Born & Bred In 770: Our Tishrei with the Rebbe — As Kids In Crown Heights



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    Born & Bred In 770: Our Tishrei with the Rebbe — As Kids In Crown Heights

    Rabbi Sholom Yaakov Chazan and Avrohom Rainitz farbreng with Rabbi Sholom Ber Brod, Rabbi Chaim Levi Goldstein, and Rabbi Yosef Reizes. There are Chassidim who saw the Rebbe for the first time when they went on Kevutza. There are Chassidim who saw the Rebbe for the first time a year or two after their bar mitzva when they went for Tishrei. There are Chassidim who saw the Rebbe at younger ages, when their parents took them along for a visit to the Rebbe. And there are Chassidim, like the three with whom we sat and farbrenged, who grew up with the Rebbe from when they were babies • Part one: Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur • By Beis Moshiach Magazine • Full Article

    By Rabbi Sholom Yaakov Chazan, Beis Moshiach

    Rabbi Sholom Yaakov Chazan and Avrohom Rainitz farbreng with Rabbi Sholom Ber Brod, Rabbi Chaim Levi Goldstein, and Rabbi Yosef Reizes.

    Part I – Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur

    There are Chassidim who saw the Rebbe for the first time when they went on Kevutza. There are Chassidim who saw the Rebbe for the first time a year or two after their bar mitzva when they went for Tishrei. There are Chassidim who saw the Rebbe at younger ages, when their parents took them along for a visit to the Rebbe. And there are Chassidim, like the three with whom we sat and farbrenged, who grew up with the Rebbe from when they were babies.

    For these Chassidim, the Rebbe’s presence, without pictures or videos, is an inseparable part of their childhood memories. Imagine that ever since you can remember, you’ve davened nearly every Shabbos with the Rebbe, you “hung around” at farbrengens from a very young age, and were regularly present at all the major events of the year. Nearly every childhood memory is associated, in some way or another, with Beis Chayeinu and the Rebbe.

    When I asked them to farbreng together and tell their memories, they themselves didn’t appreciate the treasure they had stored away. “What can I tell you already?” asked one of them. Another one said, “I’ll come because you asked, but I’m letting you know that I may not have anything to say.”

    After we said l’chaim and sat for nearly two hours, the memories began to flow. At the end of the farbrengen, when I thanked them, they said they need to thank me because the farbrengen together extracted memories that had been dormant for many decades.

    ***

    R’ Yosef Reizes

    In one of the sichos, the Rebbe Rayatz said that the Alter Rebbe received from his Rebbe, the Maggid, who received it from his Rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov, the saying “What do you remember?” The Rebbe Rayatz said that this revived the Chassidim throughout the generations in a manner of “resurrection of the dead.”

    That is why we gathered here, to farbreng, to respond to the question, “What do you remember?” with an emphasis on Tishrei. Before we get to Tishrei though, I’ll ask, “What is your first memory of the Rebbe?”

    Rabbi Yosef Reizes: At first we lived in Brownsville, about a half hour’s walk from 770. That is where most of Anash lived in those days. As a little boy I did not go to the Rebbe every Shabbos which is perhaps why I remember Rosh Hashana with the Rebbe. My father would take us with him for shacharis on Rosh Hashana so we could hear the shofar by the Rebbe. Since I was a little boy, my memories are vague and I only remember that in those days, the tefillos of the Yomim Noraim were in the small zal.

    Rabbi Chaim Levi Goldstein: My first clear memory is of a farbrengen from motzoei Simchas Torah 5719/1958. The day before, at the Simchas Torah farbrengen toward morning, the Rebbe taught the niggun “Shamil.” At the farbrengen when Yom Tov was over, it was the second time that the Chassidim sang it together with the Rebbe. I was five and they hadn’t taken me to the farbrengen in the middle of the night, but my mother told me that the Rebbe taught a new niggun and now everyone was singing it. That sight, of Chassidim standing and singing this yearning tune with the Rebbe, is etched in my memory.

    Another moment that I remember which although it’s not my first memory it is special, is when the Rebbe came in for hakafos. In those moments there was a feeling of a heavenly joy and as a boy I felt that we are the most fortunate people in the world!

    R’ Reizes: The first time I was present at a farbrengen when the Rebbe taught niggunim was Simchas Torah 5721/1960. The Rebbe taught “Ata Vechartanu.” At the time, they had finished building the “shalash” (the open area that had been between 770 and the adjacent apartment building) and for some reason, the Rebbe did not sit on the farbrengen bima as usual. Rather, they put some tables together with a bench in front of it and when the Rebbe arrived he went up on the bench and from there to the improvised bima which had a folding chair on it. The Rebbe sat without a table in front of him. Everyone stood around those tables and the Rebbe began to teach the niggun.

    My mother a’h told me that the crowd was so small that she could bring me, in the carriage, into the small zal and she stood on the side during the hakafos.

    Rabbi Sholom Ber Brod: I was in 770 from a very early age because when I was two we moved to Eastern Parkway, a few blocks from 770. On regular Shabbosos I would walk to 770 too, though I have a special memory from the tefillos of Rosh Hashana. They would open the Rebbe Rayatz’s apartment and in those years, even the Rebbe Rayatz’s yechidus room was open. As children, we enjoyed going up to the Rebbe Rayatz’s apartment and absorbing the special atmosphere there.

    The next scene I want to describe is not my first memory but it is etched in my mind as something exceptional. 770 was first enlarged for Rosh Hashana 5728. After they bought the adjacent building they broke the wall and enlarged the shul that until then was merely in the area between two buildings (known as the “shalash”). They did not complete the building until after Tishrei 5728 but before Rosh Hashana they had already broken the upper part of the wall of the building which created an interesting situation that in the front of the shul (“mizrach”) there was an entire area which wasn’t suitable for seating but as bachurim, of course, we had no problem standing there. For the first time in my life I could stand very close to the Rebbe. We stood in the area behind the aron kodesh, on ladders and boxes and saw the Rebbe throughout the davening.

    R’ Reizes: I stood there too, and it was very special to see the Rebbe’s face so clearly during tekios. I stood on the other side of the wall and the Rebbe stood a few feet away.

    The previous time that I was so close was when I was a little boy, when the davening took place in the small zal. My father put me on a chair next to Rashag and I could see the Rebbe from up close.

    הרבי בדרכו לאוהל בערב ראש השנה תשד”מ

    MOTZOEI SHABBOS SELICHOS – 770 WAS FULL

    Tishrei with the Rebbe. Let’s begin with motzoei Shabbos Selichos. Can you describe it?

    R’ Reizes: You began with the hardest part to describe, not because I don’t know how to describe what I saw but mainly because Selichos with the Rebbe was the least “picturesque” of the things that one could describe.

    When I was a boy, my parents and teachers told me that the Rebbe is like the Baal Shem Tov who sees what is happening in all the worlds and he can speak with Hashem on behalf of the Jewish people. Since, in the Baal Shem Tov stories, when they described his tefilla, they would describe the “fire” and his special intensity I expected to see this with the Rebbe.

    I particularly recall the first Selichos when I came to the Rebbe, as a little boy, and I was sure I would see the Rebbe saying Selichos in a flame of fire, a burning flame. I was plenty surprised to see the simplicity with which the Rebbe came in for Selichos. He put his sefer on the shtender and began to read, word for word, from the sefer. When I grew older, I realized that this is how the Rebbe davens all year, and over the years I understood and was amazed specifically by the fact that the Rebbe was able to hold back and hide the great fire that surely sparked within him during the davening. Like the idea that “Tzaddikim are similar to their Creator,” and “Just as He has power in the infinite, He has power in the finite.”

    R’ Brod: Someone once said that the Rebbe is one of the 36 hidden tzaddikim. It is known that during the times for davening, the Rebbeim would review in their thoughts all of the Chassidim who are mekushar and do wonders on their behalf. Despite this, we saw the Rebbe come in and go out from the davening with such simplicity that it was impossible to imagine that in those moments the Rebbe was overturning worlds.

    As for Selichos, I can add that Selichos on motzoei Shabbos was one of the most crowded events in 770. Aside from the local residents and guests that began coming for Tishrei, many of Anash and mekuravim who lived out of town and could not come for Tishrei, would come for Selichos. 770 was packed from wall to wall.

    הרבי נותן צדקה בערב יום כיפור תשל”ה

    GOING TO THE OHEL – SHROUDED IN MYSTERY

    Erev Rosh Hashana, the Rebbe went to the Ohel. When you were young, the Rebbe did not yet have a small room at the Ohel so you could see the Rebbe from up close. What do you remember of the trip to the Ohel?

    R’ Reizes: It was one of the few times a year that the Rebbe went to the Ohel and everyone went in with him. Aside from erev Rosh Hashana, Anash went to the Ohel on Yud Shevat and Yud-Beis Tammuz.

    R’ Goldstein: In continuation to what was mentioned previously, that the Rebbe generally hid himself, at the Ohel it was possible to openly see “Rebbishe inyanim.” The Rebbe stood facing the tziyun of the Rebbe Rayatz, leaning on his arm as he made various movements and one could see how he would bend his head down very low. Then, the Rebbe read the pidyonei nefesh with his lips constantly moving. Some of the panim he tore and put in an envelope and some he put in another envelope. Others he threw towards the tziyun. During the entire process, how the Rebbe read the panim, although of course we did not understand anything, it was possible to sense that the Rebbe was effecting heavenly matters there.

    I once said to my brother, Sholom Ber, that he must make a movie of the Rebbe’s avodas ha’kodesh at the Ohel, which he did. It wasn’t simple because there were always Chassidim who did not approve. My father, R’ Yosef, got it over the head more than once for filming the Rebbe. However, thanks to them, we can have an idea today of what occurred there.

    R’ Brod: After the Rebbe returned from the Ohel and davened mincha in 770, he went home, as was the custom of the Rebbeim on erev Rosh Hashana, to speak to their wives. The Rebbe returned to 770 after Yom Tov began, walking from his home on President Street. There was usually a rotation as far as who would accompany the Rebbe but for some reason, the night of Rosh Hashana everyone was occupied at 770 and it happened that for several years I, together with my friend, R’ Yosef Yitzchok Vilenkin, escorted the Rebbe at this special time.

    R’ Reizes: By the way, speaking about the Rebbe walking from his home to 770, I remember that one Friday night, the Rebbe stopped on his way right near this house, 744 Eastern Parkway, where Beis Moshiach’s office is now. That was unusual because the Rebbe usually walked quickly, without stopping. On that occasion, I don’t remember precisely when it occurred, the Rebbe stopped for a while, looked at the house, and then went on.

    TEKIOS – FIERY MOMENTS

    Okay, let’s move on to the main event of the day of Rosh Hashana. What do you remember of those lofty moments of the tekios?

    R’ Reizes: Unlike Selichos, the tekios were definitely a time when you could see a burning fire on the Rebbe’s face, and even people like ourselves could see and understand that all his actions were directed towards heavenly matters. We saw G-dly fire.

    Before the tekios there was another moving and chilling event, the reciting of the haftorah. There was utter silence in the shul and you could hear the Rebbe clearly. The Rebbe cried a lot as he read the haftorah on the first day, about Chana the mother of Shmuel. The Rebbe began in a quiet voice and then you suddenly heard a strong crying voice that intermingled with the words of the haftorah, “Chana, why do you cry… am I not better for you than ten children… this is the boy I prayed for.”

    I remember in particular how the Rebbe raised his voice for the brachos of the haftorah, as he said the words, “And your word, our King, is true and everlasting.”

    After the haftorah were the tekios. To the Rebbe, it was a complete “seder avoda.” First, he arranged the bundles of panim which the secretary brought up earlier. The Rebbe spread his tallis over the bundles and then raised the tallis in such a way that there remained a sort of square “window,” through which he could see the siddur.

    After the Rebbe said “La’menatzeiach Livnei Korach” in a special tone, and the verses of “Min Ha’meitzar,” he covered his face and the bundles again with the tallis. At this point, there was an entire order of arranging the shofars (mainly on the second day of Rosh Hashana but also a bit on the first day), with the Rebbe arranging the black shofar in a certain way and the lighter shofars and placing a red handkerchief and a white handkerchief over them. Nobody understood the significance of any of this but it was enough to watch the Rebbe’s gravity to understand that this was something G-dly.

    The Rebbe’s face throughout the tekios process from the end of the recitation of the haftorah until the end of the tekios and the verses that follow them, “Ashrei Ha’Am Yod’ei Serua,” etc. was terrifying, fraught. It was scary to look at him.

    R’ Brod: One year, the Rebbe spent about 40-45 minutes on the last tekia. Those who stood closest to the bima knew they would be in the “pressure cooker” but that usually ended within a short time. That year, many felt that they were about to faint and had to go outside. At the end of the tekios, the most desirable spot in 770 was nearly empty.

    R’ Reizes: It’s interesting to note what I heard from my father, who heard from Chassidim in Beis Chayeinu before the nesius, that in those years when the Rebbe blew the shofar (perhaps in Elul the year he davened for the amud after the passing of his father or perhaps when he blew for himself in his room) the tekios were smooth. It was only after the nesius that it sometimes seemed there were difficulties with the tekios.

    R’ Brod: I stood between the Torah reading table and the farbrengen platform from where I could see well. On the other side there were bundles of panim that blocked the view but on this side the Rebbe placed just shofars, and it was possible to see the Rebbe’s face clearly during the tekios.

    There were times that Rashag would come in to stand on the side of the bima and then we couldn’t see that well. One year, someone put a box so nobody could stand there but when the Rebbe came for the tekios he wanted Rashag to stand on the side of the bima and when he saw there was no place to stand, the Rebbe himself began to pull the bima towards him. Obviously, a few of us bachurim immediately jumped and pushed the bima so the Rebbe wouldn’t exert himself.

    R’ Sholom Ber Brod

    TASHLICH – PROCESSION ON EASTERN PARKWAY

    Rosh Hashana afternoon is when Tashliach takes place. In the early years, when this was done in the Botanic Garden, all the Chassidim, led by the Rebbe, walked on Eastern Parkway. Did you see this?

    R’ Goldstein: Certainly. This occurred until the mid-chofs (sixties). I remember how the Rebbe would lead the way. Next to him was the secretary, R’ Chodakov, then a group of ziknei Anash, then the children followed by all of Anash.

    R’ Brod: Living on Eastern Parkway, I remember this procession from a very young age, even before I could join. I would watch from the window.

    In later years, I participated in the procession. As R’ Goldstein said, children had a place of honor in the middle of the procession and it was all very orderly.

    The way back wasn’t via Eastern Parkway but President Street. Since in the park itself the participants dispersed, the walk back wasn’t orderly. The Rebbe walked quickly, followed by Anash in no particular order.

    At the end of the chofs, they began to do Tashlich in the yard behind 770.

    VOV TISHREI – VAGUE MEMORIES

    Rebbetzin Chana, mother of the Rebbe, passed away on Shabbos, 6 Tishrei 5725 at mincha time. Do you remember anything of that time?

    R’ Goldstein: We were young boys and our memories about this are vague. What I remember is that during the burial the Rebbe looked for something and he went about among the graves until they finally found what the Rebbe was looking for. In general, there was pushing and the Rebbe was not pleased by the chaos there. My father filmed some of the funeral.

    R’ Reizes: I was learning in the yeshiva on Bedford and they took us by bus from the yeshiva. When we got to the cemetery, the principal did not want us to get off and he stood in the doorway of the bus so we couldn’t get off. In the end, one of boys opened the emergency exit in the back of the bus and a moment later the bus was empty.

    BIRKAS HA’BANIM – FRONT ROW

    One of the most moving moments in the life of a tamim was “Birkas HaBanim” on erev Yom Kippur, when the Rebbe blessed the talmidim. When did you first participate in this?

    R’ Brod: In the first two decades of the nesius, this occurred in the Rebbe’s room. In the early years, the bachurim also stood in the room but when the number of bachurim grew, things changed. At first the Rebbe stood in the doorway and all the bachurim stood in gan eden ha’tachton, on the steps leading up to the second floor and in the entrance hall to 770. Then the entire event was moved to the small zal.

    When we were tmimim, it still took place near the Rebbe’s room. The older bachurim were in gan eden ha’tachton and we barely managed to push into the entrance hall.

    The first time I was actually inside was when the event took place in the small zal. I stood close by, in the first row next to the table that the Rebbe stood on. Those were somber moments, standing below and seeing the Rebbe’s face right over you; it was awe-inspiring.

    R’ Reizes: During the bracha, the Rebbe held his tallis in a way that was reminiscent of the tekios.

    R’ Chaim Levi Goldstein

    YOM KIPPUR – LIKE THE SEDER AVODA

    Yom Kippur is the day of the year when Chassidim spent the most time with the Rebbe, throughout all the lengthy tefillos until the crescendo of Napoleon’s March. What special memories do you have of this holy day?

    R’ Brod: One could say that the happiest day of the year was Yom Kippur. It was one long consecutive pleasure to be with the Rebbe in one room for another tefilla and another tefilla, for hours. Simply a spiritual delight. As a bachur, I would get to 770 an hour before Birkas HaBanim and leave motzoei Yom Kippur for Kiddush Levana … Who thought of going home?

    At the davening Yom Kippur night there are some particularly inspiring niggunim, Yaaleh … Today, they speed through the niggunim somewhat but they used to sing them slowly; it was a pleasure. Even if I don’t recall the details, the image of “Yom Kippur with the Rebbe” is engraved in my memory as a G-dly delight.

    R’ Reizes: One year, when we were still children, we stood next to the Rebbe’s bima and some bachurim tried to hurry the chazan in Neila. At a certain point, the chazan gave in and began davening more quickly. Then the Rebbe turned around and called for the secretary, R’ Leibel Groner, and said something to him. R’ Groner went down immediately to the chazan and told him not to rush. From that point on, it was as though time had stopped. The chazan took his time and of course, nobody urged him to speed up.

    At Neila in 5737 (1976), before “Avinu Malkeinu,” the Rebbe turned to R’ Dovid Raskin and instructed that all children in the shul should go up on the Rebbe’s platform. It was chaos until all the children got there. When they began to sing “Avinu Malkeinu,” the Rebbe began to sob. It was terrible to see the Rebbe shaking as he cried and it went on and on.

    When it was time for Napoleon’s March, the Rebbe got up on a chair as he cried and began to encourage the singing with both hands, as he cried. Only then, did he slowly stop crying and the encouraging of the singing increased.

    R’ Brod: I remember another moment, from the nineties. Usually, when we were up to the shofar blowing after the March it was very noisy in 770 and hard to hear. One year, after the March, the Rebbe turned to the crowd and looked straight ahead at the crowd and everyone was silent. They thought the Rebbe wanted to say something and then, when it was absolutely silent, they could clearly hear the tekia.

    I’d like to share a thought that occurred to me over the years. In the avoda of the kohen gadol on Yom Kippur in the Beis HaMikdash, it says clearly that it wasn’t possible for every person to see everything. That was the feeling on Yom Kippur in 770. If you stood in a place where you could see and hear Maftir Yona, you couldn’t see the March well.

    In general, when we experienced the Yomim Noraim with the Rebbe with the numerous events – the farbrengen of erev Rosh Hashana, giving panim, going to the Ohel, tekios, Tashlich, farbrengen and kos shel bracha, Vav Tishrei, kapparos, Birkas HaBanim, the tefillos of Yom Kippur and Napoleon’s March – our feeling was like being in the Beis HaMikdash as the kohen gadol, the Rebbe, did the seder avoda.

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