September 6, 2017
Beis Moshiach in #1084, Tomchei T'mimim, Tribute

R’ Zalman Herzel, mashpia and author: My mechanech: R’ Yosef Abrams

In Elul 5745/1984, when I moved up to shiur gimmel in yeshiva k’tana [mesivta] in Lud, I began learning Chassidus by R’ Yosef Abrams. I had no idea how great his influence would be on my chinuch and shaping my character from a Chassidishe perspective. When I was in shiur alef and beis, he seemed like a strict mashpia to me, who was unwilling to compromise on the Chassidus learning session for anything, ever. Even if it involved missing the shiur for Chassidishe reasons, he did not accept that. It was only after I learned by him for an entire year, a year in which he made the learning of Chassidus beloved to us, and he instilled in us a Chassidishe hergesh, that I looked at his strictness over the learning of Chassidus no matter what, in a different light.

Along with the hergesh in learning Chassidus, R’ Abrams instilled in us the need for understanding, to absorb the haskala within Chassidus. He himself was a big maskil in Chassidus and although he never tried to call attention to it, he was unable to hide the delight that radiated from his face while learning Chassidus.

At the beginning of the year, when we learned the “Ani L’Dodi” maamarim with him, we saw a person who lived with what he taught, and was especially enthused by the haskalos and the chiddushim that the Rebbe extracted from the text, revealing new insights in the mashal about the king in the field. One time, after a few cups of l’chaim, I heard him say that when the Rebbe says an inyan of haskala in Chassidus, it revives me …

My knowledge of Tanya I owe to him. On the one hand, he wanted constant progress, chapter after chapter, in order to cover as much as possible in the school year. On the other hand, he “kneaded” the chapters of Tanya into our young brains. He was particular about briefly reviewing what we learned in earlier chapters, summarizing the words of the Alter Rebbe in a clear way.

He also made sure we arrived on time, even if he had to fine us. He did not give in. He would always say, “You need to learn Chassidus!” Although that sounds rather simple and even a bit trite in the Chabad yeshiva world, he would say it in a certain tone as though to convey: It is impossible to refrain from it.

R’ Abrams presented the chayus and haskala in the learning of Chassidus, cloaked in effervescent Chassidic “flavor,” mainly through long farbrengens on Shabbasos late in the day. While the shiur alef and beis farbrengens ended when the stars appeared, with R’ Abrams there were no limits. The entire class would wash hands about an hour before sunset, and the farbrengen would last a good few hours, sometimes until 10:00 and even 11:00 at night. This happened even in the winter.

At these farbrengens he instilled in us the fundamentals of Chassidus and much Chassidic “flavor.” First, he instilled hiskashrus to the Rebbe. Every farbrengen began with a summary of the Rebbe’s sichos on the Shabbos or holiday we were marking. Only then did he go on to the rest of the farbrengen which was interspersed with Chassidishe stories. When we heard a story from him, it was possible to sense how he “lived” with the story and the messages that it was possible and necessary to learn from it. You couldn’t miss it.

For example, he told us at a farbrengen at the end of the winter z’man, before Pesach, about the Chassid, R’ Yekusiel Liepler, to whom the Tzemach Tzedek sent matzos, wine for the four cups and the other Pesach necessities. R’ Yekusiel, who was preoccupied with b’dikas chametz, including, of course, examining his “inner chametz,” did not pay attention to what the person brought him. He heard just one thing, that the Rebbe sent it. Being immersed in a different world, he immediately took what he got and ate it. R’ Yekusiel did not realize what he was eating and the next day he wondered why the Tzemach Tzedek did not send him these items as he did every year.

Pesach night, R’ Yekusiel went to the Rebbe and asked why he hadn’t gotten the matza and other seder items which he received every year. After the Tzemach Tzedek made inquiries, the Rebbe’s aide reminded R’ Yekusiel that he had indeed given him those very items. He then recalled it and said: Ah, it revived me! Meaning that it helped him in the avoda that he was involved in at the time.

With particular chayus, R’ Abrams told this story again and again. After the farbrengen went on for some hours, and after some l’chaims, he repeated the story with all the details, and once again, with the same chayus, he emphasized how you need to drop everything and hurry to carry out the Rebbe’s instructions and desires. He said this with such a chayus, as though it was the first time he was conveying the story and message. And when the farbrengen was over and we escorted him on his way, from the yeshiva to his home in Shikkun Chabad, he stopped along the way and said: You must hear this story … And he animatedly repeated the entire story …

On a personal level, I merited to be one of the bachurim involved that year in the publication of the Haaros HaT’mimim pamphlets. And since R’ Abrams was the one appointed by the yeshiva to be responsible for the publication, I saw up close just how much he invested and was particular about every detail in the publication, in order to give greater nachas to the Rebbe. He took it in a deeply personal way, that everything should come out in the best possible way, in terms of content and the actual printing. He invested many hours into this.

Despite the fact that there were not many Chassidim in those years who were involved in the topics of Moshiach and Geula with a passion, R’ Abrams was already then involved with a unique enthusiasm. He learned the laws of Moshiach in the Rambam in deep analytic fashion, time and again dissecting the categorizations of chezkas Moshiach and Moshiach vadai. There were fascinating discussions that took place between him and his friends, R’ Moshe Havlin of Kiryat Gat and R’ Yissochor Dovid Kloisner of Nachlas Har Chabad. They discussed and delved into this topic based on the sichos of the Rebbe, and their ongoing give-and-take was published in the Haaros HaT’mimim.

As mentioned before, in unique fashion, R’ Abrams imbued in us, without words, hiskashrus to the Rebbe. I emphasize “without words,” because he did not “lecture” us about it during the Chassidus classes or the farbrengens. He simply beamed it out. His entire being, all of his enthusiasm, broadcast this message. We could see his total self-nullification to the directives of the Rebbe, down to the smallest details. The following is a small anecdote, which showed us tangibly that for him, the Rebbe comes before everything else: On those special days, when we were scheduled to listen in the predawn hours to a live broadcast of the Rebbe’s farbrengen, he would go to sleep early in order to be alert during the farbrengen, and be able to hear the Rebbe with a clear head.

For us, knowing how much he valued Chassidic farbrengens with the bachurim, and despite the fact that other classes would hold their own farbrengens on those nights, he would not. We got the message that no matter how wonderful it may be for Chassidim to farbreng among themselves, hiskashrus to the Rebbe comes before and is higher than everything else, and the Rebbe you need to hear, listening attentively and focusing entirely, in order to absorb every word. After the broadcast, he would enjoy discussing with the bachurim the novel insights that the Rebbe had revealed in the new maamer, whether it was a new installment in Basi L’Gani or any other maamer. That is how he conveyed through his very being, and implanted within us, hiskashrus to the Rebbe.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (
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