by Rabbi Sholom D. Avtzon
After the bris and the [Rebbe] Rashab was named, his grandfather, the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek expressed a thought based on the acronyms of his name Reb Sholom Ber and said, “BaSaR ShaBaR”; which means that one should break the materialistic aspects of the physical world. And indeed this is one of the primary aspects of the Rebbe Rashab’s teachings, that our focus should not be on the world, rather it should be on the purpose Hashem sent our neshoma into this world.
One of the most known stories in Lubavitch about the Rebbe Rashab is; one day when he came home from cheder, he went to his grandfather the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek and began to cry. The Rebbe asked his young grandchild, why are you crying? The four or five year old replied, I learned that Hashem revealed Himself to Avrohom Avinu, so why doesn’t he reveal Himself to me?
The Tzemach Tzedek replied, “When a Jew resolves at ninety-nine years old to circumcise himself, he is deserving that Hashem should reveal Himself to him.”
Now how do these two points resonate with us in our everyday life?
This past summer, I participated in a farbrengen led by Rabbi Shabtai Slavaticki of Belgium and he brought it out, with the following story.
Not too many years ago, there was a Russian soldier, who was given leave of absence to visit his family, as his father had just undergone a surgery. Coming home, he father asked him to sit down as he has something of importance to impart to him. Sitting down, his father said, I realized it was time to pass on to you the background of our family. A person should know their roots.
He proceeded on talking about what was going on during the years that Stalin ruled over the entire Russia, and then years later when he was growing up. He then said, “Your grandparents suffered from tremendous anti-Semitism, so they decided to hide the fact that they are Jews. When I grew up there was no mention that we are Jewish. As I was approaching the age of marriage, they confided their secret to me and only then did I realize why I was circumcised. And I promised my parents to marry a Jewish woman and yes your mother’s family is also Jewish, who also hid this fact for many years.
Hearing this news for the first time that he is a Jew and a Jew has a circumcision he was in total shock. A few minutes later, the young man stood up and went to the kitchen. He found the sharpest knife and circumcised himself. A moment later his parents heard a thud as he fainted from the loss of blood and fell to the floor. The EMT that arrived was able to stop the bleeding, but the young man was placed in a mental institution as the authorities thought he had tried to commit suicide. After observing him for a few months they realized that he is completely sane. The truth was that he had circumcised himself, since he is a Jew and it wasn’t a suicide act and he was released.
Reb Shabtai continued, the Rebbe notes in his sichos that one of the aspects of circumcision is that it is a continuous state of being circumcised. As the mashpia Reb Shlomo Chaim Kesselman would say, every day one has to cut something that is not his true essence, off of him.
Turning to the young man sitting next to him, Reb Shabtai said pointedly that means that after Shabbos you won’t turn on your smart phone for an hour or two. Yes every day we must cut that and/or other things off of us.
Just as Avrohom became complete after his circumcision (and cutting off external things from him), we too will be complete when we demonstrate that we are an entity in our own right, that is not dependent upon our smart phone or social media etc.
Turning to all the assembled he said, you want Hashem to reveal Himself to you, “circumcise” yourself – cut off and detach yourself from external aspects which “control you” as that is not you. Your essence is that you are a perfect Jew.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org