By Shmuel Grossman
On any given Thursday night from 10:15-11:15pm a constant stream of noise flows throughout the Klein Beit Midrash and the Muss dormitory situated right on top.
This noise is not some blaring music coming from a party around the block, but the sound of one hundred students learning Torah.
Every week the Chabad Club of YU hosts the Thursday Night Chassidus program, a long standing program in YU that brings together YU students and yeshiva students from the Chabad-Lubavitch Chassidic community in Crown Heights to learn Chassidus together. Walking into the cramped Beit Midrash it is hard to find an empty seat once the program begins. The room is full of beards and black hats along with a palpable feeling of warmth and genuine excitement.
Students from varied backgrounds, spanning all of the morning learning programs make their way to Thursday Night Chassidus. This is not a program that students can take for credit or something that will boost a business resume, but nevertheless, it’s packed. Raphy Sassieini (’16) is quick to greet students. He says, “”The Chabad Club has afforded me the opportunity to grow in my relationship to Hashem in a warm and friendly environment very conducive to growth.” Building its way up to an average of fifty chavrutot, this program is the largest weekly program run by any club in YU history.
The origin of the Chabad Club dates back to Wednesday, January 17, 1951 when Rabbi Alter Ben-Zion Metzger, beloved professor of Judaic Studies at Stern College brought students to the Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters located at 770 Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. What made this trip to “770” special was that on this date, the 10th of Shevat 5711 on the Hebrew calendar, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn (1902-1994), of blessed memory, officially accepted the mantle of the Chabad-Lubavitch Chassidic community. It was on this day the seeds of the Chabad Club were planted and now, in 2015 – 5776, these seeds have not only grown, but they have flourished.
Tracing its roots back to White Russia during the mid to late 18th century, the Chabad-Lubavitch community was founded by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), a leading disciple of Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritch (?-1772), successor to Rabb Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), founder of the Chassidic movement. Chabad is an acronym for Chochmah (wisdom), Binah (understanding) and Da’at (knowledge), the three intellectual faculties that everyone possesses. Lubavitch, Russian for brotherly love, is the name of a White-Russian town that made its name as the capital for the Chabad-Lubavitch community starting with Rabbi Dov Ber of Lubavitch, son of and successor to Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. While several factors make Chabad Chassidus unique from other leading Chassidic groups, one of the most fundamental differences lies in the very name “Chabad.” Unlike all other Chassidic groups, Chabad prides itself on being intellectually based, not emotionally based.
My quest to learn more about the Chabad Club took me to my next stop, a meeting with the club president, Danny Fordham (’16). “I hear all the time that Chassidus is about miracle stories and getting a warm, fuzzy feeling and that Chassidus is only for the religiously struggling individual or for someone seeking inspiration, but this is wrong. What Chassidus ultimately comes down to is revealing the essence of everything…to bring out the G-dly purpose of everything and this is for everyone, without exception.” says Fordham. “To put it simply,” Fordham adds, “a Chassid is a lamplighter and everyone must be a lamplighter.”
Additionally, the Chabad Club also hosts a weekly class in the Tanya given every Monday night. The shiur is given by sought after educator Rabbi Shaul Wertheimer, Director, Chabad of Queens College. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi’s magnum opus, the Tanya, is the most fundamental Chassidic text outlining who we are – our internal spiritual makeup, our goal in this world, and how to go about achieving this goal. In fact, the Tanya and Chabad Chassidus in general always maintained a warm spot in the heart of the Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Growing up and being educated in a town consisting mainly of Lubavitch Chassidim, Chabad Chassidus played a crucial and important role in the thought of Rav Soloveitchik. Not only was he close with Chabad Chassidus, but he was close with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. While some have tried to dispute this, the evidence remains irrefutable with testimony from several leading students and confidants of the Rav.
Throughout the year, the Chabad Club hosts several larger scale events including the “Yud Tes Kislev Farbrengen” an annual farbrengen held by the Chabad Club to celebrate the day on which Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi was freed from prison in 1798 marking the watershed event for the spreading of Chassidus.
Another popular event is the annual Crown Heights Shabbaton. Students from YU take to Crown Heights every year to gain further insight into this powerhouse organization and Chassidic community. On the bus returning to YU after last year’s Crown Heights Shabbaton, Fordham thanked one student for attending, but the student was adamant that it really should be him thanking Fordham.
After the amazing learning, inspiration and motivation gained from the Shabbaton, this student told Fordham that he now has the strength and courage to be fully shomer Shabbat (observant of the Sabbath), something that had been previously challenging for him. This student is one of many to be inspired as a result of the Chabad Club’s love every Jew as yourself mentality and eagerness to spread the light of Chassidus.