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Wednesday
Nov212018

THE GERRER REBBE’S “FIGHT” FOR THE UNDERGROUND TANYA SHIUR

Yeshivas Kol Torah is a well-known Litvishe yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel. At one time, it was led by the prestigious posek and rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zl. It is a yeshiva of high-level learning and has produced many distinguished students who hold important positions in the Torah world.

There were many students who, over time, became interested in the teachings of Chabad. Since Kol Torah is not a Chassidishe yeshiva, there were members of the hanhala who refused to allow a Tanya shiur to take place there or even outside of it, for its students. They (not including R’ Auerbach) feared the possible draw of top students who would leave the yeshiva for Tomchei T’mimim (as actually happened on occasion).

In the yeshiva at that time there was a group of bachurim who were mevakshei Hashem (seekers of G-d). They looked in all sorts of places for a pathway in avodas Hashem. They visited Chassidic courts and for a while, they delved into the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. They were proficient in the various approaches of the baalei musar such as the greatness of man of the Alter of Slobodka and had read through the teachings of Rabbi Simcha Zissel of Kelm.

Some of those talmidim were also exposed to Chabad and were excited by its teachings. Despite the difficulty, they would leave the yeshiva at night and secretly go to learn Tanya with Rabbi Yosef Segal.

Rabbi Segal adopted an interesting approach. He would hang out in the yeshiva, gathering information on the bachurim who were considered outstanding and knew well how to learn, but were interested in something more. Then he would develop a connection with them. In his search for talented learners who were also searching for some spiritual nourishment beyond the study of Gemara, he came across a young bachur by the name of Shabtai Slavaticki. R’ Segal in his clever way knew how to reach out to each student.

One Shabbos, when Shabtai Slavaticki was walking with a friend to the tish of the Admor, the Beis Yisroel of Ger (Rabbi Yisroel Alter, 1895-1977), they “happened” to encounter R’ Segal on the way. He joined them and began to talk in learning with Slavaticki about the discussion in the classic work Ketzos HaChoshen as to why shlichus does not apply to the laying of tefillin (i.e., that one cannot appoint an agent to wear tefillin for him, unlike many other mitzvos which can be performed through an agent). The conversation was intriguing and impressed young Slavaticki, who was taken by the depth of the conversation. After the tish, Shabtai’s friend told him about how R’ Segal is a great lamdan.

Two weeks later, the same friend came and told him in confidence that there is a secret Chassidus class in the yeshiva, exclusively for exceptional bachurim, and that Shabtai was chosen and accepted as a suitable candidate for the shiur.

“Who teaches the class?” inquired the young bachur, and the answer was, “Do you remember the lamdan that we met when we went to the tish of the Beis Yisroel? That’s him, Rav Segal.”

His curiosity was stimulated, and although he was born to a Litvishe family that was far from Chassidus in general and Chabad in particular, what really tipped the scale was the desire to know what exactly it was that he was opposing.

The two made their way silently to the yard of a school building in the Bayit Vegan neighborhood in Yerushalayim, where the secret Tanya shiur took place. The bachurim arrived one at a time, and each one had to knock on the door in a pre-arranged way, sort of like a code, and only then would the door be opened.

The class went on for many weeks, until one of the rabbis of the yeshiva discovered the existence of the shiur, and in no uncertain terms prohibited the bachurim from attending. Having no other option, the boys returned to their regular studies in the yeshiva, but their souls which had already been ignited with the light of Chassidus, were spiritually thirsty. A few weeks later, after things quieted down, the class started again. However, this time also it was discovered and the bachurim were forced to categorically terminate their participation in the class.

Ah, but the thirst, the thirst and the desire to learn Tanya burned inside them, and after an extended time had passed, they decided to start it up again. In order to preserve the highest level of secrecy, they held the shiur in the shul of the Amshinover Rebbe in Bayit Vegan.

***

In those years, the Gerrer Rebbe, the Beis Yisroel, was a major force in the Torah world of Yerushalayim. He kept tabs on everything that was going on in every beis midrash and yeshiva in Yerushalayim. He maintained regular contact with many educators and yeshiva bachurim and was very involved in guiding the young generation to the proper places. He saw this as part of his work to rebuild the world of Torah and Chassidus which had gone up in smoke during the years of destruction in Europe.

The Beis Yisroel would often go out at night and secretly visit the study halls and yeshivos, as well as the headquarters of other Admorim in Yerushalayim.

One night, when the bachurim of Kol Torah convened in the Amshinover Rebbe’s beis midrash, they suddenly noticed to their shock the glowing countenance and sharp eyes of the Gerrer Rebbe. He was sitting on the side and listening to their learning. The confusion and excitement put them off from carrying on with the learning, but he urged them to continue, albeit without success.

He asked them where they were from, where they learned. They told him, Kol Torah. “Why do you come here to learn and don’t learn in yeshiva?” he asked.

An uncomfortable silence ensued. Finally, one of them got up the courage and told him the truth, that the yeshiva did not allow them to learn Tanya.

The Gerrer Rebbe’s reaction was sharp, as was typical of him. “Red pages are allowed, and this not?!” (“red pages” was a reference to the Maariv and Yediot newspapers whose headlines were in red ink). He then got up and quickly left the beis midrash.

A few weeks passed and Shabtai Slavaticki was called into the rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Auerbach’s, office.

“Why did you say that I don’t allow the study of Tanya in yeshiva?” he sweetly inquired of his bewildered student. The bachur did not know what to say. R’ Auerbach encouraged him to speak his mind. Shabtai finally said, “I did not say, G-d forbid, that the rosh yeshiva does not allow it; but there are those in the hanhala who forbade us to learn Tanya in yeshiva.”

R’ Auerbach responded quietly, “From now on, you are allowed to learn, just not with a tumult.”

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