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!