Sichos In English   Holidays  Shabbat   Calendar  ב״ה

     Sichos In English -> Books -> Stories & History -> To Know and To Care - Volume 2
Volume 1   |   Volume 2
  

Acknowledgments

Introduction

What You Need and What You are Needed For

No Small Matter

A Shepherd of Souls

Reaching Outward

Digging For Roots

Jewels in the Streets

Opening the Iron Fist

Shepherding His Flock

Unveiling Hidden Treasures

Precious Souls

"The Language of the Wise is Healing"

"Rejoice O Barren One"

Beyond Nature's Limits

Sparks of Greatness

More Than During His Lifetime

Afterword

Glossary and Biographical Index

To Know and To Care - Volume 2
An Anthology of Chassidic Stories
about the Lubavitcher Rebbe,
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson


Introduction

by Eliyahu and Malka Touger

Published and copyright © by Sichos In English
(718) 778-5436     info@SichosInEnglish.org     FAX (718) 735-4139


Add to Shopping Cart   |   Buy this now
  AcknowledgmentsWhat You Need and What You are Needed For  

Telling Stories

An Original Picture

During the shivah mourning for the Rebbe Rashab, one of the vintage chassidim began extolling the Rebbe's character with all kinds of superlatives.

In the middle of the venerable gentleman's talk, the Rebbe Rayatz cut him off. "You're not speaking about my father," he admonished, "you're speaking about yourself!"

Now the speaker had been saying: "The Rebbe was this..., the Rebbe was that...." Why, then, did the Rebbe Rayatz say he was speaking about himself?

He meant that though ostensibly praising the Rebbe Rashab, the chassid was really enumerating those of his own characteristics which he considered good, developing them to the extreme, and crediting them to the Rebbe Rashab.

He was unable to expand his vision beyond his own horizons. He wasn't talking about the Rebbe, because there is something about a Rebbe that transcends our comprehension.

A Rebbe's wisdom is wisdom; his emotions are emotions, and his directives are directives. But when encountering and relating to a Rebbe, there is something that transcends intellect and emotion, something that you can't put your finger on.[1]

The Secret of Attraction

Consider: What distinguishes a masterpiece from a copy? A good copyist may use the same colors and even brushstrokes as the original artist, but there will always be something missing.

The original is vested with a unique vitality and energy that the copy simply does not possess. And it's precisely that vitality and energy that tells us we're in the presence of a masterpiece.

In other words, what makes a painting beautiful is not what we can describe about it - its lines and colors - but what we can't put into words, the inspiration and energy which the artist breathed into it.

To explain this using the language of chassidic thought: The Kabbalah teaches that our three primary emotive attributes express Chessed (kindness), Gevurah (power), and Tiferes (beauty).

What is unique about beauty, chassidic thought goes on to explain, is that it is a combination of kindness and power. This is not to imply that kindness is half-beautiful and power, half-beautiful, and true beauty is a composite of them both. Instead, the intent is to point out that kindness and power are opposites that cannot ordinarily be fused. The only factor that can bring them together is a quality that transcends them both.

So the thing that attracts is not what we can describe - the two opposites which we see coming together - but what we cannot describe, the transcendent power which brings them together, and which shines forth through their fusion.

The same is true of people. What attracts us in people is not what we can tell about them, the qualities and attributes they possess, but what we can't put into words - the quality we call soul.

A soul is an actual part of G-d,[2] and, like Him, is boundless. What draws us to our fellow man is this transcendent quality, the spark of G-d which glows inside each person.

A Rebbe is a person in whom this spark of G-dliness is revealed without hindrance.

Accordingly, we are not trying to explain the Rebbe or interpret him; that would be presumptuous. We would do no better than the well-meaning elder chassid we encountered at the outset.

Moreover, the attempt would defeat the purpose. What is special about a Rebbe is not the superlatives people use to describe him: a Torah genius, a visionary leader, a caring and sympathetic listener, or the like. What draws us is the quality that can be described only with the term "Rebbe" - something without limit, a unique energy and vitality that comes from the G-dliness which we all possess, and which a Rebbe reveals in a distinctive way.

Stories are a good way to express this quality. First of all, a story is alive; it breathes in a way that an essay or thesis cannot. In the Torah, it is the stories which we remember, and which have the greatest impact on us. So, too, stories have always been the Torah Shebichsav, the Written Torah, of Chassidus. For like the Torah itself, these stories convey a multidimensional message which inspires and empowers.

If this is true of an individual story, it surely is true of a collection of stories.

There is no way we can "sum up the Rebbe," but as a person reads one story after another after another, he will come to perceive some of the Rebbe's dimensions, and come to appreciate, recall and relive those unique qualities for which we have no words.

Stories, Not Tales

When we were considering a name for Vol. I of To Know and To Care, the subtitle seemed obvious: "Contemporary Chassidic Stories About the Lubavitcher Rebbe."

Then a member of our editorial board said: "Wait! 'Tales' sounds much more literary than 'stories.' "

Another forcefully objected: "Tales," he argued, "are tall! We want to make it clear that these stories actually happened. 'Stories' may not sound so literary, but it conveys the point more powerfully."

But what would be so bad about tales? After all, if the point in telling a story is to learn from it, to derive inspiration and direction, is it so important whether it happened or not?

Yes.

Because for a story to make a sincere impression, you have to know it's true.

Any argument is communicated better with a story. That's why the best speeches are rich in allegory, and why a lecturer will often relate an anecdote.

But then his listener knows he is hearing an argument; he understands that this is merely an illustration of the thought the lecturer wants to convey.

When a person actually sees a story happen, however, or hears about it from a trusted friend, it's very different. He's coming face-to-face with reality. And there is nothing more powerful than truth.

Whenever he told a chassidic story, the Rebbe would always emphasize the importance of detail and accuracy, because it is precisely the details that imbue a story with the ring of truth.

Accordingly, every one of the stories related below was heard either from the principals involved or from a reliable source who heard it firsthand. Countless faxes and telephone calls have gone into checking and rechecking the authenticity of these narratives. Our intent is not to convey merely a chassid's feeling of what could have happened, but a truthful record of what actually took place.

Inseparable Elements

To end this introduction here would be easy, but it wouldn't be fully honest. To be fully honest, we have to confront a question that for three years has been on the mind of everyone whose life was touched by the Rebbe.

Let me share an experience with you.

The word farbrengen literally means "spending time together." Chassidim get together and share, talking forthrightly about their spiritual journeys. Farbrengens conducted by a Rebbe or mashpia (spiritual mentor) take on a more formal structure, but in essence - and very often in practice - farbrengens among chassidim remain a meeting of equals, where questions are posed and wrestled with.

One night, I attended such a farbrengen. Several old friends - some shluchim, some living in Crown Heights - got together, and spoke seriously about where we were going as Lubavitchers.

As we got to talking, one of the men blurted out: "I think it's time Lubavitch stopped putting so much emphasis on the Rebbe."

It was quite a bombshell; the conversation never really recovered. Some of the people took the speaker to task, and he didn't get the opportunity to explain himself.

What was he saying, and why were his ideas so unpalatable for the others?

I think my friend was trying to say that Lubavitch is an ideology and a way of life.

The Rebbe wants us to be outward directed, to advance, to reach out to others and into ourselves, to continually move towards new horizons in our own Divine service, and in our mission of spreading Torah and Chassidus. Too often, focusing just on the Rebbe can catch a person up in pleasant memories of the past, and cause him to forget that there is still a present and a future.

If that was my friend's intent, why did everyone shout him down? Why were they so unwilling to think about Chassidus without a Rebbe?

Because a Rebbe is an embodiment of what Chassidus stands for. If you want to know what Chassidus asks of you, theory has its shortcomings. Looking at the Rebbe, by contrast, provides us with a real-life example of what Chassidus demands, where it expects us to go.

To quote a story: One of the gifted students of the Maggid of Mezritch was known as Der Volpe by his colleagues. He, however, lapsed into depression, and from depression into alcoholism. Despite his fallen state, he, nevertheless, retained sparks of greatness. In fact, it was when he was drunk that he would reveal his master's teachings without restraint, oblivious to whether or not there was anyone listening.

Der Volpe's story became known throughout White Russia. If a chassid heard a drunkard talking about spiritual concepts, he would not dismiss him, but instead would listen carefully. For perhaps the drunkard was Der Volpe, and from the tirade, the listener might discover a gem of wisdom.

Once while visiting an inn, one of the Alter Rebbe's chassidim heard a drunkard holding forth on the Torah's mystic secrets. This chassid had heard of Der Volpe, and so he lent an ear.

He knew what to listen for, and how to savor it when he heard it. He drank in Der Volpe's words.

After carrying on for a while, Der Volpe had to excuse himself briefly. The chassid hurried to check Der Volpe's pack, anxious to find a text containing a discourse of the Maggid or another such treasure. All he found were a few rags.

As he put the pack down, two strong hands grabbed him from behind. "What are you looking for in my pack?" Der Volpe demanded.

Unnerved, the chassid could do no more than tell the truth: he had been inspired by what Der Volpe had said, and was certain that if he saw it on paper, the impression would be even more powerful.

"That's the problem with you chassidim today," Der Volpe growled. "For us, the chassidim, the Rebbe and the Rebbe's teachings were all one; we didn't need a written record. Today, the three are each distinct entities; that's why you need a text."

The Rebbe taught us more than any text could. If we were to focus only on his philosophy and not on the Rebbe himself, we would miss the essence of his message. That's why my other friends would not conceive of chassidism without a Rebbe.

In writing this book, my friends' dialogue still echoes in my mind. This volume is not intended to be merely a collection of heartwarming memories. Instead, I wanted to allow every reader the opportunity to live with the Rebbe so that he could understand - and connect with - that dimension which transcends intellect and emotion.

Experiencing this quality as it was expressed through the Rebbe will inspire and empower us to reveal a similar spark in ourselves, and within our surroundings. In doing so, we will further the mission with which the Rebbe charged us: [3] making the world conscious of Mashiach, and preparing an environment in which his purpose can be fulfilled.

Eliyahu Touger
Sivan 15, 5756
Pittsburgh, PA

   

Notes:

  1. (Back to text) There is, however, a reciprocal effect: The transcendental quality also endows the particular attributes with uniqueness.

  2. (Back to text) Tanya, ch. 2.

  3. (Back to text) See Sound the Great Shofar, p. 113.


  AcknowledgmentsWhat You Need and What You are Needed For  
  
Volume 1   |   Volume 2
     Sichos In English -> Books -> Stories & History -> To Know and To Care - Volume 2
© Copyright 1988-2024
All Rights Reserved
Sichos In English