A mashpia, menahel and a secretary for the Frierdiker Rebbe, Reb Chatche Feigin was a towering intellectual and a courageous leader. He had a keen discernment for sincerity and he raised his students to be discerning themselves.
Reb Yechezkel (Chatche) Feigin was a top talmid in Tomchei Temimim in Lubavitch, and was from the group of bochurim sent by the Rebbe Rashab in 5672 (1911) to establish the yeshiva Toras Emes in Chevron. He married the daughter of Reb Yehuda Leib Tzeitlin of Zhuravitz, and then served as mashpia in various branches of Tomchei Tmimim in Russia. Eventually, he became the menahel of all branches of Tomchei Tmimim.
In 5687 (1927), he became the Frierdike Rebbe’s personal secretary and gabai. From then on Reb Chatche was always at his side — in Russia, Riga and Poland. He was also in charge of fundraising for maamad (support for the Rebbe and his activities). He was killed al kidush Hashem on 9-10 Tammuz 5701 (1941) in Riga.
During one farbrengen, a bochur complained to R. Chatche, “If only you knew what type of issues I have…”
R. Chatche told him, “You’re mistaken. You’re simply arrogant and want to feel special. You’re not so foolish to think that you have outstanding talents, so you imagine that you have unique problems. But your motive is the same: to feel different. You need to come to terms with the fact that you have neither outstanding talents nor outstanding issues – you’re just like everyone else…”
In the city of Poltava there lived a Jewish shoemaker who, due to communist pressure, began to open his shop on Shabbos. At that time such a practice was still rare. While in earlier times his friends would have tried to talk him out of it, under communist rule such “religious activity” could send them to Siberia for years.
Every Shabbos morning R. Chatche, who was the mashpia in the local Tomchei Temimim, would pass by the store on his way to mikva.
During one farbrengen, R. Chatche mentioned how every Shabbos when he passes the open shop he is pained. The bochurim assumed that he was referring to the fact that a Jewish store is opened on Shabbos, but he immediately clarified:
“We consider this shoemaker to be a mechalel Shabbos and halachically that is indeed true. But then I began to think: Does he really understand what Shabbos is about and what it means to desecrate the Shabbos? It doesn’t seem like he ever learned the laws of Shabbos and surely not its inner meaning.
“But we know what Shabbos is about, and have learned in Chassidus about the great holiness of its every moment. If a few minutes pass without us using it to the fullest for serving Hashem, then it is we who are the real mechalelei shabbos!”
Once, R. Chatche was farbrenging in a cellar while one bochur stood outside to watch for the Soviet authorities. Inside R. Chatche was demanding of the bochurim to improve in their avodas Hashem, and many of them internalized his words, even crying, realizing how far they were from where they should be. Suddenly, the door burst open and the bochur ran in, notifying them that someone was approaching the house, and everyone quickly ran to hide. Soon it became apparent that it was a false alarm, and with sighs of relief they returned to the table to continue the farbrengen.
R. Chatche then asked them, “Why is it that when you thought that you were in imminent danger you didn’t weep?”
“What would our tears accomplish?” the stupefied bochurim wondered.
“If so,” continued R. Chatche, “why did you shed tears during the farbrengen without wondering what they would accomplish? Tears alone do not suffice. We need to look for ways to get out of the spiritual quagmire that we are in.”
R. Chatche was a broad-minded person and wanted to learn everything, also perusing through seforim of mussar and chakira (Jewish philosophy).
He learned from every type of person and tried to convey this acute appreciation to his students. In Nevel there was a mashpia whose conduct was colorful, not at all similar to R. Chatche and to what he preached; still R. Chatche advised the bochurim to listen to him. He wanted them to be discerning themselves.
Students of R. Chatche were intellectually inclined like their teacher, and the heartfelt avoda of R. Itche der Masmid did not impress them. Once, R. Mendel Futerfas saw R. Itche express excitement during davening and was turned off by his chitzoniyus (external display of inner emotion).
R. Chatche noticed his student’s impression and rebuked him, “You’re not more contained, you’re just emotionless. If you would feel just a hundredth of what he is feeling, you would be dancing on the table!”
The Frierdiker Rebbe once sent R. Chatche to farbreng with the bochurim in the Warsaw yeshiva. Since the farbrengen was called by the Rebbe, it was attended by the yeshiva staff, R. Yuda Ebber, the rosh yeshiva, and R. Boruch Friedman, the mashpia.
The assembled said l’chaim and sang a nigun, but R. Chatche sat in silence. They sang another nigun and then another, but not a word from R. Chatche. The yeshiva staff didn’t speak up either, since it was R. Chatche who was sent by the Rebbe to farbreng.
After about half-an-hour R. Chatche told the bochurim, “You probably heard that in Lubavitch there was a bochur by the name of Chatche Feigin, who was said to have reviewed a certain hemshech twenty times. He used to learn Chassidus and he had a lot to offer. However, these days he no longer learns Chassidus properly, and he is therefore an empty vessel with nothing to offer…” That was the entire farbrengen.
What he wished to convey to his listeners was that the impact of Chassidus doesn’t last forever. If a person is actively involved in Chassidus, he will be connected. If not, Chassidus won’t be alive for him and he won’t be able to transmit its message. Perhaps this was exactly the message that the Frierdiker Rebbe wanted the students to hear.
R. Chatche’s depth was noticeable even in his capacity as secretary. His letters to anash regarding maamad flowed with chassidishe hergeshim and Chabad exposition on the nature and value of providing for the Rebbe.
In one letter he elaborates upon the prime importance of supporting the wellbeing of the Rebbe and the yeshiva bochurim even over more critical projects to save Yiddishkeit. He quotes the Alter Rebbe’s explanation on why the first Beis HaMikdash would have been spared had they learned Torah properly, though they transgressed the worst aveiros: as long as the head is healthy, the body can be saved. So too, as long as some Jews serve Hashem and study Torah in its pristine form, klal Yisroel can be healed.
For sources, visit TheWeeklyFarbrengen.com