Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Today, Yud [10th of] Shvat, is the yahrzeit of Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880-1950), the sixth rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, who was one of the most remarkable Jewish personalities of the twentieth century. In his seventy years, he encountered every conceivable challenge to Jewish life: the persecutions and pogroms of Czarist Russia, Communism's war on Judaism, and melting-pot America's apathy and scorn toward the Torah and its precepts. The Rebbe was unique in that he not only experienced these chapters in Jewish history -- as did many of his generation -- but that, as a leader of his people, he actually faced them down, often single-handedly, and prevailed.
Some of his teachings about Negina:
*The Talmud presents the teachings of the Torah in a highly personalized form. Each statement is given with an author: Rabbi Akiva said such-and-such… The Talmud states: (Yerushalmi, Shabbos 1:2) When you say over a teaching you should see its author as if he were standing before you.
The previous Rebbe, says that this applies also to melody (and also telling a story). When one sings a melody relating to a great figure of the past, it is as if that person were actually present. A further point made by the previous Rebbe: “When one says over a Torah teaching, one is unifying oneself with the Nefesh, Ruach, Neshama [the lower three levels of the soul] of the author of that teaching. But if one sings his melody, one is joining with the Chaya-Yechida, [the upper two levels of his soul].” In other words, by singing the melody of a teacher one is entering into a bond which is even more powerful than that achieved by studying his Torah teaching.
*A melody should be sung with the same correctness that one would employ in citing a commentary on Torah learned from one’s teacher or Rabbi.
*Speech reveals the thought of the mind, but melody reveals the emotions of longing and delight. These stem from the inner self, from the very soul and are much higher than reason and intellect.
*Touching the Soul: Music has the potency to enter the person's consciousness and touch the essence of the soul. Thus, hearing is regarded as the most important and vital of all senses.
*A Chassidic melody fortifies hope and trust, brings joyousness, and places the home and family in a state of "light."
[thanks to A Simple Jew for these last two quotes]
The Chassidic Needle:
A Chassidic gathering often involves the injection of a medicine into the body with the prick of a needle. Chassidim rebuke one another regarding their character and behavior. These rebukes, though motivated by an inner love and a sense of concern for the spiritual health of one's fellow, often come in the form of a pricking needle -- much the same way that an injection of physical medicine, administered for positive ends and with the best of intentions, must often be accomplished by means of a prick.
But before the needle pricks living flesh, one must ensure that the needle, the hands of the injector, and the area of the injection, are all free of the most microscopic bit of foreign matter. With the neglect of this pre-condition, not only will the "remedy" be rendered utterly useless, but one endangers the very life of the patient, G-d forbid. For so long as this "contamination" remains outside, it can be eliminated or, at least, swept away; but should it enter within, G-d forbid, it inflicts great damage.
A gathering of Chassidim ("Chassidishe farbrengen") is a healing balm, a literal lifesaver, bringing unimaginable benefit. We have seen time and again how every Chassidic word penetrates to the innermost parts of the mind and heart, how every note of a Chassidic melody awakens the heart, brings it closer to goodness and cleaves it to the truth. But the healing medicines of a farbrengen are administered with a needle, that is, in a tone of rebuke. Therefore, great care must be taken that the "barb" be cleansed and sterilized of the slightest taint of antagonism and self-interest.
The Maharyatz [or Rebbe Rayatz], as the Frierdikker Rebbe was also called, lived through times of tremendous upheaval – from the Bolshevik Russian Revolution against the Czar, World Wars One and Two, through the massive assimilation of American Jewry. During his lifetime, he moved from Rostov [Russia] to Riga [Latvia] to Warsaw and Otvosk [Poland], and on to New York [America] via Berlin and Riga once again. During times of upheaval, many time-honored and ageless traditions tend to be lost: including Chabad niggunim that had been sung faithfully from the times of the Alter Rebbe, Rebbe Schneur Zalman of Liadi. The Maharyatz put much effort into preserving these niggunim, and correcting the mistakes that had come about through the travail of the tumultuous times in which he had lived.
For example, the notes to the Alter Rebbe’s famous Niggun of Four Bavos [stanzas] were published in booklets by the Rebbe, with commentary. It was noted that it was composed by the Alter Rebbe, and sung only on special occasions, such as Simchas Torah, Purim, the 19th of Kislev [the Maggid of Mezritch’s yahrzeit, and the anniversary of the Alter Rebbe’s release from prison], and at weddings of the Lubavitch Rebbe’s family. Further instructions were included as to how it should be sung: beginning with fervor and moderately, raising the volume and fervor with each stanza; until the end, which is again sung somewhat quietly.
The Frierdikker Rebbe also sought to preserve the niggunim of other early Tzaddikim, such as those of Rebbe Yechiel Michel of Zlatchov and the Shpoler Zeide.
The Rebbe compared the procedure of kashering meat [by removing the blood] to avodas Hashem, as follows: in kashering meat, it is soaked, then salted, and then rinsed. The soaking is like soaking in the words of the Rebbe; the salting is like yechidus, a private tete-a-tete with the Rebbe; and the rinsing is compared to a niggun.
UPDATE: The "Beinoni" Niggun:
Composed by R. Aharon Charitonov, one of the great baalei menagnim [composers and/or singers] of Chabad, it was beloved and chosen by the Maharyatz and given the name "the Beinoni" ["Intermediate"], the level to which every Jew should strive, according to the sefer Tanya.
The Maharyatz wryly added: "It is very difficult to become a Beinoni [as described by the Tanya], but singing the Beinoni niggun does not have to be so hard." It can be heard here.
Zechuso yagein aleinu v’al kol Yisrael, Amen!