Translated by Perspectives Magazine, published by Merkaz Anash
תרגום מעובד למאמר ׳״החייתני!״ השיב הרבי לילד הקטן...׳ לאנגלית, פרספקטיבס, בהוצאת מרכז אנ"ש
Not “Minor details”
Rabbi Yehoshua Mondshine obm was widely recognized as the preeminent Chabad historian of our times. As a young man under the Rebbe’s close guidance, he began to work on indexing and publishing Chassidic texts. During his lifetime he authored many seforim and articles on Chabad history, bibliography and minhogim, in addition to publications in various other fields. He also served as manuscript librarian in the Israeli National Library.
As a chossid operating in the academic sphere, he was unapologetic and unintimidated. His writing is characterized by comprehensive and impressive knowledge, originality, provocativeness, and a willingness to battle against what he saw as distortion of Chabad’s image by outsiders.
Translated by Mrs. Basya Yahel.
A Shulchan Aruch Yid
To be a "Shulchan Aruch Yid" seems such a petty matter. Could it be otherwise? Doesn’t every G-d- fearing person follow Shulchan Aruch?
Yet, with the Rebbe we saw how all of his movements were calculated according to Torah and halacha. He did it inconspicuously, and sometimes even endeavoring to hide his conduct. These were practices which were not meant for all, as it says in the Mishna, “Not all who wish to assume a position of prominence may do so.”
Halacha was the core in the Rebbe's ideals and conduct, including through numerous public affairs. When the Rebbe discussed "Mihu Yehudi,” he demanded "giyur kahalacha," conversion according to halacha (even when some argued that obviously that is the only real conversion...). The same is true for the prohibition of giving away parts of Eretz Yisroel to our pursuers; he founded his stance on a halacha from hilchos Shabbos. Many other campaigns were similarly based on halacha.
Throughout the years, the Rebbe spoke regularly about the necessity of learning halacha in a consistent and systemized way.
“The only solution,” the Rebbe stated (13 Tishrei 5743), “is to learn these halachos, because when you learn them, you know them! In such a case, no miracle or tricks will help. In order to know halacha, you have to learn it! When speaking about a shaila relating to the halachos of Birkos Hashachar or even before then, Netilas Yadaim, you can’t call someone at such an early hour to ask him how to do it...”
On another occasion, the Rebbe admonished community rabbis, who instead of teaching their communities practical halacha, lecture on abstract matters and world issues.
“There are rabbonim that say their role is to deal only with the greatest matters. In Torah they lecture on the most challenging areas of Torah; in avodas Hashem—about general philosophies that encompass all of Yiddishkeit; in gemilus chassadim—how to fix the entire world through justice and honesty. From this they continue to discuss contemporary events such as the need for democracies around the world, nuclear warfare, and the summits of world leaders.
“Yet when it comes to hilchos Shabbos v’muktza, kashrus, taharas hamishpacha, birkas hanehenin, and the like, these ‘simple’ matters aren’t fitting for their greatness...
“We find the answer in a possuk: lo bora'ash Hashem, ‘Hashem doesn’t come with fanfare,’ but particularly in those ‘simple’ things, ‘in a still, thin sound.’ To explain these integral halachos on a daily basis—this is where the King comes!”
The Rebbe noted many times that not knowing what is explicitly stated in
Shulchan Aruch is a result of not learning these halachos. To use two examples from Hilchos Taaniyos: The first is that the discussion of Zayin Adar is to be found in these halachos (which is widely unknown), and secondly that there is a similarity between the body of a human and that of a pig (which became famous recently in connection with organ transplants).
However, the main expression of the Rebbe as a Shulchan Aruch Yid can be seen from his personal day-to-day life.
For example, everyone knows the words of the wisest of all men: sonei matanos yichyeh, “One who hates gifts shall live,” but not everyone is careful to fulfill this instruction. Most assume that it is not a halacha but just a piece of sound advice. This wasn’t the Rebbe’s perspective. Many of those who sent gifts to the Rebbe were answered that this possuk is a halacha in Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat, siman 249)! And the Rebbe would include a sum of money for the gift.
Personally testifying to this matter, Rabbi Naftali Rutt recalls his first yechidus with the Rebbe (Elul 5719):
“When the yechidus finished, I gave the Rebbe an esrog holder made of silver with an engraved dedication as a gift from my parents. The Rebbe received the gift with a smile and asked me to convey his thanks to my parents. The next day, the Rebbe’s secretary Rabbi Hodakov came to me as a messenger of the Rebbe. He said that the Rebbe was happy to accept the esrog box, but because he does not accept personal gifts he requested to pay the full price. Though I tried skirting the issue, nothing helped so I called my parents and asked for the price. The secretariat sent me check for that amount.”
The Rebbe had an additional reason to pay for a gift. Quoted from a letters sent to Rabbi Dovid Nosson Lesser (28 Kislev
5712): “I pleasantly received your gift of waxed candles for Chanukah. Based on what I told you before and as is known (Zohar II, 128b) that a mitzvah must cost money, here is a check to be used in good health for what you desire, in a good way.”
The Rebbe was also cautious about such matters which are clearly found in halacha, but stem from his extreme carefulness to observe the halacha.
Here is one clear example of a precaution which the Rebbe practiced for many years with few people noticing: At one time a railing was added to the stairs to the platform where the Rebbe would daven. In order to maintain the cleanliness of his hands before davening, the Rebbe would make an effort not to touch the railing on
would use his elbow or his sleeve.
When the Rebbe davened in his home in 5748 (the year of aveilus for the Rebbetzin A”H), when he came down from his room to the ground floor he would use the railing without touching it. Only after davening would he hold the railing in a normal fashion.
Speaking of the Rebbetzin, we are reminded of the Rebbe’s spectacular conduct during her shiva. The Rebbe gave great honor to the Rebbetzin, sometimes referring to her as “the Rebbe’s daughter.” From her end, she went out of her way to honor the Rebbe, in many ways acting as a chossid to the Rebbe. She wouldn’t go to sleep for the night before he returned home from 770, including after a farbrengen, kos shel bracha, or yechidus which lasted until the early hours of the morning.
It is therefore only natural that with her passing the Rebbe’s face would express deep pain. Indeed, every time that he lead the davening, his
voice choked back tears and broke the hearts of all those present. Even when he spoke with Jewish leaders who came to console him, his voice cracked more than once and his eyes filled with tears.
Nonetheless, all of this was only for the first three days, as halacha dictates "the first three days are for crying." Afterwards, the great sorrow remained etched on his face, but the tears ceased.
Even more wondrous was his conduct during Shabbos davening in the middle of shiva. The entire community was engulfed in sadness from what had just occurred to the Rebbe and Lubavitch at large, and with a mix of love and trepidation they prepared themselves to encounter a broken-hearted Rebbe. How great was their surprise when the Rebbe swung his arm in encouragement as he entered the shul, causing the crowd to burst out in song. The Shulchan Aruch Yid shone through even at such a difficult time, as halacha dictates that “there is no sorrow on Shabbos.”
[Immediately after Shabbos ended, the emotions returned, which aroused the Rebbe to start new campaigns in the spreading of Yiddishkeit and to give new Torah thoughts under the theme of “Vehachai yitain el libo.”]
In an unusual note among the Rebbe’s commentary on the Pesach Haggadah, [a sefer that deserves a discussion of its own, as it Rebbe’s genius in all areas of Torah is expressed in such short annotations], the Rebbe quotes the Alter Rebbe’s wording (Orach Chayim 481, se’if 61) regarding drinking after the afikoman on the second
night of Pesach: “The basic halacha is that there is no prohibition and one who eats and drinks hasn’t done wrong, however one who does so removes himself from being among those who are scrupulous and transgresses the instruction of the chachomim that one should never remove oneself from the klal.” To this the Rebbe adds: “Here we have a clear psak as to the extent every person is obligated in hidur mitzvah, even when the halacha itself doesn’t require one to do so!”
The Rebbe certainly fulfilled this instruction.
How remarkable was the sight that at the pinnacle of hakafos of the night of Shmini Atzeres 5738 when the Rebbe suddenly had heart pains and sat down, but when he was offered water he adamantly refused since it was before kiddush and outside of the sukkah!
The whole idea of not drinking water outside of the sukkah is merely a chumrah. Additionally, the minhag in most circles is that on Shmini Atzeres one need not eat in the sukkah, and even among those who are stringent, many do so during the day not at night. Especially, considering the Rebbe’s health condition at the time...
All this didn’t deter the Rebbe from following our minhag of eating in the sukkah on Shmini Atzeres, during the night and day, and also being particular to drink even water in the sukkah.
What did the chassidim do? They shortened hakafos and the Rebbe went out to the sukkah. There—between one heart attack and another—they wanted to give the Rebbe grape juice for kiddush instead of wine, but the Rebbe was always careful to make kiddush only on wine (even during this trying time), and he insisted that it shouldn’t be otherwise. “Kiddush is made on wine!” he asserted.
On more than one occasion the Rebbe dedicated an entire sicha to “reprimand” his listeners regarding not properly answering “Boruch Hu u’voruch Shemo” and “Amen.” During this talk the Rebbe said that when he was a young child, he didn’t know that there was a difference between the two and he was just as strict about saying “Boruch Hu u’voruch Shemo” as he was “Amen.”
The Rebbe’s approach to a halacha in Shulchan Aruch and other matters of kedusha was simple and innocent like that of a child who doesn’t know of any devices. Nothing stopped him from answering “Amen,” and he viewed the answering of “Boruch Hu u’voruch Shemo” just as seriously. He didn't even miss the responses that didn’t have a pause, and which most of the congregation ignored. He attentively listened to the brachos of aliyos to the Torah, saying “Boruch Hu u’voruch Shemo” four times; twice for the first bracha and twice for the bracha afterwards.
Many are quick to answer the bracha of Hagomel with “Mi shegemalcha tov...” The Rebbe made it known that first one must answer “Amen" to the bracha.
Even in cases where people might forget that there is a bracha, the Rebbe was careful to answer “Amen.” For example, some mistakenly think that when a father says “Boruch sheptarani” without Hashem’s name (according to our custom), it is just a “statement” or “thanksgiving.” The Rebbe saw this as a bracha which deserves an “Amen.”
The same “simple” attitude was also clearly apparent during the chazan’s repetition of Shemona Esreh. The Rebbe listened attentively to every utterance of the chazan, and looked attentively into the siddur, his eyes following word after word, line after line...
This was the siddur that accompanied the Rebbe everywhere, which he used for every tefila and bracha.
A painful incident occurred when the Rebbe received an aliya to the Torah and the baal koreh pointed to the wrong spot, forcing the Rebbe to recite a second bracha. The second bracha with Hashem’s name did not come easily, and the Rebbe’s throat choked with tears.
Even during the most exalted moments the Rebbe didn’t take details of halacha lightly. At the end of farbrengens, after many long hours of divrei Torah, during the peak of song and joy, there was suddenly a hush and the Rebbe would announce, “Those that must make a ‘bracha acharona’ should do so...”
All other announcements were made through appointed individuals, who would be queued by the Rebbe at the appropriate time. The “bracha acharona” announcement
was never delegated to anyone else and the Rebbe would say it himself.
Another task that the Rebbe took upon himself was arranging seforim in accordance with halacha as he entered the shul. Many times he noticed that seforim weren’t properly placed, and he would rearrange them: taking a siddur from on top of a Chumash, a tefilin bag or a piece of paper from on top of a siddur, or turning over an upside-down sefer.
In Cheshvan 5732, a bochur in the 770 yeshiva—Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz—wrote in his private journal: “The Rebbe treats seforim with great care and honor, taking other seforim off from Chumashim... Today on the way back from the bima he spotted a small piece of paper the size of a coin on top of a sefer and waved it off with his hand.”
We will complete this chapter with a story
of the Rebbe and a child:
Following the demand of the Rebbe to add in Torah and mitzvos—which was repeated at every opportunity and farbregen—a child once wrote to the Rebbe that he had taken upon himself to recite “Birkos Hashachar” slowly and with kavana, from a siddur.
The Rebbe responded in his holy handwriting, “You have revived me, like cold water on a tired soul...”
Among all of the countless going-ons, the Rebbe received his chayus from a child who took upon himself to say “Birkos Hashachar” with kavana.
The Rebbe paid exceptional care in all matters to ensure refined language, in speech and in writing. This is based on the Gemara in Pesachim (3a), “A person should never bring forth from his mouth an unfit word...one should always speak with clean language.”
The example that the Gemara brings of an unfit word is “tamei (impure),” and
the Torah uses expressions and more words to avoid saying something which is immodest. The Rebbe went out of his way not to use words that have any sort of “not good” connotation. He would say, “the opposite of holiness,” “the opposite of goodness,” “the opposite of life,” “the opposite of health,” “the opposite of honesty,” and even “the opposite of intellect.”
It could be easily proven that Chazal—as well as the Rishonim and Acharonim— didn’t see any prohibition in saying these words. However for the Rebbe it was quite common that when a maamar Chazal would come to his lips with an expression that was “not good,” he would stop the flow of his speech and change the wording to use refined language instead.
Even this saying of Chazal itself—“A man should never bring forth from his mouth an unfit word”—the Rebbe would not say because how could he say the word “unfit?”...
Another similar example is that when the Rebbe was explaining the Rashi (at the beginning of Parshas Noach), “There are
those that expound it as praise... and there are those that expound it as belittlement,” the Rebbe shortened the ending to “and there are those that expound it etc.”
Or, the known statement of Chazal, “Divrei Torah are poor in one place and rich in another,” seemingly doesn’t have any unrefined language. Nevertheless, the Rebbe had a hard time applying the expression “poor” to divrei Torah. Instead, many times the Rebbe wrote “Divrei Torah etc. in one place and rich in another.”
In the year 5747, the Rebbe aroused the public to refer to a hospital in Hebrew as “beis refuah” (house of healing) instead of the prevalent “beis cholim” (house of the sick). The Rebbe explained that that second name has a negative effect on those who require their services. The Rebbe himself had already avoided using the term “beis cholim” for many years.
The Rebbe also addresses this in several letters. In one letter he writes: “I don’t feel comfortable with the term ‘beis cholim,’ because the whole purpose of such an institution is to heal through doctors whose job is to heal.” To a famous writer, the Rebbe adds that avoiding using “beis cholim” stems from the need for refined language.
In this context it is also worthy to note that the Rebbe sent a donation to Dr. Rothschild, the founder of the “Mayanei Hayeshua” hospital, along with a request to call it a “beis refuah.” Indeed that is what is written on the front of the building in Bnei Brak today.
Rabbi Yehuda Leib Shapiro, who served as a transcriber of the Rebbe’s farbrengens in 770, relates that once when they gave a part of a sicha to the Rebbe, the Rebbe erased a complete paragraph that could be understood as a negative statement about Yidden, and wrote on the margin, “This paper should be burned and its contents should not be said!”
Here are two incredible examples of how the
Rebbe changed even the wording of Chazal in order avoid “not good” expressions, both from maamorim from 5740:
The first paragraph of the maamar “Shuva Yisroel” that was said on Shabbos Teshuva, contained the possuk “I am the One who erases your sins for My sake” twice. The second time the Rebbe circled the words “erase your sins” to signify that it should be removed (since they were holy words from a possuk the Rebbe did not cross them out, circling them instead), and he wrote underneath “Etc.” In the margins the Rebbe added in his holy handwriting, “I intentionally did not say this,” as he had purposely left out the words bringing up the sins of the Yidden.
Of course when it was printed afterwards (Sefer Hamaamarim Melukat 1, p. 346) it reads, “I am etc. for My sake etc.”
The second example is from the maamar “Basukos Teishvu,” (said on 13 Tishrei), which quoted a statement from Chazal regarding the possuk “A fool believes everything,” and they applied this possuk to Moshe Rabbeinu.
The Rebbe circled the word “fool” and again he noted that he had purposely not said that, changing the wording for Moshe Rabbeinu’s honor.
In the final version of the maamar (ibid. p.356), it reads: "believes everything – this refers to Moshe Rabbeinu,” omitting the first half of the possuk.
The following are examples that connect the Rebbe’s use of refined language for his love for every Yid:
A famous instance is the Rebbe's avoidance of the term “secular Jew.” It is worthy noting that like other many other of the Rebbe’s teachings, this approach has been incorporated by various outreach movements today.
In the farbrengen of Yud-Beis Tammuz 5731, the Rebbe said that there is no such thing as a “secular Jew.” If he is a Yid, Hashem created him in a way of “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
Regarding this matter, the Rebbe writes to one of the ministers of the Israeli government (Iyar 5732): “At this opportunity it is proper to address an expression in your letter that is repeated in several places, which always astonished me. I write regarding ‘secular’ (in Hebrew from the root meaning ‘mundane’) and ‘religious.’ The opposite of ‘mundane’ is ‘holy.’ I do not believe that there is a single Jew who is ‘mundane,’ because he or she is a part of a holy nation. Rather, there are those who are involved in mundane
matters, there are those who busy themselves with holy matters, and there are those that are occupied with mundane matters with holy intentions.”
At another opportunity the Rebbe spoke about the “internal and essential love” for Yiddishe neshamos, including those who are present at the farbrengen and those who are situated in a “second place” and a “third place.” The Rebbe explained that he purposely did not say in “another place” because “a Yid is not found in another place. A Yid is everywhere where Hashem is found."
We chose to focus on the “small” and “simple” things seen from the Rebbe’s conduct. To use the Rebbe’s own words, “‘Hashem doesn’t come with fanfare,’ but particularly in those ‘simple’ things... this is where the King comes.”
אברהם שישא, 'יגדיל תורה' (נ.י.), סא (אב–אלול תשמ"ד) עמ' שסג–שסד
יגדיל תורה - ניו יורק
- סקירה -
טוען כי תעודה שיוחסה ע״י החוקר אברהם רובינשטיין לספר ׳שבחי הבעש"ט׳ (׳אפיזודה בלתי ידועה מחיי רמ״מ מפרימישלאן׳), אינה אלא פרי רוחו ויצירתו של יוסף פרל
בהמשך לדברי המערכת (גל' ו) בענין הפס"ד להל' פסח המיוחס לאדה"ז, שגם המחיקות ממנו הן.
יגדיל תורה - ניו יורק
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