Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Modzitzer Rebbe's Inspiration Under the Surgeon's Knife

This is the very famous story of the "ezkarah gedolah" by the first Modzitzer Rebbe, Reb Yisroel Taub zt'l. The Modzitzer dynasty has its roots in Kuzmir and Zvolin. Reb Yechezkal of Kuzmir had at least one new niggun composed weekly for his shabbos table. His son, the Zvoliner Rebbe, Reb Shmuel Eliyahu, was known as a musical wonder. When he davened for the amud in his father's beis midrash people were known to have said that they now experienced the meaning of "ve'chol ha'am ro'im es hakolos" "and the entire nation SAW the voices (a verse from the giving of the Torah)." Reb Shmuel's attitude toward negina was that the singer was standing in the Beis Hamikdash (the Holy Temple), and the Leviim were accompanying him. His second son was Reb Yisroel, who began the dynasty of Modzitz.

The year was 1913. The Rebbe's leg had become severely infected, and it was recommended that he take a trip to Berlin to visit a specialist, Dr. Israel. Upon arrival and inspection of the leg Dr. Israel saw no recourse save for amputation. At this point it was a matter of saving the Rebbe's life. They had to amputate, lest the infection spread. He told this to the Rebbe, but it was not a simple matter. The matter of anesthesia was questionable in those days. Many believed that it caused one to lose one's mind, and so there were those who opted for simple surgeries without the use of anesthesia at all. But this was a completely different matter. This was an amputation, the sawing off of a leg. This was physical pain in its most extreme form. The Rebbe thought long and hard, and presented his decision to the doctor. He was going to brave it. Because despite the most severe physical pain conceivable he was a leader to chassidim. They relied on him, and he couldn't take a chance and forget his Torah, and his niggunim too for that matter. He had composed upwards of 300! Dr. Israel agreed that the amputation would be done without the use of anesthesia, and the surgery was to take place immediately.

While under the knife the Rebbe knew well that his only way to get by was through his deep and limitless spiritual connection. A little while into the amputation the Rebbe turned his head and peered out the window. He saw the architecture of the city of Berlin in all its splendor. Colors, edifices, that actually reminded him of Jerusalem! He thought of the contrast between the beautifully built city of Berlin and the destruction of Jerusalem. His mind quickly began to meditate on the words recited during the closing ne'ilah service of Yom Kippur, "ezkerah Elokim ve'ehemaya, bir'osi kol iyr al tiyah be'nuyah..." "I shall remember oh G-d, and I shall moan, when I see every city built on its hilltop, while the city of G-d is degraded to the utmost depth. But despite all this, we are G-d's and our eyes look to G-d...." The Rebbe, after some meditation, reached a high point of dveikus (attachment to the Divine), and began to compose a niggun on these words. He lost himself in negina (song). While the saw was penetrating the skin, and the veins and the arteries, and finally the bone, the Rebbe was experiencing the situation from a completely different realm, pouring his talent of song into the heavenly and otherworldly chambers l'sheim shamayim (for the sake of heaven). It was this faith in and connection to the heavens that he was able to link up with during the procedure that saved the Rebbe from what would have been for most a truly impossible situation to withstand. By the end of the amputation the Rebbe had composed a niggun in 36 parts on the four stanzas of "ezkerah." It was a story that all in the operating room and all those who knew the Rebbe would be telling for years, and are telling to this day. The Rebbe finalized the composition during his recuperation. The composition lasts approximately twenty-five minutes, and is sung on the Yahretzeit (day of passing) of Reb Yisroel in Modzitzer centers every year to this day.

In another medical related incident, Reb Moshe Goldman, the famous composer of Bobover niggunim, had to undergo surgery after some health-related complications. While lying on the table, he composed a niggun in his head. He was not able to use his voice, but said it was his heart that was singing. It took two months to properly fit the niggun to words, and the final result was "vayizaku el Hashem Batzar Lahem." It was released on his next album.

In another medical-related incident, Reb Dovid'l Skverer was once cutting a loaf of bread when he mistakenly cut into his finger. He was well known for his limited attachment to earthly things, but in this case he had hardly realized that his finger needed immediate medical attention. When someone in the house noticed the stream of blood dripping down onto the floor, a doctor was called. While the doctor stiched up the finger, Reb Dovid'l sat, and immersed himself in his learning, seemingly oblivious to the situation.

In yet another medical related incident, the previous Lelover Rebbe, Rav Shimon Nasan Nata Biderman, who passed away last year, was involved in a serious accident involving his fingers. He met with a Dr. Teppler of Brooklyn, and it was decided that a few fingernails would have to be removed in order to stitch the wounds properly. Dr. Teppler was about to administer the anesthesia when the Rebbe asked what was in the syringe. Upon hearing that it was a numbing agent he adamantly refused to have it injected into his body. Dr. Teppler explained the nature of the hyper-sensitive nerves under the fingernails, and explained that it was essential for the patient to keep his hand perfectly still for such a procedure. And that would not be possible without the hand being numbed. But the Rebbe still refused. The procedure was begun, and the Rebbe began humming a niggun and falling into deep thoughts. The Rebbe did not move his hand. When the procedure was complete, the doctor ran out of the room, and brought in a kvittel (a note) to the Rebbe with the names of his close and extended family. He wanted a bracha (blessing) from this Rebbe who exuded saintliness. Doctor Teppler told the Rebbe's gabbai outside that if he had told another doctor what had just transpired, he would not have believed him. He explained that what the Rebbe just experienced is not humanly possible.

Why did the Rebbe refuse to be anesthetized? It is unlikely that it was the same reason that the Modzitzer Rebbe refused. This was many years later. Was it a medical reason? A spiritual reason?

Clip of a recent simcha in Modzitz with the current Rebbe sitting in the middle. They are singing "libi u'vesori," recently composed by the Rebbe.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Kotzker, Ostrovtzer and Binyamin

In this week's parsha, parshas vayigash, Yehuda tries desperately to get Binyamin back from the viceroy of Egypt, Yosef, and tells how his father Yaakov will die of grief if he sees that Binyamin is not with the brothers upon their return to Eretz Cana'an. "Yaakov's soul is bound up with his soul," he tells Yosef. With all of his pleading on behalf of his father the mefarshim (commentators) ask: Binyamin had ten children at home. Why didn't Yehuda talk about them, and use their grief to play on Yosef's emotions?

The Pardes Yosef, Rav Yosef Patsanovsky, writes that a poor Jew once came to Rav Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, and complained that his children neglected him. Rav Menachem Mendel cited how Yehuda portrayed Yaakov's grief rather then the grief of Binyamin's ten sons, and explained, "it is an ancient fact of life that parents have more compassion for their children than children have for their parents."

And the Ostrovtzer Rebbe explains: Our traits are inherited from the earliest generations. Since Adam had children but no human mother or father, he developed compassion for his children, but not for any parents. Therefore, to this day, we love our offspring more than we love our parents.

And one more vort from from the Ostrovtzer Rebbe on another matter. He explains that when the Jews were forced to translate the Torah into Greek - what later became known as the Septuagint - they were faced with a dilemma. The opening of the Torah, "bereishis barah Elokim, in the beginning G-d created..." is interpreted by Chazal (our Sages) as "for the sake of reishis," the word "reishis" referring to Israel, so that the opening words read, "for the sake of Israel G-d created the heavens and the earth.." But what if this word, "bereishis," were looked upon as some type of entity. Then it would that "bereishis" created G-d, chas v'shalom, who in turn created the world. And so to avoid this possibility they inverted the opening words so that it would read, "Elokim barah bereishis," so that it would be clear that G-d is the one doing the creating. So in actuality, the translators surrendered the honor of Israel thereby preserving the honor of G-d.

This seems to bring up a question. When translating these opening words into Greek isn't it obvious that the Hebrew word "bereishis" would be omitted altogether, and a Greek rendering of the word would be put down? Take your pick for "bereishis:" In the beginning, for the sake of Israel, etc. How would the actual word "bereishis" have come into play at all? Perhaps someone has some ideas on this.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Alter Rebbe's Secret

Also in honor of yud tes Kislev a story of Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadi, first Rebbe of Lubavitch.

In the town of Liozna a chosid came the Rebbe with a question. His had faced difficult times, financially. He had struggled and failed in an array of ventures, and came to ask the Rebbe's advice concerning parnassah (making a living). The Alter Rebbe thought for a minute, and told this chosid that he should open a small market in town. The Rebbe told him that it would be a success, and told him to come back in a few months to report on how things were going.

After a few months he came back, and reported that, Baruch Hashem, the business had gotten off of ground, and the people of the town were regularly shopping in the store. He even had his daily customers. The Rebbe said was very happy to hear the news. When the chosid got up to take leave the Rebbe addded, "just one thing. From now on it would be a better idea to go to Vitebsk to buy the products for your store. There you could get them cheaper, and you'll buy enough so that you won't have to stock up as often. Report back to me in a few months."

After a few months the chosid came back, and reported, once again, that the business had really taken off, and he had his share of regular customers from the town. The Rebbe, once again, was pleased, but mentioned, "that's all very well, but from now on it would be best to take a trip to Moscow every few months where you could buy the products even cheaper. You will stock up so that you won't have to shop as often, and surely this will save you money, and you will make money, as well. Come back in six months."

The chosid made a trip to Moscow every few months, and after some time came to see the wisdom of the Rebbe paying off. All was going quite well. "Very nice," said the Rebbe, upon the chosid's next visit, "but from now I think the best idea would be to take a trip a bit farther away, to Leipzig, to the fair. There you could buy your products cheaper than anywhere in Russia, and you won't have to go as often." The chosid agreed, but before he left the Rebbe added, "oh, and when you're in Leipzig, relax a little. Buy a ticket for the theater and see a show." The chosid wasn't sure if he heard correctly, and from the look of astonishment on his face the Rebbe knew that he had to reiterate. "Buy a ticket for the theater and see a show while you're there. Relax a little. After all, it will be a strenuous day at the fair." The chosid, astonished, agreed, took leave of the Rebbe, and began to plan for his first trip to the Leipzig fair.

The work in Leipzig was tiring. All day at the fair, going from booth to booth, picking out the most suitable items for the store, and finding the cheapest prices. He bought his ticket to the theater, and almost as soon as the lights had gone down his head fell back, and he fell asleep. At the end of the performance, when all had left the theater, a janitor came over to wake him up. "Reb Yid, Reb Yid. Please wake up. The show is over." The chosid opened his eyes, and exclaimed, "who are you?" "I'm Karl," replied the janitor, "a fellow Jew." Karl inquired, "where are you from?" The chosid told him that he was from Liozna, and upon hearing this news the janitor said, calmly, "from Liozna. Then you must know my friend, Rabbi Zalman." The chosid opened his eyes wide, "Rabbi Zalman? Rabbi Zalman? You know the Rebbe? You call him Rabbi Zalman?" "Sure," said the janitor. "And if you see him please tell him that Karl says hi." "You know the Rebbe? But what are you doing here?" asked the chosid. "I work here. I'm the janitor," replied Karl. Amazed at the turn of events the chosid could not wait to get back to Liozna to tell the Rebbe about this unbelievable find in a theater in Leipzig, Germany.

Back home, the chosid reported to the Rebbe, and told him how everything had gone according to plan in Leipzig: cheap prices, superior goods, and he stocked up enough so that he would not have to go back for six months. But he was very anxious to tell the Rebbe about this Karl fellow. He related the entire story to the Rebbe, about how he had bought a ticket to the theater, fell asleep, and was woken up by a fellow Jew named Karl, the janitor, at which point the Rebbe's face lit up. "Please come back to see me before your next trip to Leipzig" said the Rebbe, simply.

Six months had passed. At the outset of the chosid's second journey to Leipzig he met with the Rebbe, as he was now accustomed to doing before any trip to buy goods. The Rebbe handed him a package, wrapped well, and told him to buy another ticket for the theater while in Leipzig and, at the theater, to hand the package to Karl.

The chosid was very busy in Leipzig, but managed to buy his ticket for the theater in the evening. Just as during his first trip to the theater he fell asleep almost instantly after the lights went down. Just as during the first trip he was woken up by the janitor, Karl. "Reb Yid, Reb Yid, please wake up. The show is already over, and everyone has left. I don't want to get into any trouble, so please wake up." Delighted to see the sight of Karl's very ordinary face the chosid quickly took out the package from the Rebbe, and handed it to him. Still wary and confused at the exact nature of his shlichus (his being sent by the Rebbe with this package) the chosid instructed Karl, "this is directly from the Rebbe. Whatever it is, you are to guard it with your life!" Karl responded calmly, "sure. No problem. And oh," he continued, "meet me back here at the theater tomorrow night at the same time." The chosid could not fathom what might be in that package, or what Karl might do with it overnight.

The next evening at the show, after the same routine, Karl appeared. "Tell Rabbi Zalman that I approve," said Karl, and he handed over the package. "That he approves? That he approves??" thought the chosid to himself. When he finally returned to Liozna he didn't even stop at the store with the wagon to unload. Nor did he stop home for a drink or a hot meal. Instead he went straight to the home of the Rebbe, and upon handing him the package he reported that he had seen Karl, and that Karl "approves" the contents of the package. The Rebbe's face seemed to light up with a special glow upon hearing this news and upon receiving the package back into his hands. He gave the chosid a very meaningful bracha (blessing), wished him well, and told him that as far as his store was concerned he was now on his own, because he would be assured further success. But the chosid wasn't content with just that. He looked across at the Rebbe deeply, but before he got a chance to speak the Rebbe said, "he's one of the lamed vav tzaddikim. And in this package is something I have been working on called Tanya. Now I could publish it." The chosid, quite astounded, but now able to make at least a little bit of sense out of all the events of the past couple of years, was sworn never to tell another soul.

(The lamed vav tzaddikim are the 36 righteous people in each generation that sustain the world. They are hidden tzaddikim; hidden righteous people; hidden to the world, usually appearing as simple and ignorant to the casual observer. It is only those with the keenest spiritual sensibilities, someone such as the Alter Rebbe, that can detect their identities.)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Cryptic words of the Maggid

For the Yahretzeit of the Maggid of Mezeritch, yud tes Kislev, a most unusual story.

It was shabbos, and disciples of the Maggid sat around the table, while followers stood forming a small crowd to the end of the room. It was leil shabbos, and the Maggid was giving over words of Torah. When he completed his thoughts he paused. He then stated, "if there is anyone here in the this room who could give over lashon harah (evil speech, gossip) about Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, I could promise him a cheilek in olam habah (a share in the world to come)." The room was completely silent, presumably out of astonishment and shock. Nobody budged. The Maggid stated one more time, "if there is someone here who could give over a good piece of lashon harah about Rebe Levi Yitzchak, come forward. I could promise him a cheilek in olam habah." There was no response. People didn't know what to make of his words, but some suspected that he was talking in code. The third time he asked there was a bit of a rumble toward the back of the room. A young man in his 30's, a man who had recently become successful in business, had stood up. As he took a step forward the chassidim grabbed hold of him. "No," they said. "You don't understand what he's saying. He's not talking on a level that you and I can understand. He doesn't really mean what he's saying." And so the man sat back down.

During the shabbos day meal the Maggid, once again, gave over his statement to those assembled in the room. He asked three times, as he did the night before, but not a sound was to be heard in the room. During shalous sheudis (the third meal), after he had finished speaking Torah, he stated in a particularly heavy tone, "if there is anyone here who could give me a good, juicy bit of lashon harah against Reb Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, I could promise him a cheilek in olam habah." Upon his third utterance the young man stood in the back of the room stood up, and there was no stopping him this time. He had been holding back all of shabbos, but not any longer. He walked toward the Maggid, looked down at him, and could barely contain himself. "I have a piece of lashon harah against Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev," he said. "It happened last week. I was in Berditchev on business, and I thought I would pay a visit to this man that everyone says is a great tzaddik (righteous person). I asked around one morning, and people directed me toward his shul. As I was about to open the door of the shul Reb Levi Yitzchak threw the door open from the inside and, garbed in tallis and tefillin, and a crazed look in his eye, he said to me, 'WHAT WOULD GAVRIEL SAY? WHAT WOULD MICHAEL SAY?' Then he charged back into the shul. Could you believe this?" said the young man. "Reb Levi Yitzchak talks in the middle of davening!!! Even worse, he leaves the shul, and says crazy things!" The Maggid looked into the young man's eyes deeply, and said, "you have made a very, very grave mistake my friend. You may not know it, but Reb Levi Yitzchak is the advocate in shamayim (heaven) for all Yidden! When a Jew's case comes to the court above Reb Levi Yitzchak stands against the prosecuting angels, and picks out the merits of that particular Jew that will save him from punishment, or even worse, gehinom. When you were in Berditchev last week you were staying at an inn. On the morning that you had gone to meet Reb Levi Yitzchak you had breakfast at the inn, and as you were leaving the dining room you noticed a silver spoon lying on a table. As you walked by the table you discreetly put the spoon into your pocket. When you reached Reb Leve Yitzchak's shul he was exactly at the point of his davening when he intercedes on behalf of klal Yisroel (the Jewish nation). When they got to your case in shamayim Reb Levi Yitzchak, for the first time in his life, had no defense! He couldn't think of a single word to say on your behalf. You live comfortably, you've done well in business. You didn't need that spoon! But you took it. And as you approached he asked you what the malachim (angels) Gavriel and Michael would say about this completely unnecessary act of thievery. Now," said the Maggid, "you are to go immediately back to Reb Levi Yitzchak in Berditchev, and tell him all that has transpired here this shabbos. You will then ask his forgiveness for speaking lashon harah about him, and you will accept upon yourself whatever teshuva (repentance) he puts upon you for speaking the lashon hara and stealing the spoon.

The young man set out for Berditchev the next day, and the story goes that the extensive process of teshuva which Reb Levi Yitzchak designed for the young man, replete with renewed passion for Torah and for mitzvos, was of the type to assure him a place in the world to come.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Reb Pinchas of Koretz and challah

We are told in Bereishis Rabbah concerning this week's parsha, parshas Chayei Sara, that while Sara Imeinu was alive three things occurred in her house: a candle was alight from one erev shabbos to the next, a blessing was found in her dough, and a cloud was stationed over her home. In Imrei Pinchas, Reb Pinchas Koretzer comments that concerning the bracha in the dough this does not mean that a small amount of dough grew to giant proportions. Avraham was not short on money, and the dough wasn't lacking. Rather, it means that when the dough was baked it grew evenly, and into a resplendent, deliciously aromatic and delectable challah. And he says that it is a matter of intention. When a woman is happy and cheerful while baking the challah, and has the intention of it being lichvod shabbos, the loaf will come out of the oven pleasing to the senses. And, conversely, if she is grouchy and angry while baking the challah, it will come out of the oven burnt and unshapely. Such was the simcha and contentedness of Sara Imeinu that her dough was blessed.

The Beis Yisroel, the forth Gerrer Rebbe, notes that as is the case with Sara Imeinu in this week's parsha, the Torah always records the lives of tzaddikim in descending order, starting with hundreds, moving down to tens, and so on. The one exception, he says, is Yaakov Avinu, who lived "seven years and forty and a hundred years." The midrash also claims that he didn't actually die. Yaakov is often called "the chosen of the avos (patriarchs)" because of his lifelong striving for truth. The upward numerical progression in his age, says the Rebbe, reflects his constant spiritual "climb," which transcended death and continued until he reached the "upper worlds."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Preparing for the Satmar Rebbe

We are all familiar with the kedusha of the first Satmar Rebbe, and even if we oppose some of his more controversial views, we are still in awe of his saintliness. The following two stories illustrate how he was viewed and held in esteem by other gedolim of the time.

In the Skulener Rebbe's later years he was very sick. At one point he was advised to see a doctor not far from Kiryas Yoel, the Satmar village in upstate New York, which was home to the Satmar Rebbe. The Skulener Rebbe asked that on the trip upstate he stop by the Satmar Rebbe before the doctor's appointment for a bracha (blessing) for good health. The meeting was arranged between the respective gabbaim. The Skulener Rebbe fell asleep in the car ride upstate, and when he was awoken by his gabbai he found himself already in Kiryas Yoel. The Rebbe's gabbai had gone in to the Satmar Rebbe, letting the Skulener get his rest, and when the gabbai finally woke up the Rebbe, he told him that the Satmar Rebbe was waiting for him, "now," at that exact moment. The Skulener Rebbe, incredulous, asked, "vos?" The gabbai repeated, "the Satmar Rebbe is waiting for you. I just went in to him a minute ago, he's waiting for you right now. We have to go in right now!" The Skulener Rebbe, again incredulous, asked, "vos??" The gabbai said, "but you said that you wanted to get the Rebbe's bracha before you went to the doctor...because you've been sick..." The Skulener Rebbe said, still with a look of astonishment on his face, "you expect me to go in to see the Satmar Rebbe without hachanah (preparation)? To just start talking to him?" The gabbai pleaded with him, "this is your one chance, we have to get to the doctor's office, you can still meet with the Rebbe for a few minutes. You said that you needed his bracha!" The Rebbe again exclaimed, "without hachanah???" He told the gabbai that it was out of the question. They turned the car around, and went straight to the doctor's office. The Skulener Rebbe never met with the Satmar Rebbe again, and never got his bracha. It simply wasn't possible for him to speak with, and be in the presence of the holy Satmar Rebbe without lengthy preparations in ruchnius (spirituality).

Rav Segal, the Manchester Rosh Yeshiva was planning a trip to America. An avreich from the kollel came up to him, and asked for a favor: "I know that the Rosh Yeshiva is planning on meeting with the Satmar Rebbe during his trip to the States. My wife and I have been trying for years to have a child, but with no success. Would the Rosh Yeshiva be so kind as to get a bracha from the Satmar Rebbe during his meeting?" Rav Segal assured him that he would.

Rav Segal prepared with a six hour mussar seder before he met with the Rebbe! He cried, and he beseeched, with his head toward shamayim (heaven). Only then was he prepared to meet the Rebbe face to face. After the meeting, as Rav Segal was walking back to the car, his gabbai said, "oy! You forgot to ask for the bracha for the avreich at the yeshiva! OK, let's run back in quickly." The Rosh Yeshiva said, "vos?" He said "it'll take a second, let's just run back in, the door is probably still open!" The Rosh Yeshiva asked, incredulously, "vos?? You expect me to go in to see the Satmar Rebbe without hachanah?" The gabbai pleaded, "but you just came out! You were just in a very lofty state. You prepared for six hours beforehand. And you promised this avreich a bracha from the Satmar Rebbe." The Rosh Yeshiva said "It's completely out of the question. I will not walk in to see the Satmar Rebbe without proper hachanah" "What are we supposed to do?" questioned the Gabbai. "I'll have to give him the bracha myself," said Rav Segal. "There's just no other way." And so they left, and later flew back to Manchester. The Rosh Yeshiva did give the avreich a bracha, and less than a year later on Rosh Hashana it was whispered into the Rosh Yeshiva's ear before tekiah shofar that the bracha had come to fruition. Rav Segal took a chance, and it worked out for the best. But there was no way he would look in the Satmar Rebbe's eyes without hachanah.

Just a thought. At the end of parshas mishpatim Rashi cites two views on the pasuk "vayishkon kevod Hashem al har sinai, vayechaseihu he'anan sheishes yamim - and the glory of Hashem rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it/him for six days." In Rashi's second pshat "vayechaseihu" refers to Moshe. "The cloud rested on 'him' for six days," rather than on Har Sinai. And this teaches, as Rashi says, that when one comes into contact with the "machane shechinah - the camp of the divine presence," one must separate and prepare oneself for six days. Perhaps Rav Segal viewed the Satmar Rebbe as an emissary of the Shechinah, and used the number six here on a human scale, preparing for six hours before his holy meeting with the Rebbe.

And, similarly, in regard to the inyan (subject) of kedushas hashishi (sanctity of the "sixth"), after the passing of Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk, someone went to the cook of the house, and said, "please. Please tell me something about Reb Elimelech; what it was like working in his house. Tell me something about the tzaddik, please." The woman was reticent, and looked away. He pleaded with her, "please, tell me something about the tzaddik; something you learned while being in his house; something that went on." On the third attempt the shy woman came right at him, and said, "one thing. There's ONE THING! And that is EREV SHABBOS (the eve of shabbos)." She said, "EREV SHABBOS! The kedusha (holiness) in the house on erev shabbos! At midday the tzaddik already had his head against the wall whispering, 'shabbos kodesh, shabbos kodesh.' We went around the house saying to each other, 'gut shabbos, gut shabbos.' The kedusha in the house on erev shabbos was almost as great as on shabbos kodesh itself! Although we were still preparing for shabbos, erev shabbos was already mei'ein olam habbah (a taste of the world to come)."

Could we fathom what shabbos must have been like in the home of Reb Elimelech if erev shabbos involved such preparations in ruchnius, and was a holy day in itself.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Skolya Rebbe and parshas Vayeira

I've been neglecting this site, but plan on writing again. As I was reviewing this week's parsha this incredible story came to mind.

But just some background. The Skolya Rebbe, Rabbi Dovid Yitzchok Isaac Rabinowitz, was known for his great genius and depth in Torah learning, among other things. He had a certain custom at his tishen. Somebody present was chosen to say a pasuk (verse), any pasuk, from the Torah. The Rebbe would instantly begin to expound on the pasuk. He would expound, and he would expound, sometimes for up to two hours. The person honored with giving the Rebbe the pasuk was usually a guest or somebody prominent. The Rebbe never failed to impress, and hold those present at the tish rapt. Once while visiting Ireland the Rebbe was at the home of a prominent Rav. During the course of conversation the Rav said, "why doesn't the Rebbe come clean! Everyone knows that the Rebbe plans which pasuk is going to be said ahead of time." The Rebbe challenged the Rav, and asked for a pasuk. He thought for a second, and said "Reuven, Shimon, Levi, VeYehuda." The Rebbe closed his eyes, and expounded on the verse until the Rav had to stop him at 2:30 in the morning. He begged the Rebbe's forgiveness, who, in turn, said, "I forgive you, but please don't accuse another Jew of lying in the future."

And now to the story: The Rebbe was sitting in his apartment when he heard a truck pull up downstairs. Suddenly, the horrifying sound of boots running through the halls and up the staircase was resonating in the corridors of the building. It was a Nazi raid. Amidst the banging on doors, smashing down of doors, dragging of Jews out of their apartments, horrifying screams and, the incessant sound of boots, the Rebbe, scared for his life, sat at his table and closed his eyes. He began to concentrate on the pasuk, "ve'es ha'anashim asher petach habayis hiku basanveirim mikaton v'ad gadol vayeel'u limtzo hapasach" (and the people who were at the entrance of the house were stricken with blindness, from young to old, and they tried in vain to find the entrance. Shemos 19:11. It refers to the people of Sodom who surrounded Lot's house in order to terrorize him and his visitors, but were stricken were blindness, and were unable to find the door to the house). The Rebbe, with intense concentration, repeated the pasuk over, and over, and over again. The apartment to the right was raided, the apartment to the left was raided, and all Jews had been emptied out of the apartments above and below, and later shipped off to their deaths. This pasuk combined with the Rebbe's shefa (connection) on high saved him from the camps. The Rebbe was later able to escape from Europe with his life.

Just as an aside from this week's parsah, as well, the first Satmar Rebbe was once late for a bris. In attendance was Rabbi Eliezer Silver, who was on a tight schedule that day. The bris was to begin at 9:00 sharp, but the Satmar Rebbe was nowhere to be seen. 9:15 came, 9:30. At twenty minutes before ten the Satmar Rebbe walked in, and with a look of astonishment on Rabbi Silver's face he said to the Rebbe, "what happened to 'vayashkeim Avraham baboker? (and Abraham woke up early in the morning)'" The Satmar Rebbe replied, "it doesn't say how long the 'vayachavosh es chamoro (and he saddled his donkey)' took!!!"

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lelover Rebbe

A wonderful video of the Lelover Rebbe zt"l, Rav Shimon Nosson Nota Biderman, who just passed away on Yom Kippur. The Rebbe recited Tehillim (Psalms) up to three times a day. He davened Kol Nidrei for the amud, and felt weak after from all of the energy he expounded. He went to his room to lie down, and didn't tell his gabbai to prepare neggel vasser for the morning (for washing of the hands when one gets out of bed in the morning). He passed away shortly after getting into bed.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Imrei Yosef of Spinka.....What in the world happened to Spinka?

The residents of the city of Marmarosh, Romania, suffered from abject poverty. The Imrei Yosef, Rabbi Yosef Meir Weiss, first Spinka Rebbe, was no exception. He lived in Marmarosh just before moving to Spinka, where he established his dynasty. In Marmarosh he didn’t even have enough money to buy wood to heat his home in the winter. One wealthy follower of the Rebbe owned several forests, and he would send wood to the Rebbe at the beginning of each winter. It was stored in a shed in the Rebbe’s courtyard.

One bitterly cold night a desperate villager stole into the Rebbe’s shed to take some wood. In the pitch dark he felt around for a few loose logs. As he was pulling out a piece of wood, a pile of logs collapsed on him, and he was badly injured. But bleeding and writhing in pain, he was able to suppress his screams of agony lest someone catch him in the act of stealing, and from the Rebbe, no less.

The next day the Rebbe found out about the incident. Word spread around town, and the thief locked himself up in his house. But just what did the Rebbe have to say about the theft? “I am ashamed to open my mouth if a poor, brokenhearted Yid risked such danger in my house because of his terrible poverty.” The Rebbe, in need of that wood to fight off the bitter winter in Marmarosh, didn’t rebuke the man. He didn’t even put a lock on the shed. Instead he put in a request to have lighting installed in the shed, just in case anyone else needed to “borrow” some wood. “If not I would not be able to call this a Jewish home,” said the Spinka Rebbe. And a lantern was lit each night in the courtyard from then on outside the Rebbe’s shed.

So what in the world happened to Spinka? 100 years ago in Spinka the Rebbe taught to give, even if one might suffer from the giving. Today in Spinka.....well, why don't we let this website remain a positive one. But if you notice, the posts on this site tend to concentrate on tzaddikim of yesteryear. We could probably fill up a whole website on stories of "tzaddikim" of our generation, but who needs such lashon hara (evil speech)? It's like my friend says: why do we throw a scrap a good non-kosher meat to the dogs of today? Because their ancestors many years ago didn't bark or make any noise when we left mitzraim. So why should their descendants get the meat? They didn't do anything. And, so too, with the Rebbes, he says. We can never stop talking of the tziddkus and ahahva for Klal Yisroel the Rebbes of the past possessed. But their descendants only bare the name. While I don't agree entirely with this statement, and I do have sincere love for the Skverer Rebbe, the Lelover Rebbe, and one or two others even though their communities are not perfect (I hate to admit that I have so much dirt) we have to admit that there are genuine problems from the top. I will admit that I don't know the personal dealings Rebbes of past generations even though I make them out to be perfect on this site. It's very possible that fraud against the goverment and other improprieties did exist with these leaders. I don't usually give my opinion on this site, but in the case of Spinka it certainly needs to be stated. Especially since the Rebbe is treated with more kavod (honor) now by the Boro Park communitie and communities worldwide. What's sad is that the Rebbe never really admitted his guilt. He even claimed mental deficency! At an asifa in Boro Park, at which he was the guest of honor, he said, "there may have been some things done which weren't right." And based on this the community lavished praise on him for "doing teshuva." But the sickest of the sick comments I heard was from a Boyaner chasid in Isreal. A friend fowarded me his disturbing email on the subject in which he says that the Rebbe was arrested because he "didn't" follow his yetzer harah (evil inclination). And additionally, that his arrest it just like the Alter Rebbe's arrest, same thing. I can't seem to remember the exact nature of the Alter Rebbe's grand financial scheme. Was it a ponzi scheme? A tax-fraud scheme? I don't mean to belabor the point (which I realize I am doing by now), but this is a major chillul Hashem, and I am bothered by all the praise for the "Rebbe." I was recenctly at a Satmar wedding in Williamsburg, and the Rebbe was called up for one of the sheva brachos. Everyone was excited. Below is an excerpt from the statements of the court:

Weisz directed others to perform the actual transactions and tasks; however, he worked out the financial intricacies himself. His conversations with co-defendant Zigelman appear clear and lucid, he corrects Zigelman’s errors and engages in mathematical calculations with precision and accuracy.

This transcript (of a recorded conversation with Zigelman) as well as other transcripts filed with the Court in connection with the sentencing of Weisz’s co-defendants, reveals Weisz to be a very hands on director of the scheme, painstakingly going through every contribution and reimbursement, reconciling accounting entries for both contributors and money remitters, determining reimbursement rates, and determining when, how and where money should be remitted.

The government agrees that the Defendant has accepted responsibility for his actions and that his outreach efforts urging similarly situated religious institutions to initiate compliance programs are helpful and extraordinary. These statements are not without qualification, however… the tardiness of his plea also goes to his level of remorse and his acceptance of responsibility.

Defendant’s characterization of his wrongful acts pose similar concerns. In his plea agreement, Weisz states that his error lay in his participation in the quid pro quo arrangement of giving cash back for contributions, his knowledge that contributors could use the charitable contribution receipts to justify tax deductions, and his “failure to inquire” as to whether receipts reflected the actual amount contributed after refunds.

The government holds a much more stark view of this case and Weisz’s involvement in that the entire purpose of reimbursing contributions appears to have been a device to promote a tax fraud and operate as a money laundering vehicle. There is no legitimate explanation for reimbursing contributions with millions of dollars of cash, or assisting individuals in wiring money from Israel to the United States by routing it through a series of Spinka nominee accounts. Moreover, there is ample evidence that Weisz was keenly aware that contributors were using the receipts to justify unlawful tax deductions.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Reb Arele Roth and a Disenchanted Man

Reb Arele Roth, founder of chassidus Shomrei Emunim came to Jerusalem in 1925. He was known for his fervent and emotional style of prayer and worship. In Satu Mare (Satmar), Hungary, at the time, he was viewed as being inordinately intense, and became somewhat of a curiosity. Such was his manner of conducting himself that the students from the Satmar yeshiva were banned from visiting or even laying eyes on him. It is said that he often had to change his shirt up to three times during shabbos morning prayers. He often stretched out the davening to four or five hours. Such was his intensity. When he moved to Jerusalem in 1925 he had decided to become a sofer (a scribe), but his teacher quickly realized that this was no ordinary human being and, soon after, Reb Arele Roth founded Shomrei Emunim.

On one occasion at a simcha, the Rebbe was dancing fervently in the middle of a circle. Amidst his ecstasy he opened his eyes, and noticed a man with a disturbed face, perhaps a misnagid (opponent of chassidim), looking on with contempt. Reb Arele broke the circle, took the man by the hand, and began to dance. A circle, once again, formed around, and Reb Arele looked up into the man's eyes. The man was shaken by this look, and almost lost his equilibrium. But just then he began to feel the niggun resonate. As the dancing became more intense, this seemingly unhappy fellow was visibly transformed, and by now he had lost his self-consciousness. Still dancing with Reb Arele, hand in hand, he felt as if he was soaring. Never before had he conceived of such ecstasy. Reb Arele knew well that the view from inside the circle is much different from the view on the outside. The man never looked back. He became a devoted chosid of the Rebbe. Such was Reb Arele's intensity and influence.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Gerrer Rebbe and a shabbos driver

In light of all the rioting and kana'us (zealotry) in Jerusalem against the desecration of shabbos over the past month I think it would be nice to take account of the following two stories, one involving the Gerrer Rebbe.

When the forth Gerrer Rebbe, the Beis Yisroel, lived in Haifa, his chassidim would gather under the balcony to his house every seudas shlishis (third meal on shabbos), and the Rebbe would give over his most inspirational words of Torah for the week. On one particular shabbos, after the chassidim had congregated under the balcony, the Rebbe was nowhere to be seen. His chassidim looked around until someone spotted the Rebbe at the corner, bent over, talking to someone in a car at a red light. Word spread among the group, and no one could believe the site. There was the Rebbe talking to someone in a car on shabbos! A few chassidim rushed over, and overheard the following being said by the Rebbe in a voice of great enthusiasm: "Yes, it's yours too! It doesn't only belong to me, it belongs to you, as well! Shabbos is for every Jew. It doesn't matter that I dress one way and that you dress another. Each one of us is a tzelem Elokim (created in the image of G-d). Perhaps you've never been privileged to experience the joys of shabbos, so now it is time!" With that the Rebbe invited the man in the car over for the following shabbos. He pointed to the house, and told him that he would be in for otherworldly pleasures if he were to come. The man became a frequent guest of the Rebbe and, in time, became shomer shabbos.

In a similar story a number of years ago there was a young rebel who decided to go speeding through the streets of Mea Shearim on a shabbos afternoon with his radio at full volume. As you could imagine, the indignant shouts of "shabbos, shabbos!" could be heard block in and block out. The indentations on the car from the stones hurled by angry chassidim had already become evident after a few blocks. But at the end of a long street, up which this driver was heading, stood a chosid. Bedecked in shtreimel, bekishe, and full shabbos regalia, he stood firmly and resolutely in the middle of the street with his hand straight out. The driver had no choice but to stop. The chosid let down his arm, and walked to the driver's side of the car. "How would you like to come to my house for a shabbos meal?" he asked warmly with a bright smile on his face. "How would I like to what???" asked the driver." The chosid repeated, "how would you like to come to my house for a shabbos meal? I would love to have you at my house for a shabbos meal." The driver was dumbfounded. What happened to all of the yelling? What happened to all of the hateful stares? After all, that was the purpose of his drive through the neighborhood on shabbos. He literally didn't know how to react. The chosid continued, "perhaps you've never celebrated a shabbos in full form. I want to show you what it's like. I would really love to have you over next week." After a few more minutes of convincing, the driver really didn't know what else to do, but accept. He took the address, managed to find a yarmulke the next week, and actually made it to the chosid's house for shabbos. The rebel had no idea that one day he would become shomer shabbos.

If some of these kana'im would just do something positive; invite someone less religious over for a shabbos meal, or learn with someone secular once a week. There are so, so many possibilities for improving the world.

40 years in the midbar (desert), and the Torah records only one act of zealotry, Pinchas. This was the exalted generation that experienced the highest levels of prophesy at kriyas yam suf (the splitting of the Sea of Reeds). This was the generation that received the Torah at har sinai, and heard the voice of G-d. And only one act of zealotry. So for people who belong to a generation that has sunken so low to pick up bottles and pick up rocks, and set fires and do worse... This clearly isn't in the spirit of living a Jewish life.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Reb Pinchas of Koretz

Reb Pinchas of Koretz was known for his great humility, among other things. Even as an older man he continued to daven by the stove in the shul, the most undesirable spot. He once said, "everything I learned, I learned sitting quietly in the back row, in the last seat. Now that I'm in a position of prestige I don't understand." When the Ba'al Shem Tov, the founder of chassidus, was asked on his deathbed who in his generation could contend, he said, "there is the bear in the forest (Reb Dov Ber, the Magid of Mezertich), and there is Pinchas, the saint."

When Reb Pinchas was asked why we sway while davening (praying) he replied, "Hashem fills the entire world with His bright light. But there is a screen that covers the luster of that brightness so that it is not that evident. It is like clouds that block the sunlight. When we daven, we disperse the cover, the clouds, and we penetrate the light. We sway in davening to symbolize the moving of the clouds."

The Maggid in Lubavitch

OK, this one isn't about the Lubavitcher Rebbe himself, but rather one of his astute chassidim.

A magid once came to the town of Lubavitch. Now there were two types of maggidim in those days: those that spoke down to the people, and those that preached with love. Let's just say that the maggid in this story was no Maggid of Kohznitz. In other words, even if the trait of love did exist hidden inside of him, it was not at all evident when he "took the stage." Some became maggidim due to financial hardship, and were able to scrape together a small sum by going from town to town and giving hard mussar to the masses. This type of mussar was never popular amongst chassidim, who took a more loving approach.

The maggid in our story arrived in the town of Lubavitch, gathered together a crowd, and made his pitch in the central shul. He was rough, he was cruel. He delivered a fire and brimstone message, and spoke of the fiery flames of gehinnom. "Not one of you could look yourself in the face, honestly, without conjuring up an array of sins." Nobody was innocent. All had succumbed, time and time again, to their yetzer hara. By the time he was finished some chassidim walked out with their heads to the floor. But many were not shaken. One chasid, named Reb Shmuel Munkes, a well-known chasid of the Rebbe, went up to the maggid, and said, "you must need a place to stay for the night. Would you do me the honor of staying at my house?" He agreed.

Later that night the maggid arrived at the house. He was shown to his room, and he went to sleep. In the middle of the night he was awoken by a terrifying sound. It was a high-pitched screeching coming from the lower floor. He made his way downstairs to find Reb Shmuel Munkes holding a very long knife to a sharpner. The knife made a terrible, shrill sound when held against the wheel. The maggid, stuttering, asked, "what's, what's that?" "Oh, that's the knife," replied Reb Shmuel. "THE knife? What do you mean THE knife?" And the chosid answered, "you see, here in Lubavitch, we don't have any kivrei tzaddikim (graves of righteous people) to pray at. But when I heard you speak today!...." The maggid began to tremble and tiptoe backwards toward the door as Reb Shmuel stood up with the knife. "No, no, I'm not such a tzaddik!" cried the maggid. "I was only trying to make myself out as one," he continued. But Reb Shmuel came closer with the knife, and trapped the maggid in a corner. "Most of those things I said aren't true. I don't really believe that the people here are such reshoim (wicked sinners). I need the money, so I say these things." Reb Shmuel came even closer until the maggid exlaimed, "I'm really a rosho myself! Half the things I said about the people are really my own aveiros (sins). I'm not who you think I am! I needed the money. I'm a pathetic sinner!" And so, Reb Shmuel Munkes found out the truth about the maggid.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Rizhiner and the Tzemach Tzaddik

The Tzemach Tzaddik was the son-in-law of the holy Rizhiner Rebbe. The Rizhiner was known for his riches and malchus (royalty), but for all of his material wealth, he was on a very high, exalted level. When it came to physical matters such as eating he took after the tradition of his grandfather, Reb Avrohom the Maloch (the angel), given this title for his reluctance to partake in earthly delights such as food.

One day when the Tzemach Tzaddik and the Rizhiner were engaged in a meal, the Rizhiner put his fork down after he was only half way through with his meal. When the Tzemach Tzaddik questioned him the Rizhiner said that before he was born, he had made a deal with his neshomo (soul), only to eat enough to get by, and not a morsel more. The Tzemach Tzaddik then commented that he just realized something. "All my life there was something that bothered me, and I just figured out the answer," he said. "On Friday night we sing shalom aleichem, welcoming the the angels that accompany us home from shul into our homes. But then, just a short while later, we sing tzeischem lesholom, bidding them farewell. Why do we send them away so soon? Now I realize why. It's because angels can't partake in earthly pleasures. They can't taste food. We don't want to show them disrespect by eating in front of them, so way say goodbye before we begin our meal," at which point the Tzemach Tzaddik put down his fork, indicating that he was in the presence of a maloch at that moment, the Rizhiner himself.

Speaking of food, the mother of the Rebbe Reb Shmelke of Nikolsburg and his brother Reb Pinchus once complained that one of her sons doesn't say bircas hamazon (grace after meals), and the other doesn't say kriyas shema al hamitah (prayer before going to bed). (one didn't eat and one didn't sleep).

Reb Mordechai of Kuzmir and Animals

One motzei shabbos, after a fiery afternoon of zemiros and Torah, Reb Mordechai of Kuzmir, son of the Maggid of Trisk, decided to go for a sleigh ride through the forest with some of his chassidim. As they were pulled, swiftly but gently, across a wintery landscape, Reb Mordechai closed his eyes, and became engrossed in his holy and otherworldly thoughts. Oblivious to the night scenes, but attentive to the crisp air hitting his face, the Rebbe was in an exalted state. His chassidim surrounding him looked on.

At one point the horses slowed down their trot, and came to a complete stop adjacent to some dense forestry. As the Rebbe was deep in his trance, the chassidim looked around to see what was holding up the horses. But just then, in between the bare trees, they saw something lit up in the dark. Eyes. It was wolves. When horses sense wolves in their immediate vicinity they freeze out of fear. The chassidim began to tremble, and all looked toward the Rebbe. But the Rebbe was still in his rapture. They feared for their lives, and they shook the Rebbe until he reached a conscious state. They pointed toward the eyes. The Rebbe looked on, and made his way out of the sleigh. He walked to the front, and took off his coat. He took off his long jacket, and lifted up his shirt. With his bare chest exposed to the wintery air, he stood for two minutes, three minutes, and a few minutes more, while all remained silent, and stared in his direction. The silence was broken when one of the wolves was heard rustling between the branches. It was the head wolf. It walked up to the Rebbe slowly, and put it's nose to the Rebbe's chest. It kept its nose glued to the chest for a few seconds, until it licked the Rebbe's boots, and preceded back into the woods. Then came the rest of the wolves, one by one. Each went up to the Rebbe, licked his boots, and went back into the forest.

The chassidim were amazed, and when the Rebbe got back into the sleigh, they inquired about this wonder. "Animals can sense fear," explained Reb Mordechai. "If you show not an ounce of fear then they will not attack. And in the case of some animals they will even come to submit. And how does one come to a lack of fear? One has to be on a lofty spiritual level. The higher one's level of ruchnius (spirituality) the less fear he will have of an animal, and the animal, in turn, will not fear, and thus not attack. My mind has been on only the loftiest of subjects from the beginning of this ride, and therefore when faced with the wolves I was already in an exalted state."

Perhaps there is more insight into Reb Mordechai's otherworldliness. In Chernobyl, it was the custom, as it was and is in other places, to say "harachaman (part of the grace after meals)," betzibur, as a group. After every "harachaman" there is a pause until the person leading the bentching concludes the "harachaman." It was reported that when Reb Mordechai led the bentching in the court of Chernobyl it took approximately two hours to go through the "harachamans." (This would normally take about two minutes). And such was the case with the shaking of the lulav (which is waved in six directions symbolizing G-d's sovereignty over the entire world) on the holiday of succos. This would last from one to two hours, as well. It is no wonder that he earned the zechus (merit) to perform wonders and associate with animals of nature, as he was widely known as an "ish peleh," a man of miracles and wonders.

There is a story that about Rav Eliezer Gordon, Telshe Rosh Yeshiva, who grew up in the small Lithuanian village of Chernian. There was no mohel in Chernian, and when it came time for the young Eliezer's bris (circumcision), his parents had to take him to a larger town. The family set out by sleigh the night before, but when they arrived, they realized that the baby was missing, and must have fallen out on to the snow somewhere along the way. They back-tracked, and found young Eliezer in the snow, being gaurded by a wolf. Perhaps the illustrious Rosh Yeshiva possessed a hint of spiritual nobility from the time of his birth.

Similarly, we learn in the gemara Pesachim, that referring to the pit in which Yosef, son of Yaakov, was thrown, the Torah states, "v'habor reik, ain bo mayim (and the pit was empty, there was no water)" The gemara asks why the Torah had to mention "there was no water" if it just said that the pit was empty. And the gemara learns out that the pit contained nechashim v'akravim, snakes and scorpians in the walls. We know that Yosef wasn't harmed, but was sold to a caravan of Yishma'alim a little while later. Coming out of the pit unharmed could only have been possible of a tzaddik on the loftiest and most exalted spiritual level.

In one of the Jewish papers there is weekly Q&A column. A few years back a question read: Who am I? I received the signal to do teshuvah (repentance) by a dog that bit me. Answer: I am a Jew according to the words of the Yalkut Me'am Loez, which states, "before a wild animal can attack a human being, he must appear like the animal. Only then do they dare attack. If he appears to them like a human being," that is, a spiritual being, "they would flee from him," meaning if all they see is a basar vadam (a physical body), then they see themselves, and animals attack each other out of fear and for food. But if one has an eminently G-dly connection, and can subordinate his body to the will of his soul, the animal will not sense the corporeal form to the same degree, and therefore will not attack. It will only attack something like itself, namely, a physical form. The Yalkut Meam Loez concludes, "if a person does good works, and has pity on the poor, no animal will be able to approach him to harm him."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Zutchka vs. Rabbi X

I wanted to begin by telling a story of an encounter a friend had with a semi-prominent Rabbi, and then juxtapose it with a story describing how the Zutchka Rebbe reacted in a similar situation.

My friend had been married a few years, but things were not going well. The couple had decided on divorce, and they were on their way to the Rav to finalize the arrangement. But before they went inside they began to talk. They mutually experienced a longing that they had not experienced in months, or even years. Just before they crossed that irrevocable threshold they had decided that it was not too late to reconcile. Their deep attachment, which had been latent for much time, began to manifest itself in feelings ever closer to the surface, and decided that they wanted to make the marriage work.

They walked into the Rav's quarters, and said with beaming faces, "we've changed our minds! We decided not to go through with the divorce!" The Rav opened his eyes wide, a vein about to burst from his forehead, and barked at them, "for this you waste my time? I've been sitting here FIFTEEN MINUTES waiting for the two of you. I could have been doing 100 other things. Don't you know that I'm a busy man?"

The previous Zutchka Rebbe, Harav Yitzchok Eisik Rosenbaum, zt"l, was known to never utter a mundane word. He learned, he taught Torah, and accepted petitioners. Torah was his entire life. He didn't even engage in wordly or mundane speech with his own family. When a granddaughter who lived close by and visited often came into his study one day, he asked "who is this??" So much was he involved in his learning. But when someone had a serious problem or a Torah matter to discuss he availed himself completely to them. Once, after his daily halacha shiur in the morning, a man came up to him, and said that he was having trouble following the Rebbe. The Rebbe established with him a one-on-one shiur on the spot, which lasted for several years. When the man came to the Rebbe, and said, "I feel as though I'm taking up the Rebbe's valuable time," the Rebbe answered, "if you only knew of the great satisfaction I get every day from learning with you."

On one occasion a couple had come to him in the evening. They wound up staying for four hours, past midnight. When his grandson later questioned him about the unusual amount of time spent with this couple he responded, "this couple was going to get a divorce. I was their last stop. I sat with them, and I delved deep into their hearts, and saw that there was much hope and yearning between the two of them. We talked out the matter, and now they are going to stay married. After all, doesn't it say that when a couple gets divorced the mizbeach (the altar) sheds tears? Well, tonight I am full of joy knowing that I spared the mizbeach any unnecessary sorrow. Four hours? Even a whole night would have been worth it for two precious neshamos (souls)."

One man, well, what could we say? And the other, a tzaddik, concerned with the depths of the human soul.


Just to introduce myself, I'm a ba'al teshuva who stumbled upon chassidus a few years ago while visiting Lakewood. Yes, a funny place, although many groups seem to have representation there these days. I had made a new friend, and he took out time to learn with me once a week. This had been my first time learning since yeshiva, which I attended up until eighth grade. He invited me to Lakewood for a shabbos, and guaranteed that it would be special. We walked to a local shtiebel, and from the first utterance of "lechu neranena," I was transported. We were amongst chassidim mostly, with a few yeshivisha guys thrown in. Previously, I had known conservative shuls, modern orthodox shuls, and even a couple of Litvish shuls, so never before had I even really heard people saying the words of the davening out loud. But here, not only were they saying the words out loud, they were exclaiming the words! Each person was singing the tefilah in his own way with all of his energy, from beginning to end. I had never heard such sweet sounds before. It caused me to look into my own siddur, and actually begin davening myself. When we got to lecha dodi I felt as if I had come home. This niggun, sung with great intensity, moved me to the heights of ecstasy. Even the young children sang. I asked my friend after the davening what type of "song" this was. He said, "this is a typical Jewish niggun amongst chassidim." To think that there were more like this, and that this was how people prayed.

But before I get carried away, the point I'd like to make is that the type of davening that I experienced amongst chassidim led me to go out and buy an Artscroll siddur, and start to examine the peirush hamilim, the meaning of the words. I had never cared enough before to do this, but I knew now that surely the tefillah was the highest level of truth, and would have to be closely examined and learned, word for word.

For the past three years or so I have been visiting chassidic communities, a little here and a little there. I go for shabbos and I go for tishen. I go to communities such as Satmar, Skver, Stolin, Bobov, Belz and Chabad. Lately, I have begun learning chassidishe seforim, as well, starting with Meor Einayim.

Hope that people enjoy the stories.