Rabbi Akiva Wagner, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Lubavitch Toronto, transcribes a few of the countless stories he heard from Reb Mendel Aronow, who was a link to previous generations of chassidim, giving a glimpse into his unique chassidishe personality and his one-of-a kind farbrengens.
By Rabbi Akiva Wagner, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Lubavitch Toronto
Together with the family of anash in Toronto and worldwide, we mourn the passing of הרה”ח והרה”ת ר’ מנחם מענדל בן ר’ יהושע זעליג הכהן אראנאוו. Reb Mendel Aronow a”h was a pillar of strength and the ruach hachaim of the community in Toronto. For me personally, as well as for the Yeshiva, he was and endless source of encouragement of inspiration. He was the solid foundation, our bulwark that ensured that we stay on track and stay the course throughout all challenges and difficulties.
Reb Mendel would say, and it was מרגלא בפומי’, that he is a chosidעד זיבולא בתרייתא א , and indeed he was a proud chosid and a living example to all of us right until his final breath.
Yehi zichro baruch.
In accordance with the words of Chazal דבריהם הן הן זכרונם, I am taking this opportunity to share some stories etc. that involved him, or that we heard from him over the years (and a few that I’ve already shared in the past). I am sharing them as I remember them, without any special order:
There was a bochur in yeshiva, many years ago, a very good bochur with a very good head, but he had many questions. The questions were in hashkofo issues, not questions that a “regular” bochur has, and he was very bothered by them, they disturbed him a lot. I tried to resolve them for him, but he was extremely agitated, and could not be calm.
I had received an answer from the Rebbe about a certain matter to consult (or discuss) with the eltere chassidim, so every big issue I would discuss with Rabbi Aronow a”h, and I went to discuss with him how to deal with this bochur.
He listened to my description of the situation, and then he told me the following story:
“Reb Shaul ber Zisslin was a chassidishe Rov and mashpia (Rabbi Aronow was a big mekabel from him). Once a bochur came to him with questions in hashkofo that didn’t seem fitting for the bochur. Reb Shoiel Ber listened to his questions, and instructed him ‘Gei in mikvah’. The bochur went to the mikva, and when he returned, he told him that he no longer had any questions!”
When he finished relating the story, he told me – based on the story – to check out the yichus of this bochur, because there must be something not kosher about his yichus!
I felt that his conclusion was bizarre. If he wanted to apply the story to the current situation, then he could have said to make sure the bochur goes to mikva every day, or even to check his tefillin, but to get from that to questioning his yichus!!! (And, bichlal, how do I ‘check out’ the yichus, of a regular Lubavitcher bochur?!).
It turned out that the mother of this bochur was a גיורת, and she converted after he was born (as the halocho is – גר קטן מטבילין אותו על דעת בית דין). The halocho is that when he turned bar mitzvah, they were supposed to ask him if he wants the geirus in order for it to be valid (as we just learned recently in rambam). However, that had never taken place, so the conversion was still “hanging”. I saw how an eltere chosid uses more than logic to respond, and is מכוון אל האמת.
Reb Mendel related:
‘When I was a child, we once had an important guest in our house – Reb Dovid Horodoker. In general, because of the poverty that was rampant then, we didn’t have fleishig in the middle of the week. But in honor of the guest, my mother bought a chicken. She took the chicken to the shoichet, to be slaughtered. But, as chazal teach us בתר עניא אזלא עניותא (poverty continues to pursue the poor), and, sure enough, there was a shailah on the chicken. My mother took it to the Rov, who said it was okay.
When my father came home, my mother told him the whole story. My father said: “if Dovid is eating from the chicken, and there was a shailah, then he has to be asked the shailah. My mother brought him the shailah. He looked at it and immediately said:
מען האט שוין געפרעגט א רב, וואס האט דער רב געזאגט? כשר? איז דאס כשר! ווער איז געווען דער רב?
(I think he said the Rov was Dubrawsky, not sure).
And he followed the ruling of the Rov (he just needed to know who the Rov was).
There are a few lessons from the story. Rabbi Aronow always emphasized how he saw this ruach hakodesh with his own eyes (as a child), how Dovid Horodoker knew by looking at a chicken that a Rov already ruled on it!
A story he told me only recently (in the last few years):
“When I was a bochur, they once pulled me off the street, and brought me on a train (truck?). They were pulling young people, drafting them, to help out in various ways with the war effort. I was on a train with a bunch of young people, שקצים and שקצות, and the only thing on my mind was that I didn’t have my tefillin with me (because I was pulled off the street) and how will I manage without tefillin. At the first opportunity I jumped off the moving vehicle (I didn’t pay attention to the danger, neither the danger of jumping from a moving vehicle, not the consequence/punishment I might face for escaping, I only knew that I couldn’t go without my tefillin). Boruch Hashem I got home safely. But none of the young teenagers who had been taken with me that day ever returned”.
A story he told a few times:
“As a child I had a good friend, Leizer Mishulovin. We had a break in the afternoon, and then we would return to Yeshiva. One afternoon, I was returning to yeshiva in the afternoon, and my friend Leizer Mishulovin called to me.
“Mendel”, he exclaimed excitedly, “I just experienced a ness!”
He explained: he had come home from yeshiva, for the afternoon break, and was very hungry. He went to the ice box, to see what was there to eat, and he found some ‘cutletten’ (burgers). He was about to eat one, hungrily, when he remembered that he was taught that if you want something very badly, then you shouldn’t do it. Since he really desired the cutlets, he decided not the eat them.
A few moments later, his mother came home. “Leizer”, she called to him worriedly, “I hope you didn’t eat the cutlets from the ice box”. An ice box was then considered a luxury, that only the relatively wealthier families possessed. Since they had one, their non-jewish neighbor (who didn’t own one) asked her for permission to store some of his food there. The cutlets were his, and pure treif!
This was the ness that he had experienced”!
Reb Zalman Moshe and Reb Dovid Horodoker were farbrenging together. In the middle, RZM asked RDH “Dovid, tell me the truth, do you have ahava veyirah. First, he tried to get out of it, but RZM would not relent, and finally picked up a bottle and warned ” “if you don’t give me a straight answer, you’re getting this bottle on your head!” So, left with no choice, RDH replied “ahava veyirah, nu, amohl kitzelt zich“.
The story is relatively known, but when Rabbi Aronow told the story, he described RZM and RDH as being “אויף דו”.
No one knew what “אויף דו” means (nor did anyone since to whom I repeated the story). So Reb Mendel explained: To an older person, deserving of respect, you have to address them as איהר. But 2 people who are equals, can address each other as “du”. When we want to describe that these two chassidim were of similar age and stature, we describe them as being אויף דו.
By a farbrengen once the subject of the pesukim for the Rebbe (at the end of shmoneh esreh, when we say pesukim for our name and the Rebbe’s name) came up. The Rebbe wrote that his pesukim are מאור עינים ישמח לב and מה טובו.
I think that was mentioned then, but when the subject came up, Reb Mendel said unequivocally and forcefully “The possuk of the Rebbe is מגדיל ישועות מלכו ועושה חסד למשיחו לדוד ולזרעו עד עולם in a way that left no possibility of argument. He said it with such תוקף and conviction that he affected me, so that even though I couldn’t stop saying the pesukim that the Rebbe mentions, I also couldn’t not say magdil, so since then (which is many years) I’ve been saying magdil, and then me’or einayim and mah tovu, and then my pesukim (which is the secret of why my shemoneh esreh takes a little longer….).
There was once a bochur who was depressed (as bochurim sometimes are…). I tried to speak to him but didn’t get anywhere. I told the bochur to write to the Rebbe, which he did. He opened an Igros, and there was a letter from the Rebbe telling him to learn Chovos Halevovos Shaar Habitochoin. I thought it was a very fitting answer, but the bochur wasn’t ready to do it. The idea of learning Chovos Halevovos was so foreign and strange to him, that he just couldn’t see himself carrying it out. I tried to insist that if he wrote to the Rebbe he has to listen to the answer. Finally, I suggested to him to discuss it with Rabbi Aronow, to which he agreed.
Soon afterwards, he came back to me very upset. “Why did you send me to him?” he asked, “he doesn’t believe that I got the answer, he’s telling me that there’s no way the Rebbe would tell me such a thing. How could he say that? I know what answer I got?”
I was a bit at a loss myself. After all, I had also seen the answer, and I didn’t understand why Rabbi Aronow was arguing with him about a metzius.
“Tell me exactly what he said to you”, I demanded.
“Like I told you, he said it’s impossible that I got such an answer, because there’s no way that the Rebbe would tell me to learn מורה נבוכים”.
“One second, but he’s right”, I exclaimed, “the Rebbe didn’t tell you to learn מורה נבוכים, he told you to learn chovos halevovos!”
It turned out that when the bochur went to speak to Rabbi Aronow, he confused the 2 seforim, and Rabbi Aronow-correctly- asserted that his version of the answer could not possibly be correct!
(The end was that events of years later may have shed much light on why it was so important for him to learn Chovos Halevavos).
Once (many years ago) there was a farbrengen in Toronto, and during the farbrengen, Reb Mendel (who was a young man at the time) said that a Rebbe is an עצמי. My grandfather, Rabbi Dov Yehuda Schochet was there, and he was scandalized by this statement that he felt was bordering on kefirah (and perhaps not just bordering…). He informed Reb Mendel that he felt he had no choice but to report this to the Rebbe. But he reassured him that he would not repeat it בשם אומרו, in order to protect the one who said it.
When he returned from NY, he shared that be had indeed brought it up on yechidus, and the Rebbe had discussed it with him at length.
“Nu?” he was asked.
To which he replied “Ess hot an ort”!
A man was once travelling, away from his home, when the war broke out. The front and the fighting separated between him and his home town, making travel back to his family impossible. Besides becoming – suddenly – a roaming refugee, he was now without contact with his family, and was desperate for any information about them. He went from place to place, and every place he came to he began inquiring pleadingly about his family and if anyone had heard from them.
In the course of his travelling, he arrived in Rostov. There, too, whoever he met he would express his concern and worry about the welfare of his family and his ignorance about their whereabouts. One of the people he met there, hearing his plight, had a suggestion for him: “Here in Rostov, there is the burial place, the ohel, of a great tzaddik who passed away here not long ago. Many people have davened there and were helped. You should do so as well”.
The Jew was desperate, and didn’t have any other recourse, so he went to the tziyun of the Rebbe Rashab (who was the tzadik being referred to). Once there, he poured out his heart, tearfully begging the Eibishter to reunite him with his family.
As he emerged from the ohel, he met a chassidic Jew, with a reddish beard. The chosid greeted him with sholom Aleichem, and asked what he is doing in town. Once again the Jew expressed his great concern for his wife and children, how he is frantic about their welfare and desperate to be reunited with them. “
There is a neighboring village”, the chosid told him, “only a few hours from here, that sees many wandering refugees find their way there. Why don’t you try to travel there? Perhaps you will find your family there as well.”
The Jew had no better plans, and followed the advice. To his great joy, he did in fact find his family there!
With the war still raging around them, and their home still inaccessible, they fled together towards the interior of Russia, seeking relative safety. Eventually, they came to settle in Samarkand.
In Samarkand there were many refugees, Jews from all backgrounds, who had come there for the same reason. However, most of the groups, upon their arrival, began worrying about themselves; – they built themselves a shtibel and the like. The Lubavitcher chassidim, in contrast, upon their arrival, immediately got to work setting up a cheder for all of the Jewish children there.
Since this Jew had young children, whom he needed to educate, he sent them to the Lubavitcher cheder, which was the only one available. Thus, it came to be that he found himself participating in various events with the Lubavitcher chassidim.
Once, it was a yoma d’pagra, and he joined the farbrengen of the Lubavitchers. During the farbrengen, he was sitting next to a chosid, who was trying to introduce him to Lubavitch. He was telling him about each of the Rebbeim. He told him about the Alter Rebbe, the first Rebbe, who established chassidus Chabad, and about the Mitteler Rebbe, and the Tzemach Tzedek etc. Finally, the chosid took out a picture from his pocket, and showed it to the Jew. “And this”, he explained, “was our Rebbe (the Rebbe Rashab), he passed away not long ago, and he is buried in Rostov”.
Hearing that, the Jew looked at him in disdain. “What kind of nonsense are you telling me?” he exclaimed. “Passed away?! Why I saw him with my own eyes. I met him when I was in Rostov, coming out of the tziyun of the tzaddik, and he was the one who advised me to go the village where I was reunited with my family. His beard was, perhaps, a bit more white, but he was very much alive!”
R’ Hillel was once visiting the Tzemach Tzedek. In honor of the illustrious guest, a bowl of cherries (strawberries?) – a delicacy at the time – was placed on the table.
Both the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek and R’ Hillel made a brocho, and partook of the treat. However, while the Tzemach Tzedek ate them whole, R’ Hillel first opened each one and carefully inspected it for worms and bugs. Only after assuring himself of its kashrus, did he place it in his mouth.
Some of the Chassidim, who were closely monitoring the visit of the famed chosid with the Rebbe, found the behavior of R’ Hillel an affront to the Tzemach Tzedek. As soon as R’ Hillel emerged from the room, he was accosted:
“Hillel”, they demanded, “how could you act differently from the Rebbe in his presence? Are you perhaps more frum than the Rebbe?”
“It is very simple”, R’ Hillel reassured them, “the Rebbe, being a true tzaddik, can be assured that he will not encounter anything objectionable, as the Possuk says “לא יאונה לצדיק כל און”. Therefore he has no need to be overly cautious. I, on the other hand, have no such protection; I, therefore, have to personally verify the appropriateness of anything I take into my mouth”.
The Tzemach Tzedek used to get countless halachik queries from all over the world. In the later years of the Tzemach Tzedek, he wouldn’t answer the letters himself but would delegate that task to one or two of his sons. The finished teshuva would then be brought to the Tzemach Tzedek for his approval, before being sent out. [It should be noted that there was a similar practice during the lifetime of the Mitteler Rebbe, when the Mitteler Rebbe would give the incoming shailos to the Tzemach Tzedek to respond to them, and then would look over the answers].
On one occasion, there was a complex shailoh regarding an agunah: A man had disappeared, and there were numerous indications that he had, in fact, died. The question was whether the evidence was halachikally sufficient to establish that the man was (al pi Torah) dead, and to therefore permit his wife to get remarried. The son of the Tzemach Tzedek (the Mahari”l?) wrote an involved teshuva, in which he cited various halachik sources that supported the fact that the evidence could be accepted as legitimate proof that the husband was indeed dead, and that according to Torah his wife was free to remarry.
Upon completion, he dutifully brought his handiwork to the Tzemach Tzedek for his approval. The Tzemach Tzedek began reading the teshuva, and his son recognized from his facial expressions that he found something objectionable with it.
“What is it father?” he asked, “Did you find fault with the source I brought from Tosefos?”
“No, no”, replied the Tzemach Tzedek, “your source from Tosefos is irrefutable”. The Tzemach Tzedek continued to read, and again his expressions seemed far from pleased. “What is it father?” his son inquired again, “do you not agree with the reasoning that I borrowed from the Shach?”
“No, no”, replied the Tzemach Tzedek again, “your reasoning is sound and your logic beyond reproach”. The Tzemach Tzedek continued to read, but his displeasure was clearly evident. “Father”, cried the Maharil, “if I erred in my judgment, please inform me and I will correct it. I can clearly see that something is troubling you about this teshuva, and I will not leave you until you tell me what it is”.
So the Tzemach Tzedek enlightened him: “There is nothing faulty with your reasoning or with any of your halachik sources. Your conclusions are sound. Ober vos zol ich ton az ich zei doch az er lebt (But what can I do when I can see that he is alive)!”
There was a chosid (he said the name, but I don’t recall), who once had a “visit” in his house from the KGB. They did a thorough search, and confiscated the one item of value that he owned, which was a silver becher.
The chosid was a very temimus’dige chosid, and he went to the Rebbe Rashab and said that he wanted to go the the KGB headquarters and demand that they return the becher, since this was the only becher he had, and he needed it to make kiddush.
The Rebbe Rashab rejected his plan, saying “ess iz shoyn le’acharei habirur“.
Reb Mendel told the following a few times:
Once, when he was a child some misnagdishe bochurim were staying in his house (in those days there were less boundaries between misnagdim and chassidim, and it was a normal thing for misnagdim to be hosted by a chosid).
The misnagdim took issue with the fact that the chassidim acted like they had a monopoly on mesirus nefesh, as if no one else has any shaychus to mesirus nefesh. In the course of the conversation, they said to Reb Zelig Aronow: “you think we never practice mesirus nefesh? Sometimes we are walking in the street and we pass a theater, and we refrain from going inside, and that could take mesirus nefesh!”
Reb Yehoshua Zelig said to them, “ich gloib nisht az far mein bord vell ich krigen olam habo“!
(Reb Mendel explained that wearing a beard then was literal mesirus nefesh just to walk in the street like that. But, while they wanted to credit themselves for abstaining from going into a theater, he didn’t think he deserves any special credit for his beard).
There was a magid shiur in yeshiva tomchei tmimim by the name of Reb Shia Arsh.
(First he was a shoichet, and once he was arguing with another shoichet, and in his excitement, he injured his finger against the ceiling, and became disqualified as a shoichet, and had to become a magid shiur. He was a great gaon).
Once, he was giving a shiur, and he noticed that the talmidim were throwing glances toward the door. He realized that the Frieredige Rebbe, who was then the menahel poiel, was listening in to his shiur. The Frieredige Rebbe was his boss/supervisor, and when he realized he was listening in, he made sure to make the shiur more impressive, with pilpulim, meforshim etc.
When he finished, the Frieredige Rebbe came in and asked skeptically “eimitzer doh farshteit vos ihr redt?” (It seemed that it was impressive, but not according to their level).
The magid shiur pointed to one bochur, small, thin, unassuming, and said to him “repeat the shiur”. The bochur got up and repeated the entire shiur!
The bochur was Zalman Shimon Dvorkin.
The Frieredige Rebbe said to him: “If you would be by the misnagdim they would place you on a pedestal (un …. far dir)”
There was a poilishe Rebbe called the Koidenove Rebbe. Once, he was invited to a bris. After the bris, they sat down to the seudah. The Rebbe noticed that there was a yungerman in the corner of the room sitting and learning. “Who is that?” he asked his chassidim. “Dos is der rov’l,” they told him.
[The Rov was a litvack, in a village of Koidenove chassidim, so the didn’t refer to him respectfully, as the Rov, but dismissively, as the “rov’l”).
The Rebbe beckoned to the Rov to come sit next to him. When the Rov sat down to the seudah, the Rebbe noticed that his pants were torn. “What is this?” he asked. The rov began being melamed zechus on the townsfolk, that they mean well, but they are all poor and they can’t manage to provide him with a decent salary etc.
The Rebbe interrupted him, saying: ואחריתך ישגה מאד.
(The possuk says והיה ראשיתך מצער ואחריתך ישגה מאד, your beginning will be narrow and your end will flourish tremendously.)
A year later (or a few years later) the Koidenove Rebbe was invited to a bris in Kovno. When he came to the outskirts of the city, the Rov of the city came out to greet him, saying: “Rebbe, eier brocho iz mekuyam gevorren!”
The was the famous R’ Yitzchok Elchonon (Spector), a famous gaon. He had previously been the “rov’l” in the small Hamlet, and now he had the respectable rabbonus of Kovno, an ir vo’em beyisroel!
In Russia, living as a religious Jew, let alone a chossid, involved the daily practice of mesirus nefesh. Just to keep their beard was for Chassidim an act of supreme sacrifice. There were some who did not withstand the test, and those who did needed to take great pains to try to ensure that their beards were concealed. Needless to say, for any chossid with a beard, one of the basic requirements to survive was to avoid appearing in public altogether unless absolutely necessary.
One of the public places where it was most dangerous for anyone conspicuously Jewish to appear was at the train-station. An inevitable gathering-area for travelers, it was always crawling with KGB agents, looking for victims. If a chossid was compelled to be present in the train station, it was with great fear and trepidation, knowing that with every moment spent there, he placed his liberty and very life in mortal danger.
He would conclude his business there as swiftly as possible, and would only breathe easily again once he emerged from there in safety.
Before I continue, let me tell you about the efficient system of commerce in Communist Russia. A train ticket would cost 3 rubles. The people would line up behind a booth, in which a lady waited to take their money and hand them their ticket. Now, in Russia, there were 5 ruble notes. A person would approach the lady and hand her a 5 ruble note, asking for change. She would hand him the ticket saying “I’m sorry, but we’re all out of change”. The buyer would have no choice but to forfeit the 2 rubles. If someone would get smart, and bring exact change – 3 individual rubles – then when he would get to the booth, the lady would say to him: “Sorry, but I have no tickets left.” Thus everyone was forced to go along with her thievery if they wanted a chance to use the trains. As you can see, this lady, besides selling the tickets, was making a very lucrative business on the side.
Once, two chassidim found themselves at the train station at the same time.
They took every precaution to try to avoid any indication of knowing each other, making sure to leave a gap between themselves on the line, and avoiding any form of acknowledging each other. The chossid who was further back in the line was secretly monitoring the progress of his friend up ahead. When the chossid in the front passed the booth uneventfully, his friend sighed in relief; ‘at least one of us already made it through safely’.
Can you imagine how astonished he was when, a moment later, he saw his friend, who had already emerged safely –יצא בשלום – return to the station and go back to the back of the line. He could not contain his amazement, and went over to his friend (despite the risk involved) asking; ‘What happened? You were already done, why are you back here?!’
The first chossid responded simply: ‘In all of the rush and confusion, the lady gave me the ticket and forgot to take my money. I have to go back to give her the money!!’
[R’ Mendel Aronow related that once on Simchas Torah, amidst all of the pushing during hakafos by the Rebbe, he found himself next to an elder chossid (!), who asked him his name, and then shared with him this story that took place with his father (R’ Yehoshua Zelig Aronow was the chosid who went back to the back of the line, and the chosid who related it to Reb Mendel was the second chossid who witnessed it.)]
In general, according to halacha keeping the money would not have been considered stealing (it falls under the category of טעות עכו”ם), and it surely is not something that requires mesirus nefesh. There was also no reason for concern for the lady’s loss of income, being that she was cheating every single person out of two rubles, and the three rubles of this chossid would surely not be missed by her. Yet for Zelig Aronow, not being in possession of money that was not rightfully his, warranted mesirus nefesh!
In Russia there was a kever of someone who was known to be a great tzaddik, and who’s tziyun was universally accepted to be a makom kadosh. The government was planning a road (or some type of construction), that would go right through that kever. (I think he may have said that it was the סמיכות חכמים. Possibly he said he wasn’t sure who it was.)
Many people were very reluctant to be involved in the project, because they feared the danger and consequences of interfering with such a holy site. (I think he said that even the gentiles respected the site and didn’t want to be involved.)
The government, in dealing with political matters, would have special people whose job was to make political speeches (they had a special title as well, which I don’t recall). They sent someone to give a speech about this matter. He stood by the grave, holding a large stick, and a large crowd gathered around him, (woe to anyone who would allow himself to be suspected of avoiding such a gathering, it would be אחת דתו…).
The government representative began giving a passionate speech about old fashioned superstitions and narrow-mindedness etc. and how people have to become more liberal and progressive in their thinking and so on.
He was standing right by the matzeiva, and while he was speaking, he was banging on the matzeiva with his stick, for emphasis.
Suddenly, when he banged on the monument one more time, a piece of the gravestone became loose and flew off, and hit the man in the head, killing him instantly!
The next day, a notice came out from the government stating that upon further review, they came to the realization that the project would be more viable taking a different route…
The Rebbe Rashab was once locked out of his “cabinet” – the office in yeshiva. The yungerman who worked there was inside, and the Rebbe Rashab knocked on the door so that he should open the door for him. The yungerman called out “who is there”. The Rebbe didn’t want to say “it’s the Rebbe” or something like that, so he said merely “ich darf dir hobben“, presumably expecting him to identify him by his voice. But the yungerman didn’t recognize the voice, and replied “איך בין שוין א געהאטע”.
The Rebbe Rashab was once watching two bochurim dancing together on simchas Torah. After watching for a few moments, the Rebbe Rashab said (about one of them) – ער טאנצט מיט קבלת עול. And (about the other) און ער טאנצט מיט פריקת עול.
(Reb Mendel said who each was).
There was a tekufa, keyodua, during which there was a kpeida on Reb Avrohom Mayor. During that period, kemuvan, he wasn’t one of the invited guests to the seudah of the Rebbe.
By one of the seudos (of a yom tov), he showed up anyway. He told someone (a bochur?) who was there to move aside, and he sat down facing the Rebbe. He picked up a keleshke, and said “lchaim Rebbe”.
But the Rebbe ignored him.
Undaunted, he picked it up again, and said a second time “lchaim Rebbe”. But, once again, the Rebbe ignored him.
R’ Avrohom picked it up a third time, and said to the Rebbe “Rebbe, ihr zeit doch a yoiresh, un a yoiresh yarshent altz, di gut un di shlecht tzuzammen. Lchaim Rebbe”.
And, this time, the Rebbe replied “lchaim ulebrocho“!
During the time that he was a moicher seforim, Rabbi Aronow would sell both Kehos seforim and others. For the pricing on the Kehos seforim, he had to go through Rabbi Chodakov, kemuvan.
Once, he called Rabbi Chodakov to complain: “How can I justify selling the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch, which is 4 volumes, for 7 dollars, when a set of Chumash Beis Yehuda, which is 5 volumes, they could get for only 6 dollars?!”
“What kind of question is that?” Rabbi Chodakov retorted, “ess iz doch der Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch!”
“But the Chumash is Moshe Rabeinu’s Chumash,” Rabbi Aronow countered.
He tried another point: ‘Now, there is another group that printed their own edition of the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch. If we charge more than they do, then why should anyone buy from us, when they could buy from them for less’?
“That printing?!” Rabbi Chodakov exclaimed, “that we don’t have to worry about, because they printed it illegally, without our permission, iz ess nit do!” (That edition doesn’t exist).
סיפור שסיפר כמה פעמים:
Amongst Lubavitcher chassidim, throughout the generation, every city and community had their mashpia. The mashpia was responsible to teach and inspire, to give shiurim in Chassidus, and to provide guidance to the members of anash in the ways of Chassidus and avodas Hashem.
In the city Charkov, the mashpia was R’ Avrohom Boruch Pevsner. He was a prominent chosid, however, when the time came that he was arrested for his activities, there was a void that needed to be filled. One of the chassidim living in Charkov then was R’ Menachem Mendel Deitch. He was not on the same caliber of R’ Avrohom Boruch Pevsner, but it was still imperative that someone continue to carry out the duties of Mashpia, and R’ Mendel Deitch was the most fitting.
[This R’ Mendel Deitch was described as more of a baalebatishe Yid (compared to R’ Avrohom Boruch), with the qualifier that a baalebatishe Yid (at that time) referred to someone who was knowledgeable in the entire Shas and fluent in Chassidus etc., but baalebatish].
R’ Mendel Deitch did business with (what were referred to as) “chazerel”’s. These were the gold coins that were remaining from the Nikolaiev era. Although they had much value, they were illegal in Communist Russia, and someone caught with them in his possession would be shot on the spot. However, someone bold enough to deal with them clandestinely could make a large profit.
Because of the great danger they posed for anyone caught red-handed with them in his possession, no one wanted to be stuck with them overnight, because of the risk of a nocturnal visit from the secret police. Thus the later it became in the day, the more they decreased in value. So, for example, if in the morning the “chazerel” would be worth 350 rubles, by midday it could jump down to 275, late afternoon it would drop to 150, and just before night it could be valued at just over 100.
One of the duties that were assumed by Mendel Deitch was to teach a Perek Tanya every day between mincha and maariv in the shul. One day, he was preparing to go to shul, mincha time, when an acquaintance came to his door, seeking to buy some “chazerel”s. This was a tremendous opportunity for R’ Mendel, from every angle.
However, Mendel Deitch declined, saying “I’m sorry, but I am unable to help you. I already put on my coat to go to my shiur, I am no longer here”. His wife heard and was aghast. “Don’t be a fool”, she demanded, “this is a chance that you can’t pass up on. You will be getting rid of the incriminating material and make some money as well”. In the meantime, the buyer saw R’ Mendel Deitch’s reluctance, and offered to add an additional 25 rubles to his original offer, and then, when his offer was still declined, he added still another 25.
This buyer was talking convincingly about how much money he’s ready to offer, Rebbetzin Deitch was insistent that her husband take advantage of the opportunity.
However, the chosid Mendel Deitch disregarded both of them, and left to shul, to deliver his shiur in Tanya to the congregants!
The sale of the chazerels was very important for this chosid from a business perspective. He would be able to earn money for something that was rapidly losing its value. And, as a chosid, it is unquestionably that the money he wanted to earn was for the purpose of serving Hashem. He was, undoubtedly, not seeking money for its own sake, but in order to use it for good causes.
Moreover, the sale of the chazerels was vital for his personal wellbeing. It would remove a significant danger that faced him. And, of course being safe and protecting one’s welfare is a mitzvah of the highest order, – it is part of serving Hashem.
But, as soon as it came to delivering his shiur, to carrying out the duties of mashpia, all of the above calculations become inconsequential. Compared to actually teaching Torah, to being actually connected to Hashem, all of the above would be treated as his personal affairs. They are for the sake of Hashem, but they have to second place to the tefilah, – to the actual attachment.
It was in a refugee camp, I believe he said it was in Poking (in Germany). There was a group of chassidim there, and with them was R’ Schneur Garelick, later the Rov of Kfar Chabad. At that time he served as the Rov for the refugees.
One week they had a unique visitor. Yaakov Zerubavel was a Zionist activist. He was a true apikorus, rejecting everything of Torah and mitzvos (although in his later years he experienced an amazing and miraculous story with the Rebbe, VAKM). But he was very learned, fluent in Chazal and midrashim. He also sported a long, rabbinic-looking beard. His bare head gave him away, but if he would put on a yarmulke and speak, he could easily be mistaken for a magid of old.
That was exactly what happened with that group of chassidim. Zerubavel joined them (for shabbos), and by the kidush he was allowed to speak. Interspersing his words with chazal and midrashim, he spoke about the importance of the mitzvah of living in Eretz yisroel. He was a brilliant orator and very charismatic, and by the time he was finishing the chassidim were completely convinced by his words. He had such influence on them, that the feeling was that the moment he was done they were ready to pack their bags and follow the Zionist dream.
Throughout his speech, Reb Schneur Garelick was sitting next to him at the head of the table. He was small and thin, and didn’t appear, to Zerubavel, to pose any threat. He didn’t appear to be following the proceedings at all, rather, he seemed like he was dozing off.
But the moment zerubavel was done, Rabbi Garelick spoke, saying the following:
It says כי יקום בקרבך נביא או חולם חלום. A נביא – from the words ניב שפתיים – means a speaker. There gets up someone who’s a powerful, charismatic speaker. חולם חלום And he shares with you his grandiose dreams and fantasies that sound very appealing and attractive to you. But the possuk says לא תשמע אל דברי הנביא ההוא או אל חולם החלום ההוא כי מנסה ה’ אלקיכם אתכם לדעת וכו’.
Those few words of the chassidishe rov were enough to erase the entire effects of zerubavel’s speech!
The above is a מעט מן המעט, and, IYH, עוד חזון למועד.
L’chaim! May we all learn the lessons from the examples of Reb Mendel aronow and the other eltere chassidim that we had the merit to witness and learn from, and may the Eibishter bring an end to the golus, and bring about techiyas hameisim and hokitzu veranenu shoichnei ofor, with the immediate hisgalus of Moshiach Tzidkeinu NOW!!!
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Amazing!! Thank you so much for sharing these stories. So important for us younger Chassidim to hear.
Thank you very much! Gantz moirahdik