by Rabbi Sholom DovBer Avtzon
Since this week is Shabbos mevorchim chodesh Elul, and as the Frierdiker Rebbe writes that the winds of Elul should be felt, I decided to post a draft of one of the chapters from the upcoming biography on the Rebbe Rashab, the fifth volume in The Rebbeim Biography Series. I chose this chapter, as it explains via a parable the purpose why Hashem sent our neshomos into this world – one of the primary objectives of Elul.
Your feedback is always appreciated. But it is even more appreciated on these chapters of his biography, as your comments can help illuminate and elucidate his life better than I can do on my own, and they can be included in the final draft.
B’ezras Hashem, my goal is to have the entire book ready for print before Beis Nissan of this coming year, which will mark a hundred years since his histalkus.
His Sister’s Tena’im
The Rebbe Rashab’s youngest sister, HaRabbonis Chaya Mushka, was around five years old when their father was nistalek. When she was fourteen, their mother, Rebbetzin Rivkah, together with the rest of the family, began actively considering whom she should marry. After Shavuos of 5651 (1891), they began discussing the possibility of her marrying Reb Moshe, the son of Reb Zalman Hakohen Horenstein.
Before agreeing to the proposal, the Rebbe Rashab and his brother, Reb Zalman Aharon, traveled to Reb Moshe’s city to meet with him personally and check out his character. Satisfied with what they observed, they finalized the match and returned to Lubavitch in the beginning of Tammuz.
Hearing the wonderful news, many elder chassidim came to Lubavitch to participate in this momentous and joyous occasion. Among them were Reb Gershon Dov, Reb Sholom Reb Hillel’s, Reb Yoel of Padabrunka, Reb Leib Hoffman, Reb Monya Monesohn, and Reb Leib Chasidav.
The tena’im of HaRabbonis Chaya Mushka and Reb Moshe Hakohen Horenstein took place on Tuesday, the 8th of Tammuz, 5651 (1891). It took place in the zal (study hall) in Lubavitch. The table was positioned from north to south. At the head of the table stood an empty chair, designated for their father, the Rebbe Maharash. To the right, facing west, sat the Rebbe Rashab, and his brother the Raza sat opposite him.
The tena’im took the form of a farbrengen, which began with a discussion between the Raza and his cousin Reb Mordechai Dov Slonim. They analyzed the power of description, whether in art or in words, and discussed whether it is it a talent or a skill. The Rebbe Rashab then explained that while they were correct that talent and skill are two completely different concepts, yet description includes both of them. When he finished speaking, the chossid HaRav Yaakov Mordechai Bezpalov was honored to read the tenai’m.
When he concluded, the Rebbe Rashab stood up. Holding onto the table with his two hands, he looked intently at the empty seat for a while. His face turned almost completely white, and tears poured from his eyes. He then began to speak: “In a yechidus I had with my father…”
Hearing that he was about to repeat a yechidus, everyone stood up with utmost respect.
“…my father explained the purpose of the neshomah’s descent into this world by giving a parable of a king and his son, the prince.
“The king once decided to send his son the prince to a distance place where the people acted in an uncivilized manner, and he was to teach them how to conduct themselves properly. My father poignantly described in detail the tremendous pain and sadness they both experienced their final embrace, moments before the prince left. The king was concerned about the potential dangers the prince would face when he would be in this desolate jungle instead of the palace. The prince endured great suffering realizing he no longer would be surrounded by wise and refined people, instead he would be found among wild individuals.
“He elaborately described the fear that gnawed at the king: ‘What will be if my son stumbles or even fails in his mission?’ So the king devised various methods to secretly and unobtrusively assist his dear son in succeeding.
“But as the days, weeks, months, and years passed, the young prince slowly became accustomed and acclimated to their wild ways. He slowly began to forget the upbringing and guidance he had received in the king’s court and the customs and etiquette of the wise men. He continued spiraling downward, and found enjoyment in the pleasures and indulgences of these wild people.
“Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, he remembered who he really was. ‘I am the son of the great king!’ He recalled his father’s vision and the closeness and love they had felt when he had embarked on this mission. He returned to his mission with a firm resolve to no longer participate in their frivolous conduct and merriment. He threw all of his energy into the mission, until he accomplished it successfully.
“My father described it in such detail,” concluded the Rebbe Rashab, “that it took him an entire hour to say the parable. I hung onto every word. It was so vivid and alive that I felt as if I was watching their embrace and feeling all their sufferings and triumphs.”
The Rebbe Rashab then drank some mashke and said:
“In the name of the father of the kallah and as his messenger, I say l’chaim to the kallah, and convey his holy blessing: may today’s commitment be a lasting bond, and may the wedding take place in an auspicious time. May you both be blessed with longevity and dor yeshorim yevorach [blessed and upright children]. L’chaim to the kallah, l’chaim mechutanim, l’chaim dear friends! Now let us dance with the baal simchah — the father of the kallah.”
Tears filled his eyes and he began singing. His brother, the Raza, placed his hand on the Rebbe’s shoulder and they began to dance. However, due to his poor health, the Raza stopped after circling a few times. The Rebbe Rashab and the rest of the assembled continued dancing for a long time.
During the ensuing farbrengen, the Rebbe Rashab stressed that our understanding of G-dliness must also be vivid, so that it will affect us. By way of example, he recounted the time he visited a museum and looked at three paintings made by the noted artist Raphael.
“I was especially mesmerized by the third painting,” said the Rebbe Rashab, “and I was rooted to my place for an extended amount of time. I sat down and then returned to the picture to study it, doing so a total of three times. That is how much it impressed me.
“These pictures gave me much thought regarding my own avodah, as my father the Rebbe [Maharash] said in the name of the Baal Shem Tov that a Jew should learn a lesson from everything they see or hear for their avodas Hashem.”
HaRabbonis Chaya Mushka and Reb Moshe Hakohen Horenstein got married the following year. The story of their marriage will be related in another chapter in the complete version of the biography, b’ezras Hashem.
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