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Beyond Brotherly Love #2
by Rabbi Zvi Homnick
BROTHER AGAINST BROTHER
 
One of the frequent criticisms of Chabad in the post WWII era that I encountered while growing up was that they were the only ones that had continued to cling to the antiquated practice of calumniation of those that hold differing and even opposing views.  In a time when most religious groups had set aside many of their differences to join forces in various political and organizational entities, only Chabad remained outside the unified camp and continued to raise generations that propagated the age old clichéd characterizations of “Misnagdim,” “Oilemishe” and “Poilishe.”  Ahavat Israel
 
In fact, all evidence seemed to point to the idea that the average Lubavitcher felt more at home with a totally secular Jew than with those religious Jews that held opposing views, non-oppositional but worldly views, or adhered to an alternate Chassidic philosophy or leader.  Although I understood even then that these accusations were a bit unfair considering that they were pretty much the only Chassidic group under constant attack within the religious community, but it still rankled nonetheless when considering their preaching about unlimited and unconditional love for all Jews.
 
As mentioned previously, when I began looking into Chassidus in a serious way, I purposely sought out the most extreme statements, ideas and beliefs, especially those which were not offered up for public consumption.  This was partially in order to get a sense going in as to just how far these ideas and beliefs go and to see if I thought I could ever embrace the whole package.  I was not going to let myself be “pulled in” only to discover later that I had bought into a lot more than I had bargained for.  In retrospect, this approach worked for me but those involved in outreach on the ground can tell you that this is not the way to go for the overwhelming majority of (normal?) people. 
 
One of the works that I got my hands on which contains many such statements and stories (248 of them to be precise) was written by an author who had compiled three volumes of Chassidic stories for publication and had also produced a small anonymous pamphlet of these 248 that were too “sharp” for the public at large.  A few years earlier, an anonymous group purportedly from Satmar had published this pamphlet in order to “expose” to the rest of the frum world how Lubavitchers regard themselves and others, so it was relatively easy to get hold of.  What shocked me in my reading was not so much the content but the fact that rather than shocking me, I felt that it spoke to me.  It seemed so authentic and passionate, and not at all gratuitous and egocentric.
 
This in turn, created a personal dichotomy for me to contend with in addition to having to resolve the obvious philosophical contradiction between unconditional love for all Jews as brothers since we are all “children of the living G-d,” and complete disdain for and negation of anyone and anything in opposition, intentional or otherwise.  As mentioned in part 1 of this article, I was quite taken by the idea that Chassidus had made it possible for a person to attain the level of truly loving his fellow as himself, so I needed to sort out for myself why I also connected so strongly with the always pointed and often acerbic categorizations of those that did not accept the teachings of Chassidus as explicated in the works and words of the Chabad leaders.
 
[Note: After writing the previous article, my son pointed out to me that we own all published Chabad works including those that are out of print on the Otzar HaChochma computer program.  When searching for the B'Tzeil HaChochma, we discovered that those conversations had been reprinted recently under the title Siach Sarfei Kodesh.  The conversation quoted in that article took place with the current Gerrer Rebbe during a visit in 1977.  There the Rebbe cited the Ibn Ezra and not the Ramban, who also posits that it is impossible to achieve actual parity in love for one's fellow Jew.]
 
OH BROTHER
 
Okay, so I have managed to avoid citing a single example, while you are obviously sitting on the edge of your seat waiting for when this guy is finally going to put down something juicy.  Well … the issue really came to a head for me as I was standing one Sunday on line to get a dollar from the Rebbe (late 1991 or early 1992).  I was learning the talks of the Rebbe Rayatz in Sefer HaSichos 5703 and was reading the talk given on the first Seder night of that year.  There the Rebbe Rayatz addresses the seriousness of the times as Jews were being murdered wholesale on the other side of the ocean, how a Chassid needs to view the terrible times on the eve of Redemption and internalize what is expected of him and not be a fool, concluding with “A Chassid who is a tipesh (common Yiddish usage of Hebrew word which literally means 'one who is dense') is a travesty and a disgrace.”
 
To illustrate that point, he follows up with the following historical account: “Of the brothers, the famous Chassidim, R' Moshe and R' Zev Vilenker, the Chassid R' Moshe although he was a merchant and even had dealings with the Misnagdim, he would not engage them in debate.  In general, he would often say of them, “Yingelach” (little boys).  He made no distinction whether it was a man with a white beard or black, “a yingel with a beard.”  His brother, the Chassid R' Zev, was more social, and he would say to the Misnagdic merchants, “Never mind that you don't know how to learn, from where should you know; you are not a G-d-fearing person, nu; but why are you also a tipesh?”
 
Standing there on the line, making last minute preparations before coming to stand face to face with the Rebbe, the man who epitomizes the actual application of the concept of infinite and unconditional love for each and every Jew, who truly sees all Jews as they are rooted in their source of “One Father to all of them,” I found myself feeling completely thrown.  To begin with, I was surprised because I knew a lot of the “sharper” material was often excluded from final publication, but what really got to me was the fact that as I read the words the scene came alive for me, the words hit home, and I felt to the very core of my being how a Chassid who is a tipesh is a travesty and a disgrace, while his Misnaged counterpart can't help but being such.
 
As the line inched forward, I felt truly broken and began to berate myself in an internal dialogue (not verbatim), “Do you really think it is enough to tell yourself that you only relate to the disdain for and the excoriation of the Misnagdim described in this story insofar as it regards their external personae but not as actual people, actual Jews who you are obligated to love even if they were completely wicked, and how much more so if they are observant and even learned?  Yes, the Rebbe can relate such a story, and the brothers Vilenker were most likely on the level that they could balance the fulfillment of chapter 30 of Tanya to come up with concrete reasons why you should see every Jew as really and truly being a better person than you, along with chapter 32 of Tanya to love every Jew from the perspective of your soul and his being part of the same divine entity, even as they responded the way they did.  But what about you?  Maybe the enjoyment you get from a “sharp vort” or a clever putdown is a result of your own negative character traits, and not because your soul recognizes the truth of Chassidus and can't tolerate anything that stands in opposition, intentional or otherwise?”
 
My train of thought continued along these lines and by the time I got to the Rebbe I was so broken inside and ashamed of my very being that I could not look directly into the Rebbe's face.  In fact, immediately after receiving the dollar and blessing, I went off into a corner to be by myself, because I couldn't deal with looking any person in the face.  At first, the whole experience just seemed altogether unpleasant (my kishkes were still churning), but I quickly came to an amazing realization. 
 
All the theoretical answers in the world as to how to balance unconditional love for a fellow Jew with a “take no prisoners” approach in standing up for what you believe in the very depths of your soul, are nothing more than that – theories.  Only through learning Chassidus and through connecting to the Rebbe might you have the merit and good fortune to experience the answer in such an intense gut-churning way, as you are hit by the realization that to truly love and to truly stand up for what you know to be true both require that you put your own ego aside.
 
BEYOND BROTHERS
 
As we approach Tisha B'Av, which in its current incarnation is a day of mourning and fasting that will (hopefully this year) be transformed into a “day of joy and happiness,” we can't help but consider the words of the Sages that the Second Temple was destroyed due to the sin of “baseless hatred,” and that the reason our exile has dragged on for so long is “since their sin was not revealed, their end-date was not revealed.”  As Chassidus explains, this is because a sin that occurs internally within a person's emotional world, and thus is by definition not subject to outside scrutiny, requires a much more difficult and far more protracted process to discern and to rectify.
 
However, anybody that has learned Chassidus and attempted, to one degree or another, to implement what he/she has learned, and has pursued a connection with the Rebbe to some extent, should know from experience (in the kishkes) and not just intellectually (in the kup) that it is only through Chassidus and the Rebbe that one can have any degree of true Torah understanding, true fear of G-d, and most of all not be a tipesh when it comes to sensing the true nature, capacities and mission, of one's own Jewish soul and that of every other Jew.
 
So, in these times, in which the redemptive process has already begun almost two decades ago, the only way we can navigate and find our way to the final goal and destination is by following the road map laid out by the Rebbe in the most recent talks where the Rebbe addressed these topics directly.  It is not enough to just learn the words; they must be internalized and implemented, since we all know that otherwise one falls into the category of “a Chassid who is a tipesh is a travesty and a disgrace.” 
 
In the sicha of Matos-Masei 5751, the Rebbe explains that we have already completed the process of rectifying the sin of “baseless hatred” that is necessary for the Redemption and building of the Third Temple, and it is now the time to experience the love of a fellow Jew that is a foretaste of the Redemption.  The Rebbe explains that this love transcends even the love of brothers from the same father that can be sensed by elevating the soul over the body, but derives from the yechida level of the soul at which point all souls are one, in a manner that defies individuation.  We are not just brothers, we are one.  Even when you are being oppositional, I have no need to debate you or even point out that you are being a tipesh (and between you and me, you are), because by loving you on that level it arouses your own yechida which knows and shares the same truth.
 
However, after all is said and done, the bottom line is that we have already completed the task of rectifying the sin/s that led to the destruction, and therefore there is no good reason that we should have to wait even one moment longer to witness its descent from Heaven, “and in fire You will build it in the future,” immediately, NOW!
 

 


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