Watch: In a full-length interview, Rabbi Shimon Hellinger questions Reb Yoel Kahn on life post Gimmel Tammuz, hiskashrus, and the Rebbe’s vision for Anash. With English subtitles and transcript.
The interview was conducted in 5774/2014.
Gimmel Tamuz is approaching, and everyone is in a state of heightened preparation and inspiration, but there are two general questions that are on everyone’s mind: (1) How can we connect ourselves to the Rebbe today when we can’t see the Rebbe? How especially can the young generation which has never seen the Rebbe have meaningful hiskashrus? (2) How does one become mekushar to the Rebbe? What exactly does that involve?
In response to the first question: I recall a Yud Shvat farbrengen where the Rebbe compared the histalkus of the Frierdiker Rebbe on Yud Shvat 5710 to the period when the Frierdiker Rebbe had left Russia, Isru Chag Simchas Torah 5688.
During that period, there were times when there was no communication at all. The GPU, the Russian police, would conduct searches in Chassidim’s homes and would search for the Rebbe’s picture, and if they found one it was considered treasonous and arrests were made, and that was that. Otherwise, however, there was no communication with the Rebbe.
They had these same questions back then. The Frierdiker Rebbe left Russia Isru Chag Simchas Torah 5688 and Communism fell in 5751, quite a bit of time, during which they didn’t hear or see the Rebbe. Nevertheless, bochurim came out of Russia with a strong connection to the Rebbe.
On that Simchas Torah before he left, the Frierdiker Rebbe said that space won’t separate between him and the chassidim. This message was absorbed by those present, and so no matter where he was later, whether in Riga, Warsaw or later in Brooklyn, they knew that space didn’t separate them. That was what they would dwell on during their farbrengens.
The farbrengens at the time focused on the past, present and future, and that was reflected in everything. They each relived their past; one chossid would remind himself of a yechidus, another of a special davening, another of a farbrengen, etc. As for the present, there was one thing they knew, and that was that notwithstanding the distance in space, space didn’t separate them, and that the Rebbe was thinking of them even then, awakening Heavenly mercy for them, and always keeping them in mind. And their wish for the future was that they’d meet the Rebbe again, and that was all. And that really worked.
Similarly today, the majority of the young generation is excited about learning another sicha and another maamar and about learning another detail of what things were like; they focus on the past and that’s what interests them. It’s the adults that come and confuse them with questions, but the young ones don’t seem to have a problem.
But how can we compare to 5668 when there was only a distance in physical space, when it’s a lot more than that today?
Yes, that’s unquestionably true. However, the Rebbe addressed this as well.
There is a letter from the Rebbe to a widow whose husband was killed, and, as is apparent from the letter, there were girls at home who needed to get married already, but the home was enveloped in brokenness and sadness, and they just didn’t stop mourning. The Rebbe writes that everyone understands that a bullet can only harm the body but not the soul, and the soul is still interested now in what’s happening in its home, and experiences pain from the fact that due to its absence there’s depression and brokenness in the home. And so when a wedding will be made, when there will be happiness, the soul will share their joy.
To whom did the Rebbe write this and about whom? The Rebbe wrote this to a simple woman, which means that even a simple woman can understand this. And about whom? About a simple Jew as well, which means that even where a simple Jew is concerned, even a simple woman can understand the soul’s continuing presence and involvement.
How much more so in our case, where, first of all, there’s the famous idea in Igeres Hakodesh that a tzadik’s life is of a spiritual nature, emuna, yirah and ahava. Even when it’s invested in a body, this unique soul retains its nature. Based on this, it says in Iggeres Hakodesh citing the Zohar, tzadikim who have passed away are present in all of the worlds more than during their lifetimes, and ‘all of the worlds’ includes this world. All of this is true about any tzadik. Additionally, we know that the specific tzaddikim who are “the shepherds of Israel won’t abandon the sheep of their flock”.
So if we can speak of how a simple Jew is watching and is interested in seeing how his home is doing, how much more so that a tzadik, and especially a shepherd of Israel, is completely involved in what’s happening with the sheep of his flock.
If so, how is this different from all the previous Rebbeim, who also possess spiritual life and are also shepherds of Israel?
Yes, true, they too are certainly shepherds of Israel. Yet, it says in Tanya that the entire knesses yisroel is like one person, one body, and just like a body has a head from which energy is distributed to all the limbs, even the nails, similarly the chayus of the nefesh-ruach-neshama of all ordinary Jews comes from the nefesh of the tzadikim and chachamim who are the roshei bnei yisroel of their generation.
In every generation klal yisroel is one person, and so there’s the body of this generation, and then there’s the body of another generation, and then another. The Alter Rebbe was the head of one generation, and then the Mitteler Rebbe was the head of a second generation, and so on. The spiritual energy which is assigned from Hashem to every Jew is drawn down through the tzadik who is the head of that particular generation, until the time comes for their passing like the Alter Rebbe on Chof Daled Teves etc.
So yes, the shepherds of Israel don’t abandon the sheep of their flock, and the Rebbe applied this maxim to the Rebbe Rashab. However, although they don’t abandon the sheep of their flock, a new generation came and they were led by a new shepherd. So while it’s true that the sheep of the flock weren’t abandoned on Beis Nissan, which is what the Rebbe says, but the Frierdiker Rebbe took over then. And on Yud Shvat 5710, the Rebbe became our leader, which means that this generation is led by the Rebbe.
These are all spiritual things, but what does this mean practically for us?
These are spiritual things, you’re right, but spirituality is connected with practicality.
How do we see this?
Let’s return for a moment from the situation after Gimmel Tamuz to before Gimmel Tamuz.
We speak of a head and the soul inside, and how the energy for all the limbs of the body comes from the soul and the head, or as it’s called in seforim, a neshama klalis. While the neshama klalis is a kabbalistic concept and a spiritual thing, at the same time, it’s quite a practical matter as well, and this expresses itself both in the shepherd and in the sheep.
Everyone knows the Rebbe’s concern for every Jew in every aspect. There certainly were some gedolei yisroel, true gedolei yisroel, each of whom cared about a specific thing. Some were mainly concerned about physical things like parnasa, while others were concerned about spiritual matters. Within spirituality itself, one cared about the study of Torah, another cared about Shabbos, another for kashrus; each was concerned about a specific thing for Klal Yisroel. Additionally, each was preoccupied mainly with his community.
But in the Rebbe, we find one Jew who cared about every single Jew in every location. The Rebbe cared about physical matters, like not giving land to the Arabs because it’s a matter of danger, which he said was the most crucial factor. [While he also spoke about the benefit of a complete Eretz Yisroel, it was the din in Shulchan Aruch siman Shin Chof Tes, the fact that it’s simply a danger and a matter of life and death, that was the main thing.]
This same person sent shluchim, and was concerned that if some young man was involved with a non-Jewish woman, that he drop it. And this same individual who was involved with and cared for that Jew, was no less concerned at the same time that a bachur should learn more chassidus and daven with more geshmak.
How does one Jew care about all of these things? The answer is: The head, the soul, gives everything, and the head feels everything that’s happening in every limb, and that’s what matters to it.
This is all on the shepherd’s end, but we witness the same phenomenon with the sheep:
Jews of all backgrounds were drawn and came to the Rebbe, but why would they all come to the Rebbe? There are so many kinds of people, each with their own nature, some are head-people while others are heart-people, yet all were drawn to the same place. I’m not even talking about the Jews of all backgrounds, from shomer ha’tzair to neturei karta who came here, because that is more of a physical division. Yet there was also a diversity of temperaments, head-people and heart-people, and all were drawn to this place.
What does that show us? That the soul, the head, gives something to everyone, and that being the case, we see this reflected both in the shepherd and in the sheep. And it’s this same Jew who was concerned about everyone in every way, and to whom all Jews were drawn, who was not affected by Gimmel Tamuz 5754.
It’s crucial that we recognize that when a Jew visits the ohel, that it isn’t just a case of visiting kivrei tzadikim. Although visiting kivrei tzadikim is also significant, that’s not what this is about. He’s visiting his Rebbe, and when he complains about something, either in person or via a fax or other forms of contact, and he complains about a specific problem, then the Rebbe has literal anguish, and the Rebbe prays for him. And when there’s an improvement, and the Jew comes again and relates that things are better now due to the Rebbe’s intercession, the Rebbe has literal nachas ruach.
The concept that the shepherd is involved with every aspect of every individual Jew is still in force now in the same way. Although this is something which we can’t overtly observe, we still witness various miracles, amazing things, which demonstrate clearly to us that the Rebbe cares and davens for everyone.
But this is also true on the sheep’s part: if this relationship were just a natural thing, then the logical result after Gimmel Tamuz would be, as people, and these were friends of Lubavitch, assumed, that things would hold together maybe two months, three months, but no more, with the Rebbe’s seeming absence.
In reality, not one of the shluchim has left his place as a result, no mosad has closed, and on the contrary, more and more mosdos were added, and more shluchim embarked on shlichus, and the work expanded so much. So now they’ll probably attempt to propose various reasons and rational explanations, but these same individuals who think they’re offering answers were the very people who’d said earlier that it wouldn’t hold for more than 2-3 months, so what happened?
The same Jewish shepherd is leading now, both on the shepherd’s and sheep’s part. Jews from all walks keep coming, just as before, and even more; there are Jews from all backgrounds who essentially book a ticket especially to come here, they go to the mikva, visit the ohel, and take a plane back. What is that? We see here that the head, where the soul is, is still present, and is running everything. Everything is the same in this regard.
What do you mean when you say that the attraction to the Rebbe wasn’t a natural thing? Didn’t the Rebbe have a lot of traits and attributes which drew people?
He certainly had those traits and attributes, no question. Interestingly, the Rebbe said a number of times in the name of Baal Shem Tov that we can visualize Hashem’s love to every Jew, because it’s like parents who didn’t have children, and then an only child was born to them in their old age. In truth, that’s just a mashal, but in the nimshal it’s far greater than that. This is something we can relate to because every Jew is really an only child.
Ordinarily we recognize that an only child is referred to as such because there isn’t another one, and it might sound strange to state that everyone is an only child, but our understanding of an only child is limited. Regular parents can’t direct the love of their entire souls to two different children, and so if there’s another child in the picture, their love is limited, but Hashem’s love is unlimited.
The same is the case for tzadikim, not just ordinary tzadikim, but for a Rebbe. It’s a G-dly thing, it’s a neshama klalis which is of a different caliber. But all spiritual things manifest themselves in a physical way, and this is the reason that the Rebbe had all of those traits and attributes.
Why did he have such a drawing power? I’ve seen people write about the Rebbe’s eyes, which is true! But is that the point? Rather, because of who he was, his eyes were that way!
This is all from the shepherd to the sheep, and it’s the same thing from the sheep to the shepherd. I mentioned earlier that people from both ha’shomer ha’tzair and neturei karta went to the Rebbe, which you can find hundreds of reasons for, but it remains a strange phenomenon even with all of the explanations. The real explanation is that the energy of the body comes from the source, all of the particulars of the energy of the body come from the head, which is the Rebbe, and so therefore it manifested itself in natural ways.
Practically speaking, there are a few days until Gimmel Tamuz. What should we do during this time?
Certainly our hiskashrus should be increased in every way, both our own and that of others; our own through learning more of the Rebbe’s Torah, and making more chassidishe farbrengens during these days, and obviously all the things that the Rebbe wrote in his letter for Yud Shvat must be applied and observed. But it can’t simply be limited to just these few days; we must place ourselves in a completely different mindset, and enter the Rebbe’s army.
What does that mean?
The point is this: Learning the Rebbe’s Torah, going on mivtzoim, learning Chitas and Rambam, and following all the other directives, is something that is surely required of us. But let us think for a moment what was the Rebbe’s main idea?
On the one hand, there’s a nekuda, something all of the Rebbeim share; what they have in common is that they’re all shepherds of Israel, they’re concerned for Jews, are mashpia to Jews, giving spiritual and physical energy in all areas. Still, every Rebbe has something unique. There are sichos about how the Alter Rebbe was chochma and the Mitteler Rebbe was bina etc., and so, when we speak of hiskashrus, there must be something special in relation to this specific shepherd.
Everyone knows the Rebbe’s koch, and this was addressed immediately in the first maamar in which he said that our job is to draw the ikar shechina down into tachtonim, to make the world into a dwelling for Hashem.
It’s interesting, amazing really, that even as a child, as the Rebbe’s famous letter states, from the day he went to cheder, and even before he went to cheder, he always thought about what kind of geula there will be, the kind for which the galus will have been worth it, and for which we should be able to say later “odecha Hashem ki anafta bi” (I will thank you Hashem for having been angry with me), not just good, but the kind of goodness for which we’ll be able to understand and thank Hashem for the golus with our whole heart.
It’s an incredible thing. They recount various things about different gedolei yisroel; they say about a certain tzadik, I don’t remember who, that as a child lying in his crib, he suddenly started crying and he couldn’t fall asleep, and what was it? Something about his tzitzis was out of order, and when they fixed it and placed it back on him, he stopped crying and fell asleep. They say about another tzadik that when he nursed from his mother, he made a bracha. So there definitely were wondrous things about their childhood, “butzin butzin m’katfeihu yedia” (their nature is identifiable at a young age), and each one probably had his zahir tfei, and the neshama of this tzadik was connected to tzitzis which is why it affected him, the neshama of that tzadik was connected to making brachos etc.
But all of these are specific things. We don’t hear any other stories, and I think we aren’t hearing them because there aren’t any, that what should be in a child’s head? What should he be thinking? What should be bothering him? That the Jews are in exile, the shechina is in galus, and therefore we must repair and replace this with such a goodness, with such a geulah, that everything will have been worth it. And this was on the Rebbe’s mind as a small child, even before he went to cheder, and when he accepted his role as leader of Jewry in an official, revealed way, this was the “statement”: That the time has now come for making the world into a dwelling for Hashem.
Is what the Rebbe said then still true today? Maybe times have changed, or maybe we sinned, and “the sin ruined things”?
Aside from what the Rebbe said then in the maamar of Yud Shvat, the Rebbe kept saying throughout the years that our generation is the last generation of golus and the first generation of geulah. That’s what the Rebbe always said, and particularly in his first maamar.
There’s nevua and there’s Torah. Based on many of the Rebbe’s sichos it transpires that prophecy on its own is not an eternal thing. Instead, in order to be able to determine whether someone is a true prophet or not, Hashem gave us a test: The positive prophecy of a true prophet never changes, and if it does it is proof that it’s not true. Yet prophecy on its own is not essentially eternal.
But Torah is different; Torah is inherently eternal, and the whole world was created from Torah. And just like the process of Matan Torah began with Avraham Avinu and went on for seven generations, until Moshe came along and he was the seventh, “and all the sevenths are beloved”, and he brought it down here to earth, the same applies for the revelation of pnimius hatorah which will occur when Moshiach comes, and the Torah we have now is nothing compared to Moshiach’s Torah. So this light began to shine with the Alter Rebbe’s chassidus, chassidus Chabad, and it followed the same pattern until ‘Moshe’ came and all sevenths are beloved, and the seventh generation brings it down to earth.
So if you’ll ask: The Torah speaks about the ten sefiros, but maybe they changed? There may have been ten sefiros at one point, but maybe that changed now? Why, you ask? I don’t know, maybe “the sin ruined things”, we’ll find reasons. But no, we’re talking about something which the Torah says.
What is the order of the geula of pnimius hatorah? The revelation of chassidus through the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid was something else. As the Rebbe explained, “until Avraham came the world was operating in darkness but from when Avraham came it began to shine”, there were tzadikim earlier but what they were doing wasn’t connected to the world, Avraham began shining the light in the world and the Rebbe says that it is similarly the case with chassidus. However, even within this world it was still spiritual and not physical. It was Moshe who brought it down to earth, and the same is true for the revelation of pnimius hatorah.
The Baal Shem and the Maggid revealed this part of Torah but not in sechel, they spoke on a higher level, and that’s not ‘world’; emuna is something higher than the world, but it’s not the world. The ‘world’ was still operating in darkness, and the Alter Rebbe began drawing it into the realm of Chabad (intellect), and then the world began shining. But within that sequence, there was more and more and more until Moshe came along and he was the seventh, “and all sevenths are beloved”, and he brought it down to earth, and that’s the whole point.
We see how the Rebbe took the deepest concepts and presented them with such hasbara and clarity until he enabled many topics in Chassidus to be understood using simple logic, with real comprehension. Why is that? Because the time to bring it down to earth finally came, and therefore, what is our mission? Our mission is to make the world into a dwelling for Hashem, and we do that through spreading yiddishkeit and through spreading Chassidus.
If so, if it’s such a sure thing that this is the seventh generation and that Moshiach must come, then shouldn’t that mean that we don’t need to actually do anything since it will happen anyways?
(Reb Yoel laughs:) It’s exactly as if someone would say, “The Rambam says that Jews will only be redeemed through teshuva, and he says further that the Torah promises that at the end of exile Jews will do teshuva and they’ll be redeemed immediately, so when a person feels inspired sometimes to do teshuva he need not bother since it will anyways happen…”
That itself that he is inspired to do teshuvah is a result of the fact that the Torah promised! What did the Torah promise? That Jews will ultimately do teshuva! So this experience itself is the manifestation of the Torah’s promise!
And that’s what it says in the maamar, that ultimately, every one of us will do the work that we need to do, and make the world into Hashem’s dwelling. So this itself is certainly the Torah’s promise!
What does all of this mean practically?
Practically, our work today in hiskashrus to the Rebbe can’t just be generic. Certainly all of the things that were previously in play must be present now, unquestionably. But what’s the zahir tfei? The zahir tfei is making the world a dwelling for Hashem.
How do we do that?
First of all, there are the shluchim, and what do they do? They enter into the lowest place, from which there’s nothing lower, and they draw the shechina down there, every place according to its needs: There are places where intermarriage must be prevented, there are places where kashrus and Shabbos must be ensured etc. And what must we focus on mainly? On the mivtzoim which the Rebbe made, the foundations of yiddishkeit. And similar work must be done for spreading chassidus. In that first farbrengen, Yud Shvat 5710, when the Rebbe accepted leadership openly and officially, he also said then that the purpose of all these things is spreading Chassidus.
That’s all for the shluchim, but what’s with all of chassidim, all of anash?
First of all, we must treasure everyone. But what must be the wish of a yeshiva bachur, or even yungerleit? What should their wish be? What should they seek? It should be to become a shliach.
Let’s consider for a moment: the whole creation of the world, with everything that there has been until now, matan Torah, the mishkan, bayis rishon, bayis sheini, the revelation of the Baal Shem Tov, the revelation of Chabad, and everything, all of that was a preparation to making the tachton, the world, into a dwelling for Hashem, and that’s Hashem’s purpose for everything.
When a person realizes that he has the zechus and option to take part in such a thing, in making the world a dwelling for Hashem, that involvement must generate tremendous simcha, and result in working beyond any limitations. The truth is that the joy should emanate from the very fact of being the Rebbe’s shliach, that’s the truth; the fact that we can take part in the Rebbe’s work must be precious to everyone.
Aside from that, there’s another thing, which is that even those who can’t become shluchim, they too must be shluchim.
It’s a simple thing, like in Eretz Yisroel, where many of anash who can’t be shluchim take upon themselves to visit ten homes and spread yiddishkeit there. Even if you can’t be a shliach for 24 hours a day, be a shliach for some amount of time. But you must be a real shliach during that time.
The Rebbe used the theme of a military a lot (Tzivos Hashem, Mitzvah Tanks etc.). What’s the difference between a civilian and a soldier? A regular person also does good things, practically speaking, but whenever he feels like it; when he’s interested he does good things for ‘the fatherland’, yet it’s on his own terms.
There could be a scenario of a person who does his work, but not like a soldier. Let’s take the students in yeshiva for example, they learn, they learn nigleh and chassidus, they go on mivtzoim, they do everything, but what if today I have no energy? Today I’m exhausted? And today I’m not in the mood? Imagine if a soldier on the front would say that tomorrow or the next is the wedding of a good friend of his, and he must go, so he wants to be let free? It’s clear that that’s a joke; there’s a battlefront, and so why are you wasting our time with the wedding of your friend?
The same should apply for a bachur in yeshiva; you’re a soldier, “yotzei l’milchemes beis dovid”, (engaged in the battle of the house of Dovid) and when you’re enlisted in milchemes beis dovid, when you’re operating in the military, there’s nothing else. Your job is to go, to “write a divorce to your wife”, a ‘divorce’ from everything else. [Certainly there can be a case where attending a wedding is part of the job, but we’re not talking about that; we’re talking about where it’s not a part of the job.] You’re not a civilian, you’re a soldier.
Similarly, everyone must take upon himself to do mivtzoim, to work on various things like spreading chassidus or spreading yiddishkeit, each of which has various aspects, or involvement in promoting the sheva mitzvos bnei noach. There are various options, but what’s your job? No matter what your job is, you must know that you’re a soldier, there’s no ‘I have no energy today’.
If you commit to an arrangement like the one they have in Eretz Yisroel, to visit neighbors, and you do it on Friday or Tuesday, then Friday and Tuesday it is, and there’s nothing that can get in the way of that. You’re in the military, and the Rebbe spoke about this a number of times in Yud Shvat maamorim, about “kol ha’yotzei l’milchemes beis dovid”.
We discussed earlier about how everyone is discussing the preparation for Gimmel Tamuz, and there certainly must be preparations, but we must first and foremost place ourselves in a different mindset; not only do we do what we have to do in these days leading up to Gimmel Tamuz, but we also have to think about the day after Gimmel Tamuz, and what our job is then.
Forget all of the discussions and theories about why what happened on Gimmel Tamuz happened. It’s not our business to think about the things that Hashem does, and to offer explanations for them; our job is to know one thing, “yotzei l’milchemes beis dovid”, to enter the Rebbe’s army, and that’s all.
It certainly must be in collaboration with the shliach of that city, or else it ruins the work; things must be orderly, but as stated previously, we must know that we too are shluchim.
It’s clear that we must be a part of the Rebbe’s army, but we must know what to do; how do we know what to do? Sometimes we have questions?
Questions often come from a lack of knowledge. If we’d learn the maamorim with the sichos we have from the Rebbe, and especially if we’d learn the igros kodesh which the Rebbe wrote, then we can see the Rebbe’s approach to various things from those letters.
Aside from that, if we’re already speaking of learning, it’s well known that the hiskashrus to the Rebbe is through Torah, so it must not just be in order to know everything and have the answers to all the questions, but simply because this is the act of hiskashrus. And this is for everyone, even soldiers; the Rebbe is adoneinu moreinu v’rabeinu: There’s the adoneinu (our master), and we’re his soldiers, and then there’s moreinu v’rabeinu (our teacher and Rebbe), so we must be his students, and that too must be done in a militaristic manner, with no excuses.
As for the amount of time, it’s not really a matter of quantity, it could even be ten minutes, but those ten minutes must be done right. Learn something of the Rebbe’s Torah every day. And that doesn’t mean learning whichever sefer you find on the table today, and then learning the next sefer you find there tomorrow; it means really learning.
So there’s the inyan of learning the Rebbe’s torah, and there’s the benefit of gleaning vital information; the maamorim and sichos certainly have many more explanations, but in order to know what to do when questions come up, going through the letters a lot will yield answers for many of the questions. It’s usually possible to discover the Rebbe’s approach to pertinent matters, and if there’s a topic which isn’t covered, then we should assume that if we’d need to know it the Rebbe would have addressed it, and if the Rebbe didn’t address it then it’s not relevant for us to know.
In any case, we must get involved in all of these things; we must enter the army, with kabalas ol, but with a geshmak. We must know that ultimately, whether a day earlier or a day later, in our time, ba’agala didan, we’ll have “aloh naaleh v’yarashnu osah”. The questions about whether all of this is really still applicable today are the meraglim’s line of thinking, “ki chazak hu mimenu”, we just can’t. True, if we’d just go along with the world’s limitations then it really is a dark world and a bleak situation, but when we go with the attitude that “chafetz banu hashem”, when we go with the Rebbe’s shlichus, then we’re certain that “aloh naaleh v’yarashnu osah”, and we’ll make the world into a dwelling for Hashem, which is the deepest desire of the Rebbe.