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Getting personal

Friday, 11 September, 2020 - 3:03 am


This time, I’m going to tell you some personal things, a bit of my inner life.

For almost thirty years, on the days before Rosh Hashana – and when I was still single, on Rosh Hashana itself – I was by the Rebbe. I was 17 years old when the Rebbe passed away, so for most of these years, “being by the Rebbe” meant being near his grave in the Ohel and in his beit midrash, known as 770. But essentially the two mean the same thing.

As the head of a Chabad House, the days before Tishrei with all its holidays are some of the busiest days of the year. But the fact is, that not a year has gone by when I haven’t found myself by the Rebbe, usually on the Shabbat before Selichot. And when I couldn’t get away for Shabbat, I would come just for one day, and sometimes even for a few hours. That’s the way it is: A new year is about to begin; I am the head of a family, the father of children, so this is the time and the place for me to stand and beseech, to plead for myself and for those who sent me, for a good, healthy year, a good parnasa (living) and a pure Jewish life.

The corona has forced us to change our habits. Much of what we were used to do, we don’t do anymore. Small weddings, Zoom bar-mitzvahs, virtual classes etc. I accept all of this with love, and even quite easily, but that was up to the pre-Rosh Hashana trip to the Rebbe. I find it very hard to accept not being able to go.

I find myself missing the experience rather frequently and singing “Tiku bachodesh” under my breath.

Tiku bachodesh” is a niggun that tells the story of a simple chassid who returned to his village after being by the Rebbe for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, somewhere in the Ukraine. He was a simple person when it came to his knowledge and intelligence, but a fierce Lubavitch fire burned in his heart. When they would be sitting together with some schnapps a bit of pickle, his friends would ask him: “Nu, tell us – what happened by the Rebbe? Tell us over a ma’mar in chassidut, or a few words of Torah or a speech the Rebbe gave.” But the Chassid had nothing to say. Not only did he not understand what the Rebbe had said, but he barely heard anything in the crush in the Rebbe’s beit midrash.

This might have hurt; perhaps it bothered him; but that was not the main thing.

The main thing was that he had been by the Rebbe. It was as if his soul had been refueled with all the spiritual energy it needed to continue on, to get through the next year. While they were trying to get him to say something, he began to sing a sad niggun, a niggun that tells of the trip and the arrival, the joy and the pain, the bitterness and the yearning – a niggun that speaks of the connection between a Rebbe and a chassid. There are six words in the niggun, six words that are the first words of the three deep and profound ma’amarim that the Rebbe had said during the High Holy Days: “Tiku bachodesh”, “Bachodesh hashvi’i”, and “Shuva Yisrael.” He did not understand the content of the ma’amarim, but he definitely grasped their essence, and he expressed it in the niggun of “Tiku bachodesh, Bachodes Hashvi’i, Shuva Yisrael.”

There is no consolation in the niggun, but there is a feeling of connection – and that has worth too.

For those of you who would like to experience the niggun, here it is, in the pure voice of my son Natan. click here


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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