Rabbi Daniel Green, Beis Moshiach
Ah, 770, the heart and hub of world Jewry! And a highlight of the 770 experience, of course, was, and is today, davening with the Rebbe’s minyan – truly an amazing opportunity for a Chassid, and for any Jew for that matter.
In addition to the profound inspiration gleaned from standing in the presence of and offering up one’s prayers with the spiritual leader of the generation, there are additional perks – receiving the brochos associated therewith.
In reminiscing about my yeshiva years in Crown Heights, and as an out-of-towner, I recall fondly how, right after davening, I would make sure to stand at the back of the main sanctuary, at the door leading to the stairwell and elevator, prior to leaving for the airport to fly home. All visitors and shluchim, especially those traveling internationally or transcontinentally, would wait there when the prayer service was concluded, while the Rebbe made his way out of the shul, on his way back upstairs to Gan Eden Ha’elyoin, to receive a blessing for departure.
Once, after mincha, a substantial group of departers had gathered, including visitors from various lands and locations. A line had formed along the wall, where I, too, promptly positioned myself, as I would be heading out to the airport to catch my flight later that day. As the Rebbe, flanked by his attendants, walked by our improvisatory line, approaching the door, he offered a series of multilingual blessings. The words he used, I felt, were intriguing, and I could never forget them. He said slowly and clearly, while walking:
“Fort gezunterheit, nesiyah tovah, bon voyage, and may the Alm-ghty be with you!”
Notwithstanding that we stood there collectively in a group, respectfully taking leave of our hallowed leader, the Rebbe spoke to each of his followers, adherents, or admirers, individually, and each received his own brocha, in his own language.
What I found strange, however, was the Rebbe’s choice of words in my language – English, that is. You see, the first three of the Rebbe’s salutations were short, two-worded phrases, used commonly in those languages. “Fort gezunterheit,” in Yiddish, means “travel in health.” The Hebrew and French alternatives, “nesiyah tovah” and “bon voyage,” basically mean the same – that the traveler have a “a good journey.”
But “may the Alm-ghty be with you” was somewhat longer than just two words, and was by no means a commonplace expression for us Americans. The Rebbe could have said “have a good journey,” “safe trip,” or “goodbye” (or perhaps “farewell,” but “goodbye” is what we gringos are more accustomed to). But he said none of the above.
As one of the few English speakers standing there, I felt that this blessing was truly unique, not just a standard, idiomatic expression of good wishes for parting that may have been more linguistically consistent with the others. The Rebbe was wishing that Hashem be with me! Blessed that Hashem would be with me, of course, I surely was going to have a good trip!
On the other hand, I reckoned, surely the Rebbe was blessing all my fellow Chassidim and Yidden standing there to receive his coveted birkas preida, not just those from the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, or anywhere else in the Commonwealth, that Hashem be with them too. There must be a reason, I thought, why this message was only expressed in the English.
(And I share this story, some thirty years later, in the Beis Moshiach for English speakers, so that the others not get jealous.)
Speaking of languages – if a person who can speak many languages is called a “polylinguist,” someone fluent in two languages, a “bilinguist,” then what do you call someone who knows only one language?
Okay, I can make fun of myself and my linguistically-challenged compatriots, but just know that the Rebbe boasted of us – “Made in America… and ready for the Geula!” — (7 Kislev 5712)
Leaving patriotism aside, the Rebbe’s choice of his English farewell was unique, and it took me years to figure it out. Or at least, to find a possible explanation.
The answer, I would like to suggest, I discovered in an unabridged, Oxford dictionary:
The term “goodbye” originated from “godbwye,” a contraction of the early English (from the 14th century C.E.) expression, “G-d be with ye.” Over the centuries, it progressively evolved into “goodbye.”
Isn’t that interesting? The “good” of “goodbye” originally was “G-d!”
Those who’ve watched a lot of videos of the Rebbe distributing dollars can attest to the fact that the Rebbe generally does not use the English word “G-d” by itself, even when conversing with a gentile. His choice, alternatively, was “The Alm-ghty.” (Sometimes, but not often, he would use the word “G-d” but only together with the word “Alm-ghty”). The G word, which we make sure to write incompletely and with a hyphen, out of reverence, is a holy word, the pronunciation of which, hence, is to be avoided – save for prayer, recital of verses of Torah pronounced Anglically, et cetera.
(This applies not only to the native tongue of this country, but to other languages as well. In Russian, for example, the Rebbe rewrote the lyrics to “Nye Bayus Ya,” a well-known and powerful folk song of Jewish faith and invincible resolve, which incorporated the Russian word for Hashem – to “Nyet Nyet Nikavo,” which refers to the Divine by means of an efficacious pronoun, “Him.”)
So when the Rebbe concluded his parting wishes with the English “and may the Alm-ghty be with you,” perhaps he was essentially saying “goodbye,” but substituting the Heavenly reference in this century-old expression to a more acceptable and respectful alternative.
Assuming that this is the case – we see the Rebbe’s amazing mastery of languages and their etymologies, sensitive to the fact that even an unassuming word like “goodbye,” used universally throughout all English speaking countries, has quite a G-dly origin, which the Rebbe refused to enunciate!
Now I’m not trying to suggest that it’s bad to say “goodbye,” and certainly not the affectionate or juvenile version, “bye bye” – which somehow childishly lost its “good” but is certainly not bad – the Rebbe, perhaps, had higher standards.
Why, you might ask, did I preface this article, titled, “keep G.O.D. in the schools,” with this interesting tidbit?
Because I’d like to rescind on last week’s suggestion to coin the initials, Gee Oh Dee, for someone “going off derech,” because it actually might be more “on derech” to call it something else. You see, people often pronounce initialized titles.
(Like the term “Chabad,” which is actually an abbreviation of the words, Chochma Bina and Daas – Ch.B.D. Over the centuries, articulating the abbreviation as one word became widely accepted in all circles. Kind of like “Lag Ba’omer,” the word “lag” representing the letters “lamed gimel,” a Hebraic numerical for the number 33.
On the other hand, some, especially those who erroneously espouse nationalistic, but not necessarily frum, Jewish beliefs, call the new year for fruit trees, “Tu Bishevat,” whereas the Rebbe always referred to it as “Chamisha Asar Bishevat.” The letters tes vov are in fact a number – 15, not the word “tu.” Another example of this is the calendar date, Yud Tes Kislev, the day of liberation of the Alter Rebbe which is also the yahrtzeit of the Mezritcher Magid. Some Chassidic sects call it “Yat Kislev,” pronouncing the yud tes, which stands for the number 19, as a word, “Yat.”
Neither “tu” nor “yat” of the above instances are pronounced as such in Lubavitch circles).
Taking this colloquial tendency into consideration, there exists the possibility that someone reading my article about a “going off derech,” might actually pronounce the acronym G.O.D. as a word – which would render my well-intended creativity a sacrilege. Surely, as shared above and as evident in the Rebbe’s conduct, it is more respectful to avoid the articulation of that awe-inspiring title.
And yes, as discussed last week, teenage “gee oh dee”s seem to love to use the word G-d. Or for example, the initials, OMG (“oh my G…”) – found commonly in text messages of millions of American girls daily. Or perhaps in millions of the text messages of each of these teens daily! Either way, the over-infatuation with the G word is apparent.
The point of the above observation is not to emphasize their infatuation with the word, but rather, with What the word represents. The Rebbe Rashab says that when a simple Jew uses the word Gott in Yiddish, spelled gimmel aleph tes, the Yiddish word for “G-d,” the intention is Atzmus u’Mahus, Hashem’s essence, that transcends all His names!
So, I learned, in dealing with “going off derech”s, not to dissuade them from how they refer to Him, because they really are referring to His essence, which transcends all names. With patience and love, they’ll soon shift gears and join the rest of us in being particular about referring to Him more respectfully, in accordance with the minhag Yisroel.
Getting back “onto the derech” of the gist of this article, how do we raise our kids so that they, too, stay on track?
A little over two decades ago, I served as a member of the administrative leadership for an institution of chinuch. During that time, two boys were expelled, for completely separate, unrelated reasons. Recently, it was brought to my attention that both of these boys, while raised in Chassidic families, are not observant today.
How odd? I thought. I wonder if there’s any connection between their having been thrown out to where they ended up today? I then found out that in at least one of the cases, the young man’s downward spiral began around the time of his discharge. The guilt began to eat away at me, because, looking back at the details of what had transpired, the actions taken against the two boys were rather extreme and not necessarily warranted. Now that I myself am raising children, I thought, I see things differently. Perhaps the administration could have had a little more rachmonus, and worked things out differently. For weeks, I began to think of ways to reach out to these two victims of the system, a system in which I myself had participated. I obtained their numbers, even tried to contact them but unsuccessfully, and kept pushing things off, busy with my own life.
Several weeks ago, sitting in 770 on a milk crate on the morning of Tisha B’av, I had managed to finish kinos a little early, and started to check out those few optional kinos for the Holocaust or the 2005 expulsion of the residents of Gush Katif, the ones I never manage to say, when suddenly it dawned on me:
Here I was, sitting and crying over 2 churbonos of 2000 years ago! But what about the 2 churbonos of 20 years ago?! And these two did not require my tears, but rather, my action. Surely, I thought, reaching out to them at this time, trying to rectify any misdeed that might have been perpetrated against these two holy neshomos, to perhaps hasten their reconstruction, was indicated on this profound day.
So I promptly walked out to the foyer, found my phone, contacted other members of the administration, and together, we composed letters of apology. Boruch Hashem, a few days later, I succeeded in making contact, with one on Chamisha Asar B’av and the other on Chof Av, conveying my deep regret, and merited to receive their forgiveness.
In a most emotional and moving farbrengen, on the day of Simchas Torah in 5715, the Rebbe cried about the dire necessity of educating children, with the utmost purity and holiness – strictly Judaic subjects, that is. At one point, the Rebbe cried, “The Aibershter says that He has no need for Gan Eden… He doesn’t need the Beis Hamikdosh… He wants nothing! All He wants is to reside in the mind of a Jewish child! That’s where He wants to be!”
If Hashem prefers the mind of a Jewish child over the Beis Hamikdosh itself(!) – then surely keeping a child immersed in an environment of Torah study is of utmost importance, and should be the first item on the agenda of every G-d fearing (not to mention G.O.D. fearing) Jew. Allowing a child to be ousted from such a setting, chas v’shalom, is surely on par with the tragic events observed on Tisha B’av!
So as we seek ways to immunize our children from the horrifying reality that exists in the community today, the current, unusually high “off the derech” rate, it is important to stay focused on this:
Every Jewish child must be in a Jewish school – and not just any school, but particularly, one whose focus is to provide an education al taharas hakodesh, as per the Rebbe’s wishes and explicit directives.
At a farbrengen on the sixth of Elul, 5741 (Sichos Kodesh 5741 vol. 4 pg. 578), the Rebbe compared making sure a child receives a Kosher and purely Torah education to inoculating against measles and pox (small-pox that is, whereas the chicken-pox vaccine was not yet in existence at that time):
“A person once visited me… and expressed the notion that a non-Kosher chinuch [i.e. education offered at a public school or any other non-religious facility] will only negatively affect, statistically, a mere 5% of the children exposed.
“So I asked him,” the Rebbe continued in his narration of the dialogue, “if he took his children to receive the vaccinations for pox and for measles, etc.
“‘Certainly!,’ he responded…
“I asked him if he knows the statistics of what percentage of unvaccinated children will contract the disease, Rachmona litzlan? Incidentally, the fellow happened to be knowledgeable of the percentage:
“‘Less than 5%, around 4% or 3% of the children who do not receive the shot, might catch the said diseases.’
“It follows then,” the Rebbe told the man, “that a doubt of 4% – particularly in these lands wherein the entire thing is such a rarity – justifies the scratching, redness, and minor pain, brought on by receiving the shots?
“He answered, ‘What is so terrible about all those things, in contrast with what can happen if the shots are not administered?’
“So I told him: ‘If for only a doubt of 4%, it is worthwhile the scratching, redness, and pain, and in addition, the child screams, and there can also be a fever – if only to prevent the opposite of health [i.e. contracting the infection], even though it is not a sakanas n’foshos [a threat to human life] – it is no more than an uncomfortableness for a few weeks –
“‘All the more so, must we assure the health of the soul, which is albeit a doubt of only 5% [as the man had claimed], and for this, no pain or screaming, etc., is required. All that is needed is to put the child into a mosad of chinuch that is Kosher, and furthermore, “al taharas hakodesh,” and it is a thing that will affect him for his entire life, not merely for a few weeks.’
“Surely, then,” the Rebbe maintained, “one must do this!”
From the above excerpt, it is self-evident that the Rebbe did not necessarily agree to the man’s calculation of 5% – that is, that 95% of Jewish children can actually be without a Kosher chinuch, and still remain strong in their Jewish identity and observance. Nonetheless, the Rebbe illustrated, even if this statistic were to be the case, responsible parents worry for the slightest and even remotely possible threat to their child’s physical well-being – even though the measures taken in the given example, the Rebbe argued, do not seem vitally indicated or a dire necessity. All the more so, then, should they take all precautions to assure their child’s spiritual well-being. While not vaccinating can slightly increase the child’s chances of a measles infection which, the Rebbe expressed, was not life-threatening, and merely a few weeks of discomfort – not attending an institute of pure Torah learning, the Rebbe maintained, would have much more severe and unthinkable consequences on the life of the child.
My friends! As the world-wide Lubavitch community, and especially the Crown Heights community, struggle to deal with this most horrific epidemic, a most unprecedented epidemic for that matter — the “off the derech” syndrome (or even the “going off derech” syndrome, those not entirely off, but struggling to stay on), it is crucial that every Jewish child, especially those of our community members, merit to attend a cheder or yeshiva. Particularly at a time that New York state courts are poised to adjudicate legal opposition to legislation that effectively regulates not only which students are permitted to attend yeshiva, but which subjects must be taught therein.
Allowing any Jewish child to be outside of or excluded from the system, chas v’shalom, or to stand by while the state meddles in the purity and sanctity of our children’s chinuch, cannot be tolerated.
So before saying g-dbye for now, I summarize the two rules expressed in all this magniloquence:
Immunize your child with (#1) unconditional love, and (#2) keep him or her in school, and may we merit the imminent hisgalus of the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach, and be able to say – “See the produce that we have cultivated.”
And may it be in the most immediate future!
The magazine can be obtained in stores around Crown Heights. To purchase a subscription, please go to: bmoshiach.org