Wednesday, February 28, 2007
SAVED BY A PURIM SONG
A STORY BY MENACHEM ZIEGELBOIM
Many people flocked to Medzibuzh to spend Purim in the holy presence of the Baal Shem Tov. The forest near Medzibuzh seemed to suddenly wake up from its wintry slumber. The town of Medzibuzh was hustling and bustling with people, and wagons packed with Chassidim could be seen driving by.
Everybody knew that the Baal Shem Tov would celebrate the holy day with tremendous joy, and since our Sages say that the awesome day – Yom HaKippurim is K’Purim (like Purim) – the Rebbe would pray on behalf of one and all on this day.
Purim day. The joy of the festival filled everyone’s hearts. The streets teemed with costumed children. Despite the revelry, all knew that this was just a prelude to the evening hours, when the Baal Shem Tov would host the Purim meal.
Many of the guests came to Medzibuzh solely to be present at the Purim meal. “If Yom Kippur is like Purim,” they said, “then the meal that takes place towards evening is like the Neila prayer.” In addition, they knew that during the meal, the Rebbe was in a particularly good mood and that he dispensed brachos [blessings] generously as in the “gifts to the poor” that one gives on Purim.
People crowded around the long table. The greatest of the disciples, the Chevraya Kadisha, were eager to hear the Rebbe’s holy words. The Baal Shem Tov’s face shone, yet there was also a sense of deep seriousness about him. The sun’s rays streamed in through the windows of the Beis Midrash as the sun set. The Chassidim burst into a lively tune and the Baal Shem Tov sat there with his face radiating joy.
* * *
Among the disciples of the Chevraya Kadisha was the Baal Shem Tov’s beloved disciple, Rabbi Meir Margolis, the Rav of Lvov, and his young son, who sat on his lap. The child was all of eight years of age, and his father had brought him to his holy Rebbe for the first time so he could gaze upon the Baal Shem Tov’s face, a segula for fear of Heaven. The child was recognized as a talented lad when he was only five, but his outstanding quality was his remarkable voice.
When he sang at the Shabbos and Yom Tov meals at home with his family, all were transfixed. The child would sit with eyes closed and pour out his heart in sweet song. It wasn’t surprising then, that the Baal Shem Tov asked little Shaul’ke to sing something.
Everybody looked at them expectantly. The Rebbe watched and waited with a smile playing on his holy lips. The child thought for a moment, tilted his head back, closed his eyes, and sang a new version of “Shoshanas Yaakov.”
The tune started off slowly and quietly, but in the next stanza, the joy in the tune began to come forth, to penetrate the listeners’ hearts, and to fill the Beis Midrash with its sweetness.
The pure, clear voice of the boy grew stronger. The crowd’s curiosity was replaced with rapt attention. The niggun captivated them all, and overpowered them with feelings of joy and loftiness.
The Rebbe listened closely, his eyes closed in dveykus, and his face on fire. When the boy finished the song, and everybody was still spellbound by the impression the niggun had made on them, the Baal Shem Tov opened his eyes and looked gratefully at Shaul’ke.
The day after Purim, Rabbi Meir Margolis went to the Baal Shem Tov to say goodbye. The Rebbe greeted R. Meir and his son warmly, and in the few minutes that they had together, the Baal Shem Tov gazed at Shaul’ke with great pleasure. Even R. Meir, who was accustomed to signs of affection from the Rebbe, was amazed by the special recognition his son was getting from the Baal Shem Tov.
Suddenly, the Rebbe’s face grew serious and he sat in silent thought for some time. Then he said to R. Meir, “Perhaps you will leave your young son with me for a few days?”
R. Meir was astonished by the request, but the Baal Shem Tov went on, “Leave him here and I’ll make sure he continues with his studies, as usual. After Shabbos I’ll send him back home to Lvov.”
R. Meir regarded the Baal Shem Tov’s request as an order. He looked at his son for a moment, as though trying to read the boy’s mind.
Shaul’ke immediately understood what was expected of him, and nodded his head in acquiescence.
“Yes, Rebbe!” exclaimed R. Meir happily, “my son will stay until after Shabbos. I am sure that he will absorb much holiness and purity in his stay here.” The Rebbe looked pleased.
The days passed quickly. Shaul’ke stayed with the Baal Shem Tov for Shabbos too, and his songs at the Shabbos meals were a spiritual delight for the Rebbe and the Chassidim. Early Sunday afternoon, the Baal Shem Tov abandoned his usual routine and told Alexei the wagon driver to harness his horses and prepare for a trip.
While Alexei busied himself with the horses, the Baal Shem Tov asked three of his greatest disciples to join him on the journey. The disciples were happy to comply, for to be in their Rebbe’s presence on a mystery trip was a treat. They knew that on these trips it was an auspicious time for them to ask things they couldn’t ask in the Beis Midrash.
The Rebbe left the house with Shaul’ke’s hand in his. The disciples were waiting outside. Without further ado, they climbed into the wagon and the horses led them out of the town to some location unknown to all except the Baal Shem Tov.
The Rebbe sat there quietly, thinking. His brow furrowed and his disciples glanced at him somewhat worriedly. After traveling for some time, they arrived in an unfamiliar town and Alexei relaxed the reins and allowed the horses to go on their own. Suddenly the Baal Shem Tov looked out the window as though searching for something, and then he motioned to Alexei to stop the wagon.
The group alit from the wagon and the disciples followed the Baal Shem Tov. They walked until they were standing in front of a large building from which emitted hoarse shouting. The disciples were taken aback but the Baal Shem Tov confidently strode forward, while holding Shaul’ke’s little hand in his own.
The Baal Shem Tov opened the door to a bar and they entered a completely different world. A cloud comprised of alcohol and smoke hit them in the face. The Baal Shem Tov walked in with Shaul’ke as the disciples obediently followed. There were farmers rolling about on the floor, wallowing in filth. Others sat at tables, holding half-empty bottles of whiskey. The alcoholic vapors merged with the choking tobacco odors to make for a suffocating atmosphere.
Only a few of the locals turned to look at the newcomers, but they gazed in astonishment. Here was a distinguished looking rabbi, beard and all, and he strode over to the counter and banged it vigorously for attention.
“Quiet!” the Baal Shem Tov called out, his voice overpowering the din.
Most of the drunkards managed to direct their attention to the Baal Shem Tov who began speaking to them in their rough language.
“Hardworking farmers, listen to what I have to say! I have a little boy with me who sings beautifully. In all your life, you haven’t heard as sweet a voice as his. I brought him here to cheer you up, but you must listen closely to his song.”
The Baal Shem Tov’s announcement thundered in the sudden silence, and the drunks looked curiously at the Rebbe and his retinue. The Baal Shem Tov inclined towards Shaul’ke and whispered, “Please sing the ‘Shoshanas Yaakov’ again. Show these goyim your amazing singing abilities. Don’t be afraid. Nothing bad will happen to you.”
The child looked wide-eyed at the Baal Shem Tov, seemingly surprised by the request to sing a holy tune that belonged in the holy Beis Midrash and not in a place such as this. But the Rebbe had requested and he began to sing.
This time too, he started off quietly and slowly, then grew louder and increased the tempo. The sweet notes filled the air. The silence that followed the Baal Shem Tov’s speech grew even deeper as Shaul’ke sang. From their spots on the floor, the drunkards looked at Shaul’ke in wonder. The Baal Shem Tov and his disciples concentrated once again on the incredible song.
When Shaul’ke finished his captivating performance, the crowd burst into loud applause and shouted, “Bravo! Encore!”
The Baal Shem Tov looked pleased. He looked around the room as though searching for someone. He scanned the crowd and then approached three boys [who were] playing cards. He pulled each of them out of their seats and drew them into the center of the room.
“You heard how Shaul’ke sang so beautifully?” the Baal Shem Tov yelled in mock anger.
The three men stammered “yes” and nodded vigorously. The rest of the crowd watched and nodded along with them.
“What’s your name?” the Baal Shem Tov asked one of them.
“Zu-Zur-Zuraik,” stammered the second.
“And I’m Padrich,” croaked the third.
The Baal Shem Tov nodded gravely and scowled at them in feigned anger.
“Listen you three,” he thundered, “see this boy who sang for you? His name is Shaul’ke. You hear? Shaul’ke is his name. He’s a good boy. Remember this! Don’t you dare forget him. Understand?” The three of them assented.
The Baal Shem Tov was silent. The three nodded in fright and stared at the Baal Shem Tov. The Baal Shem Tov turned to Shaul’ke, pinched his cheek lovingly, patted his head and walked out with him. The three disciples silently followed, absolutely bewildered by what they had just witnessed.
“What did their Rebbe want from these gentiles? Why did he tell Shaul’ke to sing “Shoshanas Yaakov” in a bar for gentiles?”
They didn’t dare ask the Baal Shem Tov. He certainly knew what he was doing. Something was afoot and time would tell what it was. The Rebbe returned to his place on the wagon as did the others, and they traveled back to Medzibuzh.
Years passed and Shaul’ke grew up. His childish features matured and a brown beard framed his face. He had become a successful merchant who was known for his wealth and business dealings. That year there was more rain than usual and the cold was more penetrating. Adar was approaching and people’s spirits began to lift just a bit. R. Shaul had begun thinking about the upcoming Yom Tov of Purim. “It would be the right thing to do to spend Purim at home with my family,” he mused. “They’re certainly hoping I’ll join them for the festivities.”
Shaul hurriedly wound up a number of business deals and postponed the remainder. He quickly packed and began the trip home to Lvov. The trip took a few days. He tried to hurry despite the mud that filled the roads. He yearned to see his family once again and he left the main road for a shortcut through the forest.
His coach penetrated deeply into the forest as the horses trudged through the trees. Shaul relaxed, as businessmen do when they’ve completed their business dealings successfully.
“I wonder what Moshe’le is up to,” he thought of his young son. “He can probably say a few words by now... And Shmerel, no doubt, has made progress and has begun learning Mishnayos in school. And Chana’le...”
He stopped in horror and looked about. “Who screamed? Where am I?” He jumped up in terror and looked all around and realized that this wasn’t a dream. He had been daydreaming about his children, but here in the forest, stood three menacing characters brandishing knives.
One of them called out to him to get down from the coach, as he waved his knife threateningly. It finally sank in; Shaul was being held up by robbers.
One of the three approached him and Shaul put up his hands helplessly. They made a quick search of Shaul’s clothes and belongings while one of them pushed Shaul into the mud. His hands and feet were tied to the trunk of a tree, and Shaul began to realize that his end was nigh.
He looked about him in desperation but help was nowhere to be found. There was only the forest, the robbers, and himself.
One of the men came over to him and snarled, “Prepare to die.”
Trembling in fright, Shaul tried to focus on his final Vidui [confession]. “These are my final moments,” he thought resignedly. Images of his parents were clear in his mind’s eye, as were his dear wife Sarah’le and the sweet faces of his children. His eyes filled with tears as he thought of leaving everything he cherished behind.
Thoughts of the past continued to flit by: the Beis Midrash of his Rebbe...an eight-year-old child – himself – sitting on his father’s lap...his father whispering to him to sing...
Shaul opened his eyes and faced the grim reality. He looked at the robbers who sat around a bonfire, eating and talking amongst themselves. His mind worked furiously as he thought about how these were his final moments. A cool breeze made him shiver. The trees rustled ominously and the shriek of a forest denizen rent the air.
‘Well, I wanted to be at home to hear the Megilla and to fulfill the mitzvos of Purim, but apparently, this is not what Hashem wants. I can make my peace with that but at least I should do a little something in honor of Purim. What can I do while tied up like this? I will sing that “Shoshanas Yaakov” niggun that I sang for the Rebbe!
Shaul began to sing, and although he sang quietly, he could be heard clearly in the silence of the forest. For some reason, the robbers didn’t shout at him to be quiet. Shaul closed his eyes tightly. He didn’t want the sight of the hoodlums to disturb his concentration. His tremulous voice wove a spell and it seemed as though everything stopped to listen.
For some reason, his voice was more clear and beautiful than ever, like it was back when he was a child, but this time his hands were tied.
He felt himself transported, and no longer thought of the forest and his untimely demise. He began singing the joyous stanza and his voice rose easily and flowed like a ship that sails confidently through the stormy waves.
Shaul finished the song slowly, in his attempt to forestall his inevitable end, and then he opened his eyes and saw the three men facing him. Their mouths were open and their hands were outstretched as though holding something invisible. They stood there like that for a long moment. Then they roused themselves from their frozen state and hesitantly approached Shaul.
Shaul was terrified as he prepared to meet his end with the blade of a knife. But the three men stood there, half a step away from him. He looked at them and beheld something strange, though he himself didn’t know what it was.
The knife was still grasped in the hand of the one who had bound him, but the eyes of the threesome seemed softer and kinder. One of them whispered, “Is it you, Shaul’ke?”
It was as though a light turned on in Shaul’s mind. “Anton? Zuraik? Padrich?” he whispered in incredulity.
The three men trembled and they looked utterly confused. They untied the thick ropes that bound Shaul to the tree.
“Your rabbi... we haven’t forgotten him. It was thirty years ago when a boy sang that song. The rabbi said we should not harm him. His song was so sweet; we couldn’t possibly forget you, Shaul’ke.”
That year, Shaul’s voice trembled as he uttered the words of the bracha at the end of the Megilla: “Shoshanas Yaakov – the rose of Yaakov was cheerful and glad when they jointly saw Mordechai robed in royal blue. You have been their eternal salvation, and their hope throughout the generations.”
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Andy Statman – an Ahava Supreme
Andy Statman probably needs no introduction from me. But perhaps I can divulge some lesser known facts about him. He is a baal teshuva, who, I believe, came to Judaism through Breslov Chassidus. His musical inclination played no small part in his teshuva. And although he has recorded the music of Breslov, Chabad, Carlebach and others, he davens in the Modzitzer Shtibel in Flatbush, NY, and has recorded some beautiful Modzitz music which is not to be found on other recordings.
Some brief excerpts from his bio on his website:
Statman's musical soul journey began early, when he was a child in Queens, not far from his current home in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Born into a family with a long line of cantors and some well-known professional musicians in the family tree, young Andy grew up singing Chassidic melodies in the afternoon Jewish school his otherwise secular parents sent him to, and listening to show tunes, klezmer, classics -- and every other variety of music playing within earshot…After feeling a tug away from bluegrass during his late teens, Statman, stirred at the time by John Coltrane's experimental jazz, found himself compelled to master the saxophone….
[Eventually, the] lightning struck: "I realized that I was born a Jew," says Statman, "and that it wasn't by accident. I needed to find my own spirituality in my music and in my life my own roots, not someone else's." Statman’s hunt for his heritage progressed slowly, met by small, incremental changes in his everyday practice -- laying of tefillin and a prayer service here, a traditional Sabbath there. And there were those prayers again, those niggunim from his childhood.
It all made Statman wonder: Why was no one playing (professionally, at least) the instrumental music to accompany this living Chassidic tradition? Whatever happened to that great Old World Jewish music he had heard as a kid at home? He took it as a personal challenge: Unearthing this musical tradition - what we now call klezmer - would help him to unearth his own roots…
To Statman, the alt-neu klezmer music was about much more than reclaiming cultural roots. It was about ecstatic devotion, recreating the transcendent prayer of the founder of Chassidism, the Baal Shem Tov -- prayer he was engaging in more and more regularly as he grew closer to Orthodox life.
An Ahava Supreme
These are excerpts from an article by Samuel Freedman that recently appeared in The Jerusalem Post. Please follow this link for the entire article.
"Let us sing all songs to G-d," John Coltrane wrote in late 1964, shortly after he had finished recording the jazz album that would be entitled A Love Supreme…the record both exuded reverence and iconoclasm. It was a faith offering that soared and ranged way beyond the musical bounds of gospel and hymn.
Performance by performance, CD by CD, over the course of the past decade Andy Statman has been producing the Jewish equivalent, a body of praise music that is Orthodox in belief and heterodox in style, something one can fairly call "An Ahava Supreme." …
Late in 2006, Statman released two more exquisite albums, East Flatbush Blues and Awakening From Above. Taken together, they reflect his awesome scope as a musician… the latter [recording is] a collection of Chassidic niggunim with him on clarinet.
…just as John Coltrane came to a pivotal moment in his artistry when he kicked a longtime heroin addiction, a recovery he attributed to G-d, so was Statman's course changed by revelation. As Statman recalled [in Jon Kalish's radio documentary], once he embraced Orthodox Judaism, he found he no longer needed klezmer to be his touchstone to Jewish tradition. He became increasingly drawn to the religious music of the Chassidic world.
That choice was propitious in all sorts of ways. The Chassidim take more seriously than most other Jews the biblical admonition to praise the Almighty with the psaltery and timbrel… Statman is…a Coltrane-like figure with his combination of impeccable technique and boundless imagination.
As anyone who has ever spent the night of Simchas Torah among the dancing crowds in Crown Heights can attest, Chassidic music is music not only of ecstasy but of improvisation - rolling, shape-shifting, melismatic. For Statman, then, it provides the kind of basic chordal latticework that modal jazz supplied to Coltrane, a foundation from which to invent. And he has done exactly that in a series of CDs stretching back to 1997 - Between Heaven and Earth, The Hidden Light, Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge, and Awakening From Above...
Part of his equanimity certainly derives from the understanding that his music is a form of worship rather than mere entertainment; part of it probably comes from the satisfaction of being known as a "musician's musician."
But when you take account of the entire oeuvre, you can't help but recognize that, even if Andy Statman does not have one specific recording that is a summation in the way "A Love Supreme" was for Coltrane, he has achieved something just as significant.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
Rabbi Avraham Blumenkrantz ZT"L
By HaModia Staff
The Torah world was deeply saddened by the petira [passing] Thursday afternoon of HaRav Avraham Blumenkrantz Zt''l, 63, internationally respected Rav and posek [Halachist] and Halacha teacher to two generations of women in the New York area. He passed away from complications that followed major heart surgery he underwent last week.
Rav Blumenkrantz, who was the Rav of Beis Medrash Ateres Yisrael in Far Rockaway NY, was also the "Pesach Rebbe" to tens of thousands of people he never met, through the publication of his annual The Laws of Pesach: A Digest, which, for many American families, was the guide to making Pesach.
The book's hundreds of pages contained not only a wealth of details about Hilchos Pesach, Pesach preparations and detailed product and medication lists, but important information about commercial food preparation in general, Chadash [laws of new grains], Shmita (Laws of the seventh year’s crops, when applicable) and even Pesach recipes and remedies.
Rav Blumenkrantz taught in many girls' high schools and seminaries, and gave shiurim [classes] at numerous Torah gatherings. A talmid muvhak [distinguished disciple] of HaRav Moshe Feinstein Zt''l, Rav Blumenkrantz fought zealously to uphold and increase Kedushas Yisrael [Jewish holiness] in the face of America's many nisyonos [trials], and was greatly beloved, especially by his mispallelim [congregants].
His home was a known makom chessed [place of kindness], and he made himself available at all times to people from all walks of life worldwide who sought his counsel and advice.
A master of Ahavas Yisrael [love for his fellow Jew], Rav Blumenkrantz listened to all with an open heart, and answered even the most complex she'eilos [queries] in a caring and non-judgmental manner.
HaRav Blumenkrantz is survived by his Eishes Chayil [wife], Rebbitzen Shaindel, as well as sons and daughters to whom he was an exceptionally devoted father. He also leaves behind a brother, HaRav Shlomo Blumenkrantz of Kensington [Brooklyn], and a sister, Mrs. Sarah Etel Berkowitz of Eretz Yisrael.
After a levaya attended by thousands in Far Rockaway on Friday morning, Rav Blumenkrantz is being brought today to Eretz Yisrael for Kevura [burial]. The Levaya will begin at 9:30 pm at Yerushalayim’s Shamgar funeral home.
Yehi zichro Baruch! May his memory be for a blessing!
"Until the last moments of the departure of the Aron [coffin] onto the plane, people were on line waiting to be given permission by airport security people, to stand next to the Aron, one or two people at a time. Until the Aron was being driven away, people didn’t want to leave. What testimony to how beloved he was."
My wife and I were privileged to have known Rabbi Blumenkrantz, from the "early days" over 30 years ago. Realizing that he passed away at the rather young age of 62, it means that he was teaching us while yet in his 20s – and we were not the first!
*Rabbi Blumenkrantz wrote a book entitled "Gefen Porioh, The Laws of Niddah: a Digest," published by Simcha Graphics in 1984.
In their article about Rav Blumenkrantz’s passing, Arutz 7 noted that the website which broke the news was the Yeshiva World News. They also noted that there was a flood of responses. In addition, the website Vos iz Neias [What’s News?] also posted it, and was similarly flooded with responses. Between them, there have been some 150 responses since Thursday evening. What follows are some of the selected comments and responses from these two articles.
"I was privileged to have him as a teacher as well. He was an expert in Hilchos Shabbos and a wonderful human being. Klal Yisrael has lost a treasure!"
"The Rav Zatz’l was my wife’s Halacha teacher, my one-on-one Choson class Rebbe and our Mesader Kiddushin…"
"What a tragic loss to Klal Yisrael. Thanks to his superhuman efforts on publishing his Pesach Digest, hundreds of thousands of Yidden [Jews] knew what was permissible and what was not. I remember years ago with only 4-5 hours to Yom Tov, my husband wanted to call him with a complex Pesach shaila. When he finally got through to him, he was so nice and in no rush to end the conversation, until my husband understood the Psak together with his reasoning. A true gem of a Tzaddik."
"Rabbi Blumenkrantz was a talmid muvhak of Rav Moshe [Feinstein] zt"l, and was very familiar with Reb Moshe’s psakim on a vast array of shaylos affecting our modern day life... He will be sorely missed by all for his thorough yet precise teshuvos. Many remember him from his being on the radio for many years for days before Pesach answering shaylos on all inyonim [matters]: koshering, medicines, etc.
He put out a few sefarim [books] in English as well as Hebrew. He was an ish yosher [upright man], respected by all segments of Chareidi Jewry. He had a Kollel hora’ah in Far Rockaway. When the Pesach Digest actually evolved as a fundraiser for the Kollel, he put out a divrei Torah sheet for Far Rockaway and the Five Towns every week. In our day, to lose a talmid chacham like this is a major loss…"
"Who can we turn to now? We sorely needed Rabbi Blumenkrantz to pull through. He was a King among the Kings. I am unaware of any Gadol who allowed himself to be accessible at all times of the day, or night, whether he knew the people or not. Furthermore he treated everyone with dignity, and didn’t make money or donations a matter of importance. Who can we turn to now?"
"I was Zoche to daven in his shul for many years. I never heard a bad word come out of his mouth. We will miss him dearly - a mispallel [congregant]."
"My wife had him as a Halacha rebbe in high school so many years ago and whenever I would meet him in a store or at a simcha or even on the street, I would go over to him and give him a Shalom Aleichem, and he would know exactly who I was, even though I never had him as a rebbe He just was an unbelievable person and a great Posek Hador. He will be surely missed by the thousands of his talmidos and by the many people that used his Pesach Digest for knowing what was Kosher L’Pesach or not…"
"Though I did not have Rabbi Blumenkrantz zt”l as a teacher, I personally benefited from the Rav and so did people I know. I called Rabbi Blumenkrantz a few times with shailos, and was always answered right away. One time, an issue came up, and the Rav made time for me to personally speak to him in his home. I am so glad that I had the zechus to be in the tzaddik’s home, though only for a few minutes. When a certain medical shaila came up on Shabbos, we knew whom to turn to. I had the zechus to daven twice in the shul, and also heard Rabbi Blumenkrantz give a Navi shiur. His warm, gentle voice was such a pleasure to listen to. The Pesach book was a staple in my house; we are holding on to the copy from last year. A relative of mine had Rabbi Blumenkrantz as a teacher, both in high school and seminary. Another person I know had a major kashrus issue, and the Rav spent three days with her helping her sort it out - always patient, always helpful."
And finally: "I had the great privilege of having Rabbi Blumenkrantz as my teacher in high school over 20 years ago. He permeated kedusha in everything he did. His kindness and caring, the way he related to us as students, the concern that he had for Hashem’s Torah, all of this made us realize that there was something so special about him.
After I graduated I still called Rabbi Blumenkrantz from time to time. I remember that about a year ago I called him and asked him for advice for a situation that was difficult to me. He helped me see the situation in a spiritual way, that freed me from the emotional frustration of what was happening and allowed me to deal correctly. This is just one small example of what he did on a continual basis for anyone and everyone who solicited his help. I will always remember his kind gentle voice and his kind actions."
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
A Tug on the Beard
After his father’s petira [passing], Rebbe Yisrael assumed the mantle of leadership of Ger from 1948 until his death in 1977. For those 29 years, he rebuilt Ger and was a major force in the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah [Council of Torah Sages] of Agudas Yisrael. Following the death of his father in 1948, he became a forceful leader of his growing followers in the Ger Chassidic movement as well as becoming very active in the political life of the State of Israel.
He left a great impression on people from all walks of life that came in contact with him, and was highly respected in all Chassidic circles. His idea was to elevate every person to somehow become one level higher than his present state. There are countless stories from individuals (Chassidim and non-Chassidim) who met the Rebbe, which relate how he had a tremendous spiritual impact on them and how this strong impression will never leave them. What makes this even more impressive is that many of these encounters with the Rebbe were for a very short period of time.
There are some amazing accounts of Rebbe Yisrael in the past week’s English HaModia, magazine section, including the accounts below. A truly amazing story there, “The Debt,” is a must-read. At present, it is too long for me to post here.
Sometimes a tug on a man’s beard can be an act of cruelty; at others, a sign of deep affection and concern. This obviously depends on who is doing the tugging, and how it is done. So without further ado, here are two examples in the life of the Beis Yisrael Ztvk”l.
During the shelling of Warsaw at the outset of World War II, Rebbe Yisrael’s house took a direct hit. The entire front wall crumbled to dust, but the rear half of the front rooms and the rest of the building remained intact, saving the residents inside.
Storm troopers broke into the Imrei Emes’ private minyan and took Rebbe Yisrael and a dozen others to forced labor, leaving behind only the Rebbe [the Imrei Emes] and his brother, Reb Moshe Betzalel, Hy”d. Rebbe Yisrael was miraculously released an hour later, after one of the Nazis tried to pull out his beard.
A fundamental theme in Chassidic philosophy is the relationship between the Rebbe and his talmidim. Similar to the law of gravity in the physical world, which moves physical matter to a central location, there is also a central force in the world of ruchniyus [spirituality] that causes neshamos [souls] to gravitate toward their origin, toward Hashem. It is the task of a tzaddik hador to preserve the function of this gravitation. The talmid's obedience and bitul [self-effacement] enable the tzaddik to protect this neshama from spiritual peril.
In this context, the Beis Yisrael would often mention the Zohar's statement that Moshe Rabbeinu is present in every neshama. This means that there is a fusion of the Rebbe’s soul with that of his talmid, and this fusion safeguards the neshama. It wasn't uncommon for a young Chassid to feel, for a limited period of time, that the yetzer hara [evil inclination] had simply 'forgotten' him. This feeling was a window of opportunity for unhindered self-development for the Chassid. A Chassid maskil, an insightful disciple, knew to ascribe this gift not to his own greatness, but to the Rebbe's unstinting dedication to his talmid.
The great Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Pshischa zt''l, used to relate this cornerstone of Chassidic thought through his interpretation, b'derech remez [as a hint], of Shlomo Hamelech [King Solomon]'s words… "Don't say that previous times were better than the present, for the wisdom that was present in previous times wasn't a possession - it was on loan.'' On the other hand, no person can sustain a level of avoda [Divine service] that is above his spiritual capacity. As such, even a temporary use of a high madreiga [level] is an indication of one's real potential. Providing such an opportunity is the greatest gift a Rebbe can give his talmid.
A young devoted Chassid once needed to travel to certain places where he was challenged with shmiras einayim, the need to guard his eyes from seeing improper things, and he was genuinely worried about the negative effect it might have on his neshama. The Rebbe zt”l did not need to be told about his Chassid's inner tribulations, for he was attached to his soul and he felt them as if they were his own concern. When the young Chassid was about to leave, the real gently pulled his beard and bid him farewell. The Chassid considered this pulling of his beard to be an act of affection, but then something very odd happened to him: the journey passed without any temptation whatsoever - the yetzer hara had indeed 'forgotten' him.
Upon his return, his suspicions were proven true when the Rebbe pulled his beard again and asked rhetorically, ''Is anything left of your beard?" Needless to say, the chassed found himself back at his original level of avodas Hashem.
One could look at this episode as a mofes, an act of Divine inspiration. In reality, though, it was much greater - it was an act of creation. It detected an area of ruchniyus within the Chassid that he himself had not been aware of, and that challenged him for the rest of his life. From that point on, he longed for the pure state of mind and soul that he now realized existed within him.
Zechuso Yagein Aleinu v’al Kol Yisrael – May the Beis Yisrael’s merits protect us all!
Monday, February 12, 2007
The Modzitzer Rebbe Shlita’s Visit to America
From February 8-25, the Modzitzer Rebbe Shlita will be making his first U.S. visit since becoming Rebbe. Since the passing of his father - the Nachalas Dan Ztvk”l in Sivan, the Rebbe has taken great strides in strengthening the Chassidus and reaching out to Jews interested in the Torah and Negina that is so uniquely Modzitz. Now, the Rebbe Shlita will be coming to New York with a noteworthy entourage.
Join the Rebbe Shlita for Shabbos davening, a Tish, Shalosh Seudos, or Melave Malka. Attend one of his shiurim or Sichos. Ask for a bracha for yourself, your children or someone else in need. Nourish your neshama with the Torah, negina and geshmak ['sweet taste'] of a Modzitzer Shabbos.
The highlight of the Rebbe Shlita’s visit will be a Shabbos spent in 3 different communities: Parshas Yisro [Feb. 9-10] - in Far Rockaway/Lawrence and Woodmere*; Parshas Mishpatim [Feb. 16-17] - at Beis Medrash Imrei Shaul (Modzitz) in Flatbush; and Parshas Teruma [Feb. 23-24] - at the Menorah Hall in Boro Park.
*Friday night Tish at the Aguda Shul of Far Rockaway; Shabbos Morning at Sha'arei Tefilla in Lawrence; and Shalosh Seudos at Aish Kodesh of Woodmere.
In addition, the Rebbe Shlita will be in Monsey for Rosh Chodesh Adar, and then in Lakewood. He will speak at numerous Yeshivos, meet with Gedolim across the spectrum, as well as meet with individuals wishing to seek his guidance, bracha and advice.
There will also be a Melave Malka at the West Side Institutional Synagogue in Manhattan, on Motzaei Shabbos Yisro; and at the Menorah Hall in Boro Park on Motzaei Shabbos Teruma.
For further details, contact the Va’ad Chassidei Modzitz of America:
Telephone: (718) 253-7006 or (718) 437-4499; or via E-mail or the Modzitz Yahoo website.
Monday, February 05, 2007
"The only way a soul can move about is through a song. Without song the soul remains stuck in one place.
In the Holy Temple in Jerusalem there were fifteen steps corresponding to the fifteen Shir HaMaalos (Songs of ascent) in the Book of Psalms [Tehillim] (120-135), which the Levites would sing as they stood on the steps. In order to climb from one step to the next a song had to be sung...
...in the spiritually intact Holy Temple, where spirit met matter and the physical was seamlessly aligned with its inner purpose, you simply could not move from one step to the next unless your soul was lifted through song."
Read the whole article here.