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Tuesday
Jun132017

I WANT YOU TO WORK FOR ME

Originally from a Chassidic family in Bratislava, the young boy found himself in a Lithuanian yeshiva in England. From there he went to the Chabad yeshiva in Montreal. When he finally wanted to settle down and learn in tranquility in 770, he was chosen for a special mission to the bastion of Lithuanian yeshivas, “Beth Midrash Gevoha,” in Lakewood, New Jersey. * R’ Nissen Mangel shares with us how he became close to Chabad against all odds and the special missions he was sent on by the Rebbe to Lithuanian yeshivas. * Part 1 of 2.

By Rabbi Sholom Yaakov Chazan and Avrohom Reinitz

Photos by Shmuel AmitRabbi Nissen Mangel, a distinguished Chabad rabbi, rav of the K’sav Sofer shul in Crown Heights, was asked by the Rebbe himself to work on editing Kehos s’farim. Over the years he merited special kiruvim from the Rebbe.

I CAME TO LUBAVITCH

Coming from a family of Polish Chassidim with no connection to Chabad, how did you end up in Lubavitch?

Hashem brought me … After the Holocaust, in which I was miraculously saved, I arrived with my sister in England where I attended Yeshivas Netzach Yisroel in Sunderland. I threw myself into my learning. My mother, who also survived, remained in Czechoslovakia.

At a certain point I heard from knowledgeable people that if we moved to Canada it would be more likely that we would be able to get my mother out of Czechoslovakia. I told the rosh yeshiva and asked for his blessing. He advised me to go from Canada to the U.S. and to attend the yeshiva in Lakewood. He even gave me a letter of recommendation to the rosh yeshiva in Lakewood.

Neither of us knew that the United States did not allow refugees who emigrated to Canada to enter the country. After arriving in Montreal and seeing I could not get to the yeshiva in Lakewood, I went to Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim instead. I did this reluctantly since at the yeshiva in England they had instilled a hatred and scorn for Lubavitch. They told us, for example, that in the Chabad yeshiva in Brunoy they did not learn Gemara; only Tanya.

When I met the members of the hanhala in Montreal, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Kramer and Rabbi Zev Gringlas, I told them I wanted to register in the yeshiva on condition that they would not force me to learn Tanya. When I think of this now, I cannot understand how they agreed to let me in without learning Chassidus. I am inclined to think that they asked the Rebbe before consenting to such an outlandish stipulation.

I was officially registered in the yeshiva but I had nothing to do with the other talmidim. I did not learn in the zal but in one of the classrooms, and I even slept elsewhere.

After a few months, I passed by the zal one Friday night and for some reason decided to go in. R’ Moshe Eliyahu Gerlitzky was in the zal at the time. He was a warm, friendly Chassid and when he saw me, he said, “Come, I want to show you something interesting.” He was in the middle of learning Tanya and he showed me what the Alter Rebbe says in Shaar Ha’Yichud V’Ha’Emuna, that “if the eye was allowed to see, it would not see the physicality of the created being and its coarseness and corporeality.”

I had gone through many s’farim and had seen unusual expressions, but had never heard such a deep, powerful spiritual expression, that said the entire world is G-dliness! I felt that my eyes had been opened and exposed to a new, wondrous light. In hindsight, it was a turning point in my life. I did not immediately become a Chassid, but I began glancing at sichos now and then.

After a few months R’ Gringlas asked me: Nissen, why do you need to sleep alone? If you don’t want to sleep in the dormitory with the other talmidim, you can sleep in a separate room that I will arrange in my apartment.

I agreed and moved to his house. After that, nearly every night, when I would finish learning for the day, I would talk with R’ Gringlas for hours, sometimes until four in the morning. He spoke to me about Chabad Chassidus and told me Chassidic stories, and slowly, I became a Chassid.

SPREADING THE WORD

In a letter that the Rebbe wrote to R’ Gringlas, he expressed his surprise that he heard from the talmid, Nissen Mangel, that the T’mimim in Montreal did not review Chassidus in the shuls of the city. What is the story behind this letter?

That was on 12 Tammuz 5712/1952 or 5713. The Rebbe farbrenged at the time in the shalash (a makeshift covered area built in the yard between 770 and the next building), sitting on a raised platform. I stood among the bachurim. After the first sicha, the Rebbe said to R’ Binyamin Altheus while looking at me: Who is that bachur? When R’ Binyamin said my name, the Rebbe turned to me and gave me a piece of cake.

I had my first yechidus and the Rebbe asked what I was learning, asking whether I was learning certain s’farim that he specified. Among other things, he asked whether I learn Tanach. Generally speaking, since the maskilim encouraged the learning of Tanach, Polish Chassidim did not learn it. But the Rebbe wanted me to become proficient in Tanach.

Then the Rebbe asked whether I went on Shabbos to review Chassidus in shuls. I was surprised by the question since I was new to Chassidus. I told the Rebbe that I did not go. The Rebbe asked: Why don’t you go?

In those days, it wasn’t customary in Montreal for bachurim to speak in shuls, so I answered: Since none of the bachurim go.

The Rebbe said: If you found $100 on the street and nobody picked it up, would you also not pick it up?

The Rebbe concluded: You should publicly review Chassidus every Shabbos!

Then the Rebbe asked what my plans were for returning to Montreal. When I said I was going by bus, the Rebbe said: You can stop in several cities along the way and review Chassidus!

I thought: How can I, a young bachur who knows no one in the Jewish communities on the way to Montreal, manage to arrange this?

The Rebbe, who saw the look of astonishment on my face, immediately said: You don’t have to worry about it; Tzeirei Chabad will arrange everything.

Indeed, a few hours after the yechidus, the director of Tzach, Rabbi Dovid Raskin, came over to me and said: On your way to Montreal, stop in Albany where Rabbi Brikman will be waiting for you at the bus stop. He will take you to the shul and you will review Chassidus there.

That is how I started reviewing Chassidus every Shabbos. I later saw a letter from the Rebbe to R’ Gringlas in which the Rebbe expressed his surprise that he heard from me that the T’mimim in Montreal did not review Chassidus in shuls.

Nowadays, it is relatively easy to review Chassidus in shuls. You learn a sicha in Likkutei Sichos and the audience is riveted. What did you do then, before Likkutei Sichos was published?

A number of years after the Rebbe instructed me to review Chassidus publicly, he asked me in yechidus whether I learned Likkutei Torah every Shabbos. I said I did, and that although I did not have a set schedule to learn it, since I had to publicly review Chassidus and there was no organized material to repeat, I had no choice and every Shabbos morning I learned the questions at the beginning of the maamer in Likkutei Torah, and the answers at the end, and I added a little from the middle of the maamer.

When I said this to the Rebbe, I inwardly trembled because the mashpia in Montreal, R’ Peretz Mochkin, had insisted that we must repeat what was said precisely, and here I was, telling the Rebbe that I was improvising. To my relief, the Rebbe smiled and said: Very good.

A week or two after that yechidus, the Rebbe agreed to publish his sichos in what was called, at first, Tochen Inyanim L’Chazoras Dach B’Batei Kneisiyos. These later became known as the first volumes in the series, Likkutei Sichos. My feeling was that the Rebbe was reacting to what I said in yechidus, that there wasn’t organized material for reviewing in shuls.

DARING MISSIONS

They say that the Rebbe sent you to Litvishe yeshivos several times in order to spread Chassidus among the talmidim there. Rumor has it that you went to Ner Yisroel in Baltimore and even to Lakewood several times. What can you tell us about that?

That is in fact the case, that I had the merit to spread Chassidus in Litvishe yeshivos as well. I’ll tell you some stories about that era. It all began at the 12 Tammuz farbrengen in 5716. I had come from Montreal and wanted to stay with the Rebbe for a few weeks, until the end of bein ha’z’manim. However, when I had yechidus and mentioned my plans, the Rebbe told me: No, you are going to Lakewood.

At that time, Lakewood was the bastion of opposition to Chassidus, mainly because the Rosh Yeshiva there, expressed strong opposition to the views of the Rebbe and to the study of Chassidus. Obviously, it was not easy for me to go there, but when you go on a shlichus of the Rebbe, you receive special kochos.

It was clear to me that if I wanted to influence them with Chassidus, I would first have to impress them with knowledge and depth in Gemara, Nigleh of Torah. I arrived in the yeshiva at lunch time, sat down at one of the tables, and started talking with the talmidim in learning. I inquired as to what they were learning, and when they said that they were involved in the section dealing with “one who exchanges a cow for a donkey,” I began to tell them an intricate analysis of the topic. Within a short time, dozens of bachurim gathered around me, who enjoyed listening to the insights of the guest. After I won them over with the explanation according to “Nigleh,” I started to explain the entire topic according to Chassidus. Obviously, after the introduction of the intricate analysis in Nigleh, nobody had the nerve to bring up any arguments about the lomdus of Chassidim, and they listened closely to the concepts in Chassidus.

I used the same approach with the Rosh Yeshiva himself. I got close to where he was sitting in the front of the Beis Midrash, and when I discerned what topic he was holding in, I started to discuss it with him. He enjoyed the discussion, and his respectful demeanor towards me influenced the students to appreciate even more the words of Chassidus that they were hearing from me. I was there for a few weeks, and before my return I arranged with a few of the bachurim to organize a class in Chassidus.

When I returned to 770, I went into yechidus again and the Rebbe asked me how it went. I gave the Rebbe a report of the shlichus, and I mentioned the pilpul that I had said on the topic of the exchange of the cow for the donkey, according to Nigleh and then according to Chassidus. The entire time that I was giving the report, great joy could be seen on the Rebbe’s holy face.

Was this a onetime thing, or were you sent there again?

During the month of Tishrei, I arrived in 770 for Sukkos. On Chol HaMoed, the day after the major farbrengen that the Rebbe would hold for yeshiva students, Rabbi Groner told me that Rabbi Chadakov was looking for me. I went into his office, and he told me that yesterday the Rebbe told him that he saw me at the farbrengen, and he expressed his surprise, “What is he doing here? He was supposed to be in Lakewood!”

I said to R’ Chadakov, “I was not here the whole Tishrei, and I only arrived on Erev Sukkos and attended only one farbrengen, and now you want me to travel to Lakewood?” R’ Chadakov gave me a sharp look and responded, “You are arguing with the Rebbe? The Rebbe says to go to Lakewood, so go!”

Obviously, I negated my will before the will of the Rebbe, and I asked R’ Chadakov how long I was supposed to stay in Lakewood. He answered that the Rebbe had said, until Shmini Atzeres, meaning to return to Crown Heights on Hoshana Rabba. Then he added, “In addition to the Four Species, take Hoshaanas with you, since you might not be able to find such mehudar Hoshaanas there.”

Immediately after davening, I traveled by bus to Lakewood, and once again I was received nicely. However, the place was relatively empty, since most of the bachurim had gone home for the Yom Tov. The ones who remained were the members of the kollel who lived there. At night, we celebrated a Simchas Beis HaShoeiva together with the Rosh Yeshiva and his son, the prestigious members of the kollel, and me along with them. The Rosh Yeshiva participated for about an hour and then went home. In his presence, I reviewed a few topics in Nigleh, but after he left, I began to farbreng with the members of the kollel and spoke at length, providing explanations according to Chassidus. The young married men were fascinated by the explanations of chassidus, and each night we farbrenged until 4-5 in the morning!

It was the night of Hoshana Rabba and I was exhausted after several consecutive nights of farbrengens with hardly any sleep. In the big beis midrash sat the Rosh Yeshiva and his son and a small group of kollel yungerlait. I sat in the back, saying the book of D’varim. When I finished the Chumash, I began saying T’hillim. The group sitting in the front of the beis midrash got into a discussion about the kashrus of Hoshaanas. As I mentioned, R’ Chadakov told me to take Hoshaanas with me because it was a problem finding nice Hoshaanas in Lakewood.

A yungerman walked into the beis midrash at two in the morning. He was one of the local kollel yungerlait. He came over to me and said “shalom aleichem,” and asked whether I was a Lubavitcher. When I said yes, he asked whether I could do him a favor, to come to his house and talk with him. I said I would come in another fifteen minutes, when I finished reciting all of T’hillim.

He waited for me and we went to his house. It was 2:30 in the morning. What did he want? Could I learn a chapter of Tanya with him. I wanted to ask him why we couldn’t learn there in the beis midrash, but before I could ask he explained that we could have learned in the beis midrash, but the Rosh Yeshiva was there and he was a big opponent of Chassidus, Tanya and the Rebbe. “If he saw me learning Tanya, he would throw me out of the yeshiva, so that’s why I asked you to come to my house.”

I was exhausted from a week of farbrengens till morning, but the Rebbe had sent me there to teach, and this man wanted to learn Tanya. I began learning with him, slowly, word by word, line by line, clearly, an entire chapter of Tanya. It took forty-five minutes. All I could think about was how quickly I could get to bed. But then he asked me if I would do him another favor, to learn another chapter of Tanya with him!

I felt my eyes closing but I continued learning another chapter of Tanya with him, slowly, without rushing, and without doing it just to get it over with, despite my enormous tiredness. Because the Rebbe had sent me to Lakewood. It took another forty-five minutes.

After finishing the second chapter, he asked me for another favor … I was collapsing already, but I taught him a third chapter which we finished at dawn, when we saw the sky starting to get light.

Only then did he tell me why he wanted to learn Tanya. This is what he said:

He was no longer a young bachur and he had not been successful in doing a shidduch. He went to the Rosh Yeshiva for a bracha but the bracha did not help. He went to all the g’dolim in America and in Eretz Yisroel for brachos, to no avail. He finally decided that although he was a talmid of Lakewood Yeshiva, that was opposed to Tanya, Chassidus, Lubavitch and the Rebbe, since he had to get married and he needed the bracha of a tzaddik, he would go to the Lubavitcher Rebbe for a bracha.

He went to the Rebbe in the summer and the Rebbe told him to start learning a chapter of Tanya every day and he would get a good shidduch soon. Since then, he learned a chapter of Tanya every day and just that day he became engaged. “In gratitude to the Rebbe, I wanted to learn, not just one chapter of Tanya, and not two, but three chapters.”

After finishing his story, he asked whether I could do him another favor. I was afraid he wanted me to learn another chapter of Tanya but no, he wanted to write a letter to the Rebbe. He asked whether I was willing to take it to the Rebbe. Of course I said yes.

During davening, he gave me a letter for the Rebbe. In the afternoon, I went to New York and arrived at 770 at five o’clock. I hurried to the mikva and then went to R’ Chadakov and gave him the letter. I had no idea what he had written.

The day after Yom Tov, I had yechidus. I merely crossed the threshold of the Rebbe’s room and the Rebbe began to smile broadly. He asked: This talmid wasn’t afraid to learn Tanya?

I said that I learned three chapters with him and he was nervous about it, which was why we did not learn in the beis midrash but in his home.

OPEN RUACH HA’KODESH

Were there any other good results from your visit to Lakewood?

On my first visit to Lakewood, I met a bachur who had lived in Montreal, so I already knew him. After I spoke to him a few times about Chassidic topics, I saw that he was still very opposed to the Rebbe and Chassidus. I said to him: You are a ben Torah. How can you have an opinion about the Rebbe without having heard him? Come to a farbrengen and then decide. He dodged my suggestion.

Some time later I went to the Rebbe since I wanted to go in to yechidus about a personal matter. I sent this bachur a post card and wrote that I would be very happy if he also came for Shabbos to Crown Heights. This way, he could attend the Rebbe’s farbrengen and I would arrange yechidus for him on Sunday.

To my delight, he came. I arranged a place for him to sleep at R’ Mordechai Groner, where I was staying, and over Shabbos he was very taken by the Rebbe, especially the deep sichos that he heard at the farbrengen.

On Sunday morning, I went to R’ Chadakov and asked him to arrange yechidus for the evening, both for me and for my friend who was a talmid in Lakewood. Despite the short notice, thanks to good connections with R’ Chadakov, he usually allowed me to have yechidus the same day but this time, there was a surprise in store.

R’ Chadakov responded with a severe look and said: Nissen, don’t you know that today is Erev Rosh Chodesh and the Rebbe does not receive people the night of Rosh Chodesh?

I said: But R’ Chadakov, I told him I would arrange yechidus. Now it will look as though I’m a liar.

R’ Chadakov was not impressed by this and said: What can I do? It does not depend on me. The Rebbe does not receive people the night of Rosh Chodesh.

I suggested: Perhaps we can go in before Maariv, so it won’t be considered the night of Rosh Chodesh?

R’ Chadakov did not like this idea and he exclaimed: Nissen, you want to make a new system?! The Rebbe does not receive people tonight!

I went back to my friend feeling embarrassed.

Since the original plan was to stay until after yechidus on Sunday night, he stayed in 770 on Sunday and I took the opportunity to learn Tanya in depth with him. We sat for a few hours and learned chapter after chapter. After learning a few chapters in depth, he surprised me when he asked: Is Tanya considered in the category of Torah?

I could not believe he was asking me that. “Do you think that one can learn Tanya without first saying the Torah blessings,” I asked him, to ascertain whether I had understood him correctly.

After he said yes, I realized how far he was from any understanding of p’nimius ha’Torah, that he would even consider that Tanya is not part of Torah.

“How can you think such a thing?!” I asked in astonishment. I began to explain to him at length that Tanya is the inner part of Torah, the nishmisa d’Oraisa, the soul of Torah.

I explained to him that not only is Tanya Torah, it is the main aspect of Torah, and this is the new Torah that will be revealed in the time of Moshiach. I spoke passionately for about two hours, until seven o’clock.

R’ Chadakov suddenly appeared in the small zal and said: You can have yechidus now.

Since I had already given up hope on having yechidus, I had not written my questions down, as is customary. So I told my friend to go in first and by the time he would come out, I would have prepared my note.

He went in and when he came out, a few minutes later, his face was red as a beet. I asked him what happened but he was very overwrought and he said: I cannot tell you now. We will speak later.

I went into the Rebbe’s room and submitted my note with my personal questions. After the Rebbe responded to them, he began talking to me about the bachur whom I brought from Lakewood. He asked: What is he planning on doing now?

When I said that his plan was to return that night to Lakewood, on the ten o’clock bus, the Rebbe said: Tzach is arranging a farbrengen (that’s the way it was then, that every Rosh Chodesh night, Tzach arranged a Chassidishe farbrengen in the small zal). Make sure he attends, even though he will surely get pushed around. Still, it is a very good thing.

When I left the yechidus, he was waiting for me outside. I told him: Cancel your plans. You are staying here!

I told him that the Rebbe asked that he stay for the farbrengen. I added that it wouldn’t be too comfortable but it was very important and good for him.

I couldn’t contain my curiosity and I asked him why he had come out of yechidus with his face so red. He said that when he went in, the Rebbe asked him: Do you learn Tanya every day?

He said no, and the Rebbe asked: Whose fault is that? Nissen Mangel’s fault?

He immediately said: No, it’s my fault, not Mangel’s.

Then the Rebbe shocked him when he said: From now on, learn a chapter of Tanya every day, and you should know that it is forbidden to learn Tanya before reciting the Torah blessings!

Then the Rebbe began to review all the points I mentioned in our conversation about the importance of learning Tanya – p’nimius ha’Torah, nishmisa d’Oraisa, the main aspect of Torah that will be revealed in the future, etc.

He was so flabbergasted by the open ruach ha’kodesh that he witnessed.

He was looking for a shidduch at the time and after seeing the Rebbe’s ruach ha’kodesh, he decided not to make this important decision without the Rebbe’s bracha. After meeting with a girl that he liked, he wrote to the Rebbe and waited for the Rebbe’s bracha to conclude the shidduch, but the Rebbe’s bracha did not arrive. After a few weeks, he asked me what he should do. I told him: I don’t know what you should do, but I would not proceed with a shidduch without the Rebbe’s bracha. I would wait.

That is what he did. Since he did not move forward, the other side dropped it too. He had some other suggestions and dates that did not work out. Then, two years later, the original girl was suggested to him. He consulted with me and I said he should meet her and write to the Rebbe again.

They liked one another once again and he wrote to the Rebbe. This time, the Rebbe’s answer came right away but not to the most recent letter. The Rebbe wrote his bracha for the shidduch on the first letter that the bachur had sent two years before!

The bachur was perplexed. Why did the Rebbe wait until now to respond to that letter? I told him that I don’t know, but perhaps he had to hear all those other suggestions (as in the Rebbe Rayatz’s explanation of this), and only then did he attain the right shidduch. The proof was that throughout those two years, the Rebbe held on to his first letter because he knew that in the end, this would be the shidduch!

After the wedding, I made sheva brachos for him in the zal of the yeshiva in Montreal. I asked the cook to make special food and my yeshiva friends helped me set up the zal nicely. We had a sheva brachos meal and a Chassidishe farbrengen with R’ Peretz Mochkin.

After the farbrengen, the chassan said to me: Do you remember that you asked me to stay for the farbrengen after the yechidus and said it would be good for me? It really was very good, because since then, I stopped being a misnaged!

To be continued, b’ezras Hashem

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