The life, legacy and lessons imparted by the unforgettable mashpia Reb Shlomo Chayim Kesselman are documented for English readers in a new book authored by his student Rabbi Uri Kaploun, and published for his 50th yahrzeit.
The life, legacy and lessons imparted by the unforgettable mashpia Reb Shlomo Chayim Kesselman are documented for English readers in a new book published for his 50th yahrzeit by Sichos in English.
The book is authored by Rabbi Uri Kaploun, who himself studied under Reb Shlomo Chayim, and considers himself to be a student of the mashpia. In the introduction to the book, Rabbi Kaploun writes what made Reb Shlomo Chayim stand out in his time, and continue to stand out until today.
What was so distinctive about Reb Shlomo Chayim that made him unique? For a start: Reb Mendel Futerfas – the vintage fellow-mashpia who was his lifelong friend and comrade-in-arms ever since the days of the underground Chabad educational network that defied Stalin – once described an unforgettable moment that he once experienced at a yechidus, after the passing of Reb Shlomo Chayim: “At a certain point in the course of the yechidus, the Rebbe turned to face the window, uttered a sigh, made a gesture of acute disappointment, and said, ‘So long as Reb Shlomo Chayim was around, there was still something [of value]….'”
The Rebbe made a similar remark at a yechidus of R. Ben-Tziyon (“Bentze”) Shemtov: “A certain rav tzva’i (Israeli military chaplain) visited me here after attending a farbrengen of Reb Shlomo Chayim. That is what brought him here. According to what one hears, the only place to which one can direct bachurim in order to receive something is with Reb Shlomo Chayim – but can I direct all the bachurim there?!”
An unusually outspoken statement by the Rebbe about Reb Shlomo Chayim has been preserved for us by R. Yehudah Yaruslaysky, who heard it from the elder chassid to whom it had been addressed. “When a certain chassid from Eretz Yisrael was once at yechidus, the Rebbe told him: ‘I hear that people over there talk about Reb Shlomo Chayim’s failings. Reb Shlomo Chayim has qualities and failings, and I have qualities and failings, and everyone has qualities and failings – but in the case of Reb Shlomo Chayim, you can see the fruits. At the end of the day, Reb Shlomo Chayim will go out to greet Mashiach with his students, and he’ll be able to point to them and say, `Just look at the fruits that I have cultivated!`”
In plain words, Reb Shlomo Chayim was the mashpia of the past generation. As expressed by the venerable senior mashpia of the Central Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah in New York, R. Shmuel Levitin, after the passing of Reb Shlomo Chayim: “There is no mashpia like Reb Shlomo Chayim, and there never will be, because that was his very essence – a mashpia for bachurim.”
R. Yisrael Friedman, rosh yeshivah of Oholei Torah in New York, relates that “the Rebbe once directed one of Anash to consult with me, and explained that directive by saying that `he [i.e., R. Yisrael] is a mushpa, a spiritual disciple, of Reb Shlomo Chayim, so you can discuss things with him….'”
As his students recall, Reb Shlomo Chayim was a born pedagogue. His warm personal charm found its way into every student’s heart. It enabled each student to feel that his individual progress – in his studies, in his avodas HaShem, in his efforts at self-refinement, in his interpersonal contacts -really mattered. And the mashpia‘s sensitivity to the subtle individual differences of his diverse students was remarkable.
The impact of his personal example is still clearly visible in the hundreds of mature-age chassidim who today occupy positions of spiritual influence around the world – an impact just as visible as it was when they were his young disciples basking in his presence. It would be difficult to find another mashpia who produced such an extensive harvest of richly-blessed fruits.
Remarkably, fifty years after his passing, thousands of Chabad chassidim around the world are still warmed by his radiance, farbrenging about his instructive teachings, and living their lives as chassidim in accordance with his patient directives regarding internalized avodah. Those directives are being passed on faithfully to temimim in the Holy Land and around the globe, and thereby continue to guide and educate successive generations of chassidim.
Little wonder that in the letter of consolation addressed to his family, the Rebbe quoted the phrase, Verabim heishiv meiavon — “He brought many back from sin” (Malachi 2:6). And to the text that the family had proposed for the gravestone, the Rebbe added: “He was spiritually bound to our holy Rebbeim.” That bond is evidenced in the scores of letters, filled with directives and encouragement from the Rebbe Rayatz and the Rebbe, that are cited or referred to throughout this book.