Friday, March 30, 2012

Go'eil Yisrael Money (Shabbos Hagadol)

The Sadigura Rebbe had a minhag (custom) of telling the following story after bedikas chometz (the search for leavened bread before Passover). There was a poor Jew who lived on the outskirts of the city of Kolbanov. He ran an old, dilapidated tavern and inn, which had been on lease from the local squire. Business had always been slow and, month after month, year after year, he failed to make payments to the squire. The squire threatened the poor Jew repeatedly, but to no avail. He simply did not bring in enough money to pay his lease.

After months of the same old sob story from the Jew, the squire's anger began to rage. On the morning of shabbos hagadol (sabbath preceding Passover), he sent a band of Cossacks to rile up this Jew and his family, and to ransack his house and his belongings. The drunk mob threw the cholent pot through the window, overturned his table and chairs, and splashed the sewage bucket onto the poor man and his wife. The innkeeper was left wretched and miserable in his broken down home, and to make matters worse, there was no longer any cholent, their sole staple for shabbos, to eat.

Not knowing where to turn, the innkeeper rushed to the local shul, where he could hear, and perhaps gain consolation, from the shabbos hagadol drasha (sermon). The Rav of the town was Rav Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, later to become the Apter Rebbe. When the innkeeper arrived, Rav Heschel was in the midst of his grand drasha, as is the custom of shabbos hagadol. Those at the shul crowded around the Rav, basking in his profound and holy words. The innkeeper pushed his way into the crowded sanctuary, and found a tight spot in the back of the room. Standing at the back, he was unable to make out the Rav's exact words. But suddenly, the words came to life. And he heard the following: "In our tefillah (prayers) we find a beracha (blessing) that appears in two tenses. In the beracha following the shema and in the haggadah (prayer book for Passover) we find the words 'ga'al Yisrael - He who redeemed us' referring, of course, to G-d who redeemed us, but in the past tense. This beracha refers to the geulah (redemption) from our bondage in Egypt. But in the shemoneh esrei we say 'go'eil Yisrael - he who redeems us' in the present tense. This refers to the redemption that takes place from day to day. For example, if there is a poor Jew in some tiny village who can't afford to pay his lease, and the local squire sends his Cossacks to trash his house, and they overturn his tables and destroy everything in sight, then even this Jew will be redeemed from his state of misery and woe." The innkeeper was moved by these words, and ran onto the streets, singing, "go'eil Yisrael, go'eil Yisrael! The Rebbe said 'go'eil Yisrael!' He who 'redeems' Israel!"

The next day, the squire sent his gang yet again, this time expecting a payment. They found the Jew dancing and singing. Incredulous at the sight, they came to the conclusion that he buckled under the pressure of the financial burden, and went mad. Later that day, word came from the squire that he wanted to meet privately with the Jew. The Jew figured that he was in for a beating. On the way, he recalled the Rebbe's words, "He who 'redeems' Israel." He suddenly became confident, and there was a spring in his step. At the squire's residence he was questioned. "Tell me Moshele, why have you become such a happy-go-lucky? You live a pitiful existence, not able to eek out a penny to pay me or to survive yourself. Come here Moshele," said the squire reassuringly. "I'll give you a note with my seal to take down to the winery in town, and they'll give you wine on account for a certain sum. Sell the wine, and earn a little money. You'll then repeat the story over and over, and you will subsequently have enough money to both provide for your family and to pay off your debt to me."

The plan came off without a hitch. He bought and sold, and bought and sold, and soon had enough money all of the items required for the Pesach seder, and meat and fish and wine, as well. He was now able to pay off his debt to the squire. Before Pesach began, he tied together a bunch of coins into a cloth, and hurried over to the house of the Rav. He handed the gift to Rav Heschel, and exclaimed, "Rebbe, I've brought you some go'eil Yisrael money!"

Liska Rebbe on Shabbos Hagadol

Just a quick mai'sah in honor of shabbos hagadol. The Liska Rebbe, Reb Tzvi Hirsch Friedlander, talks of the minhag (custom) in those times, in which the Rav, in his grand shabbos hagadol drasha (sermon), would take two seemingly contradictory statements by the Rambam (Maimonidies), and over the course of his long drasha, try to resolve the apparent contradiction between the two statements. The Liska Rebbe explained that all of this is fine and well, but said that what other Rabbonim do b'machshavah (thought) in front of a packed shul, he does b'mai'sah (deed), in real life.

And the Rebbe explains: the Ramban states, as is stated in the Torah, "ba'erev tochlu matzos - in the evening you should eat matzos." The Rambam also codifies the mitzvah "lo signov - you shall not steal." The Rebbe says that while some Rabbonim might try to resolve the contradiction in their shabbos hagadol drasha, he resolves this contradiction in real life, b'mai'sah. But what is the connection between these two mitzvos? And, better yet, what is their contradiction? You should eat matzos on the first night of Pesach, and you should not steal. So the Rebbe explains that although Liska was well off in certain respects, the city still had its share of poor Jews. Some didn't know where their next meal would come from. But they want to fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzos on Pesach like any other Jew. And the Rebbe explains that with all of his resources and with his last pennies, he would bake enough matzah for the ani'im (poor people) of the town, so that if anyone were to knock on his door, he would have three matzos to give out to each person. And this is how the Rebbe reconciles "you should eat matzos at night," and "you should not steal."

(It took me a few seconds to get it too. The Liska Rebbe recognizes the fact that when people are so poor, but want to fulfill a mitzvah so badly, in this case, eating matzah on Pesach, they may, unfortunately, resort to theft. Out of desperation they may steal a few dollars in order to buy matzah for Pesach. But the Rebbe provides for the poor so that they won't have to steal, and can fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzah on Pesach by simply knocking on his door, upon which he will provide unconditionally. So the Rebbe doesn't stand before the mispalelim in shul, and impress the crowd by resolving a seemingly complex contradiction. He takes a real life scenario, and resolves two statements for the good of the people.)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Lubavitcher Rebbe's Trouble on Purim

The story takes place in the year of 1932. Others say It was 1933. Some say it took place in Berlin, others in Paris. Rabbi Shmuel Buttman has told the story twice in recent years. On one occasion he spoke of Berlin, and on another occasion he spoke of Paris. But it has been confirmed by Rabbi Chaim Ciment, who heard the story directly from Rav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik, who was present at the time, that the story did, in fact, take place in Berlin. The seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Reb Menamchem Mendel Schneerson, had attended both the University of Berlin and the prestigious Sorbonne in Paris around this time. Just as an aside, there is a machlokes (disputation) as to whether the Rebbe received a degree in engineering from the Sorbonne, or whether he audited classes. Whatever the case, he was an expert in the field. Years later, when an issue came up in the State of Israel, whether or not it was permissible to drive steamships on shabbos, the Rebbe was consulted. The workers could hardly be dissuaded from their position, namely that it was permissible to operate the ships, and that they can thereby earn their wages for an extra day's work. In an extensive dissertation on the subject the Rebbe explained the principles of engineering that applied to the case and the mechanics of the ships, which would render them unfit for use on shabbos. The experts in the industry were so baffled by the Rebbe's expertise, and so convinced of the correctness of the report that they immediately halted all use of the steamships on the Seventh Day.

And now to the story. It was Purim night in Berlin, and the Rebbe sat in his apartment a good few hours after the reading of the Megillah. He had had a few drinks, as is the custom on Purim, and was deep in thought, contemplating Megillas Esther (scroll containing the story of the holiday of Purim) and its deeper meanings. He was overcome by fervor and enthusiasm as he sank deeper into his thoughts. He pondered the fact that in the midst of a plethora of new political and social movements, and "isms" in Europe at the time, there had been too many Jews swept away by the fervor of these false ideologies. The Rebbe felt an immediate need to do something about it. A fire began to burn within, and he ran from his apartment down into the street. With great fervency he searched for the first Jew he could find. He had a burning need to teach Torah, and give over some of the lessons of Purim. He began talking to a couple of Jews with depth of feeling. He poured out his heart to them. Soon, more Jews began to walk by, and they gathered around to hear the religious teachings of this young, unknown religious man in the street. In time there was a small gathering around the 31 year old Menachem Mendel. It soon became a small crowd, and the Jewish residents of Berlin were enraptured by his words. More time had passed, and nobody would budge. Within the hour there was a large crowd gathered around the Rebbe, Jews and non-Jews alike. Passers-by did not know what the excitement was about, and stopped to listen, by this time from afar. The crowd swelled, and two policemen on the beat spotted the mass gathering. They began to break through the crowd, asking what the purpose of the gathering was about, and who was in charge of the mob. Fingers pointed to the front, and the police made there way toward the Rebbe. Angrily, they asked for an explanation. The Rebbe tried to explain, but to no avail. They asked to see his permit for conducting such a large gathering on a main thoroughfare, and he tried to explain that it was an impromptu assembly. The police did not take his answer lightly, and the Rebbe was put into handcuffs and taken down to the city jail.

The Rebbe had his one phone call, and called Rav Soloveitchik, who had also been in Berlin at the time. Rav Soloveitchik rushed to police headquarters, and explained to the chief that this young man had no evil intent in giving a speech, and had no political motivations whatsoever. After a lengthy explanation of the man's kind and humane nature, and his involvement in charitable causes, the chief was convinced. The Rebbe was let go, and the two went up to Rav Soloveitchik's apartment, where they spent the entire night learning the deeper and esoteric meanings of the events of the story of Purim.

About forty years later at a farbrengen(religious and musical gathering) at 770, Lubavitch headquarters, people were passing by the Rebbe to say l'chaim ("to life", said over a drink). One man stopped and, with great excitement, said to the Rebbe, "forty years ago, I was there! When the Rebbe was in the street teaching Torah, and the Rebbe was taken to jail. I was there!" The Rebbe gave this man a sharp look, and said (and you could forgive my Yiddish), "lass das bleiben zvishen uns (let it remain between us), because here in Lubavitch they will make it another Yom Tov (joyous holiday)."

The Rebbe meant it.

I am still not sure if this story is well-known among Lubavitchers, or if it did indeed remain hidden for many years for the reason cited by the Rebbe. I have asked a number of Lubavitchers. Some know of the story, and some don't. If anyone has anymore information please let me know.

Video of the Lubavitcher Rebbe sixty years later on Purim.

Chiddushei HaRim on Purim

This isn't quite a story, but a short mashal (parable) about Purim and drinking from the Chuddushei Harim, Reb Yitchak Meir Alter, first Gerrer Rebbe. Just as a matter of interest, the name Alter was not the original family name, but had been changed when Reb Yitchak was Rebbe. Reb Yitzchak, believe it or not, was a Polish national, and supported the Polish nationalist movement, as did a number of other chassidic Rebbes at the time. When the Russians came in Reb Yitzchak was afraid that he would be hounded, and therefore changed the name from Friedman to Alter.

But before we get to the mashal, just a few words about Purim. We know about the great power of Purim in ruchnius (spirituality), when we gain access to the upper spheres, more so than at other sacred times. As we say, Yom Kippurim is only "ke Purim (like Purim)." There is a certain access to shamayim (heaven), and if we daven (pray) with intensity of feeling and fervor on this day, our innermost supplications will be heeded and perhaps fulfilled from on high. The key is to remember that the story of Purim did not only take place many years ago, but that the power of Purim comes forth every year on the 14 of Adar, and at this time we must keep in mind to re-live the events. As they say, "hakoreh es haMegillah l'mafreia lo yatza." (if one reads the Megillah - Scroll of Esther -retroactively then he does not fulfill the mitzvah). We can interpret this in the following way: If one reads the Megillah "retroactively," meaning that the story and power of the day is only something that took place many years ago, then one has not fulfilled the mitzvah. We must keep in mind the efficacy of our prayers, because after all, Purim is when we accepted the Torah without a mountain over our heads (kimu v'kiblu). And the Gerrer Rebbe gives a mashal in this vein in connection with drinking on Purim:

There was once a commoner looking on as the king was riding by on his chariot. Thousand of people gathered for the event. This commoner saw a man with a gun pointing toward the carriage. He snuck up, and wrestled the sniper to the ground. Word got to the king that his life was saved, and after meeting the commoner, he told him that as a reward he could take anything he wanted from the palace.

A few days later, guards of the palace went running up to the king to alert him that a caravan was headed toward the palace. The king went to the window, and saw empty cart, after empty cart, after empty cart, blocks long. He realized exactly what was going on (the man was going to clean out the palace). So he told his ministers to get out the wine. He said, "we'll give him a few drinks, and then he won't know what to ask for."

And so it is with Purim, says the Rebbe. We drink to get confused so that we don't know what to ask for, because on Purim we just might get things before their time.

A number of leaders have come out very strongly this year against drinking on Purim, including Rav Shmuel Kamentzky and Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky, noted expert on addiction and dependency. The issue is how to interpret the famous words of the gemara (Megillah 7), "meechayev inish livsumeh b'Purya ad d'lo yada bein arur Haman uvein baruch Mordechai," usually translated as, "a person is required to become intoxicated on Purim until he can't distinguish between 'cursed is Haman', and 'blessed is Mordechai.'" The key word is "livsumeh." Rav Kamentzky said that this word means "whiff," and he explains that in relation to drinking, a whiff means a "sip." So much for getting intoxicated this Purim. Then again, how many will really heed his interpretation and advice. Others rule that one should drink a bit more than he would normally drink. Others, that one should drink until one gets tired, because while sleeping one won't know the difference between "arur Haman" and "baruch Mordechai." Some say that one should drink enough so that one can't compute the gematria (numerology) of the two (each one equals 502. No coincidence!) Others say that it's a matter of how joyous one becomes, and that the joy should be to the point that one doesn't know the difference between the two. There is a number of rulings.