As the first day of Shavuos is winding down, while other communities are settling down for a relaxing afternoon, Lubavitchers around the world are just getting geared up.
It’s time for Tahalucha, that quintessentially Lubavitch custom of trekking to shuls, delivering thoughts of Chassidus in front of the crowd, and bringing the joy of Yom Tov to fellow Jews.
This month, A Chassidisher Derher magazine has published a revealing overview on Tahalucha. In honor of Shavuos, an excerpt is being made available for COLlive readers:
The Tahalucha routine is familiar to all Lubavitchers. The walk can range from a nice stroll to a marathon march of two hours or more. It can be in the boiling hot sun or the pouring rain, the freezing snow or howling wind. Some shuls welcome them with open arms, while others reluctantly.
As with most things like these, this practice began in 770. After mincha on Yom Tov afternoon, everyone who was in Crown Heights for Yom Tov gathered in front of 770. Thousands of Chassidim, from elder pillars of Chassidic life like Reb Dovid Raskin and Reb Mendel Futerfas, to young children, lined up down the street of 770 and got ready to go.
Suddenly, the front door swung open. The Rebbe was here to see them off. The crowds erupted with “Napoleon’s March” and began marching down Eastern Parkway, often accompanied by a police escort. Like a general sending off his troops, the Rebbe stood erect in the doorway wearing a gartel, looking on as each person walked by, all the while encouraging the thunderous singing.
Tahalucha takes place three times a year: the seventh day of Pesach, the first day of Shavuos, and Shemini Atzeres; and can be traced back to when the Rebbe began the official initiative of sending bochurim to shuls to chazzer Chassidus in public.
Lubavitch Youth Organization (“Tzach”) was established by the Rebbe on Parshas Shemini 5715. The following Shavuos, Tzach arranged that, instead of having pairs of bochurim walking on their own to chazzer Chassidus, everyone–including baalei batim and yungeleit–should walk together to a single neighborhood from where they would split up to the various shuls. Thus, tahalucha— literally ‘parade’—was born.
From then on, every Pesach and Shavuos everyone would walk together on tahalucha. On Pesach the destination was usually Williamsburg, and on Shavuos it was Borough Park; though later they would go to other locations as well.
Simchas Torah was a very different scene than Pesach and Shavuos. Instead of going to one neighborhood, people spread out to shuls in all directions from Crown Heights, and the Rebbe didn’t see them off before they left. The focus was not so much on chazzering Chassidus as it was on dancing.
On Shavuos 5743, Rabbi Yekusiel Rapp happened to be standing outside the library (the building next door to 770) after tahalucha, when Rabbi Sholom Ber Gansburg came out and asked him, “Did everyone get back from tahalucha yet? The Rebbe asked why it is so quiet.”
Naturally, Rabbi Rapp immediately started dancing with a few other bochurim. At first they stayed in front of 770; knowing that the Rebbe was in the library, they were too scared to dance right outside. But, suddenly, they saw the Rebbe standing in the doorway of the library, behind the metal gate, encouraging the dancing. They quickly moved to that area.
The following year, on Pesach 5744, a small group of about fifteen Chassidim started dancing outside the library after tahalucha at about ten o’clock at night, and, again, the Rebbe stood in the doorway and encouraged the singing. From then on, large crowds would gather for the event. There were no rules as to what exactly would happen; sometimes the Rebbe encouraged the singing from behind the gate; other times from behind the window. At times the Rebbe even came all the way outside.
From 5748, following the histalkus of the Rebbetzin when the Rebbe began spending Yom Tov in his room, this would occur in front of 770. Large crowds of people—men, women, and children—would gather after tahalucha at about ten or eleven o’clock; overflowing bleachers surrounded the entire entranceway. At a signal, the crowd would erupt with a niggun as one, often Napoleon’s March, and the Rebbe would come out of his room to the door. Surveying the entire crowd, the Rebbe would encourage the singing strongly.
Seeing the Rebbe Again
During the painful months after Chof-Zayin Adar, Chassidim didn’t see the Rebbe for a very long time. On the second night of Shavuos 5752, after the groups of tahalucha goers returned to 770, they gathered outside the main entrance at 770 (near the window of the Rebbe’s room).
At 11:51 PM, the Rebbe appeared at the door and greeted the Chassidim after months of painful separation. The emotion in the air was palpable. Many Chassidim burst into tears while others shouted the brocha of “Shehechiyanu.” Spontaneously, many in the crowd broke out singing “אורך ימים אשביעהו” – in a heartfelt cry to Hashem to restore the Rebbe’s full health and that he should lead us to the geulah shleima speedily.
The Minhag of Our Generation
Perhaps more than anything else, tahalucha truly expresses the Rebbe’s singular, bold style of hafatza: Leave your own turf, your own comfort zone, and stand up in front of a crowd, who may or may not be familiar with Chassidus and Lubavitch, in order to proudly share a vort of Chassidus.
There are numerous times that the Rebbe expressed a special fondness for this custom.
A powerful example: During the Yom Tov meal of Shavuos 5718, one of the participants commented that tahalucha, “is something that only Lubavitchers can do.” The Rebbe became very emotional, wiping his eyes…
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