The Merit Of Walking In The Rebbe’s Ways
By Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Ginsberg
15 years ago I attended a farbrengen in connection with a siyum ha’Rambam
in a certain city, where I began to relate the following story, which I heard
maybe 30 years ago. A few minutes into my recitation I suddenly heard a gasp
from the late Rabbi Nissan Torchin, who was then the Ashkenazic chief rabbi of
that city. "You’re telling me that story?" he cried. "I was at
that wedding!" He corrected a few details I had gotten wrong. He also
insisted that the yeshiva had been in Kovno, Lithuania, rather than in
is the story:
Chaim Chaikel Miletzky was the rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Chayei Olam in
Yerushalayim. For many years he had suffered from problems with his legs, one of
which had gotten so bad that it was paralyzed. The condition eventually worsened
to the point that he was confined to bed. The doctors insisted that one leg
needed to be amputated. If that didn’t help, the other leg would have to be
1954 one of Rabbi Miletzky’s daughters was married. The wedding was attended
by hundreds of rabbis and yeshiva students. The rosh yeshiva asked
to be carried into the wedding hall on a stretcher in order to participate in
the joyous occasion.
the wedding celebration, speaker after speaker stood up to offer words of Torah
and to bless and the bride and groom. The rosh yeshiva also wanted to
speak, but as he was very weak and could not even sit up, he asked for total
silence so that his words could be heard. When everyone had quieted down, he
began his story.
I was young I went to yeshiva in the city of Kovno. There were 30 of us
in the entire yeshiva, which used the local shul as its place of
Kovno lived an infamous drunkard whom everyone called ‘Itche Der Shikker.’
Itche’s claim to fame was his habit of drinking until he passed out, waking
up, drinking some more, and falling back asleep. No one knew where Itche lived;
in fact, no one was much interested in finding out. His only friends were the
small children who spoke to him during his rare waking hours. Itche could almost
always be found in the shul, where the students of the yeshiva
also spent most of their time.
particularly frigid winter night we were sitting and learning as usual. Itche
was fast asleep on one of the benches. Suddenly the door opened and in rushed a
wagon driver, plainly agitated and desperate about something. ‘Quick!’ he
yelled at the startled bachurim. ‘You’ve got to help me. My wagon
just overturned outside and landed on top of my horse. The reins are all tangled
up around the animal’s neck. If we don’t turn the wagon over at once, the
horse will choke to death. If the horse dies, G-d forbid, I’ll be left without
any means of earning a livelihood. Please come and help me – I can’t do it
by myself!’ he pleaded.
man stood there while we discussed the pros and cons of abandoning our studies
to help him: Was it permissible to pause in our learning or not? In the end, we
concluded that the transgression of neglecting our studies was too grave a sin
to risk. We stayed in the beis midrash and continued to learn. The poor
wagon driver left the shul, angry and bitter.
of a sudden, Itche roused himself from his nap and said, ‘Bachurim! Go
right now to help that Jew before his horse chokes! If you don’t,’ he
warned, ‘you’ll never again walk on your own legs.’
said to him in jest, ‘Itche, since when do you decide halachic
questions?’ He ignored me and said nothing. About a half-hour later, the
desperate wagon driver returned, pleading with us in even stronger language to
come to his aid. He had searched far and wide for others to help him but had
found no one else available. Again we held a discussion on whether or not we
should go, this time deciding that it was indeed permissible. We left the shul
and followed the wagon driver, only to find that we had arrived too late. The
horse was already dead…
shul the next morning, Itche asked for me by name. I had not yet arrived,
but as soon as I walked in, my fellow students informed me that Itche wished to
speak to me. I found him on his usual bench and asked him what he wanted. ‘Listen,’
he said. ‘I have something to ask of you. Tonight I am going to die, and I don’t
want to be alone. I would like you to come to my house to be with me when my
started to laugh. I thought he was only joking, but he repeated his request. I
asked him where he lived, and he described an old ruin on the edge of town that
served as his home.
came. I decided I might as well go to Itche, figuring that I could sit and learn
just as well in his house as in the beis midrash. I took my Gemara and
set off for Itche’s hovel.
I got there I found Itche stretched out on some wooden boards, asleep. I sat
down on a broken crate, opened the Gemara, and began to learn. ‘What am I
doing here?’ I wondered to myself after several hours had passed. ‘How did I
allow myself to fall into this?’ I decided to leave, but as soon as I stood up
Itche awoke. ‘Don’t leave!’ he said. ‘Sit back down. I’m going to die
at exactly 4:00 a.m. I want you to tell the Chevra Kaddisha that I wish
to be buried next to Rabbi so-and-so.’ Itche named an eminent scholar, a tzaddik
and gaon who was buried in the old Jewish cemetery.
are you talking such nonsense?’ I answered. ‘You don’t even put on t’fillin,
and you want to be buried next to such a great tzaddik?’ ‘What do you
mean, I don’t put on t’fillin?’ Itche said. ‘Over there in the
corner is a chest. Look inside and you will find my t’fillin.’
walked over and opened the chest. Much to my surprise I found a beautiful pair
of kosher t’fillin. If I hadn’t seen them with my own eyes I would
never have believed that they belonged to Itche. ‘But even if I tell the Chevra
Kaddisha where you want to be buried they’ll never listen to me,’ I
the chest with the t’fillin is a small box,’ Itche said. ‘Inside
you will find all my writings and manuscripts. If you show them to the rav
and to the Chevra Kaddisha, they will fulfill my request.’ I opened the
box and examined its contents. A quick glance revealed a number of esoteric
Kabbalistic treatises, involving concepts many of which I could not understand.
One thing was clear, however: The man lying on his decrepit wooden bed was a
that point I begged Itche to rescind the gezeira he had decreed on us for
not helping the wagon driver rescue his horse. ‘To tell you the truth,’ he
replied, ‘as soon as the words left my mouth, I regretted them. But I was so
upset at hearing yeshiva bachurim use ‘And the study of Torah
equaling them all’ as an excuse for not helping a Jew, I couldn’t control
myself. Afterwards, I tried with all my might to nullify the decree, but I was
unsuccessful. The only thing I can tell you is that in your case, it will only
affect one leg.’
exactly 4:00 a.m. he expired. After he died, I immediately ran to the rav
and the Chevra Kaddisha as he had instructed. I told them the whole
story, and brought along the box of manuscripts to bolster my words. There was
only one problem: The Chevra Kaddisha insisted there were no empty burial
plots in the ancient cemetery. It was already many years that the city’s dead
were being interred in the new cemetery for lack of space in the old one.
Nevertheless, we walked to the ancient burial ground to look for ourselves. We
were shocked to discover that there was indeed room for Itche to be buried –
right next to the rabbi he had indicated!
whole city was in an uproar over the unlikely and incredulous story. A large and
stately funeral was held for Itche, with most of the city’s prominent Jews
attending to pay their last respects."
this point in the rosh yeshiva’s story, he began to weep. Great
heart-rending sobs filled the wedding hall. "I have no doubt," he said
when he had composed himself, "that my long years of suffering and
incapacitation are the direct result of that hidden tzaddik’s
wasn’t a dry eye in the wedding hall. The guests were filled with pity for the
rosh yeshiva. The joy of the marriage was momentarily forgotten amidst
his tale of woe…
Leib Friedman was one of the wedding guests that day. For a long time he could
not get the story out of his mind. As he was in constant correspondence with the
Rebbe shlita, he decided to mention Rabbi Chaim Chaikel Miletzky in his
next letter. He asked the Rebbe to pray for this unfortunate Jew and to give him
a blessing to recover his health.
Leib Friedman later wrote a seifer entitled Tzidkas Tzaddik, in
which he explained why, in a seifer Torah, the letter Tzaddik
must be inscribed the way Chassidim write it in their Torah scrolls – with the
two Yuds that make up the top of the letter pointing in opposite
directions, and not in the same direction, as done by others. Rabbi Friedman had
engaged in much debate about this with the Chazon Ish as well as the Rebbe shlita.)
short while later he received an answer: Everything that happens in gashmiyus
begins with its source in ruchniyus. Tell the rosh yeshiva that he
should accept upon himself the learning of the daily portions of Chumash,
Tehillim, and Tanya, as instituted by the Rebbe Rayatz. Not only
should he learn these chapters, the Rebbe wrote, but he should make sure that
everyone under his influence does so, as well. (The rosh yeshiva had
acquired a large following over the years.) In the merit of walking in the Rebbe
Rayatz’s ways, G-d Almighty will bless him with the ability to walk in the
literal sense, too.
Leib Friedman immediately ran to show Rabbi Miletzky the letter. Rabbi Miletzky
was absolutely overwhelmed. He was so happy and excited that he kissed the piece
a half-year later, when Rabbi Friedman next visited the rosh yeshiva, he
was sitting at his desk. The doctors had abandoned all talk of amputation and
only spoke of progress and eventual rehabilitation. His condition continued to
improve, and he eventually regained the ability to walk normally…
is said that when the Chasid R’ Reuven Dunin was learning in Yeshiva Tomchei
Tmimim, the Rebbe shlita would often invite him into his holy room.
During these sessions, the Rebbe would give him various instructions and explain
the benefits that following them would bring.
one such occasion, R’ Reuven burst into tears. "Rebbe!" he said.
"I don’t want you to tell me why I should do something; I want to
do it just because the Rebbe said so!"
is also said that at a certain farbrengen that took place around this
time, the Rebbe was talking about something that needed to be done when he
smiled and said, "It’s just as Reuven Dunin says – that you’ve got to
do it without knowing the reason or the benefit; only because you are told…"
Shabbos Parshas Matos-Masei 5736, the Rebbe said (non-edited; free translation):
Jew once told me he was sure that he would live a long life. I asked him,
"How can you be so sure?" and he replied that the Rebbe Rayatz had
promised him that he would be G-d-fearing. As he knew that he was still very far
from G-d-fearing, and that becoming G-d-fearing required a lot of time, he
figured that he still had many years ahead of him.
I asked him what he was doing to fulfill the Rebbe’s words, he answered,
"I’m not so careful about Ashrei and U’Va LeTziyon. But Chitas?
[At that time the daily study of Rambam had not yet been instituted.] Chitas
I always make sure to do."
Ashrei and U’Va LeTziyon depends on a person’s minhag,
and he didn’t want to involve himself in such things. Chitas, however,
was something he had heard directly from the Rebbe, and "the body follows
wherever the head goes." And if he already heard it from the head, how
could he possibly forget it?
so he forgot Rashi and Rambam. But something he himself heard the Rebbe get
excited about at a farbrengen – how can a person forget a thing like
are now within 30 days of the great and holy day of Yud Shvat, the Rosh HaShana
of hiskashrus. We have also just completed the eighteenth cycle of
learning Rambam and started our nineteenth. The Rebbe’s words urging us to
celebrate the siyum ha’Rambam with the biggest possible shturem
(storm) still echoes in our ears.
goal, of course, is to get as many people as possible to learn Rambam,
especially on the three-chapters-a-day track.
Mendel Futerfas, of blessed memory, never liked when people said they preferred
to learn only one chapter of Rambam a day so they could study it in greater
depth. The Rebbe shlita obviously wants us to study three chapters a day,
Reb Mendel would insist, reminding people that the Rebbe never offered
any explanations on Rambam according to the one-chapter-a-day cycle! If Anash
and Tmimim aren’t willing to do it, who will? Anyhow, as Reb Mendel used to
conclude, those who insist on learning only one chapter a day in depth usually
end up not learning it in depth, and sometimes not at all.)
it is a common misconception that women and girls should only learn Seifer
HaMitzvos. In fact, it is entirely untrue. On several occasions the Rebbe
stated explicitly that those women and girls who wish to undertake the three
chapters a day of the Rambam’s Yad may certainly do so.
the most important thing is to keep up with the shiurim and do them every
day, without exception. These shiurim must be established "in
doesn’t matter if it’s already late at night and you’re exhausted and
falling asleep. When the yetzer ha’ra comes and tells you that it’s
alright if you go to bed because you’ll make up the shiur tomorrow when
you’re nice and refreshed – pay no attention! The yetzer ha’ra only
wants to get its foot in the door. Put off that daily Rambam shiur once,
and it’s already tomorrow, then the next day… The main point is to do it on
the day you’re supposed to, even if your brain is a little fuzzy and you’re
not absorbing as much as you should. Maintaining the learning cycle pertains to
the life of the soul itself, and on such matters there is no room for
Shabbos Parshas Mattos-Massei 5746 (edited, printed in Volume 28 of Likkutei
Sichos) the Rebbe said (free translation):
includes the shiurim of Chitas (Chumash, Tehillim,
and Tanya) that my father-in-law, the Rebbe, the Nasi of our
generation, established for everyone, for every Jew of our generation (indeed,
the leader of the generation is the Nasi of all members of that
generation): The daily portion of Chumash (divided into days of the
week), the daily portion of Tehillim (divided into days of the month),
and the daily portion of Tanya (divided into days of the year).
these shiurim, there is a misconception that they are (only) part of the mitzva
to study Torah, in which case one could make the argument that a person should
not learn Tanya (which is part of the Oral Torah) unless he has the
ability to understand it properly. In truth, however, the shiurim of Chitas
pertain to the life of the soul (and the shiur in Tanya, pnimiyus
ha’Torah, pertains to the inner part of the soul, as it is known that the
"hidden part of Israel" is connected to the "hidden part of
Torah"). And in the same way that a person should learn the Chitas
portions of Chumash and Tehillim (the Written Torah) even if he
doesn’t understand them, so too should he learn the portion of the Tanya.
also applies to the daily study of Rambam, which has recently become more
widespread, and can be done in one of three ways: three chapters a day, the Seifer
HaMitzvos, or one chapter a day.
is no coincidence that the Rambam concludes his work with the subject of
Moshiach and Redemption. For, as the Rebbe has explained, this emphasizes that
the ultimate objective of everything we do of the totality of Torah and mitzvos
is the Messianic Era, may it commence immediately.
Adoneinu Moreinu V’Rabbeinu Melech HaMoshiach L’olam Va’ed!"