Into A New Avoda
By Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Ginsberg
the Alter Rebbe explained to his mother-in-law why he couldn’t
return to Vitebsk, he used the analogy of a newborn baby: Once the
baby is born and has taken its first breath, it can never go back
to the womb. * Similarly, we cannot content ourselves with the
avoda of previous generations. Each generation has its own
specific mission, and ours is to bring Moshiach.
mashpia Reb Mendel Futerfas once related:
Rabbi Yehuda Leib Segal of Vitebsk took the Alter Rebbe as a
son-in-law, the Alter Rebbe was already known as a remarkable gaon
and prodigy. As the father-in-law of such a promising young man,
Reb Yehuda Leib expected to receive a great deal of nachas
from the new member of his family. Before they were married, he
promised to support the couple for many years so the Alter Rebbe
could continue learning without distraction.
a while everything went according to plan. The Alter Rebbe studied
Torah night and day, and everyone was satisfied by with the
arrangement. People marveled over the illustrious husband Reb
Yehuda Leib had found for his daughter, Rebbetzin Shterna Sara.
But later, when it became known that Rabbi Schneur Zalman had
traveled to Mezeritch and had fallen in with the Chassidim, his
father-in-law was furious. All his hopes for honor and prestige
were dashed before his eyes. The new “sect” was wandering into
uncharted territory, going off in a direction unheard of in
previous generations. Many gedolim were horrified and had
even excommunicated the fledgling Chassidic movement. To Reb
Yehuda Leib, it appeared as if his son-in-law had abandoned the
tried to convince the Alter Rebbe of his folly, but to no avail.
The young chasan persisted in following the ways of
Chassidus and influenced others to do the same. He refused to
consider changing his mind.
the Alter Rebbe’s father-in-law realized that being nice
wasn’t working, he changed his tactics and demanded that the
Alter Rebbe divorce his daughter. The Alter Rebbe agreed to give
her a gett, provided it was what she really wanted. But
Rebbetzin Shterna Sara insisted that there was no reason to
divorce. In her opinion, her husband was a tzaddik, an oveid
Hashem, and a true gaon. His conduct was entirely in
keeping with the Torah; he was completely innocent of wrongdoing,
and everyone was persecuting him unjustly.
of the Alter Rebbe’s practices was to daven ba’arichus
on Friday nights. By the time he came home from shul,
everyone else in the household had already eaten and gone to
sleep. Only the Rebbetzin would wait up for him to hear Kiddush.
time, the Alter Rebbe’s father-in-law decided to teach him a
lesson he wouldn’t forget. After their Friday night seuda,
he locked up all the food, wine and mashke in the house so
his son-in-law wouldn’t be able to make Kiddush. For
extra measure, he even put away all the bechers and
drinking glasses. When the Alter Rebbe came home in the middle of
the night, he wouldn’t be able to find a drop of wine for Kiddush
or challa for HaMotzi. Maybe that would put an end
to his peculiarities.
night, the Alter Rebbe was greeted by the Rebbetzin, who tearfully
explained what her father had done to punish him. Although she had
conducted a thorough search, she was unable to find anything over
which it was permissible to make Kiddush.
Alter Rebbe told his wife not worry, and started to look around
for himself. Their efforts paid off. In the cellar they found a
bottle of mashke that Reb Yehuda Leib had overlooked. And
without any wine available, it was permitted to make Kiddush
over the beverage of the country.
however, they had another obstacle to overcome. With all the
utensils and dishes under lock and key, they had no cup into which
to pour the mashke. Furthermore, there still wasn’t any
food, and one can only make Kiddush in the same place as
the seuda. Without food for a seuda, the Kiddush wouldn’t
necessity is the mother of invention. A huge washing cup for netilas
yadayim was transformed into an impromptu becher. The
Alter Rebbe filled it to the brim, recited Kiddush, and
made sure to drink most of its contents. [In another version the
exact amount the Alter Rebbe drank isn’t mentioned; indeed, in
the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch he rules that it isn’t
necessary to drink that much.]
relying on the halachic opinions that an additional cup of
wine may substitute for a seuda, and that the beverage of
the country may be used instead of wine, the Alter Rebbe downed
another reviis of mashke to fulfill his obligation.
next morning, the Rebbetzin’s father asked if her husband had
finally learned his lesson, and was very angry when the Rebbetzin
told him what they had done. “I suppose your husband got very
drunk and went right to sleep,” he said mockingly.
the contrary,” the Rebbetzin replied, “it was then that I saw
his true greatness. My husband stayed up the whole night learning,
the same as always…”
Yehuda Leib was very surprised; but unfortunately, the Alter
Rebbe’s unique conduct that night did not improve their
passed. The Alter Rebbe had moved to Liozna and become
world-renowned, attracting followers from all over the world. His
father-in-law, Reb Yehuda Leib, had passed away, and the Alter
Rebbe’s mother-in-law asked the Alter Rebbe to move back to
Vitebsk with all of his Chassidim. She was very wealthy, and
promised to take care of all his needs.
Alter Rebbe responded: The baby in his mother’s womb is well
taken care of. Physically, he eats whatever his mother eats, and
is warm and snug and well protected. Spiritually, a candle is lit
by his head, and he is taught the entire Torah. Nonetheless, once
he emerges and breathes on his own, there is no turning back; he
can never return to the womb. This is for two reasons: 1) he is
now too big, and 2) his former place has grown too small…
week, in connection with Chaf-Hei Adar, the birthday of Rebbetzin
Chaya Mushka, and Yud-Alef Nissan, the birthday of Melech
HaMoshiach, we explored the significance of birthdays and why we
discussed that, although in many respects the fetus is better off
than the newborn infant, the fetus is not considered fully
“alive” – “it is not a person.” Before it is born, the
fetus is completely dependent on its mother and the outside
influences it receives (food, Torah learning, etc.) are not really
his. At the moment of birth, the baby is transformed into an
independent being. Whatever the individual’s deficits, his
accomplishments will be truly his.
is also one of the major innovations of Chassidus, that a person
mustn’t keep Torah and mitzvos as if they are “in
addition to his essence,” but with a real vitality and
enthusiasm, thereby rendering his observance truly his.
the particular innovation of Chabad Chassidus is that a Jew’s
vitality and enthusiasm mustn’t be makif (encompassing,
rather than internalized), based purely on faith. Rather, the
effort must come from below, from the individual himself, which is
the concept of independent service.
while in previous generations only the higher powers of the soul
were able to do this, in our generation, the seventh generation,
G-dliness has already suffused the very lowest levels of
existence, both physically and spiritually.
is amply demonstrated by our modern world of technology. Every
means of spreading the wellsprings outward is used: G-dliness is
bursting out of satellites, videos, and the Internet.
generation has its own special chiddush. It is obviously
inappropriate to serve G-d in the same manner as in the times of
the Baal Shem Tov, disregarding everything that came afterward.
Every particular time and place has its own avoda,
as revealed to us through our holy Chabad Rebbeim.
arguments have been raised against this. The yetzer ha’ra
might prompt a person to counter, “Halevai that I should
reach the level of the Baal Shem Tov’s generation! Why isn’t
it enough to attain the mesiras nefesh of the Rebbe
Rayatz’s generation? Why must I do something ‘new?’” But
these arguments are clearly not coming from the side of holiness.
has particular relevance for our unique situation at the present
time. We mustn’t content ourselves with the avoda of the
early years of the Rebbe’s nesiyus, but must remember
that we have entered a new period (as the Rebbe said in connection
with the Rebbetzin’s passing on Chaf-Beis Sh’vat 5748, when Mivtza
Yom Huledes was first announced). The concept of birthdays
requires that we serve G-d with independent effort. Whoever thinks
that a previous level of avoda is sufficient is simply
the “birth,” the new period in which we find ourselves now,
the old avoda of the early years was entirely appropriate.
Today, of course, it is still no less holy, G-d forbid, but the
Rebbe has already led us on to the next step.
underlying objective has been and will always be the same: to make
a dwelling place for G-d in the lower worlds. However, the
particular means by which we are to accomplish this goal changes
over the generations. In the Baal Shem Tov’s time, the emphasis
was on the emotional arousal of the heart and Divine service that
transcends logical reasoning. The Alter Rebbe, by contrast,
stressed the study of Chassidus Chabad and the contemplation of G-d’s
greatness. In the Rebbe Rayatz’s generation, mesiras nefesh
was the key. For the Rebbe shlita, during most of his nesiyus,
it was primarily hafatza – spreading Yiddishkeit
and Chassidus through his network of shluchim. In later
years, however, the Rebbe began to speak of the unique service
that is required of us at present – “the only service that
remains.” This does not take away from the service that preceded
it, G-d forbid, in the same way that the Baal Shem Tov’s chiddushim
did not detract from the Torah and mitzvos of previous
generations, but superceded them. Similarly, the Alter Rebbe’s
teachings did not take anything away from the path of the Baal
Shem Tov, but provided a new gateway for the Divine service of his
concept is not anyone’s invention, but was explicitly elucidated
by the Rebbe in many sichos kodesh (particularly that of
Chaf-Beis Sh’vat 5752). In order to know exactly what to do and
how to act at present, we must delve into the Rebbe’s most
recent teachings and study them diligently.
Rebbe’s early sichos and maamarim are infinitely
wonderful and deep, yet at the same time we are obligated to know
what he expects from us now. These particular directives
are not to be found in the earlier sichos and maamarim,
but only in the most recent sichos.
Shabbos Parshas Tazria-Metzora 5751, the Rebbe said that learning
about Moshiach and Redemption is the “straightest path – the
easiest and quickest of all Torah ways – to bring about the
actual revelation and coming of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.” Following
this directive, the Vaad L’hafotzas Sichos decided to
publish a collection of the Rebbe’s sichos on these
subjects. The Rebbe, however, insisted that they wait until the
very latest sichos were ready to be included.
sichos kodesh aren’t too long, they aren’t too hard,
and they aren’t too complex or inaccessible to the common man.
The above arguments were raised hundreds of years ago to justify
learning only nigleh to the exclusion of Chassidus, and are
all instigated by the yetzer ha’ra. We simply have to
learn the Rebbe’s latest sichos in order to know what to
do at present, as “the Rebbe forewarned everything.”
is also perhaps an explanation of what the Rebbe meant when he
said that too much polishing of the buttons could only cause
damage. We mustn’t concentrate on the earlier sichos
(which have already been sufficiently polished) while ignoring the
latest ones, for the only service that remains is to actually
greet Moshiach Tzidkeinu. May we merit to do so immediately.