• Flashes of Connection: Guiding Imagery

    One of the principles of Chassidus and hiskashrus between Chassid and Rebbe is “Tziyur Pnei ha’Rav,” a concept that has its sources in the words of Chazal, and is emphasized primarily in Chabad. To close one’s eyes and relive a yechidus, a farbrengen, or another moment with the Rebbe • By Yisrael Yehuda, Beis MoshiachFull Article

    Yisrael Yehuda, Beis Moshiach

    The courthouse in Rome, All around are the jail cells where the inmates are incarcerated with iron chains, which cast terror into the hearts of all who pass through. In the center is where the judges preside, where those being judged, the witnesses, the prosecutor and defense attorney stand; the people who follow the proceedings, the relatives of those being judged who faint when they hear the prosecutor and his demand that the defendant be dealt with in the harshest manner.

    A young boy calls out, asking for permission from the judge to allow him to say a few words on behalf of his father whom they want to sentence to death. The boy stands on a chair with his palms outstretched. With his right hand, he points at the crowd and he gazes at the judges as though to say: You judges ought to know that for every word that you utter you will give an accounting in heaven, and you also must reckon with the feelings of those gathered here in the courthouse who think that my father was libeled, since he is innocent of any crime.

    The defendant sits with his head down. The defense attorney stands, his mouth open, and signs of happiness appear on his face as tears course from his eyes … The prosecutor looks furious, his eyes closed as he listens closely … The judges sit, mouths open, tears in their eyes … and throughout the room, despite the crowd, there is a hush so that even the buzzing of a fly could be heard.

    This powerful description, as though taken from a play, was related by the Rebbe Rashab to his son, later the Rebbe Rayatz. He was describing a painting he saw in a museum when he was abroad. The Rebbe Rashab told this to his son as part of a lengthy explanation about the essence of a picture, its impact. The Rebbe Rashab described the scene so vividly that it seemed as though he had been present. That is the power of imagery; to transform that which is being described into something that is alive.

    At the beginning of this article discussing the great importance of “Tziyur Pnei ha’Rav” (picturing the face of the Rebbe), we should first define matters so that we will be able to better understand the power that lies within “Tziyur Pnei ha’Rav.”

    THREE TYPES OF IMAGERY

    There are three types of imagery. When we say “tziyur” we generally mean a picture drawn on paper. That is “tziyur sh’b’maaseh” – the artist’s ability to draw is expressed in maaseh-action, with his hands, and it is visible on the paper as a striking drawing.

    There is also “tziyur sh’b’dibur” and “tziyur sh’b’machshava.” “Tziyur sh’b’dibur” is what we call having a way with words. The ability to “paint word pictures” enables a person to describe events and scenes and sweep his listeners up into the experience. He is also a kind of artist who draws vivid descriptions of what he wants to describe in the mind of another person.

    “Tziyur sh’b’machshava” is different than the other two types. Whereas the first two are directed at someone, tziyur sh’b’machshava is to help oneself. With this ability to depict things, a person can relive a scene or event he experienced and feel the same emotions he felt when it actually happened. The power of this ability is far greater than the other two types of tziyur.

    The way you measure the success of the artist is by how alive his work is. The success of the tziyur b’maaseh is measured by the vividness of his drawing. For example, in the example cited above, the Rebbe said “it was quiet in the hall.” The picture was so vivid that you could “hear” the utter silence in the room. A person with refined and sensitive senses would “hear” the silence.

    When a person thinks deeply about a certain event that he previously experienced, if he concentrates properly he can relive the event as well as feel the feelings and thoughts he had at the time.

    Tziyur ha’machshava places a person on an amazingly and uniquely high level and the more he ponders with his power of thought, the more he will cleave to the thing being pictured until he attains a gefihl (feeling) for it, says the Rebbe Rayatz in his father’s name.

    The Rebbe Rashab goes on to say and describe imagining and inner vision as means to re-experience certain events:

    If the thing being pictured is something he actually experienced, by focusing his attention on picturing it, he can actually feel the same feelings and chayus that he had then (whereas the thing being pictured now is within his memory in his imagination) because tziyur has no limitations of place and time and no barriers to stop it.

    SEEING PNEI HA’RAV

    One of the foundations of the connection between Chassid and Rebbe is “Tziyur Pnei ha’Rav.” This is when a Chassid takes a break from the commotion of his day and pictures the Rebbe’s in his mind’s eye. He’s not “recalling” the Rebbe but focusing on a time he saw the Rebbe whether in yechidus, at a farbrengen, or any time and place.

    One should concentrate and review detail after detail, where was I standing, what did the Rebbe say, how did I feel, what did I think at that time. These thoughts cause a Chassid to be with the Rebbe again! He “lives” the moment. The cold sweat of twenty years ago covers his forehead once again, the slight tremor in his body is present, and above all else – the emotions and strong yearning to be close to the Rebbe.

    Obviously, it’s no simple matter to relive an event and sometimes externals aids are needed (like pictures or a video).

    Feelings differ from Chassid to Chassid. There’s no comparison between someone who had yechidus to someone who “just” saw the Rebbe at a farbrengen or in public. And there’s no comparison between someone who remembers the Rebbe as an adult to someone who saw the Rebbe as a child. The latter will feel less of the awe (although now they don’t understand how they didn’t tremble as they passed by the Rebbe) and more of the excitement of seeing the Rebbe, a childlike, innocent excitement that also inspires a person to avodas Hashem.

    How can we do an effective “visualization in thought?” The Rebbe Rayatz explains:

    Surely, my friend[s], you remember those bright days when you merited to see the Rebbe [Rashab] and to hear Chassidus, sichos kodesh during farbrengens; you merited to be in yechidus etc. These holy memories obligate the tmimim and each of Anash in three ways:

    You need to establish certain times – each one according to his circumstances – to recall each thing in particular and try to picture each thing, visually, as it happened, the structure of the place and the scene with the people who were present at the time, during a farbrengen or when receiving brachos erev Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, and that which surpasses them all, the face of the Rebbe, holy of holies.

    To recall – to the extent possible – the wording of brachos, what was said in yechidus and what was said in the holy sichos, or the topics discussed at the very least, and to work on the power of memory with great effort to recollect as much as possible.

    It is difficult and also impossible to set a general time for these holy memories, still, every Shabbos and holiday each person should recall something of these holy memories …

    The Rebbe MH”M says similarly:

    A person has the ability to recall various things, whether he wants to remember trivial matters or even important things, but their importance is nothing compared to the importance of remembering the Rebbe’s visage. If he but wants – he can remember the Rebbe’s face to the point that this memory will be in a manner of “as though standing before him.”

    In another place, the Rebbe Rayatz writes:

    And I know from experience that this avoda (to recall old memories) has to be done in an orderly way, because when, with Hashem’s help the memory comes back – it does so fully as if the entire event has come to life … which in truth – every movement they saw of the Rebbe and everything they heard from a Chassid – has the power to give life, literally, as we see …

    WHAT IS SPECIAL ABOUT PICTURING THE REBBE?

    Picturing the Rebbe has a special advantage over picturing something in general. When a Chassid concentrates on picturing the holy face of his Rebbe, it is generally accepted that the Rebbe feels this, and endows the Chassid with what he needs at that time. In other words, the chayus of that memory is a two-way street.

    In one of the sichos the Rebbe notes that when a tzaddik stands and davens, it affects someone watching him from the side, even if the tzaddik is unaware of his presence. In another amazing sicha, the Rebbe says:

    From time to time, everybody should picture the holy face of the Rebbe … and by doing so it will add in the hashpaos that he receives from the Rebbe – in accordance with his promise that shepherds of Israel “are not separated from their pasturing sheep” – in all they need whether spiritually or materially, with ample children, health, and livelihood.

    The Rebbe Rayatz tells9 about his father, the Rebbe Rashab, that he would go at certain times to visit the gravesite of the Rebbe Maharash and the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek:

    My father would call this, in his holy language, “being with Father in the Chamber of his Heavenly Mesivta,” or “being with Grandfather in the Chamber of his Heavenly Mesivta.”

    The Rebbe Rayatz goes on to say:

    There are those who merited to see, between the cracks of the wall of the Ohel, the light on his holy face which shone with a lofty light from a world made entirely of essential light, and the elder Chassidim, baalei avoda, told their charges what they received from their educators and teachers, that recalling this memory and the like, was auspicious for placing them in a “corner of light” in every place and every time. This applies to all of us who merited to see his holy face and the gleam of his eyes which will never be forgotten.

    Whoever remembers it and concentrates on this holy memory, at that moment he is standing before the holy Rebbe just like when he was alive in this world.

    The Rebbe himself refers to the “segulos” accomplished by contemplating the Rebbe’s picture and this is apparently for the abovementioned reason, that by contemplating the holy face, the Rebbe endows the person with whatever he needs.

    There is an interesting expression in the following response to a woman (see illustration): gaze on the picture of the Rebbe, my father-in-law, when you feel a weakening of your good resolve and remember that he too, being the true shepherd of Israel, is looking at you at this time. It will help.

    When the mashpia R’ Mendel Futerfas was arrested by the NKVD he was placed in their dark cellar, at the mercy of the interrogators. The interrogations went on into the night with murderous blows, and he was far from his fellow Chassidim and all this had an effect on him. He decided to write a pidyon nefesh to the Rebbe.

    How do you write a Pa”n when in jail to the Rebbe who is in New York? R’ Mendel stood in a corner and pictured the Rebbe’s holy face and wrote a pidyon nefesh. He didn’t write it with pen and paper but with his life’s blood and spirit, asking the Rebbe to arouse mercy on him.

    A telegram from New York arrived in London, addressed to R’ Mendel with an answer from the Rebbe to the pidyon nefesh he had received! It was years later, when R’ Mendel finally left Russia, that he understood what happened and knew that the Pa”n he had written had indeed arrived.

    Another chilling story on this topic is told by Rabbi Yehuda Kolasher who fought on the side of the Russians during World War II. In one of the difficult battles, a battle that left most soldiers dead, R’ Yehuda lay in the snow, dressed in white camouflage clothes. The soldiers were far from one another so they wouldn’t be discovered, but the Germans found them anyway and shot at them.

    His daughter, Mrs. Rochel Kanelsky, relates:

    “Suddenly, my father saw the Rebbe Rayatz. He was amazed for he knew that the Rebbe was in the United States and he didn’t understand what he was doing on the battlefield. A few seconds later, my father felt something warm dripping on his neck. He touched it and realized he was wounded. In the chaos, he hadn’t felt the piece of shrapnel that had penetrated his shoulder and exited millimeters from his spine.

    “The shrapnel had gone through an iron cup that he had in his pack, which he carried everywhere he went for netilas yodayim. The cup had been broken into smithereens.

    “After the war, my father would recollect those moments of terror and would say to his children: You should know that the Rebbe does not forget his Chassidim. The Rebbe was in America and I was on the front, but the Rebbe came and saved me!

    There were also stories the other way. Someone once told about being an officer in the army and he went for a period of difficult training. The soldiers slept in tents.

    “I was not religious at the time and my tent was decorated with a not-very-nice picture. Along with me in the tent was my second in command who was more appreciative of Jewish things and who had a connection to Chabad.

    “One day, I returned to my tent and saw that he had exchanged my picture for a picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe! I was tired and irritable and I lashed out at him and his picture. I even took off my army boot and threw it at the picture.

    “Years later I went to New York and someone dragged me for ‘dollars,’ from the Rebbe. I stood in front of the Rebbe and quaked. The Rebbe gave me a dollar and said, ‘My forehead still hurts.’

    “At first I didn’t know what the Rebbe meant but then I remembered what I did and was amazed. I realized I had started up with a man of G-d and this changed my life completely.”

    To be continued, b’ezras Hashem

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