When He Passed Away, the Frierdiker Rebbe Cried

When the news of Reb Chaim Brisker’s passing reached Lubavitch, the Frierdiker Rebbe cried bitterly and told a story about his selfless pride. Selflessness doesn’t mean worthlessness.

By Rabbi Mordechai Lipskier

When the news of Reb Chaim Brisker’s passing reached Lubavitch, the Frierdiker Rebbe cried bitterly. While talking about Reb Chaim’s greatness, he shared the following anecdote.

Reb Chaim joined the Rebbe Rashab in his fight against the haskalah movement. During one of these meetings, Reb Chaim sensed a weakness in some of the other Rabbanim and suddenly stood up and announced: “I am Reb Chaim Brisker whose name is famous in yeshivos worldwide and I hereby declare that what the haskalah is proposing is against the Torah!”

What was unique about this behavior was that Reb Chaim was usually a lev nishbar, a broken heart, humble to the core. A simple act such as washing netilas yadayim was done with the same humility and awe of Hashem as a tzadik davening minchah on Yom Kippur. Yet, when he saw the necessity, he asserted himself and his greatness.

To be sure, his assertiveness was not in spite of his humility but rather a result of it.

Human logic understands boldness and assertiveness to be an expression of a strong sense of self. Conversely, Torah says it’s the expression of selflessness. As strong self can be broken by yet a stronger self but a selfless self cannot be broken by anything.

Selflessness doesn’t mean worthlessness. It means dedication to something greater than oneself; Hashem. The more devoted we are to Hashem, the less we are limited by our own selves. When a Yid lives by Hashem’s ways, he has the ability to stand up for what’s right with the strength of Hashem Himself.[1]

This is the message of matzah: humility and bitul to Hashem. The more we internalize this, the stronger and freer we become.

A similar idea can be seen in the sedra we read right after Pesach this year.

When the time finally came for Aaron HaKohen to perform the avodah in the Mishkan, Moshe Rabbeinu had to call him and say, “approach the mizbe’ach and perform your korban chatas, etc.”

Aaron was bashful and apprehensive to accept such a great position. Moshe had to embolden Aaron to approach and complete his duties.

Highlighting one of the many messages from this episode, the Rebbe once said[2] that while a rav and mashpia must have the trait of bashfulness and humility to say, “I don’t know,” they must also have the strength to say what they do know and not be bashful in voicing the truth.

The Arizal explains [3] Moshe’s words to mean: Why are you fearful to approach the mizbe’ach? Your bashfulness is precisely why you were chosen!

Pesach is a new beginning. With the strong foundation of our thin, humble matzah may we all embolden ourselves to be shameless, even proud, servants of Hashem. And may we merit very soon to experience true freedom with the coming of Moshiach, now.

[1] B’darkei Hachasidim pg. 161. Sefer Hasichos 5702 pg. 112

[2] Shemini 5747 (1987)

[3] Likutei Torah to this sedra

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