Category Archives: chassidus

Gimmel Tammuz 5770: Remembering the Lubavitcher Rebbe ztvk”l

There are certain people that I wish I had met personally. It frustrates me to no end that I was born and raised mere blocks away from 770 Eastern Parkway, but did not have the presence of mind or the awareness–and hence, not the desire–to meet the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of blessed memory. It’s as if I had entered the proverbial room just after he’d left it. It amazes me to think that I was born in Methodist Hospital on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope, swung my Louisville Slugger for the Saint Francis Xavier little league in Prospect Park, and spent hours in the candy store on Ninth Street in front of a Pac Man machine, while a few steps away, someone was changing the world.

Last night, as the Rebbe’s yahrtzeit swept in, I pulled the Sefer Tanya off the shelf and flipped it open to the place where I had left off a while ago.

On that page, the Alter Rebbe gave a deep explanation of the verse, כִּי קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאֹד בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ “for this thing (the Torah) is very close to you, in your mouth, and in your heart, to do it” (Deuteronomy 30:14). Incidentally, this is the key verse upon which the first section of Tanya is based, and serves as the source for the three-tier model of thought, speech and action–three main areas where a person’s spiritual work lies.

There, the Alter Rebbe quoted the Zohar in explaining that “to do it” refers to the “fuel” that keeps the flame of G-d burning on one’s head, the holy fire of the soul. What is this fuel? Ma’asim tovim, good deeds and actions. This is the purpose and mission for which the pure and perfect soul’s descent into the corporeal realm, which is fraught with so much darkness, is justified: so that goodness will be wrought in the physical world.

Upon reflection, I don’t know what could sum up the essence of the Lubavitcher Rebbe more accurately. The Rebbe lived this teaching so concretely, always placing the emphasis on the doing. Even though Chabad has an enormous proprietary system of mikvaos, yeshivos, seminaries, batei din, and hechsherim–all of the things required to sustain a worldwide community of Lubavitcher Chassidim, this was not enough for the Rebbe. The Rebbe could not be satisfied with a following of chassidim observing the mitzvos while the rest of the Jewish people languished and atrophied spiritually. He sent his people everywhere to help their brethren “do it”: learn Hebrew, learn Torah, daven, put on tefillin, light Shabbos candles, give tzedakah–actualize the Torah in their lives, and hence, in the world.

But lest one think that this is merely the stupendous account of a successful kiruvmagnate–think again. The Rebbe’s efforts flowed forth from a deep and genuine sense of caring about other people, from a desire to transform this into a better and more meaningful world for all of its inhabitants (the Rebbe’s outreach efforts went beyond the Jewish people to non-Jews as well), and from an unquenchable thirst for closeness to G-d Himself. This is evident in the interactions he had with everyone with whom he came into contact. This genuineness and caring is such a rare and precious commodity, as hard to find as common decency and honesty in our own age.

Again, however, caring was not enough. Many of us spend time taking pride in the kol torah of our batei midrash and wondering what will be with our fellow Jews out there. The Rebbe built an army of caring soldiers committed to implementing his vision in every corner of the world–which is where you will find Lubavitcher sh’lichim(emissaries). Steven Covey, in his well-known self-development book The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, writes in a section on pro-activity that one should focus on “be” and not “have”. The Rebbe went a step forward; he focused on “do”. His efforts continue to keep the holy flame of Jewish souls burning.

May his merits protect us.

Tagged , , , , ,

Chanukah: Restoring Our Temple, Returning to One

CandlesRebbe Nachman, as recorded in Likutei Eitzos, Chanukah, makes a somewhat enigmatic statement: the selach na (“please forgive”s) that we utter on Yom Kippur enable us to partake of the holiness of Chanukah.

What is the connection?

In Likutei Moharan Tinyana 7:11, the Rebbe relates to the interaction between G-d and Moshe Rabbenu during the aftermath of the sin of the spies.  Moshe Rabbenu says to G-d, “please forgive this people for their sin in Your great kindness”.   In this case, Moshe Rabbenu was not only relating to the sin of speaking lashon hora about Eretz Yisrael, thereby causing an epidemic of bad faith amongst the Children of Israel; instead, he took the long view, and considered the sin in terms of its ultimate consequence: the future destruction of the Holy Temple.  The gemara (Taanis 29) states, “Hashem, may He be blessed, said to them, ‘you cried a crying for no reason.  I will establish a crying for all generations’.”  As we know, the lamenting over the idea of entering Eretz Yisrael occurred on Tisha b’Av, as did the destruction of the two Batei Mikdash.

Sin destroyed the Holy Temple.  The absence of the Temple is problematic in and of itself, because it was the primary mechanism in the expiation of sin for the Jewish people, both collectively and individually.  The verse (Yeshaya 1) states, “righteousness dwells in it”, and Rashi explains this to mean that this was possible because the morning tamid-offering cleared all of the sins from the previous night, while the afternoon tamid-offering cleared all of the sins from that day.  As long as the Beis HaMikdash was extant, it was possible for the Jewish people to be clean of sin.  Rebbe Nachman emphasizes here that this is all-important, because the Jewish people, due to their delicateness and high level of spirituality, cannot really bear the weight of sin, even for one day.  Without the Beis HaMikdash, there is no way to relieve ourselves of that crushing burden–and Moshe Rabbenu knew this.  Therefore, he said:

סְלַח-נָא, לַעֲו‍ֹן הָעָם הַזֶּה–כְּגֹדֶל חַסְדֶּךָ; וְכַאֲשֶׁר נָשָׂאתָה לָעָם הַזֶּה, מִמִּצְרַיִם וְעַד-הֵנָּה

Now, if you look at part of this phrase, namely:

הַזֶּה–כְּגֹדֶל חַסְדֶּךָ; וְכַאֲשֶׁר נָשָׂאתָה

You will notice that the roshei teivos (first letters), when arranged properly, spell out the word חנוכה, “Chanukah”.  Moshe Rabbenu asked specifically that the forgiveness of the Jewish people should involve an antidote to the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash–a chanukas habayis (re-dedication of the house).  When the Maccabi’im entered the Beis HaMikdash and purified the altar, as we commemorate on Chanukah, this was an example of Moshe Rabbenu’s request for restoration made manifest for the benefit of the Jewish people.

The main aspect of the holiness of Chanukah that we aim for is the very purpose of that Holy Temple: to know that Hashem Hu HaElokim, that the L-rd is G-d–specifically, that His attributes of kindness and judgement, which appear as separate, contradictory forces in the world, are aspects of His Oneness. We end Yom Kippur with this statement, this idea. And we re-invoke it on Chanukah. This knowledge can enable us to purify ourselves from sin.

In addition, as we gaze at the menorah’s warm radiance, and the candles burn on into the night, let us tap into that desire that lies deep within us, to carry this knowledge of holiness and purity forth to our children, for all generations.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Horowitz, zt”l, the Bostoner Rebbe

The Bostoner Rebbe, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Horowitz, of blessed memory, passed away this past Shabbos at 1:20 PM, at the age of 88.

Although the Rebbe zt”l was born in Boston, he moved with his family to Jerusalem while a young child. There, he merited to thrive as a young boy in its holy atmosphere, as a student at the Chayei Olam yeshiva.  His father, the Rebbe Reb Pinchas Duvid Horowitz, zt”l felt strongly about his connection to the land of Israel, and purchased a large amount of property in the area north of Jerusalem. This parcel was reclaimed by the Israel Lands Authority and not returned to the Bostoner Rebbe. However, the Rebbe was offered in exchange a portion of the Har Nof neighborhood which was then in the planning stages. The Rebbe created a thriving community of chassidim there, which exists until today, with a younger satellite community in Betar Illit.

Of course, this is only part of the story of a life dedicated to bringing Jews close to Torah and chassidus, advocating for the ill and unfortunate, and proclaiming truth in a world of falsehood. The community in Har Nof is comprised in large part of people who came into contact with the Rebbe and his family while attending or staffing the prestigious Boston-area colleges and universities. The Rebbe’s New England Chassidic Center in Brookline, Massachusetts was and continues to be a beacon of authentic Jewish light to Jews of all backgrounds. This was long before the concept of kiruv became a commonly accepted notion in the Orthodox Jewish world. In addition to all of his outreach efforts, the Rebbe served as the head of Agudas Yisroel in America, and as a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudas Yisroel in Israel.

The Rebbe accompanied many other prominent rabbinic leaders to Washington DC in 1943 to plead with then-president Franklin D. Roosevelt to intervene on behalf of the Jews of Europe imperiled by Nazi Germany’s systematic efforts to bring about their annihilation.   More recently, the Rebbe led a very tenacious protest against the expulsion of the Jews from Gush Katif, shedding tears on a daily basis at the prospect of the removal of Jewish families from their homes and the destruction of their synagogues and institutions by the enemy.

Amongst the Rebbe’s biggest accomplishments was the founding of Rofeh International, an organization that provides the infirm and their families with medical referrals to expert doctors and kosher meals and hospitality to Jewish patients in Boston-area hospitals.

I remember the first time I saw the Rebbe. I came to spend Shevi’i Shel Pesach in Har Nof, and went to the Bostoner Beis Midrash. When I entered, I was transported to a magical place where the awesome mystery of chassidic life unfolded before me. Amidst tall bleachers bearing his chassidim, the Rebbe, clad in a beautiful tisch bekeshe and shtreimel, led everyone there in niggunim. Some of these were his family’s own traditional songs originating in the Zidichover tradition from whence Bostoner chassidus comes. Others were old Sephardic melodies that the Rebbe had heard as a child in Jerusalem. The Rebbe was flanked by his sons, who lead the movement today. I remember the thrill of being given shirayim from the Rebbe’s table, a slice of orange. In successive years I was fortunate enough to join hands with the chassidim and dance with the Rebbe as he led those present in shiras hayam, recreating the moment of the splitting of the Red Sea. Living in the Rebbe’s neighborhood enabled me to provide my children with the experience of a real chassidiche hoif, a court, where they could witness these things in real time.

The funeral procession was large, the streets of Har Nof filled to capacity with people escorting the Rebbe on his journey to his resting place on Har HaZeisim. This was truly befitting the tzaddik who graced all of our lives and imbued the lives of those who knew him with grace. May his memory be for a blessing, and may he be a gutte beyter for all of Klal Yisrael, as he was in his holy lifetime.

Tagged , , ,
%d bloggers like this: