is yet to bring this true desire to conform with his daily life. His request for blessing is then not problematic, G-d forbid, but on the contrary, it is desirable.