THE REBBE’S RASHI REVOLUTION
November 19, 2014
Boruch Merkur in #949, Feature, Rashi

It is fifty years since the start of the Rebbes Torah revolution in learning the simple meaning of the Torah text with Rashis commentary. * After in-depth research, including interviews with RTuvia Blau, author of Klalei Rashi, RLeibel Groner, the Rebbes secretary, and RNachman Schapiro, member of the Vaad LHafatzos Sichos, a picture emerged of an amazing era in the course of which the Rebbe revealed not only a new method in the study of Rashi but also changed the nature of farbrengens and revealed new dimensions in the bond between Rebbe and Chassidim. * Part 1

A NEW-STYLE FARBRENGEN

Until 5725/1964, the Rebbe farbrenged on Shabbos Mevarchim, Yomim Tovim and Chassidishe special days. After the passing of the Rebbe’s mother, Rebbetzin Chana a”h, on 6 Tishrei 5725, R’ Yosef Wineberg wrote to the Rebbe that since the rebbetzin was a great admirer of the Tanya and sichos broadcasts on the radio, perhaps throughout the year it would be worthwhile to arrange that every Motzaei Shabbos there could be a broadcast of sichos (not only on Shabbos Mevarchim as was done until then) and it should be l’ilui nishmasa. Because in those days, the Rebbe did not farbreng every Shabbos, wrote R’ Wineberg, on the Shabbasos that there wouldn’t be a farbrengen, he could take sichos from Likkutei Sichos which were already printed or from those that were not yet printed.

The Rebbe liked the idea very much of delivering a sicha every week l’ilui nishmas his mother. The Rebbe underlined the word “perhaps” and made an arrow to the words “worthwhile to arrange.” The Rebbe also circled the words “throughout the year” and added in his handwriting, “This supports my considered reasoning of a farbrengen – bli neder – on Shabbos Kodesh [throughout the year] at least briefly in quantity [of time].”

Indeed, before Parshas Noach, the Rebbe announced that there would be a farbrengen, but nobody imagined that the Rebbe’s entire style of farbrenging would change. As to what occurred at that farbrengen, R’ Nachman Schapiro fills us in. He was a yeshiva bachur at the time and was later appointed to the staff of the Vaad L’Hafatzos Sichos:

“Before the Rebbe entered for the farbrengen, we noticed a Mikraos Gedolos Chumash on the table. We later learned that R’ Sholom Yisroel Chadakov brought it as per the Rebbe’s request. That was unusual, because until then the Rebbe did not open a seifer during a farbrengen but lectured by heart.

“The Rebbe began the farbrengen with the saying of our Rebbeim that Rashi’s commentary contains within it ‘the wine of Torah’ from P’nimius HaTorah, in conjunction with “Peshuto Shel Mikra,” i.e. that Rashi unites the simple meaning of the text with the esoteric meaning. After the Rebbe explained how the P’shat reveals the Sod of Torah, he opened the Chumash and began reading and explaining the first Rashi on Parshas Noach, just like a teacher teaching his students. The Rebbe read a piece from Rashi’s commentary, analyzed and explained it, and then said, ‘and Rashi goes on to say’ and looking inside the Chumash, quoted the next words of Rashi, and again asked questions and gave wondrous explanations.

“The crowd was surprised by the new style of farbrengen and I remember that after the farbrengen we looked at one another and wondered, is this what farbrengens with the Rebbe are going to be like from now on?”

It wasn’t only the crowd that experienced the change. R’ Leibel Groner, the Rebbe’s secretary, relates that in 5725 a distinguished person had yechidus; when he came out of the Rebbe’s room, he told R’ Groner that during their meeting the Rebbe had spoken to him about his sichos on Rashi and said about himself, “I’ve become a melamed dardaki [teacher of young children].”

If at first the Chassidim thought it was a one-time event, on the Shabbasos that followed they saw that aside from the style of farbrengens that had changed, the Rebbe was revealing depths in Rashi’s commentary while setting out principles and developing a new method and original way of learning. 

“In the first sichos, the Rebbe’s explanations were not entirely in line with the P’shat,” says R’ Groner. “The emphasis was primarily on the ‘wine of Torah’ and horaos in the way of Chassidus. As time went on, the Rebbe began to put a stress on the P’shat of Rashi, with nearly every farbrengen revealing a new principle in Rashi’s approach for learning the P’shat.”

R’ Nachman Schapiro points out a clarification that is published in the additions to Likkutei Sichos Volume 5, as an introduction to the sichos of the winter of 5725, which were edited by the Rebbe. This is what is written there: “It is worth noting that the ‘simple meaning’ of the sichos that were printed here (5725) are not with the same simplicity as the explanations on Rashi’s commentary in later years, since, as it is known, with P’shat too there are various approaches.” This note was written by those who published it but underwent the Rebbe’s editing and approval.

As time passed, the Shabbos farbrengens undertook a certain established routine. At the beginning of the farbrengen the Rebbe opened the Chumash and began reading the first Rashi and explaining it. Then he said an explanation on the “Chassidishe parsha” (i.e. Torah Ohr and Likkutei Torah) and then explained another Rashi. After a few weeks, the Rebbe began choosing another Rashi from the end of the parsha. The Rebbe presented a series of questions and textual observations on Rashi’s commentary and compared Rashi’s wording to the wording in the Midrash or the Gemara from where Rashi derived his commentary. The Rebbe often brought the explanations of commentaries and dismissed them for not fitting with “Peshuto Shel Mikra.” In his explanations, the Rebbe showed new principles in Rashi’s commentary and in accordance with these principles he answered all the questions. (From Shabbos VaEira 5626 and on, things changed a bit and the Rebbe started the farbrengen with a Maamer Chassidus and then went on to explain Rashi).

Anash, who began getting used to the new style of farbrengens, would stand while holding Chumashim and when the Rebbe began reading that week’s Rashi, the Rebbe looked inside the Chumash and so did the Chassidim. It was an unusual sight at the Rebbe’s farbrengens, like a teacher with students in yeshiva.

During the week, the team of transcribers worked on editing a transcription of the farbrengen. To their great joy, the Rebbe edited the sicha, even though, since the start of the nesius, hardly any sichos of entire farbrengens had been edited. In advance of the upcoming Shabbos, on Thursday night Anash and the T’mimim sat down to learn the new sicha. The unique style of the sicha with the subtle textual insights in Rashi’s commentary and the new principles that the Rebbe taught nearly every Shabbos had them learning late into the night as they analyzed what the Rebbe said.

Thus, these sichos on Rashi’s commentary changed the way of life of the Chassidim, both on Shabbos and during the week.

THE REBBE’S NEW APPROACH GOES BEYOND CHABAD

The Rebbe’s sichos, which were disseminated around the world, brought his new approach to learning to other groups as well.

“In 5727,” recalls R’ Groner, “the sichos were seen by a principal of a Litvishe girls’ school in Yerushalayim. He was so excited by the new study approach that he included learning the Rebbe’s sichos in the curriculum.”

R’ Schapiro remembers a certain Litvishe scholar who came for a farbrengen and just in the initial stage, when the questions were asked, became passionately excited over the rare combination of genius and simplicity that were expressed in the Rebbe’s textual analysis of Rashi.

R’ Schapiro also remembers another scholar who came to the Rebbe’s farbrengen, and after hearing the Rebbe repeating the phrase “the Ben Chamesh L’Mikra” asks, over and over, he asked one of the Chassidim standing next to him: Who wrote the book Ben Chamesh L’Mikra and where can I get this brilliant work?

In those days, many religious Jews who were not Lubavitcher Chassidim lived in Crown Heights and every Shabbos after the farbrengen R’ Schapiro would walk to one of their shuls. While there, a Chassidishe Admur would hold a tish for his Chassidim in one corner and in another corner, R’ Schapiro sat with R’ Yosef Waldman (whom we will hear more about soon) and a group of b’nei Torah and reviewed the Rebbe’s new explanations.

R’ Tuvia Blau, author of Klalei Rashi B’ Pirusho Al HaTorah, emphasizes that until fifty years ago, Rashi was considered a commentary for school children and only few G’dolei HaTorah learned Rashi. Now, every self-respecting talmid chacham learns and delves into Rashi’s commentary on Torah. Big scholars plumb the depth of Rashi and devote time to learning Rashi extensively and discover wondrous insights in his words. We can definitely say that this is a direct result of the Rebbe’s teachings.

“That is the role of Moshiach,” says R’ Blau, “to bring shleimus to Torah. Therefore, our generation merited that the Rebbe is rectifying the world and showing each of us the right way of reaching shleimus in Torah. It is so clear that only the blind cannot see it and only a liar does not admit to it.

“I come from the non-Chabad Torah world. After decades of close observation, I can say that the Rebbe revived the study of Rashi. When I have occasion to meet with G’dolei Torah, I hear their amazement with the Rebbe’s approach, for he brought shleimus to the Torah.”

THE REBBE CONTINUES, THANKS TO AN INITIATIVE “FROM BELOW”

“The Rebbe said that these farbrengens were l’ilui nishmas his mother,” said R’ Groner. Throughout the year of mourning, the Rebbe farbrenged every Shabbos and explained the first and last Rashi in every parsha.

After several months, Anash and the T’mimim became used to the new style farbrengen and, unfortunately, the great excitement of the earlier months began to dissipate. R’ Groner says that the Rebbe sadly said, on more than one occasion, that Anash were not taking sufficient interest in Rashi’s commentary.

A few Chassidim, who assiduously studied the sichos, would write in their questions to the Rebbe. R’ Groner himself submitted many questions that occurred to him as he learned the sicha, and he received answers. Sometimes, the Rebbe wrote his answers on the page and sometimes he quoted the question at the next farbrengen and answered it.

Apparently, the Rebbe anticipated greater interest on the part of the Chassidim. After seeing that their initial interest was dying down, he announced, toward the end of the year of mourning, that he would be stopping these explanations on Rashi.

The Chassidim felt very bad about this, but none of them dared to approach the Rebbe and ask him to continue. Just one Chassid, by the name of R’ Yosef Waldman, who attended Yeshiva Torah Vodaas and became interested in Chabad, wrote a letter to the Rebbe pleading with him to continue with these amazing sichos. In his letter, he wrote that stopping the sichos would cause a weakening in “spreading the wellsprings.”

In his response, the Rebbe circled the phrase about it undermining the spreading of the wellsprings and sent him to talk with Askanei Anash and members of the organizing committee. R’ Yosef went and spoke to those Chassidim and then wrote a lengthy report to the Rebbe. The Rebbe’s response was “action is the main thing.” R’ Yosef understood from this that since there was a waning of interest on the part of the Chassidim, the Rebbe would not continue with these sichos.

How surprised R’ Yosef was when a few weeks later, on Parshas Shmos, the Rebbe explained Rashi, prefacing it with an explanation as to why he had gone back to explaining Rashi:

“A young man who is not even from ‘shpitz Chabad’ maintains that people are involved enthusiastically in Rashi’s explanations and that it’s a pleasurable thing,” and ended with “since this is so, we will continue with Rashi’s explanations.”

WHICH RASHI WILL THE REBBE SPEAK ABOUT THIS SHABBOS?

Unlike the first year in which the Rebbe explained the first and last Rashi in the parsha, now the Rebbe began choosing Rashis in the middle of the parsha, in no set order. R’ Yosef Waldman, who as mentioned, was very enamored of the Rebbe’s explanations and would thoroughly learn the first and last Rashis in the parsha so he could better understand the Rebbe’s textual analysis, found himself in an awkward position. He had no idea which Rashi the Rebbe would speak about and this pained him.

In his anguish and great desire to understand the Rebbe’s explanations in the farbrengens, he wrote to the Rebbe: Please can you let us know, if possible before Shabbos, which explanation of Rashi will be addressed during the farbrengen on Shabbos?

How happy he was when he received a response from the Rebbe which said: Generally, the decision is made right before the farbrengen or on Shabbos itself. In any case, this week Rashi’s explanation on the verse, “If you lend money to My people,” will be explained.

R’ Yosef thanked the Rebbe and asked that when it was possible, the Rebbe should update him before the farbrengen about which Rashi would be discussed. He received a response to this on Shabbos morning when he was about to leave his house on Montgomery Street for Shacharis. He heard a light knock at the door. It was R’ Sholom Yisroel Chadakov who told him that when the Rebbe arrived from his home at 770 he asked him to tell R’ Yosef Waldman which Rashi he would be talking about.

From that Shabbos and on, R’ Yosef began sending his regular request every Friday and on Shabbos morning he got up early and stood near the yechidus room in the hopes that if the Rebbe had already decided which Rashi he would talk about, that he would find out and would be able to prepare in the few hours remaining until the farbrengen.

Once this became known, many of Anash and the T’mimim began waiting with R’ Yosef and when the Rebbe told R’ Yosef which Rashi, they all studied it and prepared for the farbrengen.

 

RAV AND KING

R’ Nachman Schapiro:

Since the founding of Chabad Chassidus, the Rebbeim were a channel to convey the G-dly light, but this was done in a very specific way, whether through the saying of Divrei Elokim Chayim, Maamarei Chassidus, or words of inspiration at farbrengens. Lessons in Torah study were not a part of the relationship between Chassid and Rebbe.

Even when the Alter Rebbe started the famous chadarim in which great scholars learned, it does not say that the Alter Rebbe gave them shiurim in Nigleh. He only said Maamarei Chassidus.

One could err and think that when it is about apprehending G-dliness, knowledge of G-dliness, love and fear of Hashem, “know the G-d of your father and serve Him with a whole heart,” we need a Rebbe in order to connect to Hashem. But when it concerns learning, we can manage with rabbanim and roshei yeshiva.

On Shabbos, Parshas Noach 5725, fifty years ago, when the Rebbe began teaching the Chassidim the explanation of Rashi, the Rebbe revealed a new angle in the relationship between Rebbe and Chassidim. This taught that our entire connection with Hashem, every aspect of it, goes through the Rebbe. Whether it’s love for Hashem or learning Halacha or even something basic like the simple meaning of the pasuk, the Rebbe showed us that in order to understand Peshuto Shel Mikra, we need to go through him. He is the one who teaches Torah to the Jewish people.

This novelty in the Rebbe’s conduct is reminiscent of the chiddush of Moshiach about whom it says he will be both a rav and a king. From when the Rebbe began his explanations of Rashi it was possible to sense how the Rebbe is both a king and a rav who sits and teaches Torah like a teacher with his students, starting from the beginning, Chumash and Rashi, Peshuto Shel Mikra.

Perhaps we can say that this is the reason that this all began after the passing of Rebbetzin Chana in 5725. The conclusion of Chana’s prophecy is “And raise the majesty of His anointed one,” as the Rebbe emphasized a number of times. So after the Rebbetzin’s passing, a new dimension was revealed in “And raise the majesty of His anointed one” both as a king and as a rav.

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