Retold in rhyme by Rabbi Bentzion Elisha
“What is a Chasid?” my father asked me once.
I answered him to the best of my knowledge, but he wasn’t satisfied.
I researched in a few holy books and wrote several explanations in a long letter ranging from the most basic to the very spiritual, but still, he wasn’t pleased.
“You know so many Chasidim, and the answers I gave you are from really great sources that answer the question so beautifully, why do you feel my answers are not good enough? Didn’t I answer your question well?” I asked.
My father’s reply caught me by surprise.
“I know what a Chasid is. The reason that I asked you is so that you will remember what it really means to be a Chasid. Then, after answering, you will ask yourself, ‘Am I really acting like a Chasid ought to? Am I living up to what it means to be a Chasid, or do I just call myself one?”
Our Rebbe’s Farbrengen was exciting and bold,
His stories and Torah fascinated both the young and the old.
One Story of which I’ll share with you if you wish,
An inspiring encounter from the
Rebbe’s Rebbe’s Rebbe’s holy ‘Tish.‘
At that Farbrengen, a Chasid there stood,
And asked a question that was simple yet good.
“What is a Chasid? Dear Rebbe please tell.
Not knowing, makes me feel not so well.”
“A Chasid is a lamplighter,” the Rebbe said.
“Someone who lights up the darkness wherever it spread.”
(Years ago, when city street lamps were lit by fire flame,
Equipped with torches on poles, special workers came.
Called Lamplighters, they lit up the streets with light,
Illuminating the cold darkness of night.)
“Rebbe, Oh Rebbe, How does one act
If the lamp is in a lonely desert and that is a fact.”
“Listen, one must light the lamp even there,
So people will see it’s a desert… It’s empty! It’s bare!
Also, the emptiness ashamed should be,
From the light of the lamp, believe me.”
“Rebbe, Oh Rebbe,” again the Chasid asked.
“What if the lamp is in the ocean,
then how does one act?”
“Dear Chasid, please listen to my words for you.
In this situation, this is what a person must do:
He should take off his clothes and jump in real fast,
Light that lamp in the ocean, so that its light will last.”
Confused asked the Chasid, “Rebbe is this what you see?
Is this what a Chasid is, could this really be?”
After thinking deep and scanning his brain,
The Rebbe answered, “Yes, this is a Chasid!
My answer remains.”
“I don’t see any lamps!” the Chasid exclaimed.
“Then a Lamplighter now you are not,” the Rebbe explained.
“It’s truly a sad matter of fact,
But it’s because of how you see things and how you act.”
“Rebbe, please tell me, what should I do
To become a lamplighter, I will listen to you.”
Pleasantly the Rebbe replied with a grin,
“Dear Chasid, this is how you begin….
First start with yourself by cleaning your mind.
Elevate yourself from the dirt of worldly trappings and the material bind.
Then, another person’s lamp you’ll be able to find.
When someone is coarse and rough,
All they can see in others is dirt because their own perspective is tough.
However when a person is gentle and refined
Another person’s beauty and goodness they are able to find,
Because truly, every soul is special & one of a kind.”
The Chasid continued, he did not relent,
“Can you grab by the throat, use force, is that what you meant?”
The Rebbe replied, “Oh no! You should not grab by the throat
But by the collar you can. Yes, by the top of the coat.”
This story is a ‘dish’ from the Rebbe Rashab’s ‘Tish,‘
Written up by his son, to share it was his wish.
With all of it’s details, the Frierdiker Rebbe to us this tale gave,
Surely, so we can learn from it in everyday life how to behave.
I don’t know if the Chasid’s questions were planned or thought out,
But since it was given to us from the Rebbe,
Lessons from the story should be learned without a doubt…
The Neshamah, the soul, is what our story’s lamp refers to,
Like the comparison in the Pasuk tells us it’s true:
That, ‘The candle of G-d is a man’s soul.’
This person could be anyone, small, big, young or old.
Unfortunately, sometimes, someone is not shining.
That individual’s lamp just isn’t igniting.
The Chasid’s job is to look for this lamp & light it,
So that this person with his role in life will be united.
During this time he doesn’t know if he will be able to light,
Or even get permission the other person’s lamp to ignite.
All the while, on himself he could work to improve,
And certainly with effort, forward & upward move.
Nevertheless, a Chasid, his own good sacrifices & puts on the line,
For the good of another, wherever him he will find.
The lamp in the desert refers to a Jew,
One who is vacant of any virtue.
Not nice or kind, nor even slightly sensitive or refined,
Has no knowledge of Torah and not so much of a mind…
Such people are called ‘Briyos,’
Whose only good quality is made up of one thing,
That Hashem had created them & to the world bring.
Yet, even ‘Briyos’ we should bring close, the Torah does teach,
Also these kinds of people we should reach.
Yes, even this type of lamp which is very dark
Must be lit up with a lively fiery spark.
Once the lamp in the desert will be lit the person will see,
They are in a terrible desert which is as empty as can be.
Now that all his lacking is open and bare,
Embarrassed by the light, about his emptiness he starts to care.
His low state he will fix, all that’s wrong make right,
Step by step, slowly lead by the flames of the lamp’s light.
On the other hand, there’s a lamp that’s set in the ocean,
Referring to a person who is full of Torah, but nevertheless, is missing a vital emotion.
Compared to water, his Torah, effects him does not.
Oy! The main thing, Yir’as Shamaim, awe of Heaven, he hasn’t got.
Sadly, this person’s Torah is without light, it’s quite dark.
That’s why we must illuminate it, to make the fear and respect of Heaven spark.
How do we do it, such a wet lamp to make bright,
When it’s own Torah is the very opposite of light?
We ignite this damp lamp by taking off our souls’ clothes,
Removing our thoughts, speech and actions from their usual comfortable roles.
Then into the ocean of self sacrifice we jump in,
That’s how we do it, that’s how its’ illumination can begin.
Self sacrifice has an extremely great power.
Since it’s connected to the essence of the soul,
it’s the call of the hour.
The essence of one’s own Neshama, the other person’s Neshama will inspire.
Hopefully this will fire up the lamp, it’s flame growing higher and higher.
Because we are speaking of someone whose case is so severe,
That even his years of Torah learning didn’t teach him of Heaven to respect & fear,
A person could think nothing will help someone like this,
It’s truly difficult and maybe him we should give up on, let go of and dismiss…
Nevertheless, a Chasid shouldn’t give up, until in that dark lamp’s light everyone can bask.
Such high expectations and requirements of a Chasid made the bewildered man re-ask,
“Is this truly a Chasid, is this really his task?”
The answer is a firm “Yes, this is it!
This is a Chasid, a person who makes sure that everyone is lit.”
It’s true, this is no simple job, with no guarantee.
One must think, plan and act with plenty of sensitivity,
Using lots of Ahavas Israel, that deep special love every Yid has for another,
With the understanding, that every Jew is truly his very own sister or brother.
A person’s ego must be put on the side, and truly come from one’s self deep inside,
Then jump into the waters of self sacrifice to illuminate the other person’s mind.
Only through this can another’s Yiras Shmaim be refilled, leaving any lacking behind.
After all this, the main question comes for us to hear
Especially relevant now when Mashiach, the Messiah, is so very near.
“What do we do when a lamp we don’t see,
not in another, or even in me?
Rebbe, oh Rebbe, please tell me.”
It’s possible for someone to look at a Yid
And see the Torah he’s learnt and look at all the Mitzvahs he did,
yet still not be able see a shinning lamp in him, for light, he‘s still in need.
This to the observer it truly does bother,
But that is because with himself he compares and measures the other.
When somebody honestly does a true Cheshbon Hanefesh, soul accounting,
He comes to the sincere conclusion that real darkness he is in, and on him it’s mounting!
Oh no! A lamp doesn’t exist even within,
Because full of ego and pride his Torah and G-dly service have been.
When he continues his self critique and thinks, almost out loud,
That even though his special grandparents and beautiful parents make him so very proud,
And generally speaking his situation seems quite good,
Nevertheless, his Torah and Mitzvahs aren’t shinning, light they just do not exude.
Certainly then his friend who doesn’t have all of these,
His Torah and Mitzvos surely are dark, dull and don’t please.
Because his own bleak situation proves there’s just so much to mend,
he claims that there’s no lamp possible in his less privileged friend.
To this kind of thinking the Rebbe did say,
“The reason you don’t see lamps on your way,
Is because a lamplighter, now you are not,
That’s why this question you have got.”
‘Hashem didn’t create even one thing in waste,’
So why would He merit him to see a lamp he’ll ignore in a haste?
While a lamp certainly has potential of being ignited,
He is not interested, nor plans to bother and help light it.
The reason for not seeing
The lamp in another being,
Is that when a person is, G-d forbid, coarse and materially minded,
then only coarseness in others he sees, any virtue unfounded!
However when one is gentle and kind,
The good traits of others he’ll easily find…
Holy Rebbes such as the Baal Shem Tov, the Mittler Rebbe and the Tzemach Tzedek were known,
To really search themselves to the bone.
When a Jew with a transgression, for a Tikun, spiritual repair, for them came,
To find in themselves, even though it was the slightest of slight, something of the same.
Because without any connection, the matter being not at all near,
The other’s problem he wouldn’t be able to see, feel or hear.
So from this we learn, that when something bad in another we see,
It’s a sure sign that we also have it, even if it’s as slight as can be.
The answer to all this is to work really hard on the mind.
Purify one’s thoughts, speech and actions, all must be refined!
With this new state of mind and kind eyes, much potential in all others will be found,
And automatically he will effect everyone who’s around.
Finally then he’ll be able to light his personal lamp within,
And also the lamp of others, to ignite he’ll begin…
The concluding question that’s asked make sure to note,
“Is it allowed to grab by one’s throat?”
Since we are asked to jump into the sea,
And light the lamp out of self sacrifice of whomever it’ll be…
Perhaps it’s alright to make another, the same to do,
And force them to self sacrifice just like you.
Was using ways not peaceful nor kind,
methods or words not pleasant, on the Rebbe’s mind?
“No!” was the Rebbe’s firm reply.
Self sacrifice is only for you, not to force others, just to pleasantly try.
But the collar of one’s clothes to grab, allowed you are,
but it’s forbidden the body or Neshama to grab, meaning to hurt or to scar.
Only the soul’s garments you can grab, not let rest,
And even from those, the very outer layer’s edge, nicely, acting your best.
The main message that this story does clearly make,
The one from this tale for all to take,
Is that the mission of a Chasid, the lamps of all Yidden to light,
Whosever around him, whether desert, ocean, day or night.
In fact, this is actually very big news,
Because the study and ways of Chasidus, the fire fueling a Chasid,
were given to benefit, and as an inheritance, for all of the Jews.
By pleasantly lighting the Jewish lamps wherever they are found,
Automatically he fulfils his purpose as a lamplighter, to spread true complete light all around.
So, a Chasid is a lamplighter…
A Jew who illuminates the world surrounding him, and makes it brighter,
until Hashem’s glory, the darkness and coarseness beholds, getting lighter and lighter.
By making a dwelling place for Hashem, everyone: boys and girls, young and old,
we are speeding up the quickly approaching Geula Hashlema, the complete redemption,
with Hashem’s help, which soon will unfold…
This creative version of the story, ‘What is Chasid?’ is copyrighted by the author and may only be reprinted in part or in its entirety with written permission by him.
Rabbi Bentzion Elisha is the author of the contemporary literary book, ’18 Frames of Being’ sold on Amazon.com.