When Yerucham Garelik asked him for pshat in his father’s maamar, the yet-to-be Frierdiker Rebbe played unlearned. But then R. Avrohom Elye Plotkin caught him writing an explanation on the question, and advised Yerucham to extract it from him.
R. Yerucham Gorelik was born in Bobroisk, and was one of the founding talmidim of Tomchei Temimim in Lubavitch. He served as a chozer and was known as a great oved, davening and reciting krias shema she’al hamitah at great length. He merited to have a close relationship with the Rebbe Rashab and Frierdiker Rebbe, and passed away at a young age in 5680, soon after the histalkus of the Rebbe Rashab.
For two years, R. Yerucham dedicated himself to the avoda of krias shema she’al hamitah, devoting many hours to it each night. When he mentioned it in yechidus, the Rebbe Rashab told him that such an avoda is appropriate for tzaddikim who reflect what is happening on high: gevura at night and chesed by day. But for ordinary people, such length isn’t suitable.
On another occasion, R. Yerucham asked the Rebbe Rashab about missing zman tefilla when davening at length. At first, the Rebbe suspected that he was looking for an excuse to finish davening so he could eat sooner. But seeing his earnestness, the Rebbe explained to him another value of a longer davening: until davening is over, one has a higher degree of kabbolas ol.
R. Avrohom Elye Plotkin related:
One leil Shabbos, towards the end of the summer in 5672, the Rebbe Rashab delivered an unusually deep maamar from the series of maamorim known as ‘Hemshech Ayin Beis.’ Unable to grasp it, the chozrim asked for a biur on Shabbos morning, yet they still grappled with it. At the conclusion of Shabbos, they still didn’t have it clear, and they refused to end Shabbos until they clarified it.
As they spoke, the Frierdiker Rebbe, then the menahel of the yeshiva, strolled by while smoking a cigarette. Yerucham went over to him and posed to him a question on the maamar, but the Frierdiker Rebbe just gave him a confused look and retorted, “Why do you ask me? Ask someone who knows Chassidus!” And with that, he walked off.
That night, I was needed in the Rebbe Rashab’s home. As I walked in the hallway, I saw the Frierdiker Rebbe sitting by a table deep in thought and writing something. Suddenly, he stood up and went to another room. Estimating that I had half a minute until he would return, I quickly went over to look at the paper, and managed to read the beginning, “In response to the question of Hatomim Yerucham on my father’s maamar…” Afraid of being caught, I escaped before reading the explanation.
The next day, I reported to Yerucham what I had seen and advised him to hang around the Frierdiker Rebbe and try to extract something from him. He took my advice and spent the next two days nearby, even raising the issue again, but he didn’t manage to get a single word out of him. Such was the Frierdiker Rebbe’s secrecy at that time!