TEACHING TANYA TO DESCENDANTS OF THE ALTER REBBE IN A LITVISHE YESHIVA
November 20, 2013
Nosson Avrohom in #903, Feature, Tanya

It is hard to believe but a Litvishe yeshiva in Yerushalayim has its own shliach, R’ Yitzchok Shneur Zalman Yitzchakov. There was even a Tanya shiur in the rosh yeshiva’s living room! * Presented for Yud-Tes Kislev.

“The following story happened on Yud-Tes Kislev a few years ago,” said R’ Yitzchok Shneur Zalman Yitzchakov, who is active in spreading Chassidus in the Litvishe Yeshiva of Itri in Yerushalayim. “It had been a while since I had been to 770 and I decided it was time to go. Before I left, I arranged for bachurim, with whom I was in touch, to farbreng on Yud-Tes Kislev at the Chabad house in Katamon.

“After a busy week at ‘Beis Chayeinu,’ I returned home. I was told that one of the bachurim from the yeshiva was looking for me. I called him and could hear that he was very excited. This bachur is descended from the Alter Rebbe and during the farbrengen in Katamon he committed to learning Tanya with a friend from yeshiva by the name of Chaim Bitton.

“When he returned home later that night, he had an astounding dream. He felt someone touch his shoulder and when he turned around, he was shocked to see the Rebbe. He told the Rebbe that he had been learning Chassidus for a long time already and attended farbrengens. The Rebbe smiled broadly and nodded to indicate that he knew all this. Then the Rebbe said four words, ‘What’s with Chaim Bitton?’ He was stunned. How did the Rebbe know about a commitment he had made and had not shared with anyone?

“When he regained his composure, he told the Rebbe it was a commitment he made and planned on carrying out the very next morning. Then he excitedly began telling the Rebbe again everything he did to spread Chassidus and the teachings of the Alter Rebbe, but the Rebbe stopped him and asked, ‘What’s with Chaim Bitton?’ And the dream ended.”

***

That bachur is just one of dozens of bachurim who were niskarev in recent years to the Rebbe, thanks to the work of R’ Yitzchakov. Anybody who walks into the yeshiva in recent years has to be moved. Although Itri is a Litvishe yeshiva, in many of the rooms you will see pictures of the Rebbe and even Moshiach flags. There are also many s’farim on Chassidus from Likkutei Torah to Tanya, Likkutei Sichos and D’var Malchus 5751-5752. The bookcases are full of them. Dozens attend the Tanya classes and Chassidishe farbrengens.

R’ Yitzchakov grew up in a Lubavitcher family but was sent to Litvishe yeshivos. The roshei yeshiva liked him and he became the right hand of the rosh yeshiva of Itri, R’ Mordechai Elefant a”h (d. 2009). R’ Yitzchakov felt as many other Litvishe bachurim do, that learning Gemara is not enough for them to turn into yerei Shamayim. He looked until he found Tanya and maamarei Chassidus and they provided him with a true appreciation for his Torah study and mitzva observance.

He went on to learn in the Chabad yeshiva in Tzfas and then spent a year in 770 on k’vutza. He returned to Itri following a clear answer from the Rebbe, this time as a shliach. “It was hashgacha pratis that first had me learning in Litvishe yeshivos,” he says with a smile.

WITH THE ROSH YESHIVA, RAV ELEFANT

R’ Yitzchakov derives much satisfaction from his work, despite the many difficulties. Who wants a Lubavitcher operating in a Litvishe yeshiva?! There were those who tried and still try to impede his work, but he always looks at the cup as being half full, i.e. the bachurim who have become Chassidim and many others who are appreciative of Chassidus.

The memory of his grandfather, R’ Ari Yitzchakov a”h, who was a Chassid of the Rebbe Rayatz, also inspires him in his work. His grandfather did much to strengthen Judaism behind the Iron Curtain (see sidebar).

The image and greatness of the Rebbe is not foreign to the Yitzchakov family. In the shul that they lead, the Rebbe’s picture graces every gathering and there are numerous Chassidus shiurim. When their son was born, he was named for the Alter Rebbe but since Chabad mosdos weren’t as developed in the area at that time, he was sent to Litvishe yeshivos. He attended the Chinuch Atzmai elementary school in Raanana, and after his bar mitzva he went to Beis Shmaya in B’nei Brak and Yeshivas Chevron in Kiryat Seifer.

“I was always a Chabadnik, even before my bar mitzva. I always felt that something was missing in the chinuch that I got. Nothing is said about the neshama, the heart. Everything revolves around doing. One day, I met R’ Alon Chakshur who was on shlichus in India and had gone to visit his parents. He heard me called Shneur Zalman and wondered why my peios were tucked behind my ears. He asked me if I had any free time and when I said that I did, he opened a Tanya and we began to learn. I remember that we learned about the G-dly soul and the animal soul and I was mesmerized. It was an eye-opener to me.

“The change wasn’t deep enough though and I continued learning in Litvishe yeshivos. My father dressed like a Chassid and we had a picture of the Rebbe in the living room, but I was hearing musar talks in yeshiva.

“After a few months in Yeshivas Chevron, my cousin told me about Yeshivas Itri and how wonderful it is. I decided to go there. To my parents, a Chabad yeshiva at that time was out of the question, even though I already had many Lubavitcher friends whom I knew in Raanana and through whom I began attending shiurim in Chassidus and farbrengens. I wanted to learn in the yeshiva in Tzfas but my parents did not let.

“Within a short time, I had become close with the rosh yeshiva of Itri, R’ Mordechai Elefant. In yeshiva, the bachurim called me the Chabadnik of the yeshiva. I couldn’t hide it and nor I didn’t try. In my dorm room I had a picture of the Rebbe and I regularly attended the Chassidus shiurim and farbrengens in Yerushalayim. On Shabbos eve, I would walk for three hours to Yeshivas Toras Emes and stay there the entire Shabbos.

“The rabbanim in yeshiva who knew about this were on my case but I did not give them any trouble. Throughout the week I was on time for learning. I entered the beis midrash at seven in the morning and left at midnight. My relationship with the rosh yeshiva also helped.

“I loved him. He was a huge talmid chacham with a lightning mind. Although he was Litvish, he did not hate Chassidim. On the contrary, he had tremendous love and admiration for the Rebbe. When he realized that I was a Lubavitcher, he told me about his extensive correspondence with the Rebbe when he opened the yeshiva. It was when a group of Gerrer bachurim came to the yeshiva and R’ Elefant consulted with the Rebbe about how to include them within the Litvishe framework of the yeshiva. R’ Elefant was also Hungarian with great emunas tzaddikim and he respected Jews who were yerei Shamayim.

“I realized the extent of his admiration for the Rebbe during my second year in the yeshiva, when I began accompanying him on trips.

“The following took place on a Motzaei Shabbos, Parshas VaYechi, when we went to Yeshivas Nachalas HaLeviim in Haifa, one of the flagship yeshivos in the Litvishe world. He gave a shiur there to three hundred talmidim. The entire shiur revolved around the topic of ‘a star goes forth from Yaakov,’ and the explanation of the Brisker Rav that in every generation there is someone who is deserving of being revealed as Moshiach, if the generation is worthy.

“At the end of the shiur, one of the talmidim got up (I later found out it was the rosh yeshiva’s son) and asked: If so, then the Lubavitcher Rebbe is the Moshiach of our generation; is that whom you mean?

“R’ Elefant calmly replied, ‘Do you have someone greater?’ I, who was standing on the side, was in shock. I was a Lubavitcher and he knew that, but he had never said things like that to me. On the way back, I waited for an opportunity to bring this up. When we passed by the bridge where pictures of the Rebbe were hung which said ‘Melech HaMoshiach,’ I asked him whether the things he said at the end of the shiur were meant seriously or in jest.

“Instead of answering my question directly, he repeated what he said and added that in his opinion, the Rebbe has all the signs of being Moshiach. The conversation on this trip revolved around the Rebbe and his greatness. He said that he remembered his childhood in New York, when his father sent him and his brother to welcome the Rebbe Rayatz who had arrived from Europe in 1940.

“Afterward, I thought about how we Chassidim struggle in confusion. Yes Gimmel Tammuz or no Gimmel Tammuz, to him there was no contradiction or problem; to him, the Rebbe was and is deserving to be Moshiach and he said this fearlessly in a Shiur Klali in front of hundreds of Litvishe talmidim.”

Despite his good relationship with R’ Elefant, R’ Yitzchakov yearned to learn in a Chassidishe yeshiva. 

“I had an inexplicable desire to learn in a Chabad yeshiva, particular the one in Tzfas. I knew bachurim in Raanana who learned in Tzfas and I felt that the attribute of truth radiates from them.

“After many arguments with my parents, and after sadly parting with the rosh yeshiva, I packed my bags and went to learn in the yeshiva in Tzfas. A year later, I went with shiur Gimmel to learn for a year in 770. 

“In 770, and in general, throughout those years when I was a Chassid but learned in Litvishe yeshivos, I felt that the Rebbe was with me every step of the way. Every time I wrote to the Rebbe, I received clear answers.

“In Kislev of that year, after a month full of spiritual experiences, I felt downhearted. It bothered me and I wrote to the Rebbe about how I felt. I had gone to 770 to feel and to see but there were only giluyim; I wanted etzem. 

“The answer I opened to in the Igros Kodesh amazed me. It said: This that you wrote me that so-and-so says he doesn’t see the hand of Hashem, he should know that the problem is with him. 

“I cried like a baby. The mashpia, R’ Zalman Landau was passing by and I showed him the answer. He was as amazed as I was. 

“When I finished the year, I asked the Rebbe where to go and the answer was to return to the yeshiva I had learned in Eretz Yisroel and I would be successful. I understood from this that the Rebbe was sending me on shlichus to Itri. The day I landed I set off for the yeshiva in Yerushalayim. The mashgiach, who saw me in the doorway, was taken aback, and for good reason. He knew that I was a Lubavitcher and he knew about what I did. He tried to prevent me from coming back but the rosh yeshiva was happy to see me and accepted me warmly and lovingly.”

THE TANYA SHIUR GROWS

R’ Elefant made the young Yitzchakov his right hand man and also appointed him over his house. As his representative, he met with roshei yeshiva and g’dolei Yisroel and advanced matters that were important to the rosh yeshiva.

“On one of the first days, I met a nice bachur whose name was Werdyger. He was the grandson of the former Knesset member, Avrohom Werdyger who worked on the Rebbe’s agenda together with Eliezer Mizrachi, to annul the ‘targil ha’masriach (lit. stinking scheme, or the dirty trick),’ in which Shimon Peres and the Labor government colluded with Shas to cause the fall of the Shamir government. He said that there was great admiration for the Rebbe in his family because of his grandfather’s work. As a result, we developed a nice relationship.

“One day he told me he was thinking of leaving the yeshiva for the United States where he would try his hand at business. I told him that if it were me, I would write to the Rebbe through the Igros Kodesh and ask. I explained how we write. He wasn’t enthused by the idea but he did not disparage it either. He told me that on his mother’s side he is a descendant of the Alter Rebbe.

“When he saw the book full of letters, he said that in order to be sure the Rebbe was answering him, he wanted to open to the last page. In that letter the Rebbe wrote to a bachur from Yerushalayim that if he would listen to the Rebbe’s advice, he would stay for another year or two in the yeshiva he was learning in and this would provide him with a bracha for everything he asked for. 

“He read the letter and exclaimed, ‘Shneur, I can’t believe it! I’m sitting here on my bed in this room and it’s like the Rebbe is standing nearby and answering my question!’

“We arranged to learn Tanya together in the evening, in the rosh yeshiva’s living room where I was a ben-bayis and had a room. He was followed by other descendants of the Alter Rebbe. It was amazing how the Rebbe sent me there to collect sparks of the Alter Rebbe. The second talmid was Nachman Rothman of Har Nof. At one of the shiurim I learned that he too was a descendant of the Alter Rebbe. The third talmid, Yisroel Klein, was also a descendant of the Alter Rebbe. Today he is a Chabad Chassid.

“The Tanya shiur, given every night in the rosh yeshiva’s living room, grew. Naturally, the other side that sees the effect of k’dusha, tried to interfere. There were people on the staff who tried to expel the Chassidic distraction from the yeshiva. They called the parents of bachurim and told them about what was going on and asked the parents and alumni to exert pressure on the rosh yeshiva. 

“One day, R’ Elefant asked me about the commotion. I told him that I do not force any bachur to learn Chassidus, and that we see that the yiras Shamayim of every bachur who learns Chassidus grows. He heard me out and chose to ignore the uproar.

“I received angry phone calls from parents who began hearing Chassidishe niggunim from their children when they went home. Bachurim began davening Nusach Ari, sleeping with tzitzis, and wearing woolen tzitzis.

“My roommate was a bachur whose father was a famous alumnus of Yeshivas Ponovezh. Although he was very respectful of Chassidus, he chose to keep his distance from me. In the meantime, the yeshiva was in a tumult over the issue of Igros Kodesh. Bachurim saw miracles. There was a story that made waves in the yeshiva about a bachur from Tel Aviv who concluded a shidduch as a result of an answer from the Rebbe. The chevra saw that ‘Moshe emes, v’toraso emes,’ and convinced him to write too. I wasn’t in yeshiva that week and only heard about it afterward. He dismissed the idea but his friends urged him to write. 

“This bachur had been pressured by his parents to do a shidduch, but he did not think he was ready. This is what he wrote to the Rebbe. The bachurim asked him to read his request out loud so that if there would be an answer, he would not be able to say he did not get one.

“He opened the volume in their presence and the answer was: A shidduch is only with the consent of the child. It was a letter that the Rebbe wrote to parents not to pressure this child. He read the letter out loud and everyone was amazed.

“When I returned the next day and they told me the story, I went to his room and saw him reading the letters in that volume. He read every single letter in that volume and I remember him telling me, ‘Ruach Ha’kodesh bursts forth from this volume.’ There were many others like him. Within a few months, a few dozen more bachurim were taking part in the shiurim and farbrengens.”

DEALING WITH THE OPPONENTS TO THE SPREADING OF CHASSIDUS

After R’ Yitzchakov married his wife Karin, he stepped up his activities.

“After receiving the Rebbe’s bracha, we decided to get going. We wanted to rent a house in the vicinity of the yeshiva. At that time there were no available caravans where the alumni and staff lived. We didn’t know what to do. The Rebbe’s brachos were clear and so we didn’t despair. If the Rebbe gave his bracha, then it would be alright. In the area was a beautiful stone building with two floors, which a wealthy Belgian Jew, a director of the yeshiva, had constructed. We did not think we had a chance of being accepted but we submitted a request.

“The one who took over the running of the yeshiva after the sudden passing of R’ Elefant, was someone who was on the editorial board of a newspaper which often attacked the Rebbe and the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. This made us even more certain that our request would be denied. 

“I had been sure that I would get a job in the yeshiva from the rosh yeshiva, but his passing changed everything. The staff did not like what I did; those who did like what I did, kept a low profile. But the Rebbe’s answer encouraged me; I was not a private person, but a shliach.

“Amazingly, the new menahel accepted my request and we rented the house. From that point on, my work increased many times over. Our house, which was the nicest in the vicinity, turned into a Chabad house. Already in the second week of our marriage we held a farbrengen on Friday night and had a minyan in our living room in the Chabad spirit with Chabad niggunim. Twenty bachurim packed into our house on Friday night and in the morning. The t’fillos took place after we learned Chassidus.

“We held farbrengens on special days in the calendar with mashpiim who were invited for the occasion. Every Friday night and Shabbos morning we had t’fillos and farbrengens, aside from the shiurim we had during the week, one-on-one. My wife worked hard to make the farbrengens inviting by preparing delectable meals.

“Every year we worried that our rental contract would not be renewed by the yeshiva’s hanhala who considered us a nuisance, but each time we were pleasantly surprised when the contract was extended.

“At the yeshiva there was one man whose hatred made him crazy. One day, when I wasn’t home, he burst in and began cursing my wife who stood there stunned. A wife of another staff member, who saw him, called some other people. The man felt uncomfortable and left.

“Our fear after this incident was that the menahel would not renew our contract. What actually happened was the menahel called the next day and invited us to his office to sign a new contract. 

“In general, every time someone on the staff turned up the heat in opposition to us, more bachurim were exposed to what we do. I heard from bachurim who went over to the staff and told them how learning Chassidus increased their yiras Shamayim, ‘And why are you fighting this?’ they asked, and did not get clear answers.”

SPEAKING
ABOUT THE GOEL

When I asked R’ Yitzchakov how to open a window on the world of Chassidus for those who were raised their whole lives to oppose the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, he did not understand the question.

“Today, everyone is interested in hearing the truth, divested of any external poses. It’s not merely a nice line that we will greet Moshiach with the Tanya. It is the only cure for this generation. For someone who learned in a Litvishe yeshiva and knows their shita, it is easier to get started. In the Litvishe world you are educated to esteem the mind, but that is not necessarily the way to bring about a change in them. On the contrary, deep inside they yearn for faith, for emotion, for some heart. They want to connect to the neshama, to the Giver of the Torah. Their entire relationship with Hashem is intellectual, how many pages of Gemara did they cover, how deeply did they learn. That is how they assess a person.

“There was a Sephardic bachur who joined our activities for a few weeks. One day, he asked to talk to me and he said he was sent by one of the staff members to report back to them who was in attendance, but after he saw how the bachurim’s yiras Shamayim was being fortified, he refused to be the informer who would stop the progress of these talmidim.

“Later on he told me that his aunt was married to a Chabad rav and I suggested that he write to the Rebbe. He agreed and the answer he opened to was one in which the Rebbe thanked him for visiting the Chabad shul in Mea Sh’arim and said that he himself [the person writing to the Rebbe] was connected to the teachings of Nistar.

“It was amazing how on the mark this letter was, for the bachur came from a Sephardic family where the teachings of Nistar are a part of their heritage. He was excited by it and attended the farbrengens we held. Of course, he did not report back to the hanhala. He later served in the army and did Mivtza T’fillin with the irreligious soldiers on his base.

“We bring mashpiim to farbreng. We had R’ Zalman Notik, R’ Chaim Nisselevitz, and R’ Zalman Landau. R’ Betzalel Kupchik farbrenged here from nine at night until six in the morning. The bachurim were ‘flying.’ They saw the truth without any airs. Here was a Jew who was moser nefesh to spread Judaism, and it made a huge impact. There was a bachur who, due to his involvement with us, was expelled from the yeshiva and went to the Mir where he started a shiur in the D’var Malchus. If you saw him on the street, he looks like any other Litvishe bachur, but the sichos of 5751-5752 burn within him.”

I asked R’ Yitzchakov how publicizing the identity of Moshiach helps mekarev people to Chabad. He said, “I’ll tell you this: If you live it and believe it, people accept it. People don’t like it when you don’t talk straight. If you believe something, say it. People accept things from those who take a strong stance, especially when it is apparent that they are speaking the truth. This is not our invention; this a clear prognosis that is supported in Shas and poskim. I was once sitting with one of the top bachurim in the yeshiva and we spoke about Moshiach. After a while, he asked me to stop. ‘I will soon become a Meshichist,’ he said in a fright.

“Walk around the yeshiva and look in the rooms. You will see many pictures of the Rebbe. At the Purim party for the yeshiva’s staff and the bachurim, they all raised their cups and began to sing Yechi. Bachurim who got drunk cried: When will we already become Chabadniks? At Maariv, one of the bachurim proclaimed Yechi and everyone responded. True, it was on Purim, but we know that Purim is a time when the truth comes out. The staff was in shock. Bachurim knocked at my door at four in the morning, wanting to farbreng.

“Every shliach who operates in the world outside of Chabad knows how the world is more ready than ever to hear the Besuras HaGeula and the identity of the Goel. The Rebbe transformed the world. There is a great void today. Even amongst the upper echelons people are waiting for us to show them the truth. We can say that the only ones who are still not ready are us. We need to wake up before someone else does the work that we were given to do.”

ONLY CHASSIDUS CAN DO THE JOB

The Yitzchakovs recently moved to Raanana to live near his parents after clear answers from the Rebbe. But their work with yeshiva bachurim continues.

“I just finished talking with a bachur for two hours; he needed chizuk. Last week we held a farbrengen for alumni from Litvishe yeshivos in Bayit Vegan. The stories they told really moved me. The bottom line is: only Chassidus, the revelation of the luminary within Torah, will bring a Jew back to good.”

 

 

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