A ROOMFUL OF BOOKS
Whenever we begin to approach the special day of 5 Teves, I always find myself going back to that time and beating myself up with regret. “Why?” you ask. Well, first a little background:
At that time, I was learning in Lakewood Yeshiva. I shared a number of mutual friends with a certain fellow student, who identified as a Chassid of Pupa, and who had one of the choicest rooms in the dormitory. It was an oversized room, but due to its elongated shape held only three beds instead of the usual four. When one of those beds became available, he invited me to move in rather than have the administration assign him a roommate.
This room was the “hangout” of the “Chassidic underground” in Lakewood, during off hours from the regular learning schedule. Although some members of this fascinating and diverse group treated me with suspicion (“He's just a Misnaged who is curious”), I soon found myself in the middle of a whole new social circle. Since my roommate also had a massive collection of Chassidic works, including many biographies of Chassidic greats and historical books covering many different branches of the movement, I began to devour them.
My curiosity was originally fueled primarily because of a family tradition that we are descended of Reb Gershon Kitover, the brother-in-law and later disciple of the Baal Shem Tov. It only seemed right that if I considered myself an opponent of the teachings of this movement that should have been part of my birthright, I should at least know what I was opposing. Little did I know the tremendous impact that my reading would have on me. Slowly, over time, I began to become convinced that there was a lot more to Chassidus than is perceived by those who view it from the outside, or even dabble in it casually in the name of being broadminded. By the month of Teves 5747, my identity as a Misnaged was pretty much limited to one school of Chassidus: Chabad – Lubavitch (as well as some individual aspects of certain other denominations).
One of the Chassidic fellows that I became friendly with was very involved in Chabad, and on occasion, would gently try to soften my opposition. During the original celebration throughout the week following Hei Teves, word got out that the Rebbe had announced that “all the doors were open” for all requests, and that any note with a request would be taken to the resting place of the Rebbe Rayatz.
Bags and bags of letters and notes poured into 770 Eastern Parkway, even from places like Williamsburg which was considered a stronghold of opposition. This friend of mine became the “letter carrier” for many of those in Lakewood who wanted to take advantage of this unique opportunity, as he traveled there almost daily during that week. When he approached me to apprise me of this once-in-a-lifetime chance, I told him unequivocally that I was not interested. Since I opposed the man, I wasn't going to ask for his blessings.
Oy vey, what an idiot (feel free to add any and all pejorative adjectives)!!!
So you see, along with “Hei Teves” being a time for joyous celebration of the victory of the sefarim/books, as well as the victory of the Rebbe and the Chassidim, for me it is a personal day of repentance.
Ironically, my entire internal process began, as mentioned, with books and sefarim, and continued almost exclusively through my own delving into sefarim with very limited input from the various people over the years who tried to be “mekarev” me (not that I am any less grateful to them). So, although as a Misnaged, I might have scoffed at the “campaign” to fill one's home with sefarim, or celebrating the “victory” and “redemption” of sefarim, I can personally give witness to the importance of being surrounded by sefarim and the power they have to transform lives.
WHAT'S IN A BOOK?
The Alter Rebbe, in his introduction to Tanya addresses himself to “those who pursue righteousness and seek out G-d,” and points out the possible deficiencies in trying to find one's way in the service of Hashem from holy books. He begins with the general problem that the reader brings the limitations of his mind and intellect to the learning process, and as such, if he himself is confused and in darkness he will have great difficulty in discerning the great light that is hidden away within such holy works.
Additionally, those ethical works that are based on human intellect will not be useful to everyone since people's minds work differently and respond in differing ways to different things. And even those works that are predicated primarily on the words of the Sages in the Medrashic literature, are not accessible to all since not everybody merits the ability to discern “his individual place within Torah.” This is all the more so in matters of love and fear of Hashem in the heart and mind that are by definition individual in nature, as the Zohar states that in these matters “each one according to his measure, according to what he can assess in his heart.”
He then goes on to explain why these disadvantages are not cause for concern as regards the Tanya, because it is written for those from our fellowship, from our country and the outlying regions, who know me well and seeking my advice have brought all their questions to me, which I have answered in private audiences, so this work is a compendium of all the answers to all the questions that they may possibly have in the future. Apparently, the Alter Rebbe is explaining why the problems that he raised earlier are not pertinent in this instance by making it clear that he is only offering advice regarding those questions that have come up and is only addressing himself to a limited audience.
However, Chassidic tradition emphatically rejects such a superficial reading of the text and in fact insists that it was written for all Jews of that generation and all the generations to come, and answers any question regarding the service of Hashem that any person will ever confront in his life, and enables those people to find the answers either themselves or through consulting those greater than themselves.
To document all the statements of the Rebbeim on this topic and all the explanations of the wording of the Alter Rebbe in his introduction is beyond the purview of this article. (See letter of the Rebbe Rayatz, appendix to Kitzurim VeHa'aros on Tanya, Likkutei Sichos vol. 26 Sicha 20-24 Teves p. 30-39). The question that is being addressed here is: How is it humanly possible to author a work that encompasses all the spiritual issues of every Jew that lived or will ever live? The Rebbe Rashab takes it even further and says that whoever opens a Tanya is in actual reality entering into a private audience (yechidus) face to face with the Alter Rebbe. How is that possible?
The Rebbe Rashab before his passing said, “Ich gei in himmel un di kesavim loz ich eich (I am going to heaven and the writings I leave for you).” The Rebbe, after a lengthy critical analysis, explains this statement to express the idea that just as Hashem “wrote Himself into the Torah” (as it were), so too “Tzaddikim are similar to their Creator” and “write themselves into their Torah.” This is especially true of a Nasi Chabad, since as the Mitteler Rebbe explains in the “Maamar Hishtatchus,” the Tzaddik whose function is to reveal the inner secrets of the Torah to the world in any given generation is the all-inclusive soul of that generation, specifically the all-inclusive yechida who is one with G-d. The Rebbe adds that since each generation of Jews is inclusive of all preceding and following generations, he is in fact the all-inclusive soul of all Jews, past and present.
That is how the Alter Rebbe can address every Jew of every generation and his every question and concern, in the manner of a private audience directed to that individual. The only difference between the Tanya and other “kesavim” of the Rebbeim is that the Tanya is the Written Torah of Chassidus and the other recorded teachings of the Rebbeim are the Oral Torah, but in each instance the Rebbe wrote himself into his Torah.
So, whereas in Torah study in general, it is extremely difficult for a person to find “his individual place within Torah” to aid him in his “pursuit of righteousness” and “seeking out G-d,” the Tanya and the later elaborations of the Rebbeim make it possible through connecting to the Rebbe himself (“those who know me well”) as he is invested into his teachings.
Perhaps this will help us gain a greater appreciation for the miraculous events of Hei Teves. As we know, although each Jewish holiday has many components, all of them are intricately interwoven. However, when it comes to the court battle over the sefarim, which as the Rebbe indicated mirrored a litigious struggle Up Above, there seems to be a wide range of issues that came to the fore. Although the primary legal question focused on the issue of ownership of the sefarim, the other side also challenged whether the Rebbe is the rightful heir to the crown of Chabad leadership. As such, 5 Teves, is both the time of the “redeeming of captives” of the sefarim, and an affirmation of the Rebbe's nesius. These would seem to be two very disparate and unrelated issues.
However, when we consider that the entire point of a Nasi is that he empowers those who reveal their connection to him to actually find the righteousness they are pursuing and ultimately to encounter G-d for whom they are searching, the connection becomes more clear. The impact of Tanya and the teachings of all the Rebbeim are not felt only when learning their works but when studying any aspect of Torah from any source. Where previously one was unable to find “his individual place within Torah” or the “hidden light” in the other areas of Torah, he can acquire the ability to do so by learning, absorbing and practicing the “advice” he receives from the Nasi or any of the Nesiim. Even someone, who as part of his service for Hashem under the guidance of the Rebbe, finds himself perusing works of questionable content and dubious authorship, has the “heart to know” and “eyes to see” and “ears to hear” to extract what is good and reject what is harmful.
Thus, taking the books/sefarim from their rightful place as part of the collection of the Rebbe Rayatz, which in a broader sense belongs to all of the Chassidim, is to undermine the very role of the Nasi, whose mission is to unify all aspects of the Torah and the Jewish people, and reveal and make accessible the path to righteousness and G-dliness to each and every one of them. The spiritual idea of “books in captivity” would be either the lack of study of those books or on a more subtle level, studying holy works without implementing their teachings and without an awareness of the G-dly light in Torah.
TAKING G-D OUT OF THE BOOK
Reb Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev exclaimed in wonder over the Tanya, “How does one take such a great G-d and put Him into such a small book?”
The Alter Rebbe addressed himself to those who “seek out G-d” and he delivered, as he concludes the first section of Tanya explaining how one brings the Shechina into the “intellectual faculties within his head.”
Ever since then, each progressive generation has worked towards taking G-d out of the book/books, and revealing Him in the world. In our generation, the Rebbe made it clear from day one that our mission is to bring the Shechina down to earth. The very first work that the Rebbe authored, the HaYom Yom, has a preface page citing a letter of the Rebbe Rayatz instructing every Jew, man and woman, young and old, to confront the following question:
What have I done and what am I doing to alleviate the birth-pangs of Moshiach, and to merit the Complete Redemption that will come through our righteous Moshiach?
That same work ends with the saying of the Alter Rebbe recorded in Derech Mitzvosecha of the Tzemach Tzedek:
I want nothing at all, I don't want Your Gan Eden, I don't want Your Olam Haba...I want nothing but You alone.
In the final maamar that the Rebbe edited fully before his stroke in 1992 (V'Atah Tetzave 5741), he cites this saying of the Alter Rebbe and explains that through the Nesiim of Chabad all the way to our generation, “every Jew is given the power that his primary desire be the revelation of Atzmus (Essence), and to such a degree, that when this revelation does not shine forth, and even more so in the time of exile when there doesn't shine forth even the revelation (revelation of 'light') that was in the time of the Sanctuary, he is in a state of kasis (crushed). And he asks three times a day (or more) 'and our eyes should see when You return to Zion with mercy,' because then there will be the revelation of G-dliness up to the revelation of Atzmus.”
In our time, it is not enough to “pursue righteousness” and “seek out G-d” as He is in a book, we need to do everything in our power, utilizing the powers given to us by the Rebbe as he put himself into his Torah, to reveal G-d Himself, Atzmus, in the world, by preparing ourselves and the world for “the Complete Redemption that will come through our righteous Moshiach,” NOW!