The "Neshama" of the Month of Elul
By Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Ginsberg
The first farbrengen with Reb Mendel Futerfas after
his arrival in Eretz Yisroel in 5733 has been described many times. It took
place in the beginning of the month of Elul, and Reb Mendel had recently been
appointed by the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach as head mashpia in the Holy
The zal of Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim in Kfar Chabad was
filled to capacity that day. People were standing on tables and benches piled up
like bleachers until they almost reached the ceiling. The whole place was jammed
not only with yeshiva bachurim and residents of Kfar Chabad, but
with Jews who had come from all over Eretz Yisroel to see and hear one of the
greatest Chassidim of our times, a living symbol of self-sacrifice and devotion
to the Rebbe. Reb Mendel’s refusal to compromise, exemplary kabbalas ol,
fear of Heaven, and strength of character were virtually unparalleled in the
The crowd was eager for Reb Mendel to begin. They couldn’t
wait to hear the stories he would tell about the olden days in Lubavitch, with
all the famous personalities of Tomchei Tmimim in its early days: Reb Hendel,
Reb Grunim, Yankel Boruch, and Chatche. Everyone expected that Reb Mendel would
expound upon the avoda of the month of Elul: the tearful cheshbon ha’nefesh,
the davening for hours on end, iskafya and is’hapcha,
etc., etc. But Reb Mendel surprised everyone and spoke about one topic only.
Yes, he emphasized repeatedly, all these details of our avoda are
necessary and important, but they all depend on a single point: the Rebbe!
A Chassid should be aware that the Rebbe is thinking about
him and sense the Rebbe’s presence at all times. A Chassid must try to live up
to the Rebbe’s expectations, follow his directives, and most importantly,
actually go to the Rebbe as often as possible. A Chassid must internalize the
fact that the Rebbe is above all limitations, and try to bring as many Jews as
he can to the Rebbe.
p’nimiyus and iskafya mean nothing
without a living Rebbe present in the here and now to whom a Chassid is devoted
to bringing nachas ruach. All of the stories about "amol"
– "once upon a time" can quickly turn into "Amalek," whose
ice-cold influence has a debilitating effect on one’s avoda. Without a
Rebbe – at this very moment, in this instant – there is nothing at all.
Reb Mendel then made an announcement: The true avoda
of Elul consists of saving one’s pennies to be able to be with the Rebbe
during the month of Tishrei! All of the rest – the inner avoda, the cheshbon
ha’nefesh, etc. – are only contingent upon faith in the Rebbe, complete
and absolute devotion, and actually traveling to the Rebbe. Without these
things, a person only gets bogged down in the details while the main ingredient
Reb Mendel would always say, "If a person hasn’t been
by the Rebbe an entire year, from where will he get the vitality and enthusiasm
he needs to serve Hashem?"
Reb Mendel’s main point was the absolute necessity of being
with the Rebbe for Tishrei. For going to the Rebbe is not just a physical
journey; it is a journey that ensures that a person will "live with the
Rebbe" throughout the year, and have the strength to bring the Rebbe back
with him to wherever he lives.
In Seifer HaSichos 5696 (page 17), the Rebbe Rayatz
writes (free translation):
"There was a time when the trip to Lubavitch was very
expensive. People would save up for it a whole year and kiss the money – that’s
how precious money was to them in those days.
"And it wasn’t only the ‘big Chassidim,’ the ‘maskilim’
and ‘ovdim,’ who valued traveling to the Rebbe. Even the simple Jews
– indeed, especially them – who with difficulty understood the opening words
of a maamer and the p’sukim from Tanach it was based on used to
go to the Rebbe.
"One might also say that the simple Jews derived even
more from hearing the Rebbe than the ones who understood what the Rebbe was
saying. For what they received was the ‘soul,’ the vitality and enthusiasm
above intellectual comprehension – this they would bring home with them, and
they wouldlive with it and enliven others."
Similarly, the Rebbe Rayatz writes in Likkutei Dibburim
(English edition; Volume II):
"One of the stories that my teacher the Rashbatz told me
concerned a certain colonist, Reb A.T., who was a very simple fellow, but a warm
Chassid, the son of a Chassid, and the grandson of a Chassid. In fact, I knew
"His grandfather was one of the Chassidishe yungelait
of Beshenkovitz who in 5578 went off with another whole group of families to
settle in the steppes, as they used to be called. These were the agricultural
settlements the Mitteler Rebbe had succeeded in persuading the government to
establish, and which he used to visit for some time thereafter for a couple of
months a year.
"Ten years after his marriage, while still living in
Beshenkovitz, this grandfather had still not been blessed with children. No
matter how many times he asked the Rebbe for a blessing, he had never been
answered. After each visit he would leave Lubavitch brokenhearted, and with
bitter tears he and his wife would bewail the Rebbe’s silence.
"The letter that the Mitteler Rebbe addressed to all of
his Chassidim at this time, advocating employment in agriculture and the crafts,
had tremendous repercussions. Making the move to the colonies was difficult for
some – and among these were some of the less scholarly baalei batim,
merchants, shopkeepers, and ordinary craftsmen and villagers – because the
distance from Lubavitch meant that they would not be able to see the Rebbe as
they had always done. Their hesitation vanished, however, when they heard that
the Rebbe had promised that once a certain number of families had moved there,
he would visit the colonies for a certain period every year.
"Thus, when a group of settlers organized in
Beshenkovitz, one of those who registered was the grandfather of Reb A.T.
"On their way from Beshenkovitz with their wives and
children, the whole party of settlers passed by Lubavitch so that they would be
able to receive the Rebbe’s blessing. The Rebbe gave his farewell blessings to
the group as a whole, and Reb A.T.’s grandfather was one of the fortunate few
admitted individually to the Rebbe’s study for yechidus. He was so
overawed when he walked in, however, that he was unable to utter a word. When
the Rebbe asked him whether he was on his way to settle in the steppes, he was
only able to nod.
"‘A very good idea,’ said the Rebbe; ‘a change of
place. May the Alm-ghty grant you healthy children, and enable you to see
children and grandchildren engaged in the study of the Torah. And may you find a
livelihood by tilling the soil.’
"Overjoyed, the young man ran off to tell his wife the
wonderful tidings of the Rebbe’s blessing, and with cheerful hearts they set
out for the steppes. In due course, the Alm-ghty fulfilled the Rebbe’s
blessing; the couple was gladdened by the birth of a healthy child, and their
farming gave them a generous livelihood.
"As the years went by they were blessed with more
children, all healthy and robust, but with mediocre gifts. When they grew up
they were still far from learned, but they were devout, of upstanding character,
generous, and warm Chassidim. In fact, when A.T. himself was a child, his
parents hired the best tutors for him, but with limited success. And as an adult
too, though he toiled over his studies, his attainments were modest.
"A.T. became one of the prominent householders of his
settlement, and one of the most outstanding philanthropists of that entire
region. He was quite wealthy and his house was open to all. But, although he was
the leader in every charitable cause, his learning remained rudimentary
throughout his life. In his older years he memorized the Mishnayos of Tractate
Brachos, as well as the first three chapters of Tanya, and Tehillim
and Chumash, and these words he was forever repeating by heart.
"Whenever A.T. visited Lubavitch he would repeat the
Chassidus that he had heard. Being an enthusiastic Chassid, he made strenuous
efforts to grasp the maamer that the Rebbe had delivered, but
unfortunately he never mastered more than the opening verse, as well as the
verses from the Chumash and Tehillim quoted in the course of the maamer.
"Typically among Chabad Chassidim, the whole aim of one’s
visit is to hear the Rebbe expound Chassidus, to repeat the maamer, and
to enter the Rebbe’s study for yechidus, where they would discuss the
state in which the Chassid currently finds himself, to present a stocktaking of
his spiritual standing to date, to ask for guidance in planning his avoda,
and to ask for a blessing for success in his future efforts. But Chassidus for
A.T. meant something quite different. True enough, he had the characteristically
Chassidic fervor, the Chassidic devotedness to the Rebbe, the Chassidic
humility, and the Chassidic elation of the spirit – but all of this he related
only to the familiar verses opening the maamer or quoted in it.
"Words cannot do justice to the sheer innocent
enthusiasm, the spiritual elation this man experienced when he later repeated
those verses. For on his return, not only did he invite to his home or to his
store all his fellow settlers, but he would also send out carriages to bring
guests from the neighboring colonies, as well as from the nearby town of
Nikolayev. He would ask them to all join him in the festive seudas mitzva
that he had prepared, to celebrate his good fortune in having been privileged to
visit the Rebbe. At the table, dressed in Shabbos clothes, he would repeat the
Chassidus that he remembered from Lubavitch. And no sooner had he uttered the
first few words of his beloved pasuk, then he was uplifted into a state
of ardent rapture. His face was aflame, and from his closed eyes, tears rolled
down his cheeks.
"Whenever he came home from Lubavitch, this Chassid
brought with him a renewed vitality – in the cultivation of his character, in
his charitable activities, in his hospitality, and in the love of his fellow
Jews. At all times he radiated an artlessly Chassidic warmth throughout his
house, but especially at these special seudos.
"True enough, the Chassidus of simple Jews is a homespun
Chassidus. But it is sincere; it is cherished; it is precious."
* * *
If, G-d forbid, the complete revelation of the Rebbe
MH"M does not occur before Tishrei, we may not be able to see or hear him,
or receive dollars, lekach or kos shel bracha from his holy hand,
but we will still be able to grasp the "neshama" – the
vitality and enthusiasm the Rebbe gives to all who wish to avail themselves of
it. The only requirement is that we come to the Rebbe with the willingness to
If our only objective in going to the Rebbe were to
"see" and "hear," we could stay at home and learn a sicha,
or watch a video of a farbrengen. But that is not why we go to the Rebbe.
We go to the Rebbe to get the neshama, the chayus and fervor that
are available nowhere else.
When a Chassid davens with the Rebbe’s minyan,
participates in the Rebbe’s farbrengen, and conducts himself during his
stay in a manner that brings the Rebbe nachas ruach, the Rebbe opens up
his holy hand and grants him everything. All we need to do is be appropriate
"vessels," and the Rebbe will fill us up.
I would also like to stress how important it is for
out-of-town guests to register with the Beis Midrash LeNashim and Hachnasas
Orchim in Crown Heights even if they already have a place to stay, in accordance
with the Rebbe’s wishes. It is especially crucial for young boys and girls, as
it provides a meaningful structure to their time and activities.
Nothing has changed since Gimmel Tammuz. Even the atmosphere
in 770 has the power to transform us into appropriate vessels. But, of course,
"makif" is not enough.
The only people who shouldn’t come to 770 are those whom
the Rebbe specifically directed to stay where they are needed, such as shluchim,
Let me say it again: The benefit of being with the Rebbe is
limitless. True, there were always people who came to the Rebbe and remained
"goats," as in the famous story about the two goats that used to graze
in the courtyard of the Rebbe Rashab. Whenever the Rebbe came outside, the goats
would stare at him intently. Nonetheless, after years of doing this, they were
(Whenever this story was told, Reb Mendel would always add,
"But it’s still better to be a ‘goat’ in the Rebbe’s presence than
a chacham or tzaddik at a distance…")
In 770, all the "details" are incorporated into the
"essence," enabling us to bring the Rebbe shlita to all corners
of the world and establish a "dwelling place for G-d in the lower
realms." When this is accomplished, all mankind will declare with one
"Yechi Adoneinu Moreinu v’Rabbeinu Melech HaMoshiach l’olam