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The Wellspring Part 7
(Click here for Part 1.)
Behind the Scenes at the Vaad L’hafotzas Sichos

By Rabbi Shalom Yaakov Chazan and A. Avrohom

The Contract is Signed

When the telephone rang in the office of the Vaad Lehafotzas Sichos on Erev Chanukah 5739, it was a member of the Rebbe’s mazkirus asking Rabbi Nachman Schapiro to stop by as soon as possible. "Rabbi Hodakov would like to speak to you about an urgent matter."

Within minutes, Rabbi Schapiro had bounded downstairs and was waiting to hear what was so important. Rabbi Hodakov, in his usual straightforward manner, got right to the point. "There is a serious problem at Kehos [i.e., the Kehos Publication Society]," he said. "The entire process of publishing the works of our Rebbeim is in a state of disorganization. Whenever the Rebbe asks for an update about a particular seifer, he has to speak to several people before he can get an accurate report of what’s going on. The situation cannot continue.

"I’ve called you in today to deliver the Rebbe’s directive: The Rebbe wants the Vaad Lehafotzas Sichos to take over the directorship of Kehos." Rabbi Hodakov then asked Rabbi Schapiro to return later that day with the other members of the Vaad for more details.

That afternoon, the entire Vaad assembled in Rabbi Hodakov’s office. For several hours he outlined what would be required of them, and at the end of the conversation he asked them to prepare an official contract. The exact wording of the document took a few more days, after which the contract was submitted for the Rebbe’s approval.

The contract specified that the Vaad would be responsible for all of the numerous steps involved in the printing process, from binding the books, distributing them in bookstores, and advertising in the newspapers. It also set several other goals they were to strive for: shortening the length of time it takes for a book to get published, improving their quality, lowering costs, etc. Furthermore, should a conflict of opinion ever arise, the directors of Kehos would henceforth be subject to the decision of the Vaad, which would be considered final.

At the same time, the contract made it clear that the Vaad’s input was strictly technical rather than editorial. Once a month they were to submit a detailed report on all works in progress. In other words, the Vaad Lehafotzas Sichos was to act as an independent body that had assumed responsibility for the Kehos Publication Society.

When the contract was signed, Rabbi Hodakov said, "From now on, whenever the Rebbe wants to know the status of a particular book, you are the ones he will turn to. You must be ready to answer his inquiries at all times."

It didn’t take long until the Vaad was given its first opportunity to show its mettle. That Chanuka, the Rebbe gave them their first kuntreis to print, the maamer "VeYadata Moskva – 5657." The members of the Vaad – Rabbis Nachman Schapiro, Yaakov Leib Altein, Shalom Jacobson, and Zalman Chanin – jumped into action.

No "Honeymoon"

The Vaad Lehafotzas Sichos did not have the luxury of a grace period to ease into their new duties. In fact, its members didn’t have even a single day.

The ink was barely dry when the Rebbe sent a message to the Vaad expressing his surprise that certain books had not yet been printed. The Vaad had hardly been apprised of the inner workings of the operation, much less did they know with certainty how each individual book was faring, but the Rebbe wasn’t interested in excuses. As the Rebbe wrote in a letter that Teives:

"...Even if the excuse is one hundred percent true, and even if it’s beyond their control!

"1) We do not say that it’s as if he did it.

"2) The main objective in publishing books is to get them into the hands of the people who need them...in other words, it is for them that the whole operation exists. What difference does [the reason] make to them?

"There has to be a way to speed things up, although it will involve much effort. When ‘you have toiled’ will be fulfilled, surely the ending to the phrase, ‘you have found’ will also be fulfilled."

As Chassidim to whom the Rebbe’s wishes are top priority, the members of the Vaad understood that the Rebbe expected even more from them than was spelled out in the contract. Thus, even though they weren’t officially responsible for delays in editing or technical problems, they realized that it was up to them to set the whole operation in order.

Several months later, the Rebbe wrote a letter to the Vaad explaining his reasons for having chosen them: 1) its members were relatively young; 2) they had just recently graduated from Tomchei Tmimim; and 3) they had not yet fully conformed to the limitations of being baalei battim.

The History of Kehos

The Kehos Publication Society was founded by the Rebbe Rayatz in 5702, with his son-in-law, the Rebbe shlita, appointed as its head. A year later, the Sifriyas Otzar he’Chassidim Lubavitch was established, and soon afterward Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch.

The function of Kehos, the mosad at the very top of the publishing hierarchy, was to print all kinds of Jewish and Chassidic books, not just those that were directly related to Chabad. Under Kehos were two more publishing operations: Otzar he’Chassidim, which was limited to producing works of the Rebbeim and their disciples, and Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, which was responsible for educational and teaching materials. The Rebbe was intimately involved in all of the technical aspects, and served as editor-in-chief for all three mosdos.

A vast number of books were published in those early years. The fact that so much of the Rebbe’s time was devoted to this undertaking underscores, more than anything else, the great importance the Rebbe ascribes to disseminating works of Chassidus. In fact, much of the Rebbe’s correspondence during these years concerns these matters, as part of the overall framework to "spread the wellsprings outward" to bring Moshiach.

After the Rebbe accepted the nesius and assumed the leadership of the entire Jewish people, many of the Rebbe’s day-to-day responsibilities were transferred to Rabbi Yehuda Leib Groner, the Rebbe’s personal mazkir. Under the Rebbe’s constant supervision, Rabbi Groner began to do some of the editorial work as well.

For the first few years, the Rebbe continued to edit many of the s’farim, but as time wore on he limited himself to editing the introductions. Indeed, throughout the years of the Rebbe’s nesius it was a task he never gave up, despite the time constraints. Every day, or every few days, the Rebbe would ask for a detailed update of the various s’farim being readied for print. In fact, up until the 1970’s, Rabbi Groner would submit the final version of all notations and footnotes for the Rebbe’s approval, and the Rebbe would add his comments to the margins.

By that time, however, the Chabad movement had grown to such international proportions that Rabbi Groner’s duties as mazkir precluded him from devoting much time to editing. Little by little, the day-to-day tasks were transferred to a team of qualified talmidei chachomim, each of whom was responsible for overseeing a different project.

As mentioned above, in 5739 the Rebbe appointed the Vaad Lehafotzas Sichos in charge of everything after its members had more than proved their expertise with the printing of the seifer Keser Shem Tov.

The Rebbe’s
Continued Involvement

Nonetheless, despite the administrative changes, the Rebbe continued to be involved in every stage of the publishing process. In fact, the members of the Vaad were surprised frequently by the Rebbe’s interest in what seemed to them minutiae. In the first year alone the Rebbe gave dozens of detailed directives, some personally, others through mazkirus. One of the most important themes the Rebbe continually emphasized was the need for efficiency, actually getting the books into print within the specified time frame.

"The Rebbe would often quote Moshiach’s answer to the Baal Shem Tov, that he would come ‘when your wellsprings will have been disseminated,’" the members of the Vaad now recall. "We could see how the Rebbe attached great spiritual significance to the publication of each and every seifer we worked on as one of the most effective means of bringing Moshiach."

In certain instances the Rebbe even asked for daily updates, with information on what each member of the Vaad had accomplished that day and was planning to do the next.

Some of the editors who worked under the Vaad’s supervision chafed under this acute attention to detail and objected to it as "micromanaging," as they were not always told that the Rebbe was behind it. One staff member even went so far as to write a long letter of complaint, blaming everyone other than himself for his inability to stick to a strict schedule…

As the Vaad was required to inform the Rebbe of all new developments, this letter was included with their next update. The following morning, Rabbi Zalman Chanin was summoned by Rabbi Hodakov and told to go to the Rebbe’s room immediately after davening. With awe and trepidation he entered, still wearing his tallis and tefillin.

The Rebbe removed a Midrash Rabba from the bookcase and opened it to the commentaries on the verse in Koheles, "Let your garments be always white." He then proceeded to read aloud:

"‘Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi explained this with an analogy: There was once a king who invited some guests to attend a seuda. "Go and wash and iron your clothes, and get ready for the celebration," he advised them, yet he did not specify when the seuda would take place. The smarter guests waited by the palace gates [expecting it to commence at any moment], but the foolish ones paid no attention to the king’s directive, assuming that they would have sufficient time to get ready when they saw that the preparations were underway. The whitewasher returned to his whitewashing, the potter to his wheel, the blacksmith to his smithy, and the laundryman went back to his washtub. Suddenly, the king himself summoned everyone to his seuda. Some of the guests arrived in all their glory, while others were humiliated. The king was delighted with the smart ones who had heeded his words; not only had they obeyed him, but they had brought honor to the royal palace. However, he was very angry with the foolish ones, for not only had they disobeyed him but they had dishonored the palace. Declared the king: "Those who prepared themselves for the king’s seuda shall partake of it; those who did not shall not participate, without exception. One group will sit and eat and drink, while the other will stand and watch them, and be punished."’" The Rebbe closed the seifer and continued: "Some of the mivtzaim have reasons that are revealed. The purpose of the Tefillin Campaign is to effect the verse ‘…and he tears the arm together with the crown of the head,’ while the Mezuza Campaign protects the inhabitants of the home. However, the Campaign to Publish Jewish Books is different, and the advice of the Midrash must be taken: ‘Let your garments be always white.’ One must always be in a state of readiness to follow a directive whenever it comes, in order to have this wonderful merit."

The Rebbe’s comments on the Vaad’s updates are a story unto themselves. One time the members of the Vaad informed the Rebbe that a particular seifer, Seifer HaMaamarim 5687, would be ready by a certain date. The Rebbe replied by asking if this meant that the book would be ready to print by then, or if it meant that it would already be distributed and people would be learning from it…

The Rebbe once remarked to Rabbi Hodakov that he didn’t understand why he had to continually spur them on. Why couldn’t they finish a book according to schedule without his constant reminders and encouragement?

It must be pointed out that in those years, the technology we take for granted today was still in its infancy. Books were printed in a process known as hot type, so called because of the molten lead casting that was used. After the final version of a volume was typed, it was given to the printer, who would then produce a metal template for each page separately. These templates were then fitted into the printing press and run off. And the first computerized presses were not much faster. Despite these technological limitations, the Vaad performed admirably, even in comparison with today’s more simplified methods.

Scientific Edition of the Tanya

As mentioned previously, the contract that was signed by the Vaad gave it the sole publishing rights to Kehos. But there was also a clause that stated that in special cases, its members could be assigned to work on other s’farim. Over the years, the Vaad was thus responsible for overseeing a number of other works at the Rebbe’s specific behest, most of which were also produced at the same frenetic pace.

One of the most interesting of these projects was the publication of the Tanya Mahadura Kama, launched in the summer of 5738 after a number of boxes of rare manuscripts and other s’farim from Poland arrived at the Lubavitch library. One of these was a handwritten first edition of the Tanya, in its original format of separate kuntreisim, before the Alter Rebbe decided to publish it as a single work.

These materials were given to the Vaad Lehafotzas Sichos, along with the Rebbe’s directive to produce a new scientific edition of the Tanya. The members of the Vaad, who had never before produced a scientific edition of any seifer, had to first familiarize themselves with the process of scientific scrutiny. The provenance of each manuscript had to be researched and verified, and the entire format of the seifer revamped. Needless to say, it was an extremely laborious and time-consuming process.

Towards the end of 5741, the Vaad received a sharply worded handwritten note from the Rebbe in which he urged them to work even faster. A race against the clock commenced. Over the next few months its members rarely ventured outside their office.

To save time, it was decided to use the printing presses of the Vaad Lehafotzas Sichos, located in the building above 770. The Rebbe agreed to the plan, with one proviso: As it was no longer necessary to wait until the entire seifer was ready to be given to the printer, each section should be printed as soon as it was completed. The Rebbe’s directive was adhered to.

On Erev Shabbos Parshas VaYishlach, the final section of the book was printed and the entire volume bound with only minutes to spare before nightfall. The members of the Vaad hurried up the steps of 770 and gave it to Rabbi Groner, who immediately handed it in to the Rebbe. The following day, when they saw the Rebbe’s nachas ruach at the Shabbos farbrengen, they could bask in the satisfaction that their efforts had paid off. "For your work shall be rewarded, says the L-rd."

The Rebbe strode into 770 carrying the new seifer, and the entire farbrengen was dedicated to the newly published edition of the Tanya. In one sicha, the Rebbe spoke about the three differences between the Mahadura Kama and the usual printed version of the Tanya. "With this printing," the Rebbe said, "the Alter Rebbe’s desire to publish the Tanya before Yud-Tes Kislev has been fulfilled, which was not accomplished in his time." The Rebbe also praised the editors who had worked on the project and declared, "I did not believe that it was even remotely possible [to finish it so quickly], but I believe in the power of Chassidim!" The Rebbe then connected it to the coming of Moshiach, and said that in the merit of the new edition of Tanya, we can now demand from G-d that the Redemption come that much sooner!

The Tanya Goes International

On Shabbos Mevarchim Chodesh Elul 5738, the Rebbe called for the printing of Tanyas all over the world, in the capital city of "each country where there is a Jewish presence." In the initial stages, the project was overseen by the mazkirus, and shluchim all over began to print Tanyas in their respective locations.

But it soon became clear that this was not so simple a matter. Despite their good intentions, there were not many people who were knowledgeable about printing. Errors began to creep into the templates, and perfectly good Tanyas were reproduced with a luach ha’tikkun (list of corrections) that had long ago been amended. The discrepancies between one Luach ha’tikkun and the next became so numerous that everyone realized a new plan had to be implemented.

It was then that the Vaad Lehafotzas Sichos entered the picture, when Rabbi Hodakov informed them that the Rebbe had appointed them in charge of printing the Tanyas. In addition to coordinating the projects, their responsibilities would include preparing the templates, the introductory page with the name of each location, and keeping track of the exact number of printings. Rabbi Shalom Jacobson was assigned most of the day-to-day duties.

The first step involved choosing a particularly clear version of the Tanya as the prototype or standard. It was decided to use the one that had been printed in Vilna in 5669 from which to make the templates.

However, although the typeface of this Tanya was exceptionally easy to read, it was known that several errors had crept in over the years. The most famous of these typos was on the first page of the Shaar HaYichud VeHaEmuna, where the word "Shamayim" appears instead of "mayim." In all, the Vaad had five full pages of typos and omissions to correct, and the list kept growing. The members of the Vaad then discovered that the most accurate Tanya in the world had been printed in 5714, the publication of which the Rebbe himself had supervised. True, the typeface was not as clear as some of the others, but it was from this Tanya that the master plates were ultimately made, and thousands of international editions have since been printed.

From Start to Finish
in Two Weeks

On Rosh Chodesh Kislev 5741 the Rebbe summoned Rabbi Hodakov to his room and instructed him regarding the production of a comprehensive index (Mafteiach Inyanim) to the Alter Rebbe’s maamarim. The index would cover not only all of the Alter Rebbe’s known works, but even maamarim that had never appeared in print. At the Rebbe’s directive the project was assigned to the Vaad Lehafotzas Sichos, together with a strict schedule of production. The entire project was to be completed by Yud-Tes Kislev.

Furthermore, because the Vaad was technically independent from Kehos, the Rebbe insisted that the participants in this project be paid separately for their work, above and beyond their regular salary. The money, the Rebbe specified, would come from a special fund of the Rebbe Rayatz, who was also a partner in this undertaking. The Rebbe concluded by saying that he awaited their answer.

After contacting all the members of the Vaad, Rabbi Hodakov informed the Rebbe that their first meeting would take place that afternoon, either at 1:15 pm or after Mincha at 3:30. To the latter suggestion, the Rebbe responded, "After Mincha? Why so late? Let the meeting take place at 1:15." And so it was.

When the results of this first meeting were conveyed to the Rebbe, his answer was, "It was received; thank you for being so timely – in the year of Hakhel. I will mention it at the tziyun. Rosh Chodesh Kislev, the month of Redemption and the month of light. Much success, with great alacrity. (As stated in the Igeres HaKodesh to those who spread the wellsprings outward, similar to the Igeres HaKodesh of the Baal Shem Tov, i.e., that this will bring about ‘until Shiloh comes.’)"

The next day, the second of Kislev, the Vaad submitted its first update to the Rebbe. Noting the date, the Rebbe related it to Rashi’s comment on a verse in that day’s portion of Chumash, "Then Yaakov went on his journey": "After receiving the good tidings…it became easier for him to walk."

`The answers from the Rebbe to the Vaad each day were extraordinary. On the third day’s report, dated "Tuesday, 3 Kislev, concerning which ‘because it was good’ is written twice," the Rebbe drew a line underneath the word "Tuesday" and two lines under "because it was good." Where they had written "With G-d’s help, we will be able to finish by the designated time," the Rebbe wrote: "If the time is utilized properly"; "way before [the designated time]"; and "constraints and limitations [pertain to] before the month of Kislev."

That week the update on Thursday’s progress was submitted to the Rebbe on Friday, along with a note that Friday’s report would be submitted the following Sunday. The Rebbe wrote back: "Not only is [Sunday] a separate day, but it also involves an entirely new calculation (as it is after the holy Shabbos)." The Rebbe also explained verbally that the combinations of the letters of Hashem’s Name change on Motzaei Shabbos, and that they mustn’t intermingle one week’s report with the next. The Rebbe then stated that he would wait to receive their update up until it was time to light the Shabbos candles…

A similar thing happened that Sunday, when the Vaad submitted its report from Motzaei Shabbos together with the one from Sunday. Motzaei Shabbos is connected with Shabbos, the Rebbe explained, but Sunday is a day unto itself.

To make a long story short, on the 15th of Kislev the Rebbe indicated that the seifer should be published in the merit of its editorial and printing staff, with each person donating $1.80 (ten times 18) towards its dedication. The next day, when an alphabetized list of names was submitted to the Rebbe, the Rebbe inserted his own name by the letter Mem. The editors wanted to do something to emphasize the Rebbe’s name (using a bold font or writing shlita afterwards), but the Rebbe insisted that it be printed the way it was, with the addition of shlita after all the names on the bottom (see facsimile). The Rebbe also personally worded the dedication.

On the night of the 18th, the Rebbe stated that he knew everyone was tired and hadn’t slept for several days, but he would be very happy if the seifer would be completed by the next day. Indeed, the new seifer was bound and on the bookshelves by the night of the 19th, being sold at the special price of one dollar at the Rebbe’s directive. The entire batch was snatched up within a matter of minutes.

* * *

An article on this subject would be incomplete without mentioning the thousands of special kuntreisim that were given out by the Rebbe in recent years. The speed with which they were printed is entirely in the merit of the Vaad Lehafotzas Sichos and everyone associated with them. Their work to fulfill the Rebbe’s horaos has been tireless and devoted.

In the words of the Rebbe MH"M, in the same way that all these s’farim were printed in a manner "above the natural order," Hashem should send us the full and complete Redemption in the same manner, with the immediate revelation of the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach now.



"With this printing," the Rebbe said, "the Alter Rebbe’s desire to publish the Tanya before Yud-Tes Kislev has been fulfilled, which was not accomplished in his time."




The Rebbe also praised the editors who had worked on the project and declared, "I did not believe that it was even remotely possible [to finish it so quickly], but I believe in the power of Chassidim!"


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