View Full Version : Reb Mendel Futerfas a'h
The late mashpia, Reb Mendel Futerfas, o.b.m., arrived in Eretz Yisroel in the summer of 5733. Over the next few years he would almost single-handedly revolutionize the way Israeli Chabad Chassidim related to the Rebbe.
Until then, the physical connection between Lubavitchers in Eretz Yisroel and the Rebbe was very limited, for a number of technical reasons. Many of the things we take for granted today did not yet exist then. There were no Chabad weekly magazines and very few mivtzaim brochures. Most communication with the Rebbe took the form of letters, aside from general directives which Rabbi Efraim Volf received from Rabbi Hodakov by phone. Compared to the price of phone calls today, international phone calls then were very expensive. It would never occur to anyone to pick up a telephone just to find out what was doing in 770. No one knew who had a yechidus or what the Rebbe said to someone. Sunday "dollars" wouldn’t begin for many years, and there was no such thing as video. When the late R’ Levi Yitzchak Freidin made his first film about Tishrei in 770 it was an amazing thing.
In those days the Rebbe’s sichos kodesh usually came out a long time after they were said, and then only in Yiddish, on poor quality mimeographs which only subscribers received in the mail. The Vaad Hanachos B’Lashon HaKodesh had not yet been established. Even the international phone hook-ups that had begun on the big Yud Shvat of 5730 were problematic. There were always difficulties with the phone lines, with numerous interruptions and disconnections.
In general, people didn’t know when the Rebbe would be farbrenging, and most farbrengens weren’t broadcast. In those days, getting through by phone from Eretz Yisroel to New York was an avoda in itself. There was no such thing as a direct line, and you had to keep calling the operator literally for hours because the number was always busy. (Remember, this was before they invented the redial feature. And who had a telephone with buttons?)
When they found out that a farbrengen was going to take place, the first group of runners went to alert Mulik Rivkin, who was in charge of broadcasting. (Unfortunately, most of the time it was impossible to establish contact with 770 in time, and we rarely got to hear a whole farbrengen from the very beginning.) R’ Moshe Slonim would then drive up and down the streets of Kfar Chabad in his car, honking his horn to wake everyone up. (In later years the job of "waking those who slumber" was passed on to R’ Yosef Yitzchak Liberow.) A third group would go alert the yeshiva.
From all over the kfar, people would come running to hear "the king’s word." The farbrengen was broadcast in Prime Minister Shazar’s house, which would take on the look of a yeshiva. Everyone had to pay at the door for the phone hookup, which was sometimes a real monetary hardship for the bachurim.
Traveling to the Rebbe was also a great luxury, as a plane ticket to New York cost about three months’ salary for the average Israeli. Very few people could afford the trip, and certainly not more than once in a lifetime. So for the most part, Israeli Chabadnikim were essentially cut off from the daily routine of 770.
Aside from technical difficulties, there was also a philosophical difference between then and now. In those days, being a Chabad Chassid expressed itself primarily in personal avoda, learning Chassidus, davening, etc. Israeli Lubavitchers went out on Mitzva T’fillin and engaged in outreach with other Jews, but the focus was not so much on the Rebbe and the idea of "the Nasi is everything."
In other words, the atmosphere was much less immediate than it is today. People didn’t concern themselves with what the Rebbe was saying now or what he was asking of them now, and they certainly weren’t lining up to go out on shlichus. Back then, some of the elder Chasidim were still grappling with the whole idea of shlichus.
But everything began to change in the summer of 5733, when Reb Mendel Futerfas arrived in Eretz Yisroel. Reb Mendel was the number one advocate for hiskashrus to the Rebbe and the absolute necessity to give oneself over to him entirely. At his farbrengens Reb Mendel would stress the importance of traveling to the Rebbe and being in constant contact with him. Reb Mendel’s words had a great effect, but as a lone voice in the wilderness it was very difficult to change a mindset that had existed for decades. (In truth, Reb Mendel’s wasn’t the only voice. A few others, most notably Reb Avrohom Pariz, Bentzion Shemtov, and Moshe Slonim, echoed the same sentiments.)
02-09-2003, 02:23 PM
When and where was Reb Mendel niftar?
4 Tamuz 5755 in England, at the age of 88, after a long illness. He is buried in London.
The vintage chassid, Reb Mendel Futerfas, was wont to say: "There are chassidim who would say: A dank der Oibershter far'n Rebbe'n. "Thank You G-d, for giving us the Rebbe," expressing their genuine appreciation to G-d for giving them the opportunity to know and appreciate the Rebbe.
Others would say: A dank der Rebbe'n far'n Oibersht'n; "Thank you, Rebbe, for giving us the opportunity to know G-d." The intent is not merely that the Rebbe's teachings open up new windows of spiritual awareness. Although this is true, these chassidim meant more: Their intent is that from watching the Rebbe, and seeing his uniqueness, they were able to appreciate G-dliness.
Reb Mendel would repeat one of his favorite sayings of our Sages:
“It states in Pirkei Avos,” Reb Mendel would always say, “that when a wise man hasn’t heard something, he admits that he hasn’t heard it. Indeed, this is one of the identifying marks of the chacham — ‘and the opposite is true of the golem.’ But what does this have to do with wisdom? If the golem claims to have heard something he really didn’t, doesn’t that make him a liar rather than a fool?
“The answer lies in the exact wording of the Mishna: ‘Concerning what (ma) he has not heard he says, “I have not heard.”’ Even if he heard what was being discussed but a certain ‘something’ (mashehu) — even the tiniest detail — is still vague, he refuses to claim to understand it. The chacham will not pronounce himself an expert until the entire picture is clear and understood.
“The golem, by contrast, becomes an instant expert, even if he has no idea what it means. He immediately announces ‘I have heard’ and stops listening.”
(Author’s note: Reb Mendel Futerfas was the embodiment of this adage, and was never ashamed to admit that he “had not heard.” Throughout his life he never claimed to understand an issue until his knowledge of the subject was thorough and complete.)
The following account was related by Rabbi Yaakov Gansberg:
The story opens in Russia, at a time when the secret police were relentlessly pursuing the “Schneersons” and everyone else associated with them. Many Lubavitchers were arrested, while others were sent into exile. Still others disappeared without a trace, never to be heard from again. The ones who remained lived in constant fear, never knowing when their turn might come.
Despite the atmosphere of terror and intimidation, and the fact that participants in any innocent gathering could be immediately arrested for unlawful assembly, Chassidim never stopped acting as Chassidim. Minyanim continued to meet, shiurim were given, and of course, farbrengens continued to be held on special occasions.
I’d like to quote from a book written by the late Rabbi Shmaryahu Noach Sassonkin, entitled My Memoirs, that depicts the nature of farbrengens in the old days in Russia.
“There were many people who warned us Chassidim against having too much mesiras nefesh, insisting that it placed our lives in unnecessary danger. It’s one thing to have mesiras nefesh for davening or learning Torah, or for Shabbos or the chinuch of our children, they claimed. In those cases mesiras nefesh is worthwhile, and brings great spiritual benefit. But why endanger yourselves just to farbreng together? Wouldn’t it be prudent to forgo such gatherings until the danger has passed?”
[Note: It should be pointed out that in those days, farbrenging involved a lot less talking and a lot more singing than nowadays. Furthermore, before the g’zeira against drinking too much alcohol was issued, it was not unusual for participants at farbrengens to pour out their hearts without constraint.]
Rabbi Sassonkin concludes:
“The facts reveal that almost all of those who attended farbrengens were able to withstand the trials and tribulations of the Soviet era and remained frum, whereas most of those who didn’t attend eventually succumbed to the pressure and caved in…”
Reb Yaakov Gansberg’s story illustrates that same mesiras nefesh:
As Purim approached, it never occurred to us not to have a farbrengen. We were a sizeable group, including Reb Mendel Futerfas, who lived in a suburb right outside Moscow. It was decided that we would meet in a certain house; if my memory serves me right, it was the house in which the mashpia Rabbi Nissan Nemenow was then staying.
In those days, in the middle of the Second World War, disorder ruled in Russia. Bands of thieves and robbers roamed about freely, exploiting the lawless situation. There was no one to complain to, no system of justice at all. Things got so bad that it was often dangerous just to leave the house. The gypsies were the worst of all. Unusually tall and physically robust, they excelled in their chosen line of work. And as always, Jews were the first victims.
Nonetheless, no power in the world could prevent us from farbrenging on Purim. Not the secret police, and surely not the threat of violent gypsies.
We had almost reached our destination when we were suddenly attacked. The gypsies were armed with knives and hatchets, and a variety of other frightening-looking weapons. Our group began to scatter, screaming at the top of our lungs for help.
But not everyone succeeded in running away. I was seized by a giant gypsy, who proceeded to squeeze the life out of me and almost broke my ribs. At that moment, which lasted an eternity, I was sure it was all over. The world that is entirely good seemed to beckon…
Everyone was yelling and screaming, but this was not so unusual a sight as to draw attention. Drunken peasants were always acting rowdy on the streets. Since it was Purim, our friends already inside the house might not even realize the seriousness of the situation.
When Reb Mendel saw what was happening to me, he didn’t hesitate. Reb Mendel was then still relatively young, and a lot stronger than I was. Without further ado, he jumped on the giant and caught him by surprise.
The gypsy, surprised and angered by the attack, momentarily lessened his grip on me and turned his attention to Reb Mendel. I quickly ran away, but now Reb Mendel was caught. The enraged robber took out his knife.
Mustering all his strength, Reb Mendel bit down on the man’s finger. He bit and bit until…the finger came off.
The gypsy was in so much pain that he forgot about Reb Mendel, who took the opportunity to dive into a huge mound of snow. Aroused by their fellow bandit’s cries, all the other gypsies came running over with murder in their hearts. Again and again they thrust their knives into the snow, determined to find the Jew. Reb Mendel bore a scar on his face for the rest of his life after this incident. Thank G-d, a crowd gathered, and the band of gypsies gave up their search and dispersed.
Reb Mendel Futerfas saved my life. It was a demonstration of pure and unadulterated mesiras nefesh – mesiras nefesh without any considerations whatsoever.
Reb Mendel Futerfas was held for 14 years in Soviet prisons and labor camps. During this time, he spent most of his free hours in prayer and study. Nevertheless, he chose not to remain totally aloof from the gentiles who shared his lot, and spent a few hours each day conversing with them.
Included in this group were many types of people: political idealists who had fallen out of favor with the Stalinist regime, businessmen who had run undercover private enterprises, and ordinary people jailed for crimes the criminal nature of which neither they nor many of those who arrested them understood.
Among the latter was a circus performer whose claim to fame was his skill as a tightrope walker. He and Reb Mendel had a standing argument. Reb Mendel could not understand why a person would risk his life walking on a rope several storeys above the ground (for this was before safety nets had become standard circus practice).
"There must be," Reb Mendel maintained, "some hidden cables to hold you in case you slip."
For his part, the tightrope walker maintained that there was no need for cables. "It is not all that dangerous," he said. "One begins practicing on low ropes, and having gained experience, the risk of falling is minimal."
The argument continued until after Stalin died, and the prison authorities relaxed their rules. Several months before May Day that year, the guards told the prisoners that they would be allowed to prepare a makeshift circus to celebrate the day. Our acrobat suddenly came alive, becoming the center of attention. He organized various performances, the highlight being his tightrope walk.
He made sure Reb Mendel was in the audience. After the other acts were completed, the drums began to roll. He climbed the pole to the rope. His first steps were timid -- after all, it had been several years -- but within a few seconds, it all came back to him.
He began to twirl a hoop with his hands and wave to his friends. As he neared the end of the rope, he hesitated for a moment, made a fast turn, and then proceeded to the other side. On his way back, he exuded confidence; he performed several stunts and caught hats thrown to him. Completing his act, he climbed down and ran to Reb Mendel.
"You see, no cables holding me up," he gleamed in satisfaction.
"Yes. You're right, no cables," agreed Reb Mendel.
"You're a smart man," the performer continued. "Tell me. What's the secret? Is it in the hands? The feet?"
Reb Mendel paused to think. The performer had moved his hands freely, and it did not appear that his footwork was the determining factor.
After reviewing the scene in his mind several times, Reb Mendel replied: "It's the eyes. At all times, your eyes were riveted on the opposite pole."
The performer nodded in agreement. "When you see your destination in front of you, you know where to put your feet.
"And what is the most difficult part of the process?" he asked Reb Mendel.
Reb Mendel thought again and replied, "the turn."
"That's right," agreed the performer. "For then, you lose sight of the first pole and the other has not yet come into view."
R' Mendel took to heart the urging of the Baal Shem Tov to learn a lesson from everything we see and hear. The lesson from the above description is clear: we need to keep our eyes on the goal, otherwise we're lost.
The Jewish ABC
by Tuvia Bolton
I heard this story from my teacher, the mashpia Rabbi Mendel Futerfas of blessed memory.
When Rabbi Mendel was five years old learning Torah in a cheder in Russia, it happened that one of the boys forgot to bring his ink bottle and asked the boy at his side for some of his. "No," replied the latter. "I haven't enough; you should have brought from home." So the first boy had to ask someone else.
The teacher noticed this and said nothing, but a half hour later he asked the second boy if he could show the class an Aleph, a Bet and a Gimmel (the first three letters of the Hebrew alphabet). "Of course," answered the child as he pointed in one of his books. "This is an Aleph, this a Bet, and this a Gimmel."
"No," said the teacher. "You are wrong."
The boy was confused. "But teacher" he said, "this is what you taught us… this is what we have been reading for the last two years!"
"No," the teacher repeated. "You are wrong."
"Aleph is: When your friend asks you for ink, you give it to him.
"Bet is: When your friend asks for ink, you give it to him.
"Gimmel is: When your friend asks for ink, you give it to him."
Reb Mendel Futerfas was the spiritual mentor of the city of Kfar Chabad in Israel. But in the 1940s, he was imprisoned and finally exiled to Siberia by the Soviet government. His crime: teaching and practicing Judaism.
On his birthday one year in Siberia, Reb Mendel longed to celebrate in the Chasidic manner by gathering with one's friends, making an account of the past year and good resolutions for the upcoming year, and by having a private audience with the Rebbe.
Reb Mendel's only "friends" in Siberia were the boorish Cossacks and political prisoners with whom he was exiled. A Chasidic gathering he could not make. But what he could do was to have a private audience with the Rebbe -- in his mind.
Reb Mendel made the customary spiritual preparations for the communing of his soul with the Rebbe's.
He then pictured himself writing a note to the Rebbe with all of his requests for blessings for the coming year. He imagined himself giving the note to the Rebbe and the Rebbe reading the note.
Then, in his mind's eye, the Rebbe assured him that everything would be well.
Reb Mendel felt encouraged and strengthened.
Years later, when Reb Mendel was released from Siberia, he joined his wife and children who had meanwhile moved to England.
One day, as Reb Mendel perused the correspondence that his wife had received from the Rebbe in his absence, he came across a telegram.
The telegram's date was the day after Reb Mendel's birthday, years before. The Rebbe had sent Mrs. Futerfas a telegram to notify her that, "I received your husband's letter..."
No distance, physical, spiritual, or medical, can separate a Jew from the Rebbe.
(a slightly different version: Years later, after he was released and united with his family, his wife showed him a strange letter that she had received from the Rebbe. The Rebbe had written her several letters but all were addressed to her and this one was addressed to Rav Mendel although he was in Siberia far from home at the time.
He read it and also at first didn’t understand, until he noticed that the date on the letter was the same as his birthday six years ago, the same day he had imagined his ‘Yechidus’. When he read it again he saw that it
contained answers to all the questions he asked, in the order that he had asked them. The Rebbe was with him.
Reb Mendel Futerfas related:
“Once I was imprisoned in Russia on the night of Kol Nidrei, and observed the entire Yom Kippur within the walls of my cell. For the evening and morning prayers I succeeded somehow in saying the prayers by heart.
However, I only remembered a small part of the liturgical poems of musaf with difficulty, and it happened that I remembered ‘All are true believers.’ In the middle of reciting it, I was given pause by the thought “Is it really true that ‘all are true believers’? What of the evil communist regime? And the members of the ‘Jewish section’ of the party who actively uproot Torah: should they be called ‘believers’?”
Two weeks later they transferred me to a concentration camp, and there they squeezed me into a hall, where about sixty beds were crammed in tiers on the surrounding walls.
All the criminal offenders snatched the best places, and I was pushed into a corner. I tried to hide from these hoodlums, and since it was Shabbat night, I closed my eyes and immersed myself in the Shabbat prayers. After several minutes a mustached Uzbek with a powerful physique and a scarred face approached me and asked, “You are praying now, aren’t you?” I nodded.
“You should know that I am also a Jew! This year, for the first time in my life I fasted on Yom Kippur in prison, and I even prayed! Actually I don’t know a word of Hebrew, for even my father received a communist education, and I did not see a trace of Judaism in my father’s house; however, my grandfather taught me in my childhood to say Modeh ani.
Believe me, Mendel, I fasted all day, with my lips murmuring constantly: "Modeh ani . . . modeh ani . . .’“
“This was an answer from Heaven,” concluded Reb Mendel, “to my question concerning “All are true believers.”
(Excerpted from: Days Of Awe, Days Of Joy)
Reb Mendel Futerfas used to tell the following story of his youth:
The famous Chasid and mashpia, "Reb Itche der masmid" (may G-d avenge his blood), was one shliach who knew how to "sow ruchniyus and reap gashmiyus" during his fund-raising travels. It was said of Reb Itche that he prayed all day long, and at night farbrenged until dawn.
One time Reb Itche arrived in Nevel and immediately sat down to farbreng, as was his usual custom upon arrival in a new city. In those days the mashgiach of Chasidus at Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim-Nevel was the mashpia Rabbi Nissan Nemanov. Reb Nissan took his job seriously, and announced that no student would be allowed to interrupt his seder of learning in order to attend Reb Itche's farbrengen.
Reb Nissan Nemanov, however, was "also" a Chasid, and very much wanted to hear Reb Itche. Back and forth he paced in the study hall, the inner turmoil and conflicting emotions he was feeling visible on his face. In the end Reb Nissan could not control himself; his strong desire to hear Reb Itche won out over his obedience to rules and regulations. Making sure the bachurim were well immersed in their studies, Reb Nissan snuck out through a back door and ran to the home of Reb Shmuel Levitin, where Reb Itche's farbrengen was being held.
As soon as he had left, several bachurim, Reb Mendel Futerfas included, noticed his absence. Following his lead, they too closed their sefarim, left the zal and raced to join the farbrengen.
Of course, the bachurim could not exactly enter Reb Shmuel Levitin's house; they remained outside, hiding behind the doors and windows, and peeked in. But it didn't matter: the most important thing was to hear what was being said.
Indeed, what they overheard was Reb Itche directing his remarks primarily to Reb Nissan Nemanov, their mashgiach. Over and over Reb Itche kept repeating the same words: "Malchus hot doch oychet a gantze partzuf" (the sefirah of malchus also has a "complete partzuf"). Another Chasid who was present, Reb Zalman Moshe, kept nodding his head in agreement. "Yes, yes. Of course, of course!"
Now, Reb Nissan Nemanov was renowned far and wide for his outstanding quality of kabolas ol, the acceptance of the yoke of heaven. Before taking any action he would always try to demonstrate "iskafya": Rather than doing what he really wanted, Reb Nissan would always choose the path he found less personally desirable. His learning and his davening were similarly infused with kabolas ol. Hour after hour he would sit and commit chapters of Tanya and Chasidic maamarim to memory; in fact, Reb Nissan always said that a Chasid measures the distance between two locations by the number of chapters he can recite by heart during the journey... When Reb Nissan prayed, each word was uttered as if he were a soldier standing before his supreme commander; it was said that the Frierdike Rebbe had once called Reb Nissan "a ziser soldat" (a sweet soldier).
Yes, Reb Nissan was a tough character, demanding the same kabolas ol and obedience from others he demanded from himself. A person had to work hard at being a good Jew, without asking questions or taking personal preferences into consideration. People said that whenever Reb Nissan began to take pleasure in his learning he would close the sefer immediately: if he was learning nigleh, he would switch to Chasidus, and the other way around. The main point was never to allow the neshamah to experience too much enjoyment...
This character profile explains the reason Reb Itche was directing his comments to Reb Nissan. Yes, Reb Itche was saying, kabolas ol is the foundation and basis upon which the entirety of our avodah must rest, but dry and lifeless kabolas ol is not our goal. A person's intellect and emotions must be ignited in his service of G-d; a certain amount of enthusiasm and joy is required to serve Him properly. Even the sefirah of malchus, Reb Itche explained, the entire essence of which is pure kabolas ol and bittul (self-nullification), contains within it the characteristics of the other nine sefiros (the meaning of the word "partzuf," i.e., a sefirah containing other sefiros). Even the most absolute bittul and kabolas ol must be tempered with vitality, sweetness and enthusiasm, Reb Itche was telling him...
Reb Mendel once shared some of the plain wisdom of life. The wisdom of life coming from one who went through the Gulags and Russian prison cells. From the Chosid who was the heart and soul of the Jewish Underground back in the dark old days of Communist Russia and who endured many lifetimes of experience at the hands of our oppressors. He said in YIDDISH, oib m’farlirt di gelt, hot men gornisht farloren – gelt kumt, gelt geit- oib m’farlirt di gezunt hot men halb farloren, ober oib m’farlirt di MUT! hot men alles farloren.
“If you lose your money, you’ve lost nothing. Money comes, money goes. If you lose your health, you’ve lost half, you’re half the man you were if you haven’t got your gezunt. But if you lose your RESOLVE, your mut, you’ve lost it all!”
R' Tuvia Bolton relates:
When I first arrived in Israel over 25 years ago, before I got married, I learned in the Yeshiva in Kfar Chabad for a year.
Now, everyone knows that Chabad encourages outreach.
So early every Sunday morning I would catch a long passenger train filled with Israeli soldiers that stopped in Kfar Chabad, and put Tefillin on as many passengers as possible, and then get off at the last stop to catch the train back.
It so happened that early one Sunday morning Rabbi Mendel Futerfass, theHead of the Yeshiva, saw me rushing out the door and asked me where I was going.
Rav Mendel was over sixty years old, very impressive looking and had recently been released from over five years of hard labor in one of Stalin’s Siberian prison camps.
When I told him I was going to put Tefillin on soldiers in a train, without hesitating he said, "I want to go too."
I figured he was just being nice so I said, "Fine, Reb Mendel, G-d willing we’ll go together some time, but now I’m in a hurry."
"Good!" he answered, "Let's go!"
I was already late and it was a ten minute run, but he just said (and kept yelling at me all the way there) "You just run and don’t look back, I’ll make it, just don’t look back!!"
So I half-heartedly ran and miraculously I made it in time. But I figured that Rav Mendel didn’t have a chance (he also had troubles with his legs so it was hard for him to run).
The next thing I knew, he was pulling himself up the steep steps after me into the coach, and the train pulled out!
How he did it I never really figured out, but needless to say he was really out of breath, and as the train began moving he just motioned to me to give him some Tefillin and begin without him. So I gave him one of my four pairs, entered the first car and went to work.
The way it usually worked was that at first a few people would politely refuse until someone broke the ice and agreed, and then there would be a flood of takers.
But this time I was in for a surprise.
As expected the first man said no, as did the one sitting next to him.
But the third man, in a short, stocky, middle-aged, balding, beady eyed, bull necked, mean-looking fellow got angry...really angry.
In Israel there are a lot of people that really hate Judaism and religious Jews...and he was one of them.
His face became red like an apple, and the veins stood out on his neck. He squinted his eyes in hatred, leaned toward me to the edge of his seat, like any instant he would spring, and began hissing a string of menacing Israeli threats such as:
"T’oof MiKan Oh Ashbor l’chaw et HaPartzuf!" (lit. Bug off or I’ll break your face!) with appropriate Israeli gestures and motions.
I took the hint, forced a smile, and moved on.
Then someone in the middle of the car wanted to put on Tefillin, then another, and before I knew it all three pairs were in use.
Suddenly I remembered...Reb Mendel!
I had completely forgotten about him. Certainly he had caught his breath by now and would enter any minute. I had to save him from that bull-necked monster! Who knows what he might say (or do!!).
I whipped around in time to see that (Gevalt!) the worst was happening!
The first two men had refused him also, and Reb Mendel was beginning to lean over to speak to....Him!
I tried to catch Reb Mendel’s attention but to no avail.
"Our friend", reading a newspaper, saw Rav Mendel from the corner of his eye and began to twitch with rage.
Then one of the soldiers behind me called out, "Nu, Rabbi, how do I take off the Tefillin!" Then another, "Hallo! My turn, I want to put on!"
I quickly turned to them, removed the Tefillin from one and put it on the other, when suddenly the unmistakable high-pitched voice of Reb Mendel pierced through the noise of the crowd:
"I love you! You are my brother! Come, put on Tefillin! I love you!"
I shot a look over my shoulder and saw that Reb Mendel was reaching over the first two men, grabbing the arm of the amazed "beast" and was preparing to slide Tefillin on it.
Again the soldiers called me back, so I had to stop watching, and take care of the next set of customers.
I finished as fast as I could, and when I looked back toward where Reb Mendel was, I beheld one of the most amazing sights I'd ever seen in my life:
The same fearsome "wild man" that wanted to destroy me moments earlier was now rocking slightly back and forth, reading the SHEMA from a small page, with Tefillin on his arm and head. Reb Mendel was looking lovingly at him with the most angelic look on his face, like a mother hen at one of her chicks.
He had literally conquered him with love.
02-16-2003, 12:06 AM
R' Mendel urged his talmidim to continue to go to the Rebbe, both after 27 Adar and after 3 Tamuz. He himself was on the way from Eretz Yisroel to go to the Rebbe in Elul, 5754, and took ill in London, where he stayed (with his son) until he passed away.
There were minyonim in his son's house, after which R' Mendel would participate in saying Yechi.
The mashpia Reb Mendel Futerfas, of blessed memory, once related:
Years ago I had a friend, a Chassidic Jew, who for decades had fought with great self-sacrifice to spread Torah and Yiddishkeit behind the Iron Curtain. One time, in the course of our conversation, he made an observation that was very perceptive. On the surface, it was only an offhand comment, but upon deeper reflection, I realized that it reveals something quite fundamental.
In his continual efforts to elude the K.G.B., my friend had the opportunity to attend many different shuls throughout the Soviet Union for the Yomim Nora’im. Some were Chassidic, some were non-Chassidic, and they followed all varieties of nuschaos of davening. His observation was as follows:
In every synagogue where Jews come together to pray, there are certain portions of the davening that are more "exciting" than others. Some prayers seem to spiritually arouse the congregation, while others do not elicit the same enthusiastic response.
Having visited a wide assortment of shuls, my friend detected a small but significant distinction between Chassidic and non-Chassidic kehilos. In non-Chassidic shuls, the most stirring parts of the davening were those that focused on Rosh HaShana as the Day of Judgment: "Today the world was created. On this day, all creations are subject to judgment"; "Who will live and who will die, who at his appointed time and who before his time, who by water and who by fire, etc."
By contrast, in Chassidic shuls, the spiritual arousal would climax during the recitation of "You are the King, the living and existing G-d"; "You alone, G-d, will reign"; and "King of the entire earth."
In fact, this tiny but significant difference actually expresses the innovation of Chassidus and the way it teaches us to relate to the entire High Holiday season.
If a Jew hasn’t studied Chassidus, no matter how frum or learned he is, he will look forward to the Yomim Nora’im with fear and trepidation. For how can he do anything else? On Rosh HaShana, the Holy One, blessed be He, the Creator of the universe, will put him under the microscope. The fate of the Jewish people and the entire world will hang in the balance. On Rosh HaShana, G-d gives every individual exactly what he deserves – reward to the righteous and punishment to the wicked.
The verdict on Rosh HaShana will affect everything in the coming year, every spiritual and material detail in the individual’s life: who will live and who will die, who will lead a tranquil existence and who will suffer. How can we stand in judgment before the One Who knows everything, and from Whom there is no escape? The Holy One, Blessed Be He cannot be bribed; how can we ever justify not having lived up to His expectations, given that "G-d only requires of a person according to his strength"? When we look at ourselves honestly, we all recognize our many failings and lack of perfection. It is only natural, therefore, that any believing Jew will be prompted to return to G-d in teshuva, to ensure that he be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for a good and sweet New Year.
For this reason, before the advent of Chassidus, the month of Elul was generally regarded with anxiety and dread, a time in which intensive efforts had to be made to appease the King before it was too late. People would walk around with downcast faces, weddings and other simchas would be postponed, and the emphasis was on begging and imploring G-d to overlook our sins and unworthiness and give us another chance.
Not that there is anything wrong with doing teshuva, of course; Chassidus certainly expounds upon the subject at great length. But with such a negative approach and outlook, there was nothing really all that joyful about the month of Elul. It was a depressing time! For who could say with confidence that he wouldn’t repeat his past mistakes, even if G-d were merciful and granted him a reprieve?
When a person knows that he is being judged and the verdict is crucial to his future, it is impossible for him to remain indifferent. The knowledge will motivate him to improve his behavior and correct his ways. At the same time, he will be very frightened and terrified of the outcome. Thus, it is not farfetched to say that if given a choice, such a person would willingly forgo the entire "unpleasant" experience of Elul and the Yomim Nora’im altogether!
Despite the fact that Rosh HaShana is the Day of Judgment, with all that that implies, Chassidim have always rejected the idea of Elul being in any way negative or depressing. The Kotzker Chassidim, who never refrained from using sharp language, used to relate such a negative perception of Elul to the word "elil," meaning idol, as we say in the Aleinu prayer, "…and false gods will be utterly destroyed." (Among Polish Jews, a shuruk, as in "Elul," is pronounced the same as a chirik – "elil.")
This entire approach stems from the narrow perception of our relationship with G-d as merely a contract between an employer and an employee: G-d’s part of the bargain is to create us and give us life and livelihood, while our obligation is to learn His Torah and fulfill His commandments. When we fail to live up to our responsibilities, we worry about how our Employer is going to react.
Chassidus, however, changes the whole way we relate to Hashem. More accurately, it reveals the underlying reality of the relationship by defining the eternal bond that exists between the Jew and G-d. Seen in this light, the Yomim Nora’im are neither sad nor depressing, but the happiest and most joyful days of the year. We are judged and we do have to correct whatever mistakes we’ve made, and a certain amount of regret and bitterness is certainly appropriate. But the most important thing to remember is that not only is the Judge before Whom we stand omnipotent and all-powerful, He is also all good, the essence of good itself, and "the nature of goodness is to extend goodness to others"!
On Rosh HaShana, it isn’t just any "employee" coming before the Judge; every Jew is an only child of the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed Be He, and if for whatever reason he has become estranged from his Father, now is the time to repair the rift. In Elul, the King goes out into the field to meet with His subjects, even to the most remote locations in His kingdom. (As the Rebbe has explained, this includes even those Jews who live in a "desert.") The King extends a warm and loving hand to every individual, helps him shake off the dirt that accumulated over the course of the year, and prepares him for entering the King’s own palace chamber. There, the King and his subject will become completely united, for the King’s essential love for him surpasses that of "elderly parents, whose only son was born in their old age."
Rosh HaShana is not only the Day of Judgment, but first and foremost the day on which we coronate the King. We implore our Father in Heaven: "Reign over the entire world in Your glory" and "L-rd our G-d, You are He Who alone will reign over all Your works." In the same way that a trumpet is blown when a mortal King is crowned, the "mitzva of the day" on Rosh HaShana is the sounding of the shofar, the ram’s horn.
The mashpia, R’ Mendel Futerfas, a”h, related: “In the town of Chernovitz lived a Jew of Vizhnitz chassidic stock who had departed from the ways of his fathers somewhat. Although generally speaking he was observant, even if it took quite a bit of effort, he did not withstand the test when it came to not shaving his beard, and used a
R’ Mendel explained the severity of the issur to him, and tried to
convince him to at least get an electric shaver, which some authorities permit, but the man refused since electric shavers were
R’ Mendel once told him: “Listen here! Eating pork involves one transgression, but when you shave your beard with a razor you are
transgressing five prohibitions! So it turns out that each time you shave
your beard it’s like you ate pork five times!”
The man listened and was greatly affected, but not in a positive way. On
the one hand, not shaving in Soviet Russia was too great a test for him to withstand. On the other hand, he simply couldn’t afford an electric
shaver (at least, that’s what he thought), and that’s why he felt so hurt. He was so upset with R’ Mendel that he refused to talk to him.
R’ Mendel was most perturbed by this state of affairs and he decided on
another approach. He used his own money and bought an electric shaver
for the man. With shaver in hand he approached him and said, “See, I
bought this for you. You can pay me back over time, in many installments, all I ask of you is: do not use a
The man, who was really a G-d-fearing Jew at heart, accepted the
shaver from R’ Mendel with great emotion and promised to pay him
back when he would be able to do so. He warmly thanked him for his
concern, and they became friendly once again.
“Now I understand the Chazal in P’sachim,” the man said, “which says
that the amei ha’aretz would say: ‘Give me a Torah scholar and I’ll bite
him like a donkey.’ How could a Jew say a thing like that about a Torah
scholar? The answer is that the talmidei chachamim are at fault, for they express themselves like the amei ha’aretz! “You have to know how to talk to a Jew! When you don’t speak properly, even if what you say is true, it can cause damage and even bring a person to anger and sharp words.
“So when you told me that every time I shave with a razor it’s like
eating pork five times, I was beside myself! I try to do the best I can, and sometimes I endure suffering to the point of mesirus nefesh in order not to eat forbidden things. Suddenly you come along and tell me that each time I transgress it’s like eating pork five times!
“How did you expect me to deal with you after that? You really hurt
me, more than if you had stabbed me, and that’s why I reacted the way I did. “However, when you tried a different approach and spoke in a
warm and friendly manner and put tremendous effort into helping me
withstand the test, I enthusiastically agreed to behave properly. I even
thanked you from the depths of my heart for the kindness you did for
“Like I said, you must watch out and think twice about how to say
something without hurting another person’s feelings. Otherwise, you may
not get the desired result: ‘Give me a talmid chacham and I’ll bite him like a donkey.'
A prominent non-Lubavitcher rabbi once asked Reb Mendel, "Tell me the truth, do you really believe that the Rebbe is as great a tzadik as the Baal Shem Tov?"
Said Reb Mendel, "You remind me of the K.G.B. interrogator who made my life so miserable when I was in Russian prison. Day after day he bombarded me with questions, but one time he must have been in a particularly good mood. "Tell me the truth Mr. Futerfas. You're an intelligent person. Do you really think Moses waved his staff over the water and the sea split? Do you really believe that?"
Reb Mendel related: Once I stayed with a family in the Soviet Union during my various travels fleeing from the government. A frightful accident happened then. The lady of the house who was sleeping with her baby woke up in the middle of the night and to her horror realized that the baby was lifeless. Evidently she had suffocated it accidentally.
From my bed I heard her pacing back and forth, repeating incessantly to herself, "What have I done? What have I done?"
This continued for hours and then she began to ask herself, "What do I do now? What do I do now?"
On that difficult night two stages of teshuva became vividly concrete for me: charata al ha'ovar (regret for the past: "What have I done?") and kabbala al ha'asid (a good resolution for the future - "What do I do now?")
Immediately after the miraculous Six-day war in 1967 the Lubavitcher Rebbe began ‘Mission Tefillin’; all Chabad Chassidim were to take to the streets and put Tefillin on any Jew that was willing.
The idea of approaching non-religious strangers in the street with a request to do a religious act, and such a complicated one at that, was unheard of (and even today only Chabad is ‘crazy’ enough to do it)and no one knew exactly how to take it. Meetings were made throughout Israel to discuss the issue, and the Chassidim in Kfar Chabad made a big ‘Farbrengen’ .
That night the main speaker was Rabbi Mendel Futerfas, a salty Chassid and the spiritual director of the main Yeshiva, who had spent many years imprisoned in Siberia for his Jewish outreach activities. That entire night he and everyone present tried to bring examples or possible explanations for this totally unorthodox, seemingly unacceptable idea, with no success.
Then he remembered a story that he heard when he was a prisoner fifteen years earlier. From everything he heard and saw in the six years he was in Siberia, Rav Mendel tried to learn a lesson in the service of G-d, and usually he succeeded. (He once told me that the reason that the Tzadik Rav Zusia of Anipoli said that it’s possible to learn seven positive lessons in the service of G-d from a thief [sefer ‘ha'Yom Yom’ pg. 107] is because he never sat in prison. But if he had sat in prison he would have learned thousands of things!) But there was one story that, try as he could, he couldn’t figure out what was the spiritual point …. until now.
The prisoner telling the story had been a deep-sea diver in the Czar’s navy, imprisoned now by the Communists, and his story was as follows: “It occasionally happened that one of the ships of the Czar’s navy would sink, sometimes because of a storm at sea, or because it struck a rock, or sometimes in battle.
"Now, ships are worth a lot of money, just the metal and the equipment alone were often worth millions, so the navy developed a means to lift the ship from the ocean floor so it could be towed to shore and fixed or at least partially salvaged. And that's where I came in.
"What they would do is situate two towing-ships on the sea above where the sunken ship was. Each ship would lower a long, thick chain with a huge hook on the end, and I would dive down, attach one hook to the front and the other to the rear of the sunken ship. Then the towing-ships would reel in their chains, lift the sunken one from the ocean floor and tow it in to shore.
“Now, this was all fine when the sunken ship had been under for less than a month or so, but after that the ship began to rust and the hooks would bring up only huge chunks of iron, leaving the rest of the ship behind.
“So someone developed a brilliant idea. The two tugboats, instead of lowering just one chain each, would spread a huge, hollow, rubber mat with thick rubber walls over the place where the sunken ship was. Inside the entire length of the mat was a large flat sheet of steel with several hundred steel ropes attached to it. The ropes ran though special airtight holes in the lower rubber wall in a way that no water could get in and no air would escape, and at the end of each dangling rope was a hook.
“My job was to go down with a few other divers, lower the mat, spread it over the sunken ship and attach the hooks to as many places as possible. Then a motor on one of the two tugboats would pump air into the mat and slowly inflate it. It began to pull upwards until … WHOOPA!! suddenly the entire ship lifted at once and could be towed to dry land.”
“Just now I began to understand the story,” said Rav Mendel. “The ship is like the Jewish people, rusty and falling apart because they have been sunk in exile for almost two thousand years.
"The Rebbe’s idea is to save the ship and we Chassidim, are the Rebbe’s deep-sea divers. We have to attach a hook to every single Jew … put Tefillin on as many Jews as possible, and then when enough ‘hooks’ are attached …WHOOPA!!! HaShem will pull everyone up TOGETHER.”
One of the prisoners in Rav Mendel’s camp was an old Cossack imprisoned because of his loyalty to the Czar. Although the Cossacks were usually rabid anti-Semites, ‘misery loves company’. One long cold Siberian winter night, when they were sitting in the barracks (the guards were afraid to let them work outside in the dark) he opened his heart to Rav Mendel and began reminiscing about....his horse.
When he spoke his eyes became moist and his voice filled with emotion.
"Aaahhh!!! A Cossack horse!!! There is nothing in creation like a Cossack horse!!!! A regular horse in Russia cost one month’s wages - five rubles. A workhorse cost up to ten. But a Cossack horse cost five hundred, six hundred rubles!!
You see, the Cossack horse was different than all other horses, incomparably different! A Cossack’s horse had a different heart.
Not only it would do anything for its master; jump into fire, over trees and even houses. Anything. And it was stronger, faster, and braver than anything alive.
But most of all, it had a different heart.
"I will explain," continued the Cossack, pausing and drawing deeply on a cigarette.
“How did they catch a Cossack horse? Do you know? Well I will tell you, this is a story!”
He exhaled and leaned back in his chair as the smoke was pouring from his mouth and nostrils.
"The Cossacks were experts at this. There was a special group that would wander the mountains and fields on horseback looking for herds of wild horses.
This was very important because a Cossack without a horse is like a Cossack without legs, like a cripple, do you understand?
Then, if they were lucky and found a large herd, say of a thousand, two thousand horses. They would stampede them and get them all running in the direction of the nearest river. Like I say, they were great experts, and sometimes they would run for days until they got there, but when they did they would start screaming and shooting their guns in the air and force the herd into the widest, deepest part of the river. You see, horses can swim, and so they had to get over, through the current to the other side, or die.
Now, on the other side was waiting another group of Cossacks. The whole thing was planned from the beginning, and they would watch to see what the horses did.
There were always three types of horses; the majority were the regular horses that would make it to the other side and run away to live their lives. Then there were older horses that couldn’t get across and would
unfortunately drown. And there were the young horses, that had the stamina so they didn’t get tired, but didn’t have the strength to cross over, so they just floundered in the middle of the river."
His voice became serious, and he sat a bit straighter.
"But sometimes... Not always, but sometimes, there was a fourth type; maybe only one or two at the most, that were sort of crazy horses.
They would make it across, but instead of running away, they would turn around, look back into the river to see if there were horses in trouble and then jump BACK in to save them."
There were tears in his eyes now, he was leaning forward with arms outstretched as though grasping for the past.
"They would swim to the young horses, grab them with their teeth by their mane and start dragging them in. They just couldn’t stand to see their fellow horses in danger.
The Cossacks would throw some paint on these special horses and chase them for days until they caught them. Then it would take several months of hard work until they trained them. But the main thing was the heart; it was a horse with a heart.
This was a Cossack’s horse!!!"
Rav Mendel said that he immediately got the point.
The Cossack’s horse is a Chassid.
A Chassid has to be ‘crazy’ and risk everything for his fellow man; he can’t stand to see his brother in danger of drowning. He can’t bear to just live for himself; learn Torah and do the commandments just in order to cross the river of life and get into heaven.
A Chassid has a different heart. And this is the secret of “brotherly love” that the Baal Shem Tov strived to teach.
R' Mendel Futerfas would ask, "What is a misnaged?" when in a merry mood, and then he would answer, "A misnaged is someone who believes in Hashem only because the Rambam says so and the Raavad doesn't disagree with him. (The misnaged goes on excitedly to say: and I have yet another proof that G-d does indeed exist, and more evidence, and another sign ...).
"According to this approach, everything must begin with the Torah and must have a Torah source. The only reason we believe in G-d is because the Torah tells us to, because it's written in the Rambam and the Raavad raises no questions ... Otherwise, we would have no basis for emuna or bitachon in the existence of H"KBH.
"True," Reb Mendel would point out, "everything begins with Torah and must have a source in Torah, but there's a certain level on which the Jew believes in G-d that precedes even the Torah! Don't get nervous; there's nothing wrong in saying this. A Jew doesn't believe in G-d just because it's written about in our holy sefarim. On the contrary, our belief in Torah stems from and derives its authority only from our emuna! The belief in G-d is inherent in the neshama of every single Jew; it is therefore above the level of Torah and precedes it. (Of course, it is through the Torah that this belief is more fully revealed and has its desired effect)."
"How can you say that?" an indignant voice is heard. "I come and prove to you that G-d exists by showing you explicit proof in the Torah, "the Toras emes," and the "Toras chayim," and you offer me emotion? Isn't it preferable to build our foundation upon the sources and explanations found in our holy Torah?"
In truth though, I think anyone can understand that a person whose belief in G-d is based solely on the fact that the Raavad doesn't dispute the Rambam's assertion, has a serious problem in emuna, and a serious flaw in his connection with the Aibershter ...
This is not to say that our belief doesn't have a source in Torah, chas v'shalom, just that a Jew's emuna isn't subject to intellectual considerations, to shakla v'tarya and Talmudic pilpul. That's not emuna. Emuna is absolute, as the Previous Rebbe stated, "Azoy, un nit anderesh! (That's just the way it is).
It was a terrible time in Russia, a time of great want and almost a complete lack of the basic necessities of life. Millions of people literally hungered for a scrap of bread but found nothing to still their pangs of hunger. Given the circumstances it was obviously difficult to obtain sefarim. There was a severe shortage of sifrei kodesh, especially sifrei Chasidus.
One time, said Reb Mendel, I noticed Reb Shlomo der Geller, one of the greatest Chasidim and a talmid of the famous Rashbatz, rummaging around in the sheimos pile. I watched as he took pages and half-pages of a maamar (each page having no connection to the others)from 'sheimos' (unusable holy books are not thrown away but rather kept in a special bin until they are buried) bound them together and would spend hours reading. When Rav Mendel saw this, he asked his friend how could he read pieces of a page without knowing what was written before and afterward.
R' Shlomo answered, "There are three dimensions in Torah: Some people learn for the sake of learning, for the comprehension and understanding of the Torah's wisdom. Others learn Torah not so much for the understanding that is derived but with the intent of serving Hashem through the effort and labor involved in Torah study, the subjugation of the intellect to the Divine.
There is a third level, that of learning the osiyos ha'Torah, the letters of Torah in to which Hashem has invested His very essence. The letters of the Torah contain the essence of its holiness. Studying Torah in this manner comes from the inner recesses of the neshama, a level which supersedes chochma. In this way a Jew connects himself to Hashem's essence, above the limitations of understanding and above the efforts of the individual.
So what do I care if I understand what is written or not? What do I care if the pages are torn, or if there's no discernible connection between sentences or phrases? The words themselves contain Hashem's essence! On the contrary, the more I don't understand, the more I am able to grasp that essence!"
"If you have the essence, the 'light' of Torah," Reb Mendel used to say, "a little goes a long way. Even when circumstances beyond your control dictate that you can devote only a short amount of time to Torah study, it doesn't matter if you have the essence, for Hashem's essence isn't something that is subject to measure.
Reb Mendel related:
One time when I was still a young boy (before bar mitzva) I had occasion to accompany the gaon Rabbi Zalman Shimon Dvorkin on his way to shul where he was going to teach Chasidus. Although R' Zalman Shimon would later serve as mara d'asra in many locations, at that time he was still a 19 year old bachur in Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim, albeit one who was already proficient in Shas and Poskim. Everyone said he had a great future ahead of him.
In any event, while we were walking we happened to pass an outdoor cafe. The tables and chairs were full of emptyheaded young men sitting and smoking cigarettes and talking foolishness. As soon as they saw us, two yeshiva bachurim, they decided we were an easy target and started to curse and make fun of us. We made believe we didn't hear them and continued walking.
Halfway down the block however, R' Zalman Shimon changed his mind. Doing an aboutface, he marched right back to where those hooligans were loafing and vehemently quoted to them the second verse of Shir Ha'Shirim with several appropriate additions.
I was shocked. "Is that how a Tamim is supposed to behave? I asked him accusingly. Why did you go back? Why was it necessary to stoop to their level?"
"I'll tell you," Reb Zalman Shimon replied. "At first I was of the same mind as you, thinking that it made no sense to respond and that the best thing to do was ignore them. But then I remembered something I once heard from the Rebbe, that when one encounters people who mock and ridicule Torah and mitzvos, one must fulfill the halacha of "and do not be embarrassed in front of those who scorn," and quote the second verse of Shir Ha'Shirim ... The only reason I went back was to fulfill the Rebbe's words."
Reb Mendel would explain what "Amalek" is as follows:
"A Cossack could kill Jews all day, but at night he would get drunk and cry. Never mind that the next day he would continue killing. But he did it because he was an animal and his murder was from fury. But when the Germans came it was completely different. A German could spend hours killing Jews, take a cigarette break, wipe off his boots and resume."
In Siberia it was permissible for prisoners to receive parcels from home. The most important parcel of the year was the one before Pesach containing Matzos and enough food for the eight days of the holiday.
But the first Pesach he was there, although Rav Mendel’s wife sent the package months earlier, it didn’t arrive.
So Rav Mendel went the entire eight days on a diet of water and a few sugar cubes.
(True, he could have eaten, say, potatoes cooked in a not-Kosher pot in order to save his life, but he wasn’t thinking about his life, he just couldn’t bring himself to even come near something not Kosher, especially on Pesach.)
Miraculously he didn’t die, but when his package did arrive weeks later, he was so traumatized by his experience that he immediately took a piece of Matza broke it into several pieces, wrapped it in newspaper and never let it out of his possession the entire duration of his exile.
It seems that the thing that affected him the most from his ordeal was not the fact that he almost starved to death but that he couldn’t fulfill the mitzvah of eating Matza.
In the period following Zach Adar 5752, the mashpia Reb Mendel Futerfas would often repeat the famous saying of Reb Itche "Der Masmid," (R' Yitzchok Horowitz, may Hashem avenge his blood) uttered years ago when, to the fleshly eye, it appeared as if the Rebbe Rayatz had lost his power of speech. "The Rebbe isn’t sick!" Reb Itche had explained. "Der Rebbe iz gezunt! The world is just too megusham (coarse) to be able to hear him."
As Reb Mendel used to bring out, Reb Itche’s message was that whenever we perceive any kind of “defect” in the Rebbe, we must realize that the imperfection lies in us and not in the Rebbe, G-d forbid. The Rebbe is “ashir be’eztem” – essentially well off – and the concept of defect or imperfection just doesn’t apply to him. In the truest sense of all, the Rebbe is well, and can speak as much or as little as he wishes. The problem lies entirely in the world’s being so “megusham” that it cannot perceive this.
Whenever Reb Mendel related this he would burst into tears. A few minutes later he would recover his composure and sing a joyous niggun. Then he would start crying again…
Reb Mendel would also repeatedly emphasize the necessity of having emuna not only in Hashem but in chachomim and tzaddikim, which is why it states "Moshe commanded us the Torah" and "Remember the Torah of Moshe My servant," even though the Torah is obviously Hashem’s. Only when a Jew has one hundred percent faith in "Moshe Rabbeinu," when he is completely connected to the Rebbe, can he have true faith in Hashem. If, G-d forbid, his emuna in Moshe Rabbeinu is flawed, his emuna in Hashem is also defective.
Reb Mendel used to derive many lessons in avodas Hashem from the years he spent in Siberian exile. There, in the isolated labor camps cut off from the rest of society, a unique culture arose in which Reb Mendel was unfortunately a participant.
"Much of the time I couldn't bring myself to take part in their discussions," Reb Mendel once said, speaking about his fellow prisoners in Siberia. "Sometimes they were just too vulgar and coarse. It happened once that a group of them had been assigned to taking care of the pigs - truly filthy and disgusting work, but a task that was considered relatively easy in comparison with the usual backbreaking labor required in Siberia.
"One day, during a rare free moment, the prisoners were sitting around and talking their usual nonsense. I was sitting at the edge of the group, trying my best to avoid them, but they insisted on drawing me into their circle. Finally I could stand it no longer. "You see those pigs over there?" I said, pointing to the loathsome animals. "If they could talk they'd be saying the very same words that come out of your mouths!"
"Other times though, the discussions were of a higher nature, and many hours were spent in their company.
"To pass the time, the prisoners would take turns regaling their fellow unfortunates with tales of their previous lives. We represented a broad spectrum of society and many of us had extensive knowledge and experience in many fields. Among us were doctors, engineers, businessmen, carpenters, shoemakers, clergymen. You name it, the communists had arrested them and sent them to Siberia. Quite often the stories they told were interesting and informative."
(cont. next post)
"One time it was the turn of an engineer to speak. This engineer was an expert in building all kinds of bridges. For years he had worked in the public sector, building the infrastructure of cities and towns across Russia, but at one point he found himself conscripted into the Russian army. The army needs such engineers to help solve its logistical problems. What's an advancing army to do when it reaches a river or other natural obstacle? Especially in times of war, when the retreating forces blow up their bridges behind them, new bridges must be constructed as quickly as possible, bridges strong enough to support the weight of the troops, tanks, and equipment that pass over it.
"One time, this engineer related, he and his fellow experts had come up with a truly novel solution to the problem. In fact, it was on the cutting edge of technology, utilizing the most modern and advanced materials available at that time. Their invention? The very first pontoon bridge, constructed out of huge fabric balloons that were inflated with air and placed in the water. The newly discovered fabric was dense and virtually waterproof, and each balloon was attached to long metal poles which could be fitted together.
"Long planks of wood were then placed over the surface to pave the way. The resulting floating bridge was extremely strong. Not only could it be constructed in a matter of hours, but it was lightweight and portable too.
"When the engineer had finished speaking, one of the people who was present asked a very intelligent question. "If bridges of this type are possible, why do world governments continue to invest so much time and money constructing more conventional bridges out of stone and iron? If all they have to do is inflate a few balloons, why employ countless workers and embark on complicated projects that take years to complete?"
"The engineer just laughed. "It's really quite simple," he explained. "The pontoon bridge is only a temporary solution. It could never be used on a permanent basis. These bridges are only strong and stable until the first bullet rips into them and makes a hole in the fabric. Even the tiniest puncture the size of a needle can deflate it. One section collapses, the bridge becomes shaky, and within minutes the whole thing sinks into the river."
"A Jew must learn from everything he sees and hears," Reb Mendel would say. "This engineer taught me a valuable lesson in buliding a "bridge" the Jew's connection with Hashem.
"Some people's "bridges" with Hashem, with the Rebbe, with Torah and mitzvos, look extremely strong and stable at first glance. They might toil with great effort at learning Torah and serving Hashem, and do a great deal of good for their community.
"However, if the foundations of the bridge are not fixed firmly enough in the ground, even a tiny puncture can cause the entire structure to tumble. The whole edifice of Torah and avodas Hashem just falls apart. Hiskashrus must be built on a foundation that can pass the test of time, that can withstand the trials and tribulations the Jew will encounter throughout his lifetime. When the basic foundations are strong, the bridge will continue to stand even when it is subjected to the harshest attack.
"The foundation of a house doesn't have to be beautiful. The only criteria it needs is strength and stability. It must extend deep enough into the earth so that it can never be moved. A person must always remember that the single most important factor when building any structure is its foundation. Once the foundation is secure, even the tallest and most beautiful building can be erected with confidence."
Written by Professor Yirmiyahu Branover
in honor of the shloshim of my mentor and teacher, Reb Mendel Futerfas o.b.m.
Reb Mendel was already etched in my consciousness as the epitome of a true chasid long before I ever met him in person. 30 years ago, when I was taking my first tentative steps along the path of Yiddishkeit and Chasidus in Riga, Latvia, mynew-found Lubavitcher friends (led by the famous mashpia, Reb Notte Barcohen) frequently mentioned Reb Mendel’s name in the stories they told.
In these stories Reb Mendel was always depicted as a giant able to withstand the forceful pressure of the K.G.B., a veritable rock of faith who refused to compromise when it came to Torah and mitzvos despite the hardships of imprisonment, exile and forced labor in the Siberian tundra.
They often spoke of Reb Mendel’s extraordinary hiskashrus and devotion to the Rebbe, which were infinite and without measure. And even though it was only alluded to at the time, I knew that Reb Mendel was responsible for smuggling hundreds of not thousands of Chasidim out of the Soviet Union shortly after the second World War.
For his efforts, Reb Mendel was sentenced to many years of internment but he emerged from his ordeal the same as he went in: whole in spirit and totally unbowed. The communists could never break him! His strong stance under the harshest of conditions and the supernatural strength he derived from his relationship to the Rebbe, provided me with a measure of encouragement that is inestimable.
The very existence of a Reb Mendel proved that although it appeared on the surface that we were under the control of the K.G.B., the communists could never gain mastery over our souls. All we had to do was follow Reb Mendel’s example and trust in the Rebbe, follow the Rebbe’s directives, and remember that the only One whose sovereignty we are subject to is G-d’s.
Many years later, when I had already left the Soviet Union and settled in Israel, I finally met Reb Mendel in person and merited to enjoy a warm relationship with him. Reb Mendel always tried to help me in any way he could. He taught me deep Chasidic concepts and told me countless Chasidic stories. In his characteristically simple yet penetrating manner, he instilled in me the meaning of a “Rebbe” – a “Rebbe” in general and the Rebbe shlita in particular, and explained how all of us (and the entire world) are connected to the Rebbe and are dependent on him. From Reb Mendel I learned how the Rebbe guides us and thinks about us, and what we must do to hasten the realization of the Rebbe’s most fervent desire, the complete and final Geula.
Knowing Reb Mendel was a unique and wonderful experience. All of the great Chasidim I have merited so learn from have possessed certain special qualities; Reb Mendel was distinguished by his extraordinary emuna and a total lack of a sense of self, a quiet modesty and true humility. Not only were Reb Mendel’s words and the manner in which he uttered them convincing, his very appearance with its complete lack of artifice aided his powers of persuasion.
Reb Mendel always kept abreast of the many activities of our organization, Shamir, and in everything having to do with Soviet Jewry. Knowing that the Rebbe had instructed me to continue and intensify my scientific work as a means of attracting Jews to Torah and mitzvos, Reb Mendel took an interest in my research despite the fact that the subject matter was totally foreign to him. Many times in fact, he traveled great distances to remind me that I was to utilize my scientific findings to bring the Rebbe nachas! For the true chasid dares to tread, and is successful, in whatever realm his Rebbe’s interests lie, no matter how far afield it may be from his own province.
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At a certain point I became convinced that a book about Reb Mendel Futerfas and his inspirational life and faith in the Rebbe would draw thousands of Jews to Yiddishkeit and to Chabad. I appealed to Reb Mendel to agree to the project, the proposed book to appear in Russian before being translated into other languages.
At first Reb Mendel refused outright. No way would he allow a book to be written about him! It was only after repeated efforts and my incessant pleas that he agreed to discuss the matter with Rabbi Hodakov a’h. Some time later I was informed that Rabbi Hadakov – apparently after consultation with the Rebbe shlita – had given Reb Mendel the go-ahead.
It was then that I began to meet with Reb Mendel for hours at a time. The interviews were intense as he recalled the myriad details of his long life while I took notes in Russian. I was amazed by his recall and even more by his knack for description. Everything he told me going back to his childhood and youth were described in the greatest of detail.
Reb Mendel told me many things. He talked about his days in Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim and how it was closed down by the Yevsektzia. He described how he and the other bachurim had hidden from the secret police and continued to learn and assist other Jews.
Although Reb Mendel attempted to downplay his participation in the clandestine operation that smuggled Jews from Russia to Poland and from there to the rest of the free world, it was obvious how crucial his role really was.
He told me about the imprisonment and torture, and the long and terrible years that were spent at forced labor. It was then that I heard the famous story of the telegram he sent telepathically to the Previous Rebbe (it was on Lag B’Omer), and about the gentiles who helped him in his observance of mitzvos, surrounding him on all sides as he put on tefillin so he would not be seen by the guards. For not only were the gentiles impressed by Reb Mendel’s sincerity and truthfulness, but many were openly envious that he had someone to rely on …
Reb Mendel related many other stories about his attempts to observe the mitzvos in the “Valley of Tears.” I will never forget the pain in his voice when he told me about the time the strap of his tefillin froze and broke off because it was 40 degrees below zero.
The notes are still in my possession but I confess publicly that I haven’t yet gotten around to writing the book. Countless other commitments have conspired to delay its writing, but bli neder, I plan on starting work as soon as possible, especially as we now have access to the “criminal” files of the K.G.B. which frequently refer to Reb Mendel Futerfas as “an outstanding agent of Schneerson.”
I will conclude with the following observation I once made of Reb Mendel. Not only were his words and deeds capable of exerting a positive influence on others, but sometimes his presence alone was sufficient. One Yud-tes Kislev several years ago I brought at totally secular colleague of mine from the university to a farbrengen with Reb Mendel in Kfar Chabad. A year later on his own initiative, this professor approached me and requested that I take him back to Kfar Chabad “to see the Jew with the distinguished appearance, the one who symbolizes the essence of Judaism.”
It behooves us all to learn from and emulate Reb Mendel Futerfas, for doing so will certainly hasten the arrival of Melech Ha’Moshiach.
Related by R' Tuvia Bolton:
Rabbi Mendel Futerfass had been in a labor camp in Siberia for many years and in general had seen many tragedies in life but never lost his good spirits and optimism.
I once asked him how he did it and he told me a story.
Once there was a young man that decided to learn to be a wagon driver. Now, being a wagon driver was the simplest of jobs involving sitting behind a horse for hours a day but nevertheless it did require some training.
So the young man asked two of the older drivers to teach him the ropes and when they finished and saw he knew how to drive they gave him a 'test'. They pulled up a table, sat him down opposite them and began their questioning.
"What would you do if one of the wheels fell off the wagon?" They asked. The young man immediately gave the correct answer, just as he had learned.
"And what would you do if the horse began to make problems like going too fast or too much to the left or bucking up and down?" Again he answered properly.
One of the old fellows then pinched the other under the table and asked, feigning great seriousness, "What would you do if all the wheels fell off, the horse went insane and dragged the wagon into quicksand leaving only the corner where you were sitting and the horse's head sticking out of the mud?"
Without even hesitating, the young man sat upright and answered in a ringing voice. "I would jump from my place, run around in front of the horse, look him in the eyes and LAUGH as hard as possible!!"
The two older drivers, astounded by the speed and certainty of his stupid answer stared at him in wide eyed silence.
"Where did you get that from?" one of them asked.
"What good will it do if you laugh?!" asked the other in disbelief.
"Tell me," the young man leaned forward toward them and said,
"If I cried, would it help?"
The mashpia Reb Mendel Futerfas used to tell the following story:
One of the greatest disciples of the Baal Shem Tov was the Chassid Reb Zev Volf of Zhitomir. On his deathbed he summoned his student, Reb Schneur of Pastov, for his final words:
“My son,” Reb Zev Volf began, “there are hard times ahead for the Jewish people, the period of ‘the footsteps of Moshiach.’ Jews who shave their beards with a razor will be heads of the community; they will even be given Shishi or Maftir in shul. Yet Chassidim of 80 or 90 years old, with decades of avodas Hashem behind them, will still be putting pennies in the pushke before davening, begging G-d to strengthen their emuna p’shuta in our chachomim and tzaddikim.
“And Jews like us will still be searching our souls to determine if our emuna is genuine…”
“So Rebbe, what can I do?” asked the disciple.
“My advice to you is to tell others what I have said,” Reb Zev Volf replied. “This will make it easier for them to hold on to their faith during turbulent times.”
Reb Mendel would then always point out that Reb Zev Volf’s last concern wasn’t about faith in G-d, but simple faith in chachomim and tzaddikim. The Torah is referred to as Moshe’s Torah – “the Torah that Moshe commanded us” and “Remember the Torah of Moshe My servant” – even though the Torah is obviously from G-d. For the most important element of avodas Hashem, the very foundation upon which everything else is built, is absolute faith in “Moshe My servant.”
It is only when a Jew has one hundred percent faith in Moshe Rabbeinu, when he is completely connected to the Rebbe, that he can have full faith in G-d. If, G-d forbid, his emuna in the Rebbe is defective, his faith in G-d is also not real.
Reb Mendel used to tell the following story:
Deep within the endless forests of the Soviet Union, on the very edge of Asia, there was a small village whose residents made their livelihood from the production of honey. Experience had taught that the very best way to protect their beehives from passing “thieves” – wild animals that roamed the forest and loved to eat honey – was to place them high up in the tree tops and thus beyond the animals’ reach.
The most famous “honey thief” of them all is the bear, great numbers of which populate the dense forests of this region. Unfortunately for the villagers, the bear is an extremely agile and nimble creature that can climb a tree in the blink of an eye and plunder the entire contents of a beehive with several swipes of its mighty paws. With its thick and impenetrable fur, the swarming bees are no more threatening than a cloud of buzzing mosquitos. Furthermore, the bear is very strong and fast and thus it is quite dangerous to antagonize one openly.
Recognizing that conventional warfare would not succeed against such a foe, the villagers devised a clever ruse to safeguard their honey. Cutting off a great branch from the tree, they would tie it in front of the hive in such a way that if someone (or something?) tried to approach, the branch would swing back and hit the intruder in the face.
The bear, for all its agility and cunning, is not too bright an animal. The “attack” of the tree branch would send it into a snarling rage, prompting it to thrash again with even greater force.
According to the laws of physics, the harder one applies force to a tree branch thus rigged up, the more forcefully it will fly back and smack him in the face. The result of this contraption was an extremely angry bear that would try to get the better of the tree branch over and over again. Swat, smack. Swat, smack. The bear would be so involved in its war against the branch that the beehive and its honey would be forgotten.
Finally, exhausted from its efforts, the bear would sooner or later lose its balance and fall to the ground, spent, beaten, and utterly defeated.
This was the moment the villagers would be waiting for. Emerging from their hiding places, they would pounce on the defenseless animal, this one with his knife and that one with his club, until the bear would be dead. Its flesh and fat (bear “shmaltz”) would feed them through the winter, while its valuable hide would be sold to a factory to be transformed into an expensive coat.
Thus was the fate of the luckless bear. Having lost sight of the original objective in the heat of pursuit, it ended up wasting its energies fighting an inanimate tree branch.
The moral of the story? A person must never lose sight of his objective and allow himself to get bogged down in nonsense along the way! Even if one thinks he has suffered an unfair blow from this one or that one, forget it! It’s just not worth getting sidetracked. It’s only a “transplanted” tree branch placed in your path by the “other side” for the purpose of diverting your attention from the true goal.
"As soon as the airplane is off the ground and one looks down from the window to the earth below," Reb Mendel would say, "everything that once seemed so big and important and utterly insurmountable is seen as tiny and insignificant, so completely unworthy of our attention. So I ask you, is it really necessary that we waste our time fighting over such petty nonsense?"
My grandfather, Reb Chaim Futerfas a'h, was a chasid of the Tzemach Tzedek," Reb Mendel would relate. "I was raised and educated in his home as my father passed away before I was born. [Reb Mendel was named for his father and so his name was "Menachem Mendel ben R' Menachem Mendel"] Every week he would tell stories of the Baal Shem Tov on motzoei Shabbos, among which were the following two tales:
There was once a certain misnagdishe rabbi who was a porush - an ascetic who deliberately shunned the pleasures of this world and subjected his body to all kinds of self-inflicted tortures. Extremely scrupulous in all matters pertaining to fear of heaven, the porush would fast from Shabbos to Shabbos, with the end result that his body was much weakened.
It was the rabbi's custom to go to the mikva on Fri. afternoon and seat himself on a certain large stone in the building's doorway. When the people of the city arrived to immerse themselves before Shabbos, they would shower him with brachos and praise for his holy ways. 'Gut Shabbos,' 'zayt gezunt, rebi,' 'ir zolt lang leben,' they would bless him.
When this behavior was reported to the Besht, he instructed them to remove the large stone the porush sat on, thus preventing him from taking his usual seat in the mikva doorway.
The next week when the porush showed up, he looked all around for "his" rock but it was nowhere to be found. With no place to sit, the porush was forced to forego his weekly ritual and simply returned home.
That week the porush died.
When they brought the news to the Besht, he explained what had happened. "The life of this porush was not sustained by holiness. Rather, his lifeforce was derived from the forces of kelipa. The respect and honor that he was paid every erev Shabbos for his righteousness became the source of his sustenance, in effect keeping him alive.
"That is why when the stone was removed, the source of vitality which flowed from kelipa was interrupted and he passed away."
The second story my grandfather used to tell is sometimes attributed to the Alter Rebbe and sometimes to the Besht. In any event, one time the Rebbe travelled to a city where there were many opponents of Chasidus. Suddenly the talmidim noticed a man with an ax running towards the Besht with murder in his eyes.
The tzadik ordered his wagondriver to whip the horses and flee at once, in order to escape the impending danger.
Later the talmidim asked him why he had acted in such a manner. After all, they pointed out, the Rebbe had faced far greater threats before and had always showed no signs of fear. What was different about this situation?
He answered, "What's different is that here I had something to be afraid of! That Jew meant to hurt me with an emes, and the emes of a Jew is something to be feared ..."
As my grandfather explained, Reb Mendel would continue, a person can commit a terrible deed (what can be more terrible than wishing to harm a tzadik ch'v?) and his intentions will be "with an emes" so much so that the Rebbe is actually fearful. On the other hand, it is also possible that someone will perform a positive deed (such as fasting and afflicting his body supposedly for the sake of heaven) yet his entire lifeforce will be derived from kelipa!
This should teach us how important truth is, and how necessary it is that we perform our avoda with this element of emes. When a person does something with an emes, and means it with an emes, nothing in the world can stand in his way, and he will be successful.
Reb Mendel used to tell a story about the chasid who was known as "Shmuel der Geller" a student of Rashbatz, the melamed of the Rebbe Rashab and the Previous Rebbe.
"When I was a child," Reb Mendel would begin his tale, "I loved to watch Reb Shmuel daven. To prepare himself, he would sit motionless for hours and contemplate Chasidus; to us it appeared as if he was staring at the wall until his face grew beet red. Only then would he begin to pray.
"And pray he did, for hours at a time, literally from morning till night. Once it happened that Reb Shmuel suddenly realized it had grown late and that it was almost nightfall. Lifting his head in the direction of the sun he cried out, 'Vos shtupt dir?' (Why are you pushing so?) 'Why are you in such a hurry to set?' Then as if suddenly reassured, he answered his own question, 'The sun isn't responsible, it is the koach Ein Sof - the infinite power of G-d that is rushing it along.'
"Reb Shmuel suffered greatly in his private life. Although he was totally blind, he refused to allow anyone to remove any of the Chassidic works he had from his home. When people said to him, 'Reb Shmuel, you aren't able to read them! Why don't you at least let someone else benefit from them?' he would answer, 'When I wake up in the morning and say, "modeh ani," I wash my hands and pass them over these sifrei Chasidus. The mesirus nefesh they contain give me the strength and vitality to make it through the day.'
"Reb Shmuel had terrible family problems as well. His wife and two of his daughters suffered from mental illness, may Hashem preserve us, and his home life was completely destroyed. Cries and screams would emanate from his home at all hours of the day and night.
"I observed Reb Shmuel once at a farbrengen. When first he sat down, his face was downcast. His entire demeanor bespoke great weariness and effort. Not one drop of joy was visible. Then after making a l'chaim on a half-glass of mashke, he suddenly stood up and pounded his fist on the table.
'You yetzer hara! You tried and you succeeded in making me sad, but I say, 'a fife oif dir, yetzer hara!' (the heck with you yetzer hara!).
"Reb Shmuel then broke out in joyful dancing which lasted for almost six hours.
"Sadness and depression," Reb Mendel would conclude, "are the consequence of a person wanting to aggrandize himself. When he realizes that in truth he isn't worth very much, he becomes sad and dejected. Simcha on the other hand, is the result of wanting to make Hashem greater. Why should a Jew care that he is really worthless and empty in both the material and spiritual sense? 'The entire earth is filled with G-d's glory,' and 'no place is devoid of Him.' What is there to complain about anyway as long as 'strength and happiness are in His place,' and "He is only good all the day.' "
as told my R' Tuvia Bolton:
here are two stories that I heard from Rabbi Mendel Futerfas:
Rabbi Mendel spent several years in a Siberian labor camp because of his
Jewish outreach activities. And although his life was constantly in danger from cold, hunger disease, anti-Semitic prisoners and guards, nevertheless he often said that those were the best years of his life. He had to force himself every second to find reasons to be happy.
Now, in Siberia the winter nights are long and often the prisoners passed
the time telling stories. Here are two.
The first story Rab Mendel heard from a Cossack.
It seems that Stalin eventually imprisoned everyone that he thought might possibly oppose him. And soon all the Cossacks, because of their previous loyalty to the Czar, soon found themselves in Siberia.
One Cossack told a funny story. Once he had been assigned to ride a long distance on horseback for some important mission. It so happened that one afternoon while riding he felt very tired, so he
got off his horse and lay down to sleep under a tree near a brook with his horse standing guard over him.
After a half hour he woke, threw some cold water on his face from the
river, again mounted his trusty steed and resumed his journey. But as he
was riding through a small village he noticed a terrible smell. Agh, it
was so strong! 'Probably there is a tannery here' he thought to himself as he sped through the place as fast as possible.
As he left with the fresh wind in his face it seemed that the smell went
away. But then after a minute it returned even stronger than before.
"Maybe there was a plague and they threw their dead carcasses outside of the village" he thought. So he spurred his horse even harder and soon the smell was far behind them.
Or so he thought. Suddenly, as if from nowhere, the stench returned as he was riding through a plowed field.
'Hmm, probably the farmers just spread manure' he thought to himself and he galloped faster and faster.
But when he returned to a main road and the smell was still there, as
strong as ever, he began to have doubts. He stopped his horse, looked in all directions and twirled his mustache immersed in deep thought.
Suddenly he felt something in his mustache. He took his hand from his
mustache gave a look and began to smile. It seems that when he lay down to sleep some of his horse's excrement got caught there!
"I was trying to run from myself!!" And he broke out in hearty laughter
slapping his knee and then Rav Mendel on the back.
One of Rav Mendel's fellow prisoners was a hard core atheistic Jew. Before the revolution he had been a very active 'Bundist' (Jewish socialist). Then he became an avid Communist and eventually a high Party official.
But suddenly he found himself arrested, tried, convicted and condemned to twenty years of 'correction' in Siberia on 'suspicion of counterrevolutionary activities'.
To say the least, he became bitterly disappointed in Communism. But as
much as Rav Mendel tried to get him to become even vaguely interested in Judaism he flatly refused.
Maybe he would consider Zionism, but Judaism NEVER! He didn't believe any of it.
And one night he told the following story.
'"When I was a teen I was a fervent Bundist. Our philosophy was based on politics, work, and good deeds. So every day after a few hours of studies in our meeting place we would walk to a nearby factory and work until sunset.
"Our group of twenty or with an older 'member' as leader, was assigned to a mill working with huge machines that ground wheat into flour.
One day on our way to work we passed a group of young Chassidim walking on the other side of the street dressed in black Chassidic garb with long 'paiot' (earlocks) waving in the wind. And none other than the Rudziner Rebbe himself was leading them.
To us, these people with their ancient Jewish beliefs and customs were
despicable; a remnant from some old museum.
"Aha!!" shouted our leader, "Look at the little horses led by the big
horse!" And we all burst into hearty contemptuous laughter. I mean, we
were all Jews ourselves, but we hated Judaism so much that if we weren't in a hurry to the factory we would have torn them apart.
But their Rebbe just waited silently until we finished, gave a strange look
at our leader and said. "Ahh, I see that you want a strange death! (Misa
Our leader turned to us and mockingly repeated the words "Misa M'shina"
upon which we broke into gales of laughter and began picking up stones and throwing them at those odious creatures.
We arrived at the factory in good spirits, turned on the machines and our
leader, still smiling from his encounter with the Chassidim, again yelled
out 'Misa M'shina'! But as he turned to see if anyone was laughing the
corner of his coat got caught in the mill and in an instant he was being
drawn toward the grinding stones.
He tried to get out of his coat but the machine was pulling too quickly.
Someone else rushed and hit the stop button but the momentum of the huge stones was too great and before our eyes he was slowly pulled into the grinder and pulverized; a real 'Misa M'shuna'.
You think it took away any of our doubts about Judaism? No way!!! We just shrugged our shoulders, cleaned up the mess, ran some water through the mill and went back to work.
We saw a miracle and it had absolutely no effect on anyone. That's how much we doubted G-d. But now, to tell you the truth, I'm having my doubts about all of it; Bundism, Communism it's all the same lies.
03-17-2003, 05:35 PM
After the Rebbe came out on the porch for the first time (after 27 Adar), R' Mendel Futerfas sat down to farbreng in 770. He started crying for a long time to those around him about that he cannot see the Rebbe like this etc, with all around him nodding their heads.
Suddenly he turned around and slapped the bochur next to him and shouted, "how can u let me talk like this? my Rebbe will always be my Rebbe no matter how he looks!"
“What’s the difference between a Chasid and a misnaged?” asked Reb Mendel Futerfas one time at a farbrengen. To illustrate the fundamental difference between the two, Reb Mendel cited the example of the Chasid’s journey to visit his Rebbe, and its lack of a counterpart among other Jewish groups:
No matter what “type” of Jew he may be, every G-d fearing Jew has a rav or teacher he respects and follows, in accordance with the mishna’s injunction, “asei lecha rav,” and to whom he makes periodic pilgrimages for his spiritual betterment. If not necessarily on Yomim Tovim, every Jew will seek out his teacher from time to time to hear words of Torah, ask his sage advice, and receive practical instructions to follow in his daily life.
Although superficially it may seem as if both Chasid and misnaged are doing the same thing, a deeper examination reveals that this is not the case. When the misnaged feels that sufficient time has elapsed since his last visit to the rav, he regrets the fact that he will have to leave his home and family in order to make the journey. What’s more, his daily routine of learning and avoda will be temporarily interrupted. But what can he do? Intellectually he understands the necessity of seeking occasional guidance from his mentor to strengthen himself in Torah and yiras shomayim, so he consoles himself with the thought that the trip will not last forever, and that in no more than a month’s time he’ll be back where he belongs, engaged in his usual activities.
Sitting in the wagon which carries him closer to his rav, the misnaged can already make out the green fields that surround the city, and the farm animals that have been left out to graze. “Look over there,” someone points out. “Those animals belong to your rav.”
The misnaged really couldn’t care less. “They’re only animals,” he thinks to himself. “What’s the big deal?” Another, more chutzapadik thought crosses his mind. “Nu, the rav owns a cow just like I own a cow. The distance between us isn’t all that great after all ..”
Drawing closer to the city he can already see the buildings from a distance, the rav’s chatzar, the members of his family, his shul and even his house. The misnaged is still not impressed. He’s seen nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, all this looks a lot like what he’s left behind at home. The rav has a house. So do I. The rav has his own family and shul, far greater than my own, of course, but it’s not as if we’re talking about something from another planet.
Even when the misnaged is standing outside the rav’s door, about to be greeted by his warm, “sholom aleichem,” and learn Torah directly from his lips, it’s not as if he cannot contain himself. For after all is said and done, the rav is only flesh and blood; the difference between them is no more than one of degree. The rav knows the entire Talmud, Rishonim and Acharonim; he is proficient in all the volumes of shaalos and teshuvos, and the many tomes of mussar and chakira. Pearls of wisdom emanate from his mouth and his fear of heaven is beyond reproach. No one can dispute this. “On the other hand,” the Chasid thinks, “I myself am not a total loss. Instead of the entire Talmud, I’m proficient in almost half of it. I’ve learned much of the Rishonim and Acharonim; I’ve opened up a volume or two of shaalos and teshuvos, and I’ve even learned some mussar and chakira. Certainly there is a great difference between myself and the rav and there is much I can learn from him, but the differences between us are one of proportion.”
Even at this moment thoughts of home recur. “Yes,” the misnaged thinks to himself. “With Hashem’s help I’ll be home two weeks from now, able to resume my Torah study with diligence and further my path in avoda …”
When the Chasid decides to visit his Rebbe however, it’s an entirely different story. For weeks before the actual departure he is filled with excitement and longing, preparing himself for the great moment when he will merit to see his Rebbe’s holy face. In fact, one might say that his entire year is spent in eager anticipation of the annual pilgrimage. From the moment the wagon leaves his village, and indeed, the closer he gets to his Rebbe, the yearning in his heart grow and increases proportionally.
When the wagon reaches the outskirts of the city someone points out the Rebbe’s farm animals. The Chasid stares at them in wonderment, indeed with jealousy! “What an enviable Zechus,” he thinks to himself. “They’re only animals, but they belong to the Rebbe! Would that I merited the same lot.”
An animal need not worry about its livelihood; that’s the job of its owner. All it has to do is give milk and its needs are automatically attended to by its master. So too is it with the Chasid: his only concern is to fulfill the Rebbe’s wish, and all his spiritual and physical needs will be met.
A little closer and the Chasid can barely restrain his jubilation. “Lubavitch!” he exults. “The Rebbe’s city, the “Jerusalem” of the galus.”
A glimpse from the distance of the Rebbe’s courtyard, house and family members, send the Chasid into throes of rapture. “The Beis Ha’Mikdash!” he cries out loud. “Beis Rabeinu sh’b’Bavel – the place where the Shechina rests! I can’t believe it! Surely I’m dreaming. I am actually going to be with the Rebbe b’gashmius!” A wistful thought pops into the Chasid’s head. “Would that were with the Rebbe b’ruchnius as well …”
In a state of heightened emotion, the Chasid approaches his Rebbe, with awe and trembling, with veneration and wonder. In the Rebbe’s presence his independent existence is totally nullified. His very essence is one with the Rebbe and his utterances. Over and over he repeats the Rebbe’s words to himself, trying to absorb the “divrei Elokim chayim.”
Later, when the time comes that he must tear himself away and return home, the Chasid consoles himself with the thought that he won’t be leaving forever; surely he’ll return to the Rebbe again b’gashmius very soon …
One of R’ Mendel’s favorite stories involved a soldier of the Czar who froze in position from the bitter cold while on duty and couldn’t move a muscle. When he was eventually found and rescued, his commanding officer ordered that he be flogged. “How could you have allowed yourself to freeze?” he reasoned with the soldier. “The oath you swore offering your life to the Czar should have been enough to keep you warm!”
Reb Mendel had received no explicit directive from the Rebbe Rayatz to remain in the Soviet Union. Indeed, he could have escaped with his family and friends, yet he willingly chose to stay behind for the sake of doing the Rebbe’s work. He often quoted a saying of Chazal to explain his behavior.
“Who is a “kosher woman”? One who fulfills her husband’s wishes.” Similarly, a Chasid (also a mekabel) does not wait until the Rebbe gives him specific instructions. He does what he feels the Rebbe wants him to do, even without an explicit command.”
In all the years that R’ Mendel spent in prison and at hard labor, he never once defiled himself by eating food that was not kosher, even when it appeared to be a matter of life and death. One time however, he felt that if he did not eat something soon, he would find himself in the next world at once. At that moment he reminded himself of the special bracha for long life he had received from the Rebbe Rashab as a child, not long after his father had passed away. His mother had prevailed upon Rebbetzin Rivka, who brought him into the Rebbe Rashab’s room, where he was blessed.
“It’s just not possible that the Rebbe’s bracha would be fulfilled by my eating treife food ch’v,” Reb Mendel reasoned. And at the very last second a kosher morsel of food appeared which saved his life.
After R’ Mendel was finally released from the “Valley of Tears” in 1964, he went to London to live with his family. Despite the fact that he spoke no English, he was determined to participate in mivtza tefillin in his new surroundings. Whenever he spotted someone he thought might be Jewish, he would cry out, “I Jewish, you Jewish! I tefillin, you tefillin!” with such pleading sincerity that no one could find it in his heart to refuse such a moving request.
Originally posted by whynot
Heard from Reb Sholom Feldman who heard it from Reb Mendel Futerfas Z"L.
"When Reb Mendel was in Soviet jails he was very careful to eat only kosher food. It once happened that he did not receive kosher food, and he felt that he was on the verge on death. Just then he received a package from home with kosher food which made him very happy. After close examination of the seal of the food he realised that the package MAY have been sealed with an unkosher seal thus making the food unkosher.
One one hand he felt that he was always careful to eat kosher and he should not eat it.
On the other hand he thought that if he does not eat the food he will die and the halacha is that he must eat it, if he does not eat it he is committing suicide C"V. the RaMBaM writes if someone commites suicide he has no share in he world to come.
Then he remembered something he heard in the name of the Alter Rebbe: a person must have misras nefesh even to lose his place in the world to come.
He did not eat the food!"
To find a moker for Reb Mendel's mesiras nefesh, view 'Encyclopedia Talmudis' 'yey'harig v'al ya'vor: shar avayros'.
Reb Mendel continued to go out on mivtza tefillin every week, even after the simple act of walking had become difficult and painful. Standing in the middle of a busy intersection in Rishon L’Tziyon he was unusually successful in convincing people to don tefillin; almost no one, it seemed, could decline his unique approach. Whenever someone said that he “didn’t believe” in such things, Reb Mendel would counter with, “Don’t tell me any stories. You do believe, and how!”
Years ago the talmidim of Tomchei Tmimim learned 12 hours a day: eight hours of nigleh and four hours of Chassidus. More recently however, our Rebbeim said that the hours of study be reduced to 9: six hours of nigleh and three hours of Chassidus. According to Reb Mendel the reason for this was to allow the bachurim to devote three hours a day to fulfilling the Rebbe’s call for “uforatzta,” spreading the wellsprings outward – amongst themselves!
Reb Mendel used to ask: How can we we say, “I hereby take upon myself to fulfill the mitzva, ‘v’ohavta l’rei’acha kamocha' before we begin to daven? Are we really on such a high level that we truly feel the exact same love for another Jew that we feel for ourselves?
And yet, because this declaration appears in our siddur, we must recite it exactly as it is written. This in fact will enable us to reach a level on which it is truly felt. A person must therefore repeat the exact words that are printed: nachon lomar kodem ha’tefilla: hareini mekabel olai mivtzvas asei shel ‘v’ohavta l’rei’acha kamocha” before we daven. [i.e. to verbalize the instruction, not just the declaration]
R’ Shneur Zalman Liberow, Reb Mendel’s grandson and shliach in Flatbush, relates the following story he once heard from a Belzer Chasid who was present at a farbrengen with Reb Mendel:
One of the back-breaking chores my grandfather [Reb Mendel] was assigned in Siberia was to chop trees down, tie the logs together, and bring them down-river by boat. One time he volunteered to lead the work crew, a job which entailed standing at the helm of the boat and pulling the rope which lifted the heavy logs.
All of a sudden an “accident” occurred. Losing his balance, my grandfather pulled too hard on the rope and fell head first into the icy waters. The other prisoners stopped what they were doing and fished him out, commiserating with him after he was rescued about his “bad stroke of luck.”
When my grandfather related this story at the farbrengen his face shone with joy. Everyone sitting around the table looked at him blankly until he cried out, “Don’t you get it? That was the first time in eight years that I was able to toivel myself!”
The question of whether or not to recite tachanun on 3 Tamuz has always been debated among Chasidim. On the one hand, the date was not fixed by the Rebbe Rayatz as a yom tov. On the other hand, the Rebbe had written that “Chasidim must also celebrate 3 Tamuz,” explaining that 3 Tamuz, the day when the Rebbe Rayatz’s death sentence was commuted, has certain advantages over the 12-13th of Tamuz when he was actually set free.
What were Chasidim to do? Was it sufficient to farbreng and make positive resolutions, or was it necessary to omit tachanun? When asked about the matter, the Rebbe said, “It depends on one’s hergesh” (feelings).
Reb Mendel never said tachanun on 3 Tamuz. Not only that, he never allowed it to be said by any minyan with which he davened. “How can one say tachanun on such a day?” he would ask with emotion. “I can remember when the Rebbe Rayatz was freed. Everyone was dancing in the streets saying l’chaim to one another. Our joy was so great that it reached the very heavens. In truth, I cannot remember our davening that day at all. But I’m absolutely positive that tachanun was not said!”
Surely there must have been some Chassidim who cautioned that their celebration was premature, for the Rebbe after all was still under sentence of exile, the danger was still present, etc. and how could one rejoice under the circumstances. One Chasid, the mashpia R’ Zalman Moshe, commenced a farbrengen which lasted for days, pausing only to daven and such. On 12 Tamuz, when word arrived that the Rebbe had been completely freed, everyone else who had previously hesitated to celebrate joined in as well.
“Nu,” Reb Mendel would always conclude, “How can one even think of saying tachanun on 3 Tamuz?”
Reb Mendel Futerfas a’h, late mashpia and baal mesirus nefesh, wasn’t always interested in Chasidus. To him it just didn’t have any geshmak. In fact, his mashpia, Reb Chatshe Feigin, almost despaired of ever winning Reb Mendel over until …
The custom in Lubavitch was to stay awake on Thursday nights and learn Torah. Some bachurim studied Chasidus, others nigleh, but all of the learning was done with Tomchei Tmimim’s characteristic enthusiasm and eagerness.
Like the others, Reb Mendel also stayed awake one long winter’s night, but instead of applying himself to Torah, he wasted the entire time sitting and schmoozing with friends. And the subject matter was not exactly Torah and Chasidus either.
Well that was the last straw for the administration. The next day the mashpia called Reb Mendel into his office and informed him that his days in Tomchei Tmimim were over. The yeshiva was unwilling to put up with that kind of behavior. He would have to leave.
Reb Mendel was shocked. Aside from the shame it would bring to his family (especially his grandmother who took her grandson’s chinuch to heart), the thought of expulsion bothered him greatly. Never in his wildest dreams had he anticipated that his mischievous behavior would have such disastrous consequences. Reb Mendel cried and pleaded with the mashpia that he be given one more chance. He would do anything to avert such a harsh punishment!
In the end the mashpia gave in but on one condition. The next morning, Shabbos, Reb Mendel was to appear before him to be tested on the “Chasidic parsha,” the chapter of Likutei Torah on the parsha (it was parshas Shelach that week). The results of the bechina would determine Reb Mendel’s future.
And so, despite not having slept a wink the night before, Reb Mendel sat down to learn. It was a struggle to keep his eyes open, but he persisted. That night he barely slept, and by the time he arrived at the mashpia’s door on Shabbos morning he had mastered half of the material. By then poor Reb Mendel was totally dejected, both b’gashmius and b’ruchnius.
In the course of the exam, Reb Chatshe quickly ascertained that the bachur knew only half of the required maamarim. Glancing up, the mashpia saw a young man before him who was broken and exhausted, waiting fearfully for the ax to fall.
“Tell me the truth, yingele,” Reb Chatshe began. “Why is it that you don’t learn Chasidus?”
Reb Mendel told the truth. “I’m sorry but I just don’t have a geshmak in Chasidus. It seems like we’re always learning the same old thing, the same concepts, over and over again. There’s never anything new, never anything to challenge the intellect and hold my interest. That’s really why the whole thing happened …”
“Let me give you an analogy,” the mashpia replied. “In order to teach a small child the alef-beis, the same letters of the alphabet are reviewed over and over. The child, when he opens the siddur, can see that the alef appears here and there on the page, the beis here and there, the gimmel etc. Each time he sits down to learn he thinks it’s the same old thing. He has no idea that the alef in one place has an entirely different meaning than when it’s another context. It isn’t until he is older and more mature that he can see that his earlier understanding was lacking.
“It’s the same thing in your case,” Reb Chatshe continued with a smile. “If you keep on learning, eventually you’ll get to the intellectual geshmak. In the meantime though, you’ll just have to have more kabbolas ol. The more you put into your studies, the sooner you’ll experience the geshmak. Besides, geshmak is not the reason we learn Chasidus, even though Chasidus is immensely enjoyable. The only reason we learn is that it’s the will of Hashem.”
The mashpia quickly instituted a new study schedule for Reb Mendel: he was to study Tanya by heart. From that time on, Reb Chatshe kept a close watch on his talmid, monitoring his progress and testing his knowledge. Later in life, Reb Mendel declared his indebtedness to Reb Chatshe, the mashpia who “stood him on his feet.” Indeed, throughout the decades Reb Mendel spent in Soviet labor camps and prisons, nothing sustained him more than the Tanya he had been forced to memorize.
Oh, and the gashmak for learning Chasidus was most definitely acquired somewhere along the way. ;)
In Siberia, where I spent many years in labor camps, there are numerous gold mines. A person could dig for many days and find nothing, yet could come across a great quantity of gold quite suddenly. The only thing it depended on was action, actually exerting oneself and investing one's energies. If a person worked consistently, he could always count on eventually uncovering a lump of gold.
How much more so does this apply to Torah and mitzvos! Reb Mendel exclaimed, as it states, "yogata u'matzasa, taamin". The main thing is to make the effort, without regard for the constraints of time or other considerations.
Reb Mendel relates the following incident he himself witnessed. In a Russian city there once lived a great Misnagdic rav who was vehemently opposed to Chasidus in general, and Chabad Chasidus in particular. From morning till night he learned Torah, and indeed this rav was a true gaon, expert in the entire Talmud and its commentaries, having completed its study no fewer than five times.
As part of his daily routine he learned 18 chapters of Mishnayos (including on Shabbos and Yom Tov, the night of bedikas chometz, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur etc. never missing a single day), and gave a Daf Yomi shiur before a large crowd. At the same time he objected strenuously to anything that bore the slightest whiff of Chasidus.
In the same shul where the rav gave his Daf Yomi shiur, there used to be a Chasid, a simple and unlearned Jew who sat with Tehillim in hand and recited Tehillim in his every spare moment. He would sit and pour out his heart to Hashem in the immortal words of the "sweet singer of Israel," Dovid Ha'Melech.
Whenever the rav had to pass by this Jew, one could see the contempt and irritation he felt for such an "idle person," who had nothing better to do than sit and say Tehillim. "Am ha'aretz," the rav would mutter in disdain in the Chasid's direction every time he walked by him.
The Chasid never responded. He accepted the abuse and insults in silence. One time though, he could not control himself, and when the rav called him an "am ha'aretz" he responded with his own insult in return, "Apikorus!"
The shul was in an uproar. What had he done? Where was the kavod ha'Torah? Where was respect for talmidei chachamim? Hashem Himself had been reviled and degraded etc.
The Chasid was contrite. "I shouldn't have said what I did, but what am I supposed to do when he insults me all the time?" he whispered to his friends.
Years passed, bringing the Communist revolution and an upheaval in Jewish life. The Bolsheviks assumed power, mandating that everyone in the Soviet Union, those who wished to eat, at least, would henceforth work for the common good. The Soviet Union would be a nation ruled by the proletariat; no more bourgeois, blood-sucking parasites exploiting the noble Russian worker. Accordingly, only the worker had the right to live and support himself in the Communist paradise. Anyone not wishing to work was immediately labeled "an enemy of the people."
As far as the Jews were concerned, the only hitch in this arrangement was that everyone was required to work seven days a week. The concept of a "day of rest" was looked upon by the communists as a "devilish plot," fabricated by the bourgeoisie and aided by and abetted by religion, "the opiate of the masses." A person unwilling to work on the 7th day, undermined the Soviet economy. As a traitor, such a person was disgraced and denied all employment, effectively preventing him from being able to provide even the barest of necessities for his family.
Many observant Jews who refused to work on Shabbos were left without any means of support, resulting in absolute destitution and hunger. Only a small number were able to devise clever tricks and deceptions that enabled them to retain their jobs, or found other employment not requiring them to desecrate the Shabbos.
(to be cont.)
cont. from previous post
Meanwhile, the misnagdic rav has been assigned an honored position by the Communist authorities. His job was to collect the fares from passengers on the government-run train that ran through the city, and to bring the money he collected to the central government office. Of course this job entailed working on Shabbos.
"There's no choice in the matter," the learned gaon declared. "One is obligated to obey the law of the land." And so the rav began to work on Shabbos.
In fact, all of the rav's scholarly knowledge went into justifying what he was doing. According to most poskim, he explained, nowadays there is no such thing as a "reshus ha'rabbim," everything is considered a "karmelis." The prohibition against carrying is therefore only a d'rabbanan. The money he collects is certainly muktza, but the concept of muktza itself is only d'rabbanan in nature, and not included among the 39 labors prohibited on Shabbos. Most of the passengers on the train are goyim who are not required to keep Shabbos, and they would be travelling and handling money anyway. Furthermore, the situation could be compared to a "shvus d'shvus" (two steps removed from an actual prohibition), in which case one is not obligated to incur financial loss etc. etc.
The most compelling argument the rav put forth was that if he lost his job, he would be unable to provide food for himself and thus would die of hunger, G-d forbid. In such a case, he concluded, the principle of pikuach nefesh certainly overrides the mitzva of keeping Shabbos!
The rav's children, who themselves had acquired comfortable positions within the Communist apparatus, were embarrassed for their father. How shameful it was for an elderly, respected Rabbi to publicly descrate the Shabbos! They offered him a monthly stipend to live out his golden years in relative comfort in exchange for giving up his job, but the rav refused.
"I will never accept an "unearned gift" - the "bread of shame," as long as I have breath of life in my body!" he declared.
And so, every Shabbos, this brilliant gaon would arrive in shul to give his Daf Yomi shiur, carrying the briefcase full of money he had collected, setting it down in the hall before he went inside to teach.
This bizarre arrangement continued until one Shabbos someone in shul realized where their rabbi was coming from before he gave the shiur (the whistle-blower was a simple Jew by the name of Kirsch). Jumping up on a table, Kirsch bellowed that it was forbidden to allow someone who publicly desecrated the Shabbos to give a shiur in shul, and that was the end of the rav's teaching career.
cont. from previous post
Many years later, after R' Mendel Futerfas has escaped the Communist gehinom in the merit of the Rebbe's promise, the Rebbe sent him to be the mashpia in Tomchei Tmimim in Kfar Chabad. One day a bachur arrived at the yeshiva suffering from "misnagidishe shtick," complaining that others weren't treating him with the proper honor due him because of his vast learning.
R' Mendel told him the story of the rav who became a mechalel Shabbos and concluded with the following words, "If a person doesn't hold on to the Rebbe's klamkeh (doorknob), it doesn't matter how learned he is. The possibility always exists that he will lose everything. I've seen it with my own eyes. I'd rather be an am ha'aretz and a fool holding on to the Rebbe's klamke, than the biggest scholar standing on my own!"
Reb Mendel used to tell the following story. The circus, with its ever-popular animal acts, has always been one of the most popular “cultural”exhibits in Russia. The circus would travel across the length and breadth of the Soviet Union, dazzling the masses with ferocious beasts trained to perform. In a reversal of roles, the wild animals that usually roamed the countryside at will and threw terror into the hearts of all, would provide entertainment instead. The crowds would be amused by the animals’ submission and antics, which clearly went against their very nature.
But how did the circus obtain these animals, particularly the lion, the “king of the jungle”? How did they manage to capture and subdue him, let alone convince him to jump through a hoop?
In practice, there were two ways to do this. The first was to separate a lion cub from its mother and raise him in captivity. The lion would grow up in the care of circus trainers and would never learn the ways of the forest, rendering him tame and docile and thus easier to train.
Such lions, however, presented a problem. Having been treated more like pampered house cats than carnivorous beasts, these lions were sufficiently “leonine.” Somehow they just weren’t authentic. They never roared the way lions do in the wild; even the way they moved fell short of the regal stride expected of a king.
Thus many circuses had to resort to the second alternative and capture a full-grown and completely feral lion. Naturally, this is easier said than done. One cannot just walk over to a man-eating predator and persuade it to enter an iron cage. A little ingenuity is required.
And so the hunters would set out for the forest, the lion’s natural habitat. There they would dig a deep pit with perfectly smooth sides and fill it with an enticing bait, plump little piglets, the lion’s favorite snack. And the trick worked. The lion, prowling for food, would smell the delicious aroma and jump right into the trap. Without further ado, the piglets were history.
As soon as the lion finished his meal, he was ready to leave, but alas, he could not. The smooth walls of the pit allowed him no foothold. Roaring his mighty roar he would try to jump out, flinging himself against the walls again and again, but in vain. The pit was too deep. Eventually the king of the jungle would become exhausted and lie on the bottom of the pit depleted of energy.
For over a week the lion was left to slowly starve. It was only when the animal was approaching death, when it could no longer move a muscle in protest, that the villagers would dare to approach it. Then, without fear for their lives, they would climb into the pit and remove the lion’s claws. The lion could then be lifted out and thrown into a cage, which was brought to the circus amidst much celebration. The lion’s education could now commence.
Forever after the lion would bemoan his fate, warning his children not to follow his example. “Don’t fall for their tricks,” he would sadly say, “and don’t think it can’t happen to you. Just ignore the squealing of the piglets. Run in the opposite direction, for that is the only way you’ll avoid my mistake and be able to remain free forever.”
by R' L.Y. Ginsberg (written 5755)
A few years ago I happened to find a book published by certain misnagdim, which was written against Chasidus Chabad in general and against the Rebbe **** in particular. The book was filled with quotations from the Rebbe's sichos kodesh and contained facsimiles of certain pages, the purpose being to "prove" that Chabad Chasidus is contrary to Torah, destroys a person's yiras shomayim, and even ch'v, borders on avoda zara. [this is the book the Moderator(s) on "that other website" use as source material-Jude]
I found myself intrigued. Where exactly had they gone astray, I wondered, and shouldn't one know how to answer their lies? I picked up the book and sat down to read several pages.
That's as far as I got, because within minutes, R' Mendel, with his highly developed Chasidic sense of smell, appeared at my side.
"What book are you reading?" he asked.
I tried to squirm away but R' Mendel was relentless. I was forced to admit what I was reading. R' Mendel was horrified.
"You're not allowed to read apikorsus!" he cried. He was practically screaming. "You're not even allowed to keep such things in your house, let alone read them! No one is "immunized" against coldness and apostasy! No one is safe! Don't make the mistake of relying on yourself."
R' Mendel then told me a personal story.
"One time, in my grandfather's house [R' Chaim Futerfas a'h, a Chasid of the Tzemach Tzedek, with whom R' Mendel lived and was educated], a book suddenly appeared on the table. It was a communist manifesto such as was being widely circulated at the time.
"My grandfather wouldn't even touch it. He flung it off the table with his elbow, not wanting to defile himself. When it had fallen to the floor he stepped all over it, then demanded that it be taken outside and burned."
I cannot tell you truthfully that I was 100% convinced by this story, but with kabbolas ol I immediately stopped reading the book. R' Mendel insisted that I promise him that I would never do such a thing again. Indeed, he reminded me of the incident several times afterwards, even when he was already ill, when speaking was difficult and his memory was failing. This, however, was something he never forgot. Again and again he wold warn me not to be a fool and read books like that.
here's some rare footage of a farbrengen with the famous chassid and mashpia, Reb Mendel Futerfas, a”h. The farbrengen was originally held on the first of the Ten Days of Repentance, 5754, in Crown Heights. The mashpia Rabbi Velvel Kesselman (of Kfar Chabad) was also there. Towards the end of the farbrengen, the shaliach, Rabbi Shimke Lazarov of Texas, joined in.
We (chabad.info) would like to thank Rabbi Yekusiel Feldman, mashpia in the central yeshiva in 770, who has kindly given us this cassette.
The following story took place when Reb Mendel Futerfas, a’h, was fundraising for the Tomchei Tmimim yeshivos of the Soviet Union. The expenses at that time were great and continually increasing. To make matters worse, the government’s persecution of religious activity worsened daily, with all religious functionaries primary targets. Even so, the Tmimim learning underground in the various branches of the yeshiva had to be financially supported. They were constantly on guard lest the secret police discover their location, and they were periodically forced to flee.
In addition to the never ending mesirus nefesh required of the roshei yeshiva, mashpiim, and talmidim, there was a dire need for a substantial sum of money. They needed to buy food, even if it was only bread. They needed to pay those endangering their own lives by sheltering the boys in their homes (or the shul or basement). In many instances, money was needed for bribes in order to thwart the work of the Yevsektzia, which did all it could to fight the “Schneersohns.”
R’ Yona Cohen (may Hashem avenge his blood) was in charge of running Tomchei Tmimim in Russia. He appointed R’ Mendel as the yeshiva’s fundraiser. In addition to raising money from other people, which R’ Mendel did with mesirus nefesh and great success (relative to the conditions prevailing at the time), he also dealt in the black market, donating most of his profits to the yeshiva. He let Anash know that he gave more than he could afford so he could exhort them to do the same.
R’ Mendel lived near his friend R’ Abba Pliskin, a’h. The friendship lasted their entire lives and did not wane even when R’ Abba moved to Melbourne or when he took ill.
The two would meet a few times each day to learn as well as to formulate plans for their public responsibilities. R’ Abba was especially talented in reaching out to Jews who were unaffiliated. He inspired them with the truth of Torah and motivated them to send their children to learn Torah.
Once, very early in the morning, R’ Abba knocked at R’ Mendel’s door. R’ Mendel and his entire household were asleep. R’ Mendel arose quickly, recognizing the knock as R’ Abba’s, and realized that something serious was afoot. He rushed to the door and ushered R’ Abba in.
R’ Abba began: “In our city, there are twins learning in the yeshiva who are orphaned from their father. There is no one to support their family, and their mother wants them to leave yeshiva and go to work. We have to stop this from happening!
“We know the spiritual danger these boys would be in if they stop learning and go to the streets to look for work. They would be pulled away from Yiddishkeit, ch’v! I am asking – begging you – give this family a monthly stipend. If you give them what they would get if the boys went to work, they could continue learning at the yeshiva and remain strong spiritually.”
Despite his already tremendous financial burden, R’ Mendel immediately obligated himself to support the family. He had only one question:
“I don’t understand. Why did you come in the middle of the night? This is serious, but we could have discussed it yesterday when we met. Nothing would have happened if you would have waited until the next time we met, in a few hours.”
“You’re right,” replied R’ Abba. “I could have mentioned it yesterday or later today, but then it would be just another item on your list. I didn’t know if you would have given it the attention it deserves, whether you would have agreed to take on the additional burden. You could have justifiably told me that the needs of the many come before the needs of individuals.
“That’s why I came now. I wanted to let you know how urgent this is. I thought that this way you would take care of it properly. And indeed, I was right, as you did agree to take it on. Now the two Tmimim will be able to continue learning. I am sure that in the end, the klal will benefit from it.”
R’ Abba was not mistaken. R’ Mendel said that after a few years, he could see how his support of the family benefited the klal, too. Those boys grew up and became strong supporters of Yiddishkeit in Soviet Russia. One of them left Russia and worked secretly from the outside for the Jews who remained there. He did this according to the Rebbe’s instructions. The brother remaining in Russia fought on the front lines in the battle to guard the spark of Judaism, and was one of the leaders of the Jewish and Chassidic underground until the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party.
On motzoei Yud-tes Kislev, Reb Mendel Futerfas arrived in N.Y. I went along with many of Anash and the tmimim to the airport where we gave him a warm welcome. We sang and danced with real Chasidic joy, seeing our brother who had been released from the "vale of tears" and was now about to meet the Rebbe shlita.
We returned to 770 in time for maariv. The Rebbe, who was wearing a silken Shabbos sirtuk, gazed upon him for a long time, and after davening he left while encouraging the singing of "pada b'shalom."
Reb Mendel relates many interesting stories, and I'll relay them to you when the occasion arises, but there's one story I must tell you now.
It was in the year 5711. He was imprisoned over there, and one day his interrogators asked him why he wanted to leave the country and desert Russia. When he told them that he wanted to meet the Rebbe, they said to him: Don't you know that the previous Rebbe is no longer alive, and in his place is a new Rebbe who was selected only by the young folks and not the old ones?
To that he responded by saying that in any case, he wanted to travel to see the Rebbe. R' Mendel concluded from this that they had information about what went on in Brooklyn.
The next day, as I heard from reliable sources, the Rebbe asked the secretaries how R' Mendel had been welcomed and what he had said. They told the Rebbe the story I just told you, and I heard that when they said that R' Mendel had told the interrogators he wanted to meet the Rebbe, the Rebbe was amazed and he asked wonderingly whether that's what he had said there.
On Thursday, the 26th of Kislev, R' Mendel went in for his first yechidus. I heard that the reason he didn't go in sooner had to do with the fact that his sister who had lived in London had passed away not too long before, and that her sheloshim ended on the 26th of Kislev.
He went in at a quarter to ten and came out around eleven o'clock. I heard that as soon as R' Mendel left, the Rebbe asked that the maamar "l'havin inyan l'kichas anshei chayil," be found. It had been said by the Mittler Rebbe in connection with the kidnapping of the Cantonists for the Russian army. He asked that the maamar be found that night, or at least by the next day.
They found the maamar, but it was only part of the very long maamar. I heard that the next day the Rebbe asked about the maamar twice, and suggested that they inquire by the ziknei ha'Chasidim who had various copies and notes. However not one of them had the 2nd part of the maamar, and the Rebbe did not look pleased.
(the story of R' Mendel is over, but to read the contination of the tamim's diary entry in which he describes the farbrengen the following Shabbos, and refers to this maamar, see: http://www.chabadtalk.com/forum/showthread.php3?s=&postid=41984#post41984
In 1963, Reb Mendel Futerfas a'h was finally given the green light to leave Russia. That Succos R' Mendel spent in Samarkand in the company of many of his fellow Lubavitchers. The joy that everyone felt over his impending release from the prison of the Soviet Union was expressed in almost non-stop farbrengens. No one could believe that after so many decades of exile and labor camps, R' Mendel would soon be free. Each night of Yom Tov a farbrengen was held in a different location.
The night of Simchas Torah was no different than the others, with the exception that this farbrengen carried over until Shabbos Bereishis! For days and nights the Chasidim toasted each other l'chaim, told stories, and sang niggunim, and wished the baal simcha, Reb Mendel, the best of luck in his future life.
Now a farbrengen in Russia was not exactly an organized affair like it is today. Participants did not sit at their tables and politely listen to a guest speaker. Everyone farbrenged. Everyone had something to say. This Chasid sat and held forth about his hiskashrus to the Rebbe, a second Chasid sang at the top of his lungs, a third wept, while a fourth danced around, thumping his friends on the shoulder.
Right before mincha, when everyone was tuckered out from so much celebration, R' Mendel began to speak. As usual, his message was couched in one of his favorite stories:
"Even the goyim l'havdil, have their farbrengens," he began, immediately catching everyone's attention. "I once had the great "fortune" of attending one, during my time in the labor camps. My fellow participants were all woodcutters, the poorest of the poor. These people had nothing, no homes, no families. After a day of backbreaking labor in the forest they would take refuge in makeshift chatkes (shacks) to protect themselves from the elements, and drown their sorrows in a bottle of whiskey.
"The oldest woodcutter in the group was "as drunken as Lot" when he turned to a younger man and offered his sage advice. 'My brother,' he said, 'do not go too deep into the forest where the woodcutters have not yet cleared the way. The heart of the forest is a dangerous place with wild animals prowling about. Most people who enter do not come out alive. My brother, take my words to heart ...'
"A farbrengen is something from which we derive practical advice and guidance," Reb Mendel continued. "A person who has already run the course, has successfully leaped over the hurdles, knows what awaits his less experienced fellows. He knows all the tricks and deceptions of the yetzer hara and can advise those who are still at the beginning or in the middle of the race. He knows which way to go. 'Don't go into the forest,' he can tell them with a surety born of experience. 'Don't be seduced into leaving the path and venturing into the darkness. If you do, you're liable to fall prey to the claws and fangs of the wild beasts. Just stay on the path and drift neither right nor left. Make sure you don't lose sight of your main objective ...'"
cont. from previous post
Reb Mendel used to quote the interpretation of the Chasid Reb Yisroel Ha'Levi Neveler on the words of Chazal, "heisi'o l'davar acher, literally, "he suggested something else to him." The simple meaning is an attempt to change the subject, but "heisi'o" has another meaning, related to the word "nisuin," marriage.
The "davar acher," Reb Mendel would explain, is the pig. When someone tries to divert your attention from the true path, it is really an attempt to "marry you off" to the davar acher ...
Reb Mendel used to say that he had three mashpiim throughout his life: "Chatche" - R' Yechezkel Feigin (may Hashem avenge his blood), the mashpia of Tomchei Tmimim; Reb Itche der masmid; and Reb Zalman Moshe. But the mashpia, as far as R' Mendel was concerned, was R' Zalman Moshe.
Reb Mendel once told the following story:
While in Siberia I happened to spend a few days in a goy's house. This goy was raising his young granddaughter.
It was in the middle of the winter and one day the girl went outside but by nightfall she had still not returned. The hours passed. Outside, the world was completely frozen, covered with a deep layer of ice and snow. The clock ticked on.
All of a sudden we heard a dog barking. The goy opened the door and his faithful dog came running in, barking furiously. After a few minutes he stopped barking and ran back outside to the open field that was covered with snow. A short while later the dog returned and began barking again. A few minutes later he ran back outside.
The goy understood that the dog wanted him to follow, and he ran after him into the field. He ran until he almost tripped over a body hidden in the snow. It was his granddaughter, almost frozen to death. He picked her up and brought her back to the house where he set her down next to the stove and rubbed her poor body until she revived.
The dog, with his keen sense of smell, had discovered the girl and begun to bark. He barked and barked but when no help was forthcoming, he ran to the house for help. Each time he had run outside, he had warmed the girl's body with his own. He had continued to do this until his master understood the message. The girl's life was saved.
The animal soul, R' Mendel would say, is always trying to cool off the Jew's warmth and enthusiasm with the coldness of Amalek. It wants him to be completely frozen, ch'v, until not even one spark of warmth and vitality remains.
The animal soul wants the Jew to be indifferent to those things about which a Jew has to care. It wants him to be so cold that he reaches a state of the 'opposite of life.'
According to Chasidus there are many levels of avodas Hashem; the level of death does not need any explanation. But boruch Hashem there is also such a thing as techiyas ha'meisim in the spiritual sense.
A dead person is cold ... but there is nothing as cold as human intellect. When the intellect grasps a G-dly concept, and the middos of the intellect are aroused and moved by its geshmak, that is the true techiyas ha'meisim. (Ha'Yom Yom 11 Sivan)
The Jew's objective is to ignore the coldness and ice all around him, preserving the natural warmth in his heart and fanning its flames until even his surroundings are warmed by the radiance of Chasidus.
Sometimes though, the cold is so intense that the Jew is overcome, causing him to fall into the snow and ice which threaten his very life.
In that case, R' Mendel would say, a person must seek 'first aid'. Another Jew must come to his rescue to lift him up and warm him with the light of Torah, mitzvos and Chasidus until he returns to life and actually begins to 'live with Moshiach.'
At the same time, he mustn't wait until help comes from without; it might take too long and all the efforts to revive him will be in vain. A Jew must make sure that even when he is 'frozen,' a tiny point of warmth still remains from whose embers it is possible to rekindle the fire.
And so, R' Mendel would stress again and again, a Jew must have the proper ammunition ready at all times: the letters of Torah, and particularly the letters of the holy Tanya, inscribed upon his mind. No matter where he goes, he must recite them both verbally and in his thoughts, in order that the stone upon which he walks not cry out: Golem! Why are you walking on me? What makes you better than me? (Ha'Yom Yom 7 Adar II). For the final redemption is coming very soon, when the 'stone from the wall will cry out'; let it not accuse him of having neglected to think or say a Torah thought (Ha'Yom Yom 15 Adar I).
But in order to preserve the natural vitality of the soul, in order to contain the warmth of Chasidus, the Jew needs something stronger than either intellect or middos, Reb Mendel would explain. Something which is so strong that it is completely impervious to even the greatest cold.
A wall isn't built from tzomei'ach or chai but from domem (the inanimate). Domeim is solid, secure and immovable. This is the only foundation upon which we may erect our 'building' of intellect and emotion, ensuring that the nekuda remains firm.
For this reason, R' Mendel would conclude, the most fundamental things in the Jew's life must be done with kabbolas ol. For intellect and emotions are very nice, but too flimsy a substance to serve as the cornerstone of our avodas Hashem.
R' Mendel was once speaking about his experiences in the Soviet labor camps:
"The labor camps were mostly populated by murderers and thieves. Some prisoners were even notorious for their crimes, having killed thousands of people. Killing meant nothing to them. Even the prison guards and policemen were fearful. But they never bothered me. Even the worst of the lot figured I wouldn't hurt anyone, so they left me alone. Some even respected me as a "man of principles."
(It once happened that I succeeded in convincing a group of Jews not to eat pork, but when I tried to persuade them to refrain from eating rabbit meat they objected. 'What are you trying to do to us,' they complained, 'turn us into rabbis?')
"Thus to a certain extent, I was accepted and even ignored. After a while they didn't hesitate to speak freely in my presence for they knew my lips were sealed. They trusted that I was not about to go and inform on them to the authorities.
"One day the prisoners were sitting and discussing their bleak existence. 'Are we really going to be here for the rest of our lives?' they asked each other. Someone then suggested that they try to escape.
"The idea was tossed around and given serious consideration. Escaping from a Soviet labor camp was an impossible objective. The nearest town was miles away, the guards were ever vigilant, and human life was worth nothing. Prisoners were shot regularly at the slightest suspicion. Then there was the cold to contend with. The snow was several yards high; a person could fall in and disappear forever. But the desire for freedom was so great that many prisoners were willing to take the risk.
"The discussion concluded with a bit of advice offered by one of the camp veterans. 'The only way to break out of this place is to know exactly where you're going. You've got to have a map of the camp grounds impressed upon your soul, or else you'll lose all sense of direction. That's the only way you'll ever escape and attain your freedom ...'"
"Whenever a person wishes to escape the limitations of his physical body and animal soul," Reb Mendel continued, "or to break the bonds of galus and be freed, the first thing he must do is to make sure that the 'map' is properly impressed upon his soul.
"He has to know the right direction in which to go. The Rebbe's words must be inscribed on his heart and mind, not just in theory ch'v, but as something which is absolutely crucial to his existence. A Jew must live and cause those around him to live with the Rebbe."
Reb Abba Pliskin passed away just one year after the petira of his soul-mate and close friend, Reb Mendel Futerfas. Even in past generations, one would have been hard-pressed to find a more concrete example of true Chasidic brotherhood. Their friendship spanned a period of decades. It continued to flourish even when thousands of miles and an Iron Curtain separated the two.
During his final years of illness when speech was difficult, Reb Abba's face would light up at the mere mention of R' Mendel's name. And when he spoke about R' Mendel, it was as if a new infusion of chayus was coursing through his veins.
Whenever R' Mendel came to 770, his second address was R' Abba's house. Half supported on someone's arm, he would 'run' to the home of his faithful friend and stay there for days at a time. R' Abba even gave him his own bed to use during his visits.
In Samarkand there was a Chasid who prided himself on his ability to size up a person's character. R' Mendel, he pronounced, had an amazing capacity for chesed and goodness. R' Abba, he determined, was endowed with a wondrous sense of truth and simplicity. R' Mendel himself once said that R' Abba was a shtik emes in the presence of which he [R' Mendel] was completely nullified.
Once R. Mendel was approached by a bachur who complained about his lowly state in his avodas Hashem and the depression that came as a result. R. Mendel asked him cleverly, “And what do you do in the middle of Kaparos when the chicken leaves his calling card – right smack on your jacket? Do you stop and run to the dry cleaners? Of course not. You simply brush it off and keep going...”
R' Tuvia Bolton relates:
My teacher, R' Mendel Futerfas told me that once, when he was in the Siberian labor camps, he had nothing to eat for the full eight days of Pesach. The package his wife had sent from home didn't arrive, and he refused to eat anything cooked in a non-kosher-for-Pesach pot, so he drank water with cubes of sugar for eight days. Miraculously, he didn't die.
When his package arrived a week late, the first thing he did was take a matza, break it into several pieces, and wrap it well in newspaper.
"This matza," said R' Mendel, "I kept with me at all times. I never let it out of my possession. I was always afraid that next Pesach I might be without matza, and I couldn' get over the trauma of that Pesach when I was not able to do the mitzva of eating matza."
The only thing that really bothered him was the mitzva.
R' Mendel used to tell the following story: When I was a young bachur, just starting in yeshiva, the famous Reb Itche "der masmid" arrived in Charkov. It was said about Reb Itche that he "davened all day and farbrenged all night." Before he even began to daven he would learn Chasidus for several hours. Davening is a time when "men treft zich un zet zich mit dem Aibershten - a person "meets" and "sees" Hashem, he would say.
Reb Itche also said that when giving over a maamar Chasidus, one had to make sure that it was a "durch-gedaventer maamar" a maamar with which one had davened. Thus Reb Itche spent much of his time davening, as he used to give over quite a lot of maamarim.
Whenever R' Itche was "forced" to eat something, he would sigh. "What can I do?" he would say with resignation. "Gashmius and ruchniyus, the body and soul, are two opposites, and in order to join them together, one needs the "One Who does wonders." Hashem has thus decreed that to access this power, a person has to eat." (R' Itche was a shadar, a shliach d'rabbanan, who was often sent on special missions. He once visited the U.S. and wrote back a letter full of surprise and wonderment. "In this place they eat hamburgers every day r'l." )
Twice a year, R' Itche would daven before the amud, on his mother's yartzeit and on 2 Iyar, the yartzeit-yom hilula of the Rebbe Rashab.
To watch R' Itche daven was an experience unto itself. The uninitiated would often snicker at his strange behavior. R' Itche would intermittently sing a niggun with great deveikus, then burst into tears, all the while banging on his shtender and making odd gestures.
Sometimes he would even grab the chazan's shtender and carry it around with him, oblivious to his surroundings. People who were unaccustomed to R' Itche's habits would marvel at the sight of a Chasid carrying on and "going out of his keilim."
One time, an older bachur in the yeshiva thought I was looking at R' Itche's behavior with a critical eye. He took me to task.
"You think you're a real baal mochin (intellectual) who has complete control over his emotions," he chided me, "and that R' Itche is a baal hispaalus who cannot restrain himself from his outbursts. But you should know that the exact opposite is true. If you really learned Chasidus with the same depth that he does, recited Shema before going to bed with the proper intentions, with an appropriate cheshbon ha'nefesh and contemplation of Hashem, you would see that that which you consider an "outburst" is nothing but the epitome of the "mind exerting control over the heart." You just haven't learned enough Chasidus to recognize it."
R' Mendel had a beloved friend by the name of R' Abba Pliskin a'h. R' Abba and R' Mendel were dear friends from the time when they were both young children. They learned together in cheder, taught by a teacher from Charkov. This teacher who learned with them with utter devotion, although very G-d fearing, exacting in mitzva observance, and of good character, was not a Chabad Chasid. Due to the prevailing conditions at that time in Russia, wars etc. it was impossible to send the boys to learn from a Chabad teacher in the cheder that one went to before Tomchei Tmimim.
They felt a great debt of gratitude to that teacher who put so much into them with such self-sacrifice, who endangered his life daily to teach them, but they could never reconcile themselves to the fact that they had learned from a non-Lubavitcher in their youth. They felt that something essential and fundamental was missing in themselves because of it, as though they were lacking in true Chasidic basics that one cannot acquire except through a Lubavitcher teacher.
[One time, R' Mendel related that two of his mashpiim, R' Itche the masmid and R' Zalman Moshe Yitzchaki, were also "unclean" from the same "sin." They too became involved in Lubavitch later in life, after having learned elsewhere in their youth. This bothered them for many years to come. These Chasidim could never make peace with the fact that the fundamentals of their education, at a time that the seeds are planted in the soul and are deeply absorbed, were received from a non-Lubavitch source. They felt that something basic was lacking.]
At a later point, R' Mendel and R' Abba (together with other young men like R' Michoel Teitelbaum and R' Yisrael Levin (Lipavitcher) worked on organizing the yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim in Samarkand and other places in the vastness of Russia. In the years of wars and famine, in the years of the ideological war, when the Soviet empire and its satellites mocked all that was holy and precious to the Jewish people, when the KGB pursued and oppressed any remaining spark of Judaism, they dared and succeeded wildly beyond any natural explanations, to organize and lead and worry about the maintenance of yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim.
Reb Mendel related:
In my youth I once poured out my heart to my mashpia, Rabbi Eliezer Tshertsherski a'h, about disturbing thoughts. The yetzer hara gave me no rest and did not stop trying to bother me again and again, even after I had been victorious over it. Despite my learning and trying to daven at length etc. they still constantly interfered with my peace of mind.
R' Eliezer said to me, "This world is a world of falsehood. Don't get excited by the fact that falsehood disturbs, interferes, and confuses you. What is important is never to give up the fight for even a single moment. Always stand guard and battle the evil inclination.
"If you don't stop fighting, you won't fall. On the contrary, you will progress in your avodas Hashem. If you stop for but a moment and attempt to rest, and put your battle with the animal soul on hold, that is when you will sink in the mud!"
Picture a person stuck in a mud puddle. As long as he tries to get out, he will get out. Even though at the very same time he succeeds in getting a foot out he sinks further in the mud, in the end he will prevail. It's true that it is a long process, step after step with many ups and downs, but in the end there is progress.
On the other hand, if he remains standing in one place and makes no attempt at all to get himself out (reasoning, what's the use? I'm going to sink further anyway) he will sink deeper and deeper until there's barely a chance that he will ever get out.
So too with avodas Hashem. One must keep on fighting with no let-up. One must constantly try to get himself "out of the mud," even if it seems impossible. Then Hashem will help and the person will truly leave the mud behind and be elevated in His service.
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 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.
When Reb Mendel was asked about publicizing in his name, the need to go to the Rebbe for Tishrei 5755 he said, "Vos? M'darf foren? M'muz foren!" (What? Do we have to go? We MUST go!)
a similar story:
R' Mendel was once being pursued by the K.G.B. when he took refuge wth a certain family of Chabad Chasidim. Unfortunately, the family had a young son who was dangerously ill. When they brought him to a doctor, he prescribed a complicated series of treatments consisting of warm baths followed by medicinal compresses.
The most important thing, the doctor warned, was to stick to the specific regimen he advised. Varying the order of treatments, even slightly, would lead to disastrous results.
The mother carried out the doctor's instructions to the letter with devotion and care, but one day an oversight occurred and the treatments were administered in the wrong order and the boy took a turn for the worse. In fact, the child was lying at death's door.
The woman was so distraught that she could not sit still. Pacing from wall to wall, she wailed, "Vos hob ich getun" (what did I do)? over and over. "With my own hands I have caused this to happen."
The mother wept and wept until her energy was spent. Finally she was able to compose herself. "Vos gei ich itzter tun" (what will I do now)? she then asked.
R' Mendel had witnessed the entire scene from start to finish and his heart was breaking. "Boruch Hashem," he would later say whenever he related the story, "the boy eventually recovered and today he is a chasidishe yungerman." But R' Mendel never revealed the name of the family.
"It was then," said R' Mendel, "that I saw what real teshuva is. Charata (remorse) over the past means being so remorseful that a person cannot rest and he cries out, "What have I done? With my own hands I have caused this to happen!"
"Kabala al ha'asid (a commitment for the future) means asking, "Okay, but what do I do now?"
R' Mendel related:
Whe I was about 20 years old, a short time after I had become involved in communal matters, after learning in Tomchei Tmimim in Nevel, I had to travel to Moscow.
I arrived there late Monday morning and began looking for a minyan for shacharis and kerias ha'Torah. I went into a shul and found the Chasid, R' Folye Kahn a'h, who was about 30 at the time. I asked him where I could find a minyan at that late hour. He told me that in the Marina Roscha shul I could always find a minyan, even at late hours.
Hearing that, I was about to rush off since it would take me a half hour to get there but R' Folye restrained me and said that he had an important message for me. This is what he said:
"When iron is removed from the kiln and is still red-hot, it is placed in a vat of cold water where it is cooled and tempered. At first it sputters and hisses as though protesting the coldness of the water. The water bubbles and doesn't stop making noise, but after a while the water cools off the iron and quiet reigns once again.
"You just left Tomchei Tmimim. You are still 'red-hot.' You are burning to daven with a minyan and hear kerias ha'Torah and you won't forgive yourself if you miss it. As time goes on, the cold waters of life, the mayim rabim, which signify the difficulties in making a living and the various distractions and confusion both from inside and outside, are liable to cool off your ardor and enthusiasm. You'll have bigger 'sins' to worry about and you won't feel so bad at the thought of missing out on davening with a minyan or missing kerias ha'Torah.
"So remember, that which you received in Tomchei Tmimim has to stand by you no matter what. Don't be impressed or influenced by the cold (whether from within or without) or for that matter, by the warmth or excitement. One may not build his avodas Hashem, one's connection with Him or the Rebbe, on feelings alone. There has to be an untouchable, essential 'point' which is dependent on nothing at all, which can be affected by nothing. Neither coldness nor warmth (which is desirable) can change its 'simple, essential' unconditional state!"
The mashpia, R. Mendel Futerfas, related the following:
“As is known, my father z'l passed away before I was born and I was named after him [R. Menachem Mendel ben R. Menachem Mendel]. As a result, I was raised in the home of my grandfather, HaRav R. Chaim Futerfas, who was privileged to be a chassid of the Tzemach Tzedek. In addition to being a tremendous chassid, my grandfather was a great yirai shomayim (G-d fearing) and lamdan (scholar).”
At this point, R. Mendel would stop and emphasize again and again: “Everyone knows that the Rebbe is very precise to write in his customary bracha to a bar mitzva boy that he should merit to be ‘a chassid, yirai shomayim, and lamdan.’ This teaches us what the most critically important point above all else is, despite the great importance of what comes afterwards. The most vitally important and relevant point before anything else is to be a chassid. Afterwards, it is very important to be a yirai shomayim, and only then, is there the importance of being a lamdan...
“In addition to my grandfather’s chassidishkeit and great scholarship, his family was also highly honored and respected among the chassidim. For this reason, meetings on issues of critical importance to the overall chassidic community were held in our home. I especially remember a meeting held after the histalkus of the Rebbe Rashab. It was decided by all the most respected and leading figures in the chassidic community in attendance to establish a connection with his only son, the Rebbe Rayatz, by sending a ‘k’sav hiskashrus’ to him in Rostov.
“As a ‘wealthy orphan,’ I had the opportunity to wear shoes, while my other classmates in ‘cheder’ walked around barefoot, because their parents could not afford such luxuries...
“After a few months, as will be with all material items that wear out – even the sandals that I wore became useless, to the point that I had to buy new sandals. I approached my grandfather, and asked him in puzzlement, ‘I don’t understand. These sandals were hard and strong a few months ago, yet this didn’t prevent them from wearing out after a few months of usage. But my friends, who didn’t have shoes on their feet, went out to play barefoot, and their feet remained in order. How is this possible?
“My grandfather looked at me and said, ‘Mendele, vahs redstu?! Dahs iz a lebedike zach! A lebedike zach vert nisht farfoilt!’” (Mendele, what are you saying?! This is a living thing! A living thing does not decay or wear out!)
Many years later, when little Mendele grew up and became “R. Mendel” and everyone knew him as a great chassid and a mashpia, R. Mendel would farbreng with the bachurim and avreichim and demand that they have a connection to the Rebbe Rayatz and afterwards, to the Rebbe, to Beis Chayeinu, heart and soul, above and beyond all measure.
Chassidim asked him, “How can that be? How is it possible to be truly connected in our present situation, when the Rebbe has left Russia and there is almost no physical connection, and we know nothing about what is happening in Beis Chayeinu? How is it possible to connect and become stronger in the intolerable conditions of Communist Russia?”
R. Mendel would tell them, “If you really want to be connected, always look for vitality and enthusiasm. Know that where there is holiness, kacht zich, shturemt zich, un s’lebt (i.e., there is enthusiasm, there is activity, and there is vitality), and where there is vitality and enthusiasm, there is holiness.”
The following episode adds to the understanding of this concept:
Once there was a debate on a particular community issue. The askanim were divided on the matter, each side claiming, as always, that its approach was G-d’s will.
There was a certain Jew among them, who was closer than most to R. Mendel. Eventually, he decided to turn to R. Mendel and ask his advice.
“Let this be a sign for you,” R. Mendel told him. “You should go where there is vitality and enthusiasm. The Torah is the Torah of Truth and the Torah of Life. Where there is truth, there is life, and where there is life, the vitality and enthusiasm of holiness, there is truth...”
R' Mendel Futerfas related that when he was in Russia, at some point, in order to break him, they insisted that he say the Rebbe's name. They beat him, but he refused to say it. He could certainly have said the name in order to save his life, and it was pikuach nefesh, but he didn't. He would die if it came to that, but he wouldn't utter his Rebbe's name.
Reb Mendel Futerfas, a”h, was once farbrenging in a Russian home. Though the baal ha’bayis was not a full-fledged chassid, he felt close to the chassidim and was basically an observant Jew. How thrilled was he that R. Mendel had agreed to farbreng with fellow chassidim in his home. His wife – a nice but simple woman – was especially elated, and she prepared some special dishes for the occasion. The chassidim, however , were reluctant to eat of her delicacies, knowing that this household wasn’t necessarily meticulous in certain aspects of kashrus.
As the hours dragged on, she became acutely aware that her food wasn’t being touched, and felt bad about it. Reb Mendel, finely attuned to these nuances, suddenly picked up some of her delicacies, ate them and praised her food, making sure that she saw and heard him...
Premise: a chassid has to be discerning in determining whether a “chumra” (non-obligatory stringency) of his might impinge upon or slight or disparage another Jew, or might conflict with another area of halacha.
The Frierdike Rebbe (Likkutei Dibburim) stresses that a chassid needs to have havchana (discernment) to determine wherefrom comes the inner voice which guides him in his decision-making process (determine who is the “zoger”): is it the G-dly soul, the intellectual soul, or the animal soul? Sometimes even a tzaddik may have difficulty making the right choice, when the options contemplated are all connected to k’dusha (holiness) and he doesn’t know how to weigh the merits of all the options and decide which way to go (as in the story of R. Nochum of Chernobyl, who once was in a quandary as to how to disburse a certain sum of tz’daka).
(from R' Yechezkel Lebovic)
R’ Mendel was brought to Lakewood to farbreng for the “underground” group who were interested in Chabad Chassidus but when he arrived there, R’ Mendel just sat quietly. He said he couldn’t farbreng. They said – just tell us a story, say something! But R’ Mendel said – you want me to fake it? If it doesn’t go, it doesn’t go!
And he told them the story of the man who drifted away from Yiddishkeit and who became a great singer in the theater. When he died and the Heavenly Court was judging him, it looked really bleak, and so the man said – but when I sang Kol Nidrei in the theater everybody cried! So they asked him: Where are all those who cried – did they do teshuva? If we can find one person who did teshuva because of your Kol Nidrei, fine…
The point being that his singing of Kol Nidrei was just a show. It wasn’t a sincere outpouring of emotion and therefore, although it elicited tears, it didn’t accomplish anything worthwhile. So too, R’ Mendel refused to put on a show of a farbrengen. If it wasn’t going to be genuine, he wouldn’t say anything.
R' Mendel related:
I once traveled in a wagon for three consecutive days together with a doctor by the name of Citron. We had absolutely nothing in common, but you can't stay in one place for such a long time with another person without saying a word. Each of us tried to explain to the other matters relating to his field, in a way that the other person, who had no background knowledge whatsoever, could understand.
I tried to explain to him some things in aggadata and he tried to explain medical matters to me. He described the pulse which interested me, because in Chasidus there's a concept of d'fiku d'liba (beating of the heart) which affects the rotzo v'shuv, the flow of blood to and from the heart, to the limbs and so on.
He tried to show me how doctors check the pulse by applying pressure to the hand. I also tried to find and check my own pulse, according to his directions, but apparently I wasn't a very good student since I couldn't find my own pulse.
The doctor said, "It doesn't matter. Not everything can be done by oneself. There are things that, in order to have them done successfully, you have to be a doctor."
Concluded Reb Mendel: Yes, there are things which, in order to understand them and ingest them properly,you need to work on yoursef, to reflect, to delve within, to daven at length, and work mightily at correcting your character, etc. All this is in order that these things be understood and ingested properly, that they penetrate the person completely. Even you haven't become a "doctor", when you hear something from the Rebbe you rely on what he said, even if it seems incomprehensible.
In a sharp sicha from the 13th of Tishrei, 5743 (Hisvaaduyos 5743, Vol. 1, pgs. 144-149), the Rebbe says, “The order of business here is that when we gather together for t’filla, instead of davening in a siddur and thinking about G-d, ‘m’kukt oif a basar v’dam!’ (everyone looks at flesh and blood), ‘b’akshanus’ (stubbornly) and without interruption!”
The Rebbe spoke at length about the halacha in Shulchan Aruch that during t’filla, a Jew must stand “as a servant before his master,” yet we “stubbornly” look upon “flesh and blood” in the middle of davening. The Rebbe added that it makes no difference who the flesh and blood is, as according to Shulchan Aruch one must, at this time, only be thinking about G-d.
Among the other things that the Rebbe expressed during this sicha was that he could go into his room and daven privately, as many Torah giants have been accustomed to do, but “I choose not to accept the ‘advice’ to daven b’yechidus, as it is my desire to daven b’tzibbur!” and “why are they trying to deprive me of something so precious as tefilla b’tzibbur?”
After that sicha, R. Mendel sat down to farbreng with the avreichim and bachurim. During the farbrengen, only one issue was discussed: “m’kukt oif a basar v’dam!”
“First and foremost, there can be no question,” R. Mendel said, “we must obey the Rebbe’s instructions according to their most simple interpretation, i.e., look in the siddur with concentration and think only about G-d during davening, etc. However, together with this, there is also a much deeper and inner meaning, albeit by allusion, to the words ‘m’kukt oif a basar v’dam!’
“One of our biggest problems,” R. Mendel continued, “is what chassidim call ‘balabatishe hanachos.’ We look at the Rebbe and think that he’s one of us... Of course, he is truly a wise man, a tremendous Torah scholar, a great tzaddik, a yirei shomayim, one who serves G-d with all his might, does great miracles, totally devoted with complete self-sacrifice for every Jew, etc., etc. But after all, sometimes we perceive the Rebbe to be just flesh and blood as we are, a human being, confined to natural and worldly limitations, and thus, ‘m’kukt oif a basar v’dam!’”
Reb Mendel Futerfas a'h treated the Rebbe’s takana (enactment) of the daily study of Rambam quite seriously. It wasn’t only because of his reverence for the wondrous explanations the Rambam offers, and the organization and arrangement of the entire Torah so that it can be practically applied, but because of the fiery emuna that characterizes the Rambam’s work.
Indeed, the Rambam mentions the name of Hashem wherever possible, far more than other halachic works. The Rambam constantly uses phrases like, “tziva ha’Keil baruch hu,” brich rachmana d’syaan,” and “ha’Keil ha’nechbad v’hanora ha’zeh,” and the like. Moreover, the Rambam establishes that “it is a principle of faith that Alm-ghty G-d speaks to men,” and he stresses that one must believe in a prophet in order to connect to Hashem. This emphasizes how important and essential it is to connect to the Rebbe, in order to be connected to Hashem.
Reb Mendel would say that despite all the advantages of studying the Rambam, the most important thing is being able to learn what emuna is. With all the wisdom inherent in the Rambam’s works, the Rambam retains his simple faith, without embellishment.
Reb Mendel would constantly tell what he had heard about the Rambam. For instance, when the Rambam put on tefillin he needed two men to hold him lest he fall in dread before the Alm-ghty.
“See,” said Reb Mendel, “that’s the Rambam’s true greatness. Despite all his intellectual achievements, his wholehearted faith and fear of Hashem were the true foundation of all his Divine service.”
Reb Mendel was extremely particular about his daily study of Rambam. There were no exceptions. Even when it became too difficult for him to look inside the text on his own, his chavrusos (study partners), bachurim who learned with him regularly, would read it to him and explain it. He never missed the daily shiur. Even when his health was most precarious, he always tried, along with his chavrusa, to understand the simple meaning and the lesson to be derived in avodas Hashem.
At a certain point, Reb Mendel regularly participated in a Rambam shiur that took place in the Beis Menachem Shul. He couldn’t linger much over his studies as he did with his chavrusa, and he would jest that one of the advantages of the shiur was that even if somebody didn’t understand it, the others were motzi him, releasing him of his obligation.
Reb Mendel really didn’t like it when people said that they learned only one chapter of Rambam a day in order to be able to study it in depth. Reb Mendel would declare that the Rebbe fervently encouraged the study of three chapters a day. All the Rebbe’s explanations of Rambam had to do with the three-chapters-a-day cycle. If the Tmimim wouldn’t learn it properly, then who would? Then he would add that, generally speaking, those who said this didn’t even study the one chapter properly. In fact, sometimes they didn’t even learn it at all! He wanted everyone to be sincere in their approach to carrying out the Rebbe’s directives.
Reb Mendel related:
When I was sent (due to my “great sins” against the government) to the Siberian camps, I was put into a large bunkhouse which contained prisoners of all types and backgrounds, from all over the Soviet Union. Our common denominator was our imprisonment for “crimes against the state” and our status as “enemies of the people.” As a result, a strange sort of brotherhood developed between us (as much as could possibly exist between such disparate people).
After a few days, prisoners became accustomed to their new lives, to the backbreaking work, to the frigid cold, to the degradation on the part of the natchalnik and his cronies, to the meager portion of bread, and to everything the place could offer. Generally, people silently made peace with their lot. They tried to wile away the difficult winter nights by relating stories of their past and of this and that, while peals of laughter and joy could be heard.
Amidst the tumult, it was unusual to hear the sudden cry of utter sorrow of someone who could not make peace with his lot. “What happened? Why do you cry?” asked the others. “We all suffer together, yet we continue to live and even joke and laugh. Why do you cry?”
“How can I not cry?” said the prisoner in abject misery, “when I recall my past and contrast that with my present situation? I was a renowned doctor. All the respected people of the city flocked to my door. I was accepted in the highest echelons of society, and everybody wished they could be my friend. Any request of mine was fulfilled the moment I expressed it. I lacked neither money nor honor. Now, bereft of everything, working at demeaning, backbreaking labor, abused by the natchalnik, my life is worth nothing. Is this life? Can one rejoice under these circumstances?
“Do you think you are the only one?” asked another prisoner. “What should I say? I was a successful lawyer. Everybody wanted to be my friend. I always sat among the honored citizens. All pleasures were mine. And now, I have fallen into this cursed place.”
“And what should I say?” asked a third. “I was a senior member of the Party. Everybody trembled before me. One word from me was enough to make them all run to do my bidding. From whence did I come, and where am I now?”
Once they started, all the prisoners, one by one, told their story about how unfortunate they were, compared to where they had come from. All became unhappy and despondent. That is, all except for Reb Mendel, who didn’t take part in the public “mourning.” His face testified to the fact that he was not a participant in their tales of woe. This surprised all the people sitting there.
One of them asked him, “What about you, comrade? Did you have an important position? Doesn’t our pitiful plight bring you to tears?”
Said Reb Mendel with a smile, “I used to be a Chassid (at least I tried to be), and that is something that no one can take away from me!”
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