by Rabbi Sholom D. Avtzon
As this Shabbos is Chai Elul, the birthday of both the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe, we are often at a loss to express in simple terms the difference in one’s avodah between the conduct of one who follows general Chassidus (known as Chassidus Chagas), which was formulated by the Baal Shem tov and taught by the Maggid and most of his disciples compared to what is expected from one who follows the dimension brought out through Chassidus Chabad, which was formulated by the Alter Rebbe, and taught by him and all of our Rebbeim..
In this story, related by the Rebbe Maharash, he brings it out with simplicity, but with tremendous clarity. He stated:
[Sometime between the years of 5637-9/1877-9], when I was in Marienbad (West Bohemia, currently in Czechoslovakia), I decided to return through Warsaw and also visit Berditchov. Obviously it would be in a manner that no one would realize who I am, so I was only accompanied by my attendant Pinchos Leib.
I Arrived in Berditchev early in the morning, and after renting a room, I davened Shacaris and then went to the ohel of the tzaddik Reb Levi Yitzchok.
After davening there, I decided to visit numerous shtieblach and shuls of various chassidic groups. In general I noticed in all of them, there were many Jews, both elder and younger men, some of them were sitting and learning, while smaller groups were repeating chassidishe stories and inspiring one the other.
In some of them, I entered into conversations with the people. In one shul, it was with an elderly chossid, while in a different one it was with a younger individual. I would discuss with them what they were learning and I was pleased with their fundamental understanding and knowledge.
After a few hours, I decided to return to the room I had rented, and to remain there for a few hours until it was time to go to the train station. On the way there, I encountered a group of Jews walking in a procession. Although it wasn’t a hot day, the elderly Jews (who were surrounded by younger men), were carrying a large [and heavy] barrel of water, and all of them were animated in their conversation.
I then noticed that every few minutes one of the younger chassidim, would ask one of the elders if they can take over in helping carrying the heavy barrel of water. However, each time the elderly chassidim, refused to relinquish their place.
This interested me, so I followed them and saw that they began walking down a side street, which was like an alley. After passing by a few houses, they stopped by a larger building, which I noticed was being cleaned by elderly Jews, many with white beards. They were there with their tzitzis over their shirts, scrubbing and cleaning the floors and walls. In reply to my inquiry, I was informed that that is the beis hamidrash of the Tolna chassidim.
I began a conversation with some of the elderly Jews who had carried the barrel of water, and I was impressed with their knowledge; they were indeed both talmidei chachomim and devoted chassidim. They then informed me that bezras hashem their Rebbe is arriving in the city tomorrow, and in his honor they are cleaning the beis hamidrash. It should be radiant, as appropriate for the honored guest.
I then asked them, continued the Rebbe Maharash, why are you elderly and scholarly men doing it yourself? Why don’t you allow the younger men to do it? It is important to educate and guide the younger chassidim in the ways of Chassidus, and the elder chassidim should be totally devoted with self-sacrifice towards the upbringing of the younger chassidim. They should put the needs of the younger chassidim, before their own needs.
One of the elders responded, we desire to have healthy angels advocate for us when the shofar is being blown. [Therefore we are doing it our self!]
The holy tzaddik of Berditchov taught, we say a special prayer after the blowing of the shofar. In that yehi ratzon we say let the angels that come out from the shofar, from the tekiah, the shevorim, the teruah and tekiah and the angels from Kashra”k should intercede on our behalf.
[Now everyone knows that Kashra”k, is an acronym for Tekiah, shevorim Teruah and Tekiah, so why do we repeat it a second time. On this the tzaddik said:] Sweet and compassionate Father, if the angels that were created by the sounds that emanated from the shofar blowing of Levi Yitzchock ben Sarah, are weak and feeble, then allow the holy and vibrant angels that were created by the work and toil of the Jewish people before the Yom tov of Pesach, that they scoured, scraped, rubbed and koshered (the first letter of those four words in Yiddish spell out the word Kashra”k) in honor of Pesach, stand in our behalf.
The elder chossid concluded, everything we are doing, is in honor of His blessed name and in honor of His holy servant, our Rebbe and master, may he be healthy!
Looking at these chassidim and the entire atmosphere [of devotion and joy] created a favorable impression upon me. After observing them for a few more minutes, I turned to leave, but then I noticed that there was a well in the courtyard of the Beis Midrash. Turning to one of the elders, I asked him, Can you please explain why you carried water from a distant place, when right here you have plenty of water readily available.
He replied, “The chossid Reb Boruch Yossel [a wealthy individual], requested that the water of his well be used in preparation of the Rebbe’s visit and for all of the needs of the first day of the Rebbe’s visit. He promised that if we fulfill his request, he will pay all of the expenses for the entire reception meal for the Rebbe and all of his chassidim.
When the Rebbe Maharash repeated this incident to his son the [Rebbe] Rashab, he remarked, “This episode allows one to tangibly see the tremendous abilities the Baal Shem Tov, gave to the mashpi’im [the Rebbe’s] and the followers [the chassidim]. The Chassidim and their Rebbe’s will prepare the world for the coming of Moshiach tzidkeinu.
When the Rebbe Rashab repeated this to his son the Frierdiker Rebbe, he added, you can imagine what a tremendous impression this whole incident had on my father the Rebbe, to the extent that he extremely careful to relate it to me in its minutest details.
After a few thoughtful moments the Rebbe Rashab continued and said:
“Their answer of why the chassidim did themselves, and not through hired workers, is a good and proper answer. However, concerning the question, why they did not allow the younger chassidim to participate in it, there was no answer.
The faith that the chassidim of Chagas have in their Rebbe, set chassidim on firm standing. And they truly live their life with this feeling.
The feeling and desire that because his well water will be used in honor of the Rebbe, he is willing and it is an honor to pay for the entire meal of the Rebbe and his chassidim, demonstrates the emunah he has in a tzaddik. Furthermore this emunah permeated the family that they will also put in all their energy to personally be involved in every aspect of preparing and serving the meal.
However, that avodah of faith, is what took us out of Mitzrayim. As our sages inform us, in the merit of our faith we left Mitzrayim. However, Matan Torah taught us to take it a step further. Faith, in general is external, (and therefore even one who is stealing cries out to Hashem to help him succeed in this thievery), it should permeate him completely. And that is the distinctive contribution that Chassidus Chabad.
By learning and comprehending Chassidus Chabad, one feels the importance of another individual, and is willing to relinquish his own benefit, in order that someone else benefits. And Chabad demands that the elder chassidim, give up the opportunity to the younger chassidim to benefit.
Adapted from Likkutei dibburim Vol. 1 likut 5, chapters 19-21. In the English translation Vol. 1, pp. 275 – 288, and there you can read the entire story and thought in detail.
Rabbi Avtzon is a veteran mechanech and author of numerous books on the Rebbeim and their chassidim. As soon as funding is available, the biography of the Rebbe Maharash can go to print. He is available to farbreng in your community and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.