By Avrohom Solomon
Chabad chassidim are careful to cherish and strengthen every custom that has been practiced by elder chassidim from days of old. That is, of course, proper and should be done.
But there are some “minhagim” that have been introduced over time, and you can’t ever question them because “that’s how we hold,” is given as an explanation.
Years ago in our community, there was a bochur who became close to yiddishkeit and chassidus, and even merited to be once by the Rebbe. Before his wedding, we made him an “ufruf,” as customary to be called to the Torah, and made a kiddush following it.
As gabbai, I asked him if he’d like to get the maftir aliya. He declined, saying he did not know the ta’amin (musical cantillation notes), but asked for shvi’i (the 7th reading). Why? He said “because in Chabad it is the most respected aliya.”
We fulfilled his wish, yet throughout the duration of davening, I wondered, where does this “ancient” Lubavitch custom stem from?
And later I figured it out: This bochur was at the Rebbe and saw how a raffle was held for the aliyos to the Torah in the presence of the Rebbe at 770 Eastern Parkway. The chosson that got shvi’i was the happiest, and was considered the “luckiest.”
The reason was simply because the Rebbe would get maftir, the next aliya (and in reality the most respected one), meaning the chosson that got shvi’i would be standing closest to the Rebbe during maftir and would have the zchus to hear him read the whole haftora.
Our bochur/chosson did not understand all that. He just saw everyone wanting shvi’i, and so he understood it was the most important aliya – even in our shul where the Rebbe, unfortunately, wasn’t the one getting maftir.
I thought to myself, “Oh well. He’s a baal teshuva that might have not learned enough or didn’t understood the root of things.”
But, surprisingly, this week I have come across a new book with Minhagei Chabad, which clearly states that shvi’i is the most respected aliya in Lubavitch. A new custom was created…
The younger generation also has new minhagim. When you go into a Chabad shul during Mincha-Maariv, you can see how those wearing single-breasted suits button their jacket backwards so the right side closes on the left.
The source of wearing clothes buttoned right over left is from Kabballah: Right is trait of kindness, while left is judgment. There’s a video of a Jew complaining to the Rebbe about his livelihood, and the Rebbe tells him to wear his suit right over left and instructed him to go to a tailor.
The way those wear it today, with the left button being tucked into the right slot, looks clumsy and it also leads to forgetfulness (“קשה לשכחה”), we’re told.
When I asked a young Yeshiva bochur, why can’t he get another button sewn on (like some do, and the Rebbe suggested on video) so he can avoid buttoning his jacket backwards and look like a mentsch, he looked at me and said: “What do you mean? Everyone does it this way. It’s minhag Chabad!”
And when I ask him why we have a custom to walk around with a suit buttoned the wrong way, he thinks for a moment and comes up with: “Maybe it symbolizes the is’hapcha that comes after the iskafyah…”