Zalman: “Be a shtickel Rebbe!”

Reb Zalman sends this mamash / amazing Wort / talk he had with Boulder Chabad‘s Rabbi Yisroel and Rochel Rosencrantz in which he speaks beyond just them to all of us. [Edited by Gabbai Seth Fishman]


I want to say that all this is done l’shem yichud kud’sha brich hu ush’chintey / with an intention of uniting the Holy One Blessed be He and His Sh’khinnah. We really want to help the Sh’khinnah to be connected with Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and the world needs to heal. So that’s the motivation. I’m glad to do this for you because in some ways there’s a kind of Tzava’ah, a last will and testament to say something about what I think things are about for me.

I believe that our task is to look at reality and see it most clearly from a perspective of being a Jewish cell in the body of the world. If we can do that, that’s what I call taking on ‘ol malchut shamayim / a yoke of obedience to heaven’s kingship, [a committed practitioner of Yiddishkeit], in a sense — that whatever the Ribbono shel Olam / Master of worlds has implanted in me when I stood there and they were making me swear: t’hei tzadik v’al t’hei rasha‘ / ‘Be righteous and be not wicked’ .

[NOTE: “It has been taught (Niddah, 30b): An oath is administered to him [before birth warning him]: ‘Be righteous and be not wicked'” (beginning of Sefer Tanya, Chapter 1)]

When I heard, et mi eshlach umi yelech lanu / “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”, I said hineni, I’m here. At that point the Ribbono shelOlam burnt an EPROM in me.

[NOTE: Computer memory chip. Reb Zalman is saying that he was then given his marching orders on how to be the Zalman God wanted him to be in this incarnation.]

Every time I have to go and get to a place and ask, mah Hashem Elokecha shoel meimach / what does Hashem Your God ask of you, I have to do a reset on my whole system because it picks up a lot of shmutz. (This is computer language.)

If you understand what I’m saying, [through] the teva btoldoseinu / nature in our generations [i.e. internal programming we inherit from our forebears] we have been given a particular thing. If you want to say it in another language, it’s the Torah that I learned from the malach / angel when I was in the womb of my mother. To be able to come back to that, [i.e. each of us being a Jewish cell in the body of the world], that’s what is our biggest ‘avodah / way of serving God is in our day, that each one should be at this point, not as it was then only in the past, but mitzad, leis naaso bcheftzo kol, azai melech shmo nikra / from the side of, from all time, God was behind it making it happen. Not just as it was at that point, [but also] knowing that at this moment in time we have two nodes of triangulation: One is Har Sinai and with it the tradition, and the other one is Torah min hashamayim as it’s coming down right now.

[NOTE: Zalman is saying to not just drive with the rear view mirror; we need to add into the mix what is coming down in our time and our paradigm. In particular, from an organismic perspective, Yiddishkeit is an organ in the body of the planet.]

Now if you understand klal Yisroel, the best model I have for klal Yisroel is a tree. The tree has bark; those are the secular people. The tree has wood and those rings from the past are the tradition. Year after a year another ring is added, and the important thing is the growing edge underneath the bark. That’s where the lachluchiyus, the life juice, that’s where it goes through, that’s where it’s new, that’s where it’s fresh. That’s where the tree lives. Now you might say, if the growing edge is what’s required why bother even having the wood. The answer is that while the wood is rings from the past, it gives stability to the tree. In this way I see that I was deployed to work on the growing edge of things.

What is the job? In other words, we have to grow a template, a matrix from which klal Yisroel / an inclusive Yiddishkeit can operate. Klal Yisroel / The total group of Jews has some people who are bones. That is to say, etzem atzmiut / bone essence. They are the skeleton, they hold it up. Then there are some people who are the ‘afar / earth part, then there are some people who are the mayim / water part. They have to do with nutrition, with money and tamchin doraisa / supporters of the Torah. Then there are some people who are the air part; they are the speakers for things. Then there are people who are the eish / fire part, those are the people who are the most connected to the yud of the Shem Havaiah / YHVH. So everybody has his place. So all the ways, from the utmost of sigma minus two to sigma plus two [i.e. including those outside the norm], all that has to happen on a template. That template I call yiddishkeit, or if you want, the DNA of the Jewish organ in the organism of the world.

Now Professor Heschel had a good way of talking about that. He said, the Torah is an answer, but we lost the question. That’s a good thing. Every Erev Shavuos when we have a mishmar / night of prayer and study, I keep asking the same question, what are the questions we have for which we expect the Torah to be an answer. Today I want to say it a little differently. I have some questions. What is the cosmology? What is the shiur komah / dimensions of divinity, what is the way in which daas / awareness, knowledge operates to know. Because chochmah says, “aha, I have a good idea”, binah says, “oh yes I understand it”, but then daas comes and checks it out, is it true? Daas is the reality tester. What we don’t have at this time is a map of reality which will help heal the world. To me, healing the world and to lift the Shkhinnah are one and the same. If we don’t have that place, the whole issue, ashre yoshvei beisecho / Happy are those who dwell in Your house — this is the house that God has given us in ‘olam hazeh / this world, because in all the other ‘olmos / worlds you can’t do what you can do in this world.

So we have to know what are the questions that the world would want us to ask, e.g., What is the cosmology that we need to get clearly, to understand, to believe, to have, such that if we got it, understood it, believed it, and had it, it would bring us to lshem yichud kudsha brichhu ushchinteih the healing of the planet.

Next, what are the ethics that come out, the action directives? If I had such a view of the reality then that would give me action directives. This is how it would happen: We could compare the action directives with the taryag / 613 commandments that we have and we would find that there would be a way to make them really fit. That’s my emunah / faith speaking – I can’t prove it because we aren’t there yet, but this is my emunah / faith, this is my bittachon / trust, optimism, confidence.

Then I want to say that if we can get an understanding of people in Klal Yisroel that we need each other, so that it doesn’t come out to be, these people I don’t need in my life, — we need them all. Gefen mimitzrayim tassiya / A vine out of Egypt You brought. Look at the chassidus / deep teaching, that wonderful Torah that says there is all this, Klal Yisroel is all this. If we believe in Klal Yisroel then you have to understand that the work I’ve been doing, was not for Renewal, and was not for Aleph [the Alliance for Jewish Renewal], it was for Klal Yisroel. Because there are some neshamas / souls in Klal Yisroel who have to go through this space that we have created in order to get to initialize in their neshamas that tafkid / marching orders that the Ribbono shel ‘Olam gave them when they were created. So with all that I want to say, vihi noam Adonai Elokeinualenu, umaasseh yadenu konnualeinu, umaasei yadenu konnehu / and may the pleasantness of the Lord our God be upon us,and the work of our hands establish for us, and the work of our hands establish it.

Hineni muchan umzuman / behold I am ready and prepared…


It says in the Zohar that a few hundred years ago we had a big event, and that was we had an opening of the gate.


Shnas tov resh / in the year 5600 (1840)


The way we talk about that is that we say there was a big advancement which led to science and technology, and


Sforim became easy to get.


Yes, and we also had advances in kedusha, which was the beginning of Chassidus and the spreading of Chassidus in a big way. We’ve seen that advances in one also apply to advances in the other, but one of them is easier to see. That is the advances in science and technology are easier to see. One of the things I’ve noticed in the time I’ve known you is that you are what we call an early adopter. If there’s something available that looks like it could be useful, you find a way to make it useful right away. You were discussing how when you were in Crown Heights you were the one using the mimeograph machine, so you were an early adopter. And yet you came from a time and a place where the technology was what we would call primitive now. So you have encompassed both parts of that. You lived in times and places that go from the very primitive up to a very advanced society where people are electronically connected with everybody in the world all the time. So what I want to know is what did you notice.


About the improvement of the advance in Chassidus, you mean?


What did you notice in your own life with the changes in technology as an early adopter, how did this change your life?


When I was in school I had a crush on Herr Loevy, my chemistry teacher, natural history, all the things, chemistry, physics, etc. I really loved that man because he had the kind of sechel / insight to make us do things. He gave me opportunities to do experiments in front of the class. For instance, an experiment I was so proud of, I would take some oil and show that oil was a salt, that it breaks down into an acid and into a base. I was very proud of that and so I thought chemistry was the greatest thing. Then Hitler came. Hitler brought fantastic improvements in technology. He created the Autobahnstrassen and created vacations for workers that were luxury vacations called Kraft und Freude. I saw the guys that went to school with me, the urchins, now dressed in Hitler uniforms and being washed. I saw the Zeppelins, and in 1936 the first televisions were coming through for the Olympics –so I thought that if Hitler would only be nice to Jews we would make a Jewish brigade and free Eretz Yisrael from the British. Can you imagine that? A childish thought but he had written Mein Kampf. It wasn’t going to happen that way. I suffered enough during Kristal Nacht when I was in the Jewish Rothschild Hospital after an appendicitis operation and it was a lot of tzores / trouble.

There was a hiatus then because there wasn’t much I could do to learn mental stuff. But I learned how to be a weaver, how to cut diamonds and I learned how to be a furrier and for a while I worked in a metal shop. All this helped me to have an understanding of what the reality of things is, how to make them work.

This was in Antwerp, in Belgium. The diamond thing was with that wonderful group of Chassidim who were with Reb Moshe Tchechoval who had been studying with Rav Tzirelson and Reb Avraham Schneerson. Those are the people who attracted me first, and maybe we’ll come back to tell about them because zichron boruch, they deserve to be remembered. Avram Weingarten, ‘alav hashalom, and I were both members of that group. Then there was a concentration camp for refugees who came from German countries. The French put us into a camp and there was a time when I went out to make a little shofar / ram’s horn. I didn’t have any tools to do it with except some wire that I sharpened and an old coffee can in which I boiled the horns.

Nothing much more except in Marseilles where we had that little yeshiva and there I met Reb Shneur Zalman Shneersohn who was the father-in-law of Reb Elya Chayim Carlebach, and through him we started a yeshiva and that’s how it happened that the Rebbe came for Tu BShvat, and gave that wonderful teaching that has inspired me to this day.

He started out and asked, vos lernt Ihr / what are you learning? I didn’t even know who he was at that time because he was such an anomaly. All the people who had beards wore long kapotes / overcoats and black hats. He came in a business suit and a gray fedora, his beard nicely tucked under, so I didn’t know who he was. But I had such a sense of his dignity when I saw him. So, what are you learning? Kesubos / marriage contracts. So he said lchayim / very good and begins to talk about bsulah niseis l’yom revii ( a virgin is wedded on the Fourth Day) and we are bsulah / a virgin to the Ribbono shel ‘Olam, and he married us at Har Sinai byom chasunoso / Mount Sinai on His wedding day. What did he give us in kiddushin / sanctification vows? Asher kidshonu bmitzvosov / which sanctified us in his mitzvot. And when were the tnaim/ marriage agreements, the engagement contract? Bmasei breshis / at the time of the creation of the world . So the chachomim / sages say, shnei alofim Tohu, shnei alofim Torah, shnei alofim ymos hamoshiach / Two thousand years wild and wooly, two thousand Torah, two thousand days of moshiach. So after the shnei alofim tohu and shnei alofim Torah yom harevii / the fourth day, moshiach should have come because the other two are ymos hamoshiach, [i.e., the plan was that the Messianic age was to have been in the years 4000-6000, roughly corresponding to the Common Era.] But that is only a bsulah / a virgin [who marries on the fourth day, fourth millenium]. But if, choliloh vchas / God forbid, we have sinned, done ‘averos bshogeg / sins in error, then we’re – hoysso koalmonoh / we’d be like the widow. So the almonoh gets married when? Byom hachamishi / on the fifth day because birchos dogim / blessing of the fish. But, ubpisheichem shulchah imchem / you were sent out because of your transgressions, because we did bmeizid / intentional sins, therefore we were divorced, as it were, so then the chasseneh is on Friday because that’s the time when [a divorcee marries, the time of] birchas odom / the blessing of Adam and pru urvu / the command to procreate, so it should be on Friday [i.e. some time before the year 6000]. I’m making it short, because of course he laid it out. He asked the question, why do you have to wait? You [Israel, a virgin] could have yashkim labeis din byom sheini, you could have got married on Sunday but you have [to allow three days, i.e. three thousand years] to get ready and then he was talking about the sparks that are here and there, that’s the kishutei kallah / decorating the bride. Then he came to a point where he started to cough. He had a way, when he didn’t want to cry he was coughing. With a sigh he said, it is already so late on Friday, when will the chasseneh / wedding be? To this day when I say it, my heart spills over this way.

Now I got to see more of this business of how time is; that there is a head space that’s called tohu. It’s wild and woolly it’s up to Noach / the time of Noah. That’s how it goes. Then there is Torah and you can see how Torah starts going through the beginnings of bichtav / written Torah and going to bal peh / oral Torah and how it all builds up and fills the mind with that. And now comes the time when the Zeitgeist, the way in which the mind has to be filled, has to be yemos hamoshiach / messianic age.

A little later I had an opportunity to do a siyyum hashas / teaching about the orders of Mishnah thing. So I said that we had six sedorim / orders. The first elef / thousand years was zroim / Seeds and it starts with brochos / Benedictions [first tractate of Z’ro’im]. The second one was moed / Festivals, ki vo moed / for the time comes, and then came Torah. Then was nashim / women, we were close to the Ribbono shelOlam, then nezikim / Damages came afterwards. Then we went through the medieval period of kodoshim / holies and now we’re in the time of toharos / purities. It’s the whole issue of seeing times not as one thing, but as evolving mind space.

Most of the time when you look at history they give you a narrow history: Jewish history, American history and they don’t tell you what else was happening around the globe. But if you go after the churban habayis rishon / destruction of the first Temple and you ask what else was happening, it was Socrates, Aristotle, Plato. It was Mahavira Buddha, Lao Tsu, Confucius, Yecheskel / Ezekiel, Yirmiyahu / Jeremiah, Yeshayahu / Isaiah, and it was Zaratustra. What was going on at that time?

There is an ‘inyan / a thing going on, there is like an explosion. The Alter Rebbe says, a tzaddik when he leaves the body, he spreads all over. When the first beis hamikdosh was destroyed, there was such a blip on the radar of the global brain, that whoever had kelim / vessels [to contain the energy] remembered. Everybody got it but most of the people didn’t have kelim. For that, you needed to have the preparation of a Buddha, for instance, sitting in austerity and trying to figure out what’s the cheshbon / examination of the world. Lao Tsu and everybody wanted to come up with a reality map. They got a zap and then they put out the reality map that they saw. Now we learn that there’s a Hillel way of looking at things and a Shammai way of looking at things, depending on the shoresh hanshamah / rooting of the soul.

That’s the kind of thing also with cultures. Every culture has kelim and whatever came down min hashamayim / from above at that point went into those keilim they had, and lots of stuff was spilled on the ground because people couldn’t remember afterwards. Only those people who gave it a file name and saved it on disc. The others didn’t have anything. What does that mean in Midrash language? Hechzir Hakadosh Boruch Hu al kol umah vloshon / the Ribbono shelOlam went to all the nations with the Torah. Once you ask, functionally in history, what does that mean, you get a picture of it.

So there I am with an understanding of how history and these things go. That was very important to me. I began to see history. There is this place in Disney World where you go into the Monsanto exhibit, as you go into that snowflake, it changes dimensions. It gets smaller and smaller but then you see it’s big. You get to see now I’m in the middle of an atom, and now I see the electrons and the space in there. That’s the kind of thing I’m looking at when I see how we go through different times. Every time the olam shanah nefesh / space time soul shifts… Did you ever play Zelda?




Zelda was…I didn’t play it more than once, not that I’m against it. The wonderful thing about it is that there are rooms and you start out some place and you have to discover what are the laws in that room, how you can fight the enemies there. Then you have to go to another room and it changes. So that issue of change has been very important to me. That goes to paradigm shift and how do you get it to be so that plus cest la meme chose, plus ce change / it remains the same the more it changes.

There is an element of culture. Sometimes I give the mashal / analogy, imagine I was in Bulgaria and I got some fantastic yogurt, and I want to take some along. So I take a little culture along. I come to another country and I don’t want it to spoil so I take some goat’s milk and put some bacillus Bulgaricus in there. Then I come to America and find another kind of milk and I put it in there. What does it mean? Each culture has a different way of doing it but the basic yeast is still the same.

I think so about yiddishkeit / Judaism. You can understand that survival of yiddishkeit depends on being able to survive in whatever culture we are and still be what we are. That sameness and difference is what’s been agitating me all along.


So you’re saying that yiddishkeit in this case is like the yeast that makes it into yogurt.


That’s right. Wherever we come, whichever country we come to…  Remember the story about the Baal Shem and his son-in-law. The son-in-law has returned from a country where he had been captured and made a slave, but the king liked him very much and said to him, “Why don’t you bring more Jews here?” The Baal Shem at that point when he returns says to him, “Because you went, one doesn’t have to be in golus / exile there any more.” There are sparks in every country for us to redeem and sometimes you need a large group of people to do this work, which means a large group must go into golus, must be enslaved to redeem the sparks.  But the son-in-law fulfilled the mission and saved other people from having to be exiled in that country.

It’s an amazing thing. Take a look at the difference in the poetry of Yehuda Halevi and Shlomo Ibn Gabirol and Reb Eleazar haKalir. Don’t you think it has something to do with the land where they were? When I hear Chabad niggunim that are so Ruskie, we pick up that strain. That’s what Reb Nachman says, kchu mizimras hoaretz. Take from the song of the land, wherever you are, that’s important.

I continue. So then this is in the back of my mind and I come to the yeshiva. At one point there’s only one thing I want to do. I really want to learn to davven. Chassidus has fine ideas. But how do you do it? This issue of how you do it is so important and so I was lucky to have Jakie as my mashpia‘ / guide. Because one day I’m davvenen with this very kvetchy face and he comes and gives me a zetz / a shot in the side. He says to me, hast schoyn gepruft mit guten? “Did you already try being nice?” And they said, “No. That you really have to kvetch like this?” So it still hurt, and I started to smile while I davvened, and wow, didn’t the davvenen get off! So these were wonderful moments.

It was just about this time of the year when the maftir is chazon Ovadyah [i.e. late Fall, Vayishlach]and we were sitting in beis hamedrash at 770 upstairs and there’s Reb Shmuel and Reb Jacobson and some of the other older Chasidim, Reb Avrohom Paris. And Reb Shmuel says, die bochrim davvenen nisht / the young men don’t davven. So he has taines / a secret on us. So I take a glass, one of those yahrzeit glasses, with schnapps (a home brew schnapps, vodka) and I down it and I say to Reb Shmuel, how do you expect us to davven if you have never told us what’s happening inside of you when you davven? So you teach us Chassidus, that’s very nice, those are ideas, but how do you do it? What happens to you?

So he says to Jacobson who sits next to him, you tell him. So Jakie says, I worked so hard on davvenen and he expects me to tell him while standing on one foot! And I said, YES! So they’re broiges and Avrohom Paris says [about me], he’s really right. So they say, sog Du em. You tell him. So he takes a big glass of mashke / liquor and he begins with birchas hashachar,  [i.e., the beginning of the morning service], and tells what goes on. I learned so much at that point. If you ask me to repeat it I can’t but I have it in my bones. So when somebody says to me, what can you teach me about davvenen, i.e., they want deep meditation, I say to him, when you say goluy vyodua lifnei kisei kvodecha, can you make yourself transparent so the Ribbono shel Olam should see everything inside of you? When you say nishmas kol chay tvorech et shimcha Hashem Elokeinu you look at how many things in the world breathe, and all of them are thanking the Ribbono shelOlam There is a certain level of taking it literally. This is where I give thanks to Reb Yosef Yitzchak. The issue of Chush Hatziyyur, the imaginal faculty. Just make sure that when you say something Chush Hatziyyur is between the heart and the mind. The mind gives you a concept, the heart does the feeling but without the Chush Hatziyyur it doesn’t get into the heart. This is so wonderful. So when I talk today about davvenen I want to say that the matrix of that was given to me by Reb Avrohom Paris, and he should have a lichtigen Gan Eden / bright respite in heaven.

I loved that man very much. He was the first Meshichist. When the Rebbe, [Reb Yosef Yitzchak] was 60 years old [i.e. 1940], he, [i.e. Reb Avrohom Paris] sent out notices [to us] before that, [telling] that we should send ychiy hamelech hamoshiach / long live the king messiah [referring to Reb Yosef Yitzchak]. We sent telegrams to him. So I went and typed out three telegrams but handed them to him by hand. One said what Reb Avrohom’s said, ychiy hamelech hamoshiach, the second one said, ychiy kvod kedushas adoneinu moreinu vrabbeynu / long live the glory of holiness of our master, our lord our teacher and our Rabbi, afilu /even if he isn’t mashiach, happy birthday; the third one said, if chalilah vchas there’s going to be any bad stuff coming from this campaign I take it on myself so the Rebbe shouldn’t have to suffer for it.

These things, if you weren’t here, I never had a chance or even wanted to talk about it.

So there I am in Lubavitch. And davvenen — I had all kinds of nooks and crannies where I could davven. Sometimes on Shabbos afternoon I had waiting for me a can of sardines that I had opened on Friday because I didn’t want to open a can on Shabbos. I was a frum person at that time. So at four o’clock in the afternoon I’d make kiddush and have two bulkalach / small buns for challah and a can of sardines because I didn’t want to go to any kitchen, to any baal habos / householder, I wanted to have the time to davven. So it was wonderful.

Then came that incident with the machines. Berel Baumgarten and I started to type and duplicate maamorim / Hasidic discourses – I’ll show you later on the handwritten and typed stuff I did at that time. So I go across the street where Moshe Pinchas Katz had the yeshiva office and the dormitory was there too. One time he asked me to open up the office for the woman who was going to come in and work, and to get a key made for myself. So I sneak in at night and I would type Gestettner stencils on his Hebrew typewriter, and then I broke the carriage. And they found out who it was and Rashag [Rabbi Shemaryahu Gurary] called me upstairs and there sits Reb Shmuel and Rav Kasstel and Reb Mentlik and Reb Jacobson and Rashag and they all look at me with that kind of a thing: what kind of a chutzpah would you have dared to go into the Rebbe’s room – it’s all the same territory, you have no right. I said, Raboysai, excuse me for a moment I’ll be right back. I went downstairs and collated those things and brought back the pecklech /packets and handed each one a peckel / set. So then they realized what I was doing there so I just had to pay for fixing the carriage by taking over Meir Greenberg’s class from time to time, and they didn’t throw me out of the yeshiva.

But I had to give back the key and I had to forego from now on, which is such a pity because I never had certain kinds of chutzpah. I could have said to them, “Wouldn’t it be good if the bochrim in the yeshiva would get hold of some stuff this way that they don’t have?” I still have a handwritten copy of the Derech Chayim, the first ten prokim / chapters that I myself did – because there was no machine around. There was only one copy and I had to copy it by hand. I lived with that at that time. So there was already technology in this thing.

By this time I’m out in New Haven in the yeshiva there. I had an accordion and was singing with the kids and I was playing baseball with them and made up ditties for them on brochos — (singing)

fruit growing in the ground,
like vegetables and roots,
borei pri hoadomoh
is the brochoh for such foods.

Fruit growing on trees,
like apples and dates,
the brochoh on them is
borei pri haeitz.

The kids had a whole bunch of things, and that’s where my head was.

I went to Rochester to run the Achei Tmimim Yeshivah there and that was terrible. It was a year in a broken down yeshivah and I was the school bus driver, the fund-raiser and the teacher and when the furnace broke I was also the one who shoveled the coke into the furnace in the morning. And then we didn’t have any money and we had to liquidate in Rochester. Previously, Herschel Schusterman had been there and there was another day school , which had been funded by frum people , but they didn’t want Lubavitch. They attracted kids and we were only getting the kids that nobody else could handle. So it was a very hard year.

I decided in Rochester to learn how to be a shochet / Kosher slaughterer. So I got kaboloh / certification for shchitah / slaughtering and learning to put a chalef  / knife together was not an easy thing, and I did well with that. Then I decided I wanted to get out of the koholshe / education business and be a butcher because my father-in-law at that time was a butcher. So a guy who went to California rented me a store he was leaving. I was there. And then the Ribbono shelOlam helped me [stay in education] because with the last money I had saved up, I had to pay for the meat that was in the cooler that got spoiled because the compressor of the cooler didn’t work.

So we managed, sof, sof / after everything to get to Fall River where I was teaching Hebrew school and was the rabbi of a small congregation. And in order to make ends meet I would go to Providence, R. I. and shecht / slaughter chickens. And they called me the ‘Bebop rabbah’ because before – “what’s he doing now? He’s talking to the chickens!” – I sent them out. The chickens were dry because people thought of them as merchandise, not as living animals. So I gave them water first and talked to them, “I’m not doing this from cruelty and you’re going to have a chance to get from [the level of ] chai / animal to [the level of] mdabber / speaking [ i.e. a raising through serving human needs].

Then the guys would come in and would start talking nivvul peh / idle chatter, e.g., what they did the night before, etc., so in order that I should be able to keep my mind on things I started singing, “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho”, so they were plucking along and singing and they called me the bebop rabbi and I learned some wonderful spirituals from them too.

From there, during the time in Fall River, I got more into musical instruments, and also into raising tropical fish. I had tanks and was having a lot of fun. Why? Because it interested me, something with guppies was great and with neon, it was wonderful. It was biology and in this way I was able to connect to it. I also got into hi fi at that time. I would set up speakers and copy things, so that’s where I got into sound. When I left Fall River and went to New Bedford I continued there and in New Bedford I started to learn Morse Code, because I wanted to have telegraph messages with Zalman Posner in Tennessee. In those days there wasn’t much radio; it was only A.M. There was a Mosheh Leib Roshtein in 770 and every Thursday evening we were working on the possibility of doing a ham [radio] gesheft / business in which we would ask Mosheh Leib what’s doing in New York and what’s happening and what did the Rebbe say, and we would tell the rest of the Chasidim which short wave lines we were on so they could tune in. It didn’t happen. It would have needed a special antenna on top of 770.

It shows you where I was at that time. I would drive around and look at street signs and go dot dot deet, just to make sure that I had my Morse Code ready to pass for my ham license.

We moved to Winnipeg. I had had a choice to go to Gainesville or to Winnipeg Hillel. Winnipeg had a mikveh and a day school and Gainesville didn’t, and with my kinderlech / children and mishpochoh / family we went to Winnipeg. The issue was how to get word out from Hillel to students at the various campuses. It wasn’t only one campus and on the campus itself you have to have different announcements. So I got a letter press and a multilith press, both of which I schnorred / persistently talked up from people. I typeset and printed and that’s where I began to burn the multilith masters. That’s the first stuff that I printed – I’ll show you a little booklet, that had translations from various things, and letters from the Rebbe, that I had done.

I have to go back a little. Just before the histalkus / passing of the Rebbe Nishmas Eden [Yosef Yitzchak], Shlomo and I were called in and sent out to campuses. When we made our way I would take along a big tape recorder, a horse, it was only one side and was still paper tape. I had recorded an hour and a half of Chassidishe niggunim on the Hammond organ and I took that along to Brandeis and printed out a lot of stuff and gave out to the students there letters from the Rebbe.

So I was into this business of printing for a while now, from the old jelly stuff to the best things we had.

You ask me what I saw. By the time it was clear that the effort you put in gets multiplied beyond what you can do with your muscles, I was interested in that. That’s how I saw this thing.

I was also reading a lot at that time, because of the questions asked by the students. How do you harmonize things? I had a vikuach / disagreement with the Rebbe about that. Somebody wrote me a letter asking me, how do you deal with evolution. So I wrote back, what do you mean evolution? We have the seder hahishtalshlut / order of devolution…all that kind of stuff and this is not the first world – a whole deal.

Every time I sent such a letter I sent a carbon copy to the Rebbe. He would send back sometime [with] something marked on the side with pencil. This one he didn’t agree with, to say anything about evolution. So I came later on for a yechidus and I had it out with him. Why should we say that the Ribbono shelOlam is a liar, that he plants fossils and makes all these kinds of things happen when this is not the way we are meant to understand reality. And he said, because of Shabbos. If you don’t have the six days of creation then it injures Shabbos. Here again, I’m timid, but this doesn’t mean that I didn’t think of it differently afterwards. Are you going to tell me that in this cosmos that is so vast six earth days—six times the earth turns around the sun – is how that happened. Why does the Torah say breishit / in a beginning not bareishit / in the beginning and why does it say yom echod / one day and not yom rishon / first day?

So I wasn’t ready to buy that. But then there was always the question about how I was to harmonize with the students whom I would be meeting, and Torah. So I began to read and I saw various kinds of things happening already with the beginning of the quantum stuff, psychic research. For instance, I worked with a medium and this was an amazing thing. Some are fakes and some are good and this one was good. This was after the histalkus / passing of the Rebbe and she said there was a little wheezy organ there, and while she was getting ready I was playing that niggunach el Elokim‘ / Only for God. So she was sitting in a chair and she got up and she said, he is from the twentieth level. He wears a fur hat and he is shining. Etc. etc. I was a little taken aback that I had made the Rebbe come through a goyah / non-Jew to me. That’s how I saw it. But it was interesting how she tried to give over brochos / blessings. In another session before that, she had sort of channeled my mother-in-law and almost choked on the word Chchchchchannah. She was an English woman. She would say, there is this woman with a kerchief up to here and she is watching…..

In order to get the job at the University of Manitoba, I had to get a secular degree. Since I didn’t go to high school in America, I didn’t go to college in America, On the basis of my smikhah / Rabbinic Ordination, I applied to Boston University to the school of theology, to study pastoral psychology. I’d been reading a lot of that stuff, way back from when I was in New Haven at the yeshiva. I was reading Norman Gesell who was a professor of childhood development. So here I’m reading a lot of psychology, and psychology of religion, and I joined the ministerial association when I was Rabbi in New Bedford, got to know the protestant clergy and sat from time to time at a Quaker meeting. I learned a lot about how to go and minister to people. By that time I also had had a long-time interest in other religions. That got started in New Haven. When I was teaching in Lubavitcher yeshiva and looking for books by Norman Gesell, I went to the library and saw recent acquisitions. There were two books there, one was The World Bible and the other one was called, Difficulties in Mental Prayer by Father Eugene Boylan, a Trappist from Mellary Abbey in Ireland. Difficulties in mental prayer? Mental prayer! Even Belzer Chassidim don’t do mental prayer, we Chabad people do mental prayer. He, a goy / non-Jew  knows from mental prayer!!! So of course I took that book home, read it, and found out that there is such a being like Ramakrishna, a rebbe for the Hindus. That sort of gave me a wider perspective again, that ki lo yidoch mimenu nidoch / “He will not cast from Him the banished one” isn’t only for Jews. Every neshamah of a human being and even below that is theotropic. Like heliotropic — a flower turns to the sun, and we turn to the Ribbono shelOlam. This is what EinSof / pure divinity wants.

So now I’m going back and reading a lot of psychology and para-psychology. For a while I was doing experiments with Zener cards for telepathy. Amazing stuff came through sometimes when we had a table séance. Once I’m sitting at the table with somebody and the table doesn’t want to go clockwise, it wants to go counter calockwise. So we start counting abc, and the table isn’t happy. So I said, let’s try aleph beis, and there it starts to spell out the message Zalman. Who is it? It spells out bet ayin shin tet / Besh’t, and I freaked. And then I said, If he wants to I’m available and I’ll go to mikvah and let me dream. I don’t want to do it this way. So it didn’t happen the other way, but there it was. So I experimented with stuff of this sort.


What did he say?


I stopped, I didn’t want to. I was stupid and afraid. But at the same time, geh geshpiel sich mit dem Baal Shem Tov / You go playing yourself with the Baal Shem Tov, not in this way. Later on I told the Rebbe about it and he said, tanzendicke tishlech / a dancing piss. He said the same thing, az der rebbe vill / the Rebbe will come when he’s ready…Because I once had offered, I said, If everything has to go to the Rebbe, [then] I want to learn mediumship and be available like an oracle. Me darf nisht / there’s no reason for it, he said, the rebbe can come any way he wants to.

So I’m reading Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception and he was talking there about mochin dgadlus / expanded consciousness and all that kind of stuff that I’ve been experiencing in davvening and fabrengen and with mashkeh / alcohol. I want it. So there’s a whole story about how I got to it. But first I wanted to take LSD in Canada. But it would have had to be at a crazy house and I didn’t want to go there. There it would have been like doing major surgery on a dung hill. So I told it to Gerald Heard who is a very special person in my life and he said, “you don’t [need to do this]. I have some friends at Harvard.” And he told me about Leary and Alpert.

Then I took the kids from Camp Ramah on a trip to different houses of worship, (not a chemical kind of a trip)! And we came to that ashram and there is Timothy Leary coming down from a trip. He teases me about monotheism which he compares to Nazism and mind control. Then I said, “Leary, is your name Leary? Do you mind talking to me for a moment”, and I take him aside and tell him, “Gerald Heard told me about you and I would like to be able to do it”. So we made a date. In between that time and the date is yud beis Tammuz. I come to New York and talk to Neal Rose outside while there’s a lot of lchayim / drinking toasts going on and Avrom Weingarten comes running and says, Zalman, the Rebbe asked for you. He said Zalman zoll sogen lchayim, vu is er / Zalman should make a toast, where is he? They couldn’t find me. So he says, efshar iz er gegangen far a retreat, efshar macht er a meditation / maybe he’s on a retreat, maybe he’s meditating. Everybody cracks up because they had my number at 770 about that. So I come back in and he says to me, because of this business from Marseilles yet. zog l’chayim far dem retreat un far der meditation / say cheers for the retreat and for the meditation. So I am handed a tumbler with vodka and he looks at me like this and doesn’t answer lchayim, so I figure he’ll say it for the second. I drink it down and say lchayim again and drink it down and he keeps looking. And he says why don’t you drink lchayim. I can’t say that I’m zonked out. So I turn with my cup again and somebody pours me straight whiskey and I put that down. And he says, zullst hoben a gutn retreat un a gutte meditation / you should have a good retreat and a good meditation. I hold out my cup again and this time there’s only wine and the sugar comes as a chaser. Lchayim, zullst hoben a guten retreat und a gute meditation. And he starts singing with the olam / all the others and the alcohol hits my head and I go whump and start jumping and dancing like mad one to the niggun that everybody is singing.

A week later I’m out there at the ashram and just as the LSD starts taking effect I see him again with lchayim zullst hoben a guten retreat and gute meditation. That was amazing, because I was able to verify for myself levels of awareness. First of all, the issue of gilgulim / reincarnation. I went though a whole bunch of past lives I had. Each time it would come up it would be through the nahar dinur / river of fire. The stuff I saw – to put it in a funny way: all the lies they told me are really true. There is this amazing stuff and it really is so.

With it came [lots], and it took a long time later on to do homework. I scribed it. I wrote it out. I gave a report to some rabbi friends about what what was happening and shared it with the Rebbe too, the whole point of goluy vyodua / being transparent when I bring him the nigay lvovi / heart concerns and ask for a tikun / repair for this and for that, that’s why I do it. That’s why on that picture when I came to get the dollars I didn’t want to get dressed in something that wasn’t my regular clothing. Why should I come and pretend?

There, at this time, I shared that too and the Rebbe said, it’s an experience, but not more than an experience, meaning you can have all kinds of haores / insights and makifim / cosmic aha’s and so on, and it’s great. But the question is the time that it takes to integrate what you have experienced. That’s where the homework comes. So there was a lot of homework that came as a result of that because when you live in a time scale at that point that is so much faster [it doesn’t sustain itself]. Look how many incarnations I went through in a half hour. And at that time because of the elasticity of time and mind, it felt like it was a lifetime.

Remember the maisse / story about the Alter Rebbe and the kugel? Here was such a situation about a chassid whom he gives a piece of kugel and he lives through a lifetime to see what would happen, if he would go through with a divorce. The Alter Rebbe wanted him to see what he might expect if that were to go through. It goes in a short time. Then you realize it was only a few minutes.

So doing the homework was very important. One of the things that came through was that I recognized that no point of view is absolute. I can wiggle myself into any idea. You give me an idea, if I want to understand what you’re saying I can wiggle myself into that idea. I don’t have to say it’s false. Before making a judgment about it, what does it look like from that perspective? When we’re learning together, you see sometimes when I look at it from this ‘olam / world or that ‘olam, or this sfirah / divine attribute or that sfirah, that’s a very helpful thing. To the point that sometimes (and this was a wonderful thing of the chemistry) that at times I would understand things that I wouldn’t dare to think about other times. What does it feel like to be the Ribbono shelOlam? I found out that God is an atheist! It sounds like a joke but when you ask, vhu echad vein sheini lhamshil lo lhachbiro / and He is one and there’s no other to compare with Him to keep company with Him. It came to me as He is one, He has no other to whom to relate, to tell Him a nice moshel / analogy, to be his friend, to be a chaver. There is a certain kind of rachmonus / compassion [I had for God]. Oy, Ribbono shelOlam You are so alone. If You need me to be on the stage to entertain You in your eternal aloneness, I’m willing to do that.

That’s like saying, because of that, it would have been much easier not to be created. So what right did the Ribbono shelOlam have to create me? Because zochin lodom shlo bfonov / one can bring a benefit to person even if he is not here, but vein chovin lo lodom ello bfonov / one cannot bring a detriment to a person even if he is here, And if chazal / the sages had said noach shelo nivro / rather that he should not have been created, so I have to forgive the Ribbono shelOlam for creating me.

Now these are the kind of daring thoughts, that are not so much for the head but are for the heart and for the neshamah, because it makes the relationship real.

And then I understood Buddhism. If you can go so strongly into a refined state of mind that you can be attuned to the Ayin / nothing, to the Shunyata, the Emptiness, then there is no God. There is a sense of God, there’s a relationship word – ki anu amecha, vattah malkeinu / for we are your people, and you are our king, that’s a relationship. But with AynSof / No End we have no relationship, we don’t even exist in Ayn Sof, that’s the whole business of da’as ‘elyon / supernal awareness. Now you see how daas elyon and daas tachton, you switch around from perspectives and so on, that is so important. That brings me back to something else I want to get to, and make a siyum / finish on that.

Vtzorich haodom, somebody says you ought to. Oy, if all my is‘es were my oughts, oy would I be a tzadik gomur, oy would I be a rich man. But they’re not. There is a distance, an abyss between the ought and the is. The question where Chassidus is better than Mussar is that Mussar says you ought to and Chassidus says I’ll show you how. That’s why you have a Kuntres Hatfilah / discourse on prayer and you have a Kuntres Umayan / discourse on misleading thoughts and all these kuntresim / discourses that are really trying [to get us on the right path]. What is the Sefer Shel Beinonim? ‘Etzes / advice that I hear. The whole point is to give you what the Hindus call upayas, skillful means to be able to do the work.

So I started to pay attention to which ones are the active ingredients and which are the bulk. I want to say like an eidus / bearing witness that the Siddur has a lot of bulk inside, more bulk than it needs to have for our time. Because everybody who saw a good thing put it into the Siddur. They said, Aleynu is so good on Rosh Hashanah, let’s do it every day. The Akedah / binding of Isaac comes in Mussaf Rosh Hashanah, let’s do that yehi rotzon in front of the Akeda in the morning. Adon Olam is such a high contemplative hit every day. So areingeshtupt / driven around, areingeshtupt, figuring that bulk is going to do it rather than going to quality. Tov mat bkavonoh milharbot shelo bkavonoh / better a little with kavannah then a lot without kavannah.

So I had a group in New Bedford whom I taught a little bit about meditation. I told them a little about how mmale kol almim / fills-all-worlds works. Everything that is alive inside of you is there because God wants it to be and every moment. So can you go and give yourself a feeling that you are every moment being creative. In order to get to that place we would sing niggunim, like Ba’al Shem’ niggun. “As I sit and I sing I remember my heavenly home” (Z singing) “As I sit and I think I feel the nearness of God’s throne, Lord my life, heart’s delight You I seek, You alone.” I put words to it because I found that if we would sing niggunim they would sink into the soup and not pay attention to the niggun as a prayer. Then I brought those lyrics to the Rebbe. I also had one done for the Alter Rebbe’s Avinu Malkeynu, “As I sit before You praying”, so he said, “den Alter Rebbes niggun, no”. But I had Reb Michele’s and the hachonoh niggun. “For the sake of my soul” (singing) and then the other one “I came to my garden from beyond time and space to meet my bride, my beloved at our own very special meeting place” [and he said “okay”].

So I had taken the maimar and put these words into the niggun so we have the Ba’al Shem and the Rebbe as prayer partners I brought this to these young people and then I wrote a little booklet, called the First Step. I brought it to the Rebbe and he said everything is good but I should delete Buber and I can keep Heschel, because I had a bibliography for further reading there. So the stuff that became important to me was about awareness management, meditation and davvenology (what I called it). The Rambam says make the birchas hashachar just as you need them, not in shul, so I started to do body movements to that. Zokef kefufim / straightens the bent [i.e., extend the spine], like this, and matir assurim / frees the captives. I taught the kids kadosh, kadosh, kadosh / holy, holy, holy  we would do this for ten, fifteen minutes (with movements) over and over again. I would tell them, the first kadosh is where you feel it in your heart, you don’t understand it yet, but you’re there when a baby is born or when a person dies, and you feel something, a kedushah / holiness in the moment, kedushah in the heart. Then I ask kadosh, such a wonderful idea.

I understand kadosh . If kadosh is only what I understand it wouldn’t be kadosh enough. And then Hashem Tzvaos, what does it mean? Lord of Hosts. [So I switched it:] I will be a host for You and bring it down. And I go, mlo kol haoretz kvodo / the whole world is filled with His glory and look around like this.

So these are the things I tried to bridge for people experientially so that they would be able to do it. That’s how davvenology came about. Along with that is the stuff that has to do with eco-kosher. You asked how I understand the world now and what the world needs [and this leads to saying] then [that] Styrofoam cups are not eco-kosher. To ask about the big bal tashchis / don’t destroy of the planet, that’s how I got to eco-kosher. Recently I got to bio-kosher. I’m on a special diet now, I haven’t been eating the cookies at your place, because that’s not bio-kosher for me at this point.

The whole inyan / point has to do with the din of nedorim / law of oaths. The idea of a neder / oath – I’m quoting the Ishbitzer – an alcoholic would say, Ribbono shelOlam why didn’t you forbid alcohol? It’s so bad for people. Now he is meyuchad / separate in this thing, because other people don’t have the same problem. So the Torah says, if you have to make hatichaa dissusra / forbidden portion you can do that with a neder. Make this one of the averas / forbidden areas that you must not be over. So you see where this comes in. there is a bio-kosher element in that.

What else do you want to talk about?


About technology, and you were talking about the printing. You were into printing because it was a way of taking something you did once and spreading it easily.


It was very clear to me that if I can find something that will open up people’s minds a little bit and I can put this out on paper, then I would want to do it. Give it to the students. That’s why I did the little booklet, The First Step, where I talked about kriat shma sheal hamitah / recitation of the bed-time Shma and about hisbonnus / contemplation, and about no matter how deep you are in your understanding of things that’s not as important as the One in Whose Presence you find yourself. Go back to shivisiy / placing God before you. So how else was I going to do that? Then came three inch reels, and later on cassettes. You’ll see how many cassettes I’ve kept of things that I’ve taught and know. Now I’m translating them into CDs. Lchshyofutzu mayonosecho / for that which will spread Your well-springs, that’s how you do it. With a blog I have on the website.


That’s been your main motivation for why you’re such an early adopter? Looking for ways to spread it?


I can’t take responsibility for being an early adopter. I think I’ve been programmed like that. If you say MHashem mitzadei gever kononu vdarko yechpatz What does it mean. Did you control your destiny? That’s what I mean.


All of these steps that you took you were talking with the Rebbe about.


Up to a point when I was thrown out of the nest. I don’t mind it. I have such a sense that when I came back to the Rebbe for the dollars and I handed him my book, which was Spiritual Intimacy, which was my dissertation on the yechidus [that I had graduated by then]. You can imagine that if you write a piece like this that it’s a deep thing. Sometimes people talk about their psychoanalysis from the mother and for me writing this book was the psychoanalysis of my relationship with the Rebbe. There is a point at which the umbilical cord gets cut. That’s only in the chitzoniyus / inside of the thing. And the deeper thing — what are you talking about? You look around you see. There’s one thing I really want people to realize that there is Chassidus outside of Chabad too. Sometimes you’ll understand something in Chabad better because you have looked in the Noam Elimelech [Sefer by Elimelech of Lizhensk], for instance. I remember Reb Shmuel coming in with a shtickele Noam Elimelech and that turned me on. We had one hour in the yeshiva that was sort of a free hour to learn whatever you wanted. What I did in that hour was looking in shaar blettlech to open up sforim to see what’s in that sefer, what this sefer talks about. I got hold of the Reishis Chochmah and fell love in love with it for a while. And the wonderful story about the King’s daughter and the person who fell in love with her, and the Saint of the Cemetery story. But also what’s inside.

It would have been nice if someone would have said to me, the Zohar comes in three volumes. If you want to understand a little bit more look in the Mikdash Melech. If you have trouble with the Aramaic, you might want to go and see what Ashlag has. If they would have told us a little bit to be harchivi mkom oholayich / broadening the space of Your tent, we would see a little bit farther.

When I look at the people who were around before the second World War in Warsaw, there was the Gerer, the Rebbe, the Piasetzner. Very few people know about the Piasetzner. He was such an amazing mchanech / educator. He was the one, who then wrote, while in the Warsaw Ghetto those notes and did this Eish Kodesh sefer – amazing person.

Then there was a Kozhinitzer rebbe who was sort of the Rebbe of the Jewish blue collar workers in Warsaw. He would take them for trips on the trolley car to the zoo etc. A guy would come and say, Rebbe, I have to marry off my daughter, I haven’t got anything. He says: go bring a box of oranges and he gives him the money. He brings a box of oranges and the Rebbe sets it up in front of his beis medrash and starts selling oranges for ten zlotes for an orange that cost him a half zlota. He gives the man the money and that’s how he did it. Bochrim / young men from Lubavitch would sometimes make fun of him because he didn’t have the dignity.

Then there was the Radziner with the tcheiles / blue fringes. And then there was, more than anything else, Hillel Zeitlin olov hasholem / rest in peace. Hillel Zeitlin comes from the Chabad mishpochoh / family of Zeitlins. He was first a sort of revolutionary Nietzschean and became a baal tshuvah between Chabad and Bratzlav. He wrote a very beautiful treatise called Yavneh, trying to create a youth group who try to do the work of Chassidus in Warsaw. They were wonderful people and that’s what I want to say: find out more. Find out more who was the Retchitzer; what does it look like when you go into the Babroysker, who are also Chabad rebbes. Sometimes there is a biur / clarification there that opens up something . the Mogenovitz of the Kopuschter. There’s a rich, rich world and I think it’s important to explore that.

The same with niggunim. I want im yirzeh Hashem / God willing, in March, to have a group of maybe five people here, and I’d like to film it. Music appreciation. Take various kinds of Chassidim and show what their music is like. Did you ever see the Rebbes, the different davvening rebbes? So that’s the different kinds of nussach / modes; that was very important.


One of the reasons that people in Chabad don’t look elsewhere is because not everybody can be a Reb Meir, not everybody knows how to separate the good from the bad. You don’t know if you’re getting something that’s going to lead you in the wrong direction.


I’m not going to fight over that. I believe the same way. There are some neshamas who really need to be on a leash, as it were, otherwise they would so quickly leave the way. There are some other neshamas — sometimes I compare myself to the antenna on top of a cockroach. When a cockroach goes in the dark, the antennae try everything. Not everywhere that I was do you have to go. But I had to go and scout a lot in my life and I learned a lot from that.


You wanted to say more about Reb Avrohom.


Oh, the people in Belgium. If you can imagine what it felt like, a kid like me growing up in Vienna. Before Hitler came, I never thought that I’d want to be anywhere else but in Vienna. There used to be a song: Wien, Wien nur Du alein wirst Stadt meiner Traeume sein. Vienna, you alone are the city of my dreams. It was very beautiful. Yes, I was already in a Zionist organization, and I was singing Baah mnuchah lyagea / rest comes to the one who toils, seeing JNF films, and dancing the horrah. The same Shabbes that I was with BYLU, the leftists, I would then go for sholosh sudas / third meal to Agudas Yisroel. That’s the range that I’ve been programmed in. So I come to Belgium, really upset with the Ribbono shelOlam I knew one Shabbos morning that in the afternoon they’re going to sit and they’re going to learn pirkey ovos / ethics of the fathers. So I figure I’m going to go and do a shfoch chamoscho / pouring out of wrath there. So I come in and they’re about to settle down and start the shiurkol yisroel yesh lohem chelek lolam habbo / all of Israel has a part in the world to come. And I say, “pie in the sky in the sweet by and by, Bullshit, it’s not true . What do you think, mashiach is going to come and everybody will be equal but we’ll be on top and they’ll be on the bottom? And what do you think, bread is going to grow on trees and the rivers are going to flow with wine, and the people will crawl out from the graves. All this is stupid stuff.” And the kids are ready to fall on my head to kill me. “How dare I say that?” And the moreh shiur / teacher of the class says to me – his name was Boruch Merzel, zichrono livrocho, he says, “would you like to hear from someone who agrees with you?” That was a good move!. He sends upstairs to the beis medrash / school to bring the gemoro Sanhedrin and goes to the back and opens up the perush hamishnah / commentary on the mishnah of the Rambam. That made me into a Jew. He starts saying like this. This inyan about kol yisroel yesh lohem cheilek l’olom habo, if you listen to opinions that people have, they’re so stupid. Some of them say that mashiach will come and we’ll be the kings of the whole business. And some say that olom habo will be wine flowing through rivers, all these kinds of things, like big rock candy mountain. Others say this and that. Then he says, the same way that a blind man doesn’t know what beauty of color is, and a deaf man doesn’t know what music is, and a eunuch doesn’t know what sex is (his language), so most of us don’t know what ruchniyus / spirituality is. All those things that I talked about are ruchnius. Then he begins to explain what this is. Can you imagine I was there eating it up. So I didn’t leave this guy alone. He was the son of a Rav who was in charge of a shul and a beis medrash. And he was himself a Hussyatiner Chosid from the Rizhiner. He had a free basement in his house. The Gerer didn’t like that Tanya was coming in so much with those people. With Reb Moshe Chechoval who was a talmid / student of Reb Avrohom and Rav Tzirelson. He was a diamond merchant. So he spent two days a week at the diamond bourse in his business and the other time he spent in hiding in a yeshiva and was there the mashgiach of the yeshiva. He was learning Messillas Yeshorim [Luzzato’s Path of the Upright] with everybody, and with some people he learned Tanya. When people wanted to make fun of him, they said, you’re learning already Toras Moshe? Because his name was Moshe. So the Gerer had a sichsuch / conflict and when that sichsuch / conflict happened they split so we didn’t meet anymore in the Pirchey but we had our own place.

That place, the stiebele was known as the cellar. In the cellar were about a dozen young people, eight of them worked in the diamond cutting place and they worked not union hours. The union didn’t accept them and they needed to have parnosoh / financial means for their families, so they were cutting diamonds together in a workshop. They had earphones because diamond cutting makes a lot of noise. It’s very hard. You put one diamond on a stick and another one is on a lathe and you round them out and once you rounded them out then you put them on a disk to make facets on it. So I learned how to do that.

The nice thing was that they would sit and work and one guy had a sefer open and he would read while they worked. Sometimes when they had a kashyeh / question they would stop and talk about it and then continue. And they’d sing niggunim / melodies and many of the niggunim I really got into with those people. They had one niggun that belongs, people say, to the Alter Rebbe, but it came through Kopusht and it’s not known in Lubavitsch. That’s the niggun chochmas odom that you sometimes heard me sing.  It’s a beautiful niggun. (Singing)

So I’m sitting there and I want to learn Tanya and they haven’t invited me yet to the shiur. So I locked myself in the toilet and had a glass there to the door. And somebody had to go to the bathroom and sof, sof / when all was said and done, they found me and put me on the table and gave me a mashkante / beating. “You haven’t been admitted to learn Tanya, you’re not ready yet.” So you can imagine how I felt, so I sit over the Messillas Yeshorim and I go through Hachibbur hazeh lo chibarti / I am not connected to this author …. and yesod hachasidus / foundations of chasidus…. I’m learning all this very good and reading a lot of Samson Rafael Hirsch. I had to have access to these things, I didn’t have any. They bought me a Tanya but they said on my birthday they’re going to give it to me with the first shiur / class. And it was waiting on the shelf for me and the war broke out and I never got the Tanya.

So we went to France and I was in the camps there. From time to time on Shabbos morning we would go to the house of Reb Moshe Tchechoval to davven there. He was so wonderful. He had this tallis and he wore the tallis just like the Alter Rebbe said, k’atifas hayishm’eilim / Ishmael-style covering. He constantly had the right over the left and the nussach that he had was very much (singing) nishmas kol chai tvorech es shimcha, very much like the haftorah niggun. He was a wonderful person. Then when he came to the United States, I visited him. He was one of the people who were in that camp in Oswego, who were let in by Roosevelt at one point. We brought him some Pessach, Reb Avrohom Weingarten and I. And he and his wife were murdered by gangsters. He was such a wonderful holy person.

The conversations we used to have in the cellar were wonderful. And the celebrations! Purim. The president of the shul smoked cigars, the Rov only smoked cigarettes. So he brought him for Purim a shlach mones / Purim gift of cigars, so when he comes to the Rov he should get a cigar. So the Rov says to his son, Boruch Merzel, here take the cigars, I don’t want to have them here when he comes again. We have mulled wine for Purim and we have the cigars and we’re puffing away at the cigars and getting more soused on the wine and start singing and dancing. A ganz yohr freilich / happy for an entire year. This was that wonderful connection.

It was shviI shel Pessach / seventh night of Passover and we were in our home in Philadelphia and I was teaching about roasoh shifcha layam mah shelo rooh yechezkel / the maid at the parting of the see saw what not even Ezekiel saw. I was saying that the issue of shviI shel Pessach is that everybody can have access. I used to wear a shtreimel / fur hat and a nice rebbishe kapote / Rebbe overcoat at that point, and I had a nice chair. Then after I said a shtickele Torah we danced around the table. I went one over and let the next person sit in my chair and gave him the shtreimel to put on. The point was that every person would say something that his neshamah was saying to him to share. There was a kid there who was nebich / a poor sort, the parents tried to do tough love on him and weren’t happy with him, and he was a difficult kid. He had the shtreimel on and he says, “there is a big difference between freedom and license. Freedom is when you’re not pushed, freedom is when you can really make up your mind which way to go without having been coerced to go one way or another. But it’s also not without responsibility.” Then he was finished and they had to say: “And I have spoken.” And we danced around the table and the next guy was up. The point of that was that everybody has within himself a shtickel nitzotz / a bit of the spark of the light of God. As it says in the Tanya, the Moshe Rabeinu nitztotz that’s in him is manifesting. So I think that everybody from time to time should be able to allow himself, going back to the Rebbe’s chush Hatziyur / imaginal realm to give himself the brochoh / blessing, like the Rebbe Maharash said, for 50 minutes to live like a tzadik gomur / total tzadik; to go into the imagination and say, let me pre-tend. It’s not fake, I’m tending to, sof, sof / when all is said and done, I have to become that. This gilgul / incarnation or another gilgul, sof, sof I have to be that. So I’m tending a bit earlier and just for a little bit of time. Derech maavor balma / the way passing through the world. But having been there for those things, it already sets up a seed in the neshamah of the greater freedom, the greater growth that can happen. That has to also do with brochos / blessings.

The Alter Rebbe had come to stay with the Vitepsker, Reb Mendele who was away at that time and he’s there with the Chasidim at a fabrengen / chasidic gathering, a man comes and says, my child is very sick, give a brochoh. The people say, the Rebbe isn’t here. The Alter Rebbe tells this moshel / analogy about when do you need the Rebbe? When the kids are fighting, but when all of them are in agreement you don’t need the Rebbe, all of us can give brochos.

Or the wonderful story about the man who comes to the Lubliner, wants to be there Shabbbos, and the Lubliner says, “Go away. I don’t want you to be here.” He says, “Why not?” “Because you’re going to die on me on Shabbos and I don’t want you to croak at my tisch / table and upset the Shabbos. So you go and die elsewhere, and I’ll make sure that you get help on the other side. Go.” The guy goes back and he comes to an inn and at the inn the Chasidim are saying, “Hey, what’s the matter with you? You’re going the wrong way.” He says, “That’s what the Rebbe said.” They say, “Never mind what he said. Let’s go back. We’re going to stand next to you and if you die we’ll just hold you up and not make a big fuss about it and upset the Rebbe’s tisch. What, do you want to die in a stable there or in some bedroom in an inn? Better to die at the Rebbe’s table. How much money have you got?” He says, “I have twenty rubles.” “So it’ll take ten rubles to get your carcass back home and buried and with the other ten rubles, let’s buy a cask of schnapps.” And they’re sitting in the wagon and saying “l’chayim, l’chayim” and then when the Lubliner sees him again, he says, “what Chassidim can do with their l’chayim, I couldn’t do.” It’s a wonderful story.

So I want to say to all of you here, you have it in your task to be a shtickel Rebbe. The point is not to make a lot of dependence. The point is to be able to have people who carry the nitzotz / spark. What is a shliach / emissary? That’s what a shliach is about. He stands in the place of the Rebbe and he has the chutzpah that’s necessary, not from ego but from remembering that Ribbono shelOlam said vaavorcho mevorcheko that you can give brochos. So I’d like you people who’ll see this later on to give brochos to klal Yisroel and for the whole world to heal and to bring things closer like the Rebbe always talked about, bagolo bimhero ddan lmato massoro tfochim / soon and quickly Dedan below ten handbreadths [Messianic Age]; we should be able to live kimei hashamayimal haoretz / Heavenly days on the earth right here, omein / Amen.

One Response to “Zalman: “Be a shtickel Rebbe!””

  1. Susan Diamond Says:

    How great and sweet it is to learn from Reb Zalman. I met Reb Zalman in Berkeley in 1973.
    He came to the Santa Cruz mountains, with me and my colleagues, on our Shabbaton for 7th and 8th graders. How blessed we were to have him with us and our teens. I remember when Reb Zalman saw the sunset and said, “That’s G-d, punctuating time.” I have said his words every time I am blessed with the gift of seeing the sunset, especially after the sun goes down.
    I want to share with Reb Zalman, that two weeks ago, at an IEEE banquet on the roof of the Ana Hotel in Kyoto, I sat next to the Computer Scientist from Carnegie Mellon who has invented the new technology for electric cars that operate automatically. I asked Raj, what is in the way of having them available, since their accuracy is great, and would significantly reduce the number of road accidents. “we don’t have the money we need, to finish our work on the project.”
    At that moment, I felt the urgency of working to shift funds spent on defense, to technological and medical research to make our world a better and safer place, and for the well being of our planet. to be continued it’s late

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