Chassidic story & lesson for Parshas Bo-The Misnagdishe Rav appointed by the Rebbe Rayatz

Chassidic story & lesson for Parshas Bo

In this week’s Parsha, Parshas Bo, we learn of the exodus and how the Jewish people left Egypt with utter faith in God and Moses, not knowing to where they were heading, and what provisions they would have for the journey. Although it seemed clear that they were underprepared both in food and water for the journey, they nonetheless left with blind faith in their leader and followed his instructions to leave Egypt in a hurry by midday of the 15th of Nissan. In the following story with the Rebbe Rayatz, we will see a similar devotion that Hasidim had towards their Rebbe, the Rebbe Rayatz, and learn an eternal lesson so appropriate for the day of Yud Shevat regarding the level of devotion and subordinance that a Hasid is to have for his Rebbe.

“Whoever refuses to listen to the Rebbe, will receive a chair on his head!”

The Rebbe Rayatz instructed the Chassidim to vote for the candidate of the opposition party:

The following story was related by Rabbi Zalman Chanin Sheyichyeh, in name of his father, Reb Chaikel Chanin z”l, who was an active participant of the story and was the emissary that the Chassidim later sent to live in the house of the elected Rav in order to observe him. The story featured as an article in a number of years back[1] and has been adapted from there:

In the early 1930s official elections were taking place for the position of the chief rabbinate of the city of Moscow, the Russian capital. This election was taking place in the era of the Stalinist regime, and in the heat of the atheist state’s persecution of religion which caused tens of thousands of men of religious clergy to be incarcerated and killed. Needless to say, as important as this election was for there to be a rabbinical leader to give Torah true guidance to the populace, it was even more so covered with trepidation for all the candidates, knowing that if they were to be elected, they would be under the close scrutiny of the Stalinist regime and the KGB of those days [NKVD]. The interests of the state, of course, was for the appointed Rabbi to act as a puppet of the regime and reiterate its desires and directives to the populace.

There were two candidates for the position, one who was a Lubavitcher Rav by the name of Refael Germanovicher-Kahn who was until that point the chief Rabbi of the city of Neville. The second was an Olamsher Rav by the name of Yaakov Klemens, who was an alumnus of the Novardik yeshiva, and was the candidate of the Misnagdim. Naturally, the Hasidim campaigned for their candidate while the Misnagdim campaigned for theirs.

Rabbi Boruch Sholom Kahn [the father of Rav Rafael Nachman Kahn z”l, and Grandfather of Reb Yoel Kahn Shlita] was one of the distinguished rabbis in Moscow at the time and he was on the head of the election committee on behalf of getting the Hasidic candidate elected. Rabbi Kahn and his group of volunteers worked endlessly to campaign and convince the Jewish residents of Moscow to vote for the Hasidic candidate, until something drastic happened that changed everything.

Several days before the elections, a telegram was received from the Rebbe Rayatz, who at that time resided in Riga, which instructed the Hasidim and Jewish residents of Moscow to vote and campaign for Rabbi Klemens, the candidate of the Misnagdim, to be elected as the chief Rabbi. Needless to say, the Hasidim were in total shock and all pandemonium broke loose amongst the campaign team of the Hasidic candidate, and the Hasidic residents of Moscow. While many Hasidim, including Rabbi Kahn who was the head of the campaign team for the Hasidic Rav, like true soldiers, immediately dropped their campaigning for the Hasidic Rav and began enthusiastically campaigning for the Rav of the Misnagdim, there was a significant minority who refused to accept the notion that the Rebbe Rayatz would instruct them to vote for the Rabbi of the opposition party when there is a viable Hasidic candidate present, and decided that they must personally clear up this matter with the Rebbe Rayatz directly, as perhaps there is some alternative meaning to his instructions. An emergency meeting was called with the Moscow Hassidim to discuss the matter. Rabbi Kahn, who was present by the meeting, urged absolute obedience by all of the Hasidim to the new directives of the Rebbe, and that they should not make any distortions and Pilpulim of what he meant, but rather fulfill the instructions like soldiers exactly as they were given. When other Hasidic members continued to voice dissent, Rabbi Kahn lifted up a chair and said, “Whoever refuses to listen to the Rebbe, will receive a chair on his head.” And so, the meeting ended without any change from the decision to follow exactly as the Rebbe had instructed, and so it was that Rabbi Klemens was elected as the chief Rabbi of Moscow.

In the aftermath of the story, while at first it was unknown as to why the Rebbe had given his directives, it later became revealed that Rabbi Klemens had a relationship with the Rebbe, and was a steadfast supporter of his underground movement to keep Torah Judaism alive in the Stalinist regime. He was also a firm believer of the uncompromising Torah values in which Lubavitcher Hasidim were brought up with, and would therefore remain steadfast in encouraging them not to compromise in any matter of Jewish law, despite the persecution. A witness to this firm and steadfast nature of the Rav was Rabbi Chaikel Chanin, who lived in the house of the Rav for quite some time and relates a further very interesting story which is beyond the scope of this article.

The Divine lesson from the story:

The lesson that can be learned from the above story is quite straightforward and obvious: A true Hassid has absolute obedience to his Rebbe’s directives. Obedience means that one follows his instructions and rulings and philosophies even when it is most uncomfortable, and even if until that point we have been ideologically opposed to such ideas and have been a strong voice for the opposite of what the Rebbe has said. Meaning, that not only does one need to follow the instructions of the Rebbe when he too understands the physical or spiritual gains in doing so, but even when he does not, and in his opinion it seems that these instructions of the Rebbe are detrimental physically and spiritually, nonetheless not only does he forgo his own personal opinions and follows the Rebbe’s instructions, but he becomes an avid campaigner for them. It is very easy to be a Hasid when the Rebbe simply says things that you like and anyways agree with. The real challenge, and true sign of one’s subservience to his Rebbe, is when one listens to him even when it hurts, and even when it opposes ideological truths that he had believed in until then. Not every person has to be a Hassid, and one can choose to remain an admirer of the Rebbe and agree with him on most points but on certain points retains his own ideologies and ideas. In essence, such a person retains his own independence, and for him the Rebbe is simply a tool to provide him with information that he does not oppose. However, one who wants to count himself as a Hasid and not just a mere admirer must give himself over completely to the Rebbe, and be ready to change predisposition ideologies and activities so they conform with the Rebbe’s mission and will, to the point that he becomes an avid supporter and propagator of them. Redefining and manipulating the Rebbe’s instructions and words in order so it fit with one’s own personal beliefs and ideologies and agendas, in order so he can reassure himself that he remains a true Hassid, is fooling nobody but himself and such a person should contemplate the response of Rabbi Kahn in the above story. At the very least, one should be true with himself, and if he can’t conform with the face value instructions of the Rebbe then he should tell himself that he has unfortunately yet to reach this level which he will God willing try to work on, rather than enter false notions into the Rebbe’s intent so it always be comfortable with his current belief system. With that said, let us all do a soul introspection and focus on taking upon ourselves something that we truly know is the face value will and instruction of the Rebbe, even though it opposes our personal beliefs and ideas, and with that let us begin climbing the ladder from admirer, to soldier, to Hasid.



[1] While the original article was personally saved it seems that the link to the article online is been disabled.

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