Weekly Story: Who Are We?

by Rabbi Sholom DovBer Avtzon

Last Week I received the following story from Rabbi Akiva Wagner, may he be well, and as a continuation in our preparation to Yud Shevat, in two weeks, I decided to post it.

Rabbi Chaim Meir Bukiet was a gaon and a chosid, who served as rosh yeshiva of the Lubavitcher Yeshiva in New York for many years. He lived with his family in East Flatbush, where he also served as the Rov of the Oneg Shabbos shul. The following story was shared by his son, Rabbi Levi Bukiet:

The Bukiets had a neighbor, who had been a hemishe chassidishe yid in Europe, before the war. Although cordial, he had never shown any interest in Lubavitch. It was therefore surprising when, prior to the marriage of his eldest son, he requested of Rabbi Bukiet to arrange for him a private audience with the Rebbe. Rabbi Bukiet assumed that before such an occasion, he may have decided it worthwhile to seek the Rebbe’s brocho. But he found it peculiar that he only requested an audience for himself, without including his wife and the bride and groom, as was customary.

Nevertheless, Rabbi Bukiet did as the man requested, and set up a yechidus for the individual, without asking any questions.

The day following the yechidus, Rabbi Bukiet was alarmed when he received a shocking phone call from the secretariat of the Rebbe. They told him that the individual for whom he had arranged a yechidus had abruptly fled the Rebbe’s office in middle of the conversation! He was further informed that the man had left something behind, an envelope, when he left, and they asked Rabbi Bukiet to deliver it to him.

When Rabbi Bukiet approached the neighbor with the envelope, he became very embarrassed, and broke down in tears. He explained that business had been very bad lately, and he was struggling to make ends meet. Now with the wedding coming up, the burden and struggle was overwhelming. In Europe he knew that in such situations one would approach the various Rebbes’ and request their assistance, and he was doing the same here. He prepared a letter, describing his plight, which he presented to the various Rebbes that he visited for help.

This man had three children at that time, but, in order to make his case more convincing and seem more urgent, and thereby to secure a bigger check, he described himself in his letters (requesting assistance) as the head of a family of ten children, and in the listing the names of his family members, he added seven additional fictitious names. His ploy was effective. All of the Rebbes that he visited expressed their sympathy, and gave him a sizeable gift.

It was for this reason that he had requested the yechidus with the Rebbe as well. However, during his yechidus with the Rebbe, when he handed over his letter, the Rebbe glanced at it and, pointing to the last seven names, asked “Ver zennen di aleh?!”, [“And who are these?”].

Overwhelmingly embarrassed, he simply could not face the Rebbe and quickly ran out…

The Rebbe, however, asked the mazkirus to send him the envelope, with the donation that the Rebbe had prepared for him, that he left behind!

When I {Sholom Avtzon] read that story, it reminded me of something I heard some years ago from Rabbi Nissim Mangel, sheyichye on last week’s parsha. We read in the Torah that Yaakov Avinu asked Yosef about his sons, Mi Eleh. The commentaries all ask, didn’t Yaakov teach them during the seventeen years he was with them in mitzrayim. So why is he asking that question now?

He explained (based on a maamar of the Frierdiker Rebbe), that now that Yaakov was planning on blessing them, he was wondering, I know that they grew up in the culture of Mitzrayim, which the Torah describes as the worse on the land, did that culture perhaps have a negative effect on them?

Bnei Yisroel stated naaseh v’nishmah (we will do and then we will try to understand). However, that is the power and connection of the neshoma to Hashem, to abide even if it is against his understanding. Human beings by nature feel that they first have to understand the concept and then they can abide by it. Therefore Yaakov asked Mi Eleh. In Hebrew Mi is spelled by the two letters Mem and Yud, which have the numerical value of (forty and ten) fifty. Fifty represents the 50 levels of binah (understanding). While Eleh is spelled with an aleph, lamed and Hei, which has the numerical value of thirty six, which represent the first six attributes (times six) which is action.

So Yaakov’s question was, does their Mi (intellect and understanding) come before and super cede their Eleh (action)[and therefore they are not deserving of being blessed]?

Yosef replied these are my children the Elokim gave me here. Elokim has those same five letters. The first three spell Eleh and the final two, (when you rearrange their order) spells Mi. So his response was, Yes, my children were raised here in Mitzrayim. However, I raised them in the spirit of kabbalas Ol, Obey Hashem, even if your understanding questions it.

Hearing that, Yaakov said, In that case, bring them to me so I can bless them.

When I repeated this thought at the Shabbos table, my son in law mentioned that his grandfather Rabbi Aharon Schwei a”h would relate the following story on these words.

A chossid of Reb Chaim of Sanz, came to his Rebbe dressed up as in the same modern clothing that he wore when he dealt in business. Seeing his Rebbe’s look of disapprovement, he said in his own defense, “The heilike Malbim explains, when Yosef’s sons came to learn with their grandfather, they changed into proper Jewish clothing, so Yaakov never saw them in the official clothing. However, now that Yaakov suddenly became ill they rushed to his bedside, and there was no time for them to change, so Yaakov saw them for the first time in their Egyptian clothing. Therefore he asked, What is going on? Who are they for real?

Yosef replied, they are my sons, but they grew up in Mitzrayim and therefore it is not so terrible (or nothing is wrong) if they wear Egyptian style clothing.

The Sanzer, shook his head and said, that is not the way we learn the meaning of these pesukim. When a person especially a tzaddik is about to pass away, he sees the spiritual not the physical. Until now Yaakov saw these grandsons and his other grandchildren, and they all gave him happiness. But now that he was about to pass on, he saw that these children had a spiritual level that was way beyond the level of his other grandchildren, so he asked, How did they accomplish this?!

Yosef replied, that even though they grew up in Mitzrayim, and you couldn’t teach them and guide them, they grew up as my children, not absorbing the culture that surrounded them, therefore they indeed are on a higher level.

So as the Frierdiker Rebbe said in a sicha Purim 5704 (1944), the question of “Who Are We?” is not to be simply answered Chabad Chassidim. As a follow up then, we have to ask and understand what did the Rebbeim demand and expect from their chassidim?

As the Sanzer explained, even though we are living in this period of darkness, our children did not zoche to be at a farbrengen of the Rebbe etc., but never the less they are connected to him with a deep and inner hiskashrus, by them the connection is perhaps even stronger then by us who were zoche to be at a farbrengen.

Or in chassidic terminology, our connection is based on the relationship we had with the Rebbe; that is a definition of ohr hamimaaleh. While the connection of our children is not based on any interaction with the Rebbe, but rather with his essence, his teachings and that is ohr hasoivev or perhaps higher.

NEXT WEEK the six perspectives that guides a chossid.

Your comments and feedback are greatly appreciated.

This weeks post is in zechus of the immediate and complete refuah of my sister Chaya Rivkah bas Cheyena and all those who are in need of a brocha.

Rabbi Avtzon is a veteran mechanech and the author of numerous books on the Rebbeim and their chassidim. He can be contacted at avtzonbooks@gmail.com

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