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The Best Defense

According to the Biala Rebbe of Bnei Brak, we’re a worthy generation that engages in Torah and chesed like never before.

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“There has never been such a wonderful and dynamic generation so wonderful. There are problems? Nu you can always find problems. But come let’s talk about the positive qualities of the generation. Believe me in comparison the problems are batel b’shishim” (Photos: Shuki Lehrer Biala archives)

I t was the first thing I noticed when I entered the building of the Biala chassidus on Rechov Yerushalayim in Bnei Brak: the crates of cucumbers. You’d expect the entrance of a prominent institution to be its showcase with memorial plaques on the walls and at least one potted plant in the corner. But it seems that for Biala–Bnei Brak stacked crates of vegetables that take up half the floor space is a badge of honor and therein lies their secret.

From the day the Rebbe — Rav Yaakov Menachem Rabinowitz shlita — succeeded his holy father the Lehavas Dovid (Rav Dovid Mattisyahu) of Biala the banner of the chassidus has been chesed. According to his instruction doing a good deed for a needy Yid precedes achieving the lofty levels in avodas Hashem in which the chassidus is well-versed. Because of this synergy it’s no bushah for the disadvantaged either and whoever is in need can come at any time and make up a package of food for his family no questions asked. Then he can go up one flight make himself a cup of coffee and if he’s fortunate and the timing is right see the smiling countenance of the Rebbe who’s sure to give him chizuk and a brachah.

In fact the Rebbe runs an enterprise that aids widows and orphans throughout the city personally overseeing the distribution of funds and foodstuffs; and when chalilah the head of a family passes away the Rebbe climbs the steps accompanied by his gabbai to provide a check for the family of the deceased

“…it gives me chiyus when a Yid stands before me and says ‘Rebbe thanks to you I started putting on tefillin. In your merit I began keeping Shabbos. Thanks to you we’re practicing the laws of family purity.’ Do you know what a zechus it is to help establish proper generations of Jews?

“Often” one of the yungeleit of the chassidus says “the Rebbe will be seen walking alone on the streets of Bnei Brak in the middle of the night stuffing an envelope into the mailbox of a needy family and then leaving silently.”

It’s not only the Rebbe’s personal mission; he encourages his chassidim to stretch themselves beyond their perceived capabilities in order to help widows orphans and others who find themselves down-and-out.

And so it was really no surprise when the Rebbe — a warm personable leader in his fifties — turned my agenda upside down. In a pre–Yom Tov message I assumed he would talk about the yeridas hadoros the spiritual decline of the nation and how Am Yisrael must do major teshuvah and fortify itself in order to be reinstated in Hashem’s graces.

Instead I was pulled into his heart-space listening to his limud zechus on the entire generation.

Let’s Talk about Merits

“Indeed Reb Aryeh ” the Rebbe says as if to cut off my list of complaints about the troubles of our times. “There has never been such a wonderful and dynamic generation so wonderful. There are problems? Nu you can always find problems. But come let’s talk about the positive qualities of the generation. Believe me in comparison the problems are batel b’shishim.”

This was a twist in the plot. I had come to speak about the problems to seek direction but the Rebbe held his own: a righteous generation the Rebbe ruled. Chas v’shalom to highlight problematic issues.

Chassidic tradition is to expand upon the positive attributes of Klal Yisrael during the days of Selichos and judgment, in order to confound and negate the power of the heavenly prosecutors who are running to and fro in the upper sanctuaries, energetically carrying bundles of aveiros and making every effort to defame Hashem’s precious children. One of the most powerful niggunim of Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev zy”a begins with the words, “Lomir dertzeilen di mailehs fin Yiddishe kinder — Let us relate the positive attributes of Klal Yisrael.” It is customary to sing this niggun in the chassidic courts during the Days of Judgment, but the Rebbe goes further — making this his mantra all year round. The Biala Rebbe of Bnei Brak insists on finding the points of merit that distinguish this generation from any other point in history.

“You know,” the Rebbe says, “our ancestors and rebbes lived in Poland [Biala traces its line back to the Yid Hakadosh, the talmid muvhak of the Seer of Lublin], and in Poland people expressed themselves with a certain sharpness. The heiliger Reb Simcha Bunim of Peshis’cha zy”a would turn to Hashem with the plea, ‘Ribbono shel Olam, leiz inz ois vi Yidden, eider vi goyim, chalilah — Ribbono shel Olam, redeem us while we’re still Jews, before we become goyim, chas v’shalom.’

“But I would like to offer a different view: that we’re the most Jewish we’ve ever been — we act like Jews, live with emunah, engage in Torah study — and therefore, we’re the generation most worthy of redemption. Take Torah learning as an example. In the times of the Mishnah and Gemara until the period before the war in Poland, there was a phenomenon of amei ha’aretz. The Gemara is full of such references, the sh’eilos u’teshuvos seforim are full of them — ‘What’s the halachah of an am ha’aretz?’ They instituted chazaras hashatz because there were people who didn’t know how to daven.

“There was a widespread phenomenon of Jews who were frum and came to shul, kept Shabbos, but nothing helped — they were complete amaratzim. They didn’t know how to daven, they didn’t know how to open a sefer. They were completely ignorant of d’Oraisas and d’Rabbanans. Now just look around. Today, there’s no such thing as a frum Jew who doesn’t know how to daven, who can’t look into a sefer, who can’t learn. There are so many hundreds of thousands learning Torah in Eretz Yisrael and abroad. There are so many avreichim who dedicate their lives to Torah, in a scope unknown in any period in history.

“In terms of mitzvah observance,” the Rebbe continues, “the public has never been so scrupulous. In Poland, they bought a lulav or esrog without using a magnifying glass. They looked at it with the naked eye and said ‘kosher.’ Even the prominent people and the gedolim sufficed with a plain, kosher esrog, even a b’dieved. Today, every young avreich, every bochur, gets arba minim that are kosher l’chatchilah, l’mehadrin, with all the hiddurim. And tell me, in which generation did they write as many seforim as have been written in our generation? Today, there’s no mitzvah in the Torah that doesn’t have a sefer written especially about it. Talmidei chachamim sit everywhere writing seforim on every mitzvah — a sefer on shiluach hakein, a sefer on kibbud av v’eim, a sefer on the halachos of orlah, shemittah, maaser, eiruv, countless seforim on hilchos Shabbos, taharah, and the like.”

But this is a megushamdig generation, I claim — a generation obsessed with wealth and possessions. Hasn’t that made Klal Yisrael lose its spiritual sensitivity?

“Go read stories from the old days, Reb Aryeh, and you’ll encounter descriptions of the rich men of the town who answered brazenly, who were amei-ha’aretz, neglected Torah study, and were tightfisted. Some of them fought against the gedolei hador and distanced themselves from the needy of their generation. Today, the most fabulously wealthy devote time each day to Torah study. They hire chavrusos for themselves, make their way through masechtos. They give sums to tzedakah like never before.”

The Rebbe explains that it’s specifically because of that communal strength that today’s challenges, especially in the realm of technology, are so potent.

“It’s really a shrekleche zach,” the Rebbe admits. “My zeide, the Chelkas Yehoshua — who interacted with all kinds of Yidden, giving them strength and hope in the frozen hell of Siberia and later in the early days of the state — would still say that if there was an unclean newspaper at the end of the street, it would disturb his avodas Hashem. And he was speaking of black-and-white newsprint. When it happened that a fragment of such a newspaper was brought into his house because fish was wrapped in it, he directed that it be removed, inside another bag so that pure hands not touch it.

“But I’ll let you in on a secret. Such strength of Torah, avodah, and chesed as we have in this generation have not existed since Bnei Yisrael left Mitzrayim. Therefore, the forces of evil are also trying to fight with whatever strength they have left, just like an animal about to be slaughtered goes wild and has to be secured with iron chains. The same is true for the yetzer hara, when it sees that it’s about to be slaughtered — it releases its most powerful ammunition.

“But, baruch Hashem, we see Jews fortifying themselves against the yetzer hara and its legions, and strengthening themselves despite the nisyonos. This escalation of the forces of the yetzer hara is another sign that Jews in our generation are in a good place, that this is the yetzer hara’s final ammunition.”

“We Can’t Slack Off”

The Rebbe’s father, the Lehavas Dovid, might not have allowed impure newspapers into his daled amos, but he truly loved all Jews, and, tired as he was from the travails of wartime survival, would pick up the wanderer’s staff and visit Jewish communities in the Diaspora in order to give them strength and inspiration — a practice the Rebbe has continued to uphold. In a way, it was his mandate from his own holy ancestors.

The Rebbe’s grandfather, Rav Yechiel Yehoshua of Biala — known as the Chelkas Yehoshua for the sefer he wrote — was born Shelitz, Poland, where his father was rebbe. He was just six years old when his father died, and that year he fell out of a window and broke his bones. He was rushed to the capital city, Warsaw, in order to undergo a series of operations and a rehabilitation process that lasted half a year. During this time, his uncle, the Biala Rebbe of Mezritch (his father’s brother, who assumed the mantle of leadership until Yechiel Yehoshua grew up), who lived in Warsaw, took him under his wing.

One day as the Rebbe of Mezritch was sitting in his room and learning, he heard delightful sounds coming from the next room. The Rebbe followed the sounds and saw his six-year-old nephew standing and singing the words of Shalom Aleichem in the tune of the Biala rebbes, with rebbishe devotion. The uncle smiled at the child and said to him, “Bist shoin a gutter rebbe — You’re already a good rebbe.” Indeed, in 1924, the surviving Shelitzer chassidim accepted Rav Yechiel Yehoshua as their rebbe, and his name, and fame, spread across Poland.

With the outbreak of World War II and the German invasion of Poland, Rebbe Yechiel Yehoshua managed to escape to the Russian-controlled zone, from where he and his young son Dovid Mattisyahu were exiled to the Siberian wasteland. (Although separated by war, all of his sons escaped and were eventually reunited in Eretz Yisrael, where they all became rebbes after the Chelkas Yehoshua’s petirah in 1982. Rav Dovid Mattisyahu became Rebbe in Bnei Brak.) Rav Yechiel Yehoshua and his son Dovid Mattisyahu endured backbreaking work under the whip of the Siberian ice, yet father and son fought with unimaginable levels of mesirus nefesh to keep halachos, and even chassidic minhagim — the Rebbe, other survivors later testified, was the force that kept them all going.

Years later, Rav Dovid Mattisyahu said that that period of mutual suffering etched an eternal love for his father in his heart. Yet in 1942, their paths separated, and Dovid Mattisyahu and some of his siblings were able to travel to Eretz Yisrael through Iran with a group of children organized by Zionist activists, known as the Yaldei Tehran. His companions on the treacherous journey to Eretz Yisrael remembered the lone boy who took care that the spark of emunah in their hearts not fade: He was just a boy himself, but he spoke to them about the need to believe in the Oneness of Hashem and to recite Shema every day. With no seforim at hand, Dovid Mattisyahu would organize the children to say Tehillim each day — he would say it aloud, by heart, and they would all repeat after him.

When the Chelkas Yehoshua was finally able to get to Eretz Yisrael in 1947, father and son were reunited, and from that time, Rav Dovid Mattisyahu became his father’s right hand in the bold, determined task of reestablishing the Biala court and rebuilding a new generation of chassidim in Eretz Yisrael. The Chelkas Yehoshua would refer to this son as “nekudas libi — the focus of my heart,” and it was he who his father charged with rebuilding yeshivos around the Holy Land.

“There was great devastation in Eretz Yisrael when they arrived,” says the Biala Rebbe of Bnei Brak. “Of the entire magnificent Biala chassidus, which numbered thousands before the war, the survivors were few and far between. But the heiliger zeide, the Chelkas Yehoshua, didn’t allow the devastation to break his spirit. As soon as he arrived and was reunited with my father, he turned to him and said, ‘Mein kind, we can’t slack off. We have to rebuild everything from scratch — both the chassidus that was wiped out in Poland, and the chassidish world in general.’ Indeed, in 1964, my father established Yeshivas Ohr Kedoshim–Biala, which brought an excitement back to the floundering chassidic world. Thousands of wonderful families today owe their spiritual lives to the yeshivah.”

Stay on the Path

In Eretz Yisrael, Rav Dovid Mattisyahu enrolled in Yeshivas Ponevezh, where his name preceded him — despite the chassidish dress, customs, and full beard that identified him. and where he received semichah from the gedolei hador, who loved him regardless of which circle they were a part. The roshei yeshivah of Ponevezh became fond of him, and he stood out in his dress, chassidish minhagim, and his full beard. Rabbi Dovid Eilenberg, one of the elders of Biala–Bnei Brak, told Mishpacha that when the Lehavas Dovid learned in Ponevezh, he would be tested on his learning by the Chazon Ish, who was very impressed by his straight thinking.

The gabbai, Rabbi Baruch Toisig, relates, “I was once walking with the Rebbe by the hill of the Ponevezh Yeshivah when we met Rav Gershon Edelstein. When he saw the Rebbe, he embraced him and they stood there in deep conversation. When they finished, Rav Edelstein turned to me and said, ‘You have the zechus of serving a talmid chacham. I should say, not only a talmid chacham but a gaon. I know him well from the years when we learned together in the yeshivah.’”

In addition to helping his father build the yeshivos, Rav Dovid Mattisyahu helped his father republish all the sifrei chassidus. In this capacity, he edited the sefer Tefillas Hatzaddikim and refined the tefillah of Rav Elimelech of Lizhensk, making an effort to find the correct and precise nusach.

“During those years following the biggest tragedy in recent Jewish history, only a select few dealt in reestablishing the worlds of Torah and chassidus and worked to raise the spirits of the refugees,” the Rebbe explains. “But HaKadosh Baruch Hu planted a few individual leaders who had the vision to see that the worlds of Torah and chassidus would yet recover their former glory, and even surpass them.

“The crowning achievement was the yeshivah. Zeide said to my father, ‘My son, you have to train yeshivah bochurim so that they act in the chassidish way.’ The Chelkas Yehoshua had a special way of guiding people that he adapted to the needs of the generation. He wanted to establish a group of bochurim who would follow this path, and develop generations of chassidim after them.”

What was this path?

“It’s a good question,” the Rebbe says. “While still in Poland, before the war, the Chelkas Yehoshua would engage his chassidim in deep discussions and profound concepts, but when he arrived in Eretz Yisrael after the war, he altered his approach, saying that the generation needs practical guidance in daily matters. And so, the Chelkas Yehoshua wrote his sefer Seder Hayom, which deals with simple, day-to-day guidance, suited to everyone — starting with being particular to prepare a bowl with negel vasser each morning, to taking care not to engage in idle talk before davening. My zeide would say that ‘when one engages in idle talk before davening, he pushes yiras Shamayim away from himself with two hands.’ ”

While the foundations of the chassidus involve deep levels of avodas Hashem, Biala chassidus is based, first and foremost, on a Jew being cautious in his daily behavior and being extremely careful with things that a person is likely to treat lightly. “Chassidus trains us in nekiyus, even for young people — nekiyus of the intellect and the body,” the Rebbe explains. “The Zeide made the lofty tefillah of Rav Elimelech of Lizhensk a fundamental, and every chassid is careful to say this tefillah every morning.

“While in the past the Zeide would talk about deep concepts to the chassidim, when he saw that the foundation was so shaky that the entire building could collapse, he thought, what point is there in deep concepts if the practical mitzvos aren’t ingrained in the heart? This is the starting point, the alef-beis of chassidus, which aspires to pure, everlasting yiras Shamayim.

“In Biala,” the Rebbe discloses, “we’re very careful about keeping all the details of halachah, and beyond that, we place the birchos hanehenin at the top of the ladder of a chassid’s avodah. In Biala, brachos are recited slowly, from a siddur, while contemplating the meaning of the words.”

A smile spreads across the Rebbe’s face. “Rebbe Moshe Tzvi of Savran ztz”l used to give a mashal that illustrated the power of every simple mitzvah. He told of a Jew who got lost in a dense forest. While trying to find his way out, he encountered sparkling rocks that covered the ground on which he walked. He liked the rocks, so he emptied his sack of the food that was in it, and filled it with the rocks. When he continued on his way, the satchel began to weigh down on his shoulder, so he decided to dump out most of the rocks, leaving only a few. Afterward, even the few remaining rocks felt heavy, so he got rid of them.

“In the end, the man found his way to the city. He was hungry — he hadn’t eaten in days. He went into the first inn he encountered and asked for something to eat. The innkeeper was concerned that the ragtag wayfarer wouldn’t pay, so he demanded payment in advance. However, the man didn’t have a penny to his name. In his desire to prove that, he showed the innkeeper the inside of his now-empty sack, and in the process, a small, shiny rock fell out of his satchel.

“The innkeeper, who was a diamond connoisseur, stiffened. ‘I’m willing to give you ten rubles for that stone.’ The man was in shock; he couldn’t utter a sound, which the innkeeper took as a refusal for the meager amount. ‘Okay,’ he said, ‘I’ll give you a thousand rubles.’ Were the poor man wiser, he’d now be a millionaire. He had had hundreds such rocks in his hand. He could have been the richest man in the world. Now, it was too late.

“So too,” says the Rebbe, “regarding mitzvah observance. Here, they look like rocks on the roadside. They’re available by the thousands, and sometimes, we don’t bother to bend over and pick them up. When we reach the World of Truth, we’ll tear our hair out: we could have amassed so many mitzvos.”

He Will Comfort Us

If you want to see a really fiery tefillah even on a regular weekday, drop into the Biala beis medrash during Shacharis. Or for a really elevated experience, come in during the passionate Friday night Kiddush, recited in a melody that stirs the heart with longing — for the special avodah of the dynasty of old, for calmer, holier times, for the Great Shabbos of redemption.

The Rebbe has been leading his kehillah for nearly 20 years — since the passing of his father, the Lehavas Dovid, on 25 Tishrei 1977.

The Lehavas Dovid, who became Rebbe of Biala–Bnei Brak with the Chelkas Yehoshua’s petirah in Shevat of 1982, passed away right after Succos 20 years ago, yet from the beginning of Elul, the chassidim remember the last Elul of his life, which were laced with a series of strong hints about his upcoming petirah.

“The Rebbe ztz”l,” says gabbai Rabbi Boruch Toisig, “anticipated his departure from this world. On Hoshana Rabbah, he spoke about the passing of Moshe Rabbeinu, and when we officially parted from the succah, he made some frightening remarks as he spoke of his ancestors and cried. After his passing on Motzaei Shabbos Bereishis, we thought of the story about Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, who — in his last year, when he felt that the time was approaching for him to return his neshamah — asked HaKadosh Baruch Hu that He leave him for the elevating days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the days of joy of Succos and Simchas Torah, and the lofty Shabbos of Bereishis, and only then take his neshamah. It was the same thing with the Rebbe.”

His sudden, untimely petirah while he was still in his sixties left the chassidus in shock. When his second son, Rav Yaakov Menachem shlita, took on the leadership as a young man in his thirties, the older chassidim blessed him that “He will comfort us in the toil of our hands and will guide us in straight paths, until the Geulah.”

At the time, Rav Yaakov Menachem was a prominent talmid chacham and rosh yeshivah. He had already been active in outreach programs in several US cities, where his annual visits were attended by crowds of people seeking his blessing, counsel, and advice. Since he assumed the leadership of the chassidus, it has expanded, and his influence is felt in various parts of the world where the Rebbe travels regularly, captivating audiences and encouraging marginally affiliated Jews to change their lifestyles.

Many years before, during Kiddush on Leil Shabbos, the Chelkas Yehoshua would stand the current rebbe on his right, saying to him, “And you, stand here with me.” There were those chassidim who saw this as a future directive for the chassidus: Fifteen years later, when the chassidim in Bnei Brak were orphaned by the sudden passing of the Lehavas Dovid, they became attached to the young rebbe, who was seemingly appointed by his grandfather and father during the years that he imbibed their derech and didn’t leave their side.

The Rebbe was not excited at first by the suggestion that he assume the leadership of the orphaned chassidus. He was in his mid-thirties, rosh yeshivah in the Biala yeshivah, and he wanted to nurture a generation of young chassidim and disseminate Torah as a regular maggid shiur.

“I was sure,” he said tearfully to his father’s chassidim, “that my father would merit greeting Mashiach with us.”

After 11 months, the chassidim’s pleas intensified, and on 18 Elul the following year, in 1998, the congregation gathered by the kevarim of the Biala rebbes on Har Hazeisim, where Rav Yaakov Menachem was appointed the successor of his holy ancestors. Since then, despite his age, he has been the faithful shepherd of the flock of chassidim in Bnei Brak.

Who’s the Chassid?

As a bochur, the Rebbe learned in Yeshivas Kochav Yaakov–Tchebin, where he was a beloved talmid of roshei yeshivah Rav Baruch Shimon Schneerson and Rav Avraham Genachovski, zichram livrachah. After his marriage to the daughter of Rav Tzvi Hirsch Rosenbaum, the Kretshnifer Rebbe of Jerusalem, his father appointed him as a maggid shiur in his yeshivah, Ohr Kedoshim. Many of his students over the years note that they owe their zest for Torah learning to the Rebbe, who planted in them a love of Torah and a clear derech halimud. Today as well, the Rebbe demands a high level of Torah learning of his yungeleit and bochurim, which includes passing regular exams, a daily seder of Chumash and Rashi combined with sifrei chassidus, and learning an amud yomi in Gemara as well as the Rambam on the halachos derived from the day’s amud in Gemara.

He often says to his chassidim, “A Biala chassid who doesn’t learn the amud yomi in Gemara and the Rambam yomi can’t consider himself a chassid. A chassid isn’t someone who wears a shtreimel and beketshe on Shabbos; only one who puts aside times for the set learning, has a bren in his Shabbos davening, and is particular about the daily actions mentioned in the Seder Hayom of the Chelkas Yehoshua can be called a chassid.”

The crowning trait of his leadership is his devotion to whoever seeks him out — Sephardim, Litvaks, and of course,

his own chassidim. “The Rebbe has a list of all the bochurim of the chassidus on his desk, and he makes notes for himself about the condition of each bochur,” says Rabbi Toisig. The Rebbe, who is considered an expert mechanech and goes to all lengths for excellence in chinuch, enlisted Rav Pinchas Breier, one of the notable mechanchim of Belz, to run the chaburos for the Biala bochurim.

The Rebbe, of course, has every bochur’s spiritual wellbeing as a top concern, but he also has the warmth of a concerned father. When a bochur comes in to him, the Rebbe first asks him, “What did you eat today in yeshivah?”

When the Rebbe was appointed to take his father’s place, the chassidim went with their new leader to Jerusalem in order to receive a brachah from the Kretshnifer Rebbe, his father-in-law. “I never said this to you before,” the Kretshnifer Rebbe told the chassidim, “so that my son-in-law not become arrogant, but when I took your Rebbe as a son-in-law, his father, the Biala Rebbe of Bnei Brak ztz”l, said to me, ‘Know, mechutan, you’re bringing into your family a treasure who is holy from his mother’s womb.’ ”

The Rebbe’s daily schedule is rigid: Before dawn he gets up to learn at home. At 7 a.m. he goes to the beis medrash, and begins a learning seder in his private room. At eight, he joins a Shacharis minyan, after which he again closets himself in his room with his chavrusa, Rav Shmuel Pinchas Traube, a member of the Machzikei Hadas Belzer beis din.

“The Rebbe’s day,” his chassidim relate, “won’t start before he learns the amud yomi in Gemara and the daily Rambam, as he himself established for his chassidim.” Rav Traube says of his longtime chavrusa, “The Biala chassidim have a lot to aspire to if they want to follow their rebbe’s path.”

At 3 p.m., the Rebbe devotes a sacred hour to his family — he is the father of 15 children, some married but some are still little and at home. “My children don’t have to suffer because I’m a rebbe of chassidim,” he explains. During his family time, he doesn’t accept any appeals, other than for pikuach nefesh. His children and grandchildren who are in cheder come to him in the afternoons, and he chats with them and tests them on their learning.

At 4 p.m., he begins a long session of receiving petitioners, which lasts late into the night, other than an hour break for Minchah and Maariv. He employs a personal secretary, whose job is to channel the flow of questions that come in a variety of ways, from across the country and from communities around the world with which the Rebbe keeps in touch. The secretary relates, “The Rebbe’s greatest pleasure is when he’s informed of Jews who strengthen their commitment to mitzvos: put on tefillin, keep Shabbos, and other practical mitzvos.”

On busy days, the Rebbe remains in his room in the beis medrash, learns and dozes until morning, joining day and night with Torah. Until a few years ago, the Rebbe had an Erev Shabbos learning session in Kabbalah together with the mekubal Rav Serayah Devlitzki. The Rebbe is not known to the public as a mekubal himself, but he davens from a siddur with the kavanos of the Rashash, and bases his avodas Hashem on Kabbalah. In recent years, due to Rav Serayah’s weakness, their sessions are less frequent, but they maintain a strong bond — the Rebbe as a talmid.

Out of the Comfort Zone

The Rebbe, who’s been to Florida, Los Angeles, and New York in the past year, is considered somewhat of a miracle worker among those who come to him for brachos. Stories about personal salvations in his merit, from children born to barren women, to multiple weddings in families where shidduchim have been stuck for years. In fact, the Rebbe is a bit of a shadchan himself, and many singles who’ve come to him for brachos have found their life partners through him as well.

“Believe me, this traveling is not easy,” the Rebbe says in a moment of candor. “But it gives me chiyus when a Yid stands before me and says, ‘Rebbe, thanks to you, I started putting on tefillin. In your merit, I began keeping Shabbos. Thanks to you, we’re practicing the laws of family purity.’

“Do you know what a zechus it is,” the Rebbe continues, “to help establish proper generations of Jews? And we’re talking about people who don’t lack a thing. They’re rich, they have every material abundance. They have beautiful homes and large, profitable businesses. But their hearts are attuned to their Father in Heaven. At first, many of them were impervious to holy things. Slowly, some of the layers were peeled away and the wonderful Jewish neshamah was revealed in its splendor. There is nothing that will bring Geulah faster than involving oneself in kiruv rechokim — that was the way of Avraham Avinu. He made four openings to his tent in order to be able to bring people under the wings of the Shechinah. Today, four openings aren’t enough. At times one has to search for openings on his own, by traveling, wandering, in order to reach far-flung places and help bring neshamos back to their Source.”

Erev Rosh Hashanah is a time when people seek segulos to be found meritorious in judgment. Thinking about other Yidden, says the Rebbe, is the best investment.

“I think that one of the best suggestions to be meritorious in judgment is to try not to stop during these lofty times, but to take from them for the entire year. There’s a vort from the Chiddushei HaRim that says that the tefillah ‘V’hasi’einu Hashem Elokeinu es birkas mo’adecha — Hashem, our G-d, bestow upon us the blessing of Your festival’ comes from the same root as ‘masi’in masuos — raising torches,’ meaning to continue to carry the light from the blessing of the Yamim Tovim — from the awakening and purification that envelops us at those times, for the entire year. Carry it forward, in your personal life and to the lives of others you encounter along your journey through the year.

“It says about Avraham Avinu, whose attribute was chesed, ‘the conclusion is with your name.’ Meaning, the conclusion of the generations before the final redemption will be with the attribute of chesed. We see this clearly: In our generation, Jews give more tzedakah than all previous generations put together. Millions of dollars are being given to tzedakah on a scale unprecedented in history. I’m certain that this is the generation that will finish off the galus.

“So here’s something else to daven for in the Rosh Hashanah davening — that the Geulah come immediately, that this year we have the zechus to see the realization of the great vision for which we daven on the holy days: ‘And You, Hashem shall reign over all Your creations, on Har Tzion, dwelling place of Your honor, and in Yerushalayim, Your holy city.’ ”

Silence in the sanctuary. The Rebbe softly hums selections from Yamim Noraim davening. Great sweetness resides around him, casting from its splendor on the pile of jars of honey resting on the table, which the Rebbe will distribute to his chassidim for a good year. The Rebbe equips me with one of them, while showering me with heartwarming wishes for a kesivah v’chasimah tovah. The sound of the Rebbe’s voice makes me shiver with emotion, as I hear the comforting words that will go from his heart to Hashem’s throne:

“And You shall reign. Alone. There’s no worthier generation, more meritorious, than this one.”

(Originally featured in Mishpacha Issue 678)

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