Memory oftentimes works in strange ways. Oddly enough, I have a very clear memory of a conversation that took place over twenty-five years ago with a friend of mine on the subject of Lubavitch. I can picture exactly where we were standing (in a Beis Medrash that has long since been torn down to build a much larger one), when he informed me of the details of the transition following the passing of the Tzemach Tzedek. That was probably the first time I heard any substantive information regarding the Rebbe Maharash and the other sons of the Tzemach Tzedek.
My friend's mother was one of three sisters, two of whom married prominent Lubavitcher Chassidim. As someone with close relatives in the movement, who had been raised in an environment opposed to Chabad, and as one of the few people that in their high school years did not attend secular studies classes, he had used the extra time available to him to read up on various Jewish topics that were not part of the classroom curricula. One of those topics was the history of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.
In that discussion, he informed me of the fact that the Maharash was the youngest son of the Tzemach Tzedek, and that the movement had divided into a number of groups led by the different brothers, the largest being centered in Kopust under the leadership of the eldest of the sons to become a Rebbe at their father's behest (the actual firstborn, Reb Boruch Shalom, the Rebbe's direct ancestor, declined any leadership role). This son passed on shortly after his father, and in turn, was succeeded by his son known as the Magen Avos, who claimed that he had a direct tradition that Chassidus was only meant to last for a hundred and fifty years. In fact, during the early years of the leadership of the Rebbe Maharash in Lubavitch, he had the smallest following with most of his followers being the more simple folk.
The underlying premise of our conversation was that it is possible to be opposed to latter day Lubavitch while professing undying respect for its early leaders, and although I may have on occasion said things that were derogatory of the entire Chassidic movement as a whole, for the most part I saw myself as someone who did respect its progenitors while bemoaning (somewhat insincerely) its unfortunate decline. This of course, was in contrast to the Lithuanian yeshiva movement (along with its greats) that was enjoying an unprecedented renaissance during the postwar years, in America and abroad.
In retrospect, the memory of that interchange does little for me except perhaps to make me feel a little stupid (and grateful that I overcame that stupidity), but perhaps it was what planted the seed for what would later become a particular fascination and curiosity regarding the Rebbe Maharash. What we know about him and his life comes from the talks and diaries of the Rebbe Rayatz, which the Rebbe himself compiled into a small book in 1947, and that material actually leaves one with more of a sense of puzzlement in the face of an enigmatic personality than any sense of clarity.
The entry for the 2nd of Iyar in the Ha’Yom Yom says as follows: My grandfather (the Rebbe Maharash) was born on this day in 5593 (1833). When he was seven years old he was once tested on his studies by his father, the Tzemach Tzedek. My grandfather did so well that his teacher became so excited that he couldn't restrain himself and said to the Tzemach Tzedek, “Ha, what do you say, he did well?” The Tzemach Tzedek answered him, “What is all the excitement about when tiferes of tiferes (corresponding to the seventeenth day of sefiras ha'omer) does well?”
I once heard a Chassidic explanation as to what we could possibly learn from this story. Since it is a Chassidic precept that there is only one Rebbe, how does this comport with the conduct of the Tzemach Tzedek who placed all of his sons in leadership roles, specifying in his will that they all be equal in terms of inheritance, and only singled out the Rebbe Maharash in that he had him live close to him in the town of Lubavitch? (Although the Rebbe in a talk on Rosh HaShana 5752 – Sichos Kodesh 5752 p. 11 – indicates that the Tzemach Tzedek saw to install him during his lifetime, it was not readily apparent back then). Perhaps this story is meant to shed light on that question. The Tzemach Tzedek was saying that despite his youth, he embodied “tiferes of tiferes,” and as such would “do well” in the face of “tests” and challenges to his absolute leadership. This was borne out by history as the other branches of Chabad faded into oblivion.
Although it is a fine insight, it still begs the question, why set it up in such a way to begin with? Why leave that generation and subsequent generations with doubts and questions that can only be resolved over the long run of history, and even then not to the satisfaction of all? Why should two yeshiva bochurim be talking over a hundred years later about whether the Rebbe Maharash was the proper successor of the Tzemach Tzedek? And what does all of that have to do with my own personal service, beyond knowing that there is only one Rebbe, which is certainly not explicit in the story?
In most human endeavors there is a decision making process followed by an implementation process. That is why the emotional makeup of the person includes “decision” emotions and “implementation” emotions. Love, fear and compassion, and the related expressions of chessed, gevura and tiferes, are the feelings that provide the inclination one way or another as to how we relate and respond to any given matter. Determination, devotion and committed attachment, along with the related expressions of netzach, hod and yesod are the inner engine that drives the implementation of a given course of action, which is brought to fruition by malchus, through thought, speech and action.
In the world of the military, there is a clear divide between the decision making echelons and the fighting men. The study of military strategy and planning, the emotional struggles and turmoil involved in the gut-wrenching decision making process are exclusively the domain of the civilian and military leaders. In fact, military rules generally prohibit the soldiers from discussing their personal opinions or feelings about any combat assignments or campaigns. The soldier is expected to marshal his emotional energies only towards getting the job done, and this is primarily through channeling his netzach, the emotion that when fully aroused manifests as absolute determination to achieve victory at all costs, along with his hod that allows him to submit and commit to the necessary steps and actions needed to further the cause and attain the ultimate goal.
Wars often end up being long drawn out affairs. For all of the soldier's inner drive for victory, there are times that he finds himself struggling simply to hold the line and survive, in order to live and fight another day. In addition there are losses and setbacks, tragedies and heartbreaks, which all serve to sap the drive and determination needed to pursue a protracted military course. For that we have the attribute of yesod to provide the resolve and perseverance to staying the course. It is only when victory is finally in sight and the focus is on achieving the final objective and bringing about the cessation of hostilities that the soldier, whose entire existence is one of submission to his leader, to his superiors, to his cause, must actually adopt the mission as his very own and awaken within himself the capacity to take charge and show initiative, his malchus.
When King Shaul set out to do battle with Amalek, he led the people to complete victory in the military sense. However, he fell short of the final objective to obliterate every last vestige of Amalek by leaving their king and their livestock alive. Because of this, the continuation of his kingdom was taken from him, and Dovid was anointed king and promised the kingdom for all eternity, culminating with Moshiach who descends from his line. When Shaul asked Shmuel if there was a chance that his loss of the kingdom be given reconsideration, the answer was, “The Eternal One (Netzach) of Yisroel will not lie and will not relent, for He is not a man (lo adam) to relent.” Chassidus explains this to mean that the malchus of the House of Dovid is rooted in the divine attribute of netzach, which in turn is rooted in the divine Essence which is infinite and transcends all the anthropomorphic manifestations of divinity (lo adam).
Although Dovid was promised the kingdom for all eternity, his anointment was held in secret and his leadership was challenged from the very beginning and came under repeated attack throughout his lifetime. This continued in subsequent generations and many sources indicate that Moshiach himself must face challenges to his leadership all the way until the final objective is achieved with the recapture and resettlement of Eretz Yisrael, the destruction of Amalek, and the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash. This is because netzach, which means both victory and eternity, is only fully realized when victory is complete and everlasting. Only then, will the malchus of Dovid that is rooted in netzach be fully accepted without challenge for all eternity. “Victory at all costs” makes for a fine and stirring slogan, but ultimately means less than nothing unless victory is finally achieved.
Early Jewish history can be broken down into two general periods, the period from the Avos, the Patriarchs, through the exile and exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah, until the Jews entered the Holy Land, which laid the groundwork for the actual job of conquering the world for holiness, and the period following their entry into Eretz Yisrael until today. The second period did not see the Jewish people fully established until Dovid was anointed king and his son Shlomo built the Beis HaMikdash.
Similarly, Chassidic history reflects these two stages, the “planning stage” and the “implementation stage.” The Baal Shem Tov and the Mezritcher Maggid, the Alter Rebbe, the Mittler Rebbe and the Tzemach Tzedek, all represented divine revelations that reflect the will and desire, the mindset and decision making that go into the ultimate military campaign of the “Armies of G-d” for world conquest. As such, they are known as the Avos of Chassidus, and are almost universally respected and accepted to some degree, and it was during the reign of the Tzemach Tzedek that most opposition to Chassidus faded.
The Rebbe Maharash who corresponds to the divine attribute of netzach (see Sicha Simchas Torah Day Meal 5745, Sefer HaSichos Rayatz), represents the beginning of the final implementation stage. His anointment took place in secret and faced many competitive challenges. Much like Dovid, he attracted a small number of some of the greatest Chassidic minds and characters of the time, but most of his following were the more simple Chassidim. Those very same simple Chassidim who exemplified the very reason that the Alter Rebbe chose Russia as his base of operations when the disciples of the Mezeritcher Maggid divided Eastern Europe, which was that they make the best soldiers. And like the kingdom of the House of Dovid, the full validation of his leadership and that of his subsequent heirs to the throne will only take place after the final victory with the coming of Moshiach.
There is a well-known aphorism of the Rebbe Maharash that the Rebbe repeated on more occasions than one would care to count, “The world says that if you can't go under, go over. And I say you should initially go over (in Yiddish, l'chatchila ariber).” The fact that the Rebbe repeated and explicated this saying numerous times is somewhat mystifying. Yes, it seems like a sound piece of advice (and many secular sources have adopted and adapted this idea), and yes, it is important to know that spiritually this means that we are given the power to transcend most obstacles rather than wrestling endlessly with them, but still, it seems a bit out of proportion.
However, when we look at the role of our generation, the generation of malchus, which stands at the verge of complete victory, and as such, requires that each and every one of us take the initiative to capture and rehabilitate ever expanding territorial and population areas, it begins to make a little more sense. We, of all people, cannot afford to get caught up in the process of warfare, the individual struggles and obstacles, which can cause us to lose sight of the final objective. Netzach is not about getting caught up in the local struggles and small victories that happen along the way, or even winning the entire battle and just leaving one little old king and a few heads of cattle. It is about remaining focused on your final objective and pursuing it at all costs, but in the end it is really only about actually getting there, “tiferes of tiferes.” That is the message and battle cry of l'chatchila ariber.
In that context, the talk of the 28th of Nissan 5751, a few short days before the 2nd of Iyar is not a mystery at all. In fact, the Rebbe was pretty much stating the obvious. He just did it a little more forcefully than usual. At this stage of the game, we need the initiative and stubbornness, built on the desire to reach the final objective and the complete rejection of the possibility of having this drag on even one more day. If we don't have that, then from the perspective of malchus as rooted in netzach rooted in the divine Essence, everything we did until now is for naught.
“What else can I do so that all sons of Israel will raise a tumult and cry out for real, and they will accomplish bringing Moshiach in actuality...the only thing I can do is give it over to you: do everything in your power...to actually bring our righteous Moshiach, immediately and literally NOW!”