Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Hillel Foundation Meets The Lubavitcher Rebbe

Why didn't Chabad establish its headquarters in Israel? What is a Rebbe? What is the Chabad method to meditation and reflection? The above mentioned questions are from a first time released Yechidus with the Rebbe and the Directors of the Hillel Foundation. This fascinating Yechidus took place during then summer of August 1959. I would like to thank all the Editors from The Avner Institute for all of their efforts in helping to publish this Yechidus. Special thanks to Rabbi Groner, one of the Rebbe's Secretaries, for allowing this Yechidus to be released for the first time from his Archive.

Attached is an interesting picture of the Rebbe thanks to the "Rebbe Archive".

Rebbe: If I remember correctly, when we met last time it was discussed that everyone must always be going mechayil al chayil (from strength to strength). As a year has elapsed in between, probably every one of us is more efficient. I would like to hear besoros tovos (good news) about your achievements.

Question: "Chayil" also means a soldier of war. Is there any connection to going from "strength to strength?"

R: Yes, a solder is forced to go to war; he must go higher even against his will.

Q: Why didn't the Lubavitcher movement choose to go to Israel instead of the U.S.?

R: The Lubavitcher movement came to the U.S. in 1940, when the British Mandate was in full power. If you have a certain amount of energy and it is your intention to use it to a maximum of efficiency, you must apply it where it can be used to maximum efficiency.

Q: Do you mean that there are more Jewish people here that will be helped by your ideals?

R: There is more possibility to help more people in Brooklyn than in Tel Aviv.

Q: Is that why you chose Brooklyn, and not some other city like Chicago?

R: The real reason is because my father-in-law wanted a place where he could influence a great number of students. And this can be done more easily in Brooklyn than in Baltimore or Chicago.

Q: If the British Mandate had not been in Israel, would he have chosen Israel?

R: I don't believe so; you do not have the possibilities there that you have in the United States.

Q: Did the entire Lubavitcher movement come to the U.S. at one time, or did they come as individuals?

R: Lubavitcher congregations were established in the U.S. over fifty years ago. They invited my father in-law (the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe) as a political rescue from Poland, which was under German occupation. The Hasidim in the U.S. intervened through the State Department. They explained to the State Department the advantages of having his leadership here in the U.S., and through the American Embassy in Berlin they were successful in having him leave and come to the United States. But, I believe, that even had there been a choice between the two million Jews in the U.S. or the hundred thousand in Israel, where they had already established yeshivas and Yiddishkeit (Judaism), he would have chosen the harder field to work with and not the most convenient. There was more challenge here in Brooklyn.

Q: Lubavitch is systematic, and the neo-Orthodox in Israel do not have some of the frustrations of the Jews in galut (exile).

R: It has no connection with being Orthodox or systematic. It deals with choosing a spot where you have no help or choosing a spot where you can rest twelve or fifteen hours a day. It doesn't depend upon the ideal but whether the human being is seeking an easy way out or seeking to accomplish something, and in a certain period of time. My father-in-law always sought something that was difficult to perform, that no one wanted to do voluntarily, and began by doing something revolutionary.

In 1940, Orthodoxy in the U.S. was going down. In Israel, it was going up, and in Europe it was at the same level more or less. When my father-in-law first heard that the Hasidim were trying to bring him to the U.S., his first thought was that this is a place where his energies can best be applied. Neo-Orthodoxy is trying to fight assimilation while it is still only a seed, as it is much easier to annihilate something when it is beginning than after it is fully grown.

Q: Are you not concerned with assimilation?

R: That is our prime interest. Twenty years ago there were three reasons for assimilation: 1) escape . . . 3) rescue. Now assimilation is looked down upon by all three groups.

Q: Please state your attitude about devekut (Divine ecstasy).

R: Do you have a specific question in mind?

Q: No. I wanted to hear the Lubavitcher interpretation.

R: Every human being, by his connection with G-d Almighty, has no limitation to his possibilities, because he has in his store not only his own energy but an open channel to receive additional energy from above. To have this channel open is called "devekut." You can be a very long distance from the powerhouse and you can become closer and closer to entering the powerhouse itself. And you can become a part of the Being we call G-d Almighty. That is the maximum of devekut. It does not mean that the soul parts from the guf (body), because the body is also a creation. It becomes not only closer and closer, but it becomes forlorn in Divinity. And yet, soon after that, he can eat his seudat Shabbat (Sabbath meal) and go to his business after Havdalah (close of Shabbat) – it is not like nirvana. In devekut you have no existence in yourself, but you are a part of G-d that is permeating all your being with His divinity. It is not in a hidden form, but it is functioning in your body just as your heart, leg, etc. are functioning.

It must permeate not only your actions but your understanding and intelligence. Performing a mitzvah is the action itself—like putting the tefillin (phylacteries) on your head—you can put it on your head and at the same time think about business or politics. That is called machshovot zerot—your thoughts are in another world. You can think about the perush hamilim (meaning of the words) itself but it touches your understanding only and goes no deeper. If you say the blessing with hitlahavut (enthusiasm), then it not only touches your understanding but your feelings also. If this hitlahavut goes deeper and much more, then it can bring him to a stage of ecstasy till he forgets the environment around him. That is, it permeates all your faculties.

A mitzvah can be performed limited and no more, but if you perform it to a maximum, then it brings you to ecstasy and even the movement of your head and involuntary movements are also under the impact of this mitzvah. Thus the saying of the Ba'al Shem Tov (founder of Hasidism) that every day before his prayer he was afraid that he may not come out of this activity alive.

Q: Shabbatai Zvi and his followers used mystical Kabbalah to break away from halacha (Jewish law), as they considered Kabbalah the true procedure for themselves. Perhaps this way may be the reason the [18th century scholar] Vilna Gaon objected to Hasidic teachings?

R: As for comparing the movement of Shabbatai Zvi to the Hassidic movement—every movement that is started by someone of the Jewish people has some common point because it was started by a Jew. Shabbatai Zvi also was a scholar not only in Kabbalah but in halacha, but after a few years he deviated from the right derech (path). It became something that not was only deviant just the opposite of Judaism.

Hasidism and Kabbalah are called in the Zohar penimiut (inward). That includes that there must be something hitzoniut (outward). Kabbalah is not something that you can dissect and throw away one thing, because if you accept one part if it is a necessity that you accept the other part. When someone comes to a conclusion against halacha, he is deviating. If you are logical, you must come to the conclusion that Kabbalah and Hasidism must exist; because without them there is something missing. The same thing--if you accept Kabbalah and negate halacha, you are negating something that is a part; and you are negating the basis on which you are standing.

The Vilna Gaon did not negate Kabbalah, because he had his own group and he learned Kabbalah. In his opinion, it was something not to be learned with a large group, but to be taught to only a select group, as the others are not able to grasp Kabbalah and must be satisfied with halacha. But there must be a select group above them that learns Kabbalah.

Shabbatai Zvi negated halacha. In the time of Shabbatai Zvi there was a group of Catholic priests that translated Kabbalistic manuscripts and studied Kabbalah. But this is not considered Jewish Kabbalah, as the Catholics did not put on tefillin. It is just like someone in Sorbonne, Brooklyn College, or some other university who can learn Kabbalah without putting on tefillin. For true Kabbalah cannot be separated from halacha. The terminology of these two kinds of Kabbalah is penimiut and hitzoniut (true and false Kabbalah): the body and the neshama (soul).

Q: How do you start with your students? Should I begin to talk to them about hitlahavut or just do the mitzvoth?

R: Now is such an era that you must choose with every individual his own approach. If you can take him with hitlahavut or devekut, do it that way. But the main thing is the actual mitzvah and you can choose your own approach. If you estimate your congregation or audience that it can be approached more effectively by explaining hitlahavut, then choose this way. The mistake is if he begins with one thing and then goes no further. If he begins with ma'asah (actual mitzvah), then he has the most essential part of it, and if the audience goes to sleep you have achieved the essential. But if you begin with devekut or hitlahavut and then they go to sleep, they will not know about the most important part—ma'asah bepoel (actual doing).

Q: I came across a great amount of children who expressed bitterness against their parents. Can you suggest an approach to turn this bitterness into love?

R: Although there is no general remedy that will apply to each individual, nevertheless there is one common point. In growing up he must encounter difficulties and obstacles in his way—the world is changing, his body is changing, and this presents obstacles to him. He needs someone for a scapegoat, ashma. The only person who has been with him all his life is his parent, and if he has no strength of character to say to himself that he must overcome these obstacles—even if it is connected with the biggest event in his life—then he must find someone to put the finger on. His road is not easy to go on. He must choose his father and mother to blame, because he knows his teacher only one or two years and he experienced these difficulties before that. If he can put his finger on his mother or father, he has a perfect excuse.

Explain to your audience the real reason they choose their parents for their accusations, but do not stress this point too hard. Tomorrow or the day after tomorrow they will be less bitter. Do not expect them to stand up on the first day and say "ashamnu (I have sinned)."

Q: How is it that I saw that the leadership of Lubavitch was transmitted through a daughter not through a son?

R: You probably mean after the son of the Alter Rebbe ("Old Rabbi"--Shneur Zalman of Liadi, first Lubavitcher Rebbe). He had two sons but they begged the son-in-law to take over the leadership.

Q: Is it ideals and not heredity that decides the leadership?

R: Only ideals. Only someone who has the aptitude in a certain direction. If you have a father who all of his life has consecrated himself toward certain ideals so that it permeates his very existence, it must also permeate his wife and children. If he is permeated by a certain idea, the first subjects to be impressed by it will be his son or his daughter. If the subject is Torah or Kabbalah, the son is more adaptable than the daughter. [Aside to the only woman present: "You will excuse me for saying this, as it is not my idea."] The reason for the leadership is not because he was his son, but because he has a maximum of piety, education, and hitlahavut; he received it from his father and his environment and thus has a bigger chance. The Tzemach Tzedek (third Lubavitcher Rebbe) was an orphan from the third year of his life, and the Alter Rebbe took care of his education personally. Thus, he had more chances to receive this education than even the sons of the Mittler (Second Lubavitcher) Rebbe.

This is the answer for an intellectual. If you are a Hasid you must accept a more spiritual explanation: Rebayus (leadership) is not motivated by something accidental or monetary but by something above us. The son of the Mezritcher Maggid (successor to the Ba'al Shem Tov) was his successor for only five years. After that he was niftar (passed away). It is not dependent upon something physical, but something spiritual and divine.

I wish you a kesiva vechasim tova (Happy New Year), and next year I will ask you more forcefully about your achievements.

Q: In camus or aichus (quality or quantity)?

R: You know that Einstein said that camus always transfers into aichus (mass into energy). There is an interesting quotation in Midrash Rabbah that if there had been one Jew missing of the six hundred thousand at Sinai, G-d would not have given the Torah. Not a Jew like Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses) but even the Jew that had a pesel mika (idol) in his tent—had he been missing, the Torah would not have been given. Nine Moses' cannot make a minyan (quorum of ten Jewish men) to say a kedusha, even though there would be a tremendous power of quality; but if you have ten in quantity you can say kedusha. Similarly, the Midrash says that in giving the Torah you must have six hundred thousand. That is the best proof that quantity and quality have a transformation from one into the other.

Good Shabbos.