Our Post Gimmel Tammuz Bochurim Need a Reality Check

Op-ed By Rabbi Gershon Avtzon: “A Yeshiva which claims to be without an agenda, or if the Hanhalla themselves are not on the same page and the talmidim receive a conflicting message, is doing a tremendous disservice to their students.”

By Rabbi Gershon AvtzonRosh Yeshiva Cincinnati

This week, we begin the month of Sivan and the “shloshim Yom Lifnei” preparations for the holy day of Gimmel Tammuz begin in earnest. The two words “Gimmel Tammuz” bring out strong, and very diverse, emotions and sensitivities by people and I feel that it is time for an open and honest Chinuch discussion about how we educate children, and ourselves, in our (temporary but) current situation.  

Why write about such a sensitive and personal subject? This past Tishrei, I was walking home from 770 with a close relative of mine. He, who is also involved in Chinuch for many years, turned to me and asked me my thoughts on the fact that a few new Yeshivos had opened recently. I thought he was asking about the fact that we now have more “competition” and I told him that I think that it is very good and beneficial. He turned to me and said that I totally misunderstood the depth of his question. He then rephrased the questions as follows?:

“What do you feel about the Chinuch in a Yeshiva in which all the machanchim were born after Gimmel Tammuz and never saw the Rebbe?”

I was not ready or prepared for such a loaded question. My initial and gut response was to say that, in a certain way, they can relate much better to the Talmidim – as they both had to deal with the same questions and challenges – but regardless, this very open and direct question challenged me to think deeply about the various different approaches of how to speak about the Rebbe today.

Before I share my own thoughts on this very personal and sensitive topic, I would like to share a general Chinuch concept: Every Parent and Mossad Chinuch should have an “agenda” – a shita that they are trying to instill in their talmidim. One of the issues in Chinuch today, especially when it comes to sensitive topics, is that we avoid talking clearly about the subject. This creates a vacuum of uncertainty and confusion. We need to give our children and talmidim firm and secure foundations upon which they can build their own beautiful and personal structures.

A Yeshiva which claims to be without an agenda, or if the Hanhalla themselves are not on the same page and the talmidim receive a conflicting message, is doing a tremendous disservice to their students. To echo the words of Eliyahu Hanavi: “How much longer will you continue straddling both sides of the fence?”

I would like to share four foundations that (I feel) are crucial to the chinuch of our youth today:

  1. “Moshe Emes. Every talmid must know that we have a Rebbe that is with us today and that they can personally connect with the Rebbe today. They can write to the Rebbe today, via the Ohel and Igros Kodesh, and receive direct answers from the Rebbe to their individual challenges.

Hiskashrus can’t be based only on the zichronos of their parents, grandparents or mechanchim. Our children and talmidim need to feel that the Rebbe is their Rebbe today. Only then, will they be ready to commit themselves to the Rebbe. Zichoronos are important, but “Malchios is before Zichoronos” – our children must feel that the Rebbe is current. The Rebbe should be spoken about in current terms as that will penetrate the (sub)consciousness of the child.

Our children need to be told clearly that they can write their questions, concerns and feelings to the Rebbe and receive answers from the Rebbe today. I can’t adequately describe in words the change that I see in bochurim’s behavior and Hiskashrus after they receive their first personal answer from the Rebbe through the Igros Kodesh. Their neshamos are lit up and their hearts are opened to receive and internalize what Chassidus has to tell them.

  1. “Toraso Emes” – Every word that the Rebbe said is truthful, factual and actual. The Rebbe’s Nevuah about Moshiach is real and happening. The Rebbe’s sichos speaking about the mission of our generation, and the everlasting life of our Nassi, is real and emes. If we Cha”v tell our children or Talmidim that the Rebbe’s words were wishful thinking, or that “the Rebbe tried” (it was an “Eis Ratzon”) but wasn’t successful, it destroys – in the mind and hearts of our children – everything else that the Rebbe said. 

Our children need to know that everything the Rebbe said is true and eternal and they should never be ashamed of anything that the Rebbe said, edited or allowed to be publicized.  

This is how Chassidim felt and acted in the years 5751-5754 and this is the way we should be acting today. One of the greatest compliments that I ever received was from a parent that told me that the way he describes the way the Yeshiva in Cincinnati operates is that “they did not get the memo (that gimmel Tammuz happened) and that they continue to believe with a pshitus like we all did in 5753”.

  1. It is perfectly fine not to understand how two opposite true facts (knowing that “Gimmel Tammuz” occurred and thus we go to the Ohel, and the Rebbe being physically with us today) coincide. 

To elaborate: Most of us probably feel sad (to say the least) when you see young bochurim that have created a “fantasy Rebbe” for themselves. They do not go to the Ohel and they convince themselves that the Rebbe is physically walking, talking, giving dollars, Kos Shel Bracha and other such activities.

[This should not be confused with the very important expressions of Emunah and Tzipiya which are expressed in setting up the Rebbe’s place by davening in and general Farbrengens in 770.]

It is also very sad (to say the least) that there are other bochurim that don’t visit 770, don’t have a focus on Moshiach and spreading the Rebbe’s clear prophecy and feel that the Rebbe’s real leadership finished in 5754.

While these two groups of bochurim may act in opposite ways, they really both have the same mindset. They are both dealing with an obvious intellectual contradiction: On the one hand, we all witnessed “gimmel Tammuz” and on the other hand the Rebbe made it clear that in every generation there needs to be a physical Moshe Rabbeinu.  

The rational mind, without proper Torah and Chassidishe guidance, can’t handle living with this contradiction. One group of bochurim decided to just “not understand” Gimmel Tammuz (and thus they create a “living Rebbe” etc) and the other group decided to “not understand” the sichos of the Rebbe (and just ignore the Sichos that speak about Moshiach and the life of the Nassi). In truth, both conclusions are the same: In their minds, things are “clear” – as one reality is ignored –  without any contradictions.These are both very faulty conclusions. 

The proper path, in my opinion, is very different: The foundation must be (in the words of the Rebbe in Igros volume 3 page 54) “There is a Rebbe among the Jewish people, that he is not bound by the limitations of nature, and that a person who wants to follow a secure path — be it in business or in directing his household — should not raise his hand without asking the Rebbe.” In simple words: We have full Emunah that the Rebbe is our Nassi and with us today, and we can receive answers from the Rebbe, and still go to Ohel to daven etc.

Although this approach – to understand that we don’t understand two existing and simultaneously opposing realities – seems to defy logic and reason, it is not new for a Chassid. We are constantly taught to live with “Nimna Hanimnaos – two seemingly opposites that coincide together” as a Yid and Chassid.  We embrace the fact that we can’t understand everything and that itself is part of our motivation to break out of this Galus.

[There are those that do not participate in the “dollars-style” activities (as they realize that it is a mistaken ideology) but still do not go to the Ohel. While I do not agree with this hashkafa, it is not the subject of this article.]

  1. The constant focus that this concealment is temporary and that at any moment the Rebbe will return and take us out of Galus. This is the greatest source of optimism, excitement and connection. This is the ultimate driving force in the Hiskashrus of a Chassid today. It also creates the true feeling of accountability to the Rebbe, which is so vital and important for every chassid.

In the words of the Rebbe (Va’era 5752): “In addition: The knowledge and recognition that – at any moment – the Rebbe will be coming and looking at each individual Chassid (to see where they are holding in their Avodah) will inspire the Chassid to do their Avodah in its fullest sense.” 

Iyh we will be reunited with the Rebbe, Vehu Yigaleinu, and there will be no need to have this discussion!

If you have comments, questions or ideas, please write in the comment section below or email me directly at [email protected]

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