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Interview with Rabbi Nissim Lagziel

Many subscribe to “Moshiach B’Parsha.” Each week, they enjoy well constructed classes for communicating various topics about Moshiach and Geula in an easy and accessible manner.  Most of them do not know Rabbi Nissim Lagziel, the man who works to dig up these pearls of Geula from the treasures of Medrash, Gemara and the Rebbe’s sichos and to incorporate them into a ready to deliver, beautifully structured class.

Even the bachurim in Mesivta Oholei Torah, who have studied under him over the past decade, and have enjoyed his clear explanations of Chassidus as well as his inspiring farbrengens, don’t really know his fascinating life story. It does not occur to them that their mashpia, who speaks fluent Yiddish, was born to a traditional Israeli family in Bat Yam whose only connection to Chabad was when Chabad came to bake matzos etc. in the religious public school that he attended.

But divine providence led his parents to France, for a short while, just as a shliach of the Rebbe arrived in the area and needed help with his activities. The encounter with Chabad outreach activities awakened in him a desire to get to know the teachings of Chabad, and he soon became a tamim, first in Tomchei Tmimim Lubavitch in Kiryat Gat and then after a few months, in Brunoy.

There, in Brunoy, far from the bustle of the city and in the presence of the renowned mashpiim and maggidei shiurim, R’ Lagziel grew in the study of Nigleh and Chassidus and absorbed the inner life of Chassidus.

After a few years of shlichus in yeshivos, at first in Toras Emes and then in a yeshiva that operated in Flatbush and New Jersey, run by Rabbi Shneur Zalman Hertzel, he moved on to Mesivta Oholei Torah where he is a mashpia.

We spoke with him before Rosh Hashana about the upcoming Yom Tov, its significance in the light of Chassidus, and the ways to take the inspiration of Rosh Hashana with us for the rest of the year.

As Chabad Chassidim, how do we look at Rosh Hashana in light of the maamarim of our Rebbeim?

When we learn the maamarei Chassidus that were said on Rosh Hashana, we discover a completely new Rosh Hashana as opposed to a Rosh Hashana without Chassidus. Before the revelation of Chassidus, Rosh Hashana was perceived only as a terrifying day of judgment.

The teachings of Chassidus are the soul and inner dimension of Nigleh. Just as Hashem put souls into bodies, Hashem revealed Chassidus which reveals the inner life force in everything. The same is true for Rosh Hashana; that Rosh Hashana is a day of judgment is only the outer layer of perception, but Chassidus opens our eyes so we can see the inner dimension, the soul of Rosh Hashana.

The soul of Rosh Hashana is kabbolas ha’malchus. On the first Rosh Hashana of creation, during the first hours after Adam was created, he was occupied with crowning Hashem as King of the world and he called upon all of creation, “Come, let us bow and bend our knees, kneel before Hashem our Maker.” Since then, and until this day, for 5779 years, every year, Hashem accedes and accepts the coronation for another year. When the next Rosh Hashana comes, we need to get Hashem to agree to rule the world again.

This is where judgment enters the picture. As a result of our asking Hashem to accept the kingship, Hashem judges whether it is worthwhile to rule the world again. Since the entire world was created for Yisrael, the main judgment is about the Jewish people, whether we are worthy for Hashem to accept our request that He rule over us.

This chiddush of Chassidus affects our entire approach to Rosh Hashana. When we look at Rosh Hashana as a day of judgment, we place our own continued existence at the center of this holy day, and a person is preoccupied with himself: will he merit a good life, will he be written for a good year, etc. He directs all of the lofty prayers in one direction: his own existence. For one who learns the maamarei Chassidus about Rosh Hashana, however, and is permeated by this approach of Chassidus, his prayers are directly mainly toward Hashem, toward the G-dly light, that it shine again on the entire world. He himself and his judgment are only a small part of the larger picture of accepting Hashem’s sovereignty over the world.

Chassidus does not invent anything; it reveals the inner dimension that was hidden until now, but once the inner dimension was revealed, it is possible to see it openly. Sometimes, it is hard to understand how we didn’t see it this way all along … For example, when examining the prayers of Rosh Hashana, we see that kabbolas ha’malchus is something so essential that it is hard to understand how the davening looked without the light of Chassidus.

It is interesting to ask those who never learned Chassidus and are sure that Rosh Hashana is only a day of judgment, why they think Chazal dedicated so many parts of the Rosh Hashana davening to the subject of accepting Hashem’s rule. There is even an entire bracha in the Shmone Esrei that is all about Malchuyos, requesting that Hashem rule over the entire world, etc. Zichronos and Shofaros are connected to the day of judgment, but Malchuyos? And as the first bracha?!

After we have internalized the significance of the day, which is the coronation of Hashem as king, is the judgment perceived by us in the same way as every other Jew or is it illuminated differently by Chassidus?

When Hashem puts a soul into a body, there is no part of the body that remains as it was before. Every single detail becomes alive. The same is true for all details of Rosh Hashana, including judgment. On the verse, “ki chok l’Yisrael hu, mishpat l’Elokei Yaakov,” it is explained in maamarei Chassidus that “chok” is from the root “lechem chuko” which means that Hashem decides how much bread, how much gashmiyus, the Jew will receive the upcoming year; and “mishpat l’Elokei Yaakov” means that Hashem makes a judgment about how much G-dliness will the Jew be able to draw down during the upcoming year in material matters which are the “eikev” (lit. heel, as in the word Yaakov) of the neshama that is clothed in a body.

That means that even within judgment, Chassidus adds an inner, spiritual aspect about a person’s spirituality. When we  daven on Rosh Hashana, we also need to daven that the Chassidus that we learn affect us and change us for the good. Obviously, when we learn Chassidus, it affects a person’s soul so he is more refined and more connected to spiritual things, but how deep the impact will be is a special level of spiritual success and there is a judgment about this on Rosh Hashana.

Interestingly, despite revealing the spiritual side of the equation, Chassidus still emphasizes that the main judgment is on the first part of the verse, “chok l’Yisrael,” the judgment about parnassa and other material needs because Chassidus illuminates material things in an entirely different light.

This is explained at length in the sichos of the Rebbe about Tefillas Chana. The Baal Shem Tov explains the verse in Tehillim 107, “Hungry and thirsty, their soul was wrapped in them,” that when a Jew feels thirsty for physical water, this is because his soul identifies the G-dly light in the water. The Rebbe adds there that the reason that Jews in all communities are moved primarily by that part of davening that talks about physical judgment is because their soul identifies the G-dly sparks within material things and yearns to acquire and refine them.

However, we are still not meant to suffice with just the material things. For Chabad Chassidim, the main emphasis is on those paragraphs that talk about Hashem’s malchus like the inner cry in “v’Ata Hu Melech Keil Chai V’Kayam.”

It sounds like you are talking about singular individuals. Can an ordinary Chassid who has to deal with mortgage payments, who doesn’t know how he will cover the month, attain such spiritual levels?

You are right that not everyone who learns Chassidus attains fully the level that we spoke about earlier, but even when we are not holding at this point, that Hashem’s malchus affects us in our innermost souls more than our material things, we need to be aware of this point. We should see it as a destination and want to reach that state.

We need to remember that Hashem is not a bank manager whom we turn to only to get parnassa. He certainly gives us that too, but that is a small detail in the G-dly plan of ruling over the entire world. So it is important to learn the maamarei Chassidus so we know what we are aiming for and not be like those materialistic people who only think of themselves and their parnassa.

In 5752, the Rebbe said all aspects of shlichus need to be permeated with one point: how does this lead to kabbolas pnei Moshiach tzidkeinu. How do we direct the spiritual elevation of Rosh Hashana to yearning for the Geula and preparing to welcome Moshiach?

In the sicha of erev Rosh Hashana 5752, the Rebbe said that “Hashem’s malchus is bound with and revealed fully through Dovid Malka Meshicha.” The Rebbe stressed that Moshiach is not some additional thing that one need ask for on Rosh Hashana but is synonymous with the main theme of Rosh Hashana. In other words, accepting the malchus of Hashem is the inner intent of Rosh Hashana, and kabbolas pnei Moshiach is the inner intent of accepting the malchus of Hashem.

This is based on the explanation of the Tzemach Tzedek in Derech Mitzvosecha where he explains the inner intent in the mitzva to appoint a king, that the king is absolutely nullified before Hashem and therefore he connects the entire nation to Hashem. When a Jew is nullified before the king, he is nullified before Hashem. As it explains there at length regarding Dovid Ha’Melech who said, “I was muted to silence,” that he wasn’t even an entity and therefore he could serve as an intermediary who connects the people with Hashem.

The ultimate realization of this bond, of every Jew with Hashem, through the king, will happen with the revelation of Moshiach. Today, while in galus, we don’t see how everything is run by the will of Hashem. Sometimes, it even seems like the opposite … But the moment the Rebbe MH”M is fully revealed, even according to the Rambam’s view that the world will run as usual, it will be a world in which we openly see the G-dliness running the world.

As mentioned before, that after Chassidus revealed the ideas we can see this in our tefillos so that it is hard to understand how one can regard this tefilla without the explanations of Chassidus, and the same is true for the Geula. There are entire paragraphs in the tefillos of Rosh Hashana that openly deal with the promises of the Geula, like the request, “and everything that was made will know that You made it, and everything that was formed will know that You formed it, and everyone that has a soul in his nostrils will say: Hashem, G-d of Yisrael, is King and His kingship rules over all.” When will all this occur? Yemos Ha’Moshiach!

And where does this tefilla appear? In continuation of the request about Hashem’s malchus – “rule over the entire world with Your glory” – because when Moshiach comes, then Hashem’s malchus will be complete!

We spoke earlier about how in the tefillos of Rosh Hashana we also ask for spiritual success. Generally speaking, Chassidishe young men are very inspired on Rosh Hashana but sometimes find it hard to maintain this inspiration the rest of the year. What would you recommend to someone who wants to bring the inspiration of Rosh Hashana into the realm of action?

First, everyone needs a mashpia and this question should be asked of the mashpia. There isn’t one answer; it’s individual. An idea that suits one person is not necessarily good for another. This is one of the reasons the Rebbe was so adamant about the need for personal mashpiim.

I can only say in the most general of terms that the concern has to be focused on the three pillars of “Torah, avoda and gemilus chassadim.” When we daven, “rule over the entire world with Your glory,” asking Hashem to rule the world, we need to channel that inspiration to the pillars on which the world stands.

Torah: to have set times for learning Torah. In Hilchos Talmud Torah, the Rambam says that every Jew is obligated to study Torah. He says in chapter 1, halacha 8: Every Jew is obligated in Torah study, whether he is poor or rich, healthy or afflicted, when young or very old and weak. Even a poor man who is sustained by tzedaka and goes around collecting and even someone with a wife and children must establish time to learn Torah, by day and by night, as it says, “And you shall delve in it day and night.” Learning Torah can’t just be Chitas and Rambam. More must be learned, each according to his ability. Prior to Rosh Hashana is the time to make a real spiritual assessment and add in Torah.

Avodas Ha’Tefilla: To daven three times a day, that’s basic. But how to daven and how much time to spend, you need to give it thought and add. In one of the sichos (Likutei Sichos 22, 116), the Rebbe illuminates in a profound way the words of the Rambam about the mitzva of tefilla, “That a person beseech and pray every day … with petitioning and imploring,” and he explains that all the mitzvos are divided into two categories: 1 – action mitzvos like putting on tefillin or the act of speech like reading the Megilla, in which the primary mitzva is the act of speaking and reading,  and 2 – the obligations of the heart/mind like love and fear of Hashem, that are primarily in a man’s thoughts and feelings.

Tefilla is unique in that although tefilla must be said, the action of the mitzva is in that a person “beseeches and prays.” So when a person says the words of tefilla without thinking and without feeling that he is standing and pleading before Hashem, it’s not that the tefilla is lacking but that there is no tefilla at all, just talking … The Rebbe explains that for tefilla to be called tefilla, it must be preceded with “turning his heart away from all thoughts and seeing himself as standing before the Shechina.” A spiritual accounting must be done – to what extent do we “say” the davening and how much do we actually daven?

Tzedaka: Here too, there is the minimum obligated by halacha: maaser (tenth). But Chassidim need to go beyond the minimum to a chomesh (fifth), which is “mitzva min ha’muvchar” (the superior way of performing the mitzva) and even more, as the Alter Rebbe writes, “One need not be concerned about ‘do not squander more than a fifth’ – as this is not called squandering in such a case (for the purpose of teshuva, redeeming fasts etc.) since it is done to redeem his soul etc.”

This is much like what we just learned in the daily Tanya, Igeres Ha’Kodesh (chapter 16) where the Alter Rebbe urges the Chassidim to donate to the poor of Eretz Yisrael and writes that he is calling upon them to do so despite being aware of the hard times they are going through financially.

When sitting at a farbrengen and a mashpia speaks about avodas ha’tefilla, many think it’s too lofty for them. They claim that it may have been relevant in earlier generations but there’s no chance for the people in our generation. What do you say?

(Firmly): It’s a lie! Completely incorrect. On the contrary, in our generation we have far greater abilities than in previous generations. If you really listen to the Rebbe’s sichos, you have no doubt about it. The Rebbe states unequivocally that people in our generation can attain very high levels. For example, it’s known that the avodas ha’tefilla of our Rebbeim on the night of Rosh Hashana was extraordinary. The Rebbe says that a modicum of this is applicable to every Jew, not just a bachur in Tomchei Tmimim but also a simple married guy.  Everyone!

In the summer of 5751, the Rebbe revealed that in our generation every person can reach the level of tzaddik and in the sichos of Simchas Beis Ha’Shoeiva 5752, the Rebbe says everyone can reach the aspect of Admor!

When it comes to the Rebbe, there are no lofty words and turns of phrase. The Rebbe meant what he said! That means that we really have the ability to achieve it. Whether we actually attain it, depends on us, of course; it’s our free will.

People make all sorts of pronouncements like, “Today, iskafia is not possible” or “Nowadays, avodas ha’tefilla isn’t possible.” I ask: Did you hear that from the Rebbe? Have you seen a sicha from the Rebbe where he says that? Not only did the Rebbe not say that but the Rebbe said the opposite, that today we have greater abilities!

We need to contemplate how the Rebbe views us. The Rebbe sees great abilities in us and tries, again and again, to lift us up! It makes no difference what state we are in; the Rebbe always shows us to what extent we are capable of lifting ourselves up.

There’s the story about Rabbi Yosef Wineberg whose friend called him late at night and asked him to submit a note with a request for a bracha to the Rebbe. R’ Wineberg hurried to 770 and hoped to arrive in time to give the note to R’ Chadakov who would enter the room of the Rebbe every night before the Rebbe left for home. When he arrived, he saw that R’ Chadakov had already gone in and he had missed his chance.

R’ Wineberg, who knew it was an urgent question, decided to put the note in an envelope and stick the envelope between the door and the door frame in the hopes that when R’ Chadakov would leave the Rebbe’s room, he would see the envelope and give it to the Rebbe.

R’ Chadakov left without noticing the envelope and it fell to the ground. R’ Wineberg then noticed the Rebbe getting up and picking up the envelope. Fifteen minutes later, the Rebbe had sent out an answer.

The next day, R’ Wineberg wrote an apology letter to the Rebbe for the Rebbe having to bend down because of him. The Rebbe wrote back, “That is what I am about, oifheiben (picking up); particularly things hidden from the eyes of others.”

When you see how, time after time, the Rebbe picks us up and believes in us, we need to get the message: the Rebbe believes in us! He believes we can do it! So, whoever claims he can’t is unfortunate; he chooses to abdicate responsibility and remain in the mud.

When you listen to the Rebbe, it is impossible to sit with hands folded and say: That’s the way I am; and I don’t have the power…

What about yeridas ha’doros (the spiritual decline of generations)? Our generation is spiritually lower than the previous generations …

True, there is such a thing, as it says, “If the earlier ones were like angels, we are like people and if the earlier ones were like people, we are like donkeys, and not like the donkey of Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair,” but we are getting closer to the coming of Moshiach and this affects our spiritual state and our abilities.

Therefore, even if you don’t consider yourself to be at the pinnacle of the spiritual level under discussion – heaven forbid to think that you are not in the league to relate to it. You are definitely capable of relating! Even when speaking of the great love like the love of Moshe Rabbeinu, says the Alter Rebbe in Tanya, that despite “who is the man and where is he, who dares presume in his heart to approach and attain even a thousandth part of the degree of love of raaya mehemna (the faithful shepherd – Moshe)? Nevertheless a minute portion and particle of his great goodness and light illumines the community of Israel in each generation.”

Is anybody going to suggest that our generation is not included in “each generation”? On the one hand, every person understands that he can’t delude himself into thinking of achieving the level of ahavas Hashem like Moshe Rabbeinu, but on the other hand, the Alter Rebbe states for the record: you received some small part of that and that means you are connected to it!

And since we have that connection we are not allowed to give up; we need to get to work!

Therefore, we have the capacity to connect to avodas ha’tefilla and we have the capacity to connect to whatever it says in Chassidus. And if we are still distant, that need not weaken us; on the contrary; that should spur us on to work!

It’s important to stress that the Rebbe doesn’t only tell us what we are capable of accomplishing, but he also accompanies us every step of the way, providing us with the necessary support and assistance. I recently heard a story from Rabbi Zusha Wilhelm, the menahel of Mesivta Oholei Torah, that illustrates this point beautifully:

A certain Jew in Mexico began to draw close to Yiddishkeit, but his wife and children remained on the other side. The closer he got, the more they distanced themselves. Obviously, this created a lot of difficulties for him in his life. As if that was not enough, his business suddenly started to spiral downward and his frame of mind followed suit.

One day, he was sitting in his office and he began to contemplate his situation. At some point, he concluded that he was sick of the whole thing and was giving up. He would drop it all. He decided to act on his decision immediately by going to a non-kosher restaurant, to make it clear that he had left religion behind.

He began to drive, when he suddenly received a call from the shliach of the Rebbe to Mexico, R’ Yosef Meizlish. He was not calling for a donation, just to discuss a certain topic and then he hung up. For an instant, the thought popped into his head that – Hashem is sending you a sign that He wants you, but in the next instant he pushed the thought right out of his mind and continued driving to the restaurant.

A few minutes passed and he got another call, this time it was R’ Shlomo Markowitz, one of the leading members and supporters of the Chabad community in Mexico. He called to discuss some business matters with him, and again he couldn’t help but think, “why is he suddenly calling me now?” But once again, he pushed these thoughts away and continued to drive.

He arrived at the restaurant and placed his order.  As the waiter was coming to serve him, he suddenly heard screams and someone came running in from the street, entered the restaurant and asked him, “Tell me, are you Jewish?”

It need not be mentioned that before he arrived at the restaurant, he removed the yarmulka from his head, so the fact that the person asked him if he was a Jew was quite stunning. In shock, he answered, “Yes, I am Jewish.”

“Good,” the man responded, “because I need your help urgently. Down the block, there is an elderly Jew who took a bad fall and needs help, but we have not been able to communicate with him.”

He left his plate on the table and ran to help the elderly Jew. After he succeeded in opening the lines of communication with the man and helped him recover his composure, the old man asked him, “Are you a Lubavitcher?”

This was already too much for him. It was not enough that the shliach called him, then another Chassid called him, then as he was sitting down to eat his treif meal they suddenly asked him if he is Jewish, now – despite the fact that he was not wearing a head covering – he is perceived as a Lubavitcher.

He answered in the affirmative, to which the elderly man told him with obvious emotion, “Look here, you saved my life, and I want to repay you somehow. What can I give you? Money? You saved my life! I want to give something that is a lot more than money. Thirty years ago, I visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe and I received a dollar from him. This dollar, which is the most precious thing to me, I want to give to you!”

The man took the dollar from the Rebbe, which he always carried around with him, out of his wallet and handed it to the stunned Jew.  At that moment, he broke. He put his yarmulka back on his head and said: HaRebbe MiLubavitch, with all the difficulties and challenges, I will overcome everything. I am yours!


Chassidim would explain the statement of the Gemara “Rebbi lo shana, Chiya minayin?” (lit. if Rebbi did not cite it in the mishna, where did Rebbi Chiya [who authored a series of braisos] know it from?) to mean that if we do not travel to the Rebbe at least once a year (Rebbe lo shana) then where will we get chayus from (chiya minayin)?

This is the opportunity that we now have in anticipation of the “rosh” of the year, to come to the “rosh” of the Jewish people, to the Rebbe, and receive the spiritual life-force to sustain us for the entire year!

And may we immediately merit the revelation of the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach, which will bring about the complete acceptance of Hashem as king of the entire world, when all will know and proclaim His kingship, with the True and Complete Redemption.

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