Time For Visions, Just A Lot Of Work To Be Done”
By Menachem Ziegelboim
Menachem Mendel Gluckowsky is a prominent speaker and lecturer in Eretz
Yisroel and the United States. In addition to officiating as rav of
Rechovot, he is a member of the Beis Din Rabbanei Chabad of the Holy
Land. * In part 1 of this exclusive interview with Beis Moshiach, Rabbi
Gluckowsky reflects on his almost 20 years in the rabbinate and
discusses the unique function of Chabad rabbanim in our times.
first arrived in Eretz Yisroel as part of the group of shluchim
the Rebbe sent to Eretz Yisroel in 5736-38 [1976-78],” Rabbi
Gluckowsky begins. “Most of the shluchim were already married;
I was still single. In 5739 I got married and went to live in Kfar
Chabad, where I began to learn in kollel.
some of your readers know, the Rebbe wrote a letter to the shluchim
on Rosh Chodesh Sh’vat 5739 with specific instructions as to what they
were to accomplish in Eretz Yisroel. One of these directives was to give
precedence to entering the rabbinate, which was something I was inclined
to do anyway, though with certain reservations. I asked the mashpiim
Reb Mendel Futerfas and Reb Zusha Wilamovsky for their advice, and they
told me, ‘Safeik d’oraisa l’chumra – one should always be
stringent whenever there’s a doubt.’ In other words, I should go
ahead and enter the rabbinate, despite my reservations.
that time the former Lubavitcher Rav of Lod, Rabbi Elimelech Kaplan, had
recently passed away, and they were looking for someone to take his
place. When the Vaad that had been formed to find a successor
heard that I was looking for a position in the rabbinate, they offered
it to me. Reb Mendel Futerfas was actually the one who told me about it,
as the Vaad had already consulted him. ‘They’re going to ask
you to become rav in Lod,’ he told me. ‘Es iz a gutte zach
[it’s a good thing], and you should go there.’ In those days the
Lubavitcher community of Lod was a lot smaller than it is today, but the
infrastructure was already there. They had already built a yeshiva
and two schools for boys and girls. I thought to myself, ‘How can a
young person like myself take on the rabbinate in such an established
place?’ To me, it was a tremendous undertaking.
day the phone rang – it was them! They wanted to come see me and check
me out. I ran straight to Reb Zusha der Partisan. I was very
close with him. To me, Reb Zusha was head and shoulders above everyone
else, and I respected his opinion greatly. He had no use for politics.
Whatever the Rebbe said went, pure and simple. When I explained to him
how nervous I was about taking on such a big responsibility, he replied,
‘At least listen to what they have to say. You can’t just rule it
out. Write to the Rebbe and tell him your fears. But something like this
cannot be decided alone.’
days later a delegation from Shikun Chabad Lod arrived at my door. They
made their offer, and I wrote to the Rebbe. Immediately, the rumor
spread that I was taking the job.
rumor reached the ears of the mashpia Reb Arye Levi of Rechovot.
Six months earlier I had been offered the rabbinate in Rechovot, but I
had declined. When they heard that I was willing to go to Lod but not to
Rechovot, they offered me the position again. So actually, when I wrote
to the Rebbe, I mentioned that I had been offered two positions, one in
Lod and one in Rechovot, and added that I was reluctant to accept the
one in Lod because it was too heavy a burden. I also wrote that I felt I
would be more at ease in Rechovot, as it was a new community and just
beginning to develop. The Rebbe circled where I wrote about my feelings
and answered, ‘You should do it, in a good and auspicious time.’
election to choose the new rav of Rechovot was held on 3 Menachem
Av 5741. I arrived there a few months later, in Cheshvan 5742.”
you get a letter of congratulations from the Rebbe?
but not right away. After I was offered the position, the Beis Din
Rabbanei Chabad decided that there had to be an election,
which was scheduled for after sundown on 2 Menachem Av 5741. I took this
as an auspicious sign, as it was my grandfather’s yahrtzeit. My
grandfather was a very esteemed rabbi, descended from a long line of rabbanim
going all the back to Rabbi Yaakov of Lissa. I also remembered that the
second of Av was the day on which the Rebbe Rayatz had visited Rechovot.
In his diary, the Rebbe Rayatz describes how he observed the city after
getting off the train. So to me, it was a yom segula.
Chol HaMoed Sukkos I arrived in shul and noticed an envelope in
an old dusty mailbox that nobody used anymore. I was surprised that the
mailman had even found it. When I opened the envelope I saw it was a
letter from the Rebbe addressed to ‘the Chabad Synagogue of Rechovot
and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Gluckowsky.’ The Rebbe had written: ‘With
blessing for organizing everything well, and for success in the
rabbinate and in your holy work.’
that’s how it all began. Before I actually moved to Rechovot at the
end of Cheshvan, I spent every Shabbos there in the homes of different
families. That way I got to know everyone, and everyone got to know
Days in the Rabbinate
I first arrived in Rechovot, the Chabad community consisted of only 18
families, most of whom were relatively young. It didn’t even have its
own shul; that was still under construction when I got there. The
only other Lubavitcher mosad was a preschool with three classes.
That was it.”
when you had just arrived in a new town. Where did you begin?
first thing we did was to establish the Beis Chana School for Girls. I
also gave shiurim on Shabbosim and during the week. I gave
classes for men and women and also started counseling people
were your official duties as rav?
most important duties were to answer shaalos, give shiurim,
hold farbrengens, and in general, act as a spiritual leader. To a
certain extent I also became involved in the development of the
were only in your twenties, yet you were in a position where you had to
tell older people what to do. Did this make you uncomfortable?
of the best things about Rechovot is that everyone works together, rabbanim,
businessmen, etc. I wasn’t making unilateral decisions; we all decided
together and implemented our resolutions as a unified whole. I really
think that is the key to success.”
was your vision as new rav in the community?
didn’t have any visions. There was no time for visions, just a lot of
work to be done. Reb Zusha had always told me, ‘Until there are
educational institutions in a community, it isn’t a community. Build
schools, and young couples will flock to your city.’ So our initial
focus was on establishing an educational network.
started with a kindergarten for girls. Four years later we took a big
leap and opened a first grade for boys, even though there were only four
children in the class.”
Community Takes Shape
tactic of concentrating on schools first proved to be successful. More
and more families moved to Rechovot and joined the Chabad community.
Rechovot has a big advantage in being close to Kfar Chabad, Tel Aviv,
and Nachalat Har Chabad. As a result of Rabbi Gluckowsky’s peulos,
many families gradually became frum and even Chassidic.
we have about a thousand children enrolled in our schools, bli ayin
ha’ra,” Rabbi Gluckowsky says. “There are seven kindergartens,
a cheider for boys, a yeshiva ketana, and a
girls’ school in Nes Tziona, which is right nearby.”
Chabad community of Rechovot is known for its high level of achdus.
How do you achieve such unity with over a thousand members of Anash?
I look at people I see individuals, not just a group of people. This is
something we learn from the Rebbe. The Rebbe is the leader of the entire
Jewish people, but every Jew is a world in his own right. The first
thing to do is to recognize peoples’ individuality and help them with
their personal needs.”
you ever feel that the job is too big for one person?
of all, ‘G-d only asks according to one’s abilities.’ Hashem gives
a person the strength he needs. But there are certain moments when I am
particularly aware of my responsibility. For example, whenever I walk
into a shul and see a big crowd, I daven for siyata
di’shmaya to be able to do what I’m supposed to. It’s a very
big responsibility, but a shliach has to be b’simcha. As
the Rebbe said many times, the gematria of shliach is the
same as samei’ach. Of course, some days are easier than others.
you stop and think about it deeply, you realize that what we’re doing
is expanding the Rebbe’s kingship, whether it’s building mosdos
or helping individuals with their problems. Every Chabad outpost is a
part of the Rebbe’s domain. The function of a rav is to help
wherever it’s necessary, whether it’s in regard to raising children
or parnasa. When you see the fruits of your labors, it gives you
the strength to continue.”
Function of Chabad Rabbanim Vis-à-Vis
Gluckowsky is not only the rav of a particular Chabad community,
but the assistant secretary of the Beis Din Rabbanei
Chabad of the Holy Land. In that capacity he is involved in a
much wider range of issues than pertain to the residents of any one kehila.
him to elaborate on what it means to be a Lubavitcher rav in
general, and the special concerns of our times.
Rebbe has spoken so much about the importance of Chabad rabbanim.
But what exactly are they supposed to do other than pasken shaalos
and reside over dinei Torah?
Rebbe once said that rabbanim are close to his heart because his
father [Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson] was a rav. But of course,
there’s much more to it than that. You simply cannot count the number
of answers the Rebbe wrote on the significance of a rav and the
function of the Chabad rabbanim in Eretz Yisroel. Most of these
answers were addressed to Rabbi Yaroslavsky, the secretary of the Beis
responsibility of the rabbanim is across the board and covers a
wide range of topics. One of the most important aspects is chinuch,
which the Rebbe always encouraged rabbanim to become involved in.
This is also something that is close to me personally, as my late father
was a melamed and mechanech for 46 years, and my mother
also taught for over 30 years. I grew up in a household in which chinuch
was always being discussed. Aside from our own schools in Rechovot,
I’m also an administrator of the Reshet Oholei Yosef Yitzchak, an
educational network with thousands of students across the country.
also have to be peacemakers, as it states, ‘Talmidei chachomim
increase peace in the world.’ This includes resolving difficulties
between man and his fellow man, providing counseling in family
situations, and maintaining peace between man and wife.
the main job of rabbanim is to act as ‘manhigei ha’eida
– leaders of the community.’ Every rav, especially a
Lubavitcher rav, is obligated to tend to his flock and guide it
in the right direction. Over the years this has included all kinds of
crucial decisions. The Rebbe would often tell people to consult with
Chabad rabbanim in answer to their personal questions. In the
famous sicha of 2 Adar 5748, the Rebbe said that whenever a
person has questions, both personal and general, he should go to his
local Chabad rabbanim or Rabbinical Court.
Rebbe did not regard rabbanim as people who only render halachic
decisions, but as navigators of their communities’ spiritual life. In
5751 the Rebbe wrote to the Beis Din of Eretz Yisroel:
‘The conduct of Anash is primarily in the hands of the Agudas
Chassidei Chabad, as led by the rabbanim.’”
Jewish people are now in a time of turmoil, with many important issues
that must be resolved. Is it possible that the rabbanim aren’t
speaking out loudly enough? Everyone seems to be so confused.
answer to that is complicated. It isn’t accurate to say that the rabbanim
aren’t speaking out. There have been many instances where their voice
was the decisive factor.
the same time, there are many issues that cannot be decided
unilaterally. Even within a beis din, there is difference
of opinion. Resolving problems can often be a long, drawn-out process.
It goes without saying that everything must be based on the Shulchan
Aruch and the Rebbe’s teachings. But the Torah also advises us to
‘turn it over and over, for everything is within it.’”
Yud Sh’vat you gave a wonderful, inspiring speech. Why aren’t other rabbanim
following your lead? They could do so much to lift people’s spirits.
answer is that we’re still in Galus. The darkness of Galus
is not just external, out there in the world at large, but also within
us. In fact, it starts with us. If the head is concealed, the
whole body is concealed. The reality today is that the feeling of
elevation we got from the Rebbe is b’helem, at least
does this express itself?
thing we are lacking most b’galuy is the sense of certainty the
Rebbe provided when we could see him in the physical sense. Whenever a
problem arose that only the Rebbe could decide, he made the decision.
main problem today is this lack of clarity. There are so many issues at
stake: shleimus ha’aretz, problems within Anash, etc.
Everyone goes around quoting the Rebbe’s sichos; everyone tries
to figure out what the Rebbe has to say about this situation. But
everyone is quoting different sichos! The question is, in which
direction are we supposed to go? Should we be flexible or inflexible?
for example, the issue of whether or not to start an all-out campaign
for shleimus ha’aretz. Some people insist that we should, as it
involves pikuach nefesh and the Rebbe spoke out about it on
countless occasions. Others argue that we’re supposed to take care of
Jews’ ‘spiritual pikuach nefesh,’ and coming out publicly
for shleimus ha’aretz might drive away people who would
otherwise be attracted to Chassidus. Our main function, they insist, is
spreading the wellsprings outward.
a sicha of the Rebbe Rayatz from Pesach 5703  in which he
speaks about the phrase in the Hagada: ‘This is the bread of
affliction which our forefathers ate in Egypt.’ According to
Chassidus, ‘our forefathers’ refers to the level of chochma.
‘In Egypt,’ when we are in Galus, our intellectual capacity
is essentially flawed, rendering us unable to distinguish between good
and evil. We simply cannot tell the difference between what comes from kedusha
and what comes from its opposite.
Rebbe Rayatz spoke about the tzaddik Rebbe Nachum of Chernobyl,
who was once given 300 rubles by an admirer for his personal use. Rebbe
Nachum’s gabbai was delighted, expecting to be able to use the
money for the upkeep of the Rebbe’s household. But the tzaddik
gave it all away to a certain Chassid who had come to him crying that he
needed 300 rubles.
Nachum later revealed that he had been torn: His first impulse had been
to give the whole amount to the needy Chassid. But as soon as he
resolved to do so, an inner voice whispered that maybe it was better to
divide the money among many poor people rather than help just one. ‘At
that moment,’ Rebbe Nachum said, ‘I realized that one voice was
coming from the side of holiness, and the other was coming from the
other side. But I couldn’t tell which was which! I closed my door and
pondered the matter for hours before coming to a conclusion: The idea to
divide the money was not coming from the side the holiness. And
how did I know? Because originally, when I first thought of using the
money myself, it had never occurred to me that 300 rubles was too much
for one person… It was only after I had decided to give it away that
the idea popped into my head.’
Rebbe Rayatz concludes that even though Rebbe Nachum of Chernobyl was a
complete tzaddik, he still had to resort to the intellect to
figure out the truth.
intellectual discrimination was provided to us by the Rebbe MH”M
during all the years we merited to see him. The Rebbe made all our
important decisions. But the Rebbe Rayatz also says in the same sicha
that the capacity for intellectual discrimination can be attained by
learning Chassidus. What we have to do is study – really, really study
deeply – the Rebbe’s teachings for our generation. But it takes a
lot of effort and a lot of davening to be able to discern what
the Rebbe wants. Do we or don’t we go ahead with the operation? Is it
a good shidduch? Should Lubavitch get involved in the Israeli
here to continue.)