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Tzedek” (the third Lubavitcher Rebbe), sent his youngest son, Reb Shmuel to Petersberg in an attempt to get the decree rescinded.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.