By Rabbi Shmuel Pewsner
Pictures: Shimon Roumani
Over 200 Tze’etzoim, descendants of the Alter Rebbe assembled for their annual Melave Malka this past Motzoei Shabbos in Crown Heights. Among the attendees were Chabad Chassidim, members of other Chassidic groups, as well as members of the Litvish community, all united with the great privilege of numbering among the Alter Rebbe’s descendants.
The gathering opened with remarks by the MC and organizer of the event, Rabbi Shmuel Butman, chairman of the Association of the Descendants of the Alter Rebbe, and director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization.
Rabbi Butman noted that this year marks 35 years since the famous sicha of Shabbos Va’eira 5744 when the Rebbe discussed the Alter Rebbe’s descendants and their annual gathering. In that sicha, the Rebbe focused on the nusach of the bracha we recite over Torah study.
In contrast to other versions which state “May we, our descendants, and the descendants of our descendants,” the Alter Rebbe includes only “May we and our descendants.” The former version limits itself to only three generations, while the term “our descendants” on its own includes all future generations.
In the word “Vetzeotzoeinu,” the Rebbe explains, the Alter Rebbe put in his son and successor, the Mitteler Rebbe, together with all descendants throughout all generations. We thus see that all the Tze’etzoim, throughout all the generations, are included in one and the same word.
The Rebbe concluded that sicha by saying: “In order that the gathering of the descendants and their resolutions to follow in the Alter Rebbe’s ways be with additional success, they should take a bottle of mashkeh for the gathering from the present farbrengen, which has a special connection with the Alter Rebbe, being held the day before the anniversary of his passing.” The Rebbe then handed the bottle of mashkeh from his table to Rabbi Butman to be used for the melaveh malka.
Rabbi Butman went on to stress the auspiciousness of the time, standing in the days of preparation for Yud Shevat. “The maamarim of Basi Legani which we are presently studying stress the advantage of the ‘seventh,’ the Rebbe, as well as the ‘first,’ the Alter Rebbe, from which we are the seventh generation.”
The Rebbe’s secretary, the Chossid Rabbi Yehuda Leib Groner asked that a Brocho for a Refuo Shleimo should be given for his brother-in-law Rabbi Menachem Mendel Baumgarten. Indeed, his son Rabbi Schneur Zalman Baumgarten recited the Rebbe’s chapter in Tehillim and said L’chaim for a Refuah Shleima for his father Reb Menachem Mendel ben Mirel.
Studying the Alter Rebbe’s Torah
Rabbi Butman announced a worldwide initiative of dividing the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch to be studied collectively in its entirety within the coming year. A website (Alterrebbe.org) has been set up where one can commit to study a particular section and download the relevant pages in PDF format. Throughout the year, reminders will be sent to the participants regarding their commitment.
This campaign unites Jews across the globe in the study of the Alter Rebbe’s teachings and enables the Shulchan Aruch to be concluded multiple times.
Elegant folders were prepared with booklets according to the above division and distributed amongst the descendants who each committed to study parts of the Shulchan Aruch written by their ancestor—the Alter Rebbe.
The first speaker was Rabbi Shlomo Besser, son of the famous askan Rabbi Yechezkel Besser z”l. He is a grandson of the chossid Rabbi Dovber Ludmir, who was a grandson of Rebbetzin Menucha Rochel, the daughter of the Mittler Rebbe.
Rabbi Besser shared a personal story: “About 35 years ago, my wife suffered from tremendous pain and was admitted to the hospital in Montreal where we lived. I immediately called the Rebbe’s office and received an answer soon after that I should check my Tefillin and Mezuzos if they weren’t checked within 12 months. I had recently checked my Rashi Tefillin but not my Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin.
“I called the famous sofer in Montreal, Rabbi Yaakov Silverman, who was already not checking Tefillin on a regular basis and asked him for a personal favor for the Rebbe had instructed me to check my Tefillin. Shortly after I dropped off my Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin, he told me to come right away.
“After examining the Tefilllin, Rabbi Silverman had found everything to be kosher. The scrolls, however, were slightly too big for the boxes, and in order for them to fit, they were folded at the top. He fixed this and enabled the scrolls to be fully upright.
“I didn’t tell my wife anything about what had happened with my Tefillin. A few hours later, I called my house, and I was very surprised to hear my wife answer the phone. I asked her where she was and she said she was in the kitchen. She explained simply that she began feeling better a few hours ago until she was able to get out of bed and return home.”
Rabbi Besser concluded: “As long as the parshiyos in the Tefillin were folded and lying horizontally, this had an effect on my wife. As soon as they were straightened, and stayed vertical, my wife was immediately able to stand up get out of bed and go home!”
Privilege and Responsibility
The Hornesteipeler Rebbe, Rabbi Mordechai Dov Twerski, grandson of the Tzadik R’ Mordechai Dov of Hornesteipel, grandson of the Tzadik Rabbi Yaakov Yisroel Twerski of Cherkas, son-in-law of the Mittler Rebbe, spoke of the tremendous privilege there is in being descendants of the Alter Rebbe. A privilege that comes with a responsibility.
Rabbi Dr. Bentzion Twersky, grandson of the Tzadik R’ Mordechai Dov of Hornesteipel, spoke of the importance of imbuing our children from a young age with awareness of their privilege and responsibility as being descendants of the Alter Rebbe. In this way, we will have much nachas from them when they grow older.
Rabbi Tzvi Telsner, Rav of the Chabad community in Melbourne, Australia, focused on the tremendous merit we have to be part of the generation of the geulah. His father-in-law, the chassid R’ Yitzchak Dovid Groner z”l, participated many times in the annual gatherings.
A siyum on the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch was made by Rabbi Shlomo Yehuda Segal, a Dayan in Crown Heights and descendant of the Alter Rebbe’s son Reb Moshe. He learned the final halacha and spoke about a related sicha of the Rebbe that discusses the desire of the Jewish people to be connected with Hashem at all times regardless of their situation.
Rabbi Michoel Seligson, an author and mashpia, son of the Rebbe’s doctor R’ Avrohom Aba Seligson z”l, a descendant of the Alter Rebbe, began the study anew by learning the first halacha and quoting the Rebbe’s explanation why the Shulchan Aruch begins with “Yehuda ben Teima says…” for every Jew is constantly thanking Hashem (related to the name Yehuda).
Division of the Shulchan Aruch
As mentioned above, special folders were prepared in advance, each including a part of the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch, to be finished by the 24th of Teves 5780. A computerized label on the cover indicated which section of halachos and which chapters are contained in the folder.
It was impressive to see the descendants going home proudly with the folders they committed to study. “This is very special” said one of the descendants. “Each folder contains a unique section that you committed to study. This way, you feel a personal responsibility since if you don’t finish it, the entire collective study will be lacking.”
As a continuation of the division among the descendants, it is now being offered to the community at large, and everyone can participate by signing up at Alterrebbe.org and choosing the section they will commit to study.
The Alter Rebbe teaches that a nigun enables a person to rise above and transcend any limitations they may find themselves in.
The descendants sang the ten nigunim of the Alter Rebbe with great awe and inspiration, led by Rabbi Yosef Zirkind with his sweet and pleasant voice. He is the son of Rabbi Yitzchok Zirkind z”l—son-in-law of Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Groner z”l—who would regularly attend the annual gathering.
Accompanying music was played by the renowned musician Choni Milecki, whose grandfather Reb Elchonon Marasow received from the Rebbe Rashab the tradition of the ten melodies composed by the Alter Rebbe.
One of the younger descendants, the tomim Menachem Mendel Kugel, the great-grandson of the chossid Rabbi Schneour Zalman Schneerson of Paris, great-grandson of Rabbi Boruch Sholom Schneersohn, the oldest son of the Tzemach Tzedek, masterfully played nigunim of the Alter Rebbe. The melodies of his violin reverberated in the hearts of the descendants and generated much spiritual inspiration.
The highlight of the evening was when the descendants sang the famous nigun of the Alter Rebbe, the Arba Bovos. “It is impossible to describe the unique atmosphere palpable in the room when the nigun was being sung,” said one of the descendants. It was an uplifting moment, when the participants felt elevated above the limitations of the physical world. As the Frierdiker Rebbe once said, singing this nigun is like to sending a Pan (personal petition) to the Alter Rebbe.
Rabbi Butman concluded the evening by thanking his son Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Butman for his help in organizing the melaveh malka and blessed him that the merit of the Alter Rebbe should assist him in all his endeavors.
The descendants left the melaveh malka with the strong feeling that the Alter Rebbe, the first of the Chabad Rebbeim, began the work to prepare the world for Moshiach and that the Rebbe, the seventh, explicitly told us that we are standing in the final generation of golus and the first generation of the geulah, may it take place speedily.