Interview with Rabbi YY Jacobson: This Is How I Became a Chozer


    Interview with Rabbi YY Jacobson: This Is How I Became a Chozer

    Rabbi YY Jacobson needs no introduction. His lectures and articles bring Chassidus and the Rebbe’s outlook to thousands of frum Jews, not-yet-frum Jews, and I’havdil non Jews, on a daily basis. He sat down with Beis Moshiach’s Menachem Zigelbaum for a fascinating one-on-one about his life growing up under the Rebbe’s wings, becoming a member on the team of the “Chozrim,” the high energy atmosphere of Sukkos and Simchas Torah in 770, and about a recent book he published, “On the Secret of Redemption.” • By Beis Moshiach Magazine • Full Article

    By Menachem Ziegelbaum, Beis Moshiach Magazine

    Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Jacobson is a sought-after speaker and popular lecturer. He is a rare combination of a Torah scholar who can quote Gemaras, Medrashim and sifrei Chabad and general sifrei Chasssidus with precise sources. At the same time, he is a dynamic and empathetic person who enthralls his listeners.

    He lives in Monsey and gives shiurim every day in Chassidus, sometimes Tanya, sometimes Likutei Torah, or other Chassidic works. All sorts of people attend his lectures, Litvish, Satmar, Chabad, other Chassidic groups, balabatim.

    I spoke with R’ Jacobson about Sukkos as well as his memories of the Rebbe on Sukkos and Simchas Torah. I also discussed his sefer [which came out this past year] Sod HaGalus v’haGeula.

    Rabbi YY Jacobson passing by the Rebbe, in front of his father, at kos shel bracha


    First, congratulations on your new book Sod HaGalus v’haGeula: growing from crisis in the Jewish calendar and personal life.

    Thank you very much.

    I’m curious to hear what the book is about.

    I hadn’t planned on publishing a book. I live in Monsey and for many years I’ve been giving a shiur in the morning to all kinds of Chassidim. We usually learned the sefarim of the Alter Rebbe, Torah Ohr and Likutei Torah, Likutei Sichos and various maamarim, heavy and serious ones. The shiurim attracted a big, varied crowd.

    Two years ago, during the Three Weeks, we began learning a maamar of the gaon and Chassid, Rabbi Hillel of Paritch about Geula and galus. It’s a fundamental maamar about exile and redemption and the Rebbe even relied on this maamar to explain deep things on the subject. I therefore decided that we’d start learning this maamar.

    מרכז סת”ם 720

    During the summer months we learned it thoroughly. Like many maamarim written by great Chassidim the maamar was written in a “freer” style than the maamarim of the Rebbeim. It has more analogies and illustrative examples to make it easier to understand the idea. The shiur on this maamar was extremely successful. I saw how the audience “got it” and were enthusiastic about it. It gave me insights in the inner work of “how to live with a Geula consciousness.”

    In every shiur I tried to explain the ideas along with inspiring examples and stories. I tried to explain each subject in a way of “it is close to you,” in a manner that is relevant to every person’s daily life, not just abstractly.

    Among the regulars at the shiur was a Belzer Chassid, R’ Ezriel Engel, who wrote notes on the shiurim including the explanations. Afterward, he would send it to me.

    Please give us a taste of what you taught.

    The first time, as far as I know, that the Rebbe spoke about topics in this maamar of R’ Hillel was on Shabbos, parshas Mattos-Masei 5716 (the sicha is printed in Likutei Sichos volume 2). Since it was the Three Weeks, the Rebbe asked some questions about galus. I’ll mention just one, famous question.

    The Rebbe mentioned the prevalent way of looking at things, that every exile is to atone for sins, as it says in Mussaf, “Because of our sins we were exiled from our land.” Exile atones and expiates sins, etc. If so, asks the Rebbe, we know that when a person is punished, as time goes by, the sentence is lightened. Like an inmate in prison, for example, the more years he spends in jail, the more easy they deal with him in terms of going outside and other leniencies.

    But with our galus, we see the opposite, in that the more time passes, the more difficult the exile gets, materially and spiritually, in the lowering of the level of spirituality. How does this align with the atonement of sins?

    R’ Hillel notes something extraordinary. After the revelation of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, who came to the world to reveal G-d’s unity and to give tens of thousands of Jews the feeling that “closeness to G-d is good,” and electrified the Jewish people with renewed enthusiasm and new vitality in Torah study and the fulfillment of mitzvos, that was when a new wave of heresy came to the world, the likes of which we never had before. It’s like after Hashem sent Moshe to redeem the Jewish people from exile in Egypt, Pharaoh made the servitude even harder!

    One could say that over the years, Jews continued to sin and when an inmate serves out his sentence and still continues to sin, there is no reason to go easy on him. But, there is no end to this! G-d sends us to exile, He conceals Himself from the Jewish people, we sin more, He punishes us more. This creates a situation that we can never get out of, r’l.

    This is the question about how we look at things. It doesn’t seem fair. You put me into a situation, I am serving out a severe punishment, at a certain point the punishment should be eased but because of the abnormal situation I sin more because we don’t see any heavenly signs and darkness covers the earth …

    Because of this enormous question and many other questions, Chassidus, especially this maamar of R’ Hillel, reveals an entirely new approach to understanding galus and Geula.

    Let’s get back to the book …

    When we finished learning the maamar, the Belzer Chassid sent me summaries of the shiurim. I read them and thought it was an opportunity to publish a book that would explain galus and Geula. This maamar gives us tremendous understanding about our role in this era, living with an awareness of Geula. The maamar sheds a broad light on the whole subject and provides the possibility of internalizing a Geula experience in our daily lives.

    I’ve never seen a maamar like this one that expresses the awareness of the realities of galus and Geula as it manifests inside the person’s soul. It goes beyond the idea of galus and Geula, not only in the physical sense of the ingathering of exiles, no longer being subservient to the nations, but mainly Geula in the Jew’s inner world.

    I spoke to my friend Rabbi Moshe Shilat of “Toras Chabad L’bnei HaYeshivos,” and told him that this is Chassidishe material with tremendous power and it should be published. He rose to the challenge and it was published.

    Why did you choose “growing from crisis” and how does that relate to the idea of galus and Geula?

    The main point of this maamar – and the Rebbe reviewed this point many times – is a motif that is fundamental in the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and throughout Chabad Chassidus about galus and Geula, especially in the Rebbe’s sichos and maamarim.

    Any crisis that a person goes through, whether a family crisis, in a relationship, chinuch of children, a physical, spiritual or emotional crisis, a believing Jew can look at it in two main ways. The first way is that this crisis is “kapporas avonos” (atonement for sins), or it is refinement for the world to come. In other words, it’s not random that G-d decided to punish me, for He wants to cleanse me, or wants me to change my ways, and perhaps it happens for things I did in previous reincarnations, as it says in the works of the Rishonim and sifrei mussar.

    The chiddush here is deep and moving and it is a point that was revealed primarily by the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples.

    A person sometimes experiences crises and descents. As a result, he can easily sink into a depression, fall into the arms of despair, or regret everything in the past. Crises like these often happen in relationships or family life. There are good, devoted parents and suddenly a challenge arises with one of the children. The parents are shattered and want to know what sin they committed. What wrongdoing did they commit to have produced such a result?

    R’ Hillel tells us: You need to look at things with different glasses. Hashem wants to reveal a new light in your life. This light is the reason for the crisis! It’s not that the crisis comes before renewal; the opposite, the renewal is the reason for the crisis. Geula is the reason and galus is the result. A Jew’s soul senses a new light, the light of Geula. It’s a completely different approach to life. Now, everything he had been used to needs to go up a level; be more authentic, more holy.

    But there’s a problem. The old story still continues. The walls of the old house don’t allow a new house to be built. The old awareness does not allow space for a new awareness. A person is still bound by his old framework.

    However, the neshama already realizes that there is a new story that awaits it, a new awareness in life. What does it do? It departs from the old story line. Suddenly, nothing works. There is seemingly nothing. All old routines no longer work. It’s a stage of destruction and the feeling is one of emptiness, lack. All seems lost. As the new revelation approaches, the crisis seems greater.

    Rabbi YY Jacobson with his father receiving lekach

    Why is all this happening? Because the neshama yearns for that new revelation. It wants to leave the old stage and move on to the new one. My personal light of Moshiach was already born and because the Geula already began to spark in my life, a situation is created in which the familiar, pleasant, organized old story line leaves and I remain with a big void. This however, is the darkness that precedes the blinding light of the extraordinary revelation.

    In Lashon Kodesh, in the expression “yosheves al ha’mashbeir” (lit. sitting on the birthing stool), the term “mashbeir” is from the root meaning broken (crisis) but it is also a preparation for a new birth.

    A Jew needs to know that if he is undergoing a crisis, it’s a preparation for a new birth. The crisis is meant to “break his vessel,” his usual, familiar emotional-soul framework, in order for him to be able to receive the great, new light which he couldn’t receive in his previous state; it’s the light of Geula.

    The pain is the same pain, and knowing this does not take away the pain, but with this new, Geula awareness he knows that the pain isn’t random. Hashem is not interested in hurting him, G-d forbid, for no reason, but to make him grow. We know that when new teeth are starting to come in, the baby teeth start to fall out. One could cry and say: Oy, you’re losing your teeth! But the truth is that it’s because the new, healthy, stronger teeth already started to grow.

    The Rebbe expresses this idea with his question (Shabbos Chazon 5740, printed in Likutei Sichos volume 29): How could Hashem destroy his Beis HaMikdash when there is a prohibition in the Torah about destroying the Mikdash and Hashem observes what it says in the Torah? The Rebbe’s wonderful explanation is, Hashem destroyed the Beis HaMikdash to allow for a new Beis HaMikdash, a bigger, eternal one. In this case, that’s not plain destruction; it’s destruction for the purpose of construction and this is part of the building of the new edifice.

    The Rebbe repeated this idea of R’ Hillel’s many times in different ways.

    It should be emphasized that aside from the main theme of the maamar, the secret of galus and Geula, many important topics in Chabad Chassidus are explained here with many illustrations, as was the way of Chassidim of the Rebbeim when they explained Chassidic concepts.

    This is truly a special, fascinating maamar that changes one’s entire way of looking at things!



    The following incident occurred at the farbrengen in 770 in honor of the Chag HaGeula, Yud-Tes Kislev 5750. The emcee, R’ Yehoshua Pinson, gabbai in 770, asked the chozer, Rabbi Yoel Kahn to review the sicha which the Rebbe had just delivered at the farbrengen that day, Shabbos.

    R’ Yoel wasn’t there and so he hesitantly said, “We have a bachur here by the name of Yosef Yitzchok Jacobson and we will ask him to do chazara for us.”

    A moment of two later, a young bachur went up and began an accurate review of what the Rebbe said a few hours earlier. For half an hour, the crowd was riveted by the sight of this young chozer who did a perfect job.

    When I asked R’ Jacobson about this he smiled and said, “I was only seventeen, a young bachur. I was focused on the goal: to review what the Rebbe said, precisely, to the best of my ability. I wanted to preserve the Rebbe’s holy words. There were no other considerations, no thoughts of my own.”

    From a young age, R’ Jacobson became one of the team of chozrim and on motzoei Shabbos he would review the sichos said a few hours earlier over a broadcast heard by thousands of Chassidim around the world who yearned to know what the Rebbe said that day.

    How did it start?

    I spent my childhood in Crown Heights. My father, R’ Gershon Ber a’h, always took me to the Rebbe’s farbrengens starting from 5738. In 5740-5741 and on, the Rebbe began to farbreng much more often. Most of my friends, seven and eight year olds, went outside during the farbrengen to play on Eastern Parkway. It wasn’t easy for children to sit at farbrengens. The Rebbe could farbreng for five and six hours!

    It wasn’t easy for me but as time went on, I got into it; sometimes I listened and sometimes I didn’t. Those who know the structure of the Rebbe’s sichos knows that at the end of every sicha there were a few minutes, five and sometimes even ten, that the Rebbe concluded with lengthy blessings. The problem was that the chozrim didn’t know these parts well because it was not so much a part of the structure of the sicha but was more divrei bracha and wishes that were full of verses and maamarei Chazal about the Geula.

    My brother, Simon, who was part of the chazara team, once asked me whether I could remember the endings of sichos, just the part with the brachos.

    See, from the start you were connected to the Geula aspect of every sicha …

    (Chuckling): I never thought of it that way.

    On Sukkos 5741, the Rebbe began to say a sicha every night. The mashpia, R’ Mendel Futerfas, was friendly with my father. They would talk at length in 770 and walk home together. They loved to talk to one another.

    On Sukkos one year, after the Rebbe finished the sicha of the evening, R’ Yoel Kahn was doing chazara with many people around him but R’ Mendel found it hard to sit at his chazara. He asked me whether I could review the sicha for him. I remembered many things and reviewed it for him and after that, I did so regularly.

    How old were you?

    Before bar mitzva. I didn’t do a good job but I reviewed some points that I got and there were other people sitting there and they added and corrected me. When I got a little older, as I mentioned, my brother asked me to help by remembering the words and paraphrasing the content and that’s how I got involved.


    On Yud Shevat 5750, marking forty years of the Rebbe’s leadership, the Rebbe asked at a farbrengen that everyone build a new mosad in honor of forty years.

    The motzoei Shabbos after that, I stood outside the main door of 770. It was after maariv and the one in charge of siyumim of Rambam and the director of Kollel Tiferes Zikeinim, R’ Menachem Gerlitzky, asked me, “Yosef Yitzchok, have you already built a new mosad?”

    I shrugged and said, “I’m a yeshiva bachur; the Rebbe was talking to shluchim, askanim and balabatim.” But he said, “The Rebbe didn’t say that. The Rebbe said everyone should build a new mosad.” I insisted, “What do you want – I should stop learning and go open a new mosad?”

    Then he made the following suggestion. “Look, there is nobody making a chazara of the Rebbe’s sicha on motzoei Shabbos for Chassidim around the world (R’ Yoel would do chazara for twenty-thirty people and it wasn’t broadcast live.) There is an enormous audience around the world who want to know what the Rebbe said on Shabbos but it’s only after a day or two that the first notes start coming out.

    “You build a new mosad – do chazara every motzoei Shabbos for the world.”

    I said to him, “I’m a young bachur, just seventeen. That’s for R’ Yoel, not me.”

    R’ Gerlitzky did not give up. “You can find all the excuses in the world but you need to do this. We are celebrating forty years of the Rebbe’s leadership; how can you turn down this great zechus?”

    Two minutes later he took me into R’ Chaim Boruch Halberstam and R’ Yonason Hackner’s broadcasting room. R’ Gerlitzky said to them, “We are building a new mosad now – chazara for the entire world, every motzoei Shabbos.”

    Every motzoei Shabbos, the Rebbe went to his room after maariv and I went to the broadcasting room and began reviewing what the Rebbe said. This was heard in Chabad centers around the world. This went on for a few years until Vayakhel 5752, the last Shabbos as of now that we heard teachings from the Rebbe.


    We spoke before about Geula and now about chazara. Let’s go back thirty years to 5751-5752. You were one of the chozrim of the sichos and every Shabbos the Rebbe ramped up anticipation for the Geula. Every Shabbos there were even more astonishing giluyim: the table is set already and has the shor ha’bor and livyasan, Moshiach is in the world, you just need to open your eyes, etc. Each time, another “bomb.”

    You sat every motzoei Shabbos and reviewed such earth shattering things – how did you perceive it?

    I knew then, and I know now, at least from my perspective, that the most important condition for chazara is absolute bittul to divrei ha’rav. In the maamar of R’ Hillel of Paritch that we spoke about earlier, there are a few pages about this.

    The point is, if you really want to absorb everything the Rebbe says, it’s not enough that you’re ready and interested in doing so. Much more is required of you. You need to have utter bittul so that even the mind of the listener can’t work… I remember that when I heard a sicha from the Rebbe and in the middle of the sicha I would say to myself, “Wow, what a chiddush!” or “What a geshmake chiddush,” that would ruin my memory and understanding, because my ego was involved. I was the one who said it was a nice chiddush or something amazing. I was bringing in my opinion of the sicha and that’s no longer bittul. If you really want to absorb, you don’t exist!

    Rabbi Jacobson (second from the right) saying Selichos with the Rebbe

    Is it really possible to quiet the mind from doing anything but listen?

    You certainly can’t do it a hundred percent but that’s the work of a chozer. True, some of the preparation required is that a person understand and know things, and have a good memory, but above all else, the foundation of authentic chazara is when I don’t exist. It’s really not easy. There were a few times that the Rebbe finished explaining an idea in the middle of a sicha and I thought, “Wow, what a fascinating explanation,” and I gave myself ten seconds to summarize the idea in my head. I did this once or twice and regretted it, because I had already missed the next thing the Rebbe said.

    You want to marvel about what the Rebbe said? Sit down afterward and marvel. A few days or weeks afterward you can learn the sicha, study the kuntrus and marvel over what you want, but during the actual gilui, it is forbidden for you to exist.

    As to your question, when the Rebbe said all those gilyuim about Moshiach in 5751 and 5752, I wasn’t involved in commentary. I didn’t give shiurim and it wasn’t my role at all to measure the intensity level of what was said, not during the sicha and not afterward. My role was just to listen to every word, to remember it, review it and write it; that’s all.

    You correctly describe the things the Rebbe said as “awesome, amazing giluyim” but at the time, all I wanted was to be connected to the original words without any interpretations and emotional excitement.

    I don’t know, maybe I need to make a cheshbon ha’nefesh about that, but at the time I had no thoughts about how to internalize anything and how to get excited about all of it or try and understand how others saw it. I wasn’t involved in that. I was focused on the words themselves, on what the Rebbe said, and reviewing them as they were given at Sinai.

    You must understand, I was a very young bachur and the interpretations wasn’t part of my world. One thing I knew, we are meriting to hear “shocking” words and my job is to review what the Rebbe said, accurately.

    R’ Dovid Nachshon once came over to me in amazement. It was Sivan 5751 and he said to me, “Did you hear what mighty giluyim the Rebbe said today?”

    I told him, “My job is to review the sicha and you deal with the giluyim …”

    Another time, after a farbrengen, R’ Sholom Charitonov came over and said, “Today, the Rebbe turned over the Seder Hishtalshelus ten times …” I didn’t think that I had any understanding of that.

    By the way, there are a few words that were said on Shabbos Shoftim 5751 which I think the other chozrim did not remember but I heard them clearly and it went into the sicha. I knew it was a “bomb”. The Rebbe said in Yiddish, “We merited that Hashem chose a Jew who has free choice who is incomparable to all of the people of the generation!”

    The menahel of my yeshiva asked me on motzoei Shabbos: Did you hear that language? I said yes. He asked me what I think, why did the Rebbe emphasize that he has free choice?

    I said, in my humble opinion, that is the whole revolutionary concept of Rebbe. It’s not that he’s an angel that doesn’t have any connection to the world. On the contrary, a Rebbe has free choice and he embodies for each one of us what is the power of every Jew, to connect heaven and earth, to be the ladder standing on the ground and the top reaching the heavens.


    Rabbi Jacobson was born and raised in Crown Heights. In his childhood he attended Oholei Torah, Tomchei Tmimim – 770, and Tomchei Tmimim in Morristown.

    After he married, he began to work as a mashpia and rebbi in Chovevei Torah and was the rav of the Beis Shmuel shul in Crown Heights.

    Fifteen years later, he moved to Monsey where he is rav at Ohr Chaim. At the same time, he has become enormously popular for his lectures, shiurim and farbrengens. He is in high demand all over the world. He has spoken at hundreds of events and gatherings and has even been invited to speak for non-Jewish audiences. He was invited to speak at the Pentagon to deliver the religious keynote to the US military Chief of Chaplains and to the National Security Agency. R’ Jacobson doesn’t merely convey content; he presents it in a passionate way that has his audiences riveted to what he says.

    Three years ago, R’ Jacobson attended an exclusive event of 400 Orthodox Jewish leaders and philanthropists who wanted to show gratitude to the president of the United States, Donald Trump, for his dedication to Israel, his resolve against terrorism, and his courage to do what is right even in the face of radical pressure. R’ Jacobson was asked to introduce the president. After doing so, Trump said, “I like him!”

    Despite being a world class speaker, and despite living in Monsey for quite a few years, R’ Jacobson is nevertheless a product of 770. I asked him to share a memory of Sukkos with the Rebbe:

    I have many memories, but I’m reminded of something, a childhood memory, a very pleasant one. Everyone knows that Sukkos is an uplifting Yom Tov. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are more serious while Sukkos is a time of joy. Every Yom Tov you could see what type of Yom Tov it was by looking at the Rebbe’s face. When the Rebbe entered the shul, you could see whether it was Yom Kippur, Sukkos or Simchas Torah. A tzaddik reflects the energy of the day.

    The climax, of course, was Shemini Atzeres – Simchas Torah when the Rebbe was in an entirely different state. What you saw on Simchas Torah you simply didn’t want to end. Immediately afterward was Shabbos Bereishis which was a Shabbos different than all the Shabbosos of the year; you felt it.

    On Sukkos, the entire atmosphere in 770 changed; it was a different energy.

    Starting from 5741, when the Rebbe began saying a sicha every night of Sukkos, it already went up a notch. After maariv, the Rebbe said a sicha which sometimes lasted half an hour, an hour, and sometimes even an hour and a half. The Rebbe was in a very uplifted mood and every night he spoke about Sukkos at great length and with lengthy explanations. One could see an “outpouring” of Torah in a way of expansiveness and joy that broke boundaries. The sichos of Sukkos had a special geshmak, the style in which they were said and the content were full of joy and ethereal delight.

    After the sicha, hundreds, maybe thousands of people remained in the shul, in order to hear chazara (review) from R’ Yoel or other chozrim, and from me. Afterward, when you went around to the farbrengens in Crown Heights and went in to say l’chaim, in every sukka you would hear Chassidim reviewing something from the sicha that was said that evening. We felt the “ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu.” It was a very uplifting feeling.

    Rabbi Jacobson reviewing ideas from Chassidus at the tisch of the Klausenberger Rebbe

    That was a general description of Sukkos with the Rebbe. How about a personal memory?

    I’ll share a feeling that left a sour taste that I had one year on Sukkos. Every year, after the Rebbe finished the sicha on the first night, he went to the sukka for guests accompanied by R’ Moshe Yaroslavksy a’h, the host. There, the Rebbe conveyed his blessing and sometimes even said a sicha in honor of the guests. In the early years, most people didn’t know about this so the sukka, although full, wasn’t crowded. In later years, there was tremendous pushing.

    In 5749, I think, the Rebbe began addressing the guests when he suddenly interrupted the topic he was explaining and began to say: Really, the topic should have been explained more but since there is so much pushing, it must be shorter, especially when seeing why he pushes … It’s not that he really wants to hear something in Torah and Chassidus; he needs to show how his hands are more powerful than those of another and so he can show him that he won’t take his place. Under the circumstances, there is no reason to continue with the sicha.

    I didn’t expect the Rebbe to talk about it. It broke my heart, how the Rebbe forwent drawing Torah down from Above only because someone decided to be a strongman and push those around him. I saw how aggravated the Rebbe was by this wild, undignified behavior, the opposite of the bittul and Ahavas Yisrael of a Chassid.


    R’ Jacobson’s experiences are connected less to “giluyim” and more to the Rebbe’s divrei Torah. He refers to such experiences one after the other. When he suddenly says, “There was one sicha on Sukkos, big giluyim,” he is clearly reliving the pleasure. For him, it doesn’t get any better than this:

    As you know, every night of Sukkos the Rebbe said a sicha in which he spoke of the two Ushpizin of that day, the general one and the Chassidishe one, with the Rebbe speaking about what they have in common. He always touched upon interesting points. For example, he spoke about the personality of each one or the style of each one in Torah study or things connected with their way of life. Those were very amazing explanations.

    One year, the Rebbe said a sicha about Yaakov Avinu and the Alter Rebbe. The common denominator is that both are manifestly all about Torah. Yaakov is Torah as it says, “ish tam, yosheiv ohalim,” “v’Torah sam b’Yisrael.” The Alter Rebbe is also all about Torah, Nigleh and Chassidus and their combination.

    The Rebbe began to expound on the differences between them, how Yaakov’s entire life was one of fear and stress as he said of himself, “You have bereaved me – Yoseph is gone, and Shimon is gone, and you want to take Binyamin! All these troubles have come upon me.” He had a life full of troubles: Eisav, Lavan, Rochel, Dina, Yosef, Shimon, Binyamin. Even during the seventeen years in Egypt, he felt that he was in “ervas ha’aretz” and he was very concerned that after his passing they would make him into an idol.

    The Alter Rebbe, on the other hand, said the Rebbe, although he was persecuted and he was in prison twice, and he had opponents both from without and within (among his colleagues, talmdim of the Maggid), his life was still full of delight. The Rebbe explains: Since the Alter Rebbe merited to establish a new approach to life, to reveal a new approach in Torah, and he had hundreds and even thousands of talmidim who eagerly took in what he said, and he authored sefarim, this was a life of very great pleasure.

    To me, this was eye-opening. The Rebbe explained how the Alter Rebbe felt in his life, not only when he sat in Liozna and said maamarim but how he developed the approach of Chabad Chassidus which is the deepest approach in Judaism, and explained the tremendous delight in the knowledge that he was granted this privilege… This gave me an inkling of understanding who the Alter Rebbe was in a way that I had never thought of before.

    Speaking about Sukkos memories, we can’t skip the “bomb” the Rebbe dropped on Chol HaMoed Sukkos 5752, I think it was the night of Hoshana Rabba. I was standing a few inches away from the Rebbe when he said an enormous chiddush. He prefaced it by saying that the Rebbe Rayatz wrote in HaKeria v’haKedusha the life story of the children of the Tzemach Tzedek, referring to each one as “Kevod Kedushas Admor,” even though only the Rebbe Maharash was the successor. The Rebbe asked, what lesson can we learn from this? He answered: The lesson is that the description “Admor” applies to everyone.

    I was a bachur. I instantly knew this was a “bomb.” What was the Rebbe actually saying? All the years, we had learned that the title “Admor” pertains to the “yechida klalis,” to the Nasi HaDor, and we are as far from that as the heavens from the earth!

    The Rebbe knew it was a bomb which is why he added: When saying these words, one needs to tremble…

    But he went on to say that there was a source for this. Where? Every Yom Tov we open the aron kodesh and say a special prayer. We ask Hashem, “and may it be fulfilled with us what it says, ‘and the spirit of G-d rested upon him…” a verse from Yeshaya, chapter eleven, that talks about Moshiach. Nevertheless, every Jew asks that what is said about Moshiach should be fulfilled in him!

    How do you understand this?

    I remember that after the sicha I said to my friend, R’ Shaul Vishedsky (today of Kfar Chabad) that these were very unusual “osiyos” (i.e. expressions) but like I said before, my job is to be a chozer, not a commentator …

    Years went by and in 5771, I was at a farbrengen that took place on Sukkos and I reviewed this sicha. Suddenly, I found myself marveling. Wow, I said to myself. I’ve already forgotten what the Rebbe said then. The Rebbe is actually saying to each one of us (as I understand it): You should know there will be a time when the Rebbe will be concealed from us. Remember that the Rebbe’s light must shine within you! Even if you consider yourself small, remember that the Rebbe’s light needs to illuminate within you and through you to the entire world around you.

    I understood then, back on Sukkos 5752, that the Rebbe was saying to each of his Chassidim: There is a new avoda now. It’s not enough to just review the Rebbe’s sichos or to call yourself a Chabad Chassid. That may have been fine until 5752. Now you have a new assignment. Each of us needs to be a conduit for the Rebbe’s light to shine through.

    We don’t need to be fools and think we are actually an Admor. The point the Rebbe was conveying is: a time has come when there needs to be perfect oneness between Rebbe and Chassid; the yesh ha’nivra and the yesh ha’amiti. I’m in a certain situation and understand that the intellect, middos and life experiences and all parts of my life are a state in which I need to be a conduit to channel the Rebbe’s light. When a Jew looks at a Chassid he will see the light of the Rebbe.

    I was there on Sukkos 5752 but I think I got the depth of the concept only twenty years later.


    Surely there were special moments you experienced on Simchas Torah…

    I have a “little” memory but to me, it’s big. The Rebbe stood on the special platform from where he conducted the hakafos. When he needed to go to the first and seventh hakafa, he would walk from his place to a special platform where the actual hakafos took place. It wasn’t far but because there were thousands of people, it took a long time to get there. They had to clear the area and there was tremendous pushing and also, until the other Sifrei Torah went through … It wasn’t easy to transfer the kingdom from the east to the other side of the shul.

    I was a child and I always stood on the eastern side next to my father who stood near the Rebbe, near the aron kodesh. I stood there for many years. Most went to stand where the hakafa platform was because they wanted to see the Rebbe dance but I thought it was preferable to stand near the usual platform because the Rebbe was there most of the time.

    It was from this platform that the Rebbe directed all the joy of all the hakafos. Sometimes he would speak to people who came, sometimes he even said short sichos between hakafos. He sometimes spoke to my father during the hakafos.

    One year, at the beginning of the mem’s (eighties), when I was a boy of eight or nine, I also wanted to be at the “ches” (the hakafos platform was in the shape of a ches and was referred to as the ches by the bachurim). I knew that if I went to the ches, I’d be pushed and I’d miss everything. What did I do? I tried walking a drop ahead of the Rebbe when he went to the ches so I could be near him. I knew that after he got there the pushing would diminish and I’d get a good spot.

    But how would I get there with all tremendous crowding? I made believe I was part of the “vaad ha’mesader.” I stood on the tables along the way and acted as though I was helping. I helped children get to a more suitable spot and made sure those going to the hakafa while holding Sifrei Torah could pass through easily. Basically, I made all the right noises of one who is needed, all so that I wouldn’t be pushed; after all, I was part of the “vaad ha’mesader.” I had one goal, to be close to the Rebbe at the hakafos.

    The Rebbe walked toward the ches and saw what was going on. Then, for a split second, he looked at me. I can’t describe the look. It was a little smiley, a little momentary nod of the head as though conveying, “It’s okay … you’re here, you accomplished what you wanted …” that he knew what I did. It’s unbelievable how the Rebbe caught on to my shtick despite the thousands who filled every inch.

    That was the night of Simchas Torah. The next day, the Rebbe got Chassan Bereishis and I was on the platform near him. The tzitzis of the tallis fell a drop and touched the floor. Since I was sitting on the floor, I picked up the tallis and took the rare opportunity to kiss the Rebbe’s tzitzis. I knew it was a once-in-lifetime opportunity. Who has the zechus of kissing the “cloak of kingship” of the Rebbe? Around me was terrible pushing and nobody paid attention to me. I just grasped the Rebbe’s tzitzis and kissed them and kissed them. Tell me, who else kissed the Rebbe’s tzitzis?

    R’ Leibel Groner was standing there and he noticed what I was doing. I thought he’d be angry and yell at me. He bent over quietly and said, “Listen, if you do that, it’s okay, but you should know that it obligates you in being careful with thought, speech and action.”

    As children, we were used to R’ Groner yelling at us. He was the secretary who had to make order around the Rebbe, but sometimes he acted very differently. Maybe he had something to drink, I don’t know. I remember being flabbergasted at his unexpected reaction but I think it was a pure teaching moment. If you are lifting the Rebbe’s tzitzis and kissing them, you need to be a suitable vessel …


    Another special memory from Simchas Torah that amazes me to this day:

    One year, the Rebbe went over to the hakafa that would take place inside the ches. There was someone from France who apparently was an athlete or something like that; otherwise, I have no explanation for how, when the Rebbe entered the ches, he managed to jump over everyone and get inside. He then sat on the floor a few inches from the Rebbe who was already standing there, ready to start the hakafa, with the Sefer Torah in his hand.

    One of the members of the “vaad ha’mesader” wanted to teach him a lesson and sat down on the man’s head. Nobody saw this unless you were a boy who was sitting in the ches and watching.

    The situation was the Rebbe was standing and looking at the crowd of thousands who filled 770 while someone was sitting on the head of the Frenchman at the height of the Rebbe’s knee, i.e. it was not visible.

    Then the hakafa began. The Rebbe began to dance with great joy. As is known, and anyone who was at hakafos could testify to this, during hakafos the Rebbe looked at every single person in the room. It’s hard to understand this, how could he do this? I saw it with my own eyes. The Rebbe looked at each of the thousands in the room, even for half a second, but it was a deep look that really grabbed you.

    The Rebbe danced and the crowed was wild with joy. Those were extremely uplifting moments that are indescribable.

    Suddenly, during the first round, the Rebbe looked at the person from the “vaad ha’mesader” (who was considered a distinguished person, a mekurav of Beis Rebbi). The man innocently thought that the Rebbe was looking to encourage his joy and he began to dance, with the Frenchman underneath him. The Rebbe did not remove his gaze from him as he continued to rejoice without continuing to turn around. The person from the “vaad ha’mesader” danced with all his might and even made joyous motions with his hands but the Rebbe, in his refinement, did not point anything out to him, just continued looking at him, without proceeding in the circle, looking and looking, until at a certain point the man finally got it, that the Rebbe wouldn’t continue moving until …

    The moment he got off the Frenchman, the latter breathed deeply and the Rebbe danced on.

    I heard this from R’ Levi Yitzchok Drimmer who saw it happen. I learned a big lesson from it. There can be ten thousand Chassidim, all dancing and rejoicing, and in the middle stands the Rebbe at the height of leadership of thousands, but the Rebbe takes in every detail, every Jew. Don’t think the Rebbe doesn’t notice. It’s like Moshe with the sheep where he took care of a single lamb in need. I’m not going to continue dancing if this Jew can’t dance. There is no such thing, even with all the tremendous simcha, as taking away the joy and air from one Jew. ■


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