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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 Land.

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 modern world.

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.

Avoda 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 is missing.

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 him myself.

"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 receive.

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, etc.

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 still goats…

(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 voice:

"Yechi Adoneinu Moreinu v’Rabbeinu Melech HaMoshiach l’olam va’ed!"



The crowd couldn’t wait to hear the stories Reb Mendel would tell about the olden days in Lubavitch, with all its famous personalities.







But Reb Mendel surprised everyone and spoke about one topic only: All the details of our avoda depend on a single point: the Rebbe!





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...


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