“How Ohr Menachem Shows Me That the Rebbe Isn’t Joking”

Article by Rabbi Mendy Karp: “Postville Mesivta, where I teach, is 1,063 miles from Cheder Ohr Menachem. I have no relatives learning or teaching there, and no one asked me to write an article to help their campaign. So why am writing this?”

By Rabbi Mendy Karp Maggid Shiur in Postville Mesivta

Postville Mesivta, where I teach, is 1,063 miles from Cheder Ohr Menachem. I have no relatives learning or teaching there, and no one asked me to write an article to help their campaign. So why am writing this?

The Rebbe once shared that Chaim Der Klotz was once asked, “Why do you need to learn and daven for 18 hours every single day? Wouldn’t 17 and a half hours be enough?” His response (which I will paraphrase according to my understanding) sounds fantastical, but it deserves serious reflection. “If I were to learn for 17 and a half hours a day, another Yid would convert r”l.

To his baffled listener, he explained, “If I take it easy and do avodah for 17 and a half hours a day, the talmid chacham over there would go from 17 and a half to 17. His friend would go from 17 to 16, another from 16 to 15 until the Yid who comes to shul once a year would not come at all, and the Yid whose only visible connection is that he refuses to intermarry would drop that.”

Humans are social creatures, and naturally, the greatest effect on us is what those surrounding us are doing. “I’m not as Chassidish as Shloimy; he’s a bit extreme, but I’m not as secular as that fellow; that is just too much. So this is an acceptable amount of ____________ (fill in the blank: limud haTorah, avodas hatfilah, hidur mitzvah, tzedakah, etc.).”

Is this the truth? Of course not. But that’s how the animal soul thinks. Perhaps this is the meaning of the verse, “tzadik yesod olam.” Simply by his example, the tzadik holds up the world.

Why are dugme chayos so important? We can all read in the seforim what Torah and the Rebbeim expect from us. Just look in the sefer and do what it says?!

However, we all know that is not the case. As Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev said to Hashem, “You put Elokus in the books and the taivos in front of our eyes.” Without dugme chayos, we learn a maamar and conclude, “This is a nice thought.” Every Chossid can point to the Chassidim he encountered who made him realize that Chassidus is REAL, ahavas Yisroel is real, yiras shomayim is real.

Shmuel Munkes once hung himself upside down outside the Alter Rebbe‘s shul. He explained, “A shoemaker hangs a shoe to show what he makes. A Rebbe should have a Chossid hanging to show what he makes.” This cute but serious story has a serious lesson. One only knows that a Rebbe is a Rebbe when one sees that He makes REAL PEOPLE able to live Chassidus in their REAL EVERYDAY lives.

For us Chassidim, we are held up by the likes of Reb Mendel Futerfas, Reb Peretz Mochkin, Reb Pinye Korf, who were in turn held up by Reb Zalman Moshe Hayitzchaki, Itche Der Masmid, who were in turn held up by their eltere Chassidim, and so on.

In a well-known story, once in Siberia, Reb Mendel was tempted to eat a cheap kosher fish that had become available (in times when a little protein was literally a question of survival). However, he questioned whether the fat the barrels were sealed in was kosher.

He remembered that when the Alter Rebbe was in jail, he refused to eat non-kosher, even at the cost of his life. However, he thought to himself, “Am I such a chitzon to act like I am on the level of the Alter Rebbe?” Then he thought, “I’m a chitzon anyways. I may as well be a bit more of a chitzon and act like the Alter Rebbe.” He abstained from the fish and survived. Imagine what today’s generation would look like if Reb Mendel had given in to his yetzer hara in this and many other battles. Reb Mendel wouldn’t be Reb Mendel, and we wouldn’t be who we are.

We see countless times in answers from the Rebbe, both in Igros and personal encounters, that the most effective way to influence others is by personal example.

In a classic answer of the Rebbe to a hanhala, the Rebbe explained that they must raise the standard of what they demand from the bochurim, both in terms of learning and conduct. If they were to drop their standard for fear of alienating bochurim who struggle, not only would the majority of bochurim in their yeshiva be negatively affected by the relaxed standard, but the entire Lubavitch yeshiva system would end up lowering its standard. Quoting the gemara, “Rav found a valley and made a fence,” the Rebbe explained that in the very area where they feel they should be lenient, they should be strict.

This is why the entire Lubavitch chinuch world owes a massive debt to Cheder Ohr Menachem. We all know that the Rebbe repeatedly stressed that yeshivas should stay open in the summer, that there should not even be a trace of limudei chol, and that children should be raised in a spirit of joyful dedication to fulfilling the Rebbe’s directives.

And yet, to some extent, we thought, “These are nice ideal ideas, applicable in a yehi ratzon in the Rebbe’s sichos. We have to be practical. A little compromise here, a little secular infiltration there. How else will we raise healthy, happy Chassidim in the modern era years after Gimmel Tammuz?”

Enter Ohr Menachem, an entire school in Crown Heights founded 17 years ago in Crown Heights with one goal: “Let’s actually raise our kids exactly the way the Rebbe says to: Let’s actually be 100% al taharas hakodesh with no cheshbonos. Let’s actually have school continue in the summer. Because the Rebbe said, and that’s enough of a reason.”

This raised and continues to raise the standard of Lubavitch chinuch everywhere. “Ok. We’re not extreme like them, but we are Chassidim. We can do more to do what the Rebbe wants.”

Ohr Menachem was and is a revolution. And this revolution is good for me and for all of us.  

Rabbi Sholom Baras once walked on tahalucha to a shul in Boro Park in unpleasant weather. With a curious crowd gathered around, someone said, “Is The Rebbe alive?” He responded, “You see, I’m here. Az Der Rebbe shiked, gait men.” (When The Rebbe sends, you go.” Someone from the crowd observed aloud “Dos Iz a Rebbe. Es iz Devurim Chayim Vkayim Luad.” (This is a Rebbe. His words are alive forever) 

Especially now, as the olam hasheker, the modern-day gilgul of the haskala/mitzrim/yevtzeksia/misyavnim, otherwise known as the New York Department of Education, demands that we be substantially equivalent (which of course we aren’t, since to their chagrin, we don’t have significant numbers of students on drugs, engaging in violence, committing suicide, etc.), we must come together and say, “The Rebbe lives.” 

For too long, the school that gives all of us strength to raise our level of simple kabolas ol has operated out of two small houses and a shul. Yes, the dedication on the part of the teachers, students, and parents, making it work besimcha, is inspiring and perhaps reminiscent of chadorim in Russia.

But now, it’s time for kedusha to have harchava. Bayis. Hisyashvus. Let the triumph of the Rebbeim’s intergenerational fight of אל תגעו במשיחי be clear and unequivocal. Let’s create an edifice that we can pass by and say, “This beautiful building exists because the Rebbe’s Chassidim don’t compromise.”

One Purim, Mr. Nussen Fellig from Montreal asked the Rebbe for a brocha for a boy (he had only one daughter at the time). The Rebbe asked Rabbi Leib Kramer (the principal), “How much does Nussen give?” When told he gives $100 a year, the Rebbe said, “… you should give $1,000 towards the new yeshiva building” (equivalent to about $9,500 today).

A month later, at the kos shel brocha for Pesach, the Rebbe asked if he fulfilled his pledge. Mr. Fellig thought the Rebbe had been making a Purim joke. “Nussen,” said the Rebbe, “ich macht nisht kein jokes (I don’t make jokes), and especially not on Purim.”

When asked via correspondence if his regular contribution can be counted as part of the $1,000, the Rebbe wrote that this donation “should not diminish your regular tzedaka giving.” The Rebbe further encouraged him not to delay “to show the joy and desire to fulfill G-d’s will and to give satisfaction to the Creator.” Mr. Fellig had a baby boy in Tammuz, 5721, the same month the new yeshiva building was completed.

As we learn from Ohr Menachem, the Rebbe isn’t joking. Not about Torah in the summer, not about al taharas hakodesh, not about Moshiach coming, and not about the tremendous reward we will all get by giving extra money (in addition to our regular tzedaka) so the Rebbe’s school can have a proper building.


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