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10 Tishrei Moments with the Lubavitcher Rebbe

10 Tishrei Moments with the Lubavitcher Rebbe

Give your own High Holiday experience a boost with these powerful photos

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The images in this listicle are from a beautiful new book published by Jewish Educational Media (JEM). Tishrei in Lubavitch includes well over a hundred photos, taken between 1979 and 1984. Each opens a powerful window of discovery into what it was like to spend this month of festivals in the Rebbe’s presence.

1. Between the Personal and the Collective

On the eve following Rosh Hashanah, after distributing wine from the cup upon which he made the havdalah blessing, the Rebbe claps his hands and encourages the crowd in their singing. (1979)

To celebrate Tishrei with the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of righteous memory, was to embark on a soaring journey of the spirit. Each new day brought a new high, fresh moments of awe, insight, elation, and—above all—connection. From all corners of the globe people traveled to the Rebbe’s court in Crown Heights, New York. They came as individuals, each on their own journey of spiritual growth and transformation. But they also came to transcend personal constraints, to draw power and inspiration from the collective soul—from the Rebbe, who embraces all of us and helps each of us enhance our connection to G‑d.

Today, more than twenty years after the Rebbe’s passing, our work during the month of Tishrei remains the same. We seek to move beyond our personal constraints, and we celebrate our specific roles in G‑d’s all-encompassing vision. We continue to be inspired and empowered by the Rebbe and his teachings, so that we too can achieve transformation and transcendence. We are further taught that image and imagination both have the capacity to reinvoke the power of another time and another place.1 These images were captured more than three decades ago, but even now awaken experiences anew.


2. Talking Torah

The Rebbe exits the main synagogue after delivering his annual pre Rosh Hashanah address to women and girls. As he leaves he momentarily greets and acknowledges each one of the many women who line his path. (1980)

One of the chief modes of the Rebbe’s leadership, of his communication with those who sought out his instruction and inspiration, was through his public Torah talks. During—and directly preceding—the month of Tishrei these talks were especially frequent. A few days before Rosh Hashanah the main synagogue would be cleared of men so that the Rebbe could deliver a special address to “the women and daughters of Israel.” (All his public talks were directed to both men and women, but for the most part the main synagogue was occupied by men while women occupied the upper gallery.)

On this particular occasion the Rebbe discussed how and why our prayers remain potent despite the fact that we are in exile. Paradoxically, he explained, the difficulty and distance of exile itself assures us that G‑d must provide us with an extra measure of divine strength to overcome the particular challenges that we face. Accordingly the Midrash describes G‑d himself praying on behalf the exiled Jews. G‑d did not simply provide us with a prayer liturgy, but demonstrated that He dwells among us even in exile, and shares in our troubles. Irrespective of our personal and collective situations, G‑d himself supports and prays alongside each and all of us. This is especially so as we approach Rosh Hashanah, and we can be assured that our prayers for a good and sweet year will indeed be answered.2


3. Preparatory Prayer

On the day before Rosh Hashanah the Rebbe reads personal notes and prays at the graveside of his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch. After reading the notes he tears them up and deposits them on the grave. (1979)

The custom to visit a cemetery on the day before Rosh Hashanah—“to pray profusely, and to donate money to the poor” “that G‑d shall do us kindness in the merit of the righteous” who are interred there—can be traced back many hundreds of years and is enshrined in the Code of Jewish Law.3 But in Chabad it takes on additional layers of significance. After the morning prayers the Rebbe would stand at his office door accepting individual notes, in which people transcribed their names and those of their family, along with requests for personal blessings and their hopes for the coming year. Many, many more such notes would be sent from Jews in communities across the world, and senior chassidim would also submit a collective note on behalf of the entire community together. When the Rebbe visited his father-in-law’s grave he would spend several hours reading all of these notes alongside the traditional liturgy that is read on such occasions. By the time he returned from the cemetery it was usually late in the afternoon.


4. New Light for a New Year

On the eve following Rosh Hashanah, following the evening prayer, a flaming candle is held aloof as the Rebbe makes the havdalah blessing marking the festival’s conclusion. It also marks the conclusion of a farbrengen that began earlier in the day and continued long after night had already fallen. (1983)

The Rebbe would often repeat and elaborate on these words of the first rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi: “Each and every year a new light descends from the supernal wisdom of G‑d that has never previously shone forth, for the illumination of each year departs and ascends to its root as the new year approaches, and afterwards—through blowing the shofar, and through prayer—a new celestial light is drawn forth from an even more transcendent station…”4

This teaching endows the first eve and morning of Rosh Hashanah with unusual gravity; the luminous radiance of G‑d in the world has departed, and the onus is upon us to invoke a new, more transcendent, revelation. From 1951 and on the Rebbe would blow the shofar in the main synagogue, and lead the congregation in the accompanying prayers. The seriousness and awesome intensity of the task was expressed in tearful emotion of a kind that was not seen at any other time. After the morning prayers, and the sounding of last set of shofar blasts, the Rebbe’s demeanor changed. The seriousness was tempered by joyous celebration. The new year’s new light is further drawn forth with each passing day, and so the joy only increases.


5. From Awe to Joy

At the conclusion of the Yom Kippur prayers, the Rebbe enters his study, placing his hand on the mezuzah. After putting on his coat, he will head home to make havdalah and eat the post Yom Kippur meal with his wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka. (1981)

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the culmination of a forty day process of repentance and return to G‑d. The culmination of Yom Kippur itself is its unique fifth prayer, ne’ilah, which means “closing.” This is traditionally understood as an allusion to the final closing of the celestial gates of divine mercy. But the Rebbe would explain that this marks the moment when we enter the innermost chamber of divine grace, and when the doors close we are on the inside. As the culmination of the days of awe, ne’ilah also brings us across the threshold and into the days of joy. After a day spent in the synagogue dressed in white—like angels—we now sense that our prayers have indeed been heard, that we have been welcomed into G‑d’s embrace.5

After proclaiming our faith in the one G‑d (once), our commitment to draw forth G‑d’s eternal glory (thrice), and the utter singularity of all facets of divine revelation (seven times), the congregation erupts in victorious song. In the Rebbe’s synagogue there was no room for the tightly packed crowd to dance in circles; the entire crowd would instead dance on the spot, bobbing vigorously up and down. The Rebbe would climb on his chair (in later years a specially prepared platform) and likewise dance on the spot, waving his arms in uniquely exuberant celebration.

As the Rebbe left the synagogue and headed to his study, his face radiated smiling elation, and he joyously wished the chassidim lining his path “good yom tov!”


6. The Sukkah

Outside Lubavitch World Headquarters, 770 Eastern Parkway, the Rebbe takes note of his sukkah, built by a group of yeshivah students. (1979)

We are commanded to dwell in the sukkah in just the same way as we dwell in our homes, not only eating there, but also spending as much time as we can there, studying, socializing, and celebrating. Building on earlier kabbalistic teachings, successive Chabad rebbes elaborated greatly on the idea that this is the only mitzvah that a person performs with their entire body. Since a mitzva is nothing less than the supernal will of G‑d, this means that in fulfilling this commandment the entirety of our being, from head to foot, is enveloped by G‑d’s will. Accordingly, the sukkah embodies the all-encompassing transcendence of G‑d, which is above any kind of differentiation, and therefore has the capacity to bring peace, internally and personally, and also for the entire world collectively.6


7. The Four Species

Lulav and etrog in hand, the Rebbe emerges from the main door of 770 Eastern Parkway, on his way to the Sukkah, and encourages the bystanders singing with a wave of the arm (left, 1981). Men and women alike wait in long lines for the opportunity to make a blessing with the Rebbe’s lulav and etrog (right, 1983 and 1984).

Like the sukkah, the four species—the lulav, etrog, hadassim and aravot—also symbolize peace and unity. But there is an important distinction. While the blessing can only be made when they are all held together, the mitzvah also requires four different species. The path to peace, in other words—on a personal or collective level—is through recognizing that the many different elements of reality all have their own specific role to play in G‑d’s all encompassing plan. “One who lacks understanding, when their will is frustrated, they are immediately angered… Whereas one who has understanding is able to meet even direct opposition with forbearance.” Through performing the mitzvah of the four species we draw the idealistic peace of the sukkah into the fragmented realities of life.7


8. Celebrating with Children

During a rally for children the Rebbe encourages their song by enthusiastically clapping along (right, 1980). A young girl leads the gathering in the recitation of a brief Torah teaching as the Rebbe looks on (top left, 1983). Children take notes as the Rebbe speaks (bottom left, 1982).

Throughout the month of Tishrei, and indeed throughout the year, the Rebbe paid special attention to children. Greeting them warmly, handing them coins to give to charity, and treating each one with just as much grace and seriousness as he extended to any adult. During prayers and public talks children were not simply tolerated, but allowed and encouraged to stand right up at the front of the synagogue, near the place reserved for the Rebbe. During the intermediate days of Sukkot (and on several other occasions throughout the year) the synagogue would be cleared for a special children’s rally, in which the Rebbe would participate and address the children directly. In addition to sharing relevant insights about the festival and its mitzvot in clear and simple language, the Rebbe would often encourage the children to see themselves as disciplined leaders, and as trend setters, who could influence everyone around them for the better. Here too, there was a clear focus on the children as individuals, and also on their ability to transform society collectively.


9. A Good Year, A Sweet Year

On the last of the intermediate days of sukkot, Hoshanah Rabbah, the Rebbe stands at the door of his sukkah distributing honey cake (lekach) to long lines of people. He wishes each of them a good and sweet year, and many pause for a quick word of advice or to seek a personal blessing. (1980)

In many midrashim and kabbalistic texts Hoshanah Rabbah is described as the day upon which G‑d’s judgement is set and sealed. Although it is the last day of Sukkot, “the period of our rejoicing,” it also casts back to the awe of the High Holidays earlier in the month. Hoshanah Rabbah reminds us that our relationship with G‑d is best repaired and renewed precisely through our joyous celebration of the festivals in accord with divine command. Through our victorious embrace of G‑d’s commandments—bringing the four species together and raising them aloof—divine judgment for spiritual and physical good is similarly assured.

This principle is reflected in the many special customs of Hoshanah Rabbah eve, and of the following day. At midnight the Rebbe would join the congregation to read the entire book of Psalms. The following morning the bimah is circled seven times, the four species in hand, and a poetic liturgy is read, in which we beseech G‑d to help us in the merit of all the Jews throughout history who devoted themselves to him so selflessly, often in the face of immense challenges. These prayers have a solemn tone. But a classic Chabad song appropriates a couple of lines to accentuate the undercurrent of joyous faith and confidence, emphasizing that “though exiled and banished” we are “yet likened to a palm,” and that “though dispersed among those who vex us” we yet “embrace and cleave to You.”

Listen here:


10. Rejoice!

Long after the two day holiday of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah is over, the festivities continue in the Rebbe’s court. From across the wider New York area, thousands more Jews arrive to receive wine from the Rebbe’s cup, and bask in the afterglow of the Torah’s celebration. The singing is led by a children’s choir, accompanied by the musicians Yossi and Avi Piamenta. In his right hand the Rebbe holds his cup to be refilled, with his left he vigorously encourages the singing. (1981)

The joy of the Torah (Simchat Torah) is given ultimate expression not through study, but through exuberant dance. Yet the Rebbe would spend many hours on both days of the festival probing the deepest secrets of the Torah, and would often expound on this very point: The difference between study and dance is the difference between intellectual pleasure and an outpouring of essential joy. Intellectual pleasure is limited in accord with the understanding of each individual. But the essential joy expressed in the exuberant dancing of Simchat Torah is the birthright of every Jew, scholar and ignoramus alike. In the Rebbe’s own words: “The joy is not such that there are distinctions, as at a wedding where one person is the father-in-law, another the groom… yet a third only a relative, and the fourth nothing more than a friend. On Simchat Torah the joy is equal for everyone. Every individual is a groom, and the Torah their bride.”8

Click here to get your own copy of Tishrei in Lubavitch today!

Footnotes
1.
See, for example, Torat Menachem 5710, page 51 and 67; Likkutei Dibburim Vol. 1, pages 3-4.
2.
Sichot Kodesh 5740, Vol. 3, pages 1112-115.
3.
See Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 581:4; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, 127:13.
4.
Tanya, Igrot Kodesh, 14.
7.
Ibid.
8.
Sichat Kodesh 5736, Vol. 1, p. 102.
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Jonathan Zabel Miami Beach, Florida October 12, 2016

I received lekach from the Rebbe ZT"L . 770 was always lebadik, the chassidim always warm and friendly. I miss the Rebbe ZT"L very much. I see his face all the time. My new neighbor is a Chabadnik . Have a good year and a sweet one . Reply

sunil subba India October 7, 2016

Thanks for the rare photos of Rebbe Menachem and how he used to operate in the festivals and in the Sukkah phase.He was indeed a highly remarkable man in unifying all the Jews world wide with his effective parables and stories.Theres a radiance and charm in his personality.His own philosophy is very practical and effective.I liked his saying that on being attacked it is better to attack instead of just worrying. Reply