Wellspring Part 5
(Click here for Part
the Scenes at
the Vaad L’hafotzas Sichos
Rabbi Shalom Yaakov Chazan
all began on a wintry Friday in Kislev of 5743 (1982), Erev Shabbos
Parshas Toldos. The latest volume of Likkutei Sichos – Volume
19 on Seifer Devarim – had just been published, and the members
of the Vaad L’hafotzas Sichos had submitted a copy for
the Rebbe’s approval. A few hours later they received the Rebbe’s
top of the page, the Rebbe had written his usual acknowledgment and
thank you, but at the bottom of the margin was an unexpected surprise
(see facsimile #1). There the Rebbe had written: “It is imperative
that the section on Bereishis be published in time for the
corresponding weeks of 5743, and the sooner the better. Surely you
will have good news to report about this.”
members of the Vaad were stunned. They looked at the Rebbe’s
response and wondered how they would ever be able to fulfill the
Rebbe’s directive. Only six weeks remained until the end of Bereishis,
and from past experience they knew that under usual circumstances, it
would be impossible to finish a book in such a short time. Even today,
in the age of the computer, publishing a book of hundreds of pages in a
few weeks is an extraordinary undertaking. But in those days it wasn’t
just difficult, it was beyond the realm of possibility. Plus, it would
not be the only project the Vaad would be working on. It was still in
charge of the weekly Likkut, which took dozens of hours to
addition to the technical difficulties, the Vaad faced another problem.
In accordance with one of the Rebbe’s previous directives to include
as many sichos as possible, the last few volumes of Likkutei
Sichos had contained five sichos on every parsha.
These were taken from the weekly Likkut that had been published
during the last five years, between 5735 and 5740. If the next volume of
Seifer Bereishis would be published at this point, it would
contain only two sichos on each parsha.
members of the Vaad decided to write to the Rebbe for further
instructions, and asked if they might postpone the new volume until the
Rebbe had edited the sichos on Parshas VaYechi. That would
allow them to include three sichos for every parsha. They
also wrote that if they printed the book with only two, the resulting
volume would have only half as many pages as the previous ones,
approximately 300 instead of 600. The Vaad listed which particular sichos
were ready, which had been typed and needed editing, and which ones they
had not yet begun to prepare. They also listed the topics to be included
in the addendum.
to plan, the addendum to Volume 20 would be a major part of the book,
containing many of the Rebbe’s letters relating to the various sichos.
When the Rebbe edited the introduction to Volume 15, he had appealed to
everyone who had such letters to give them to the Vaad for publication,
citing “the merit of the many.”
Rebbe’s answer wasn’t long in coming (see facsimile #2). As far as
postponing the project was concerned, the Rebbe wrote that they should
“Submit it to me no later than Erev Shabbos Kodesh VaYigash or even
earlier if necessary.” Concerning the list of topics submitted for the
addendum, the Rebbe wrote: “You may use these, and also include the sichos
for chasan and kalla and bar mitzva [which the
Rebbe said at the group yechidus after Yud-Tes Kislev], and
letters about Chanuka. At least 100 copies [of the s’farim]
should be bound and printed before Shabbos Parshas VaYechi.”
Vaad L’hafotzas Sichos embarked on the new project at a
frenzied pace, working day and night to fulfill the Rebbe’s wishes.
During those few weeks, the members of the Vaad barely saw their
families. From Motzaei Shabbos to Friday afternoon they remained in
their editorial offices, emerging only to daven, go to the mikva,
or to catch a few hours of much needed sleep. Food was provided by their
nashim tzidkaniyos, who brought it to their husbands at 788
the members of the Vaad were only human beings, and at a certain
point they despaired of ever completing the task in time. In response to
another letter they submitted, the Rebbe indicated that they should not
wait for the sichos on Parshas VaYechi or even VaYigash
(see facsimile #3). However, it was still of the utmost importance that
the book be published before Bereishis was completed.
at this point the Rebbe gave his approval for the Vaad to include
in the addendum the sichos and maamarim that had been said
from the Rebbe’s room during his convalescence from his heart attack
in 5738. These sichos, said on Motzaei Shabbos, had been
broadcast to the beis midrash downstairs in 770, and later edited
by the Rebbe. The Vaad had previously requested to print them as a
separate volume, but the Rebbe had negated the idea. The Vaad saw the
Rebbe’s permission to include them in Volume 20 as an indication that
he considered them an integral part of his usual sichos and maamarim,
no different from those that were said at Shabbos farbrengens.]
work progressed in a miraculous manner. When the Vaad submitted the
galleys on Parshas VaYigash, the Rebbe responded (see facsimile #4): “Fast!
And if you hurry up with Parshas VaYechi, everything can be included in
members of the Vaad worked faster, pushing themselves beyond human
endurance. A short time later, even VaYechi was ready for the
Rebbe’s approval. Returned only a few hours after it was submitted,
the galleys were immediately sent off to the printing presses, with
instructions that all other work be interrupted. Every piece of
machinery was to be used only for publishing the new volume – 100
copies before Shabbos VaYigash.
manager of the printing press, who was not a Chabad Chassid, considered
it a great merit to print the Rebbe’s works, and stayed up the entire
night to supervise. Interestingly, when his wife brought him some
sandwiches in the middle of the night, he refused to eat them, saying
that he didn’t think it was right to eat something that wasn’t
completely kosher while he was working on the Rebbe’s books! His wife
went back to Manhattan, where she found a kosher restaurant and bought
him supper. But her husband wouldn’t eat it until he saw the words “Glatt
kosher” on the wrapping…
the next morning, the unbelievable had happened. The 20th volume of Likkutei
Sichos was in print – before Shabbos Parshas VaYigash!
public was astounded by the speed at which the Rebbe’s works were
being published. Even the pages of Volume 20 were of the finest quality,
and the binding was particularly impressive. But the most important
thing was that the book contained the sichos on Parshas VaYechi
– the first time a volume of Likkutei Sichos contained a weekly
Likkut that had not yet been printed as an individual Likkut!
had it been so important to the Rebbe for the project to be finished
before the end of Bereishis? It was the only question on
everyone’s mind throughout the weeks of frantic activity.
the past, the Rebbe had sometimes indicated that a book be printed
before a certain date, but never with the same sense of urgency. Usually
these were books about the Chabad Rebbeim, whose publication the Rebbe
wanted to coincide with their yahrtzeit or another significant
fact, the Rebbe’s insistence in this case was unprecedented for two
reasons: 1) the Rebbe had never before rushed the publication of any of
his works, and 2) the date of completion was not known to be
particularly significant. But the Rebbe had repeatedly stated that he
wanted these sichos to be learned at the same time the parsha
was being read in shul. The members of the Vaad realized that
there must be a spiritual reason behind the deadline, but it was simply
beyond their capacity to understand it.
Wednesday night of the week of Parshas Sh’mos, a fire broke out in the
printing room of the Vaad, on the third floor of 788 Eastern Parkway. A
passerby noticed the flames sometime after midnight, and dozens of fire
trucks responded to the alarm. Huge quantities of water were sprayed
into the building, but the fire wasn’t brought under control until
every single printing press of the Vaad L’hafotzas Sichos had
been reduced to ash.
before the smoke dissipated, the members of the Vaad ran to see what
they could salvage, and breathed a collective sigh of relief when they
saw that the fire had stopped directly in front of their offices. The
hundreds of volumes of the new Likkutei Sichos had been spared,
together with their priceless archives.
the biggest surprise was waiting in the middle of the printing room. On
one press that had actually started to melt from the heat were thousands
of copies of the weekly Likkut – virtually untouched by the
flames! Only the margins of the pages had been slightly charred (see
photo). The Rebbe’s holy sichos had withstood the test of fire.
next morning, the members of the Vaad, Rabbis Shalom Jacobson, Schneur
Zalman Chanin, Nachman Schapiro, and Leibel Altein, informed the Rebbe
about the incident and asked for a bracha to recover from the
damage. The Rebbe responded (see facsimile #5): “May it be G-d’s
will that the famous saying of our holy Sages be fulfilled [that after a
fire one becomes wealthy]. May you have revealed good to report, and
particular success in disseminating the wellsprings outward. I will
mention it at the tziyun affirmatively.”
few days before the fire, a small blaze had broken out under the bima
in 770, in the exact place where the Rebbe sat at farbrengens. A
few bachurim extinguished it before it could spread, G-d forbid.
No one could figure out how it had started, and it remained a mystery.
at the farbrengen of Shabbos Parshas Sh’mos, the Rebbe
explained what was really going on…
few years before, in 5740, a group of community activists had begun
building a new mikva for the women of Crown Heights.
Unfortunately, in their eagerness to complete the project, one of the
directors on the board decided to raze the old building even before the
new one was completed. Because of this hasty and premature step, a fully
renovated mikva would not be available for another two years, the
time it took to complete the new mikva. In the meantime, the
women who used the mikva had to navigate an open construction
site, and several were badly injured in accidents.
Erev Shabbos Kodesh 12 MarCheshvan 5743, the Rebbe wrote a sharply
worded letter to the people in charge of the project:
event that took place was frightful, and it is even more
appalling that no one is paying attention to this at all! The only
women’s mikva in the neighborhood of Lubavitch, visited by
Chabad women from around the world, was destroyed two years
ago with public money and in [inappropriate] haste.
they are apparently ‘unaware’ of what happened, I would like to
inform them: 1) There is still no mikva here; 2) according to the
Shulchan Aruch regarding a synagogue, even when other synagogues
exist, it requires serious investigation as to how it can be
destroyed in the first place; 3) In a case where it is permissible to
destroy one (which was not at all the case here), ‘the new one
must be built very quickly, working night and day,’ according
to the Shulchan Aruch.
my own eyes I have seen how days go by without any work being
done by day or by night. May G-d have mercy on us all, together with the
rest of Klal Yisroel. May this be concluded in a good manner.”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas VaYechi the Rebbe wrote an even sharper
ruling that it is permissible and laudable to sell a
synagogue for the purpose of building a mikva is well known. I
was promised that the mikva would be completed by
mid-summer, then informed that it would take until Rosh Hashanah, then
Succos, then another two or three weeks.
14 Teives I visited the building. It will not be completed within two or
you are really concerned about the well-being of the beis
ha’midrash, let it be sold, and the money given to someone who is
not a Lubavitcher. Give him ten thousand dollars as compensation for his
work – just make sure that the mikva is completed within three
weeks. And no one from Lubavitch should offer him advice.”
the middle of the farbrengen of Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Sh’mos
the Rebbe suddenly brought up the topic of the unfinished mikva.
is a certain matter,” the Rebbe said, “that I have mentioned at
least a hundred and one times. For three years I’ve been talking about
building the mikva, and despite all the meetings that have been
convened and a great deal of discussion, it is not yet finished.
all the times I visited the mikva, not once did I see someone in
charge actually on site! I have visited many, many times, at different
times of day – early, late, and at the beginning of the day (at least
at the beginning of my day, which is still before noon) – and only on
one occasion did I encounter someone in charge. And this was only within
the past two weeks: the individual must have appeared only to ensure
that I wouldn’t mention it at a farbrengen.
I have mentioned it at farbrengens, and the contents of farbrengens
are written down, and people are aware of what must be done. Yet no one
thinks that my words are directed to him – only to the next person…
all this was to no avail, a dreadful incident occurred to one woman, and
even this seems to have had no effect!
another incident occurred to a second woman, and this was also ignored,
as was a third incident involving another woman!
a small fire broke out very suddenly. No one knew how it started, and
there is no natural explanation for it. But even this did not have any
a big fire broke out, may G-d protect us, and the whole neighborhood is
talking about it. This blaze was also miraculous in origin: there is no
natural explanation of how it started. But this too is insufficient to
make an impression.
see that I have no other option. The building must be saved, and I have
Rebbe continued: “They do me a favor and record my words in print, and
describe it as [the menora’s] ‘knobs and flowers,’ but when
it comes to actually doing something, my words have no effect. What good
are all these words if they do not result in actual deed? People talk,
they ask each other questions, they offer explanations – but nothing
is brought down to the level of ‘below ten handbreadths.’”
to say, the public was shocked beyond words by the Rebbe’s comments.
Friday, the sale of the beis midrash of 770 was conducted in
absolute secrecy. That morning, the Rebbe issued a full-page directive
to his secretariat that the sale be concluded that very day. Many of the
details have never come out publicly.
Rebbe instructed that the legal transfer be conducted by Rabbi Zalman
Shimon Dworkin, the late rav of Lubavitch. The transaction was
completed so quickly that when the buyer claimed that there was no time
to assemble cash, the Rebbe instructed his secretariat to provide him
buyer, as per the Rebbe’s instructions, was not a member of Anash,
and the Rebbe told the gabbaim that any proposed change in the
building would henceforth have to receive the new owner’s permission.
As the new owner’s identity was a secret, the Rebbe said this meant
that no changes could be made.