100 Years of Chassidus & Hiskashrus
July 10, 2019
Avremele Rainitz in #1173, Chabad History, Profile

The incredible life story of Rabbi Avrohom Tzvi Segal-Landa, who journeyed from Chassidic Riminov to Litvishe Pinsk and from there to Tomchei Tmimim Lubavitch.

A young bachur walked toward the Rebbe Rayatz’s yechidus room on the second floor of 770, overcome with emotion over entering the holy place known by Chassidim as the “holy of holies” and “gan eden ha’elyon.” This was the first time he would be having yechidus since becoming a Lubavitcher Chassid a number of years before. When he entered, he met the gaze of the Rebbe Rayatz who sat on the other side of the desk.

He was not alone with the Rebbe. In a corner of the room stood the secretary, Rabbi Eliyahu Yochil Simpson, who repeated what the Rebbe said and explained it when necessary (at that time, unfortunately, due to the Rebbe’s poor health, it was hard to understand him and the Mazkir was often needed during the yechidus to explain what the Rebbe said).

Perhaps this is what bothered the bachur or maybe this is not what he meant, but he simply wanted the Rebbe to receive him in yechidus in the fullest Chassidic sense of the term in which the yechida of his soul could connect with the yechida of the Rebbe’s soul. Either way, he asked, “Rebbe, I am asking for yechidus!”

The Rebbe accepted the request and motioned to R’ Simpson to leave the room. R’ Avrohom Tzvi now stood facing the Rebbe in yechidus, in its purest sense.  However, the Rebbe began to speak and R’ Avrohom Tzvi could not understand a word! He concentrated and tried to understand the Rebbe, but in vain. He knew he had to solve the problem immediately, otherwise, he would leave the yechidus without having understood the Rebbe. Mustering his strength, he motioned, as if to say “Perhaps, it is worthwhile to call R’ Simpson back?”

The Rebbe paused, gave him a penetrating look and in a deep voice he slowly said, word by word, HMenn darf alayn farshtayn” — “One needs to understand on his own!”

What happened next is something R’ Avrohom Tzvi would never forget. The moment the Rebbe said this, his ears miraculously received the ability to understand everything the Rebbe said to him. Not only that, but in later private audiences with the Rebbe, he did not need the help of the secretary. Even when his younger brother Berish had yechidus, he was the one who accompanied him and repeated what the Rebbe Rayatz said.

This point that the Rebbe made, that one needs to understand on his own what the Rebbe said, reflects the great transformation that he had wrought within his life when he decided to switch Yeshivos, and learn in Tomchei Tmimim. Nobody convinced him to make the switch; on his own, he realized that the truth is with the Rebbe Rayatz and he could be part of something very special by learning in his yeshiva, Tomchei Tmimim. He was filled with a great yearning for the teachings of Chassidus and at the age of 21, he became a Lubavitcher Chassid.

THE LIFE-CHANGING PAMPHLET

Avrohom Tzvi Landa was born on the 7th of Teves 5679/1918 in the Galician city of Sanz to his parents Yehuda & Tila Baila Landa. His father was a follower of the Rebbes of the Ruzhiner dynasty and Chassidic practices & customs were observed in their home. However, there were no organized Yeshivos in Galicia at the time and so, when an emissary of the Litvishe yeshiva in Pinsk came to their Town and suggested taking Avrohom Tzvi with him, his father agreed to send him to learn there .

As a bachur from a Chassidishe home, it wasn’t easy for him. He and the other boys who came from a Chassidishe environment found it hard to wear their Chassidishe garb and follow their Chassidic practices when the environment was so different. Maintaining an untouched beard wasn’t easy when most of the talmidim in the yeshiva trimmed and scoffed at those who did not.

By divine providence, somehow a small booklet in Yiddish called, “The Suffering of the Lubavitcher Rebbe” that was published in Riga in 5790 found its way into his hands. This booklet described the arrest and redemption of the Rebbe Rayatz in 1927. The vivid descriptions of the Rebbe’s mesirus nefesh captivated the young bachur and fired him with renewed strength not to be fazed by those who mocked him.

At this point, the decision to become mekushar to the Lubavitcher Rebbe began to sprout in his heart.

In Pinsk, he met a Lubavitcher Chassid by the name of R’ Abba Pliskin (not Rabbi Yisrael Abba Pliskin who later lived in Crown Heights). R’ Pliskin showed him pamphlets of Likutei Dibburim which made a tremendous impression on him. Even decades later, he expressed his warm feelings for Likutei Dibburim saying in yidish yedder vort iz perl”(every word is a pearl). R’ Abba also gave him the address of the Rebbe in Riga and said that the Rebbe does not limit himself to Lubavitcher Chassidim. If he wrote to the Rebbe, the Rebbe would surely respond.

ORGANIZING CHASSIDIC YESHIVA STUDENTS IN LITVISH YESHIVOS

Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, Pinsk was annexed by the Soviet Union and most of the talmidim of the yeshiva made their way to Vilna. From there, it was still possible to leave for other countries. At that time, Vilna became a city of refuge for a number of Litvishe yeshivos, each of which had Chassidishe talmidim. R’ Avrohom Tzvi met with these bachurim and found that many of them had a hard time observing their Chassidic customs and they needed chizuk. He contacted R’ Yosef Wineberg, one of the Talmidim in Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim which had also sought refuge in Vilna, and together they would visit the Chassidishe bachurim who learned in Litvishe yeshivos and boost their morale.

On 4 Adar I 5700, Avrohom Tzvi sent a letter to the Rebbe Rayatz in which he told him about the new organization. The Rebbe responded:

In response to your letter of the fourth of this month, that they were moved to found an association of students from Chassidic stock that are in the yeshivos of Kamenitz, Kletzk, Pinsk, Bialystok, Lomzhe, Ostrov-Brisk, Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin, Tomchei Tmimim, and Slonim, and that they enacted general rules and also chose a vaad ruchni (spiritual committee) and a vaad hapo’el (an action committee), this is very good.

It all depends on how devoted and committed the vaad ruchni will be, to remind the local committee in each yeshiva to keep to the set times for learning and farbrenging, and to what extent it will be active and work to put into practice the rules that they set and be in contact with the other yeshivos. Because without a doubt, the students from Chassidic stock of the other yeshivos will certainly participate and gladly join this association.

May Hashem help them succeed in their work and Hashem should find pleasing the work of their hand, and it should produce good results in strengthening the learning of Torah with fear of heaven and the fulfillment of mitzvos b’hiddur as per the directives of the teachings of Chassidus.

Please write me from time to time about your work and activities and where I can help, I surely will.

THE LETTER THAT WANDERED FROM RIGA TO LAKEWOOD

In accordance with the Rebbe’s letter, they decided to call the new organization “Igud Talmidei Hayeshivos MGeza Ha’Chassidim B’ Yeshivos Shonos” (Union of students of Chassidic stock in various yeshivos).

A month later, on 10 Adar II, R’ Avrohom Tzvi sent two letters to the Rebbe, one personal and one general. In the personal letter he wrote about his desire to switch to learn in Tomchei Tmimim and in the general letter he updated the Rebbe on the latest activities of the organization.

He sent both letters to the address that he had in Riga.  He was unaware that the day before, the Rebbe had arrived on the shores of the United States. Anash in Riga somehow managed to send the letters to America. On 13 Nissan 5700/1940, the Rebbe received his letters. The Rebbe was in Lakewood at the time.

The Rebbe treated these letters with great importance and that very day, he sent a response to both of them. In response to the personal letter, the Rebbe wrote:

In response to your letter of 10 Adar II that I just received, which was sent to me from Riga, regarding your question about yearning for a yeshiva where they learn Chassidus and conduct themselves in the spirit of Chassidus, you need to thank G-d who is good for illuminating your understanding and arousing your heart with this yearning and providing you with the opportunity to fulfill your desire in Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim. May Hashem fulfill your heart’s requests that you be G-d-fearing, a Chassid, and a lamdan.  And that you should settle yourself in the tent of Torah and avoda and succeed in your learning and in the avoda of refining and correcting middos and fulfilling practical mitzvos with enthusiasm and inner feeling in the spirit of Chassidus.

From time to time, let me know what is happening with you and may Hashem help you materially and spiritually.

In the name of the Rebbe, by the secretary

In response to the letter about the organization, the Rebbe expressed his delight and asked to receive a detailed report about the topics spoken about at farbrengens with the talmidim.  The Rebbe also wrote that he would send a monthly sum to the director of the organization, R’ Avrohom Tzvi, and ended with sending regards and a bracha to all the Chassidishe talmidim, members of the Igud.

The Rebbe Rayatz concluded the letter with a request for copies of the letters from the Admorim of Amshinov and Modzitz.  These were letters full of encouragement and blessings that bachurim received from the Amshinover and Modzitzer Rebbes in light of the founding of the Igud. The Admor Rabbi Shimon Sholom Kalish of Amshinov began his letter with, “I was very pleased to hear the good news that your hearts are awake to make a Chassidic association amongst yourselves, with the desirous intent to conduct yourselves in all matters according to the directives that were taught to us by our holy Rebbeim.” 

The Admor Rabbi Shaul Yedidya Elozor Taub of Modzitz wrote to them, “In response to your request to express my view regarding the founding of a Union of yeshiva students from Chassidic stock: It is certain that in these times, a time when the greatest concentration of Jews has been shattered to pieces, and along with it the edifice of Chassidus, whose cornerstone and foundation was laid by the Baal Shem Tov, and built up by those who came after him, each generation and its leaders, there is perforce a great task incumbent upon the Jewish refugees from Chassidic stock and those who follow its holy path to gird themselves with strength to preserve the treasure of spiritual acquisitions and values that Chassidus attained with so much mesirus nefesh.”

R’ Avrohom Tzvi copied these letters and sent them to the Rebbe Rayatz.

WITHOUT DEPRESSION

Along with his work among Chassidishe bachurim learning in Litvishe yeshivos, R’ Avrohom Tzvi himself drew closer to the teachings of Chabad Chassidus. In his work along with R’ Yosef Wineberg, he heard more and more about Chabad, the Rebbe’s teachings, and on 27 Iyar 5700 he sent another letter to the Rebbe in which he wanted to clarify some matters that had come up in the course of his developing his connection with Chassidus Chabad.

In response to his letter, the Rebbe wrote him the following (free translation):

Regarding his questions –

About wearing a gartel during davening, it is necessary and each community and its customs, and there is no concern with this and it is a known custom.

And on the matter of studying Chassidus, our Sages already ruled that a person should always learn in the place that his heart desires and each person needs to learn what his heart is drawn to more, because the main thing is the positive action that comes as a result of the learning.

And on the matter of learning Mussar, it is very important, because the study of Mussar and Chassidus is like plowing and planting, since Mussar softens the heart and peels away its fattiness, and Chassidus is the planting of good.  And from the both of them together comes the growth in good character traits and fear of Heaven and the knowledge of G-dliness.  However, for the study of Mussar there is no need for a weepy voice and not for a spirit of depression, and also not necessarily matters related to death and the punishment of purgatory and the like.

About the matter of learning Tanya, he should learn it in public according to his ability and understanding, and as far as the general study of Tanya, it is known that the Tanya is the written Torah of Chabad Chassidus and Chumash is something that everybody learns and there is nobody who can say that he has learned it completely to the ultimate level.  Also, with the study of Tanya the words themselves awaken and illuminate the soul.

INVITED TO LEAVE YESHIVA

Although in the first letter that he received, the Rebbe approved his transfer to Tomchei Tmimim, there were some technical obstacles he faced. Due to the war, the refugees were confined to certain areas and therefore, he was unable to immediately switch to Tomchei Tmimim. Although he occasionally visited the yeshiva as a guest, he was afraid to make a permanent move. At the beginning of Tammuz, the limitations on refugees were relaxed a little, and it was at that time that the following incident occurred, which pushed him to finally make the move and leave the Pinsk yeshiva for Tomchei Tmimim.

The talmidim of Yeshivas Pinsk learned temporarily in one of the shuls in Vilna. One morning, upon arriving at the shul, he wanted to daven in peace without the hubbub of the rest of the talmidim. He looked for a quiet spot which he found in the women’s section of the shul; it was empty. He began davening with Chassidishe chayus.

After a while, the mashgiach of the yeshiva showed up. He knew about Avrohom Tzvi’s work in strengthening the Chassidishe bachurim. He decided it was time for him to express his displeasure and he said, “Do you want to make a ‘chabadnitze’ here? You can leave!” [In Chabad shuls, it was accepted practice to dedicate a “second room” for “ovdim” who davened at length. This room is called a “chabadnitze.”]

R’ Avrohom Tzvi, who knew that he would be received with open arms at Tomchei Tmimim, decided the time had come to realize his dream of the past many months. He packed his bags and on the eve of the Chag Ha’Geula 12th & 13th of Tammuz, he arrived at Tomchei Tmimim, and soon participated in the farbrengen being held in honor of this occasion. Divine providence arranged that his personal journey, which began with his reading the booklet about the Rebbe’s arrest, concluded with his arrival at the farbrengen celebrating the Rebbe’s release.

R’ Landa once fondly described his first night in Tomchei Tmimim. The bachurim went to sleep on long mats that were spread out on the floor and he recalled how a bachur, Velvel Lodzer [that was how Rabbi Menachem Zev Greenglass was known back then], woke him up gently in the middle of the night after R’ Zev concluded many hours of learning, and asked him to make some room for him on the mat so he could get a few hours of sleep.

The mashpia of the yeshiva at the time, R’ Yehoshua Isaac Baruch told the Rebbe about the arrival of the new student. He wrote on 18 Tammuz, “Mr. Avrohom Tzvi (Segal) Landa, who learned in Yeshivas Pinsk … who wrote to the Rebbe about his desire to learn in Tomchei Tmimim and asked the Rebbe, and the Rebbe agreed, but due to the refugee laws of the previous government he was not allowed to actualize it.  Now this issue was relieved somewhat, and he arrived on 12 Tammuz to remain as a talmid in Tomchei Tmimim.”

The Rebbe was happy to receive the good news and in his letter of 17 Av he wrote, “About Mr. Avrohom Tzvi, may Hashem help him settle in well in learning well, materially and spiritually, and I approve of the friends that you assigned for him.”

After the transfer, R’ Avrohom Tzvi intensified his work among his friends in the other yeshivos and in accordance with the Rebbe’s request, he sent detailed reports about his activities. In one of the reports he wrote that talmidim were complaining about the lack of Sifrei Chassidus and wanted Tanyas and Maamarim of the Rebbe Rayatz. He noted that in the yeshiva in Vilna there were copies of Tanya that were printed by the Rom publishing house that belonged to the Rebbe. He asked that the Rebbe donate some copies to the organization.

Due to the war and fear that the front lines would come to Vilna too, he asked the Rebbe that as long as the mail was still operating, and it was possible to send packages from America, that the Rebbe send them his Maamarim and Sichos to be distributed among the talmidim of the yeshivos. He also asked on behalf of talmidim in Yeshivas Kamenitz that the Rebbe send the members of the Igud a letter of encouragement in light of the tense situation.

In another letter, he reported about a meeting of the vaad ruchni of the organization in which they decided that at every farbrengen they would review a maamar Chassidus by heart, one that was printed in the sefarim of the students of the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid. He told in detail about activities at the Kletzk yeshiva and reported that there were three groups: Karliner Chassidim, Slonimer Chassidim and Poilishe Chassidim, and out of the three, the Poilishe Chassidim were more drawn to Chabad Chassidus.

Reb Avrohom Tzvi’s miraculous rescue to Kobe and then Shanghai, and onward to America, will be continued G-d willing

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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