Better To Be A Goat...

By Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Ginsberg


 The mashpia R’ Mendel Futerfas would relate: When the Tzemach Tzedek was Rebbe, he was famous in all circles as an awesomely brilliant man. Many non-Chassidim and even opponents of Chassidus, rabbanim, and Torah geniuses, would go to Lubavitch in order to meet the Rebbe and leader of the Chassidim. They had heard of his genius in Torah and about his ties with all the Torah greats of the time through his halachic responsa.


The Tzemach Tzedek became even more widely known after his famous meeting in Petersburg, where he and Rabbi Yitzchok of Volozhin worked together to help improve the lot of the Jewish people. In fact, Chassidim and their opponents were on friendlier terms than ever before.


Once, a group of these Torah scholars went to Lubavitch to see the Tzemach Tzedek for themselves. The Rebbe told them, “Oib du bizt gekumen heren - vestu derheren. Ober oib du bizt gekumen farheren - vestu farheren” (If you came to listen [and absorb], then you will listen and absorb, but if you came to test me, then you will lose out [i.e., the word “farheren” in Yiddish can mean either to test or to lose]).




In this column we have already described Reb Mendel’s first farbrengen at Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim in Kfar Chabad, at the beginning of Elul 5733 (1973), when he came to Eretz Yisroel to be the head mashpia.


We described the pyramids made of benches piled up on top of one another and the tables perched atop each other all around. Besides the Tmimim, residents of the Kfar and Anash gathered to see and hear an outstanding Chassid, someone who had lived with self-sacrifice for years behind the Iron Curtain, and had become a symbol of uncompromising mesirus nefesh, of hiskashrus to the Rebbe, along with kabbalas ol and amazing yiras Shamayim with good midos, all in all a rarity in our times.


The crowd expected to hear a description of Elul in Lubavitch, in Tomchei Tmimim of yesteryear. About the legendary figures like “Hendel, Grunem, Shilem, Itche der Masmid, Yankel Boruch, Chonye, Chatshe,” and the like. About the cheshbon ha’nefesh with tears, about the lengthy prayers and tikkun ha’midos, about iskafia and is’hafcha, and all the other concepts unique to Lubavitch and Tomchei Tmimim.


Yet R’ Mendel surprised them all. He made only one point - that all these things which are true and exceedingly important, are all dependent on one thing only: the Rebbe. And not just the Rebbe from the past, but the Rebbe shlita, in the present.


When you have a Rebbe in the present, when you are fully connected to him - you think of him constantly and know that the Rebbe is with each of us at every moment, and you constantly try to think of what he would want of us, with the main point being to go in his ways b’pashtus (simply, wholeheartedly).


When you go to the Rebbe as often as possible, you go on his shlichus, you are particular about every word the Rebbe utters, you know that the Rebbe has no limitations, but the Divine will is that things be done from “the bottom-up,” by the tachtonim and in a natural way. You do everything, and you know that this is definitely a primary goal and not a means to an end, to connect more and more Jews to the Rebbe, then and only then is there value and importance to all the other things.


But if you try only to nostalgically relive the past, with haskala, avoda, pnimiyus, iskafia, and is’hafcha, and it’s all without a Rebbe in the present tense, without hiskashrus in the here and now, without being aware that the Rebbe is above all limitations and is with all of us constantly, without going to the Rebbe and doing things to bring more Jews to the Rebbe, and without knowledge and awareness that all our aspirations are only to fulfill his will and to give him nachas - then all the stories about what used to be, “amul” in Yiddish, become “Amalek,” who cooled you off to what is truly important and provided substitutes, because without the Rebbe in the here and now, there is nothing.


And Reb Mendel announced: The avoda of Elul that we did in Tomchei Tmimim was, and is today - and obviously not only for Tmimim and talmidos, but for Anash and families - to put the money together to be able to go to the Rebbe for Tishrei.


All the cheshbon nefesh and all the pnimiyusdike avoda, which are certainly required, can only rest on the foundation of emuna in the Rebbe and absolute and constant hiskashrus to him, including traveling to the Rebbe. Without this, even though it seems you have everything, the main thing is missing.


Rebbi lo shana - Chiya minayin lo?” Chassidim would translate this: If you haven’t been to the Rebbe for an entire year, where will you get the chayus for your avodas Hashem?


As the Rebbe Rayatz said (Seifer HaSichos), “It used to be expensive to travel to Lubavitch. Some people saved up money the entire year for the trip, and would kiss the money because it was so precious to them.


R’ Mendel would say: We must go to the Rebbe! We absolutely cannot make do with a spiritual trip. The yetzer ha’ra can speak with the voice of a Chassidisher nefesh ha’bahamis, and can use words that are actually true and correct and are taken from Chassidus, but under these circumstances they serve as weapons in the hand of “he who destroys
G-d’s world.”


What does the yetzer ha’ra dressed as a Chassid, Tamim, and mekushar say? It’s not just the actual trip, it’s the inner hiskashrus, and hiskashrus is not dependent on time and place; it can be accomplished by every person in his own city and country.


This is true and will benefit whoever takes it to heart, after he decides to actually travel to the Rebbe, and in fact does so. When he goes, he must remind himself that it cannot just be a trip b’gashmiyus, for a trip to the Rebbe has to be a real “trip,” something that draws him away from his essential yeshus (ego) and brings him to a point where his whole life is lived with the Rebbe, even when he’s in other places throughout the year. This is where he will get the strength to bring the Rebbe to every place and every corner!


But when this is used as an excuse, as though to say that there is no need to actually go to the Rebbe because the main thing is the inner hiskashrus, you need to know these are merely the blandishments of the yetzer, which tries to sever a person from the source of his life, ch’v.


As to the claim that when we travel to the Rebbe today we do not see or hear the Rebbe, the answer to that is: We don’t travel to the Rebbe merely to receive giluyim, as lofty as those giluyim might be and as much as we pray and beseech to merit them. We go to the Rebbe to submit ourselves to him, so the Rebbe can see us and give us what he gives, the way he wants to give, especially in a Shnas Hakhel, a time the Rebbe particularly encouraged people to come, and especially during Tishrei.


Not only great Chassidim, maskilim v’ovdim, who heard a great deal and understand a lot, valued this trip to the Rebbe, for even simple Jews who barely understood anything went to the Rebbe. Sometimes they got more out of the trip than those who understood the Rebbe. They received the “neshama” and the chayus which are above understanding. They took this home and lived with it themselves as well as inspiring those around them.


If seeing and hearing the Rebbe was all there is, one could stay at home and watch a video, listen to a tape, and learn the Rebbe’s sichos. You go to the Rebbe in order to receive the “neshama” and the enthusiasm.


If you go with the right attitude and make it your business to daven in the Rebbe’s minyan, to participate in the farbrengens, and do all you can to make your stay a nachas ruach to the Rebbe, the Rebbe will respond in kind.


It’s especially important for parents who send their children to 770 to enroll them at the Hachnasas Orchim even if they have a place to stay. The Rebbe said children should be in a structured environment. Those who do so enjoy tremendous hatzlacha.


It’s a mistake to think that one benefited only in the “good old days” when we saw and heard the Rebbe, because even then, if somebody did not want to be mekabel, he wasn’t mekabel (except in a makif’dike way). Today, if somebody wants to “receive,” he will receive.


Today as well, the Rebbe gives in an unlimited way and one can receive in an unlimited way in 770, unlike anywhere else in the world. And even though there are people who travel to the Rebbe and remain as they were like in the story about the goats who roamed about the Rebbe Rashab’s courtyard; every time the Rebbe went out the goats would rear up on their hind legs and look at the Rebbe the entire time, yet even after many years, they remained goats...


When R’ Mendel was told this story his reaction was that it was still worth going to the Rebbe. Better to be a goat, but a goat with the Rebbe, than to be a chacham and tzaddik not with the Rebbe!


The point in going to the Rebbe is afterwards, to bring the Rebbe to every corner of the world, and to make Hashem a dira ba’tachtonim, so that the world is saturated with the message of Moshiach. This is our sole shlichus, as the Rebbe MH”M said in the sicha of Shoftim 5751, to have the entire world recognize the man who is way above the rest of the generation, the judge, advisor, and prophet of our generation, and to accept his directives.


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


When R’ Mendel was told this story his reaction was: Better to be a goat, but a goat with the Rebbe, than to be a chacham and tzaddik not with the Rebbe!




Without the notion that all our aspirations are only to give him nachas – then all the stories about what used to be, “amul” in Yiddish, become “Amalek.”





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