Rabbi Akiva Wagner*
The following story was shared with me by Rabbi Dovid Sholom Pape:
Three meshulachim were headed to Atlanta for “business.” The three were of Sephardic lineage, but had received their education in Litvishe Yeshivos, thus resulting in their belonging to the new breed of Litvishe Sephardim.
En route they experienced a mishap (a tire went flat), which caused them to lose a lot of time. They soon realized that they would no longer be able to make it to Atlanta in time for the upcoming Shabbos. They were forced, instead, to spend Shabbos in Charlotte, North Carolina. There they were put up in the home of Rabbi Binyomin Weiss, one of the local Lubavitcher shluchim.
They spent considerable time over Shabbos in earnest conversation with their host, during which they displayed both respect for and inquisitiveness about Lubavitch. In the course of their discussion, one of the three meshulachim shared the following experience with Rabbi Weiss:
“For years, there was one thing that disturbed me greatly about Lubavitcher Chassidim, and this was the fact that they daven late. This went against everything I’d been taught and everything that I understood. It seemed to me a flippant disregard of Halacha, and in my mind I could not conceive of any way to defend it.
“Once, I spent a Shabbos in Toronto. In shul, sitting at the table with me was a Lubavitcher bachur. When the minyan began, he opened his siddur, but then, as if reconsidering, he closed the siddur, and resumed learning. I was deeply offended. You want to learn before davening, after davening, fine, but how can you just ignore the minyan?! I didn’t say anything, but the entire davening my eyes, as if on their own accord, kept returning to the bachur (who continued his learning unconcerned), and I was figuratively gnashing my teeth.
“Finally, when davening was over, I could contain myself no longer, and I challenged the bachur about his conduct. He listened to me, and then said: ‘If you are really interested in an answer, then you can sit down with me, and I’ll explain it to you.’ I agreed, and we sat together, while the bachur brought me various sources, both from chassidus and from Halacha, explaining the meaning of davening, and the importance of preparing for it. I was duly impressed and had to concede to him that he had sufficiently validated his behavior.
“Some time later, I had the opportunity to spend Shabbos in Queens, and I was hosted by – none other than – another Lubavitcher. At 12:30 in the morning, my host turned to me and asked if I would like to go to the Ohel. I said ‘why not,’ so he took me to the Ohel, and I went inside.
“While I was inside, it occurred to me that I really owed the Rebbe a plea for forgiveness. After all, I had spent years entertaining negative thoughts about Chabad and after the matter had been explained to me, I realized that they had been unfounded. I didn’t waste any time, and immediately asked the Rebbe mechila.
“What can I tell you,” the meshulach concluded to Rabbi Weiss, “as soon as I asked for the Rebbe’s forgiveness, I immediately felt all the resentment and the animosity leave me completely. And not just towards Lubavitchers, but towards every single Jew. I felt myself cleansed of every bit of negativity, and was consumed, instead, by an overpowering love for every single Jew. I was like a new person, and have remained that way ever since!”
If we try to analyze the story (at least with the very limited vision of our daas tachton), it seems to make perfect sense! After all, we all inherently love all other Jews; it is a natural result of the fact that “Kulan Masimos Ve’Av Echad Le’kulana” – that we are all essentially part of one single indivisible entity. The fact that that love does not regularly make itself felt is a result of the excessive filth and residue that has become attached to the neshama, thereby concealing it and covering its signals. [This is like the “GPS signal lost” message you get as you drive through the Holland tunnel, because of the impenetrable barriers between it and its source/satellite, or your cell phone suddenly not functioning as you wander into some remote location.]
The surest way to ensure clear signals is to remove any obstacles that separate the neshama from its source. Thus, when the Jew in the story reinforced his connection with his ultimate source – with the Eibeshter – by removing the barrier between his neshama and the Neshama Klalis of the Nasi HaDor, it was only natural that he was suddenly in sync with the signals of his neshama, which naturally translated into a strong feeling of love towards every single Jew!
WHY LIVE TO AVOID DEATH?
Let us try to develop this further (in the context of the maamar “BeYom Ashtei Asar”):
You sometimes hear the question: “Why is it necessary for me to be a Lubavitcher, to have to deal with all of these inconveniences of Chalav Yisrael, Lubavitcher shechita etc. Why do I have to limit my Pesach to chicken and potatoes (and lots of schmaltz), when there are all kinds of delicacies, coke, ketchup, cakes, marshmallow, chocolate covered matzos etc., that are all certified strictly kosher for Passover by perfectly reliable hashgachos? What would be wrong if I would be a Modern Orthodox Jew? They’re religious after all, and everything they practice is sanctioned by their Rabbis (based on Shulchan Aruch), and it doesn’t need to interfere with their living a good life. Why is it necessary for me to follow the most oppressive and restrictive form of Yiddishkeit?”
It’s a legitimate question. But let’s try to take it back a bit. Why must one be Orthodox altogether? You can, undeniably, live an even more exciting life if you permit yourself even those indulgences that are unavailable even to atheModern Orthodox. Why restrict yourself at all?
You may say: “Well, if I do anything wrong, then I’ll get punished. I’ll get burned in the fiery flames of purgatory. I can’t do anything that’s not allowed.”
Sorry, but that’s not a good answer. We don’t do Torah and mitzvos to avoid future pain and suffering. That would not be a true form of Yiddishkeit at all, merely self-centeredness and self-serving.
[In the words of the maamar: There are two (types of) slaves, i.e., two people who serve Hashem and follow all of Torah and mitzvos. Both are Orthodox, perhaps even ultra-Orthodox, they do everything that they’re supposed to, and abstain from doing anything wrong. Yet, when it comes to categorizing them, they are treated as polar opposites. One is put with the dogs (because he has more in common – Judaism-wise – with the dogs than with anyone else), and the other is bunched together with the important ministers and senators.
The difference between them is not (necessarily) in their performance, but in what drives them. While the former is merely trying to avoid any pain, the latter developed a feeling and appreciation for what he’s doing. That alone leads to the incredible contrast between them in their categorization; steps taken merely to avoid suffering do not constitute authentic Yiddishkeit].
WHY GO THROUGH LIFE ON A DETOUR?
You say: “If I listen to the Torah I’ll get rewarded, I’ll get Gan Eden, Olam HaBa, a juicy piece of Livyasan.” But that’s not any better, any closer to genuine Yiddishkeit, than the previous reasoning.
The reason is because although by not serving Hashem ch”v I may have a more exciting life, earn more money and enjoy more pleasures, those pleasures take me out of Hashem’s graces. And I prefer to have an open p’nimius’dike relationship with the Aibishter, rather than receiving pleasures that are sustained by an incidental spark of G-dliness.
We do mitzvos and refrain from doing the opposite because Hashem’s good graces are more precious and important to us than any worldly!
Well, the next step is natural and obvious. If I’m not trying to stay out of the frying pan by fulfilling my duties, but rather to develop a deep genuine connection with Hashem through being in tune and in sync with His P’nimius HaRatzon and Chefetz HaAmiti, then my question is not whether or not I’m fulfilling my obligations by living a Modern Orthodox lifestyle (and whether or not it’s enough to keep me away from Gehinom), but, rather, whether or not this is P’nimius Retzono VeCheftzo HaAmiti. And for that I will be looking for the greatest hiddurim, the most extreme way of being a practicing Jew.
For that, I need to live as a Lubavitcher Chassid.
LIFE ON THE HIGH ROAD
Now, let’s take that a step further: “Do I have to learn three perakim of Rambam a day, or can I learn one (or Sefer HaMitzvos)? Why should I torment myself to learn three perakim if the Rebbe himself gave the option of doing one perek?”
Wait! The issue is not how to be yoitzeh Rambam. What are you being yoitzeh?! The issue is how to carry out our desire to follow P’nimius Retzono VeCheftzo HaAmiti. What is P’nimius Retzono? What does the Rebbe really want from you? What does he prefer from you? For most of us, the answer is very clearly three perakim. End of discussion!
Or, “Why do I need to be fanatical about Geula and Moshiach? I know the Rebbe spoke about it and everything, but there are many Chassidishe Yidden who are mainly into other things. I’ll be happy to be like them. Who says that I have to be the leader?”
Wait! The issue is not how to fulfill your duties or how to earn the label of “Chassidishe Yid.” The issue is how to carry out our desire to follow P’nimius Retzono VeCheftzo HaAmiti.” What is P’nimius Retzono? What does the Rebbe really want from you? What does he prefer from you? If you know that what he wants from you is to be crazy about Moshiach, then there is nothing else that matters.
Or, “Why do I need to torture myself and go on shlichus, never knowing where my next paycheck will come from, or how I’m going to make ends meet. Of course I recognize that shlichus is the ideal. But there are many good Lubavitchers who are fulfilling their obligations (and accomplishing so much for Yiddishkeit while raising exemplary Chassidishe families) without having made this supreme sacrifice (and didn’t the Alter Rebbe himself say to the Berditchever that one can’t be present at all the fairs…?). Why isn’t it good enough for me to be like them?”
But think again. As a Jew, your interests are not material comforts, neither luxuries, necessities, nor security. Your only aim and goal is to be committed wholeheartedly to P’nimius Retzono VeCheftzo HaAmiti. And if you happen to be lucky enough and fortunate enough to know clearly what that is, then that outweighs any and all other considerations.
So you respond: “That’s all very nice and good in theory, but the fact of the matter is that I don’t feel that way. I am very concerned about my comforts and my fun and my indulgences. All of these explanations just don’t change the way I feel and what I want. And, even if I’m ready to forgo my own pleasures in the interest of being the best Chassid that I could be, I have someone else to worry about now as well. I need to support my family, and how can I try to be Chassidish at their expense? You tell me that that is what my neshama inherently aspires for, because it’s a part of Hashem; then why don’t I feel it? Why do I struggle so much with all of these decisions?”
Well, this would seem like a good time to return to the lesson from the original story that introduced our discussion: Your neshama naturally and instinctively wants to do the right thing, and that takes precedence over any other competing desires. If, perchance, we’re not noticing those signals, well, that just means that there’s some obstruction, some barrier separating us from our source. The key, therefore, is not to seek profound arguments and explanations that will convince us of the righteousness of our path, but instead to focus on removing the foreign matter that doesn’t belong, so that we can be tuned in to the message that our neshama has been giving us all along.
CLEARING THE STATIC
On Yud-Alef Nissan, a day when surely the theme is “Ana Nasiv Malka” we need to beg the Rebbe for forgiveness, to correct those practices (whether in machshava, dibbur or maaseh) that formed the barrier in the first place, so that the signals that lead us to arrive at that conclusion should be loud and clear.
It is not for naught that the HaYom Yom of Yud-Alef Nissan is about making a cheshbon ha’nefesh, about rectifying those areas in our life that need to be rectified. For in order to feel and to identify with what Yud-Alef Nissan is all about, “Ich vill mer nit az dich alein” – all we need to do is to ensure that our own reception is static-free.
Undoubtedly, “Ana Nasiv Malka” is a lofty concept and a lofty level. But we don’t need to create it, but merely to uncover it. Each of us has to be “Misboded U’Maaleh Zichronosav.” Then we can be assured of being purged of the barriers and interferences, and get our sights focused back onto the one and only true and ultimate goal, “Lifnei Hashem Yishpoch Sicho!” So that we can stop – I can stop – getting distracted by the glitz and glitter around us and conclude once again: “Ana Nasiv Malka!”
THE GOAL IS CLEAR – OR IS IT?
Reb Hillel Paritcher was one of the renowned Chassidim of the Mitteler Rebbe and the Tzemach Tzedek (having not actually met the Alter Rebbe, despite his best efforts). The Tzemach Tzedek once said that he has two and a half Chassidim, with Reb Hillel being counted as a half because he is a half Rebbe. The following is a story about R’ Hillel:
Once, in the middle of the week, Reb Hillel was suddenly overcome with a yearning to visit the Rebbe in Lubavitch for Shabbos. Now, the trip from Paritch to Lubavitch was a considerably long one, and all of the wagon drivers that he approached to transport him there declined, on the grounds that he had decided too late in the week for this to be a viable option.
One of the wagon drivers in town was a devoted disciple of Reb Hillel, and was prepared to do anything for the sake of Reb Hillel, his Rebbe. Thus, when Reb Hillel approached him, he calculated the viability and decided that, if he exerted himself and broke all speed limits, and they were accompanied by the great merit of the tzaddik Reb Hillel, then he was prepared to make the attempt with the hope of arriving in Lubavitch in time for Shabbos. However, in order for there to be even the smallest chance of success, it would be crucial – in addition to him driving at the greatest speed ever attempted – that they not encounter any additional avoidable obstacles or delays. Therefore, he stipulated with Reb Hillel that he was prepared to take him on condition that the Rebbe (Reb Hillel) would not get carried away and start davening b’arichus en route. This, he knew, was a very real risk with Reb Hillel, and it would completely prevent any possibility of their reaching their destination in a timely manner.
Reb Hillel agreed to the condition, and the pair set out. The driver urged his horses to breakneck speeds, and it looked as though, with Hashem’s help, this amazing feat would be realized.
But then disaster struck.
During a brief rest stop, while the baal agala was giving the horses a much needed (and deserved) break and snack, Reb Hillel got off and went into a clearing in the woods to daven. Sure enough, he became completely immersed in his davening, and lost track of anything and everything going on around him. While the baal agala stood aside in consternation, the possibilities of them arriving at their destination in time for Shabbos – or even getting back home – dwindled and disappeared entirely.
The wagon-driver was upset about this for Reb Hillel’s sake more than for his own. When his Rebbe finally finished his davening, the wagon driver expressed his astonishment. “Rebbe,” he exclaimed, “what have you done? It was you who was so eager to arrive in Lubavitch for Shabbos. Now on account of your davening there is no longer a chance of our achieving this!”
“Come now,” R’ Hillel answered him, “I will answer you with a story:
There was once a businessman named Yankel who had merchandise that he wanted to sell. Since the biggest market was in Leipzig, he loaded up a wagon, and set out on the two-day journey.
Shortly after he left town, he met his friend Shmerel traveling down the same road. “Yankel,” Shmerel exclaimed, “where are you headed?”
“I’m on the way to Leipzig to sell my merchandise.”
“Why that’s wonderful,” exclaimed Shmerel, “it’s just what I’m looking for. You see, I’m starting a business selling that exact merchandise. I’ll give you the same price you would get for them in the market, and I’ll relieve you of the whole load.”
“Do you think for a minute,” asked Reb Hillel, “that Yankel would say ‘I’m sorry I can’t sell them to you because I’m on the way to Leipzig?’ Of course not! He is going to Leipzig for a purpose, and if he could achieve those results on the way, why, surely he would grab the opportunity with both hands!
“The same is true in my case,” concluded Reb Hillel. “I’m going to the Rebbe with a purpose, that I should be able to daven, so obviously if those results are achieved on the way, ‘az es davent zich,’ I won’t throw away this opportunity because I had initially been heading to Lubavitch!”
[According to one version, I heard that the ending was that they did indeed arrive in Lubavitch in time for Shabbos].
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO “DAVEN”
Many mashpiim and Chassidim have discussed this story, raising a simple question: Could it be that a Chassid on the level of Reb Hillel saw his traveling to the Rebbe merely as a means to an end, merely as an effort to improve his davening (which, while it is a spiritual benefit, is a benefit nonetheless)? Didn’t he see hiskashrus with the Rebbe as an end in itself, not a way of achieving either material or spiritual advantages (as lofty as they may be)?
Didn’t Reb Hillel ever learn the maamer for Yud-Alef Nissan, about “Ana Nasiv Malka?”
How can it be that Reb Hillel could exchange his trip to the Rebbe for a geshmakeh davening, as great and sublime as it may have been?
Many answers and insights have been suggested, and surely many true ideas are derived from the story. The following may be one of them: A Chassidisher Yid once addressed the question saying: “It’s not that Reb Hillel had a different outlook on hiskashrus, a different interpretation of traveling to the Rebbe than us. Rather, davening had a different meaning to him than to us.”
When Reb Hillel spoke about davening, he wasn’t speaking about his own spiritual achievement, about the beautiful hergeshim that may have accompanied his davening, the inspiration that he reached through it, or the lofty spiritual heights to which it elevated him.
Reb Hillel was speaking about the essence of davening (as it is explained in Chassidus), which is a connection with the Aibishter. Indeed, a Chassid’s connection to the Rebbe is not a means to an end, even a spiritual one. Rather, the Rebbe is the “Anochi Omeid Beineichem L’bein Elokeichem,” the memutza – the intermediary – that brings about the connection between a Jew and the Alm-ghty. We do not cling to the Rebbe to get material benefits, nor even to feel spiritually uplifted. Our hiskashrus to the Rebbe is the only way to be connected to Elokus.
And this was what he had achieved with his davening. It wasn’t the spiritual benefit, the elevation of his spirit or awakening of his soul that he was seeking. Rather, his message to the simple baal agala was: “I’m going to the Rebbe to be united with G-dliness, because – as a Chassid – I know that that is the only way to be united with G-dliness.
“It is therefore inconceivable that I should tear myself away from an experience of being connected to the AibIshter, of davening when ‘es davent zich,’ in order to complete the trip that I had begun to the Rebbe.”
EITHER WAY, IT’S THE SAME THING
The above can, perhaps, also illuminate another story, that (according to what I’ve been told) the Rebbe once related during a farbrengen:
Reb Avrohom Pariz was a prominent Chassid who had learned in Lubavitch, and who was known for his extreme hiskashrus to the Frierdike Rebbe and later to the Rebbe. The very close relationship that Reb Avrohom enjoyed with the Rebbe began during the nesius of the Frierdike Rebbe.
Once, after a Tishrei spent in NY at the Frierdike Rebbe, Reb Avrohom was preparing to return home to Eretz Yisroel. As was his custom, he also went to take his leave from the Rebbe (then known as “the Ramash”). They said their goodbyes, and Reb Avrohom concluded with his heartfelt wish “Az mir zollen zich zen noch amol mitten Rebbe’n” [we should again see the Rebbe].
“Reb Avrohom,” the Rebbe said to him, “why don’t you say, better, ‘mir zollen zich zen mit Moshiach’n?’”
But Reb Avrohom discounted the question, saying “Rebbe, Moshiach, es iz di zelbe zach!”
The simple point of the story is Reb Avrohom’s belief that the Rebbe is Moshiach, there being, therefore, no distinction between them. But, in light of the above, there is perhaps (also) a deeper meaning in the story:
When a Chassid is davening for Moshiach, he is not anticipating the material benefits that we will enjoy then – the candy-canes that will grow on our front lawn and the gelt that will flow “ohn ah shiur” – nor even the spiritual benefits that we will attain. Rather, the yearning for Moshiach is for the era of revelation of G-dliness in the world, for the fulfillment of “V’nigleh Kevod Hashem V’ra’u Kol Basar Yachdov Ki Pi Havaya Dibeir!”
Thus, the Frierdike Rebbe related that the Mitteler Rebbe’s Chassidim “hot nisht oisgefelt Moshiach” (they weren’t lacking the coming of Moshiach). They had the Rebbe, they had Chassidus, and therefore they had revelation of G-dliness, which is what Moshiach is all about.
And this – the revelation of G-dliness – is the essence of what a Rebbe is all about as well. Thus, as Reb Avrohom said, Moshiach, Rebbe, it’s all the same; because what difference does it make if I’m yearning for the Rebbe or yearning for Moshiach? Either way, I’m yearning for Gilui Elokus, for the ultimate goal of “Dira lo Yisborach B’tachtonim” to be realized.
BE A BETTER JEW
We are all eagerly awaiting, anticipating, preparing and readying ourselves for the upcoming Yud-Alef Nissan, the day when every single Chassid takes the time to focus on strengthening his hiskashrus to the Rebbe. It is a time to consider the essence of what a Rebbe is. A Rebbe is the basis of our connection with the Aibishter, the harbinger of the revelation of G-dliness in our physical world.
Perhaps part of the way for us to work on strengthening this connection, on becoming worthy vessels for this hiskashrus, is by, simultaneously, enhancing our connection with the Aibishter, by working on our davening, on our learning, and on being good and proper Jews.
[Once, the Rebbe told a bachur that the way to be mekushar is “by doing what I do.” The bachur asked the Rebbe, “What do you do?” The Rebbe responded: “Ich leren un ich daven” (I learn and daven)!]
Figure out how you can improve somewhat on your davening, to make it into more of an experience of connection with the Aibishter. Calculate where you can increase, in time or in level, in a shiur in Nigleh or in Chassidus. And figure out what steps you can take to poshut be a better Jew.
That is undoubtedly a step in the right direction to being a better Chassid and mekushar to the Rebbe!
L’chaim! May we all take advantage of this auspicious day to remove the barriers between our neshama and its source. As R’ Mendel Futerfas used to frequently say: “L’chaim, mir zollen lernen un mir zollen davenen un mir zollen dinen der Aibishter.” May we spend this Yud-Alef Nissan with the Rebbe, with Moshiach, with “V’nigleh Kevod Hashem,” and with the hisgalus of Moshiach Tzidkeinu Teikef U’miyad Mamash!!!
* From a written farbrengen directed towards Alumni of Yeshivas Lubavitch Toronto
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