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I had spent hours casting about for some suitable activity that could serve as a replacement for the speaking, but thus far, I had come up with nothing

"Success in Writing"

"Success in Writing"

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No chassidic anthology would be complete without a tale about a tzaddik. Of course in order to properly appreciate such a story, one must have some inkling of what a tzaddik is.

Everyone knows that tzaddikim are holy people with supernormal abilities and prophetic insight. What people generally do not appreciate is that such individuals are not mere miracle workers put on earth to solve the financial, medical, or child-rearing woes of their followers. The principle role of a tzaddik is that of a spiritual physician. A tzaddik is able to fathom the innermost core of the human soul. He can see the strengths and the weaknesses, and more importantly, he can perceive the tachlis, the purpose for which a particular soul came into this world. The diagnosis completed, the tzaddik will then implement whatever is necessary to inspire and aid the individual in accomplishing his or her Divinely designated life's task.

The tzaddik does not make decisions for his Chassidim, relieve them of personal responsibility, or solve their problems for them. He challenges them and directs them to fulfill their own mission in life, and if, on occasion, special emphasis is required to get the message across, the tzaddik will produce a miracle or two just to get things started. The following is an example of how a few words from a tzaddik can change a Chassid's life.


For many years I have participated as a speaker in the mid-winter Shabbaton in Crown Heights. Several years ago, however, I began to "burn out". It got to the point that I could barely stand the sound of my own voice. I could no longer bear to answer the same questions over and over again. I had had it.

It was in this frame of mind that I arrived in Crown Heights in December of 1990 for what I perceived as my last speaking engagement. Blended in with the ennui was a large measure of guilt. The Lubavitcher Rebbe had encouraged me in my speaking activities, and now I was afraid that I would be letting him down. Chassidus has little patience for quitters. There was, however, no help for it. I simply had no more talk left in me. I had spent hours casting about for some suitable activity that could serve as a replacement for the speaking, but thus far, I had come up with nothing.

Predictably, the talk that I delivered at the Shabbaton that weekend was a disaster. It was rambling, fragmented and uninspired. My swan song was most definitely off key and in addition to the boredom and guilt, I now felt dejected.


On Sunday mornings, the Rebbe received visitors. Anyone who so wished could meet the Rebbe and obtain from him a blessing and a dollar to be given to charity. The crowd of people hoping to see the Rebbe always numbered in the thousands and the wait in line was uncomfortable and long. Fortunately, I was a participant in the Shabbaton and Shabbaton guests and participants went through first.

Given the miserable performance of the preceding night and my planned retirement from the speaking circuit, I felt more than my usual apprehension at encountering the Rebbe. Nonetheless, at 10:30 Sunday morning I set off for the Crown Hotel to join up with the Shabbaton party, which was scheduled to go by the Rebbe at 11:30.

On the way, I met a group of Shabbaton guests who wished me good morning and questioned me about my horrible presentation of the previous night. They said that the subject matter, although interesting, was quite complicated and difficult to follow. They wanted to know if I had published these ideas somewhere. When I said that I hadn't, they wanted to know why not. I informed them that I am (was) really a speaker and that I express myself poorly in writing. They couldn't understand that. They knew that I had to write extensively and well in order to survive in the academic world. I explained that scientific writing is different from expository prose. Indeed, my stilted writing conformed beautifully to the monotonous, dry, pedantic style that characterizes scientific journals.

When we arrived at the hotel, another group of people approached to ask where they could find my writings. When I told them that there weren't any, they also wanted to know why not. So I had to repeat my explanation once again.

I went up to the lobby to await our departure for "770" (the Rebbe's headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway, in Brooklyn). Several yeshivah students, who had been helping with the Shabbaton, came over and wanted to know where they could find my "stuff'. I told them that there was no "stuff" in print. "Why not?" By now, I was losing my patience. I explained to them, a little sharply, that I am not a writer, that I never was a writer, and, that in fact, I can't write. "How can that be, you're a professor aren't you?" I got up and walked outside.

Finally the Shabbaton group left for the meeting with the Rebbe. On the way, I was walking next to a couple who introduced themselves and wanted to know where I had written .... I couldn't believe it. I smiled at them, pretended that I didn't hear the question, and walked on ahead.

When we arrived at 770, we skirted the throngs of people waiting in line and entered a door in the basement of the building. As our line crept forward my heart began to pound and my mouth became dry. An encounter with the Rebbe is, after all, no light matter. In front of me was Rabbi Shmuel Lew, a friend from London, and his son who had just become engaged. I could now see the Rebbe handing a dollar to Rabbi Lew and his son and saying something to them. An instant later, I was before the Rebbe.

Although the meeting with the Rebbe lasts only a few seconds, they are very long seconds. During those precious moments the Rebbe is totally attentive to you. No one and nothing else exists. The Rebbe looked at me with unfathomable love, handed me a dollar and wished me Bracha v'hatzlacha--"Blessing and success."

I started to move on, when the Rebbe's secretary caught my sleeve. I turned back to the Rebbe, who was holding out another dollar for me. As I took the dollar, the Rebbe, with a little smile and laughter in his eyes, told me: "Hatzlachah in schreiben" ("Success in writing").

I was stunned. As we left the building, Rabbi Lew's son, who had heard the Rebbe's words to me, asked: "Yankel, are you a writer?"

"I am now." I answered.

Dr. Yaakov Brawer is Professor Emeritus of the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University. He is the author of two books of Chassidic philosophy, Something From Nothing and Eyes That See
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yisroel September 19, 2005

Wow! If as he says he was no writer until this encounter of the Rebbe than we are privy to a miracle! I enjoy his writing and may he continue. Reply

Diana February 8, 2005

Yes, it`s a fact that sometimes we think that the rabbis are going to do "everything".
"The tzaddik does not make decisions for his Chassidim, relieve them of personal responsibility, or solve their problems for them."

We have to make our decisions and listen to our hearts, EVEN if we think: "I would be letting him (the Rebbe) down".

The Rebbis won`t be sad if we change, if we want to do something new and different. Their "ego" is not like ours. In fact, they want to see us happy and free.

We are slaves of Hashem; not slaves of people: even if they are tzadikim, because we are not slaves of the stars.

I`m very glad to have read this text. Reply

Anonymous August 11, 2004

"...The principle role of a tzaddik is that of a spiritual physician..."

I thought about the above for a while, thinking how G-d has given each one of us a job to do...a job no one else can do except the person it is given to.

And then I asked myself: is the work of a tzaddik more important than the work G-d wants a 'regular person' to do? And I came up with 'no.' First of all, I don't believe there are such people as regular people. And secondly, if G-d wants someone to do G-dly things in a particular way, through certain kind of work, that's THE thing that matters.

PS. I see that Dr. Yaakov Brawer has written 2 books.....

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