Nissan 5761: The Rebbe’s 100th Year
By Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Ginsberg
late mashpia, Reb Mendel Futerfas, o.b.m., arrived in Eretz Yisroel in
the summer of 5733. As related many times in this column, over the next few
years he would almost single-handedly revolutionize the way Israeli Chabad
Chassidim related to the Rebbe shlita.
then, the physical connection between Lubavitchers in Eretz Yisroel and the
Rebbe was very limited, for a number of technical reasons. Many of the things we
take for granted today did not yet exist then. There were no Chabad weekly
magazines and very few mivtzaim brochures. Most communication with the
Rebbe took the form of letters, aside from general directives which Rabbi Efraim
Volf received from Rabbi Hodakov by phone. Compared to the price of phone calls
today, international phone calls then were very expensive. It would never occur
to anyone to pick up a telephone just to find out what was doing in 770. No one
knew who had a yechidus or what the Rebbe said to someone. Sunday
"dollars" wouldn’t begin for many years, and there was no such thing
as video. When the late R’ Levi Yitzchak Freidin made his first film about
Tishrei in 770 it was an amazing thing.
those days the Rebbe’s sichos kodesh usually came out a long time after
they were said, and then only in Yiddish, on poor quality mimeographs which only
subscribers received in the mail. The Vaad Hanachos B’Lashon HaKodesh had not
yet been established. Even the international phone hook-ups that had begun on
the big Yud Shvat of 5730 were problematic. There were always difficulties with
the phone lines, with numerous interruptions and disconnections.
general, people didn’t know when the Rebbe would be farbrenging, and
most farbrengens weren’t broadcast. In those days, getting through by
phone from Eretz Yisroel to New York was an avoda in itself. There was no
such thing as a direct line, and you had to keep calling the operator literally
for hours because the number was always busy. (Remember, this was before they
invented the redial feature. And who had a telephone with buttons?)
they found out that a farbrengen was going to take place, the first group
of runners went to alert Mulik Rivkin, who was in charge of broadcasting.
(Unfortunately, most of the time it was impossible to establish contact with 770
in time, and we rarely got to hear a whole farbrengen from the very
beginning.) R’ Moshe Slonim would then drive up and down the streets of Kfar
Chabad in his car, honking his horn to wake everyone up. (In later years the job
of "waking those who slumber" was passed on to R’ Yosef Yitzchak
Liberow.) A third group would go alert the yeshiva.
all over the kfar, people would come running to hear "the king’s
word." The farbrengen was broadcast in Prime Minister Shazar’s
house, which would take on the look of a yeshiva. Everyone had to pay at
the door for the phone hookup, which was sometimes a real monetary hardship for
to the Rebbe was also a great luxury, as a plane ticket to New York cost about
three months’ salary for the average Israeli. Very few people could afford the
trip, and certainly not more than once in a lifetime. So for the most part,
Israeli Chabadnikim were essentially cut off from the daily routine of
from technical difficulties, there was also a philosophical difference between
then and now. In those days, being a Chabad Chassid expressed itself primarily
in personal avoda, learning Chassidus, davening, etc. Israeli
Lubavitchers went out on Mitzva T’fillin and engaged in outreach with
other Jews, but the focus was not so much on the Rebbe and the idea of "the
Nasi is everything."
other words, the atmosphere was much less immediate than it is today. People
didn’t concern themselves with what the Rebbe was saying now or what he
was asking of them now, and they certainly weren’t lining up to go out
on shlichus. Back then, some of the elder Chasidim were still grappling
with the whole idea of shlichus.
everything began to change in the summer of 5733, when Reb Mendel Futerfas
arrived in Eretz Yisroel. Reb Mendel was the number one advocate for hiskashrus
to the Rebbe and the absolute necessity to give oneself over to him entirely. At
his farbrengens Reb Mendel would stress the importance of traveling to
the Rebbe and being in constant contact with him. Reb Mendel’s words had a
great effect, but as a lone voice in the wilderness it was very difficult to
change a mindset that had existed for decades. (In truth, Reb Mendel’s wasn’t
the only voice. A few others, most notably Reb Avrohom Pariz, Bentzion Shemtov,
and Moshe Slonim, echoed the same sentiments.)
American shluchim who arrived in Eretz Yisroel in 5736 ultimately
succeeded in changing the atmosphere. From that point on, Chabad in Eretz
Yisroel became more focused on the Rebbe, hiskashrus, shlichus, mivtzaim,
can still remember how on Sundays we would all gather around the weekly summary
of the Rebbe’s farbrengen posted on the wall of the yeshiva in
Kfar Chabad. These summaries would be painstakingly typed by R’ Shmuel
Greisman as he took dictation on the telephone. Unfortunately, the typos and
"x’s" were often more numerous than the words themselves, and we
would spend hours trying to decipher exactly what was meant. The whole life of
the yeshiva revolved around those pages. The mashgiach would have
to pry us away from the bulletin board to get us to learn a little nigleh
or Chassidus. But sometimes he would forget his official duties and stand right
next to us studying the page…
the fact that the connection between these pages and what the Rebbe had actually
said was often somewhat tenuous, it was clearly a major innovation. Imagine,
knowing what the Rebbe had spoken about on Shabbos within 24 hours! We talked it
about it constantly, we thought about it constantly, we davened with the
Rebbe’s words on our minds.
shluchim were also responsible for a general increase in momentum. Mivtzaim
with the man on the street and Tanya shiurim in other yeshivos
began to flourish. The Americans usually acted with a greater breitkeit
(broadmindedness) than the Israelis, who were used to acting on a more limited
level. The Americans traveled the length and breadth of the country, and with
their youthful enthusiasm, spread the notion of "the Rebbe is
everything" wherever they went.
one of the greatest innovations they introduced in Eretz Yisroel (which
continues until today) involved celebrating the great and holy day of Yud-Alef
Nissan with a big shturem. Up until then, the Vaad of Kfar Chabad only
organized an official grand farbrengen on Yud-Tes Kislev. The American shluchim,
however, insisted that Yud-Alef Nissan surely deserved the same.
those days, Yud-Alef Nissan (and birthdays in general) did not receive the same
attention as today. Of course, it has never helped that Yud-Alef Nissan falls
only a few days before Pesach, when everyone is extremely busy.
the shluchim stood firm in their conviction – celebrating Yud-Alef
Nissan is not negotiable. They nudged and badgered the establishment so much
that in the end they won their case, despite the Vaad’s protest that no one
would show up. It was agreed to hold a grand farbrengen in Kfar Chabad’s
Beit Menachem, on condition that the American shluchim organize the whole
thing and clean up afterward…
remember sitting and farbrenging with Reb Mendel towards the end of Adar,
when Rabbi Yosef Hecht (who today lives in Eilat) came in to enlist some bachurim
for the cause. The yeshiva was apparently second on his list of
stopovers, and it was equally apparent that he had already made quite a few l’chaims
on his first. One thing I remember him pointing out was that after Rebbetzin
Nechama Dina passed away and the Rebbe stopped farbrenging on the night
of the seider, the farbrengen of Yud-Alef Nissan replaced it. He
told us that Yud-Alef Nissan is truly our holiday, the greatest of all
the festivals of the year. He then concluded his speech with a fictitious Mishna:
"I was only created to clean in honor of Yud-Alef Nissan!"
may have been speaking in jest, but his words had the desired effect….
Yud-Alef Nissan is our holiday in any given year, how much more so is this true
in 5761, as the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach shlita enters his 100th year.
Yes, everyone is busy getting ready for Pesach, cleaning, giving out shmura
matza, etc., but Yud-Alef Nissan is Yud-Alef Nissan!
time to go above and beyond the celebrations of previous years. We cannot
content ourselves with amol (once upon a time), for as Chassidim have
often pointed out, amol is related to Amalek. Amalek would like us to
concentrate on the past, but we must "hold on to the Rebbe’s klamke
(doorknob)" and look to the future. And the Rebbe’s klamke is
clearly Moshiach: learning about Moshiach and the Final Redemption,
"especially the Torah [maamarim and sichos] of the Nasi
HaDor, as a preparation for and semblance of the Torah of Moshiach"
(Shabbos Parshas Tazria-Metzora 5751); spreading the message of the Redemption
and the Redeemer; publicizing modern-day miracles; and accepting Moshiach’s
sovereignty through the declaration of "Yechi Adoneinu Moreinu v’Rabbeinu
Melech HaMoshiach l’olam va’ed."
whole world, gentiles included, needs to know that the Rebbe shlita is
about to be revealed as Melech HaMoshiach. We are rapidly approaching the
time when "all the inhabitants of the world will recognize and know that
every knee should bend to You, and every tongue will swear by Your Name"
and "they will all take upon themselves the yoke of Your kingdom, and You
will soon reign over them forever and ever" – which is synonymous, of
course, with the acceptance of the sovereignty of Melech HaMoshiach.
the z’chus of our preparations for Yud-Alef Nissan 5761, may we merit
to celebrate the "day of our king and Moshiach" together with the
Rebbe shlita in the third and eternal Beis HaMikdash in
Adoneinu Moreinu V’Rabbeinu Melech HaMoshiach L’olam Va’ed!