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Reb Chanoch Hendel1

by
Reb Schraga Feivish Zalmanov
of Warsaw

Our holy Rebbe2 told one of the students who was studying diligently in Lubavitch the “Place of Enlightenment”:

[The Talmud says],3 “Serving [as an apprentice to scholars of] the Torah is greater than studying it.” And how does one serve as an apprentice to Torah scholars? By attending farbrengens led by elder chassidim such as Reb Chanoch Hendel and others like him.

As is well known, before the holy Yeshivah Tomchei Temimim was founded in the year 5657 [1897], the bochurim who studied in small groups in Lubavitch were called “the sitters.” These were outstanding young men, sons of the chassidic brotherhood of Anash. After they acquired a broad knowledge of the revealed Torah Gemara-Rashi-Tosafos and Poskim in their hometowns, they would come to bask in the shadow of our saintly Rebbe, and to hear the words of the Living G-d the discourses on Chabad Chassidus that issued forth from the Holy of Holies, the mouth of our saintly Rebbe, each week on Shabbos eve. Afterwards, they would review the discourse until they knew it well and could repeat it by heart, word for word as the Rebbe had delivered it. There were many bochurim who knew a hundred or more chassidic discourses by heart. Each thus acquired a broad knowledge of the fundamentals of Chabad Chassidus.

In addition, the Rebbe suggested to one of the sitters (when he went in for yechidus) that in order to assimilate chassidic qualities and an appreciation of the chassidic way of life in their hearts, they should serve as apprentices to the elder chassidim such as Reb Chanoch Hendel. With this in mind, when the holy Yeshivah, Tomchei Temimim, was founded, a course of farbrengens with the teachers and mashpiyim was established as a regular part of the curriculum.

The chassid Reb Chanoch Hendel4 was a noble leader among Jews, an elder among those chassidim who chose G-dliness as their heritage, to dwell in G-d’s palace in Lubavitch, and to enjoy the aura of the Divine Vision that was the Rebbe. In those days, there were many famous personalities living in Lubavitch, notably the chassid Reb Shmuel Betzalel, known as “Rashbatz,” the chassid Reb Abba Czasznyker, and others. Each of them excelled in some aspect of religious practice and personal quality. Rashbatz was renowned for his intellect, Reb Abba for his earnestness, and Reb Chanoch Hendel for his chassidic conduct.

Reb Chanoch Hendel was a chassid to the very core of his being he was a chassid. His every concern, thought, word, and act were about Chassidus, and demonstrated the inner essence of his vitality. His personality was fundamentally very vivacious, and he was therefore able to instill the quality of vitality in all who were close to him. The sages said,5 “Who is a chassid? He who performs Chassidus ….” In other words, he himself behaves as a chassid, and inspires others to do the same. This was Reb Chanoch Hendel’s essential quality.

Each day between Minchah and Maariv, he would teach Tanya to those wonderful young men, the sitters. He did this with an inner essence of vivacity and with fiery fervor, with heartfelt speech that seemed fresh each time one heard it. Anyone who heard these lectures became elevated in stature, and the life-spirit of Chassidus entered his inner being. Every story that he employed to illustrate some point in Tanya gave new life to the listener. Each time he taught a subject, it was from a fresh perspective.

He would become exceedingly impassioned whenever he told stories about our holy Rebbeim; his face would shine with the radiance of the sun. It was wondrous to behold his attachment to Torah scholars. He especially loved and praised prominent chassidic personages such as the chassid Reb Shmuel Dov of Borisov [“Rashdam”], the chassid Reb Avremke of Zhembin, and the like. He constantly spoke in admiration of their great intellectual abilities, their system of avodah, and the open (as well as the secret) miracles they performed. When he described these things, he did so with such remarkable feeling that he transformed the character of all those who listened, and their very beings changed for the better.

Each member of Anash was precious to Reb Chanoch Hendel, and he truly loved every one of them with great and eternal love. He rejoiced when they were joyful, and felt personal sorrow at their misfortunes.

Whenever a member of Anash came to see the Rebbe, Reb Chanoch Hendel would go immediately to the home where the guest was staying and greet him personally with a smile, with joy, and in a most cordial manner. Then, with words of surpassing love and adoration, he would show the guest “the way to the Tree of Life.”

The first time I had the privilege of witnessing the gracious glory of his splendor was in the year 5655 [1895] between Pesach and Shavuos, when I first arrived in Lubavitch to study. As I recall the occasion, I was studying in the side-room of the Rebbe’s beis hamedrash, known as the “smaller study hall,” studying in depth my lesson in Gemara-Rashi-Tosafos. Suddenly, my ears picked up the sound of someone singing a niggun so beautifully that it aroused the heart.

Interrupting my studies and turning toward the door of the beis hamedrash, I witnessed this marvelous sight: there was a table which stood between the eastern and western walls of the beis hamedrash, and at the center of this table sat a man with a most handsome face, wrapped in tallis and tefillin, and davening in a pleasant and melodious voice (with a niggun that was well known in Lubavitch). He was reciting the passage Az Yashir word by word, his face shining as though he had discovered some priceless treasure. Tears flowed unceasingly from his eyes. This sight reminded me of the statement in the Zohar,6 “Joy is fixed within my heart on one side, and tears on the other side.” The whole scene amazed me.

When Reb Chanoch Hendel finished his davening, he approached me with a smile and inquired who I was, where I had come from, and what the purpose of my coming to Lubavitch was. I replied that I was related to the local Rav, and that I had come to study Torah. Upon hearing this reply, he invited me to visit him at his home, and to join his class in Tanya.

From then on, he always treated me in his usual friendly fashion and with his great love, showing me the “road that leads to the House of G-d,” through which one might adhere to the “Tree of Life,” the holy Rebbe. This was his constant habit and the sacred path he followed, bringing souls closer to their Father in Heaven. It is known that the holy Rebbe himself commanded that on Reb Chanoch Hendel’s tombstone there should be engraved the words, “He prompted many to turn back from sin;7 may his merits protect us and all of Israel.”

FOOTNOTES
1. FromHaTamim, Issue No. 1, pp. 79, 80. This short article appeared at the end of the biography of Rashbatz.
2. [Apparently, the Rebbe Rashab.]
3. [Berachos 7a.]
4. Reb Chanoch Hendel arrived in Lubavitch in the year 5603 [1843] or 5605; he passed away there on 9 Teves 5660 [December 13, 1899].
5. [Introduction to the Tikkunei Zohar, p. 1b. The quote is rendered somewhat non-literally here.]
6. [Vol. II, p. 255a.]
7. [Cf. Malachi 2:6.]
Translated from the classic columns of HaTamim by Shimon Neubort
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