Tonight: Nittel Nacht

A friendly reminder to our dear readers: Tonight is “Nittel Nacht,” and the Chabad custom is not to learn Torah so as not to “add Chayus” to impurity.

The Rebbe said in a Sicha that we shouldn’t “waste our time” but involve ourselves in things that exercise the mind, such as chess or any other chores that need to be done. The Rebbe related a story in the Sicha of a Bochur who would save all the sewing of the buttons on his clothes for “Nittel Nacht,” to be productive in a “non-adding-Chayus” way.

According to the Sefer Haminhagim: “The Rebbe Rashab once said that the reason for not studying Torah on Nittel nacht is that ”one should not elicit an increase in life-force.” This restriction on study applies only until midnight.” [Hayom Yom of the 17th of Teves]


    • Chess Player with Questions

      Your comment is interesting, but how do you know? When and where was the picture taken? Who took the picture?

      More questions: How often did they play? Who won the game, or was it a draw? Did they ever play with anyone else? Did the Rebbeim before the Frierdika Rebbe also play? On what level was their game – good, great, grand master quality, or world champion level? Would they have been able to beat today’s computer programs? Was their every move with Ruach HaKodesh? Did they also play checkers or other games? .

      Does anyone know the answers?

    • Anonymous

      Look in Yemei Bereshis where this picture is published with a description from the Rebbe himself when this took place. He says there that this took place (not on Nittel, but) in one of the healing resorts where the Frierdiker spent time and was instructed not to exert his mind. So he played chess.

    • K

      I get it that “he was instructed not to exert his mind. So he played chess”, but is there no “light” Torah learning like Ain Yaakov / Agaddata or Medrash or even, lhavdil, books of math or astronomy which later help in studying Torah?

      I once saw a picture of another Gadol reading a newspaper and it disturbed my avodas Hashem (until I realized that it is simply a nisoyon for me which I need to overcome).

      I have trouble with publicized pictures of a Gadol “playing” (unless there was a deep spiritual purpose – like the moves on the chess board caused movement of various governments and kings etc.).

      In my mind, such pictures are in the category of seeing a king at the barber or in the bathhouse – which is forbidden because it affects a persons perception of the king. Therefore, in my respectful opinion (as an outsider to Chabad) such pictures should not be publicized.

  • Chess Player with Questions

    Thanks for the info provided in the links about the background of the picture. The links don’t answer all my questions, but do provide some enlightenment, as well as actually raising other interesting issues…

    BTW I was just playing around and being facetious about the Rebbeim possibly playing with “ruach hakodesh” or the like – I really think it would be foolish to believe that.

    En passant: I wouldn’t be surprised though to find that many Lubavitchers do indeed believe that, that everything the Rebbeim did, including playing chess, was with ruach hakodesh. That smacks a bit to me like the very Avoda Zora that we are supposed to be fighting against on Nitel Nacht.

    • Not Necessary

      Your last paragraph would have been better off omitted. Better to play chess if you are bored than to make gratuitous accusations.

    • Milhouse

      No, it’s not anything like avoda zara, because tzadikim are botel to Hashem, and that’s why they’re tzadikim. To whatever extent someone is a tzadik, to that extent he doesn’t have his own metzius, so that really all he is is Elokus. And such a person does indeed do everything with ruach hakodesh.

      But that doesn’t necessarily mean he knows what the other player is going to do; ruach hakodesh isn’t Carnac the Magnificent. It means you know what you need to know, what Hashem wants you to know. It’s not nevuah; it means you don’t know the plane is going to crash, you just know that this person shouldn’t be on it. So maybe ruach hakodesh gives you a feeling you ought to make a certain move that you wouldn’t otherwise have thought of; and maybe it doesn’t.

    • K

      I heard that once during a farbrengen the Rebbe asked all the chassidim to chant hoo-rah (in Hebrew: he is bad) and at that moment the leader of the USSR (former Soviet Union) dropped dead.

      There are other stories of Gedolim that did “mundane” things that caused great changes in government and gentile leaders.

      That is NOT c”v AZ but emunas tzaddikim, a basic part of out belief.

      I heard even that one tzadik (I think it was Reb Yisroel Salanter) that wanted to do Kiddush Levana but it was cloudy, so he took out a towel and wiped clean the sky.

    • K

      People seem to confuse ruach hakodesh with da’as Torah. A person who is immersed in Torah day in night has his thoughts influenced by the Torah that he learns. (Same as a person who is involved constantly in shtusim has his thoughts guided by the shtusim).

      Even a Kolel person has a high level of da’as Torah – since his time is fully dedicated to Torah. Kal Vchomer a true godol who lives Torah.

      This is NOT “ruach hakodesh” which is a level of nev’uah!

      After being in kolel many years I saw myself how the da’as Torah I achieved guides my own decisions and how I answer those who ask me questions (whether in Torah / halacha or in olom hazah issues).

    • K

      Milhouse once again writes in a manner that can mislead, by writing that it is not “avoda zara, because tzadikim are botel to Hashem”, Milhouse implies that tzadikim are ekokus and one can “serve” a tzadik as a deity and consider the tzadik a boreh or a yesh ha’amiti (in the terms of Ramchal) which is total kfirah and apikursus.

      A tzadik is a merkavah to HKB”K, a merkavah is a wagon, not the wagon’s driver. The wagon does exactly what the wagon driver guides it to do, it has no will of its own, it is an “extension” of the wagon driver BUT it is merely a wagon, a merkavah.

      The distinction may sound like semantic but it is as distinct as emunah and kfirah.

      Learn Michtav me-Eliyahu to get a better appreciation of the proper hashkofos in these subjects.

      Listening to Milhouse may lead to c”v kfirah.

    • Milhouse

      Now I see where K is coming from; his chassidus was filtered through Michtov Me’Eliyohu. Learn it in the original, and you’ll understand it better.

      Yes, tzadikim are a merkovoh to Elokus; and the whole point of the moshol of a merkovoh is that it has no metzius of its own, but is merely an extension of its driver. We routinely talk about cars as if they were their drivers, because we understand that cars don’t do anything themselves. “Look at that green car; he thinks he owns the road”; that doesn’t mean the car is really thinking, it’s shorthand for “its driver thinks…”.

      Similarly when one understands that a tzadik is botel to Hashem, and one sees him as Hashem, then one may pray to him and serve him, and it’s not avoda zara but the opposite. Avoda zara is when one perceives it backwards, when instead of seeing him as Hashem one sees Hashem as him, i.e. one attributes the driver’s actions to the car and thinks the car decides what to do.

      I’ll give you a better moshol: every day we hold a small box in our hands, and talk to it, and ask it to do all kinds of things for us. We ask it to deliver food, we ask it for money, we ask it for medical advice, we even ask it for brochos! Anyone from 200 years ago would think this was mamash avoda zara. How can this box possibly do any of these things for us? We must be primitives who don’t understand that the groceries are delivered by a man in a truck, not by a phone! But we don’t think of it that way, because we are not talking to the phone. We are talking to the grocery, our employer, the doctor, or a tzadik who can give us brochos. In our minds, the phone is botel to the person on the other end. And that is what makes what we are doing rational, and separates us from savage cargo cultists.

      That is why Yaacov Ovinu was called with Hashem’s name. It’s why the Zohar says מאן פני האדון, דא רשב״י, it’s why the holy Berdichever says it’s permitted to bow down to a tzadik. Eved melech melech, so long as he remains an eved and doesn’t become a metzius of his own. (It’s also why we should stand up for anyone doing a mitzvah; because at that moment they are a merkovoh for Hashem.)

      I suggest you get a copy of R Pevsner’s sefer על הצדיקים, and study it. I think it’s available at Kehos.

    • Milhouse

      The story of kidush levonoh is said about R Greenglass z”l of Montreal. Whether it’s true I don’t know, but it could be true; if it was said about you or me nobody would believe it.

      But see the Rebbe’s sicha about the story of the Alter Rebbe and kiddush levono, showing that one shouldn’t do a mitzvah through supernatural means. The Alter Rebbe had already stopped the boat; why didn’t he just say kiddush levonoh right there and then, instead of releasing it and asking the ferryman to stop? The Rebbe’s answer is that mitzvos have to be done bederech hateva.

    • K

      It’s permitted to bow down to a tzadik.- because bowing is a sign of respect, just as one can bow to a leader (even a gentile one), while sefardim kiss the hands of a chocom. this has NOTHING to do with treating a tzadik as a deity. I do not need suggestions of seforim to learn, especially those published today, I wrote my own seforim.

    • K

      Can anyone confirm the “Hooray” story, that the Rebbe said Hoo Ra with the chassidim and the Czar died?

      Also, I don;t know why chassidim need to steal stories from the Litvish, the kiddush levona story (I asked around and it is the consensus) that it happened with Reb Yisroel Salanter – these stories come from the Old Country, real Lita or Europe, not modern America.

    • K

      More nonsense, by quoting out of context “mitzvos have to be done bederech hateva” – like Moshe Rabbenu got a esrog in the midbar that was brought by malochim (medrash), that MUST be “bederech hateva”, not.

      Or at least a dozen examples of mitzvos that are done in bais hamikdosh bderech nes, including that holiday of chanukah. was the hadlokas neros for 8 days bderech hateva?

      The danger of Milhouse spitting out such klollim as: “mitzvos have to be done bederech hateva”, is that it pasels the entire nes of chanukah!

    • Adarebah

      K, I gotta hand it to you. You know your stuff and you don’t back down. My question to you is, if you really in the BMG kollel, why are you doing so much bitul Torah by blogging on the net? Anyway, the bantering from an earlier article regarding using styrofoam cups which you say is a problem and Milhouse said it is no problem,, I know many real chassidishe yidden that would never drink mashke from a styrofoam cup because of kashrus concerns and they wouldn’t even pour it into someone else’s cup to avoid being machshil them (which shows it isn’t merely a chumra for them, but they consider it an issur). BTW, I would love to see a debate between you and Milhouse on a variety of subjects starting with emunas tzadikim vs das Torah from a chabad and Litvishe perspective..

    • Milhouse

      Wow, I just revisited this article and saw that K is still at it.

      1. Bowing down (השתחויה) is one of the four avodos, which are reserved for Hashem. The Kedushas Levi says that the reason one is allowed to bow down to a tzadik is because he is botel to Hashem. One may not do so to an ordinary person. You really should educate yourself on a subject you clearly don’t know enough about. על הצדיקים is a relatively short sefer; if you’re going to be conducting arguments on the subject you need to be familiar with it.

      2. The “hurrah” story was with the Rebbe, when Stalin died. The official death date is a couple of days later, because they didn’t announce his death until they’d sorted out the succession, but information that came out of the Kremlin was that he died on the very day of that farbrengen.

      3. Kiddush levonoh bederech hateva. You need to learn this sicha. This is what the Rebbe said; if you’ve got a problem with it, take it up with him, not with me.

      4. The story is definitely told about R Greenglass. Whether it’s true is another question; I don’t have an opinion on that. I think he was capable of it, but there’s a big difference between “could” and “did”.

  • Chess Player with Questions

    Reply to 10. “Not Necessary”: As you can see from the other responses my comment elicited, it was not merely a “gratuitous accusation.” Commenter of “Milhouse” proves my point. Milhouse thinks the Rebbeim did do “everything with ruach hakodesh” including playing chess games, although maybe even he realizes how silly that is so he concludes with a disclaimer “So maybe ruach hakodesh gives you a feeling you ought to make a certain move that you wouldn’t otherwise have thought of; and maybe it doesn’t.” Typical Milhouse nonsense. (Maybe I have ruach hakodesh, because I was thinking of people like Milhouse when I made my comment.)

    Similarly, commenter “K” seems to be confused about “emunas tzaddikim,” because he seems to think it means one has to believe that tzaddikim have the ability to change nature, or that they are infallible in any decisions or choices that they make. Meanwhile the Torah itself says “For there is no righteous man on earth who does good and sins not” (Koheles 7:20), and that is regarding doing good and evil, and how much more so with regard to mundane activities, like playing chess, where certainly no human being can possibly make perfect moves all the time. At least “K” though scores some really good points in his recent comment no. 15, where he criticizes the foolishness of Milhouse, and warns about the damage the comments of Milhouse and his ilk can do if left unchallenged.

    Any normal person realizes that to be a revered Torah scholar one does not even have to know how to play chess, let alone always make perfect moves and never lose a game. But unfortunately many Jews, especially Lubavitchers, are so brainwashed or brain-dead that they are incapable of grasping that. I felt my comment was necessary, and similarly this one, because I’d like to try to bring about some sanity however I can, especially in Lubavitch today where it is so lacking. Maybe little by little, a bit here and a bit there, some good will come from my efforts and from the efforts of other like-minded, concerned individuals.

    • Milhouse

      You have seriously misunderstood the posuk in Koheles, if you think tzadikim sin. Even a beinuni does nothing wrong; a tzadik doesn’t even want to do wrong. If someone does even one avera then by definition they are not a tzadik or even a beinuni. Come on, this is Perek 1 of Tanya! It’s basic stuff.

      And it’s a fundamental principle of chassidus, especially Lubavitch, that the Rebbe doesn’t makes mistakes. That means ruach hakodesh.

    • DL

      The statement that a tzaddick sins based on “For there is no righteous man on earth who does good and sins not” (Koheles 7:20), is incorrect. The Rebbe ZY”A explains that sin (chet) can also mean lacking something. This means that even a perfect tsaddik is not perfect and can improve each day but does not sin. Those places in the Torah that tells us that a Tsaddick sinned , means on their level a particular act was considered as a sin but not a sin as we understand. Also look at Tanya for an explanation.

  • Chess Player with Questions

    (Oops, there goes my claim to ruach hakodesh and infallibility. ;-)

    At the start of my last comment I wrote “Reply to 10. “Not Necessary”:” — but anyone can see “Not Necessary” was number 11, not 10.

    It is the same though for any human being, even the greatest tzaddikim, everyone makes mistakes, in their private affairs, in the advice they give to others, and in their understanding of Torah.

  • Chess Player with Questions

    Commenter No. 9 above linked to Lubavitch Archives on Facebook. Briefly, it explains there:

    For health reasons in the year 1937, the sixth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, traveled to Perchtoldsdorf, Austria, a vacation spot with good air and comfortable accommodations. Rabbi Menachem Mendel, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok’s son-in-law and future seventh Rebbe of the Chabad movement… traveled to join Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok in Perchtoldsdorf…The doctors advised Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok to refrain from intense and strenuous use of his intellect, due to the strain on his health… He would therefore play chess with his entourage… During one such game, when Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok was playing a game of chess with his son-in-law, he realized that his son-in-law was playing to deliberately lose, so Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok should be the victor… Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok told his son-in-law, “We should play honestly.”

    Commenter Y.L. there asks a perceptive question about the strange circles on top of some chess pieces in the photo: “Did the kings have crosses on the set they were using…?”

    — It seems that indeed is what happened, some over-zealous Chossid blotted out the decorations at the top of some pieces. Was that really necessary or appropriate?

    • Milhouse

      Of course it’s appropriate to remove the tzlomim from the picture; how can you imagine it would be right to show them? How is it right for people to look at tzlomim? The reason they didn’t break them off is obvious — the set probably belonged to the hotel. But the picture belongs to us, and can be corrected.

      If you need proof that it is right and proper to fix pictures, the biggest proof is from the Rebbe’s own instruction to airbrush a yarmulke onto his father’s picture.

  • Chess Player with Questions

    The Frierdika Rebbe was reported to have said in this matter, even with regard to playing games, “We should play honestly.” Isn’t is true then, and how much more so, when it comes to documenting history, that we should do it honestly?

    I know that the Rebbe zt”l also stressed this a number of times, that when reporting historical matters it should be done accurately. Unfortunately many of those claim to be Chassidim do not follow these instructions. Instead they try to change history and to change authentic Chassidic teachings to suit their warped perspectives.

    • K

      I get it that “he was instructed not to exert his mind. So he played chess”, but is there no “light” Torah learning like Ain Yaakov / Agaddata or Medrash or even, lhavdil, books of math or astronomy which later help in studying Torah?

      I once saw a picture of another Gadol reading a newspaper and it disturbed my avodas Hashem (until I realized that it is simply a nisoyon for me which I need to overcome).

      I have trouble with publicized pictures of a Gadol “playing” (unless there was a deep spiritual purpose – like the moves on the chess board caused movement of various governments and kings etc.).

      In my mind, such pictures are in the category of seeing a king at the barber or in the bathhouse – which is forbidden because it affects a persons perception of the king. Therefore, in my respectful opinion (as an outsider to Chabad) such pictures should not be publicized.

  • Re hu ra story....

    To Know and to Care Vol 1 or 2, don’t remember. I think 1. Kiddush Levana stroy I remember hearing from a my encounter jem video.

  • Chess Player with Questions

    Reply to “K,” No. 26: Actually I don’t get it. Playing chess does require mental effort, so I don’t see how the Frierdika Rebbe oh”s was compliant with the doctor’s instructions. As for “light Torah learning,” it is easier for me to see how even learning Ain Yaakov/Agaddata/Medrash would involve mental effort, since for the Rebbe whatever aspect of Torah he would learn would trigger a cascade of thoughts throughout all the aspects of Torah in his mind. Books of math or astronomy also require mental effort, at least as much as a game of chess. As for the Rebbe’s condition for which “taking it easy” was prescribed, I’m not familiar with what that was all about. Is it addressed in more detail anywhere in Chabad literature (perhaps on the web)?

    I don’t know why anyone should be disturbed by a picture of any Gadol reading a newspaper, or how that presents a nisoyon to be overcome. IIRC that was typical of the Rebbe before he succeeded his father-in-law, to be seen with newspapers. Similarly for playing games as in the picture here, how is that disturbing? And certainly their moves did not cause an movements in governments. That is plain out silly. It simply means that your idea of a Godol is unrealistic and that you are intentionally deluding yourself. They too had to put on their pants the same way you and I do.

    There is no problem of publicizing these pictures, where Gedolim are involved in mundane pursuits, and it is not at all in the category of “seeing a king at the barber or in the bathhouse.” It is good to be respectful of Gedolim, but you sound like you are taking it much too far. Don’t hang up such pictures in your living room if you find them offensive, but don’t try to quash the publication of such pictures. As it is we are already suffering from the antics of those who pretend that Gedolim were born tzaddikim, and that they have none of the limitations of mortal men. Again that leads down the path to idolatry. A few years ago a book came out, “The Making Of A Godol,” that attempted to explode that myth. Of course it was right away banned by the closed minded who benefit the most from such myths.

    — Regarding the “Hu Ra” story and the “Kiddush Levana” stories: This is not the place to elaborate, but if the Rebbeim zt”l had the power to bring down wicked dictators then long ago the reign of the all evil tyrants would have ended a long, long time ago, and we’d be blissfully celebrating peace on earth right now. These are just more myths and are completely unrealistic. Gedolim do not control nature, and Hashem does not answer their every prayer. Stories are just stories, and most of the time even when rooted in actual occurrences, minor incidents or coincidences are blown up out of proportion as each one who tells over the story fabricates more details to embellish it and to magnify the story’s impact. My advice is not to be so completely naive and get so carried away that you lose sight of reality.

    • Milhouse

      Wow. Just wow. Every chossid should read this comment, and will have the same reaction: ברוך אלקינו שהבדילנו מן הטועים. אשרנו מה טוב חלקנו