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Discovering the Rebbe

Why Only Chabad Chassidism?

June 27, 2010 4:30 AM

In my first audience with the Rebbe (see The Forgotten Bandage and Doing a Good Deed), we spoke at length about many personal issues.

In the course of that audience, I told the Rebbe that for many years I had been coming to pray on Shabbat at the synagogue in Lubavitch World Headquarters, "770." While I regularly studied the chassidic teachings of my Rebbe, the Rebbe of the Radomsk chassidic dynasty, I also studied the works of other chassidic masters, such as Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev, Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk and others. In 770, however, I noticed to my puzzlement that the people learned exclusively the chassidic teachings of the Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbes.

The Rebbe gave me a lengthy explanation, of which I remember only a few details that touched me very personally.

"Ten years ago," the Rebbe (paraphrased) explained to me, "Drs. Alexander Fleming and Ernst Chain created penicillin, a monumental breakthrough in the medical world.

"At the very beginning, doctors did not prescribe high dosages, so as not to cause damage to the patient. After several months, however, the bacteria became immune to the antibiotic, forcing doctors to prescribe greater dosages. This pattern continues: increasing immunity combated by increased medicinal doses; a great battle between the doctors and the infections.

"The mystical 'inner' teachings of the Torah, chassidism, existed before the times of the founder of chassidism, the Baal Shem Tov. However, those teachings were taught only amongst a select group of scholars. Slowly, the chassidic masters began to disseminate the teachings, in order to combat the spiritual diseases of the day. However, the winds, the infectious influences began to become immune to the medicine.

"The founder of Chabad Chassidism, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, realized that the 'dosage' that other chassidic masters were offering – 90% 'water' and 10% 'penicillin' – was not sufficient. The teachings of Chabad philosophy are similar to the teachings of other great chassidic greats; Rabbi Schneur Zalman, however, added more penicillin...

"If it is correct what you are saying, that people are not studying the teachings of the other chassidic masters, it is because they want to have 100% medication."

I was very moved by the Rebbe's metaphor; the example touched me personally, as my father passed away from an infectious disease at the young age of 52. At the time I felt that if the doctors had prescribed more penicillin, he would have healed. I clearly felt that the Rebbe knew this via prophetic vision.

Newly Translated Chassidic Discourse

June 16, 2010 3:26 PM

In honor of the Rebbe, of righteous memory's, anniversary of passing, we present a translation of a fascinating and emotionally intense Chassidic discourse (known as a maamar) that the Rebbe delivered in 1952.

The translation is primarily geared for those more advanced in their Hebrew skills, as many Hebrew words are interspersed in the English text. With some effort exerted, however, I believe that anyone studying it will enhance his or her understanding of our purpose on this world and how to strive to better serve G‑d.

Here is an excerpt from the diary of Zvi Hirsch Gansbourg (Portrait of a Chassid p. 94), describing the atmosphere during the recital of the maamar:

Last Shabbat,the Rebbe left his room at 12:35 pm and entered the study hall… taking his place at the head of the table which is positioned on the south-west side of the room….

When the Rebbe's [unexpected] entry was noticed, his chair was brought for him…. After several moments, he began delivering a discourse entitled Lo Sih'yeh Meshakeilah.(As is usually the case before he delivers a discourse,the Rebbe's deep and intense feelings were plainly noticeable, his face ashen white….)

The discourse lasted 55 minutes. While delivering it, the Rebbe cried very much. On several occasions, he could not restrain himself and cried audibly.

At one point in the maamar, the Rebbe explained: "It is written in Psalms: 'I shall fill the number of your days.' G‑d grants every person a fixed number of days to complete his Divine service…. This applies not only to the days; even the hours and minutes are accounted for and a person must perform the Divine service necessary, using every moment to the fullest. This point should constantly be gnawing at a person; he should feel under strain and under pressure, contemplating what he could be doing to use this moment fully."

When the Rebbe spoke these words, we could see that he was living them, that they were spoken from the depths of his holy heart. The Rebbe could not continue speaking. He leaned his head on his right hand and broke down crying for several long moments.

It is impossible for a pen to capture those moments. I ask G‑d to allow that picture to remain in my mind for my entire life.

Click here for the English text of this discourse.

The discourse was translated by the Sichos in English team and is presented courtesy of their kindness.

Devotion to His Brothers and Sisters

June 15, 2010 9:00 AM

Shortly after Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who later became the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, arrived in the United States of America in 1941, his father-in-law, the Rebbe Rayatz, requested that he lead a Chassidic gathering, a farbrengen, on the Shabbat preceding every new Jewish month, known as Shabbat Mevarchim. And Rabbi Menachem Mendel did so religiously.

Following the passing of his father-in-law a few years later, though the new Rebbe refused to officially accept the mantle of leadership for an entire year, he continued the tradition of leading the monthly farbrengens, as per the request of his revered father-in-law, of righteous memory.

The Rebbe, of righteous memory, says a discourse on Chabad philosophy. Traditionally the crowd stands during the recital of a discourse, on the extreme left is Rabbi Shmaryahu Gurary, of blessed memory, the Rebbe's brother-in-law. (Photo courtesy of the Shafran family in memory of Rabbi Benzion Shafran)
The Rebbe, of righteous memory, says a discourse on Chabad philosophy. Traditionally the crowd stands during the recital of a discourse, on the extreme left is Rabbi Shmaryahu Gurary, of blessed memory, the Rebbe's brother-in-law. (Photo courtesy of the Shafran family in memory of Rabbi Benzion Shafran)

On one of those occasions, the Rebbe, of righteous memory, said that he was approached by a journalism student shortly after the passing of the Rayatz. The young student asked the Rebbe to briefly describe the Rayatz, his father-in-law. The Rebbe said, "The Rebbe [Rayatz] was privy to the loftiest spiritual heights and yet never forgot the simple people, people's problems, the mundane things in life."

This description, I feel, also profoundly fits our Rebbe, of righteous memory.

The Rebbe was a brilliant Torah scholar, his teachings covering all aspects and strata of Jewish life. Perhaps the Rebbe would have preferred a private life dedicated to study, but instead, he accepted the leadership of the Chabad movement, and dealt with the everyday issues of countless individuals.

The Rebbe never wasted a second and slept very little. He would return home at 7 p.m., 10 p.m., 12 a.m., 1 a.m., after seeing people in private audience. Even at 6 a.m., there were lights on in his house. Though only he and his wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, lived in the house, there was much movement.

Most nights, the Rebbe would leave his office with a brown paper bag or briefcase filled with requests for blessings, advice, and scholarly questions ranging from Torah law and Talmud to Kabbalah and Chabad philosophy. When the Rebbe returned to his office in the morning, he was ready to respond to each letter. Clearly, the Rebbe could not have rested much at home if he'd returned late the previous night and had already formulated responses to the many letters he took home with him.

Devotion to His Brothers and Sisters

June 13, 2010 11:53 AM

Shortly after Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who later became the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, arrived in the United States of America in 1941, his father-in-law, the Rebbe Rayatz, requested that he lead a Chassidic gathering, a farbrengen, on the Shabbat preceding every new Jewish month, known as Shabbat Mevarchim. And Rabbi Menachem Mendel did so religiously.

Following the passing of his father-in-law a few years later, though the new Rebbe refused to officially accept the mantle of leadership for an entire year, he continued the tradition of leading the monthly farbrengens, as per the request of his revered father-in-law, of righteous memory.

On one of those occasions, the Rebbe, of righteous memory, said that he was approached by a journalism student shortly after the passing of the Rayatz. The young student asked the Rebbe to briefly describe the Rayatz, his father-in-law. The Rebbe said, "The Rebbe [Rayatz] was privy to the loftiest spiritual heights and yet never forgot the simple people, people's problems, the mundane things in life."

This description, I feel, also profoundly fits our Rebbe, of righteous memory.

The Rebbe was a brilliant Torah scholar, his teachings covering all aspects and strata of Jewish life. Perhaps the Rebbe would have preferred a private life dedicated to study, but instead, he accepted the leadership of the Chabad movement, and dealt with the everyday issues of countless individuals.

The Rebbe never wasted a second and slept very little. He would return home at 7 p.m., 10 p.m., 12 a.m., 1 a.m., after seeing people in private audience. Even at 6 a.m., there were lights on in his house. Though only he and his wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, lived in the house, there was much movement.

Most nights, the Rebbe would leave his office with a brown paper bag or briefcase filled with requests for blessings, advice, and scholarly questions ranging from Torah law and Talmud to Kabbalah and Chabad philosophy. When the Rebbe returned to his office in the morning, he was ready to respond to each letter. Clearly, the Rebbe could not have rested much at home if he'd returned late the previous night and had already formulated responses to the many letters he took home with him.

A Photographers Historical Treasures

June 9, 2010 3:53 PM

Yossi Melamed reviews one of his preserved negatives.
Yossi Melamed reviews one of his preserved negatives.
Binyomin Dubroff joined me in my visit to the apartment of Yossi Melamed, a veteran photographer. I was going to interview Yossi, and Binyomin's close friendship with the photographer would hopefully make the interview more comfortable.

We sat in Yossi's small dining room and I watched in wonder as Yossi flipped through albums and gazed at negatives, smoking as he reminisced about the events his photos chronicled. Listening to what Yossi had to say was an experience in itself; most importantly, however, Yossi gave me several rolls of film to scan and share with the public.

His pictures – a veritable treasure that documents the history of the Jewish community for close to three decades – are carefully stored and dated.

(Yossi never used a digital camera, and he was shocked at how many pictures I was taking, considering how careful he was with every picture he took with his film camera—when every click cost money!)

I have already begun working on several accounts based on the events in Yossi's pictures—stay tuned.

Meanwhile, however, here is a short video clip from my visit to his home, wherein he speaks about one of the events he photographed: A group of wounded Israelis that visited the Rebbe.


I also present several samples of Yossi's pictures, to give you an idea of the difference between the images I already had, and the ones I scanned from the negatives Yossi now gave me.

Sample 1:







Sample 2:




Rebbe’s Talk to Worcester Women Discovered Decades Later

June 1, 2010 2:41 PM

Rochele Fogelman, is a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Worcester, Massachusetts, for more than 60 years. She was sent in 1947, together with her husband Rabbi Herschel, by the then Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory, to disseminate the teachings of the Torah.

The Fogelmans founded a Jewish day school and Rebbetzin Fogelman organized and taught classes to the women in Worcester.

Rochele Fogelman gives a lecture
Rochele Fogelman gives a lecture

In 1953, Rebbetzin Fogelman requested from the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, to grant a private audience with a group of women who attended her classes. The Rebbe agreed to meet with them and on a sunny June day they drove from Worcester to Brooklyn, a trip of about six hours in those days, to meet the Rebbe.

The Rebbe spoke to them in Yiddish, as most of the women were raised by immigrant parents and understood the language. However, the Rebbe requested that Rebbetzin Fogelman translate his words into English and transcribe them and send him the transcript. She did so.

The transcript remained in the Rebbe's room until some years later when it was sent by the Rebbe – together with many other talks – to the archives of the central Agudas Chassidei Chabad Library, at Lubavitch World Headquarters.

The English transcript (which was since translated into Hebrew and published) was discovered in the library by a team of scholars working on obtaining the talks of the Rebbe and preparing them for print. On the top of the page, in the Rebbe's handwriting, it stated, "Talk before the women of Worcester, 1953."

The Jewish community in Worcester has since exponentially grown. To the Fogelmans, this transcript is a reminder of the Rebbe's encouragement to a group of women to get involved in Jewish life in their community. And while at the time some of the locals understood Yiddish, today, when the English translation was finally discovered, the locals who gathered in the Fogelman home to hear the talk would have never understood the Yiddish.

Click here for the text of the Rebbe's talk, as recorded in English by Rebbetzin Fogelman fifty-seven years ago.

Many have struggled to describe Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, the seventh leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. A task so daunting due to the multifariousness of the Rebbe’s personality and achievements.

Rather than attempting to describe the Rebbe, this forum will share hitherto unknown tidbits of information about his life and teachings — information that was recorded in writing, audio and video.

Join us as we explore the Rebbe’s life and teachings. Manuscripts, letters, firsthand experiences and more.
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