The following anecdote was once related by R’ Mendel Futerfas:
Once, on Simchas Torah, the celebrated chosid R’ Itche der masmid asked two elder Chassidim to join him in the formation of a beis din. The two were both old and respected – one was a chosid by the name of R’ Meir Markowitz who was a chosid of the Tzemach Tzedek and was at that time over 1oo years old, and the other, a chosid from the times of the Rebbe Maharash, was in his 80’s – but R’ Itche der masmid was held in the highest esteem by all, and they complied.
As soon as the beis din was formed, R’ Itche announced that the beis din is hereby ruling that – for the upcoming year – every member of anash must attend a shiur chassidus from 6:00 a.m. until 7:00, followed by shacharis (R’ Itche would give a shiur in Torah Ohr and Likkutei Torah during that hour throughout tha year).
He added, in the name of the beis din, that anyone who would not obey would not be motzie shnosoi (i.e., would not make it through the year alive)!
There were Chassidim in the group who worked the night shift, and only got home early in the morning, and there were others who were struggling in their livelihood and had no time at all to spare. But no-one, and I mean no-one, missed that shiur throughout that year. In fact, if anyone would even consider sleeping in, his wife would forcibly drag him out of bed, knowing what the consequences would be to her if her husband would ch”v be on the receiving end of the beis din’s ruling!
[Talk about fundamentalism! These days, if we try to give a bochur a $25 knas for missing chassidus, we won’t hear the end of it, with every living relative calling us to tell us how cruel and unreasonable of a punishment that is.
I just wonder what their reaction would be to R’ Itche’s idea of a knas!]
I think that this is not merely a story, but, in fact, the message of that beis din is relevant and applicable and viable for us today, just as when it was originally issued. Not ch”v in any negative way. Of course every single person should have arichus yomim veshonim tovos, literally, and only brochos from the Eibishter both in gashmiyus and in ruchnyus, in the greatest abundance, and בטוב הנראה והנגלה! Nor am I considering advocating the death penalty for bochurim who miss seder (or do anything else wrong for that matter).
But the idea behind the psak, the spirit of that ruling has, I think, a lot to teach us. For, in fact, learning chassidus is something that our life depends on, and should be viewed and thought of as such. And the manner in which we apply ourselves to it needs to be one that reflects the realization that this is not some ancient rite or some religious culture.
This is something that our very life depends on.
On Shavuous, when we received the Torah, we are taught that על כל דבור ודבור פרחה נשמתן, with every commandment that we heard from the Eibishter our souls left our bodies, and He had to revive us with the special techiyas hameisim tablets, that special remedy of resurrection. Here, too, is contained the same idea: The Torah is not merely another precious possession, that we may even take great pride in and cherish. Rather, it is our life-force and sustenance, and the source of our entire existence. In every single part of the Torah is dependent our very life.
As was illustrated in the all-time-favorite moshol of Rabi Akiva; – parting from Torah is comparable to fish leaving the ocean, it’s not a matter of an inconvenience, which can be weighed against other pros and cons to determine its advisability. It’s just not an option, because our very being is completely dependent on it.
This is not meant to be a speech for tahalucha, or a nice thought for the Yom Tov meal. This is very applicable to each of us in a very practical way. How much time are we really spending on learning chassidus, on a proper quality shiur in Chassidus? That means us, me and you, not theoretically, but in actuality.
For that matter, how about a shiur in gemoro?
Of course we’re all busy with many things, and many of us, perhaps even all of us, are busy with good things, with important things, with vital things (like checking the news, checking our emails, checking our facebooks and our texts and our tweets and whatever else is out there). We may be busy saving the world, and have every excuse (and I mean truly legitimate ones) for not finding more time for learning Torah (both nigleh and Chassidus).
But, when you recognize that your life depends on something, then your perspective is bound to change, and you realize that you have plenty of time where you previously thought you had none. And, besides the blintzes and the cheesecake and the ice cream (milchik of course), that’s a basic aspect, a part of the theme of this Yom Tov.
Of course, if we make an evaluation (for the sake of our krias shma she’al hamitah), we’ll be able to find some learning in our day. But it’s meant to be a lot more, both in quantity and in quality. Each of us has to really make a serious commitment to approach it differently.
Not as a nice thought, or a good line. But by really applying ourselves with renewed seriousness to our learning. This Shavuous, for example, is going to mark 100 years since the famous hemshech of “Ayin Beis” was said. What better time to make a new seder in studying this landmark sefer? (Or any other). Not as a cute project, or a way of scoring more spiritual points. But as a life-altering experience!
And this is meant to be a very real and practical suggestion, to be implemented right here in olam hazeh hagashmi vehachumri. Designate a time during which you’ll remove everything else from your mind, get out a coffee (or an iced cappuccino if you prefer) and a chocolate or cheese Danish, and sink your teeth and your neshomo into the sefer!
Earlier this year, I was sent the following by Rabbi Shmully Hecht, shliach of the Rebbe to Kelowna, BC:
There’s a couple here in Kelowna, who are fine and well-to-do yidden. The first Shabbos that they came to us Friday night for davening and seudas Shabbos, for some reason, the wife was asked to share an inspiring story and this was it:
4 years ago, 2 bochurim came to Kelowna on Merkos Shlichus and (presumably because this couple is wealthy and influential) the bochurim stayed by them for the 2 weeks that they were there. So, of course she told how they made Shabbos at their home, and bought new dishes and about how she toiveled them in the lake (the dishes, that is, not the bochurim) etc. They had a great experience, they made kiddush, had a seudas shabbos with guests . . all of it was amazing. She even told about how they would come home at night and tell over their success stories from their Merkos Shlichus, and how she and her husband would love hearing them!
But, what was the most amazing thing that she remembered, and what really made the strongest impression on her (she continued), was when she woke up Shabbos morning . . and she heard loud noises from outside screaming. She listened closer, and hears that 2 people are in a deep heated argument (or discussion). The noise is coming from very close to her house, and as she pays closer attention, she realizes that the source of the sounds is on her own back porch. It is none other than her guests, the 2 bochurim!
She doesn’t really understand but it seems that the boys are discussing the portion of the week, and they’re all into it like it’s such a big deal! She couldn’t believe it! She was so impressed that this is what was important to them, and so early in the morning, to boot. She was so impressed at their enthusiasm for the torah portion. (They were actually probably learning chassidus before davenen but) more than anything else this is what really stuck out in her memory, and that she wanted to share).
This was the couple’s first positive experience with Chabad, and it had such an impact on them that it ultimately led to the fact that BH they partnered with us in a significant way, and they are very close with us now. Before this they would never had thought that they could join Chabad.
What influenced and impacted this couple (to the point that it actually affected their lifestyle, and eventually even making a few dollars for the shliach) was not eloquent speeches or polished presentations. It was – most of all – the fact that for these bochurim the Torah learning was something that their life depended on!
Every one of us (or at least most of us, myself included) has significant room for improvement in this area, and there’s no time like the present, as we celebrate zman mattan Toiroseinu, to put some serious effort into this.
Set aside time, and get involved in some more serious learning. Learn some more gemoro, make another kvius in chassidus. Perhaps you should get back onto the plan the finish shas.
Call up an old friend or teacher or balebus and set up a chavrusah, in person or by phone (or by skype or by facebook etc, etc.). The main thing is to take advantage of this Shavuous (also) for what Shavuous is about; – Torah!
Get back (and more) into learning Torah as if your life depends on it. Because, not only does our life indeed depend on it, but we will find our lives enhanced and enriched in every possible way as a result!
L’chaim! May we all take advantage of this Yom tov, when הימים האלו נזכרים ונעשים, to re-accept the Torah and make it an integral part of our lives, and may the Eibishter in turn do His part to complete what he began by mattan Torah all those years ago, and bring about the final and complete revelation of the Torah chadosho by bringing us the final geulah of Moshiach Tzidkeinu TUMYM!!!
Rabbi Akiva Wagner
לזכות ר’ שלום מרדכי הלוי בן רבקה, לגאולה וישועה קרובה ושלימה, תומ”י ממש בטוהנוהנ”ג
ולזכות ר’ מיכאל בן איטא לרפו”ש ורפו”ק תומ”י ואויוש”ט