Reb Yoel Remembers – Part 3

In preparation for Gimmel Tammuz, we bring you some special memories of the Rebbe related by Reb Yoel Kahn, mashpia of the yeshiva at 770 and the Rebbe’s choizer.

Precision in Every Move

In 5721 (1961), Shavuos fell out on Sunday on Monday. On Shabbos (erev Shavuos) I hosted a yid from eretz yisrael, and during the Friday night meal he mentioned that he had recently visited Japan. I realized that this meant he had crossed the International Date Line during sefirah, which created a problem regarding the day he was supposed to keep as Shavuos.

At a Shavuos farbrengen a few years earlier, the Rebbe spoke about this topic, and he explained that sefiras ha’omer is a mitzva for each individual and is not dependent on the sefirah of those around him. If so, someone who crossed the Date Line during sefirah should continue counting based on where he himself is holding, disregarding the fact that everyone else is holding one day earlier or later.

This will have an effect on when he should keep Shavuos as well. Shavuos is not connected to a certain day of the month but to the fiftieth day of sefiras ha’omer. Since this person will reach the fiftieth day one day earlier or later than everyone else in his location, his Yom Tov will be kept on a different date than theirs.

Although the Rebbe didn’t arrive at a halachic conclusion, it was quite clear that he understood this approach as being correct. This would mean that the guest was supposed to keep Shavuos that very day, on Shabbos (and he would not observe a second day on Sunday, because as a resident of Eretz Yisrael, his Yom Tov was only for one day).

I explained this all to the guest, and I told him that he should daven Maariv again, this time saying the tefilah of Yom Tov with the additions for Shabbos, and repeat kiddush as it should be said on Yom Tov. However, since at that time the Rebbe’s opinion on this matter was not completely clear, I told him that it would be a good idea to hear the Rebbe’s view from him directly. I suggested that the next day after musaf, when the Rebbe would pass through the crowd on his way out of shul and wish everyone “Gut Shabbos,” he should tell the Rebbe a few short words: “I was in Japan.”

The next day, we both stood along the pathway the Rebbe would walk through on his way out of shul. The Rebbe greeted everyone with the regular “Gut Shabbos,” and when the Rebbe passed by, the guest said, “I was in Japan.” Without a moment’s hesitation, the Rebbe said to him, “Gut Shabbos, Gut Yom Tov.”

The Rebbe continued walking, and then he turned around and added, “[May you have] a joyous kabbolas haTorah.

I explained to my guest that he had just received a clear psak din from the Rebbe that today was his Shavuos!

However, I still wondered why the Rebbe had wished him a joyous kabbolas haTorah. True, the Yom Tov of Shavuos followed his personal sefirah, but that didn’t mean that it was the day the Torah was given. The Alter Rebbe writes in Shulchan Aruch (494:1) that at the time when Yomim Tovim were instituted based on witnesses who had seen the new moon and Shavuos could fall out on the fifth or seventh of Sivan, one would not say “zman matan toraseinu” when davening unless Shavuos fell out on the sixth of Sivan, the day the Torah was given. (Nowadays, Shavuos always falls out on the sixth of Sivan, and we always say “zman matan toraseinu” on Shavuos; but in those days this was not necessarily the case.)

It thus follows that even though this yid was celebrating Shavuos on the fifth of Sivan, it still wasn’t the day of kabbolas haTorah for him. Why did the Rebbe wish him a joyous kabbolas haTorah?

That night, after Maariv, I was told by the mazkirus that the Rebbe wanted to speak to me. I entered the Rebbe’s room, and the Rebbe asked me if that yid was staying by me. I replied that he was.

The Rebbe said that the yid should be told how to conduct himself that night and the following day. He should daven the weekday Maariv and make havdalah as on a regular Motza’ei Shabbos, with the exception that he should not bring his fingers to the flame by the brachah of borei me’orei ha’eish (because he was being hosted by people who were keeping Yom Tov). The next day, he was to put on tefillin.

I asked the Rebbe if he should make a brachah on the tefillin.

The Rebbe responded with a smile: “In my understanding according to halachah he must put on tefillin. If so, this means that Hashem has commanded him to do so, and he must say ‘asher kideshanu bemitzvosav.’

I then asked if the man should have said “zman matan toraseinu” on Shabbos.

The Rebbe answered, “There is a ruling in the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch [regarding this].” The Rebbe was referring to the halachah mentioned above, that these words are only said on the sixth of Sivan.

This made my question even stronger. Why had the Rebbe wished him a joyous kabbolas haTorah?

As usual, the Rebbe farbrenged on the evening of the second day of Shavuos. During one of the sichos, the Rebbe said that the spiritual revelation of the Torah on Shavuos consists of two aspects: the revelation of the Torah that is connected with the sixth of Sivan, and the revelation that is the result of the preparation during the forty-nine days of sefiras ha’omer.

Chassidus explains that through the avoda during the forty-nine days of sefiras ha’omer, one draws down a revelation of elokus that is proportionate to the individual’s efforts. This is then followed by the revelation of the Torah on Shavuos, which is a revelation that is entirely beyond a person’s avoda.

However, in this sicha the Rebbe explained that this higher level itself is comprised of two aspects:

One level is not dependent on a person’s avoda at all and is revealed to all yidden equally, irrespective of where he is holding in his personal preparation for kabbolas haTorah. This level is revealed on the sixth of Sivan and is the reason we say “zman matan toraseinu” on Shavuos.

The second level is somewhat dependent on a person’s avoda and is revealed after he completes his personal preparation for kabbolas haTorah through the avoda of sefiras ha’omer.

(The sicha was later printed in Likkutei Sichos 3 pp. 995–1001 and fn. 23.)

Hearing the sicha, I received the answer to my question. The Rebbe had wished the person a joyous kabbolas haTorah because a certain aspect of kabbolas haTorah takes place on an individual basis, when he has completed his personal avoda of sefiras ha’omer.

This also explained why the Rebbe divided his greeting into two. First, the Rebbe wished him “Gut Shabbos, gut Yom Tov” without mentioning kabbolas haTorah, because the fifth of Sivan is not the day of Matan Torah, and halachah rules that one should not say “zman matan toraseinu.” Then, as a separate greeting, the Rebbe wished him a joyous kabbolas haTorah, because on a spiritual level a certain aspect of kabbolas haTorah existed on that day as well.

This story serves as an example of the extraordinary precision of the Rebbe’s conduct, both according to halachah and in the spiritual realm.

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