Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Reishis Goyim Amalek 5680 [1920].

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Chapter 1 In honor of the approach of Beis Nissan, we are happy to share with our readers a freshly-edited English translation of Reishis Goyim Amalek 5680 [1920].

This maamar is of particular interest because it was the first discourse delivered by the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of blessed memory, after succeeding to the mantle of leadership on Beis Nissan, 5780 (1920). It is based on the last discourse delivered by his father, the Rebbe Rashab, who passed away on that date.

The original translation of this maamar was first published in 5747 [1987] in response to a call of the Rebbe that it be widely studied in order to ameliorate certain untoward events that clouded the chassidic horizon at that time. And since (in the words of the Rebbe Rayatz) “the words of tzaddikim are eternally true,” we may safely assume that its widespread study today will likewise help to sweeten whatever situations require sweetening today.

To Farbreng with

the Rebbe Rashab in Rostov

This maamar was first heard in the midst of the bitter civil war that shook the cities of Russia in the aftermath of the 1917 Revolution and the First World War. The dangers were so fierce that the Rebbe Rashab had planned to leave Rostov with his family before the approaching Bolsheviks overran it. This plan never eventuated, and in view of the grim situation he even forbade his chassidim to visit him to quench their thirst for Chassidus or to be received for private audience at yechidus.

The chassidim, however, continued to long for their well-loved and well-remembered visits to the home of the Rebbe Rashab. Despite his emergency orders, therefore, a large group of chassidim arrived there on Purim in order to participate in an uplifting farbrengen. Thus it was that the whole spiritual drama described below took place — in the very same building in Rostov that was redeemed from its gentile occupants this year after its seventy years in exile. This house was the home of the Rebbe Rashab from 1915 to 1920, and of the Rebbe Rayatz from 1915 until he was forced to flee from Rostov in 1924. To this day it resounds with many rich and epic moments in Lubavitch history, and it is scheduled to soon house a vigorous new branch of the same Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah which flourished in Rostov until 1924.

The farbrengen to be held with the visiting chassidim was originally intended to be brief. They were to disperse promptly because of the law which unequivocally prohibited all gatherings. Half an hour after it began, however, the Rebbe Rashab said LeChaim! to all those present. From that moment, as one of those present records,1 “we saw a transformation overtake him, as if there was now a new spirit within him.... He called to one of the chassidim and asked him to bring mashke.”

His wife, the Rebbitzin Sterna Sarah, and his son, who was later to succeed him as the Rebbe Rayatz, were fearful for his life.

The Rebbe Rashab was reassuring: “Yosef Yitzchak, don‘t be afraid. We shall remain intact. And I don‘t mean intact in secret chambers; I mean intact as we overtly move outward and extend ourselves.” [In the Yiddish original, mir veln zain gantz mit unzer gantzer yetziah vehispashtus.]

The chassid who recorded these words added his own note to his readers: “You can understand for yourselves what these words were hinting at.” [I.e., an assumed allusion to the Rebbe Rashab‘s own impending passing.]

A Maamar

to Silence Bolsheviks

While the chassidim were seated there around the Rebbe Rashab‘s table, news arrived that Bolsheviks with search-warrants were systematically ransacking their homes. Fear froze their hearts, but the Rebbe Rashab continued as before to rouse them on as they sang. As the same chassid continues: “His conduct appeared wondrously different to anything we had previously seen; we saw overt miracles from him that night.”

Sure enough, while the Rebbe Rashab was in the midst of farbrengen, the search squad knocked at the door. They were told that a search was now out of the question because the Rebbe was now occupied. Their second visit struck terror upon the chassidim, some of whom by this stage were not completely sober. To make things worse, as one would have thought, a mound of incriminating evidence was piled high on the table — the money that these poor chassidim had all contributed and collected for the upkeep of the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah.

This was the history-making Yeshivah which the Rebbe Rashab himself had founded in Lubavitch in 1897. When he had fled with his family from Lubavitch in White Russia with the approach of the German forces at the height of World War I, it had followed him southeast here, to Rostov on the River Don. Tomchei Temimim was the crucible in which true chassidim were forged. It encapsulated the future of the Chabad-Lubavitch tradition. It was thus the apple of his eye — and the main target of the Yevsektsia.

The Bolsheviks were now inside the room. The money was on the table, and the time had come for the Rebbe Rashab to deliver a maamar.

The eye-witness continues his report: “Before he began he directed that nothing should be removed from the table, and then added: ’As I stand in the present situation, I have no fear of them whatever.‘

“They now took up positions facing him at the table. He turned aside a little and said: ’Nu, let‘s start speaking words of Chassidus, and then they will be altogether nullified.‘

“With that he immediately embarked on the maamar with these words: Reishis goyim Amalek, veachariso adei oved — ’Amalek is the first among nations, and in the end he shall be destroyed.‘ Its theme is that the kelipos do not have any true and intrinsic existence; they are non-entities.

“After standing and looking at him for a long time, the Bolsheviks left without a word. We stayed there till about four a.m.”

The First Maamar

of the Rebbe Rayatz

Two weeks later, on Motzaei Shabbos, the eve of the second of Nissan, the Rebbe Rashab departed this world physically.

In the dynasties of most other chassidic trends, the succession is customarily overt and immediate. In the case of most of our Rebbeim, and so too in this case, the mantle of leadership was accepted in gradual stages and only after some time worn overtly. (In fact, the Rebbe has referred in writing to Beis Nissan as the day on which the Rebbe Rayatz assumed the responsibilities of Rebbe.)

In Lubavitch tradition, the delivery of a maamar by the new incumbent is commonly perceived as indicating the acceptance of the Nesius. Thus, in more recent years, chassidim who were privileged to be present at “770” on the first yahrzeit of the Rebbe Rayatz on Yud Shvat, 5711 [1951], testify that the air was electrified with anticipation: Was the Rebbe going to deliver what was to prove to be the first maamar of one-and-a-half thousand?

Keeping this tradition in mind, the following first-person description of the prelude to the first maamar of the Rebbe Rayatz — i.e., the maamar which appears hereunder — is of acute interest. The description is borrowed from Ashkavta DeRebbe,2 an account of the period of the Rebbe Rashab‘s passing written by one of his close disciples, the eminent Rabbi Moshe DovBer Rivkin, later rosh yeshivah of Yeshivas Torah VaDaas in New York.

“It was after Minchah on Shabbos Kodesh [Parshas] Tzav, the last day of the shivah. The chassidim were all waiting for Maariv in the dining room adjoining the study of the Rebbe [Rashab], whose soul is in Eden, and the Rebbe [Rayatz] Shlita was in the study alone. One of his attendants called for me, and as soon as I entered he said with a broken heart: ’My father, after all, ordered me to speak words of Chassidus [i.e., to deliver maamarim] to Anash. But who am I, and how can I bring myself to stand in front of the members of the chassidic fraternity and deliver maamarim?‘

“In his humility he wanted to continue, but I interrupted him by saying that I would rather not hear further words in this vein.

“He continued: ’Nevertheless, since my father gave me an order, I would like to deliver a maamar of Chassidus for you. In that way I will have discharged my obligation to fulfill my father‘s holy instruction.‘

“I of course agreed. He did not want to be seated; instead, we walked about in the study, and he recited for me the last maamar which the Rebbe [Rashab] of blessed memory delivered publicly — the above-mentioned maamar that begins, Reishis Goyim Amalek. The wording was identical to that of the original maamar, except that he interspersed many glosses of his own. When it came to an end and I was about to leave, he detained me for a moment and asked me not to reveal to anyone what had transpired.

“ ’Why not?‘ I asked. ’In fact, I would very much like to let people know,‘ and so on.

“He earnestly repeated his request and I remained silent. When I left the study, however, I shared my information ’as a secret‘ only with the elderly chassid, Rabbi Shmuel Gourary. Since he had not been ordered to keep it a secret, he promptly passed in on. Within a few minutes, by word of mouth, the news had spread throughout the whole of the chassidic brotherhood, to whom it served as a measure of consolation.”

A Tzaddik's Merest Vessels

Retain their Sanctity

Rabbi Rivkin further relates that the Rebbe Rayatz lent him a transcript (a ksav) of the maamar for a few days, but he was afraid to copy it without explicit permission from the Rebbe. At any rate, he did take the liberty of copying the following few lines (from sec. 4 below). The first sentence of this passage is repeated verbatim from the parent maamar of the Rebbe Rashab, and its continuation is part of a long parenthetical addition by the Rebbe Rayatz: “Anything which G-d ordained to serve as a proper receptor for the irradiation of His light enjoys an essential and absolute existence. (One might add that this is the meaning of teachings such as,3 ’Holiness cannot be displaced,‘ and4 ’Ritual objects retain their sanctity.‘ Thus, the place in which a tzaddik studied Torah and engaged in the service of G-d retains its sanctity even after he has risen out of corporeal life and begun true life, for the luminescence of his Divine service remains there. We may therefore say that the place in which he studied and engaged in Torah, and all the vessels he utilized in the course of his spiritual service, retain their sanctity as part of his personal share in the spiritual rectification and elevation of the world...).”

In this passage, the Rebbe once observed,5 we see “something truly wondrous” — that a tzaddik‘s holiness fully retains its ongoing power not only with regard to his manuscripts and learned books and the like, but even with regard to his everyday objects, such as his table and chair. Moreover, the Rebbe points out, the context makes it clear that the Rebbe Rayatz is likening this relationship to the relationship between the “vessels” and the “lights” of the realm of Atzilus.

Furthermore, the Rebbe continues, this ongoing holiness continues powerfully while the table remains an ordinary everyday table. So powerfully, indeed, does it continue, that (as the passage interpolated by the Rebbe Rayatz goes on to describe) “once, in about the year 5645 or 5646 [1885-6], I saw my revered father [the Rebbe Rashab] enter the study of his father — my grandfather [the Rebbe Maharash]..., where he stood against the table, opposite his father‘s chair.”

“In other words,” the Rebbe concludes, “he entered that room exactly as he had been accustomed to entering it for yechidus. And the term yechidus signifies that the yechidah (the soul‘s innermost core) of the individual coming for yechidus fuses with the yechidah of the individual to whom he comes for yechidus....”

Firstly: Though the Rebbe himself had described Reishis Goyim Amalek as being “evidently the closing maamar [of the Rebbe Rashab],” he did not consider it right that this preface should describe it — without further qualification — as “the closing maamar,” because there is one more maamar, the one beginning Hineh Anochi, which the Rebbe Rashab delivered after this one.

The solution to this seeming anomaly is to be found in Rabbi Rivkin‘s account of the unique circumstances in which the maamar beginning Hineh Anochi was delivered: “On Shabbos Kodesh Parshas [Ki] Sisa, a maamar was delivered [by the Rebbe Rashab] on the words, Hineh Anochi Kores Bris.... The only ones present were his son [the Rebbe Rayatz] and three others, including myself, the writer of these lines. Hence, Reishis Goyim Amalek is the last maamar that the Rebbe Rashab delivered publicly. It is also the first maamar that the Rebbe Rayatz delivered when he first became Rebbe.”

The Rebbe goes on to say that “this may frequently be seen in the two manners in which material is added in the maamarim of the Tzemach Tzedek: (a) the interpolations are indicated by parentheses, sometimes introduced by [an initial letter or whatever] to show that what follows is an appended gloss; (b) the interpolations are incorporated in the body of the text, sometimes entailing changes in it, so that together they become one maamar — as in this case.”

Keeping in mind that Reishis Goyim Amalek was explicitly intended to nullify the Amalek of that era, viz., the Bolsheviks, it may perhaps be assumed that the delivery of these parallel maamarim in Adar 5730 [1970] was likewise intended to nullify the painful decree which at exactly this time the Rebbe began to publicly campaign against — the issue which is popularly known as “Who is a Jew?”

Some years later, on the eve of Rosh Chodesh Nissan, 5747 [1987],6 the Rebbe urged that Reishis Goyim Amalek be widely studied. At the same time he made what appears to have been an allusion to the insistent appeal which was being heard in the Federal Court at exactly that time contesting the ownership of the historic library of the Rebbe Rayatz. (Ultimately, the court decided that it was not to be inherited by any private family member; it was the lawful property of Agudas Chassidei Chabad, with the Rebbe at its head ex officio).

An End to Darkness

To conclude with the thought with which the Rebbe closes one of the maamarim of 5730 [1970]:7 Battling against the kelipah of Amalek by means of the Divine spark within one‘s soul and by means of one‘s conscious faculties brings about8 “G-d‘s battle against Amalek from generation to generation,” a phrase which the Targum relates to the generation of Mashiach. It brings about the time at which9 “[G-d] has set a limit to darkness” — with the imminent coming of Mashiach.

In the meantime, as we said above, the original translation of this maamar was first published in 5747 [1987] in response to a call of the Rebbe that it be widely studied in order to ameliorate certain untoward events that clouded the chassidic horizon at that time. And since (in the words of the Rebbe Rayatz) “the words of tzaddikim are eternally true,” we may safely assume that its widespread study today will likewise help to sweeten whatever situations require sweetening today. This will surely bring us closer to the days in which there will be10 “neither envy nor competition” — the days in which “the occupation of the whole world will be solely to know G-d.”

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