ההשקפה החב"דית באספקלריית דברי ימי אדמור"י וחסידי חב"ד לדורותיהם

Monday, October 4, 2010

New Book! "Journey to Barditchev"

Marking the passage of two hundred years since the journey of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, author of the Tanya and the Shulchan Aruch, to Barditchev in the year 5570 [1800], and marking two hundred and fifty years since the passing of the Baal Shem Tov - one of the aims of the said journey being to pray at his gravesite in Mezubush - a Hebrew language book has been published describing that journey.

New! "History of Chabad in Czarist Russia – Selected Chapters – 1770-1920"

The Chabad-Lubavitch publishing house, Kehot Publication Society, has announced the publication of an important new book on the history of Chabad.

The Hebrew volume: "History of Chabad in Czarist Russia – Selected Chapters – 1770-1920," was compiled by Chabad historian Rabbi Shalom Dovber Levine, director of the Central Chabad-Lubavitch Library and Archive Center.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Simchas Torah 5690 [1929], Riga

The following is a free translation of a letter by Reb Elyeh Chaim Althoiz to the Friedike Rebbe [Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Shneersohn] describing the tremendous impression made by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson [son-in-law and later successor of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak] on all the Chassidim who gathered at the Rebbe's court in Riga for the festivities of Simchas Torah, while the Rebbe was absent on a visit to the united states.  

Though I have not yet returned to my full strength after the strain of the last two days of Yom Tov [Shmini Atzeres and Simachas Torah], and from all the dancing I am still shattered, there is not a whole limb in my body… I am unable to withhold the good, the gratification and true pleasure from the Rebbe [Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn], who is beloved and dear, for even one moment. I must give satisfaction at the earliest opportunity, while I still stand in a state of great feeling of joy and pleasure; that I merited to see the rising glory of the Rebbe’s household with my own eyes, exalted in spirituality and holiness, may we only merit that it should not cease till the coming of the redeemer.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Newly Published Correspondence Provides Unpercedented Insight into the Early Life of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson

BOOK REVIEW: LETTERS OF RABBI YOSEF YITZCHAK SCHNEERSOHN VOL. XV, kehot publication society: brooklyn, 2010

As the subtitle of the book informs us, this volume contains the letters of the sixth Rebbe of the Chabad chasidic dynasty, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, to his son-in-law and eventual successor, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and to his daughter Rebbitzen Chaya Mushkah Schneerson. Significantly, the volume also includes relevant extracts from Rabbi Menachem Mendel’s letters to his father-in-law.

While it has been published as the fifteenth volume in a series it should in truth be viewed as an independent book, worthy of singular attention and an identity of its own. Other volumes in the series have collected a wide variety of letters, addressed to many different personalities and representing a very colorful tapestry of the R. Yosef Yitzchak’s activities and interests as well as a virtual treasure trove of historical narrative and anecdotal insight into the idealistic past of the Chassidic movement. This, however, is the first in the series to focus entirely on a single theme. These letters tell the story of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak’s private relationship with the individual upon whose shoulders his hopes and dreams for Jews and Judaism would be carried into the future. Perhaps herein lays a crucial key with which to decipher the journey of the Chabad dynasty, and the broader path of the Chabad movement, through the uncertainties of the twentieth century and into modernity.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Riga, Yom Kippur 5690 [1929]

From a letter by Reb Elyeh Chaim Althoiz to the Friediker Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (Rayatz), who was visiting the United Sates of America at the time. As is described in the present letter, the Rebbe's family and the chassidim who he left behind were distraught at the prospect of Tishrei without the Rebbe. They were, however, consoled by the presence of the Rebbe's son-in-law and successor, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Free Translation.  
The Yom Kippur service finished later this year in the Rebbe's minyan than ever before, for the Rebbe's son-in-law [Ramash, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson] became totally absorbed in his prayers and oblivious to anything else during Neilah. A nice while passed before he managed to climb out of his reverie. All of us were filled with pleasure from this very pleasing wait. And as is well known, after Neilah the enthusiasm and ability of every Jewish soul to serve G-d is renewed like the strength of a young eagle.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Rabbi Yoel Kahn on the Nature of G-d's Existence

Yiddish, followed by English transalation

Delivered at the National Jewish Retreat 2009.

Click on the picture below to watch:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Yeshiva in Lubavitch - Part 1

In honor of the 15th of Elul, the day on which Yeshivas Toimchei Temimim Lubavitch was founded in 5657 [1897] we continue with the memoirs of Reb Nochum Shmaryahu Sussonkin, in which he describes his arrival in Lubavitch to study in ישיבת תומכי תמימים. This is the third installment. The first two, in which he describes his youth in Prepoisk and his studies in the Yeshiva of Reb Elchonon Bunim Vasserman הי"ד, can be found here and here, respectively.
From Left To Right: Reb Avrohom Elyeh Plotkin, Reb Nochum Shmaryahu Sussonkin and Reb Nissen Neminov

I finished learning in the Yeshivas for younger students at the end of the winter of 5665 [1905]. At that time the most famous Yeshivas for older students in the world were Telz, Volozhin, Slobodka, Mir, Radin and Lubavitch. I stood on a cross roads and did not know where to turn. Though I had studied in Krementchug, a city of Chassidim, I had not had much contact with them and knew nothing of Chassidus, especialy not Chabad Chassidus. I had met with students who had come from Telz, Volozhin etc and though I knew that not all the students in those Yeshivas were alike, I decided that I would not go to those Yeshivas for I knew too that the spirit of the [secular movement of] enlightenment had already permeated their study halls and was afraid for my soul lest I too be smitten.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Berlin & Paris Years - Revisited

A so-called 'biography' of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn has stirred much controversy and debate as to how committed he actually was to Chabad and the Chassidic (or even Orthodox) way of life. Much ink has already been spilled (most extensively at The Seforim Blog) in which the 'scholarship' of the author's is unmasked as being at the very best extremely lacking, and more probably, deliberately misleading. I do not intend to reiterate or add to the numerous examples of blatant falsification, nor do I intend to attack their central thesis directly. My intention here is simply to provide some context, lending perspective and better allowing the reader to appreciate the story of the Rebbe's life, who he was and what he did.

The Rebbe's conduct, prior to becoming Rebbe in general, and specifically during his sojourn in Berlin and then Paris, reminds of the following episode (as recorded in Shmues Vesipurim Vol 1, page 69):

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Non-Chassidic Hashkofic Disciplines

A discussion in the comments to the previous post, "Chassidus & Chakira", highlighted the unfortunate fact that way Chassidus should ideally be viewed and properly taught, does not always coincide with the actual presentation of Chassidus in the "Chabad" educational "system" of today. The specific issue under discussion was whether or not it is the "official Chabad doctrine" to study works of Chakira.

No one ever claimed that Works of Chakira, or Musser, or Drush etc. are part of the official curriculum taught in Lubavitch Yeshivahs, however to say that study of such works is discouraged is absolutely wrong. On the contrary, Rabbi Chadokov [Hodakov], the head of the Rebbe's secretariat, a man of tremendous insight, the main implementer of the Rebbe's Hashkofeh on a practical level and an expert in the field of education, often advocated that both individuals and institutions should pay more attention to such works. In "The Educator's Handbook: principles, reflections, directives of a master pedagogue", a compilation of his advice and directives, there are many examples of this. While I will focus mainly on the example of Rabbi Chadokov, which is better documented, any Mashpia worth listening to shares and implements a similar attitude (see below.)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Chassidus & Chakira

This past week I have been reviewing the Shar Hayichud of Choves Ha'Levoves. Though the polemical discussion of Creationist theory is a topic that lies essentially beyond the parameters of Chassidus, belonging rather to the realm of Chakira, Jewish Philosophical Doctrine (a discipline that is complementary to but distinct from Chassidus), I will nevertheless take the opportunity to summarize the arguments presented therein (perokim 5-6). In Chassidus this Choves Ha'Levovos is cited tens if not hundreds of times, as the principle that אין דבר עושה את עצמו - "no being can create itself".

The fact that the world was created by a Divine being, who’s existence cannot be qualified by the limitations of earthly existence may be established by logical deduction:

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Reb Chaim Oizer on the Rebbe Rayatz's Efforts for Russian Jewry

This letter was written in Tammuz 5688 [1928] less than a year following the Rebbe's release from soviet imprisonment and exile. At the time the Rebbe was living in Riga, Latvia.
Click on images to enlarge:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Moscow, 1927

Note: The 12th of Tammuz is the anniversary of the liberation of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn from his exile in Soviet Russia in 1927. The Rebbe was arrested in June of that year by agents of the Yevsektzia (the "Jewish Section" of the Communist party) and the GPU (forerunner of the KGB) because of his work to preserve Judaism throughout the Soviet Empire. The Rebbe was sentenced to death, for his "counter-revolutionary" activities, but a miraculous confluence of events forced the Soviets to commute it, and then to release him altogether.

The full account of the Rebbe's arrest and liberation can be found here.

The following is a translation of an excerpt from the Rebbe's diary (written several months before his arrest and printed as an appendix to "The Heroic Struggle"), in which he describes how (on an earlier occasion) he was saved by Divine Providence from the hands of four GPU thugs. While traveling by train to Moscow, in order to meet with various Rabbis and philanthropists to plan and budget further efforts for the upkeep of Yidishkeit in the face of soviet oppression, the Rebbe happened to meet a high ranking member of the Soviet Secret Police through whom his salvation would be effected mere days later.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Rebbe: The Essential Definition

The following is a letter written by the Lubavitcher Rebbe on the 3rd of Tammuz 5710 [1950] within a few months of the Friediker Rebbe's passing. Explanatory editions to the literal translation of the original text are enclosed in square brackets.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Great Debate in Minsk

In the summer of (5543) 1783 the city of Minsk was the stage for a momentous meeting of minds. Orchestrated by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi – the Alter Rebbe and encouraged by the most influential Rabbinic authority of the time, Rabbi Eliyahu, the Vilna Gaon, “the great debate” attracted the greatest and most venerable Talmudic scholars of Lithuania, and was intended to resolve the ongoing conflict between the Chassidim and their opponents (“Misnagdim”).

After much deliberation the Goan Rabbi Eliyahu had decided that “if “the cult” [as the Chassidim where referred to] are to demand a debate then we are obligated to answer them”, and so Rabbi Schneur Zalman let it be known that he would be present in the city of Minsk on the Shabbos following the 9th of Av and would remain there for two or three weeks thereafter, so that he may answer “anyone with a query or a complaint against the Chassidim or their conduct”.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Reb Aryeh-Leib Sheinin הי"ד

הגאון החסיד רבי ארי' לייב שיינין הי"ד זצ"ל

The Rov of the Chassidic Shtetel of Dokshitz, Reb Leib Sheinin learnt in Yeshivas Toimchei Temimim Lubavitch between the years 5668-5677 (1908-1917). Arriving there at a young age, from his home town of Babroisk, he grew to become one of the most outstanding student’s of the Yeshivah and was famous for the many hours he sent daily in prayer. In the words of Reb Yehudah Chitrik (Reshimos Devorim, in the New Edition P. 302) “the Temimim would often repeat in the name of the Rebbe Rashab that all his [the Rebbe’s] work, his efforts and self-sacrifice, [expended] in order to found Yeshivas Toimchei Temimim – is worth it in order to produce such a Talmid as Reb Leib Sheinin”. In the version recorded in Lubavitch Ve’chai’oleho, he added “all the rest are extra gain”. He was famed as an ‘Oivied’ [one who serves G-d, through lengthy prayer and contemplation] and it was said of him that he reached the level of Beinoni as described in Tanya (Ibid).

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Rebbe - The Berlin-Paris Years

There has recently been a renewed interest in the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s activities and lifestyle during the period that he spent in Berlin and Paris between the years 1927-1940.

Apparently there has been some speculation "that [the future Rebbe] Menachem Schneerson… was never completely engaged by his chasidic upbringing, preferring instead the modernizing and secularizing influences that made such significant inroads among young Jewish intellectuals in early 20th-century Russia and Europe." As evidence they point to the fact that he chose “to trim his beard, wear modern suits, and distance himself from the chasidic community in Paris, where he and his wife, the daughter of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, lived after their marriage.”

I will not dispute the assertion that, though “there is no question he was an observant Jew... he lived in places where Chasidim didn’t live, and he did things they wouldn’t do.” Another point that I won’t dispute is that the Rebbe may never have thought of himself as a candidate for the position of Rebbe. However, if this is to lend credence to the author’s claim that the Rebbe veered away from the path of his forbearers and father-in-law and essentially lived the life of a modern orthodox Jew rather than that of a Chassidic Jew, the authors must have ignored a large swath of readily available information, which conclusively proves this thesis to be incorrect. While no one will argue that the Rebbe dressed like a Chossid during his years in Berlin and Paris, there is no doubt that he remained a Chossid in every sense of the word and was absolutely committed to the service of his revered father-in-law, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, as we will demonstrate.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

“Maamer Matan Torah”

Amongst Chassidim, Shavuos – “the time of the giving of our Torah” and the Yortzeit of the Baal Shem Tov, was a very special time. This unique occasion was marked primarily by the special Maamorim – Chassidic discourses, referred to as Divrei Elokim Chaim [“the word of the living G-d”], which were said by the Rabbeim. Much of the forty eight hours of Yom Tov was spent hearing the Maamorim, studying them and reviewing them. The entire atmosphere was permeated by anticipation, excitement and a palpable enthusiasm that centered on the study and repetition of the Maamorim. (All of the accounts detailed below are quoted and cited in Oitzer Minhogai Chabad, Vol. 2.)
The Alter Rebbe usually said two Maamorim (presumably one on each night) each year. However, there were occasions when he said three or four, and we actually have five Maamorim which were all said in the year 5564 (1804).
The Mitteler Rebbe, who was known for his lengthy and very explanatory Discourses, would often say several Maamorim even on a regular Shabbos. One Shavous he said a total of eleven Maamorim, each of them very lengthy. His uncle Reh Yehudah Leib (the Alter Rebbe’s brother, known as the Maharil) gently chided him, saying, “Nit aleh hobin dein kop!” [“Not everyone has a head like yours!”] (Beis Rebbi, Vol. 2 pp 3a.)
One year after Shacharis the Mitteler Rebbe began to say a Maamer, explaining the concepts at great length as was his custom. When he finished the Maamer, the Chassidim began to disperse but quickly relised that the Rebbe was about to begin a second Maamer. Again, the Rebbe spoke at great length and when he finished it was apparent that he was preparing himself to begin a third. Seeing this, Reb Hillel Paritcher ran to the house of the Tzemach Tzedek [who did not always attend, his father-in-law – the Mitteler Rebbe’s, Maamorim], unable to restrain himself he grabbed the Tzemach Tzedek by the beard and cried, “Mendel Mendel! Kum her on zeh vi es gist zich chassidus in gass!” [“Mendel Mendel! Come, hear and see how Chassidus is pouring out in the street!”] (Migdal Oiz, pp 187)
The Tzemach Tzedek
In the year 5607 (1847) many Chassidim came to spend Shavuos [with the Tzemach Tzedek] amongst them the most famous, Reb Hillel Paritcher and Reb Betzalel Mai’azaritz, as well as many others. After coming from the Mikveh on Eruv Shavuos, the Rebbe said a Maamer beginning “Anoichi Havyeh Eloikechoh” [“I am Heshem your G-d” the first of the Ten Commandments]. The son’s of the Rebbe spent the entire evening and night, each in his own house, reviewing the Maamer [before the guests] and before dawn Reb Bezalel repeated the entire Maamer from memory.
After Davening there was a festive meal and all the great Chassidim and Rabbonim, as well as the sons of the Rebbe, were invited… those who were not invited stood…. When all the invitees were seated the Rebbe came out of his room and sat at the table… he poured some wine into his cup, made a brocho and said L’Chaim to his sons and the other invitees, nodding his holy head to all those who stood. He began to sing and his sons – not the invitees – sang with him. It was extremely gratifying to hear their melody. Then the Rebbe rose from his chair and began to dance alone where he stood, he held a handkerchief in his hand [it was the custom of the Rabbeim to wrap their hand in a handkerchief while sayin a Maamer]. The sons of the Rebbe – but not the invitees – clapped their hands in accompaniment…

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Eighteen days between Lag B’Omer and Shavuos

The following is a continuation of an abridged excerpt from the diary of the Freidike Rebbe dated Sunday, 2o Iyar, 5656. For part 1 see here. Text enclosed in square parentheses has been added either by the Translator or myself. I have also changed the order in which some of the stories are recorded.

After [the morning] davenen, when most of the worshipers had gone home and only a few remained, three elder chassidim sat together in the room adjoining the zal and exchanged narratives -- my teacher R. Shmuel Betzalel, R. Abba Persohn, and R. Shmuel Gurevitch.
[Reb Avrohom Abba Persohn’s father was a Chossid of the Mitteler Rebbe and later the Tzemach Tzedek, as well as being a respected Chossid, he was also one of the most respected philanthropists in the region. He had his son, Avrohom Abba, educated by Chassidim of the old-school.
His was a very emotional personality, but at the same time well balanced, he was moderate in his speech and his conduct. From his youth he would interest himself in the stories of the Chassidic elders and he collected them one by one like a collector of pearls, reviewing them with great precision. When he would relate these stories, he would add lengthy introductions, describing the era, the place and the character of the various personalities. (From the periodical “Hatomim”, Vol. 6, pp 92-93.)]

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Great Merit of Learning Tanya By-Heart

From a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Zatza”l delivered on Shabbos Parshas Mishpotim 5714:

Translators note: the following story describes events that took place in spiritual realms, belonging to a dimension beyond human conception or description. Not having the words to describe such sublimity we must resort to a description, which does not do justice and is to a great extent incongruent, with the true nature of the spiritual realms described.

Due to a certain matter which the Rebbe Rashab achieved, his father, the Rebbe Maharash, took him into the supernal realms, till a particular place to which the Rebbe Rashab was able to accompany the rebbe Maharash. From there the Rebbe Maharash continued on by himself. In the meantime, the Rebbe Rashab noticed a chamber where a particularly brilliant Divine revelation was manifest. There sat a Jew who relative to his level of Divine service, apparently did not belong in such a lofty realm.
When the Rebbe Maharash returned, the Rebbe Rashab asked him, “How did come about that this Jew reached such an exalted realm?” The Rebbe Maharash answered, “Though he is, indeed, a simple Jew, he was nevertheless fluent in Tanya and was accustomed to repeating Tanya by-heart.”
The lesson from this story [explained the Rebbe Zatza”l] is that even an individual who is lacking in understanding and intellectual assimilation, nevertheless merits a great revelation. However, in order not to sit in that lofty realm with “closed eyes” seeing without comprehending, hearing and not understanding that which one hears – one must study and understand with comprehension and intellectual assimilation. Then one will be in a situation of open eyes and ears [having a proper appreciation for the exalted and wondrous revelation].
The way to understanding and comprehension is first and foremost through effort, simply to toil in one’s study of Chassidus for “one who claims that he did not toil, but nevertheless succeeded, is not to be believed.” (see Megilah 6b)
Added to this is the recommendation that one give charity, physical charity and who much more so spiritual charity, through which “ones heart and mind become purified a thousand fold.” (see Torah Ohr, 1a)

May these words provide some measure of comfort as we mourn the untimely loss of HaTomim Nosson Notte ben Reb Zalman Yuda A”H Dietsch.

A picture of Nosson listening to the in depth Shuirim of Reb Yoel Kahn on Tanya, in the summer of 5769

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Hatomim Nosson Dietsch OBM

הת' נתן נטע בן ר' זלמן יודא ע"ה דייטש

A bochur who I knew personally. He knew the fifty-three perokim of Tanya and Igeres HaTeshuvah by heart, word-by-word. He had a heart of Gold and was always smiling. In his presence everyone was comfortable, everyone was smiling. The void he leaves behind him will never be filled.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lag B’Omer in Lubavitch

The following is an abridged excerpt from the diary of the Freidike Rebbe, printed in Likkutai Dibburim Vol, 4 as translated by Rabbi Touger (available here). Text enclosed in square prentices has been added either by the Translator or myself. I have also changed the order in which some of the stories are recorded.

Sunday, 20 Iyar, 5656 [1896, the author was 15 years old at the time]
2.00 p.m.

After great efforts I managed to get permission to join in the Shabbos meal at the home of my respected grandmother, the Rebbitzin [Rivkah, mother of the Rebbe Rashab and Husband of the Rebbe Maharash]. The meals there are always interesting, because at the table they recount episodes full of content -- especially this Shabbos, when two guests of stature arrived in town, repositories of chassidic oral tradition: R. Avraham Abba Persohn [G-d willing a description of this Chossid will appear in the next post, which will include some of the stories he recounted on this occasion] and R. Shmuel HaLevi Horovitz. [Also known as R. Shmuel Mozinker, because for many years he lived in an inn of that name in a forest near Babinovitch. He studied in the yeshivah of the Tzemach Tzedek in the years 5613-5618 [1853-1858]. He was a meticulously correct baal shmuah (master of Chassidic tales). My father [the Rebbe Rashab] once said that he reported oral traditions with utter reliability, even with respect to their wording. Any point about which he had a doubt, he omitted from his memoirs. (Based on a letter of the Rebbe Rayatz.)]
On Friday evening, though it was almost eleven when we began the Shabbos meal, there was no haste, and it continued until 1:30 a.m. In honor of the distinguished guest, R. Abba Persohn, my former teacher R. Nissan Skoblo, who loved hearing chassidic traditions firsthand, joined the company at the table.
* * *
The History of Reb Abba David Iskasya
R. Shmuel Horovitz recalled that among the elder chassidim of Denenburg and Griva there was a elderly scholar known as R. Abba'le David Iskasya. In the study of nigleh he was the longtime colleague of the learned R. Baruch Mordechai [son in law of the last Rov of Vilna, Reb Shmuel a fuller account of Reb Boruch Mordechai’s history will be provided in a future post] when the latter was still in Vilna, and in Chassidus he was his disciple.
“R. Abba David, who was born in Polotzk, was gifted and assiduous, and advanced from one yeshivah to the next until he found his way to the yeshivah of the Gaon of Vilna, where he shone as an outstanding student. By nature he leaned towards solitude and intensive study. For some days he lived in the shul in a suburb called Shnipishak, and then moved into the center of town. Throughout all that time not one idle word escaped his lips; he knew of nothing but conscientious study; and he made the acquaintance of no man.
"However, when it became known that the son-in-law of the head of the Rabbinical Court of [Vilna], 'the Jerusalem of Lithuania,' the brilliant R. Baruch Mordechai, was now loyal to the banner of 'the Sect' and was now at the head of the [local chassidic] movement, there erupted such a scandal that it aroused even the curiosity of R. Abba David: What lay at the root of this storm that was rocking all of Jewry and Vilna, and especially agitated its most eminent scholars? To cut a long story short, the more he savored the scholarly expositions of Chassidus on themes such as knowing G-d by understanding the concept of creation ex nihilo, the more did his soul cleave to its teachings. Since he was a scholar of great standing, whom the Alter Rebbe chose to teach his grandson the Tzemach Tzedek for a full year after his bar mitzvah, he was offered numerous rabbinical posts. He refused them all because of his love of solitude, preferring to live in a village for about thirty years. And that was why the chassidim used to call him 'Abba David Iskasya [an allusion to a Kabbalistic concept of Divine Self-Concealment].'
"When he was about eighty years old he came to live near his son, R. Zerach, the moreh tzedek of Griva, who rented him an apartment near the shul. He spent most of his days and nights studying in the shul, and sometimes slept there.
"The chassidic communities of Denenburg and Griva treated him with reverence, since he was known to be a scholar of repute in both the revealed and esoteric planes of the Torah. Indeed, elderly chassidim testified that forty years earlier, in 5567 (1807), the Mitteler Rebbe had said: 'Abba David's brain is saturated with Divine intellect.'
"A chassid by the name of R. Zalman Moshe Leitzener, who for many years had known R. Abba'le David from the time he had been in Vitebsk and in a village near Nevel, and who had also met him on many occasions in Lubavitch, was amazed that he had changed his conduct -- far from being a silent recluse, he was now companionable and a ready talker."
Lag B’Omer 5604
Among the events recalled by R. Abba'le David Iskasya [as transmitted at my grandmother's Shabbos table by R. Shmuel HaLevi Horovitz] was the celebration of Lag BaOmer in Lubavitch in 5604 (1844). This is how he described it:

"From the first year that the past [i.e., the Mitteler] Rebbe settled in Lubavitch, in 5574 (1813), he renewed the old custom of celebrating Lag BaOmer in the fields out of town. Every year there would be a light festive meal that included mashke and hard-boiled eggs, and there was singing and dancing. In the middle of the meal or at the end the Rebbe [the Tzemach Tzedek] would arrive and deliver a maamar of Chassidus, and would then urge the elder chassidim to tell him whatever they remembered of Lag BaOmer celebrations [with his predecessors] in bygone years -- customs, teachings, narratives. After he left, the chassidim would continue to celebrate together at the table until early evening. Later this celebration became a full festive meal.
"Early in MarCheshvan of that year a special messenger brought the chassidim of Nevel a circular letter written on the Rebbe's instructions. The letter conveyed the Tzemach Tzedek's directive that his chassidim should not visit Lubavitch nor write letters there, and detailed the slanders initiated by the maskilim of Vilna. [For the historical background to this episode, see, The Tzemach Tzedek and the Haskalah Movement, ch. 5]
"For all of us, the chassidim of Nevel and the whole province and the whole country, that winter was a time of anguish -- until the affair of the slanders was cleared up early in Nissan, and once again we were allowed to visit Lubavitch.”
Earlier in the meal R. Chanoch Hendel [later to become the first Mashpi’a in Toimchei Temimim] had related regarding these events;

"From the beginning of the month of Iyar the Rebbe had again permitted his chassidim to visit Lubavitch, after having forbidden them to do so throughout the winter because of all the tribulations  that had lasted from the beginning of MarCheshvan until close to Pesach.
"During that winter, the Rebbe had delivered maamarim only on limited occasions -- on Shabbos Parshas Vayeitzei, the ninth of Kislev [anniversary of the Miteler Rebbe’s passing]; on Yud-TesShabbos Rosh Chodesh [Teves], Shabbos Chanukkah; on the twenty-fourth of Teves [anniversary of the Alter Rebbe’s passing]; on Shabbos Shirah; and on Purim. And even on those occasions the maamarim had been delivered in his small private minyan which included a few of the yoshvim [young men who sat and learnt in the Rebbe’s Beis Hamedrash]. Kislev [anniversary of the Alter Rebbe’s release from prison]; on
"On Shabbos HaGadol, after a break that had lasted all winter, the Rebbe delivered a maamar of Chassidus (beginning with the phrase, Zos Toras HaOlah) in public. All the townsfolk [of Lubavitch] were overjoyed, and especially the yoshvim. Emissaries gave out the word that the Rebbe had again allowed chassidim to visit Lubavitch. Many already arrived in time for the first Shabbos after Pesach, Parshas Tazria-Metzora. As the news spread their numbers increased, so that for Shabbos Parshas Emor and Lag BaOmer which followed it there were about four hundred visitors, the most prominent among them being the distinguished R. Aizik of Homil and R. Hillel of Paritch.
"On that Shabbos Parshas Emor the Rebbe delivered three maamarim. The first, Ein Omdin LeHispalel Ela MiToch Koved Rosh, was delivered after Shacharis on Friday; the second, LeHavin Inyan Koved Rosh BaAvodah BeNefesh HaAdam, was delivered before Kabbalas Shabbos; and the third, LeHavin BeTosefes Biur: Yisrael -- Li Rosh, on Shabbos before Minchah.
"The joy of that year's Lag BaOmer celebration was doubled and trebled [beyond that of a regular year, due to the renewed opportunity to see the Rebbe and hear Chassidus from him].
"Since the third fast [of the Behab series of fasts] fell on Monday, the eve of Lag BaOmer, three celebrated rabbis -- R. Nechemiah of Dubrovna, R. Aizik of Vitebsk, and R. Aizik of Homil -- convened a beis din, and ruled that on this particular occasion, in view of the imminent communal celebration, those present should not complete the fast. Instead, after an early Minchah, they were to observe their well-established custom and participate in the annual festive meal.
R’ Hillel Paritcher, though he agreed with their ruling in principle and joined in the melodies and dancing, nevertheless completed his fast. Only after Maariv did he break his fast on a cup of tea.”
The Eposide with Reb Hillel Paritcher
R. Abba'le David Iskasya continued his account:
"At the farbrengen that then took place, R. Yitzchak Aizik of Homil rebuked R. Hillel of Paritch for his numerous hiddurim and for his excessive vigilance. A basic principle in avodah, he argued, is that one should follow the middle path. As the medieval thinkers conclude, superiority is not to be sought in either extremity, even in the higher; true happiness lies only in the middle path.
"[In response to R. Aizik of Homil's rebuke], R. Hillel of Paritch sought to explain that he had not been prompted by conceit or arrogance. Weeping as he spoke, he recounted the story of his life until he first came to meet his mentor, the saintly R. Mordechai of Chernobyl, and then the events through which he eventually found his place under the wings of Chabad Chassidus and its teachings.
“At fourteen he began to study Kabbalah, to accompany his prayers with the kavanos of the AriZal,Chassidus. and to engage in fasting and self-mortification. At eighteen he first beheld the holy light of R. Mordechai of Chernobyl; he cleaved to him and pursued the paths of
“In 5571 (1811) the Alter Rebbe journeyed to Vohlyn, and on his way back through the Mozir region thousands of people gathered together to hear him at every town and village. At one of the inns on the way, some five hundred people awaited him. Among them was R. Hillel, and from the lips of the Alter Rebbe he heard the discourse beginning, leolam yargiz adam yeitzer tov al yeitzer hora.
"Reb Hillel related, “one of the venerable chassidim who accompanied the [Alter] Rebbe on that journey [in 1811], my distinguished mentor, R. Zalman Zezmer, clarified for me both the principles and the details of the above discourse.
"For three years the teaching that I then heard from the [Alter] Rebbe stirred me from within, and in Elul of the year 5575 (1815) I visited the [Mitteler] Rebbe in Lubavitch. For three years I toiled to refine my body and all my organs so that they should attain the level of being truly good, and not only right. First of all, avodah can be considered proper only when the body is good, and not merely in the right by virtue of various excuses. Besides, when one departs this world and arrives at the World of Truth, time is precious: it's a pity to waste it on judicial proceedings involving trivial matters."
[In Sefer HaSichos 5701, a slightly different version is related. Reb Aiezel Homiler asked [Reb Hillel] why he is not washing [his hands to eat]. Reb Hillel responded with two answers:
“Firstly, I accustomed my body, that anything that is not absolutely required, the body cannot at all do. Therefore I am worried that I will bite and the food will not be able to pass through my throat, resulting in a blessing made in vain. Secondly, when I will arrive in the world of truth, after 120 years, there will be a discussion as to whether or not I was right to eat. In the meantime [while they deliberate] time will be spent to no purpose. If time in this world is so precious, certainly in that world time is even more valuable. It is a shame to waste the time the time for the discussion that eating will instigate.”]
The big clock at the south wall chimes 1:30 a.m., but R. Yosef the Meshares says that it is slow; he prefers to believe the rooster that crowed an hour ago. He is right: any minute now the morning star will rise, so we say the Grace After Meals.
The morning star rose as we left my grandmother's home, and the air was fresh. For over an hour we stood around and sat around in the courtyard, repeating the talks and the narratives that we had heard at the table. Then they all went off -- apart from R. Abba Persohn -- to immerse in the mikveh, and I went to sleep.
* * *
To be contiued...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

#2 – Reb Elchonon Bunim Vasserman הי"ד circa 1901-2

This is a continuation of the memoirs of Reb Shmaryahu Sussonkin, translated and abridged from the original Hebrew version published as “זכרונותי”.

On the day before Sukkes 5662 (1901) I reached the age of Bar Mitzvah. In those days they did not make a celebration on the day of the Bar Mitzvah, they simply called me to the Torah, my father made the Brochah, “Boruch Shepotarani”, and recited the verse “behold I have given before you the life and the good… and you shall choose life”. I promised him that I would study in a Yeshivah, for I choose life and good, and there is no good aside from Torah.

Directly after the festivel I traveled [to Yeshivah] together with a few other youngsters who had already learnt in [the Yeshivah in] Amtzislav, during the previous semester. When I arrived in Amtzislav it became known to me that the founder of the Yeshivah is the scholarly genius Reb Elchonon Vasserman. He was the examiner and decision maker as to whether or not to accept students.

He opened up a Mesechtes Kesubes before me, pointed to a particular Toisfes and instructed me to study it and explain what was difficult in it [i.e. Reb Elchonon instructed him to uncover a difficulty with the explanation provided therein]. I easily found the difficulty. He then pointed to another Toisfes and said, “study it and find an answer to the question”. I easily worked out how the second Toisfes resolves the first and with that the test was completed.

Reb Elchonon was a distinguished personality and his face seemed to shine with wisdom. Apart from being a genius in learning, his wonderful genius and expertise was also reflected in the way he taught, such that I have never seen his like. He was also a very practical person. It was enough to hear his Shuir for the duration of one semester, in that short time he already enlightened your eyes and gave you a solid foundation in the study of the Talmud.

In general, Harav Vasserman ran the Yeshivah at a high level. While delivering his Shuir he knew how to provoke the students, ensuring that they would pay attention and listen well. It was his custom to expound the Gemoroh before the students with excellent explanation. He addressed only the unadorned rationalization of the Gemoroh, together with the commentary of Rashi, explaining with good reasoning the connotation of the cryptic text, with such lucidity that even a child could understand. So excellent and pleasant was his initial elaboration that the questions of Tosfos on the explanation of Rashi where automatically resolved.

It was his custom to pay close attention to how well the students listened to the Shuir; who listened intently, who without much intent and who didn’t listen at all. On concluding, he would turn to a student and require him to repeat the entire Shuir by heart, directing him to close the Gemoroh. Being that the chosen student had not been listening, he by default would not be able to go over what had been said. Reb Elchonon would let the first student be, directing another, who had been listening without concentration, to repeat the Shuir. Since the second student had been listening somewhat, he would be able to go over some of the Shuir, but would become confused and stammer as he repeated it. Reb Elchonon would help him out, clarifying his confusions until he had repeated the entire Shuir. Then he would again turn to the first, who had earlier been unable to go over the Shuir. If on this occasion he had listened and knew it well, all would be well; if not Reb Elchonon would rebuke him, saying that he is a student who does not want to listen, who turns his ears away from words of Torah. If on a third occasion that student did not know the Shuir well enough to repeat it by heart, Reb Elchonon would expel him from the Yeshivah. In this way he entirely uprooted the problem of students not paying proper attention to the Shuir, although it began through fear, subsequently all the students would become accustomed to concentrating well as he delivered his Shuir.

His method of teaching Toisfos was a follows: a student would read and explain the Toisfes, and when he arrived at a passage that required elucidation or clarification, Reb Elchonon would interrupt the student, and proceed to elucidate and clarify the concepts until they were illuminated and exceptionally lucid. He was keen to only address the unembellished explanation of the Gemoroh and the Toisfes, and he did not at all like the method of Pilpul.

Once we had finished learning a particular subject, sometimes covering seven folios of the Talmud or more, Reb Elchonon would announce that during the next two days there would not be a Shuir and that the students should spend the time reviewing the Gemoroh thoroughly. By the time the review was complete, on the third day, he would have a list of the all the students divided into small groups, classified according to their levels of ability and knowledge. Sometimes there were three students in a group, sometimes five or more. Each group would enter separately and ask them different questions, if they where fluent in the Gemoroh and the Toisfes that they had learnt they would be able to answer his questions with ease. Since the students realized that everything was dependent on fluency, they would compete to review what they learnt very well. Although with this method of study we were only able to learn a smaller amount relative to other Yeshivas, nevertheless, we knew the folios that we learnt well and they were fluent in our mouths. The concepts were completely clear to you and you would be asked something you would not be confused from answering correctly.

For a full year I learnt in the Yeshivah with diligence, and Reb Elchonon would guard the student like the apple of his eye. If a student G-d forbid became ill, he himself would take care of him, take him to the hospital and arrange devoted care. Once he traveled to one of the big cities and brought cloth for winter clothing for all the students of the Yeshivah.

During the third semester, the final summer during which Reb Elchonon remained in the Yeshivah, an unpleasant event occurred. During that period there where already a number of trouble-makers who attempted to convinced the Yeshivah students to learn secular studies. Unfortunately, they managed to draw some ten students after them who agreed to learn secular subjects; nevertheless, they also wanted to continue to hear Reb Elchonon’s Shuir. As soon as they arrived, however, Reb Elchonon sent them outside. In order to prevent an outrage from arising the Shuir was said behind closed doors throughout the next two weeks, until they gave up hope of being allowed to attend. Reb Elchonon announced that the Yeshivah would not tolerate secular studies and anyone who wishes to study secular subjects should leave the Yeshivah!

Indeed, all the students agreed with Reb Elchonon’s statements. However the devil’s work succeeded, for the trouble-makers found support among the laymen of the town who put pressure on the Rabbi of the City to take the students of the Yeshivah under his control and supervision. Then they telegrammed Reb Elchonon – who had traveled away to spend the festivals with his family – that he should remain at home and that hereafter the Rabbi would fill his old position. The Yeshivah continued to exist for only one more semester, after which it was closed down. When Reb Elchonon’s students heard that their teacher would not be returning, there was no reason for them to remain in the Yeshivah and they departed some to Telz, some to Slutzk, some to Velozhin and some to Radin. I went to Kremenchug.

Another memoir describing Reb Elchonon הי"ד is available here.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...