Thursday, December 14, 2006

From Exile to Redemption in My Life

Nechama Gerber
By the grace of G-d

From Exile to Redemption in My Life

Nechama Gerber


It all started when I was at my friend’s house in Crown Heights the weekend of Gimel Tammuz 1994. I asked her why some Lubavitchers were singing and clapping, at what seemed to be a levaya? She answered, “It says Moshiach will appear to die before he comes.” Woohoo! I went home with the bas mitzva present she had just given me, a clock with a picture of the Rebbe, eagerly awaiting the Rebbe to take us out of Galus… Throughout the years I got very discouraged that the Rebbe hadn’t taken us to Yerushalayim that day, even making fun of the whole thing. But I still felt very sentimental about that clock, which I brought with me everywhere. My high school principal wouldn’t help me apply to a Lubavitch seminary; my seminary principal discouraged me from doing Lubavitch shlichus the next year; a Lubavitch seminary wouldn’t hire me as a madricha for my 3rd year in Eretz Yisroel; and the 4th year Chabad of the Cardo said they might need me but never called. In a shiur we had on Moshiach (during my 2nd year of seminary), the rabbi said there will be a T’chiyas HaMeisim for tzaddikim before Moshiach comes. One girl asked my rav if Moshiach can be one of those tzaddikim who come up from it. He made some faces, gnarled, “I suppose so,” and changed the subject. Hmmm… One Shabbos (about two years later) in a friend’s caravan in Bat Ayin, her Lubavitch mother asked why I’m so into Breslov. When I told her it’s because Breslov is so into simcha, she said Lubavitch is too. And that Chabad is more intellectual, Breslov more emotional; so since I seem more intellectual, I should try Chabad. What impressed me very much was that chassidus Chabad has the same foundation as the mussar vaad I belonged to. A different friend in Bat Ayin joked, “I could see you running around shouting ‘Yechi’ – just don’t let them convince you the Rebbe’s still alive!” I reassured her that there’s nothing to worry about, since I was actually at the levaya. Baruch Hashem I had too many jobs in Yerushalayim, so Machon Alte had to wait almost a year. What gave me the final push to just drop everything and learn about Lubavitch, was when a Litvish friend (whose Breslov rebbetzin told her to learn Tanya every day) told me all these contradictory things about Lubavitch: On the one hand, Lubavitch women are very learned and make the best Bais Yaakov teachers; on the other hand, “There’s a whole book about the g’dolim’s issues with Chabad,” etc. I just had to get to the bottom of this, reminding myself that what Lubavitchers do can’t stop me from learning the chassidus. And hey, Moshiach’s whole origins are so intriguing and unusual, so that the Satan won’t realize how kadosh he is, and therefore won’t bother stopping him. Maybe everyone hates Chabad davka because it’s so true, because the Rebbe really is Moshiach!
I made a one month commitment to try Machon Alte, no matter what. Those first two weeks I felt the tension between myself and the Lubavitchers. They thought I was some spy or something, reporting back to Litvish-Land. I also started attacking them after some rabbi with a really smushed hat said our generation has an obligation to learn chassidus. How can he diagnose my g’dolim with a disease to which chassidus is the only cure? Is he saying my g’dolim aren’t serving Hashem properly? This same rabbi tried spooking us out that the Rebbe is in the classroom with us, and made the “ridiculous” claim that the Rebbe is our Moshe and has nevua! He said if we learn what Moshiach is and learn about the Rebbe, we’ll see it’s identical. One girl commented, “But he died.” He exclaimed, “I can’t believe this is being asked in these four walls! The Rebbe said this is the last generation of Galus! The Rebbe said the Beis HaMikdash will come down on 770 first!” He must be “one of those” that book warns about – I’ll have to be mekarev him. In the meantime, there was also tension from everyone back in Yerushalayim, including my rav, whom I really needed and respected. I justified being in Machon Alte by telling him I can’t be anti-Chabad if I don’t know what Chabad is! He couldn’t believe I was there already a whole week and still hadn’t figured it out, so he dropped the subject. I would lie awake most of the night coming up with all sorts of refutes for everything I had learned that day and wake up already thinking of new questions. And reading “that book” wouldn’t help because Lubavitchers had already put out another book refuting it. I would often go meditate on the mountains, calling out to Hashem, “In the z’chus of Rebbe Nachman, give me clarity!” Baruch Hashem there was one ex- Lakewooder there, Basya Richburg, my island of sanity. She would tell me how she also went through all these questions, and reassured me how peaceful I would feel when the struggle would be over. But I still had to fight it out myself – how do I know she didn’t fall for the same stuff all those other Lubavitchers are falling for? The real action started when I signed up to have a chavrusa. I wanted to know the deal with the Rebbe being Moshiach: he certainly could have been, and maybe will be, but what makes Lubavitchers rule everyone else out? The chavrusa asked how I came to Lubavitch, and before I could even finish telling her about the weekend I got my precious clock, she interrupted: “He didn’t die!” She sat there like a peaceful chassid while I yelled at her about everything you would imagine someone from a mussar vaad to. Despite all my “ingenious” refutes to her “flimsy” Torah sources, I was touched by how passionate she is about the Rebbe. I had never seen anyone care so much about a Torah leader. I met with her the next day to just listen – no arguing; just listening to why the Rebbe means so much to her. She said this is her life – she can’t fully explain it, but agreed to try. I sat there with my mouth open as she told me all these nissim the Rebbe did for her, even after Gimel Tammuz. I tried to overcome the magical feeling I got, like she had injected some spirit in me, by telling myself that this is how cults work, and I have to make a decision based on truth, not some “feeling.” One conversation I probably won’t ever forget was my “convincing” this chavrusa that a Rebbe gets in the way of us and Hashem. She closed her eyes and promised me, from a very deep place within herself, that the more mekushar you are to the Rebbe, the more connected you are with Hashem, and offered to teach me the “V’Ata Tetzaveh” maamer (which explains there’s an extension of Moshe in every generation whose role is to bring out our emunas Hashem.) But I knew her tricks – that when you see something in print it has a powerful effect on you, and she was already brainwashing me enough... By hashgacha pratis, a certain rebbetzin who was close with the biggest opponent to Chabad was visiting Tzfat. I tried arranging a meeting with her, because so far Lubavitchers seemed to really know what they’re talking about, so I was looking for more information to bring up with them. I was also hoping to show her where she’s wrong, because so far nothing my Litvish friends said about Chabad is true or relevant. She sent a message back with someone saying that once someone’s been in Machon Alte “that long” there’s no talking to them; and the Rebbe can’t be Moshiach because of Gimel Tammuz. I couldn’t believe she passed the opportunity to save my soul and recruit me to her seminary! About two weeks into Machon Alte, it was once just me, the smushed hat rabbi and his wife. I told him I figured out my real problem with chassidus: learning all these fancy kavanos and getting a high from connecting to Hashem takes away from doing a mitzva lishma (meaning, just because Hashem says so, regardless of the spiritual results.) When he gave me the answer I had been looking for the whole time but was waiting for a Lubavitcher to tell it to me on their own – that you need chassidus in order to fulfill the mitzvos to know, love, and fear Hashem – all barriers were broken. He was now my hero, and I was now chassidishe. The only question from then on was: Chabad or Breslov? Around the same time, after speaking to my chavrusa on a regular basis, it started to really sink in that although halacha does leave room for Moshiach dying, since halacha goes by what you see, there’s still no way to get around all those other sources (such as Yalkut Shimoni, Ramban, Rebbe Nachman, etc.) that say Moshiach will live forever, physically; that Moshe’s neshama is always mislabesh in the Nasi HaDor’s guf in the physical world (Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 26, page 7); that the Nasi HaDor is compared to the Even HaSh’siya, which is always found in the physical world without any change or being stored away (sicha of Shoftim 5751); and that the world can’t exist without the Nasi HaDor being physically alive (Chassidus 101, Tanya). Add to this the Rebbe’s outright statement that the uninterrupted eternal life of neshama in a guf is starting with him (Seifer Hisvaaduyos 5749 vol. 4, p.148). What does a Yid do when the Torah says one thing but her personal experience shows her the opposite? Baruch Hashem, Rashi already prepared us for this phenomenon by explaining that even though the Mitzrim embalmed Yaakov, he merely appeared to die, while in truth Yaakov lives forever. (By the way, “Nasi” stands for “Nitzutz Shel Yaakov Avinu.”) I guess the Arizal (Shaar Hagilgulim, perek 13) and Rashi (Daniel 12:12) knew what they were talking about when they said Moshiach would first be somewhat revealed, and then concealed before he’s fully revealed? That Lag B’Omer night in Meiron was the first time I was ever really happy R’ Shimon Bar Yochi revealed the Zohar to us. It was also the first time I was torn between wanting to hang out by the Na Nachers and moving on to the Lubavitch section! There were these two guys dancing and doing cartwheels with big Moshiach flags, blasting “HaRabbi Mi’Lubavitch, hu Moshiach.” I felt so proud to be part of the Rebbe’s people. On my way out of Meiron the next morning, I obtained my first little Moshiach flag. My chavrusa also brought me to my first Lag B’Omer tahalucha later that day. When my month commitment to Machon Alte was almost up, I had to decide if I would stay at the expense of losing my madricha job in the Heritage House in Yerushalayim. I was thinking about it on one of my long walks around Tzfat, when I felt as if the Rebbe put his hands on my shoulders. I heard the Rebbe tell me, “Nechama, zai shtill.” I understood the Rebbe wanted me to stick around Machon Alte. So I did. But it still gnawed at me that maybe my rav knows something I overlooked, which would make me rethink becoming Lubavitch. He got annoyed that I called to talk about it: “Look, I’m not going to try to talk you out of it; you like it, so good.” I wasn’t satisfied with that lame answer after all his hockening me about going there to begin with, so I pushed for a real reason. He asked if they think the Rebbe’s Moshiach. When I told him they have their sources, he said, “They’ve gone mad! He died. Gamarnu!” (Mind you, this is the same rav who, three years earlier, said he supposes Moshiach could come from the dead.) He got defensive when I tried clarifying if there’s a real hashkafic/halachik issue, or if he just thinks they’re silly. Finally he quipped, “If you have any more questions, turn another page in the sicha or fax a letter to the Ohel.” I still gleefully follow my rav’s advice to this day! So basically, the Litvaks I know have no solid, Torah-based reason to stay away from Lubavitch, and Lubavitchers have every good reason to come closer. It was sad and disappointing to realize this about the people I respected, but at the same time, relieving to know I finally found the emes I had been toying with the past eleven years.
One thing that surprised me throughout my stay in Tzfat was Lubavitchers who thought the Rebbe’s being Moshiach is a secret. Here I am, putting my life on hold to find the truth, and they’re hoarding information from me. I felt so deprived and left out. Why is the smushed hat rabbi and chavrusa the only ones open about the Rebbe’s own words and actions? Why must we hide the psak din that some other chassidishe rebbes signed, paskening that the Rebbe is Moshiach? Why did one rabbi insist it’s bad to say “Yechi,” when I see videos of the Rebbe encouraging it publicly? What makes the Moshiach flag a “chillul Chabad”? If it said, let’s say, “Torah,” would that be a “chillul Chareidim”? Many months later I was finally granted the privilege of learning that there was a time the Rebbe used to be very against chassidim publicizing him as Moshiach. That even though in 5751 the Rebbe was very pleased with the seifer Yechi HaMelech and then even gave his explicit approval of Yechi HaMelech HaMoshiach (whose goal is to explain the p’sak din regarding Moshiach), at first the Rebbe was the opposite of pleased, to say the least. That although we saw the Rebbe encouraging “Yechi” day in, day out – including the Yud Shvat 5753 live worldwide satellite broadcast – the Rebbe did get very upset earlier on when chassidim sang a niggun with the words “HaRebbe Moshiach Tzidkeinu” at the Shabbos Bereishis 5745 farbrengen. That even though Kehos got the Rebbe’s clear permission to print “Rebbe shlita Melech HaMoshiach” in their introduction to Besuras HaGeula, and the Rebbe himself openly discusses Moshiach’s identity in sichos he personally edited for newspaper publication, this was uncharacteristic of the Rebbe in the earlier years. And that all the stories of the Rebbe approving shluchim’s advertising him as Moshiach (such as those documented in V’Hu Yigaleinu/And He Will Redeem Us) came only after many famous stories of the Rebbe strongly reacting the opposite. Oh, I also learned that at first the Rebbe was opposed to becoming Rebbe. These two role models (smushed hat and chavrusa) who changed my life are able to help me because they are proud of everything the Rebbe says. They have emuna in and rely on the Rebbe, trusting that if the Rebbe becomes open about something, then certainly we have nothing to fear. They also really live with the Rebbe on a constant basis, are more passionate, happy, and peaceful. There’s a certain aura they radiate, stemming from pure emuna and hiskashrus with the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach.
While visiting the Heritage House in Yerushalayim one Shabbos (five weeks into my stay in Machon Alte), I had a really bad nose bleed. Baruch Hashem, someone stopped it for me, but I still felt a major loss of oxygen and very weak. At one point I was alone in the house for about two hours. I finally lied down on the couch to die, said Shma, told Hashem I love Him and am sorry for making fun of the Rebbe. I was glad to at least leave this world as a chassid of the Rebbe. Maybe this was even my entire tafkid? Suddenly it occurred to me that I might live, and I remembered learning that one way to hold on to an inspirational experience is by taking on something concrete, which would make you relive the inspiration every time you do this thing. Nothing really appealed to me, until Hashem gave me a brilliant idea: I made a deal with Hashem that if He saves me from this with no brain damage, I would be bittul to the Rebbe shlita Melech HaMoshiach. I would even wear a sheitel after I got married (as opposed to those comfortable funky tichels I had my heart set on), would have a million kids, and would even leave Eretz Yisroel if the Rebbe sends me out. I would do anything and everything the Rebbe says. Within minutes I was feeling strong enough to go upstairs to get dressed and daven! I couldn’t find a Nusach Ari Siddur, but switched as soon as I got my hands on one. The next day, Erev Chag HaShavuos, I called the rabbi from Machon Alte to ask what to do different over Shavuos, now that I’m dedicated to Lubavitch. We officially finished the conversion when I got back to Tzfat. After going through some differences in minhagim and halachos, he told me what it means to be a Lubavitcher chassid: Be mekushar to the Rebbe, have a lot of Ahavas Yisroel, and do everything with the kavana of bringing Moshiach. I decorated my first Chitas cover with a quote from a Musar Seifer by Rav Yerucham Levovitz ZT”L, in the name of the Alter of Chelm: “The Rebbe said!” – and after that, nothing further is required… The goal of all the wisdom and understanding that passes between Rebbe and Talmid … is the student’s giving himself over, emuna in the Rav.
I still love Rebbe Nachman and have a lot of hakaras ha’tov for the simcha and strength his teachings gave me when I needed it. And the Rebbe’s being Moshiach doesn’t retroactively undo the fact that Rebbe Nachman sent one of his Chassidim the petek (Na Nach note). I still appreciate the kabalistic principles that a) the tenth song will be a four-letter tzaddik’s name built up one letter at a time (like Me Mena Menach Menachem) and b) doing that to a tzaddik’s name increases his kochos in the world. The truth is one doesn’t have to choose between Rebbe Nachman/Keter/Likkutei Moharan, and the Rebbe/Malchus/Sichos, because the Rebbe’s neshama klalis includes Rebbe Nachman; his sichos and Igros Kodesh include Likkutei Moharan (since the Rebbe learned Likkutei Moharan, even making a direct reference to it twice); and Malchus is both rooted in Keter and is the Keter of the s’firos below it. Even their names are the passive and active forms of the same shoresh. That’s why you’ll notice a petek necklace next to my Moshiach pin, and a big Na Nach sticker next to my Lubavitch s’farim.
Early on in my search through different hashkafos, a friend tried helping by telling me to think of our g’dolim. Since when you follow a gadol you end up with them, so if they’re wrong you’ll be in Gehinom with them. The thought of my g’dolim in Gehinom tickled my brain, and comforted me that “of course, Chareidi Litvaks are right.” After my commitment to Chabad, this friend asked what Lubavitch gives me that nothing else did? I told her it can’t be their systematic approach to learning and Yiddishkait, because we already had that in the Musar vaad we were part of for three years. And it can’t be chassidus, because I already had Breslov books and meditated regularly. The answer is, “The Rebbe.” She asked me to explain, and it was then that I started to understand why my chavrusa (who is now my mashpia) said she just couldn’t explain the concept of Rebbe; it’s our whole life. And thanks to those two role models, I can confidently say that I’d rather go to the Gehinom of a chassid than any gadol’s Olam HaBa. The story doesn’t end here. The stronger my emuna and hiskashrus, the stronger the Satan. Throughout my “shana rishona” of being Lubavitch, many people have showed me many things to make me seriously reconsider being a chassid of the Rebbe, chas v’shalom. To get clarity I tracked down people who could give me details of what that B’nei Brak rosh yeshiva said; but either they didn’t really know specifics, or they weren’t willing to tell me. I found that extremely frustrating: if a gadol openly says something, who are they to cover up for him? I thought we’re supposed to have emunas chachomim, and be proud of our g’dolim’s (and Rebbe’s!) announcements. I even hunted down that rebbetzin (who avoided me in Tzfat) and met her in her house. She tried turning the tables, asking me all sorts of questions, avoiding it, finally admitting she doesn’t really know what he said, absolutely refusing to refer me to those who do. She commented that I looked so pained, how someone so young shouldn’t have to carry such a burden. I let out my frustration: “It pains me that the whole world is against Chabad and doesn’t even know why! How come no one can tell me that gadol’s issue?” When I shared this with a Litvak, she was surprised, and referred me to a website that would spell out “all the problems with Chabad.” It had some pretty shocking things different g’dolim said about the Rebbe, in addition to a paraphrasing of a certain sicha from 5710 suggesting avoda zara, ch”v. I realized that the bottom line is: either the Rebbe is a tzaddik and his sichos are emes, or the opposite, chas v’shalom. So I called a really big rav who is known for his ahavas Yisroel, deciding that whatever this future gadol says will be it. He said he’s not qualified to answer if the Rebbe is a tzaddik or not, but offered to tell me that “the Rebbe never said he’s Moshiach, and certainly never said he would be after he dies, and it’s questionable if saying that the Rebbe is still alive is part of Torah.” (He also added that he’d still accept me even if I stay Lubavitch.) I clarified that I’m Meshichist because of the Rebbe’s sichos, and that’s why I want to know if he’s a tzaddik and his sichos are emes. He said he doesn’t know; he never learned the Rebbe’s sichos. Since I called to listen and not to debate, I thanked him very much, amazed at how he knows what the Rebbe never said – in those sichos he never learned. Over the next few months I did some research regarding the information on that website. Most of the stories and “quotes” from different g’dolim turned out to be not only untrue, but to be the opposite of how those g’dolim actually regard the Rebbe. I also learned that regarding that “avoda zara” sicha – this blogger obviously never learned the whole sicha, and very much misunderstood the one or two paragraphs he did read. However, the website did do a magnificent job showing how the Rebbe himself made it clear to us he’s The Final Moshiach, encourages “Yechi,” allows people to call him “Rebbe shlita Melech HaMoshiach” to his face, was pleased with the woman who handed him the “Yechi” tambourine, etc. I informed the website owner of the inaccuracies, and thanked him for spreading the Rebbe’s sichos all over the internet.
The stormier the Satan’s wind of doubt, the stronger my enthusiastic devotion to the Rebbe burns, baruch Hashem. I still can’t get over how the Rebbe Rashab picked me, out of all my friends and family, to be Lubavitch. I certainly didn’t do anything to deserve it! You can’t even compare life as a Lubavitcher to the old world. It’s like going from Exile to Redemption, literally. Amen!
Yechi Adoneinu Moreinu V’Rabbeinu Melech HaMoshiach L’olam Va’ed!
Long Live our Master our Teacher and our Rebbe King Moshiach Forever and Ever!
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