Musings and Schmoozings

When the Rebbe Invited the Hippie

Every heard the one about the Hippie, the Chabadnik and the Satmar Chassid waiting in line for Honey Cake?  -- No joke!  

Rabbi Levi Bukiet, Chabad Shaliach to Chicago was waiting in line, to together with hundreds of others, to receive Lekach –traditional Honey-Cake accompanied by a Shana Tova wish –from the Lubavicher Rebbe in the early 80’s. Waiting on line in front of Rabbi Bukiet was a hippie – confirmed by his bushy beard, long hair and overalls.  Behind Rabbi Bukiet, stood a distinguished Satmar Scholar.  

The Rebbe turned to the Hippie, gave the honey cake with the felicitation for ‘Gut Gebetch Yohr’ and asked the fellow what his plans were for the evening.

“Nothing”, replied the Hippie.

 “It would be my great honor and privilege,” the Rebbe replied, “if you would attend hakofos [the festive dancing with the Torah] tonight with me in the synagogue.”

The fellow thanked the Rebbe for his invitation, but remained noncommittal. “I’ll think about it,” he said, and walked away.

Rabbi Bukiet received the cake and the blessing, and then he stopped to listen to the conversation that ensued between the Rebbe and the Satmar Scholar.

The Rebbe started the conversation by saying, “I see that you’re wondering why I’m pleading with this fellow to come to hakofos tonight. What connection do I have with him?”

The Rebbe explained with a story – a story that he quoted in the name of the ‘Tehila L’moshe” – a book written by a Rebbe who was the ancestor of the Satmar Rebbe.  

The story, as quoted by the Rebbe and transcribed by Rabbi Bukiet goes like this:

Reb Itzikel of Drobitch, father of the famed Rabbi Michel of Zlotchev, the renowned disciple of the Baal Shem Tov and the Magid of Mezritch — once encountered the soul of Rashi, the renowned commentator on the Torah, in heaven. Rashi, had a question for Reb Itzikel.

 Rashi : Why is there such a commotion On High about the greatness of your son, Reb Michel?

Reb Itzikel: My son studies Torah purely for the sake of Heaven.

Rashi: But aren’t there many who do the same?

Reb Itzikel: “My son fasts and deprives his body of worldly pleasures.

Rashi: But aren’t there many who do the same?

Reb Itzikel: My son gives away huge sums of money to the poor.

Rashi:  ‘Aren’t there many who do the same?’

Reb Itzikel: ‘My son has made many baalei teshuvah [those who have returned to G-d] across the world. He returned many from the path of sin to their Father in Heaven.

When Rashi heard this response, he was finally satisfied; he understood clearly why the heavenly angels are so excited about the greatness of Reb Michel.

 The Satmar Chassid, understanding the Rebbe’s response, replied “Ich hob Git Farshtanen” --  I understand.

This Tuesday marks the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s 20th Yarzeit. Three biographies have recently been published telling the story of the life of the Rebbe. One book, The Rebbe by Josef Telushkin has catapulted to the top of Amazon, New York Times’ best sellers lists, among others.

Thousands have been inspired to ask and learn, as Rashi did of Reb Michel of Zlochev – What’s the hullabaloo about the Rebbe all about?

That the Rebbe was an historic scholar and thinker – CERTAINLY!
That the Rebbe was a saintly man – ABSOLUTELY!
That the Rebbe was a person who was a paradigm of leadership – WITHOUT QUESTION!

But what made the Rebbe unique? What made him perhaps most impactful leader in recent Jewish History?

It is the fact that the Rebbe was focused on each and every individual – warmly embracing them, and inspiring them to restore and maintain a strong link to their Judaism. While traditionally and historically, Chassidic movement are maintained with an insular gravitational pull towards the Rebbe’s court – the Rebbe turned it around, creating an outward centrifugal force of goodness, progressively widening the circle of good – one Mitzva at a time.

As we approach the 20th Yartzeit, let us respond by adding one more mitzvah and dedicate it to honor the Rebbe’s legacy. As the Rebbe’s life was dedicated to inspiring us – in our inspiration the Rebbe lives on.

Just ask Rashi.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yisroel Hecht

To learn more about the life and legacy of the Rebbe visit

Finding Grandfather's Prayerbook

They say a story about a Rabbi on an airliner that was in danger of crashing. The captain gets on the PA system and announces, “Ladies and Gentleman, we are about to crash…everyone DO SOMETHING RELIGIOUS!”

The Rabbi gets up and makes…an appeal.

I read something today that inspired me; it touched my heart to the point of tears. Since last Friday ‘The Boys’ – the three innocent children who have been ripped away from their families by savage and heartless evil men – have been on our collective minds. We have all been moved to do something “religious”, to do something in the merit of these pure and innocent souls who are in the face of danger.

An Israeli Government official said the following to the family of “The Boys”: “I haven’t prayed in six years. I haven’t gone into a synagogue since my son’s bar mitzvah. When I heard what had happened to your sons, I turned my house upside down to look for my grandfather’s prayer book. I sat down and prayed.”

Who was this official? Yair Lapid -- someone who has been accused by his opponents of waging a war with the Jewish religion.

Why, as a nation, do we care so much about three individuals? Why does this calamitous event, which will surely end positively with Hashem’s help, move us to such an extent? Why does a self-avowed secularist feel the need to pray?

I’d like to suggest the following:

The world around us uses words like “collateral damage”, “inevitable civilian causalities”, “regrettable deaths” without skipping a beat. However, in Judaism, three souls have shredded our collective heart, as we worry and we prayer for their well-being together with the families of the “The Boys”.

Why? Because when we peel back the onion-skins of individuality that separate us, we discover a vibrant and pulsating Jewish Soul. Thus, as members of the Jewish People, we are not merely a unified people  – we are ONE. One heart, one soul, one people.

We care for each other despite our differences.  Beneath the layers of indifference and division, our Jewish Heart beats strongly as ONE. Touched so deeply -- our Jewish soul is bared, and it drives to do something because we care.

What can we do? Let us do a Mitzva in their merit.

The father of Ayal Yifrach, one of captives, has asked that every Jewish household throught the world ensure that Shabbat Candles are lit. [Shabbat Candles are to be lit before 8:14pm today] for more information

It is well known that the symbolism of the Shabbat Candles represents the power of positive and spiritual influence on the world. Let us create a spiritual fortress of Good – and let us pray to G-d, in the merit of our unity, to grant freedom to “The Boys” and to all of your People Israel.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Yisroel Hecht

Let them eat [Cheese]cake!

Clearly Marie Antoinette never tasted Miriam’s cheesecake or she’d never have offered it to the French People.

While we’re at it, Napoleon had it all wrong too. It isn’t an army –it is a community that is enhanced with delicious food.

This Wednesday afternoon we will join together and fulfill the all-important custom of enjoying dairy delights on the festival of Shavuot. However, despite the mystical and mythical powers of a Jewish community sharing food together -- there will be something even more powerful on the menu. Let me explain.

When Pharoah chases the Jews into the Red Sea, Rashi notes the Torah’s usage of a singular rather than plural form of the verb ‘Nosea’, meaning to travel. Rashi comments B’lev Echad K’ish Echad – “with one heart, like one man." Egypt was unified in its quest for evil. 

Contrast that with the encampment of the Jewish people at the foot of Mount Sinai in preparation of receiving the Torah, where Rashi says, K’ish Echad B’lev Echad "Like one man, with one heart".  The Jewish People were unified in their quest for the Torah which would be given at Sinai.  

Did you notice the difference? The second time (with regards the Torah) the ‘One Man’ comes first -- whereas before, by the Red Sea, the ‘One Heart’ comes first.   

The commentaries explain that when the Jewish People united under the shadow of the Goodness of the Torah, our individuality faded into one unified entity. A singular united force for good. We became K’ish Echad—‘One Man’.

When G-d Forbid, individuals unite for an evil purpose -- the intentions are united Blev Echod-with one heart, yet true unity isn’t achieved to the same extent.

On this upcoming Shavuot Holiday, we will relive the unifying experience of the giving of the Torah, by reading the Torah’s account of the giving of the Aseret ha’Dibrot, the Ten Commandments.

Unlike the SF Giants slogan “together we are GIANTS” -- the slogan of Shavuot rings out: “Together we are GIANT”.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yisroel Hecht

Zalmen Der Shikker

Zalman Der Shikker [Zalman the Drunkard] actually had a Last Name.  I discovered this today when I saw on the internet that he passed away at the surprisingly advanced age of 76.

Reb Zalman was a homeless fellow from Newark, NJ who migrated to the streets of Crown Heights -- no doubt because of the open warmth of the Chassidic community who tolerated and perhaps even embraced him. He was legendary for the pearls of wisdom that came from his mouth when he was sober, as well as for the sad and inevitable scene of his lying in a stupor outside of 770 Eastern Parkway – the Chabad Headquarters.  As kids –he was simply known as Zalman Der Shikker.

Today I learned that this fellow had two sons from a failed marriage, and he was an accomplished pianist. I can now clearly see that there was so much about Reb Zalman that was unknown to us kids – stolen by the ravages of alcoholism.  

Today, I recall one particular nugget of deep thought from this unlikely source.

Reb Zalman would explain why he started drinking: “I started drinking to drown my sorrows – but then I discovered that my sorrows FLOAT.”

I have thought of this 'Deep Thought' many times since when I faced a life-challenge that I thought was too much for me to handle. We are meant to work through our problems. We understand that when facing a challenge, we must process this as a ‘launch ramp’ rather than as a ‘speed bump’.

Reb Zalman taught me that sorrows are amazingly buoyant when we try to drown them;  Reb Zalman challenged us kids to embrace the challenge rather than drown it.

May the soul of Reb Zalman find true and final peace.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yisroel Hecht

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