Mamash Really Means Mamash!
By Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Ginsberg
terms are often tossed about casually, without thinking about what
they really mean: "A veritable portion of G-d Above."
"The whole world is filled with His glory." "When
will the master come? When your wellsprings will be disseminated
outward." * The innovation of Chabad Chassidus is that when
it says mamash, it means mamash – without any p’shetlach!
Baal Shem Tov and the Ohr HaChayim HaKadosh (Rabbi Chaim ben Atar,
whose yahrtzeit was on the 15th of Tammuz) enjoyed a
friendly relationship, although — as it was presumed — the two
tzaddikim never actually met. In those days, the lines of
communication between Yerushalayim and Mezhibozh barely existed,
and there is no evidence of any customary, conventional pattern of
communication between the two. (There is a tradition among
Chassidim that had the Baal Shem Tov and the Ohr HaChayim met in
the conventional way, they would have certainly brought about the
final Redemption. A collection of the Baal Shem Tov’s sayings
about the Ohr HaChayim is printed in the addendum to Shivchei
HaBaal Shem Tov K’sav Yad, which includes a quote from a maamer
of the Mitteler Rebbe: "The Baal Shem Tov, of blessed memory,
used to say that he always encountered the Ohr HaChayim in the heichal
of Moshiach, etc.")
the Ohr HaChayim passed away (at Mincha time on the
afternoon of Shabbos Kodesh, the 15th of Tammuz 5503 ), the
Baal Shem Tov was in the middle of washing his hands for Shalosh
Seudos. For a few moments he appeared to be lost in thought
before reciting HaMotzi and while eating the required kezayis.
He then made a strange pronouncement: "The western light has
been extinguished." When none of the Baal Shem Tov’s
disciples understood his allusion he explained, "There is a
certain kavana to netilas yadayim that is only
revealed to one tzaddik in every generation. Until now,
this insight was known only to R’ Chaim ben Attar; however, it
was just revealed to me as I washed my hands for Shalosh Seudos.
From this I understood that R’ Chaim has now departed from the
Shabbos was over, the Baal Shem Tov tore kriya and observed
all the laws of aveilus for his close friend. It was later
learned that the Ohr HaChayim had passed away at that exact time.
daughter of the famous Noda B’Yehuda (Rabbi Yechezkel Landau)
was an ardent supporter and Chassid of the Baal Shem Tov. When the
story of how he had known that the Ohr HaChayim had passed away
began to circulate, she saw it as an opportunity to draw her
father closer to the Baal Shem Tov.
the Noda B’Yehuda refused to believe the miracle stories that
were told about the Baal Shem Tov, dismissing them as nothing but
a ploy to attract the masses. To him the very idea was anathema,
as the Torah doesn’t need any proof to demonstrate its
gaon even went so far as to make a play on words on the
verse in Hosheia (14:10) in one of his t’shuvos:
"For the ways of the L-rd are right; the just shall walk in
them, but the transgressors shall stumble in them." Instead
of the word "transgressors," the Noda B’Yehuda
substituted "Chassidim," changing the verse to read
"For the ways of the L-rd are right; the just shall walk in
them, but the Chassidim shall stumble in them." When the
Chassidim learned of this revision, they tried to convince the
book publisher to print the verse as it really is, but this only
made the Noda B’Yehuda smile. "That is the difference
between myself and the Chassidim," he declared. "I have
turned transgressors into chassidim, and they make chassidim
fact, the Noda B’Yehuda rejected his daughter’s argument
completely. Not only was the Baal Shem Tov’s having torn kriya
for the Ohr HaChayim not a demonstration of his
righteousness and holiness, he reasoned, it was against halacha!
According to Jewish law, a person is only permitted to tear kriya
if he is present at the moment the neshama departs from the
body; seeing it with ruach ha’kodesh does not qualify. As
far as he was concerned, the whole story only added to his
contention that the Chassidim did not behave properly.
Noda B’Yehuda’s daughter became so upset at her father’s
obstinacy that she went to the Baal Shem Tov and repeated his
words. "Why are they saying that I wasn’t there?" the
Baal Shem Tov replied. "I was there, which was why I
was obligated to tear kriya according to halacha."
is one word that appears frequently in the "Written
Torah" of Chabad Chassidus, the holy Tanya, and that
is "mamash." I’ve even heard it said by many
great Chassidim and mashpiim that mamash is the main
innovation of the Tanya: Before the Alter Rebbe, people
interpreted certain statements of the Torah as analogies for the
purpose of illustration; the Alter Rebbe taught, however, that the
Torah’s words are to be taken literally, mamash, without
resorting to fancy interpretation or analysis.
cite just a few examples:
the Book of Iyov (31:2) the neshama is described as a
"portion of G-d Above." Until the Alter Rebbe wrote
otherwise, this was often interpreted as poetic language or a
figure of speech emphasizing the significance of the soul. But the
Alter Rebbe paskened that the Jewish soul is "mamash
[literally] a portion of G-d Above." The neshama is
really and truly a portion of Hashem, as it were.
day in our prayers we say that the Holy One, Blessed be He,
"fills the earth with His glory." Without the Alter
Rebbe, we might take this as a metaphoric expression describing G-d’s
greatness, or misinterpret the concept of tzimtzum to mean
that G-d has withdrawn Himself from the physical world and merely
oversees events from On High, G-d forbid. In fact, that is
precisely what many Jews believed until the time of the Baal Shem
one point in the early battle against the Chassidic movement,
things got so bad that the Misnagdim accused the Chassidim of
adhering to a kind of animism. In one of their letters of
denunciation they seized upon the verse in Yirmiyahu,
"…who say to a piece of wood, you are my father; and to a
stone, you have brought me forth," and wrote that the
Chassidim actually believe that G-d is found in every piece of
wood and stone. Chassidus, of course, teaches that G-d is mamash
everywhere, and that the words "He fills the earth with His
glory" are to be taken literally. "There is no place
void of Him." Even in the lowliest of locations, even in a
place of idolatry, etc., G-d is present in all His power and
force, but concealed.)
another example from Pirkei Avos: "Be humble of spirit
before every person." Everyone realizes that this is a nice
thing to do and that the world would surely be better off if
everyone aspired to this ideal. But take it literally? How can a
Torah sage feel genuine humility in the face of a sinner or even a
murderer? Maybe the Mishna is only trying to convey that a person
shouldn’t feel too arrogant. But the Alter Rebbe wrote in
chapter 30 of Tanya that one should be humble "really
and truly before every single person mamash, even before
the simplest of simpletons." The Alter Rebbe explained that
even the greatest gadol cannot accurately assess his own
spiritual standing, for how can he be sure that he is closer to
Hashem than anyone else? Who is to say that the "simplest of
simpletons" has not overcome his trials in life more
successfully than he?
maxim: "Every person who cleaves to talmidei chachomim
is considered to be cleaving to the Shechina." Before
Chassidus, some people may have interpreted this as a nice thing
to say about talmidei chachomim, but not to be taken
literally. How can attaching oneself to a human being of flesh and
blood be equivalent to attaching oneself to the Divine presence?
Yet the Alter Rebbe explained that this is the true reality –
"it is as if he has attached himself to the Shechina
mamash." The tzaddik, precisely because he is of
flesh and blood, acts as the connecting intermediary (as opposed
to being an outside third party or an obstructive intermediary)
between the individual Jew and the Ein Sof. The Alter Rebbe
clarified the role of the tzaddik: Because he is completely
battel to Hashem and united with Him, and at the same time
a mortal of flesh and blood, which we can relate to, he enables
every Jew to connect to his true Source. (The principle itself
predates Chassidus by thousands of years: "Who is the face of
the Master Havaya? The Rashbi!")
the Baal Shem Tov said that he was present at the passing of the
Ohr HaChayim, he was mamash there. Not in his mind, not in
his thoughts, not with ruach ha’kodesh but actually and
factually there, which obligated him to tear kriya
according to halacha.
the Baal Shem Tov ascended to the heichal of Moshiach and
asked him, "When will the master come?" and Moshiach
replied, "When your wellsprings will be disseminated
outward," it’s not just a nice story. It wasn’t a vision,
a dream, or a hallucination, G-d forbid. The Baal Shem Tov was mamash
there, he actually asked Moshiach the question, and received this
the Rebbe Rashab heard that the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid
visited the Alter Rebbe in his prison cell, he asked if there was
room enough for three people in the tiny compartment. Why? Because
the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid could have revealed themselves in
only the spiritual sense, but they also could have appeared in
physical bodies, if that’s what they chose to do.
the Rebbeim use words like "dreams" or
"visions," they aren’t talking about hallucinations,
G-d forbid. Rather, they are referring to revelations of G-dliness
that are reality in the literal sense.
is said that the Rebbe MH"M once came back from the Ohel and
greeted the Chassid Rabbi Yaakov Katz of Chicago in the
entranceway to 770. "Regards from the Shver [my
father-in-law, i.e., the Rebbe Rayatz]," he told him. Reb
Yaakov became very agitated and kept asking, "From
whom?" To which the Rebbe replied as a matter of fact,
"Yes, from the Shver."
Rebbe would often return from the Ohel and report that he had been
told such and such, and instructed to do such and such. This was
reality, mamash, because it really happened.
get to the matter at hand: When the Rebbe proclaims that the
service of "separating the sparks" has been completed
and that the world is ready for the Redemption, it is mamash
so. When the Rebbe talks about the prophecy of the Messianic king
just prior to the Redemption and cites the Rambam, he’s talking
about real prophecy. When the Rebbe says that Moshiach is already
present and revealed in the world, he is just giving us the facts.
the Rebbe says that we should announce and publicize this, he
really means announce and publicize! When he states that greeting
Moshiach Tzidkeinu b’poel mamash is the only service that
remains, it really means the only service that remains!
the Rebbe tells us that declaring "Yechi HaMelech"
will bring about "Arise and sing Dovid Malka Meshicha,"
and that the deed is the main thing, he means exactly what he
says. For it is this declaration, expressing our acceptance of
Moshiach’s sovereignty, that will bring about his full and
complete revelation before the eyes of the world. Mamash! "Yechi
Adoneinu Moreinu V’Rabbeinu Melech HaMoshiach L’olam Va’ed!"