Yud Tes Kislev – Weekly Story by Rabbi Sholom DovBer Avtzon

As noted in last weeks’ story, I am continuing to share with those who use these weekly stories by their Shabbos table or at farbrengens, some (4) additional stories and thoughts for Yud Tes Kislev farbrengens. As always your feedback is greatly appreciated.

A] This week we celebrate (Tes and) Yud Kislev, the liberation of the Mitteler Rebbe, and next week we will celebrate Yud Tes Kislev, the liberation of the Alter Rebbe. There is a saying of the Rebbeim that Yud Kislev is the birth of a chossid, while Yud Tes Kislev is the bris of a chossid.

Hearing these words, the obvious question is what exactly is the message behind these words? (After all there are ten tens between them).

The birth of a chossid is speaking about or referring to the initial resolve that is demanded from a chossid, and that is bittul and kabbalas ol. A chossid obeys, and a chossid doesn’t question. 

We know that we change our own opinion when we find out additional information. So if the Rebbe tells us something, or even if it is the mashpia who is telling us to do something, being that he was appointed to be the mashpia etc., I the chossid obey, even if I personally think differently. That is the foundation of becoming a chossid.

This concept of bittul was strongly noticeable by the Mitteler Rebbe. Although he expounded at great length on his father’s concepts, he felt that everything was his fathers and nothing was his own.  

Then comes Yud Tes Kislev and informs us that there is another level that a chossid should reach and that is having mesiras nefesh for the teachings of Chassidus and the ways of Chassidim. 

This was seen in the arrest of the Alter Rebbe, that he was arrested and brought to Petersburg in the black wagon reserved for those who were charged with treason and faced a possible death sentence, i.e. he had mesiras nefesh for publicizing the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, while the Mitteler Rebbe was not brought to Petersburg, he was being questioned in Vitebsk.

B] There was a chossid from Paritch, who was appointed by the Frierdiker Rebbe to become the mashpia in one of the yeshivos. The first farbrengen he gave was on Yud Tes Kislev, and everyone, not only the students were interested in hearing him farbreng. 

He was known to be as gentle as they come, ever so polite, and normally by a farbrengen the mashpia demands from those attending. But that was against his nature. So what was he going to say?

In the farbrengen he discussed by way of parable a war that was dragging on for years, no one was winning. It was a stalemate. Then came an officer bedecked with medals and medallions on both of his lapels. He heard from the generals a complete report about the ongoing battles and strategies being utilized. He then asked a few questions and after hearing the answers, he went into a room to think it over.

Coming out, he began saying his thoughts. Everyone listened as he discussed his strategy on how to overcome the impasse and win the war. Indeed, after following his guidance the war was won in a few weeks. 

The obvious reason for his success is that he was able to figure out how to overcome the impasse is because he had the tools, experience, and knowledge that the commanders did not possess and therefore he was able to win.

Turning to the assembled the new mashpia stated, the Alter Rebbe’s name is Shneur. Shneur is a compound of shnei ohr – two lights. The two lights are nigla and Chassidus. You who are zoche to be in the Rebbe yeshiva, and learn both nigla and Chassidus have all the medals and medallions on both of your lapels: you were given the artillery and are in a position to battle and vanquish the enemy, the pressures of the winds that are blowing around us. 

Yes a farbrengen is a time that we demand, but it is successful when those who are listening are aware that they have the tools and skills to succeed. It is a time of inspiration, not just demanding.

C] We know that there are differences between Chassidus Chabad and Chassidus Chagas. One of the fundamental differences concerns the avoda of the Chassidim. In Chabad the emphasis is on the chossid to accomplish on his own, while in Chagas one can rely on the tzaddik.

This difference between these two approaches is not by chance, but by choice. 

The Baal Shem Tov traveled around to attract great tzaddikim to become his talmid and chossid. He did so with the Maggid of Mezereritch as well as with the Toldos Yaakov Yosef and others. They were brought to him through his actions. In other words, the Baal Shem Tov – the tzaddik – uplifted them.

However, when it came to the Alter Rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov gave specific instructions that the child not be told about him, as he has to come on his own. In Chassidic terminology, the Baal Shem Tov was informing him that he nust carry the banner of avodas atzmo.

I heard last Shabbos (parshas Chaya Sarah) from Rabbi Mangel sheyichye, that perhaps this explains a question that is asked on the Parsha.

Rashi brings down the explanation that when Rivkah passed by the beis hamidrash of Shem and Eiver, Yaakov desire to leave her womb and learn Torah. However, we know that when a child is in its mother’s womb, an angel teaches it Torah. So why did he want to learn by Shem, when the angel was teaching him? 

But with the above it is understood.  Learning from an angel is wonderful; however, it is not what is demanded from a person. A person must learn with his own actions and overcome his own struggles. That is similar to what the Alter Rebbe writes in chapter 15, as this is the difference between one who serves Hashem and one who doesn’t. If it is not overcoming obstacles and challenges and doing more than he is accustomed to, it is as if one did not serve Hashem. Therefore Yaakov wanted to leave and learn on his own

D] I will conclude with a well-known story.

The Baal Shem Tov’s son in law, Reb Yechiel’s family lived in Germany. After he was learning from the Baal Shem Tov for five years, he asked him if he can go home and visit his parents.

He explained, my father, allowed all of us (his sons) to leave and learn wherever we choose, but he requested that after five years we are to return for a visit.

The Baal Shem Tov blessed him that he should have a safe trip and return safely, and he traveled to Germany.

Arriving there his parents greeted him warmly and during that week all of his brothers also came. Their father observed all of his children and had tremendous nachas. Yes, they all went to different yeshivos and assumed different customs, but it was evident that they all grew in their learning and scholarship.

Being that he was well to do, he informed his sons that next week he is going to be making a feast for the entire community and all of them will have the opportunity and ability to demonstrate what they learned in these five years. 

One by one his sons delivered marvelous insights on various topics in the Torah. The assembled truly enjoyed their brilliant discourses and the parents were quvelling with nachas.

Yet, when Yechiel was called to give over what he learned, he remained sitting by his place and ate something. 

Knowing of his son’s greatness as he had observed his davening, learning and conduct since he arrived, he assumed that perhaps he is not feeling well today and asked the next son to speak.

However, he was bothered as he heard the comments of his other children. He heard how they were dismissing Yechiel and saying that he has fooled their father. 

The following day he asked Yechiel why he didn’t want to give over what he had learned. You have constantly informed me of the greatness of your Rebbe who became your father in law, so why didn’t you tell it to the townspeople? 

Reb Yechiel replied, Father you asked me to show what I learned and that is what I did.

Seeing his father’s bewilderment he continued, my father in law the Baal Shem Tov taught that one can serve Hashem even in his eating, and that is what I did when I was asked to demonstrate what I had learned. Chassidus teaches us to elevate the world and through the world we can serve Hashem. 

Obviously I also advanced in my learning in Torah knowledge, but that is not the same as learning something entirely new. So I demonstrated something completely new.

His father understood Yechiel’s response, but he countered I understand that because you explained it to me, so I am asking you to explain the teachings of your holy father in law to all. I will change my words and say you are going to explain what you learned, and not demonstrate it.

Yechiel agreed and the following evening the townspeople gathered once again. The father explained why his son didn’t speak at the previous evening, and then said, now I am asking him to give over some of the teachings of his father in law and Rebbe, the holy Baal Shem Tov.

This time, Reb Yechiel obliged and began speaking. Everyone knows that the Torah is compared to light. However, some might think that there is light only in the homes of talmidei chachamim, who learn constantly. But if a Jew is unlearned and is occupied with supporting his family and doesn’t have a set time every day to learn, then one may erroneously say that in that Jews home, there is no light, even though he is guiding them in the ways Of Torah and Mitzvos. 

My Rebbe and father in law, the Baal Shem Tov teaches that there are additional ways to bring light into every Jews’ home. Saying a kedushu or amen yehei shemei rabah,  opens up windows, saying a heartfelt chapter of Tehillim and praising Hashem by responding Boruch Hashem, opens up windows. No longer should any Jew feel that he is in darkness. As the possuk states, “And to the entire Jewish nation there was light in their dwelling places.”

And that is what Yud Tes Kislev is all about. Let us celebrate the light that has emanated from Toras HaChassidus, and how it illuminated the life of Jews throughout the world.

Rabbi Avtzon is a veteran mechanech and the author of numerous books on the Rebbeim and their chassidim. He is available to farbreng in your community and can be contacted at avtzonbooks@gmail.com

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