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Friday
Aug162019

He Showed the Way

Rabbi Chaim Levi Yitzchok Ginsberg OBM

It is difficult to write in the past tense about a mashpia who had such a profound influence on so many and was very much in the prime of his life. Although there is so much more to tell about this model Chassid, in terms of his life story and testimonials from family and students, due to space constraints we can only offer brief sketches of his life and his impact. 

As much as he would certainly cringe from having articles written about him, we can only quote what he himself wrote about his Chassidic teacher and mentor R’ Mendel Futerfas:

“We know that he recoiled from any matters of honor, publicity, or eulogies of any type. However, it is a great privilege and obligation for us to emphasize his major role in encouraging the dissemination of the Besuras HaGeula, especially after Gimmel Tammuz, strongly encouraging the announcement of Yechi.

How fitting are those words when applied to the one who said them…

CHILDHOOD

How symbolic that Rabbi Ginsberg’s birthday, 12 Nissan, was the day after the Rebbe’s birthday. He was born in 5718; his parents were Rabbi and Mrs. Sholom Yehuda Leib and Zahava Ginsberg. He was named for the Rebbe’s father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Schneerson.

He grew up in Bnei Brak where his father was one of the founders of the first Chabad minyan in that city. The mockery on the part of some of the residents of the city against Chassidim in general and Chabad in particular galvanized his Lubavitch pride.

He learned in a Litvishe yeshiva for a while, where he started a Tanya shiur for the talmidim. It was an underground shiur which they sneaked off to every week. Throughout the years, he would always recall the arrival of Rabbi Eliyahu Friedman a’h to his yeshiva to meet with him and coordinate the arrangements for the shiur. They hadn’t met before so they were both apprehensive about identifying themselves to the other.  “But his Lubavitcher appearance gave him away and when I saw him I was almost positive it was him,” he later said.

“I finally got up the courage to ask him his name and that is how the shiur began. We eventually had twelve regular participants. Eventually there developed another Chassidus shiur that took place Friday night in R’ Leibel Zalmanov’s home and he gave the shiur.”

SHLICHUS

After a short time, he switched to Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim in Lud. When he finished mesivta (yeshiva ketana) he learned in the central yeshiva in Kfar Chabad where he quickly became endeared to the mashpia, R’ Mendel Futerfas, until he was considered one of his proteges. R’ Mendel was mekarev the young talmid and over the years he personally guided R’ Levi Yitzchok in avodas Hashem.

“You could say that he was R’ Mendel’s closest talmid,” say his yeshiva friends from that time. “There’s a reason why many of his farbrengens began with stories that he heard from R’ Mendel.”

Following a decision made by the hanhala of the yeshiva, he and some friends left Kfar Chabad in 5738 and went to serve as shluchim in the Chabad yeshiva that had been founded in Migdal Ha’Emek by Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Grossman, with the Rebbe’s blessing. The Rebbe even encouraged this group of bachurim in their shlichus to a city which was considered the end of the world at the time.

R’ Ginsberg and his friends brought with them a high level of Chassidic enthusiasm to Migdal Ha’Emek and worked intensively among the residents there. Their impact was felt for years to come.

MASHPIA IN TOMCHEI TMIMIM IN KFAR CHABAD

His Kevutza year, 5740, was a pivotal year for him in which he filled his life and soul with Rebbe and Chassidus. He was also one of the chozrim of the Rebbe’s sichos.

He married the daughter of the askan R’ Yaakov Pelles in 5742. With guidance from R’ Mendel and the Rebbe’s instructions he began serving as mashpia in the central yeshiva in Kfar Chabad, a position he held for about 20 years.

The treasures that he bestowed on his mushpaim are so many, starting with a chayus in learning Tanya to sweetness in avodas ha’tefilla, love for Chassidim crowned with love for the Rebbe, with a great measure of hiskashrus and utter bittul toward the Rebbe.

As far as his being appointed to such an important position, as mashpia in the central yeshiva, at such a young age, he said:

“The fact that I was mashpia for many years in Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim in Kfar Chabad is due to the Rebbe’s instruction in yechidus, that I had in Nissan 5741.

“When we were engaged, we began looking into shlichus suggestions. We received a number of suggestions in various places and we wrote about them to the Rebbe. We asked that the Rebbe choose one for us.

“After not receiving an answer, we wrote again and then received the Rebbe’s response, ‘Consult with knowledgeable friends.’

“We held a meeting of some ‘knowledgeable friends’ and it was decided that we’d accept the shlichus in Teveria. We wrote to the Rebbe and asked for his consent and blessing, but received no reply. After several weeks, we wrote again and received no reply.

“After Pesach 5741, I had yechidus as a chassan. On the note that I submitted to the Rebbe I asked for a bracha for the wedding etc. and wrote that we understood, based upon the advice of ‘knowledgeable friends,’ that the Rebbe wanted us to go on shlichus to Teveria, and we requested his consent and blessing for this shlichus. The Rebbe replied: ‘Regarding settling down after the wedding, discuss it with the mashpia of Tomchei Tmimim in Eretz Yisrael when you get there, based on the situation then, for there will be a number of changes in Eretz Yisrael, especially regarding budgets etc, and therefore, it is premature to decide about this now.’

“During the sheva brachos, I told R’ Mendel, as per the Rebbe’s instruction, what the Rebbe said and asked him what I should do.

“Exactly at that time, R’ Zushe Alperowitz left the yeshiva in Kfar Chabad and became the mashpia in the yeshiva in Kiryat Gat (apparently, this was one of the changes in Eretz Yisrael the Rebbe was referring to). R’ Mendel thought a moment and then said, ‘I think you should come and teach here in the yeshiva in Kfar Chabad.’ I tried to tell him that we had been dreaming about shlichus and remaining in Kfar Chabad was ‘out of the question’ for us, but R’ Mendel said: You want to go to Teveria? Go in good health! But if you’re asking me, I think you should remain in Kfar Chabad and teach in the yeshiva here.

“R’ Mendel added, ‘I’m not saying this just because I think they need you here in yeshiva, but since I know you. I think, for your own good, you need to remain here in this role.’

“Regarding this, I received the following answer from the Rebbe: ‘The offer of the yeshiva and R’ Mendel – this is what you should do; I will mention it at the tziyun.’” 

WALKING MEKUSHAR AND BITTUL

R’ Ginsberg was a Chassid and mekushar of the Rebbe with all his might and soul. Even those who did not hold his views, admired the depth of his hiskashrus and bittul to the Rebbe which was the very substance of his life. All his life, his daily schedule in thought, speech and action revolved around one thing: how to give the Rebbe nachas. His shiurim, the many farbrengens he led, his personal avodas Hashem, it all revolved around fulfilling the Rebbe’s wishes.

“I worked with him for many years,” said R’ Yoel Rosen, founder of the yeshiva in Rishon L’Tziyon. “I saw how he ‘lived’ Rebbe, ‘breathed’ Rebbe, and ‘ate’ Rebbe. It was his entire being. Not to mention the level of knowledge he had in the Rebbe’s vast teachings. I could call and ask him where a certain thing was written and he would instantly remove volume 24, turn to page 242, to footnote 21 … He simply lived the Rebbe’s sichos; it was his daily fare.”

An event that made a great impression on him as far as hiskashrus is concerned was when R’ Mendel came to serve as mashpia in the central yeshiva in Kfar Chabad. R’ Ginsberg was fifteen at the time. He related:

“I still remember the image of the first farbrengen of the mashpia R’ Mendel Futerfas in the yeshiva in Kfar Chabad, at the beginning of Elul 5733. The improvised pyramids made out of benches and tables were stacked on one another. All around were, aside from the bachurim, the residents of the kfar and Anash who gathered to see and hear one of the outstanding Chassidim who had become a symbol of mesirus nefesh.

“The crowd expected to hear a description of Elul in Lubavitch, in Tomchei Tmimim of once-upon-a-time, as it was crowned by the wondrous Chassidic personalities of the past, or about a spiritual accounting accompanied by copious tears, iskafia and is’hapcha and all the other concepts unique to Lubavitch and Tomchei Tmimim.

“R’ Mendel surprised us all. He had one point which he drove home in a very clear and sharp manner: all these concepts are true and vital and very necessary, but they all depend and ride on one point – the Rebbe! We must be connected to the Rebbe with every fiber of our being, think constantly about the Rebbe and align ourselves to what the Rebbe wants of us, and that is the purpose of it all. If we try to wax nostalgic over the past, with haskala, avoda, pnimiyus, and the other Chassidic concepts, but without the Rebbe in the present tense, without hiskashrus, then all the stories of the past become ‘Amalek’ whose goal is to cool off what is truly needed and necessary, because without the Rebbe here and now, there is nothing!

“R’ Mendel announced: The avoda of the month of Elul for us in Tomchei Tmimim was and is, first of all: to put together our pennies and do all we can so we can spend the month of Tishrei with the Rebbe.”

***

This farbrengen of R’ Mendel was the foundation in R’ Ginsberg’s thinking about hiskashrus to the Rebbe, a mindset and feeling that was with him from then until his final breaths.

His thousands of talmidim will testify, those who were his mushpaim in Kfar Chabad and those in Rishon L’Tziyon, as will the thousands of mushpaim from the shiurim and farbrengens that he gave over the years, that every topic, even the deepest topics in Chassidus, ultimately came back to doing what the Rebbe wants.

In order to fulfill the Rebbe’s ratzon, he led the Matteh Hakhel and Mivtza Yom Huledes in Tzeirei Agudas Chabad. He came up with ideas and pushed for various programs in order to bring these mivtzaim to as many Jews as possible.

Due to that same feeling of hiskashrus, it was possible to see him standing every Friday on mivtza tefillin, for decades, in Founders Square in the center of Petach Tikva. He joined a group of bachurim who came from Elad without feeling this was beneath him; on the contrary.

TEFILLA WITH AVODA

“Avodas ha’tefilla” was the Chassidic practice that most characterized R’ Ginsberg, who was himself a Chassidishe role model to his talmidim and mushpaim, as he demonstrated what Chassidishe tefilla is all about.

R’ Ginsberg wrote about an early experience that made a deep impression on him and taught him about “davening with avoda.” This took place when he was still quite young:

“In those years, there was hardly any communication with 770 aside from broadcasts of farbrengens, arranged by my uncle, R’ Itzke Gansbourg. A phone call to New York cost a lot of money and they weren’t direct calls; they were made through an operator.

“In light of that fact, you can understand how happy we were when we received a reel (cassettes, which are passe now, did not exist yet) of a tefilla of the Rebbe as shliach tzibbur in 5725, when the Rebbe davened the entire tefilla out loud. The problem was that hardly anyone had the big reel-to-reel tape recorders on which we could hear the the Rebbe daven.

“Then we went to the home of R’ Leibel Zalmanov in Bnei Brak who somehow got the expensive machine and allowed us, children from the yeshiva ketana in Lud, to hear the Rebbe. We sat for hours and listened again and again to the entire tefilla, from beginning to end, without a stop. We couldn’t pull ourselves away from listening to the Rebbe’s sweet, tuneful, wonderful voice as he davened. A few days later, we went back to listen and again, we sat for hours. Until today, that amazing melody of the Rebbe’s davening plays in my ears without pause and it affected and affects me a lot.

“Perhaps because of this, after the thorough guidance of R’ Munke Gruzman on how to daven with a maamar Chassidus, I tried over the course of time to daven mainly with maamarim and sichos of the Rebbe, especially the maamar of kabbolas ha’nesius ‘Basi L’Gani 5711.’ In later years, with the Dvar Malchus of 5751-2. It is this message that I wish to convey in shiurim and farbrengens to all those with whom I had the opportunity to learn with and to teach , including and especially the [written] farbrengen here in Beis Moshiach.

Indeed, during his years as mashpia in yeshiva, he served as a live personal example of tefilla that he started long before the chazan began, and finished long after the minyan ended. “Every morning,” said one of his talmidim in Rishon L’Tziyon, “the davening began at 9:00, but he would say korbonos before seder Chassidus and at 8:30, with the conclusion of seder Chassidus, he would start davening about half an hour before everyone and finish an hour after the minyan; every day. He would daven slowly, enunciating the words loudly like counting diamonds. On Shabbos, his davening took a long time, finishing long after the minyan ended.

“In his farbrengens, he would often encourage the talmidim to be involved in avodas ha’tefilla and to meditate upon Chassidic matters while davening or sichos of the Rebbe’s Dvar Malchus.”

DEVOTION TO TALMIDIM

In 5766, a Chabad yeshiva was opened in Rishon L’Tziyon by Rabbi Yoel Rosen. R’ Rosen held the founding meeting in R’ Ginsberg’s home. “The idea of opening the yeshiva was in consultation with him. Every question regarding the learning and establishing educational policy was done with R’ Ginsberg’s experienced guidance,” says R’ Rosen. “He always had wise answers and suggestions that were straight and clear.”

R’ Ginsberg’s devotion to the bachurim was outstanding. He never considered personal convenience or lack of time when he had the opportunity to help a bachur and lead him on the proper path.  He exerted much effort in teaching and developing the young students as he instilled in them, with his characteristic sweetness, love for the Rebbe from which everything else followed: learning Nigleh and Chassidus properly, going on mivtzaim, devotion to inyanei Chassidus, etc.

One of the things that amazed his talmidim and their families was the house calls he made to the homes of talmidim during the bein ha’zmanim of Pesach.

The fact that he did not own a car or travel by taxi but by bus and rides, did not deter him from going to the home of every talmid, including those who lived in distant cities. To him there was no question. If it was a directive of the Rebbe, then you have to do it.

One amazing story out of many, is told by R’ Rosen:

“We had a bachur in yeshiva who came from the religious-zionist camp. His father, who was a respected Torah personality in his own right was very opposed to his son’s new path and took him for a din Torah to Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu z’l. R’ Eliyahu paskened that the son’s desire to learn in Tomchei Tmimim tipped the scale. Nevertheless, his father found it hard to accept his son’s choice and continued fighting it.

“That’s the way it was until that Pesach break, when there was a knock at their door in the yishuv of Alon Moreh. R’ Ginsberg was at the door. ‘I came to visit the talmid,’ he said simply. The stunned father couldn’t get over this. ‘If these are your rabbanim,” he said, ‘then I give up.’

“Before leaving, R’ Ginsberg took out a list of talmidim from his pocket and began checking to see where he was going next. The next stop was in Beer Sheva, and all this was without a car of his own. The father was amazed yet again. ‘I’ve been in the yeshiva world for years and never saw such a thing,’ he declared.”

R’ Ginsberg’s funeral took place at night and all the graduates of the yeshiva in Rishon L’Tziyon attended, including those who live far from Kfar Chabad. As one talmid put it, “He came to the hole in the wall where I live; should I not repay him in kind and come now?”

STUDENTS FROM AFAR

Over the years, R’ Ginsberg wrote and published a series of sefarim, all to spread the wellsprings. With an easy flowing writing style, with a sensitive Chassidic soul and a masterful touch, R’ Ginsberg provides his readers with explanations and ideas in Chassidus along with stories and parables that he heard from mashpiim, thus infusing the learning with Chassidic warmth.

His crowning achievement is the series (twelve volumes) on Tanya. This project took 23 years! When he asked the Rebbe in 5753 whether he should start working on an explanation to Tanya, the Rebbe nodded yes.

When I asked R’ Ginsberg why it took so long, he said that he worked on other sefarim at the same time along with the many shiurim he gave. And this was in addition to being a mashpia in Rishon L’Tziyon and writing his weekly articles for Beis Moshiach. His sefarim on Tanya are a compilation of explanations that he took from various works and teachers, along with the Rebbe’s sichos and explanations, to which he adds pearls that he heard over the years from Chassidim and mashpiim.

He once said to a mekurav that Pninei HaTanya is his life’s work. “Tanya is the basis for all of Chassidus. There are many bachurim and men who learn and delve into maamarim of our Rebbeim while not knowing the foundation, Tanya, well.”

Said R’ Rosen, “No wonder that in yeshiva, he considered the Tanya shiur holy of holies. When he had to rearrange the hours of learning in yeshiva, he was willing to forgo other shiurim but not Tanya.”

Over the years, R’ Ginsberg received clear answers from the Rebbe in the Igros Kodesh about publishing the Pninei Ha’Tanya. For example, when he finished writing his explanation on chapters 41-42, he wrote a letter to the Rebbe in which he covered three topics for which he wanted answers: the new volume, his work as a mashpia in Rishon L’Tziyon, and a certain matter that they wanted to pull him into but it involved something which was the opposite of Ahavas Yisrael.

The answers that he opened to, three letters on the same page, each of them relating explicitly to what he wrote, amazed even him.

Over the years, he got positive feedback to most of his sefarim. “I sometimes got phone calls from people I did not know who introduced themselves by saying, ‘I am a talmid of yours even without knowing you.’ These were people who learned Tanya with my commentary.”

For example, the shliach in Pushkar, Rabbi Shimmie Goldstein, has for years encouraged the young tourists who come to his Chabad House to learn Tanya with the sefarim of R’ Ginsberg. The messages penetrated and many have been drawn close to Judaism and went to yeshivos.

When he finished writing on Likutei Amarim and Igeres Ha’Teshuva, he started on Shaar Ha’Yichud v’ha’Emuna. “The world today is thirsty to know more about emuna and Hashem’s unity. The main thing being, hastening the hisgalus of the Rebbe. We are promised that in the merit of spreading the wellsprings, we will merit the coming of Moshiach,” said R’ Ginsberg. As far as he was concerned, it was not a matter of personal honor or making money, but only about bringing the Geula that much sooner.

TRUTH AND PEACE

No less than his scholarship, his vast knowledge and Chassidishkeit, he was first and foremost a mentch. A pleasant and warmhearted person with a ready smile, gracious to all. He always looked at everyone as an equal, including those younger than him in wisdom, knowledge and years.

He did not get angry at people including those who caused him major damage. When one of his mekuravim spoke to him about someone who caused him great financial damage, he immediately silenced him and said, “It is obligatory to forgive them,” and he meant it.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why everyone respected him and and valued him as a person, even those who disagreed with him. Differences of opinion never became personal for him, testifying to the fact that he was a man of truth who only sought the truth.

STANDARD BEARER OF GEULA

Starting from 5750 and on, when the Rebbe began speaking a “whole new language” in reference to inyanei Geula as well as broad hints as to the identity of the goel, R’ Ginsberg became one of the great spokesmen on the topic of Geula. His knowledge of the Rebbe’s sichos, including the footnotes, gave him the ability to explain and cite quotations on every issue or even a nuance on which people often raised questions.

His hiskashrus to the Rebbe, his absolute bittul to the Rebbe’s ratzon, and his knowledge – all this made him into one of the most knowledgeable speakers on the subject of Geula. He could quote chapter and verse, and he never waffled on these topics.

From 5751 and on, he emphasized in every place the need for Anash, the tmimim, basically everyone, to know the sichos of the Dvar Malchus. He himself went from place to place, gave shiurim, farbrenged, citing and quoting these sichos word for word, by heart. These sichos were as clear to him like the palm of his hand.

His explanations of inyanei Geula were amazing and unique, and on that he built his popular column that was published in Beis Moshiach for 25 years starting with the first issue. All this gave him the reputation of a “person to be reckoned with” on the subject of spreading the Besuras Ha’Geula and explaining the Rebbe’s teachings. R’ Ginsberg also illuminated the dark period we are in with the Rebbe’s teachings.

He was invited to speak at shiurim, lectures and on various panels. Wherever he went, he presented the Geula perspective with fluency. He never presented what he said as his opinion or position; “This is what the Rebbe says,” he would say firmly.

R’ Yoel Rosen, who came from a religious-zionist family in Petach Tikva, and who knew R’ Ginsberg since he was 14, said:

“After Gimmel Tammuz, we wanted to start a shiur in Petach Tikva on the Dvar Malchus. There was a demand for this on the part of Anash and I called R’ Ginsberg. Of course, he immediately agreed. He did not say no to an opportunity to spread the Rebbe’s teachings, especially the Dvar Malchus. The shiur was arranged for Friday.

“At first, the shiur was held in an office on the pedestrian-only Haganah Street in the center of Petach Tikva but then someone came up with the idea of bringing in more people off the street. So the shiur moved to a local kiosk that was open to the street and that is where it was held, in public. This shiur lasted many years.

“Some years later, the shiur moved to the Chabad shul in Hadar Ganim in Petach Tikva, a shiur which he gave until the last week that he was physically able.

“At a certain point, I invited him to farbreng in Kfar Ganim Beis Chabad for a Litvishe-modern audience as well as people from the religious-nationalist camp. These were talmidei chachamim who learn the daily daf. It was the Nine Days and R’ Ginsberg began the farbrengen with a siyum of a mesechta. After he finished, he threw out a question on a topic covered in the siyum and nobody could answer it. He began with a pilpul which, of course, was a sicha of the Rebbe. I can tell you that the people ‘went wild’ over it.

“After he felt that the audience respected him, he went on to farbreng in inyanei Moshiach and Geula. At this point, people were open to what he had to say which was with many sources in Chazal in Nigleh as well as nuanced and clear answers.”

***

On 16 Tammuz this year, moments before Shabbos, 17 (tov) Tammuz, Rabbi Ginsberg passed away at 61 years old after suffering a stroke r”l two weeks prior.

He is survived by his family and his many many students who, in large part, owe their hishkashrus to his guidance in this difficult period. Thanks to Rabbi Ginsberg, the fervent hope for hakitzu v’ranenu shochnei afar is so real, may it happen now, v’hu b’socham!  ■

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