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

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.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hebrew Manuscripts on display at Oxford University

From Here


    8 Dec 2009 – 3 May 2010
    Exhibition Room, Bodleian Library
    Opening Hours: 9.00am - 5.00pm (Mon - Fri) 9.00am - 4.30pm (Sat) 11.00am - 5.00pm (Sun)
    Admission free
The Bodleian Library’s winter exhibition tells the story of how together Jews, Christians and Muslims have contributed to the development of the book. Crossing Borders: Hebrew Manuscripts as a Meeting-place of Cultures draws on the Bodleian’s Hebrew holdings, one of the largest and most important collections of Hebrew manuscripts in the world.
Covering a time span of 300 years between the thirteenth century and fifteenth century, the exhibition brings to light different aspects of Jewish life in a non-Jewish medieval society.
The social and cultural interaction between Jews and non-Jews in both the Muslim and Christian world is mirrored in the blending of the inherent elements of the manuscript such as decorative patterns, writing styles, script types and text genres. As a result Hebrew manuscripts produced in different geo-cultural regions look quite different, showing greater similarities to the non-Hebrew books produced in the same region than to each other.
By importing elements of the host culture, the Hebrew manuscripts are proof of coexistence and cultural affinity, as well as practical cooperation between Jews and their non-Jewish neighbours in the Middle Ages.  The assortment of manuscripts is not restricted to religious text, but expend to literary and scientific works as well.
Highlights of the exhibition include:
  • The Kennicott Bible, undoubtedly the most beautifully and extensively illustrated manuscript among the Spanish Bibles of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The illuminations reveal cross-cultural influences from Spanish Bible illustrations and popular European art to Islamic non-figurative carpet and vegetal decorations. The most striking illuminations will be shown in a ‘Turning the pages’ digital form; 
  • Fragment from the Cairo Genziah (storage place of Hebrew texts) of Maimonides’ draft of his legal code Mishneh Torah. The autograph with many corrections made by Maimonides himself shows the development of his thoughts while writing his code.  
  • The Michael Mahzor: the earliest illuminated Jewish prayer book for the Festivals, produced in Germany in 1258. The prayer book was illuminated by a Christian, who - not familiar with the Hebrew script- painted the first illustration upside down.
  • The largest fragment of uninterrupted text of the book of Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus) in Hebrew, found at the Genizah of the synagogue in Fustat (Old Cairo). No Hebrew text was preserved thus far. Dated 10th century it is one of the earliest examples of a Hebrew codex.
Piet van Boxel, Hebraica and Judaica Curator, Bodleian Library said: ‘As the exhibition title suggests, Crossing Borders recounts the history of medieval culture at the intersection between Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities. It is a largely unfamiliar story which needs to be told and can help us to understand better the relationship between these communities even in our contemporary times.’
The Bodleian’s Hebraica collection dates from the earliest years of the Library’s history and the accession of several key collections in the 19th century, such as the Oppenheimer Library and fragments from the Cairo Genizah, has rendered it one of the most important collections of Hebrew manuscripts in the world, alongside an extraordinarily rich collection of early Hebrew and Yiddish printed books. All fields of traditional Hebrew scholarship are represented in the collection. The Library continues to select and acquire the latest books in the various fields that support the University’s programmes in Hebrew and Jewish Studies, and Eastern Christianity.
A book which accompanies the exhibition is also available for purchase. Crossing Borders: Hebrew Manuscripts as a Meeting-place of Cultures, edited by Piet van Boxel and Sabine Arndt, paperback, 128 pp, 70 colour images, £24.99, ISBN:  978 1 85124 313 6

A Lesson in Intellectual Honesty

The following is an account of an episode that occurred in the winter of 5663 (1902-3), extracted from Divrai Yemai Ha’Temimim (pages 65-66), a history of Toimchei Temimim the Yeshiva in Lubavitch (published in Kerem Chabad, Vol. 3), by the secretary of the Yeshiva, HaRav HaChosid R’ Moshe Rosenblum (a short biography of whom is printed as a preface to Divrai Yemai Ha’Temimim – as an aside he was no ordinary secretary, his stature was such that he was one of only three people who merited to receive Smicha from the Rebbe Maharash).

One day, when the Menahel [the director of the Yeshivah, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, son and successor of the Rebbe Rashab] visited the students [in the main study hall of the Yeshivah], he set his eyes on a particular student. With his unique insight and exceptional sensitivity, he sensed that something was weighing heavily on the students heart and that there is no peace in his soul. Knowing this student to be possessed of superior abilities, the Menahel was especially interested in him.
At a meeting of all the faculty of the Yeshiva, the Menahel took the opportunity to investigate, asking those gathered their opinion of this student. All agreed without dispute, the conduct of this student to be good and wholesome in all respects. He dedicated himself to his studies at an exceptional level of diligence and depth and no imperfection – even in a matter of small importance – could be found. There seemed to be nothing to account for the Menahel’s impression.
However, being that it was in his nature to penetrate into the depth of each student’s heart and fathom hidden secrets, the Menahel made time each day to engage this student, discussing matters of study and making general conversation. The first time the student came before him, the Menahel told him as follows:
“Your superior abilities and diligence in your studies have not escaped me. Your worth is of value to me, therefore, I have set aside time so that if you may need any resolution in matters of study that you may be perplexed about and suchlike, you may then set the issues before me. I too will profit, for I will have the opportunity to present my thoughts as I strive to explain to you that which G-d helps me to understand. Any matters which we find to be of difficulty we will present before my honored father, the Rebbe, so that he may explain them to us.”

These words certainly aroused confidence in the student’s heart and he would come regularly to ask the Menahel about various matters that he had difficulty understanding. However, after several days had passed, the Menahel recognized that – although the student liked him well and the friendship he had shown him was being returned, nevertheless – the student had not yet entirely laid bare his heart. The Menahel knew that something was buried in the depths of the student’s heart, preventing him from fathoming the true depths of his studies, and the student was still hiding this matter from him.
One day, when they entered into conversation, the Menahel said to the student, “In order that you may comprehend your studies to their true depth, I request of you, that you reveal before me any question or line of investigation that stirs in your heart. Do not be shamed, for only then will you be able to grasp the truth and depth of the matter. As our sages said “a shy person does not learn”.
The student agreed that he was certainly correct; “However,” he said with a sigh, “you are demanding too much of me, for I simply cannot reveal all that is in my heart before you”.
“I do not speak to you as an interrogator, nor as one to decree or command, I question you only for the sake of the quality of your abilities and in order to lighten your burden. You are certainly able to understand any concept with complete clarity.”
“But I worry whether you will continue to have the same regard for me, once I have revealed the secrets of my heart.”
“I am in no hurry to know the secrets of others”, the Menahel replied, “whatever those secrets may be. The only thing that matters to me is that each student should know and understand the subjects that he studies to their depth and perfection, as far as his abilities allow – and in you I see that some hidden thing weighs on your heart, preventing you from coming to the complete depth of each concept. Because I desire your good and your happiness, I thought that perhaps if you would make known to me your confidence, I would be able to make things easier for you and explain the concepts to you in a manner that you will find satisfying.”
“There are certain concepts, which, in studying Chassidus, I was not able to understand, and these difficulties stand as an obstacle to my study of this discipline. Specifically, the names by which the “Sefiros” are designated, and all the various Kabbalistic terms in general, such as “Kesser”, “Atik” etc. Since, in my eyes, these concepts make no sense, I am unable to believe in them. If only I where able to grasp these matters with the lucidity that one is able to understand a “Sug’yah” dealt with in the Talmud! Then perhaps, I would believe in these concepts…”
Accordingly, the Menahel solved the riddle, and with a great deal of sympathy, spent much time to clarify these concepts for the student; with words of logic and intelligence, he gave him to understand and enabled him to logically assimilate these extraordinary matters.
This account speaks for itself. If only all teachers where so concerned, so open and alert to the often unspoken queries that trouble innocent hearts. If only all students were granted the confidence to express themselves, to articulate their doubts.
[As an aside, this account was written approximately the year 5670 (1910), ten years before Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok was appointed Rebbe, so there is no reason to suppose this account to be some-kind of exaggerated hagiography.]
Perhaps herein lays the key with which to heal the ailing education systems of today.
Certainly, I am over-simplifying both the complexities that beset today’s educator as an individual and the varied issues that beleaguer the diverse segments of the Jewish community.
Nevertheless, the education systems of the orthodox world may be split into two very general types, the modern orthodox and the Chareidi. In the Chareidi world serious questions are almost taboo and questioners are often perceived as near-heretics. The modern orthodox do not evade the questions posed by their students, however, rather than attempting to answer the question or acknowledge their insufficient knowledge, they often submit to the doubts of their pupils, choosing to distort the teachings of the Torah rather than defend its old age precepts. More faith is placed in scientific “fact” than in the traditions of our mesorah (see here).
In order to preserve our Torah in the pristine form that we received it from G-d, we need educators who are possessed of erudition, strength of character and determination. Teachers who will rise to the challenges of their pupils, who are concerned enough to honestly engage their students, and who command the breadth of knowledge and the depth of insight required to satisfy their thirst while remaining completely unapologetic.
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok was the master of a unique discipline, which combines intelligence, intellectual honesty and a commitment to correctly assimilate theological truths. Perhaps, if we study his teachings and emulate his character we will all become better teachers.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Mivtzoim is for Every Jew

While documenting the efforts of the Rebbe Rashab to provide Matzah for Jewish Soldiers in the Russo-Japanese war (1904-1905), we came a across an interesting letter, dealing with the role of Toimchei Temimim in this area. In this letter the Rebbe Rashab replies to a suggestion made by his son and successor, Rabbi Yosef Yitchok, that the offices of Toimchei Temimim be utilized in the efforts to gain support. In reply, the Rebbe Rashab sets out to explain the purpose for which Toimchei Temimim was founded, and clearly defines the limitations of its field of activity. As we will demonstrate, this letter is not merely of localized significance, but rather carries multifaceted ramifications that are relevant to this day.
Writing from Petersburg on the 18th of Teves 5665 (1905), the Rebbe Rashab briefly summarizes the general situation relating to the efforts to acquire government approval, before continuing:
Your proposal in this regard that the letters should be sent from Toimchai Temimim, doesn’t resonate with me and I don’t advise it all… This is a matter that relates to the individual and doesn’t enter into [the agenda of] a general matter such as Toimchai Temimim and the like…
The primary underlying purpose of Toimchei Temimim is to fortify the youngsters and guard them from any damaging entity… with G-d’s help, to plant within in them fear of G-d and love of G-d. Similarly in any place [not only within the established Yeshives of Toimchai Temimim] where they [the faculty of Toimchei Temimim] have the ability to strengthen hands [that are] weak in Torah and service [of Hashem], for instance to establish shuirim to learn with the youngsters in the villages… too draw them to Torah and to try and plant fear of heaven in their hearts, that they will separate themselves from forbidden things, and desire to fulfill Mitzves in practice. This is the certified purpose of Toimchei Temimim.
However its purpose is not to worry about the fulfillment of specific Mitzves or [to] guard against specific things, for instance its [Toimchei Temimim’s] purpose is not to ensure that there should be supervisors on the Kashrus of meat (which is one of the issues which are extremely pressing… and if we had a “committee for the strengthening of Yidishkeit” this would be one of its primary functions…) Similarly regarding the keeping of Shabboss and the like, and Sukkah and Lulev etc. Similarly its purpose is not to worry about the matter of the Matzah – it is self understood that each and every Jew, being that he is a Jew, must worry about this, and actively invest effort in this [endeavor] as much as he is able, however this is not the its [Toimchei Temimim’s] purpose and in this matter it [the faculty of Toimchei Temimim] is like each and every private individual of our Jewish brethren.   
This letter provides far reaching insight into the problems confronting Russian Jewry at the time and the primary methods which the Rebbe Rashab employed to resolve them. In those days Yidishkiet and the practical observance of Torah and Mitzvos, came under the threat of the increasing influence of the Haskaleh (“enlightenment”) movement in general and various political and Zionistic elements, which promoted a cultural and ideological version of Judaism, rather than Torah true Yiddishkiet. Two possible avenues where open to the leaders of Torah true Jewry at the time, 1) to fight the Haskaleh head on with a campaign promoting Yiddishkiet on a very practical level, encouraging people and helping them to raise their standards of Yiddishkiet, 2) to instill the younger generation with the inspiration and fortitude necessary to withstand the attacks of the Haskalah, motivating hundreds of young men to themselves become proactive bastions for the promotion of Torah true Yidishkeit in whatever the situation and wherever they may be found.
While the first option may yield faster and more visible results, the Rebbe Rashab realized that in the long run the cultural and social appeal of the Haskalah movement would prove more popular than Torah true Yidishkiet. The only real solution would be to deal with the root of the problem, carefully grooming the younger generation to be impervious to the attraction of the Hakalah. In other words, rather than dealing with the issue on an external (and solely practical) level, the Rebbe Rashab set out to create a new type of individual, impervious to any damaging entity and inculcated with a sense of privilege and responsibility to act for the sake of heaven. Individuals, whose very presence in a particular locale would inspire an atmosphere of love and fear of G-d, and automatically encourage the furtherance of Torah true Yidishkeit on all levels. By establishing Toimchei Temimim, the Rebbe ensured that there would always be private individuals who would be ready to dedicate themselves to the needs of Yidden and Yiddishkiet whatever they may be.
The points made above are born out from many sources, however this letter adds an added dimension in that it describes the limitations of Toimchei Temimim’s function as well as its purpose: A clear distinction is made between the general purpose for which Toimchei Temimim was founded – a purpose to which its efforts are to be devoted to exclusively – and specific “projects” – which while worthy of attention in their own right, are not within the field of activities that Toimchei Temimim was set up to attend to. While the faculty are duty-bound as private individuals to invest their efforts in all areas of Yidishkiet without distinction, these activities must remain private and do not enter under the banner of Toimchei Temimim. Furthermore (as explained earlier) the success of Toimchei Temimim would automatically produce a large base of individuals who would themselves be instilled with a sense of duty to invest their efforts in all areas of Yidishkeit without distinction.
Apart from anything else, this letter provides us with important lessons in the conduct of communal affairs: 1) No matter how valid a particular cause, for the sake of efficiency and effectiveness each organization must stick to the particular field it was set up to address. 2) This certainly does not mean that an individual who has already committed himself to the efforts of one organization is relieved of his responsibilities elsewhere. Rather if a new issue presents itself a new committee or organization must be formed to deal with it and it is incumbent on every private individual to consider what he or she can do to further the efforts of that organization. 3) Obviously, no private individual can do everything all at once; one must therefore commit oneself more fully to the area where the individuals particular capabilities can be used to maximum effect and delegate in other areas, offering moral and monetary support according to one’s means.
Indeed, the vast majority of the original Temimim became Rabbonim, Shochtim and Melamdim throughout Russia (and later in America and Eretz Yisroel) who where Moiser Nefesh for Yidishkeit at every level, promoting Chinuch, Mikaveh and Kashrus at a very practical level. When the Friedike Rebbe came to America, his first step was to reestablish Toimchei Temimim. Although he later went on to found Merkoz L’Inyonai Chinuch and other organizations for the promotion of basic Yidishkeit, Toimchei Temimim remained the foundation upon which the future of Lubavitch would be built. To this day, this remains the basic model on which Lubavitch is set up to operate: the Yeshiva system is meant to cultivate and educate its Talmidim to be Temimim. As spelled out in the letter above, the purpose of Toimchei Temimim is (not to send Bochurim on Mivtzoim or to manufacture Shluchim, but) to create Temimim who live with an inner sense of אהבת ה' ותורתו – a sense of the responsibility and privilege of being a Torah and Mitzvah observant Yid. That sense of responsibility and privilege, automatically obligates the individual to invest all his efforts into the furtherance of Yiddishkeit in any way that he is can, helping his fellow Yidden to fulfill the will of Hashem, wherever they be found and whatever their situation.
Perhaps the most striking point which comes across is the simplicity with which the Rebbe Rashab treats the general issue of promoting such basic Mitzves as Kashrus, Shabbos, Sukkah, Lulev and Matzah. This is not in any-way seen as something unique to Chassidim or Lubavitch, but rather the natural responsibility and reaction of any every Torah Jew. In other words, the obligation of a Lubavitcher to be involved in activities referred to today as Mivtzoim should not be seen to stem from his identification with Lubavitch ideology specifically, rather, in this regard a Lubavitcher “is like each and every private individual of our Jewish brethren”. Indeed Mivtzoim was never instituted as an official part of the “curriculum” in Lubavitch Yeshivas, rather each Bochur as an individual takes it upon himself to spend his own free time on Friday afternoon taking care of his obvious responsibility to further the cause of Yidishkeit in whatever way he can.     
ויהי רצון שע"י מעשינו ועבודתינו כל משך זמן הגלות נזכה להגאולה האמיתית והשלימה ע"י משיח צדקינו בקרוב ממש!
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