Tuesday, July 28, 2009
REBUILDING FROM THE ASHES
PREVIOUSLY: Simcha Ma Zeh Oseh – What Does Joy Do?
The Nesivos Shalom – Why Are We Mourning?
The following was culled from a number of sources: HaMaayan, Dei’ah VeDibur, and a Hebrew parsha sheet called "Kol HaMishna." I believe the focus here is very appropriate for these days preceding Tisha B’Av…
The "Nesivos" lighting the fire at Meron...
The Slonimer Rebbe, HaRav Shalom Noach Berzovksy zt"l, was born in the Polish town of Baranovitch. His father, HaRav Moshe Avraham, was the Rav of the community. As a youth, he grew up in the sacred courtyard of Slonim and was especially close to the Slonimer Rebbe, the Beis Avraham, who held him in high esteem, predicting that R. Shalom Noach was destined for greatness.
Shortly before his passing in 1933, the Beis Avraham recommended to his cousin, R. Avraham Weinberg of Tiveria (Tiberias) that he take R. Shalom Noach as a son-in-law. (The last pre-war Slonimer Rebbe, R. Shlomo David Yehoshua Weinberg, was killed in 1944, and for ten years, no successor was named. In 1954, R. Shalom Noach's father-in-law agreed to assume the mantle of the Rebbe. His teachings are collected -- by R. Shalom Noach -- in the work Birchas Avraham, and he is known by that name.)
In 5696 (1936) he moved to Eretz Yisrael following the advice of his mentor, the Slonimer Rebbe. During the first years after his marriage he lived near his illustrious father-in-law in Tiveria, and imbibed Chassidic thought from him. It was a blend of peerless avodas Hashem and amal baTorah [striving in Torah learning]. Together, he and his father-in-law studied in the Ohr Torah Yeshiva located near the grave of Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess.
In 5702 (1941), reports of the wicked Nazi fiend wielding his sword over European Jewry reached Eretz Yisrael, HaRav Shalom Noach discovered that he had lost his entire family in the Holocaust. Barely a vestige of the Slonim Chassidic sect remained, and from the scores of shtiblach [small shuls] scattered throughout Europe, R. Shalom Noach survived…
The following describes what he went through at that time, as he wrote:
"At the depths of the destruction in the camps and the ovens, at this time the word was getting out about how bad it was…Amongst all the pools of blood and tragic news that reached us, we hear of Baranovitch, where all that is holy to us, how it is being completely destroyed…I could not calm myself, my Slonim had been sunken and destroyed…and where am I? We turn around like lunatics, with streams of tears falling from our eyes each night, over the destruction of our people, and my strength is dissipating. And then…I decided, if I cannot save the people, and least I can invest all my strength to save the spirit..." A strong inner voice welled up within him, calling unceasingly, "Why do you slumber?"
It was then that the Rebbe realized that he must take action. Since he survived, with the know-how and the ability, he had a mission: to restore 'the fallen Sukka' [hut], to erect a yeshiva in which to teach and pass on that which he received from his Rebbes and his father. After the destruction of the towns and yeshivos in Europe, he must continue the chain of the generations in Eretz Yisrael, from where it left off in Europe. "I must do everything in order to build the Yeshiva," he would say.
There were those who discouraged him. "How can you build a yeshiva? There are hardly any students, no budget, and certainly no building!" And one of the elders claimed, "In the present state of affairs, we cannot continue our group as before. There’s no one left, no one can lead us! There’s no choice - we must join up with another group or another Chassidus…"
The Rebbe answered him, "I, together with the students already in the yeshiva, are remaining - we won’t budge! For we believe with perfect faith that our holy group will continue, and we will remain until Moshiach comes!"
So with his vision, he perceived the designs of his Rebbe, and rose up like a lion and founded the Beis Avraham Yeshiva in Jerusalem. He understood that the heavy task of reviving the Chassidic sect of Slonim lay upon his shoulders, and with great courage he mustered all his strength and began to rebuild the illustrious community. His father-in-law, the Birchas Avraham, saw him as the one who would bring about the revival of the Slonimer Chassidim and, like a father to his son, he lovingly supported him in his efforts.
On Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan 5702 / October 21, 1941, he opened the yeshiva in the shul of the Slonimer Chassidim in the Beis Yisrael neighborhood of Yerushalayim with just five students. He dedicated himself solely to educating generations of talmidei chachamim and gedolei Torah, personally instilling in each student the aspiration to grow in Torah and Chassidus. In a remarkable manner he merged the lamdanus [intellectual striving] of the yeshiva world with the fervor of Chassidus. His shiurim, which were well known for their depth, and his discourses in Torah and Chassidus, inspired his students to serve Hashem with added zeal. In his discourses he transmitted the spiritual legacy he had received from the mentors of the Slonimer Chassidic dynasty. R. Shalom Noach also could be found sitting with the students for hours on end, especially on Friday nights, teaching them the traditional Slonimer melodies.
And so the Rebbe built the Beis Avraham Yeshiva of Slonim, in 1941, with a handful of students. He would remain as its Rosh Yeshiva for forty years! In time, it became one of the leading Chassidic yeshivos in Yerushalayim, with over 400 students today.
Zechuso yagein Aleinu, v’al Kol Yisrael! May the Slonimer Rebbe's merits protect us all!
Sunday, July 26, 2009
What the Arizal Saw
Our previous post: Songs and Praise of the Holy Arizal
The following is my translation of a story that appeared in this week’s Sichas HaShavua, the very popular Chabad parsha sheet here in Israel. It should be noted that the R. Yitzchak in the story is not the Arizal, but his disciple, R. Yitzchak HaKohen. Rabbi Luria is referred to as "the Ari" throughout the story…
What the Ari Saw
Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the holy Ari [Lion], together with his students, made their way quietly from Tzfas to the grave of the Prophet, Hoshea ben Beari. They were accustomed to study in the mountains, and occasionally the Ari would invite the members of his group to pray at the various cemeteries that were scattered throughout the area. They already knew that by such visits, one could attach his soul to that of the Tzaddik, and learn secrets of Torah.
The Ari stood near the grave of the Prophet in a long, silent prayer, surrounded by his students. Then they sat and listened to his discourse, words of Torah and Kabbalah that were beyond [most] human comprehension.
Suddenly, the students noticed that their Rav’s face had changed. The joy that always reigned turned to an expression of stressful concern. For quite a time the Ari was thoughtful, and then he turned to his students: "I have just been informed that a difficult decree is now hovering over the inhabitants of Tzfas. A plague of locusts will descend on Tzfas, that will eat all the grass of the land and consume all the fruit trees, until there will be no source of sustenance remaining in the area."
[a swarm of locusts]
The students became very frightened and asked: "Rebbe, for what has this severe punishment been decreed? What sin have the residents of Tzfas committed?"
The Ari replied: "All this has come about because of one Jew, named Yaakov Altrin. He is terribly poor and has lost his source of parnasa [livelihood]. He poured out his grievance about his severe condition to Hashem. When they saw from Heaven that none of the inhabitants of Tzfas had come to help, the harsh decree was issued."
"But, Rabbi," the students called, "perhaps it is possible to do something, to save the whole town from distress, Heaven forbid. What should we do?"
The Ari ordered each of his students to contribute a certain sum of money, which amounted to a respectable sum. Then the Ari summoned R. Yitzchak HaKohen, his student, gave him the bundle of money, bidding him to take it and deliver it to the poor man.
R. Yitzchak went out and searched the entrances to the city, until he located the house of the man. The external appearance of the house was quite miserable. The student knocked on the door, but was not answered. Only the sound of bitter weeping could be heard coming from the house. Strengthening himself, the student opened the door, and lo and behold, he saw R. Yaakov Altrin sitting in the center of the house, surrounded by his family. His speech was directed upwards, and he was crying...
The surprise entry of the Ari’s student immediately silenced R. Yaakov’s crying. He looked into the visitor’s face in wonder and, asked: "What do you want?"
R. Yitzchak told him that he was a student of the Ari, and he had just heard that R. Yaakov was in deep trouble and would like to help him. "What happened to you, and why do you cry?" asked R. Yitzchak.
R. Yaakov poured out his heart before his guest. He told of his daily struggle to earn a livelihood, to bring bread home. He had a large ceramic jug, with which he brought water to the homes of his neighbors in the region. With the little he earned from this, he had managed to support his family. Now the jug had broken, and his livelihood went down with it. Without a jug, there was no point to go out to work, and he could no longer feed his children and family.
"In my distress, I turned to Hashem," the simple Jew added. "I claimed: Is this proper for me? Has the penalty of hunger been decreed upon me and my family? Am I more evil than the rest of the world? Does He not sustain the World with grace, lovingkindness and mercy? Why did He take away the source of my income from me?..."
The student was amazed to see how right the words of the Ari were. He took out the bundle of money collected by the students, turned to the Jew and said: "Listen R. Yaakov, Hashem has heard your prayers, and from now on you will no longer lack anything. We, the residents of Tzfas, will support your family, for whatever is needed."
His face lit up, and his joy knew no bounds. He looked happily at his family, and at the coins placed into his hands, and did not stop thanking Hashem and expressing his thanks to the guest who came just at the right moment, to save his family from the shame of hunger.
However, R. Yitzchak paid no heed to these words of thanks. With a serious face, he turned to the Jew in a tone of reproof: "Do you know that on account of you, almost all the residents of Tzfas were at risk of extinction and hunger?! When you come with your claims against Hashem, they looked down and saw from Heaven - that you were without any help from your brethren and neighbors, and a harsh decree was cast. If not for our holy Rabbi who heard of this, and in whose merit all the residents of the city were saved..."
The man was very sorry about the things he said in his distress, and promised that henceforth he would put his trust in Hashem, and complain no more. He departed from R. Yitzchak excitedly, and the latter returned to his friends to tell them the story of R. Yaakov.
The group of friends [disciples] asked the Ari whether the decree had indeed been averted. He responded to them, that indeed, the charity money they had gave to the poor man worked to remove the decree from the residents of Tzfas.
Time passed - and suddenly, what seemed to be a heavy cloud of locusts was seen approaching the hills of Tzfas. Horror befell them all. The students turned to their Rebbe, and asked if the Divine decree had not been averted after all. The Ari’s face was peaceful and shining, and he did not seem to worry at all. "Continue to learn, my sons," he said, "and your concern will pass."
A few moments passed, and a strong wind appeared and moved the entire cloud of locusts out to the sea, until not one remained.
The story spread and made waves, everyone learned that in the merit of the holy vision of the Ari, the entire area was saved from a plague of locusts.
Zechuso yagein Aleinu, v’al Kol Yisrael!
Friday, July 03, 2009
Who Had the Last Laugh?
by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton, from www.OhrTmimim.org – reprinted from L'Chaim Weekly
The Maharyatz [the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn]'s birthday and the anniversary of his release from imprisonment by the Communists are both on the 12th of Tamuz. The following stories took place during and immediately after the Maharyatz's imprisonment.
Immediately after being arrested the Maharyatz made a firm resolution in his mind that he would pay no attention to his captors, as though they posed no threat to him at all. Several days later, after he had been exposed to the murder and sadism of the prison, he was taken into a room and ordered to sign certain papers. As per his resolution he paid no attention to the demand and was beaten. But still he remained unmoved. Furious, one of the interrogators pulled out a pistol, put it to the Rebbe’s head and said, "This little toy has convinced everyone to do what we say."
This fellow, like all the other prison staff, was a murderer and there was absolutely no reason for him not to simply pull the trigger. He had obviously done so many times before.
The Rebbe replied matter-of-factly, "That 'toy' scares people like you who have only one world and many gods. But I have one G-d and two worlds [physical and spiritual] so it does not scare me."
The guard inexplicitly did nothing.
After a few days, the Rebbe’s fate was sealed. He was found guilty of subversion and was sentenced to death. Through world pressure, the sentence was commuted to three years in Siberian exile.
Then, even more inexplicitly, the Rebbe was given special permission to leave the jail three days early, visit his family for several hours and then travel, at his own expense, to Kostroma, his town of exile.
This was a true miracle. Every instant in the prison was a true danger to his life; he was easy prey for the anti-Semitic guards and prisoners. Hundreds of Jews "disappeared" or "died" daily and he could easily be one of them.
But to everyone's amazement, as soon as he realized that according to their itinerary he would have to travel on Shabbos, he refused to leave until after Shabbos ended. He actually stayed extra time in that hell so as to not desecrate the Sabbath.
Why did the Rebbe do this? According to Jewish law he was permitted to travel on Shabbos in order to leave that place, as every additional moment there was a threat to his life. But the Rebbe was determined to show even his evil captors that G-d, not Stalin, is the Boss of the world. And that they were powerless against the Torah.
The third story took place that Sunday as he boarded the train to leave the prison. We must remember that the Rebbe was imprisoned for teaching anti-Communist doctrines and everyone connected to him was immediately suspected of the same.
Nevertheless, a large crowd of people threw caution to the wind and came to see him off. They could not forego the opportunity of drawing inspiration from the Rebbe.
Just moments before the train left, the Rebbe made a stirringly emotional and revolutionary speech; here is a translation (from the Yiddish) of some of what he said:
"We must make one thing known to all the nations are on the face of the earth: That only our bodies are in exile and servitude to the gentiles, but our souls never entered exile and were never servants to the other nations.
"We must announce and advertise before the entire world that anything that relates to our Jewish religion, the Torah, the commandments and even the customs, can never be changed by opinions. We Jews have no outside forces or opinions that can change us. We must declare with the greatest Jewish stubbornness with thousands of years of Jewish self-sacrifice, 'Never touch My anointed and My prophets do not harm.'
"We must pray that G-d give us the proper strength to not be affected in any way by these physical tribulations but rather to treat them with joy! That every, punishment we receive, G-d forbid, for opening a children's school, teaching Torah or doing the commandments should give us more enthusiasm in our holy task of strengthening Judaism. Remember! The jails and camps are temporary. But Torah, the commandments and the Jewish people are eternal…"
In other words, to a crowd filled with informers and secret police he exhorted Russian Jewry to continue the very "subversive" work for which he was imprisoned.
Stalin vs. Schneerson - 82 Years Later, Who Won?
by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Jacobson
If there was ever a battle fought in vain, this was it. The year is 1924. Vladimir Lenin, the father of the Communist revolution, is dead; over 900,000 people pass through the Hall of Columns during the four days and nights that Lenin lay in state. Jozef Stalin succeeds him as the new leader of the Soviet Union. During the following thirty years, he would murder 20 million of his own people. Jews and Judaism would be one of his primary targets. He sets up a special government organization, the Yevsektzye, to ensure that Russian Jewry in its millions embrace the new ethos of Communism, introducing a paradise constructed of bullets and gulags. Stalin would rule with an iron fist till his death in March 1953, when four million people would gather in Red Square to bid farewell to the tyrant revered and beloved by much of his nation and by many millions the world over.
At his home in Leningrad (today Petersburg), a 44-year-old rabbi, heir to some of the great Jewish leaders of Russian Jewry, summons nine young disciples. He offers them an opportunity most would refuse: to take responsibility for the survival of Judaism in the Soviet Union; to ensure that Jewish life and faith would survive the hellish darkness of Stalin's regime. He wants them to fight "till the last drop of blood," in his words.
They agree. He gives his hand to each of them as a sign that they are accepting an oath, an oath that would transform their destiny forever. "I will be the tenth, he says; together we have a minyan..."
An Underground Revolution
The nine men were dispatched throughout the country. With assistance from similar-minded colleagues, they created an impressive underground network of Jewish activity, which included Jewish schools, synagogues, mikvaos (ritual baths used by Jewish women for spiritual feminine reinvigoration), adult Torah education, Yeshivot (academies for Torah learning for students), Jewish text books, providing rabbis for communities, teachers for schools, etc. Over the 1920s and 1930s, these individuals built six hundred (!) Jewish underground schools throughout the USSR.* Many of them last for only a few weeks or months. When the KGB (the secret Russian police) discovered a school, the children were expelled, the teacher arrested. A new one was opened elsewhere, usually in a cell or on a roof.
One of the nine young men was sent to Georgia. There were dozens of mikvaos there, all shut down by the Communists who buried them in sand and gravel. This young man decided to do something radical. He falsified a letter written supposedly by the KGB headquarters in Moscow, instructing the local offices in Georgia to open two mikvaot within 24 hours.
The local officials were deceived. Within a day, two mikvaos were open. Several months later, when they discovered the lie, they shut them down again. And so it went. A mohel (the person performing the mitzva of circumcision) was arrested, and another one was dispatched to serve the community; a yeshiva was closed, and another one opened elsewhere; a synagogue was destroyed and another one opened its portals in secrecy.
But it sure seemed like a lost battle. Here was an individual rabbi, with a small group of pupils, staging an underground rebellion against a mighty empire that numbered in the hundreds of millions, and aspired to dominate the world. It was like an infant wrestling a giant, an ant attempting to defeat a human. The situation was hopeless.
Finally, in 1927 – eighty-two years ago -- they lost their patience with him. The rabbi behind the counter-revolutionary work was arrested and sentenced to death by a firing squad. Foreign pressure and nothing less than a miracle convinced the KGB to alter the sentence to ten years in exile. It was then converted to three years, and then -- quite unbelievable in the Soviet Regime where clergy and laymen alike were murdered like flies -- he was completely exonerated. This Shabbos, July 4, the 12th of the Hebrew month of Tamuz, marks the 82nd anniversary of the day he was liberated from Stalin’s death sentence and imprisonment.
The individual behind the mutiny was the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson (1880-1950), who became the leader of Chabad in 1920, after the passing of his father. He selected nine of his young pupils to do battle with him. The one sent to Georgia, falsifying the KGB document, was my grandfather, Simon Yakabashvili [Jacobson], my father's father (1900-1953). He, together with hundreds of his colleagues, Chassidim throughout the Soviet Union, was arrested in 1938, tortured mercilessly and given a 25-year sentence in the Gulag. Most of his eight colleagues who accepted the oath never made it out of Stalin's hell. They perished in the Soviet Union. (My grandfather made it out, but died several years later in Toronto).
Investing in Eternity
More than eight decades have passed. This passage of time gives us the opportunity to answer the question, who won? Stalin or Schneerson? Eighty years ago, Marx’s socialism and Lenin’s Communism heralded a new era for humanity. Its seemingly endless power and brutality seemed unreachable.
Yet one man stood up, a man who would not allow the awesome war machine of Mother Russia to blare his vision, to eclipse his clarity. In the depths of his soul he was aware that history had an undercurrent often invisible to most but discernable for students of the long and dramatic narrative of our people. He knew with full conviction that evil might thrive but it will die; yet G-dliness -- embodied in Torah and Mitzvos -- are eternal. And he chose to invest in eternity.
He did not know how exactly how it would work out in the end, but he knew that his mission in life was to sow seeds though the trees were being felled one by one.
Cynics scoffed at him; close friends told him he was making a tragic mistake. Even many of his religious colleagues were convinced that he was wasting his time and energy fighting an impossible war. They either fled the country or kept a very low profile.
But 80 years later, this giant and what he represented have emerged triumphant. Today, in 2009, in the republics of the former Soviet Union stand hundreds of synagogues, Jewish day schools, yeshivos, mikvaos, Jewish community centers. As summer is about to begin, dozens of Jewish day camps are about to open up throughout the former Union with tens of thousands of Jewish children who will enjoy a blissful summer coupled with the celebration of Jewish life.
Last Chanuka, a large menora stood tall in the Kremlin, casting the glow of Chanuka on the grounds where Stalin walked with Berya and Yezhov. On Lag B’Omer (a Jewish holiday), thousands of Jewish children with kippot on their heads marched the streets of Moscow with signs proclaiming, "Hear O Israel... G-d is One." Jewish life is bustling in Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, etc.
Comrade Stalin is dead; Communism has faded away as hopelessly irrelevant and destructive. The sun of the nations is today a clod of darkness. The ideology of the Soviet Empire which declared "Lenin has not died and Stalin will not die. He is eternal," is now a mockery. Stalin and Lenin are as dead as one can be. But the Mikvaos built by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1927, they are still here.
If you will visit Russia this coming Shabbos, I am not sure you will find anybody celebrating the life and vision of Stalin or even Khrushchev and Brezhnev. But you will find tens of thousands of Jews celebrating the liberation of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1927 and the narrative of one man’s triumph over one of the greatest mass-murderers in human history, sharing his vision, committing themselves to continue his labor of saturating the world with the light of Torah and Mitzvos. L’Chaim!
* This figure was given to me [RYY Jacobson] by Rabbi Shalom Ber Levin, chief librarian of the Central Lubavitch Library.