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.

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