Rebbe’s Vision – Original Soul Part 3– Yochanan Ben Zakai– (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson – Chabad-Lubavitch)
Alter Bukiet: Good morning, everybody. We are going to start this class, as I’ve done the past couple of classes and I’m going to I said as long as I’ll have the energy to do this type of thing I’m going to do it. The original first class of this whole series was about this very, very big idea. It’s a big idea that I’ve, truthfully, never seen anybody spend a lot of time on it. I’ve always mesmerized, why don’t people spend time on the fact that there’s the concept of a new soul?
That these new souls starts with Biblical personalities, that the commentaries make sure that we look back at certain personalities in the Bible and analyze them from amongst the Biblical personalities that they’re different and that they’re unique. That there was an original soul which G d imbued into man, into Adam, which the majority of souls takes itself from the moment that Adam sinned. Their personalities are tied into the fact that this is a soul that is open to a reality of good and bad. Then along come souls that are original. That their destiny, where they extend from, was prior to sin.
We walked you through Jacob and Moses. Two different personalities in the Bible that all the commentaries look into these two personalities and part of their interpretation to the uniqueness of these two personalities, was that they stem from a part of Adam which was prior to sin. Therefore, you begin to understand their Messianic visions. Therefore, you begin to understand why the Talmud says they didn’t die. Because this was a soul, the concept of death and all the Jewish theologian’s interpretation, is because of sin.
Why do people die? G d said if you sin you die. So if a person is not affected by that, why should he be affected by death? So though they die, the Talmud turns around and says yeah, they die, but you should know, that in principle, they’re a soul that doesn’t die. They’re a soul that takes itself from a point of reality prior to Adam’s sinning.
Originally, when I introduced this, I spoke to you about the Alter Rebbe, the founder of the Chabad Movement. The Ba’al Shem Tov said about the Alter Rebbe that he is an original soul, he’s a new soul. The Alter Rebbe, his whole vision where he built the whole Chabad Movement, was on the belief of interpreting the line that Messiah said to the Ba’al Shem Tov, that when will Moshiach come? When his wellsprings will go forth to the entire world. The Ba’al Shem Tov took that and the Alter Rebbe took that point literally. That’s the Chabad Movement. Therefore, to a certain degree, this is the original soul. That was the first class.
Last week, I introduced to you a Talmudic era personality, where we have the language about him being a soul from Jacob. That was Rabbi Yehudah Hannasi, the founder of the Talmud the Mishnah, actually, 300 years before the closing of the Talmud. Rabbi Yehudah Hannasi, who was the one who introduced the idea that the Oral Tradition should be written and document the Oral Tradition, which became the savior of Judaism today.
We went through it last week, Rabbi Yehudah Hannasi, there were commentaries that spoke about how his soul is Jacob’s soul. Rabbi Yehudah Hannasi came home to make Kiddush for his family. The concept of death wasn’t literal with his life. It wasn’t as black and white as in our life. The concept of Rabbi Yehudah Hannasi believing that the Messianic era will be introduced through the Diaspora, through the era that we’re living through, that’s the Midrash attaches Rabbi Yehudah Hannasi to Jacob, that Jacob envisioned that and that relationship was established.
I want to move you to another one about this new soul concept. It just might be that every week we have a class I’m just going to roll out a new soul to you, with a new personality. So one of the great personalities in the Talmud is a personality who was the disciple of Hillel, the famous Hillel. The original Hillel was in the times of the second Temple and he died when the second Temple was still in existence. He was one of the big Rabbis about the laws of rituals in the Temple. The Talmud has his debates with Shammai all about Temple issues. Later on, it became the House of Hillel, the House of Shammai; these are already disciples. But the original Hillel and Shammai were only during the times of the Temple.
The Talmud says that the youngest student of Hillel was Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai. Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai lived during Temple era and then was one of the original personalities that survived the destruction of the second Temple. Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai was one of the leading personalities of how the transition of Judaism should be from Temple era to non Temple era. That’s a major moment in Jewish history. How do you take Judaism from a, basically, 1,300 year period besides 70 years during the story of Purim but for 1,300 years Judaism was projected through a Temple era?
Initially 400 years in Shiloh with the Tabernacles then 400 and odd years of the first Temple, 400 and odd years of the second Temple. That dominated Judaism’s perspective and that was the central figure in Judaism, was Temple era, was the concept of all Judaism flowing through the Temple. The High Priest, the Rabbinical Beth Din, the king; all present, situated, running the Jewish world. Then comes the transition into non Temple era. Jews go into Babylon. Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai was at the cusp of this moment in Jewish history.
Just a little go for one minute off note here. Not that I mean to go off note, but just for one minute we go off note. In the Haggadah, right at the beginning, “Ma’aseh,” the story of the Rabbis, “she’hayu mesubin b’Bnei Brak,” they were sitting in Bnei Brak, “v’hayu mesaprim” this clandestine group of five major Rabbis that represented five different communities in Israel, that were great scholars, all sitting by Rabi Akiva. The amount of commentaries that go, what were they all doing there? They were all from different cities. Why were they gathered? Why were they leaving their communities and joining Rabi Akiva in Bnei Brak? This is after the destruction of the Temple.
Woven into this whole story is the reality that there was a conversation amongst these Rabbis; are we actually transitioning into a Diaspora reality or should we fight for rebuilding the Temple? This was the conversation that night in that clandestine group. That’s why when you think of it that way, you’ll begin to see that all the following pieces of the Haggadah is about the Messianic era, which is in discrete language saying this was the conversation. The conversation of these five great Rabbis, are we simply allowing this now to go to Diaspora reality or are we going to fight for the third Temple right now?
This might have been part of the logic of Rabi Akiva, backing Bar Kochba, believing he didn’t want Judaism to go into the Diaspora, 2,000 years of exile. He didn’t want to go that route. So he backed a personality, that they believed, had the ability to take on the Romans and hopefully rebuild the Temple. It wasn’t that simple of a transition, that everybody sat back and said okay, let’s take it sitting down and let’s figure out how we move on. It wasn’t that simple.
Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai made some very fundamental decisions. I want to introduce you to the Talmud and I need you to think with me for two seconds, because again, I’m only doing this Talmud on the backdrop that you understand that a new soul, the concept of a new soul, is a belief in the Messianic era. The concept of a new soul is to take Judaism to a place where they didn’t think it could go, but it’s original and in the originalness of a soul comes out original ideas. Different changing up all of Judaism. The concept of a new soul is, to a certain degree, a soul that believes he doesn’t die. This is going back to two weeks of classes that we’ve spoken about this.
So here we go. So my page A. It’s a tractate of Talmud, it’s a very famous Talmud. It’s a Talmud that’s all about the destruction of the second Temple. A very famous Talmud. This Talmud leads into the famous story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, the story of how the destruction came about, but this is the pre introduction to that story.
The Talmud starts off like this. Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai is trying to figure out how to get of Jerusalem. He can’t get out of Jerusalem because there was a I’m going to have to be careful with my language here fundamental group, radical group I don’t know how to give them the exact term, because I don’t zealots. That, basically, they didn’t allow anybody to get out. They wanted to go to war. They took control of Jerusalem. Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai realized, I’ve got to get out of Jerusalem. But how does he get out? They’re not going to let him out. So they came up with the idea that Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai should behave like he’s dead and they’re going to take him out in a coffin.
The Gemara explains what they did. They put bad smells and therefore, people said that he died. Then the students entered and took hold of the bed and carried it out. When anyone entered to carry the bed; why shouldn’t no one else enter besides the students? Because you’ll be able to detect if he’s dead or not because dead weight is heavier than live weight. So if you allow the Chevra Kadisha to come take control of the burial, they’ll say one second, this body is weighing too light. So therefore, only the students that are in on the whole plot of getting Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai out of Jerusalem, because he’ll behave dead and they’ll carry him out in a coffin, should carry the body.
That’s what he did. Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai behaved as if he died. They brought him to the gate. When they brought him to the gate, he explained to them that I’m dead. They checked the coffin. The Talmud goes into great length about how he ultimately works his way through and he makes his way out of Jerusalem. When he makes his way out of Jerusalem, he’s brought to the general of the army that’s trying to destroy Jerusalem. The general’s name was Vespasian. He spoke to him in the language as if he’s king. So the general said you know, that’s a form of you deserve death penalty, because you don’t call someone else the king besides the actual king.
Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai showed him prophesy, that the king in Rome died and that Vespasian was replacing him as king. When Vespasian realized that he was amazed. That’s the top part. Go back to in the middle of the page. I’m skipping around because all due to time. But here it goes, Vespasian said to Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, I’m going back to Rome “Meizal azilna v’inash acharina mashdarna,” I’m going back to Rome and someone else will replace me. “Ela ba’i mina’i midi d’eten lach,” but as I leave, I want to repay you. What would you want from me? I’ll give you something for the fact that I you’ve shown me who you are, you’re a great person. Tell me what you would want from me?
So Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai turns to Vespasian and says, three things. Well, one of them we know very well “Ten li Yavneh v’chachamehah.” This famous line, “Ten li Yavneh v’chachamehah.” I’m not interested in the Temple Mount, I’m not interested in Jerusalem; I know what’s happening here. What I’m interested in, scholars that I can pick them up and move them and then Judaism will survive, because the educational system will be in place. There was 250 scholars in Yavneh. I want the city of Yavneh. Request one.
Second request, “v’shushilta d’Rabban Gamliel,” I want the family of Rabban Gamliel, who was the Nasi, the president of Israel, who was a direct descendant of King David. Because they were direct descendants of King David this was the dynasty, this was the Kennedy family in Israel, l’havdil. This was the family of Jewish history. He said I need this part of Judaism to travel into Diaspora with me.
The third request he said, “v’asvasa d’mesayan lei l’Rabi Tzadok,” and doctors to cure Rabi Tzadok. There was a famous Rabbi who, for 40 years before the destruction of the Temple, started to fast. Forty years before the destruction of the Temple. He was fasting saying that the Temple’s going to be destroyed and I’m begging of you all to repent so that the Temple doesn’t get destroyed. He fasted for 40 years. He was a bag of bones by the time this all was over. They pleaded with him of course he broke his fast at night, but they pleaded with him to stop this behavior of fasting. He did real damage to himself, that now, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai says, when I move over, when we all move over to Babylon, I need you to help me cure this man.
Those are the three requests that he asked of the Roman general, the future Roman king. That’s the Talmud. So let’s for two seconds stop here and think. Nothing is coincidental. Nothing is done in Talmudic language just by accident or by, you know, random. It’s not random. The Talmud spends time on an imagery of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai dying and coming back to life. The Talmud could have said he got out. What’s the difference how he got out? He got out. How did he figure out to get out? He figured it out. Their smart people. Bribe somebody. He got out. Is it important for us to go into great detail of how he got out?
Again, here’s the Talmud, in very codified language, saying this is a man where the concept of death wasn’t as real as everybody else’s death. Therefore, the imagery the Talmud speaks about Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai is how did he get out, is by the fact of him achieving death. Then what does he ask when he gets out? So then he asks for the scholars of Yavneh I get. He understood that the future of Judaism was the Talmud and the only way the Talmud could be established is if you have the scholars that became all the leading personalities in the Mishnah. Without these personalities in the Mishnah we would have no Talmud.
That he even asked for the health of Rabi Tzadok is also understood, by the way. Why? The health of Rabi Tzadok was a very simple thing. This is like, you’ve got to work for two seconds. There’s multiple concepts that Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai was saying to the Romans by asking for the health of Rabi Tzadok. Number one, he began to say, listen, you have to believe that in Judaism we are going to establish houses of prayer. We are going to pray for people’s health. Then we’re going to come to Babylon and how Judaism is going to survive is health of people. We’re going to have the concept of prayer and we’re going to bring with us that whole idea, although we won’t have a Temple.
With Rabi Tzadok, he looked at the Roman emperor and said you have to understand who we are. We are a type of people that will utilize everything that the other society represents to us. We’re not going to shy off of it. Which movement today if I’m not mistaken, there are multiple court cases that are going on in the American system, since the ’50s, over the Jehovah Witnesses. Because the Jehovah Witnesses don’t believe in blood transfusions. They don’t believe in it. This whole medical concept, that America introduced of blood transfusions, they don’t believe in it and people are dying. There’s literally civil lawsuits brought against them.
You can’t ignore a medical innovation that society has that shows it gives life to people and say but on religious level I can’t save a life, because it’s some foreign idea to what I religiously believe. Here walks Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai and looks at the Roman emperor and says I want to tell you something. Every single tool that you people have developed in Babylon to save somebody’s life, I’m going to utilize. I’m going to start the moment we move over. I’m telling you right now, we are going to adapt and we are going to glean off your society anything that we can use to survive.
So these two ideas are brilliant. It’s two fundamental that, by the way, we live by them today. The world of education and academia and the world of adapting what’s society gives to us and utilizing it in a positive way. We don’t run away from it.
What’s the middle one of the family of Rabban Gamliel? We’re going into Diaspora? Here we go. This is the Messianic family. And all of a sudden Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai looks at the Roman emperor and said I want to really tell you what I stand for. Don’t think that I simply stand for Diaspora, it’s over. No. I honestly believe because this is all I am that G d is going to fulfill the prophesy of the Messianic era and I need the House of David to be part of our travel into Diaspora. He never changed his (inaudible 00:22:19) of who he was. That he believed that at the goal of what he’s doing in his life is a Messianic era.
This wasn’t compromising and saying how do I make Jews settle? No. I’m going to bring Judaism through education. I’m going to bring Judaism into a world and a society that we will accept things within that society that are useful for us as Jews, but at the same time, who am I? Give me the House of Rabban Gamliel. Because fundamentally, who I am is I believe that the core essence of what I’m doing for Judaism is a Messianic era.
In very interesting language the Talmud turns around and speaks about Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai with two ideas that have to do with this new soul concept. The idea that he challenges death and the idea that built in to this man’s personality is a goal. Not only of saving Judaism through academia and not only helping Jews identify themselves in a secular society by being able to adapt things from the secular society, but also a Messianic era. That that was at the core of as a person who he was.
You know, when you talk about the Rebbe, you could have said these three things about the Rebbe today. That at the core who he was is a man who wanted education and Jews learning and building day schools and Chabad Houses to help educate people. And at the core who he was he wanted people to utilize all their schools that they learned in a secular world. Don’t give it up. Utilize it for Judaism. At the same time, at the core who he was, was the house of Rabban Gamliel. Driving him was a belief in the Messianic era. A perfect reality. This is, in the Talmud’s language, identifying Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai. Okay.
Move to the next Talmud. We’re going to get to Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai even more direct of how he’s connected. Listen to Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai. Another famous Talmud, that I believe one day I’m going to teach this Talmud to this class for its own value and it’s going to be an intriguing Talmud. It’s going to have its own lengthy conversation on this Talmud.
Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai is dying and Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai is crying on his deathbed. His students say to him Rebbi, why are you crying? So listen what Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai says. The left hand side in my B and bounded page. Not only that, “Sheyesh l’fanai shnei drachim,” but there is lying before me two paths, “achas shel Gehenom v’achas shel Gan Eden,” one is for heaven and one is for hell, “v’eini yodeiah b’eizeh derech molichin osi,” and I don’t know which way they’re going to take me. This is the famous line that multiple of commentaries; “eini yodeiah b’eizeh derecho molichin osi,” I don’t know which way they’re going to take me.
What do you mean you don’t which way they’re going to take you? You know you never did wrong in your life. You can’t lie on your deathbed and make believe that you’re a person who’s, like, you don’t know which way they’re going to take you. So you ever heard the famous saying? We’re going to do this line on its own in the future with multiple interpretations, but let me just bring you one very basic. You ever heard the famous line, you don’t know the color black if you don’t know white? Because you don’t have the contrast. You need to contrast and without the contrast you don’t understand what the other is. So all of a sudden if you don’t have the contrast, when you’re presented with one color, you don’t know how to identify it.
Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai is looking and saying I never knew what sin is. So I never really knew what reward is for doing good because I never knew anything else. I’m not a soul that comes from Adam’s part of his existence where you’re from sin as well. So all of a sudden you have two things in front you. Because in your personality you have the ability to sin, you have the ability to do good. Now, after my whole life, I look at what I’ve done and I question, what have I done? What happens if I never was I never experienced that whole struggle. I never had black to know what white looks like, so now you put in front of me white and black I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know how to digest this whole new conversation after I have to talk about black and white. What’s black and white?
“Eini yodeiah,” I don’t know what these two ways are about. I’m not that type of a soul that exposed itself to good and bad and ended up doing good. So when I’m dying I can take a look and say okay, I had the opportunity to do bad. I didn’t do bad, I had temptations for bad, I didn’t touch the bad. I’m a righteous person that my entire life I could’ve done bad and I didn’t do bad. So now, when I look at the two ways I know which way I’m going, because I avoided this one and I went this one. What happens if you never entered that arena? And all of a sudden, on your deathbed they say that there’s two ways. What two ways are you talking about? I wasn’t exposed to it, my whole psychic.
He wasn’t in (inaudible 00:27:47) when he said that; he was honest. He just simply said the truth. I don’t understand what the conversation is; “eini yodeiah.” I’m clueless about these two ways. This is one of the very basic interpretations. Because this was a soul that was prior to sin and as a soul that goes prior to sin, why are you begin to talk to him a conversation of good and bad? It’s not in his vocabulary. That’s why he was crying. He said all of a sudden, I’m being introduced, at the end of my life, that I’m entering an arena which I have no idea what it’s about. I’m clueless. That’s one of the interpretations which just goes back and fits with the whole conversation of where such a soul stems from.
Then he goes on and listen what he says right before he dies. “B’sha’as petirato amar lahem” right? Right before he passes he says to them, “pani keilim mipnei hatumah,” remove everything from the room; I don’t want to contaminate anything, it’s going to be a carcass here soon, I don’t want anything to become contaminated. And prepare a seat for Chizkiyahu King of Judah who has come to escort me. Chizkiyahu Hamelech during the first Temple era is coming to escort me.
So the commentaries you know, I love Artscroll. Artscroll is going to stay very basic and they basically say, you know what? He figured out that he was a great great grandson of Chizkiyahu. So his great great grandfather was coming to welcome him home. The mystics say, you’ve go to go deeper than that. The Talmud says in the Tractate of Sanhedrin, that G d wanted Chizkiyahu to be Moshiach. For reasons, it didn’t work out and it ended up being later King David. But the Messianic era, G d felt that Chizkiyahu Hamelech should be Moshiach.
Rabban Yochanan on his deathbed turns around and says my dear friends, I know what my shtreben in life was about. I know what my lifework was about. My lifework was about Chizkiyahu, the concept of the Messianic era. I am joining those kings who should have been Messiah or are Messiah, because I haven’t lost my touch of what my life goals are. All of a sudden on his deathbed he turns to his family and says make space for Chizkiyahu. It’s an amazing soul that can speak of itself at the moment of truth and say, in very stark terms, what he is, what he represents.
Okay. Turn the page. So I’m going to walk you into this is quickly, but I’ve go to do this because the Rebbe this is a beautiful interpretation of the Rebbe at a Farbrengen in 1982, in the summer portion of Deuteronomy. The Rebbe Farbrenged and in the Farbrengen the Rebbe spoke like this. The Rebbe said there’s a Sifri, a Midrash, at the end of Deuteronomy. A beautiful Midrash.
The Midrash says that Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai is like Moses. Why? They both live for 120 years and their 120 years had three stanzas. Moshe’s three stanzas were, the first 40 years in Egypt, the second 40 years as a king in Midyan and the last 40 years with the Jews in the desert. Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, the first 40 years was a businessman, the second 40 years of his life he educated himself, he went to yeshiva and the last 40 years of his life he worked for the Jewish people and lived until 120. Therefore, the Sifri says, that Moshe and Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai have similar paths.
The Rebbe turns around and says I’m going to take the Sifri a step further. Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, in Ethics of our Fathers, says I have five students I want to talk about. The Rebbe says one second. Moses had five books and here comes Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai’s five books. Moses it was books, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai it’s personalities. The Rebbe matches each one of those five students to one of the books, beginning with the exact order that Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai says his five students.
The Rebbe goes like this; the Rebbe says there, the first one that Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai says of his five students is Rabbi Eliezer ben Horkanos. He was called Rabbi Eliezer Hagadol, the big Rabbi Eliezer, because there were many Rabbi Eliezers. In Midrash it says that when you speak about the book of Breishis, it’s the Hagadol; it’s the big book amongst all the five books. Because it’s the book of G d’s creation of the universe.
Okay. Not to go off subject here, but just to go off subject for a second. Why would the Midrash say that? Because 99 percent of the books of the Chumash, including Genesis, it doesn’t deal with G d and creation, it deals with the created being, the creature that’s been created. We actually have 13 14 verses that deals with creation. So therefore, the Midrash turns around and says I don’t you to make a mistake on the quantitative level here. That also because on a quantitative level the majority of the Chumash deals with creation, how they live, the creatures. Remember, that on a qualitative level the big storyline here is the Creator and that’s in Genesis where the Creator acts. It’s not about what creation does, it’s about the Creator. That’s the Hagadol, that’s the big. That’s Rabbi Eliezer Hagadol, that’s Breishis.
Book two is Rabbi Yehoshua. What did Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai say about his second disciple? “Ashrei yoladeto,” blessed is the one who gave birth to him. Which that’s Exodus, because the birth of the Jewish People, the birth of a Jewish nation is in Exodus. So the second of the five students, that speaks about the beauty of the birth, that’s book number two.
Book number three is his third disciple, Rabbi Yossi Hakohen. Why is it Leviticus? Because the whole book of Leviticus is about sacrifices. It’s all about the priestly work in the Temple. That’s his third disciple.
His fourth disciple is yiras chet, is the disciple Rabbi Shimon ben Netanel, which was yiras chet, the fear of sin. Fear of sin is about death, it’s about counting your days, therefore you fear sin. Because people count their days because that they know that they have to face G d if they sin. Counting your days is the book of Pekudim, which is the book of counting and that’s the book of Numbers.
The fifth book is the book of ma’ayan hamisgaber. Rabbi Elazar ben Arach, who was like a well that kept on rejuvenating new strengths, created new energies. Not just was the original of his teacher, but had the ability to be a creative energy. Well, that’s the fifth book, because Moses said the fifth book on his own. He wasn’t simply repeating what G d said to him; the book of Deuteronomy is Moses’ book. That’s the wellspring of where you see that the student has the ability to speak beyond the teacher’s voice.
The Rebbe, therefore, goes and presents the five students of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai as his Bible and compares Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai to Moshe.
Woven into that idea is the original self. Here we go back where everybody’s looking to figure out Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai. How did this man be that creative? And we compare him to Moses. We go back to these original souls and we schlep him back to Moses.
I want to show you like, we speak about this in the Chabad world that the Alter Rebbe had a new soul and this was an original soul. Look at my E on the bottom of Page 2. I left this intentionally. I could have very easily whited it out. Look at the bottom of the English on the right hand column. Do you see opening price? Opening price, $12,500. What is this for? Look on the left hand side. This is a piece of Judaic history, a letter so let me walk you into a famous we talk about the Schneerson family in the Chabad world as the famous family. Let me walk you into the famous family as the Twersky family that stems from the same time that the Schneerson family began.
The Alter Rebbe was the original Schneerson which began the Chabad Movement. Let me walk you into the original Twersky that began the Chernobyl Movement, Rabbi Nachum of Chernobyl; his last name was Twersky. Rabbi Nachum had a son called Mottele, Mordechai. Mottele Chernobyler inherited his father’s leadership. Twersky called Chernobyl. Rabbi Mottel had multiple children and that’s where the dynasty Zhvil is Twersky. What did we have? Rabbi Isidor Twersky in Boston. What was his synagogue called? The Zhviler Beis Hamidrash. You have the Rachmastrivka Rebbe’s Twersky. There’s Chernobyl. There’s multiple and these are all children, that went to different cities, off of the second Rebbe, off of Rabbi Mottel.
One of them was Rabbi Yochanan. You know what the Chassidim said about Rabbi Yochanan? You could read it in the English. He became the Rachmastrivka Rebbe. He moved to Rachmastrivka. You know what they said about him? His soul is a soul of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai. Why? Here we go back to original souls and to connect him to Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai is Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai was connected to Moses. He mimicked Moses, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai because Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai was that original soul.
So along comes a Chassidic movement called Rachmastrivk and they look at their Rebbe that begins the whole Rachmastrivka movement. You know, this man lived in the early years. We’re talking about — this is going back Tav-Kuf-Ayin-Vav, 1890. They looked at their Rebbe then and said this Rabbi Yochanan, the beginning of the dynasty of Rachmastrivk is a descendant — is the soul of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, back to this original soul, connect him to that original soul. Therefore, in their world, Rachmastrivk is this creative new idea. Why it is? Maybe one day we’ll have a conversation about it. I’m not going into the Rachmastrivka theology to try to explain to you why they talked about their Rebbe in that language.
By the way, that document sold for a lot more than $12,500. That was the opening price. It’s one of the original writings of his that they have. There was an unbelievable warfare in the auction house to get that original — one of his original writings. It was a beautiful letter that he wrote to a community, asked them to help and support the wedding of a grandchild. It was three, four years before he passed away and he blessed people that were going to help his grandchild get married. This is a letter that got sold for a lot of money, in the hundreds of thousands at the end of the day.
Audience Member: The handwriting alone.
Alter Bukiet: Is stunning. It’s a stunning handwriting. It brings you full circle of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai. All of a sudden, you realize this soul that was — what was a soul that changed the history as the Jews left the Second Temple Era. It was spoken about in unbelievable terminology as being part of the Messianic way of thinking, Chizkiyahu Hamelech. It’s spoken about that the Sifri compares him to Moses and the Sifri analyzes 120 years of life.
The Rebbe turns around and then explains to you, based on that Sifri, how he mimicked Moses in five living books. Moses had five books and he had five living books. Then you come down to a Chassidic Dynasty in Rachmastrivka that turn around and look at their Rebbe, Rabbi Yochanan, and say that’s a continuation of that original soul. Here’s an original soul that stems from that original soul.
Audience Member: Was Chizkiyahu a descendant of David?
Alter Bukiet: No, he’s before David. Was he from the same family, you’re asking?
Audience Member: Oh, that’s right.
Alter Bukiet: That’s a good question, but I’m not going to go (inaudible 00:43:09) because that’s a whole — it’s a Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, which maybe one day we’ll tackle it of understanding why (inaudible 00:43:15) Talmud. The Talmud speaks about Chizkiyahu in glowing terms. “Since Moses, there’s never been a person like Chizkiyahu.” Again, comparing him to Moses, which is a story — again, I don’t want to go into this original (inaudible 00:43:26). We can just dissect these.
I just want to show you how throughout — if you look through a storyline of a personality of people and you start understanding why things start dotting the lines, why does he use an imagery, why does the Talmud spend time on an imagery of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, of a revival of the death? Why did Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai in the moment he’s dying say I’m Chizkiyahu? I want to be attached to Chizkiyahu? Why does he say I don’t know where I’m going?
You got to dot all these lines. When you start dotting all these lines, you realize this goes back to those original souls and that’s the imagery the Talmud wants us to have. It happens in Jewish history over and over where we get — now, the problem that I will have to get you passed Talmud era into a Maimonides, into a Joseph — there are very little commentaries written about these people’s personalities like the Talmudic personalities.
We don’t spend the time to analyze these personalities like they spend time analyzing Talmudic personalities. Therefore, it will be very difficult for me to turn around and say let me walk you into Maimonides and let me explain to you what happened in Maimonides’ life and why he did things. It’s not documented. It’s just not documented and no one has told a story around his life to give us enough information like they do with Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai where people spend time. Tell his story and then analyze his story and give little insights in each one of these stories that by the time you’re done patching it together, you realize okay, I just walked into a personality which is an original soul.
Forgive me, I’m going to keep — if I keep on doing this at the beginning of each week of a new soul, I’m going to end up going back to only those personalities that I can share with you. For example, the Alter Rebbe, I can just tell you what the Ba’al Shem Tov said. I can tell you what he did, but beyond that, I can’t piece together a storyline like I could do with Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai because no one spent time telling us these little facts and tidbits.
One thing that I hope that grows out of these whole classes is this concept of an original soul, that we understand that in Jewish history, there was a reason why certain people had that ability to rise to an occasion and do things in Judaism unmatched, unfathomable. They made decisions which you say to yourself, “How did they make that decision?” Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai was one of them. Unfathomable that a person standing there with the Temple still existing on the Temple Mount. It wasn’t yet destroyed and to have that vision and say I’m going to say the unfathomable. I want the scholars over it.
For Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi who we spoke about last week, who documented an Oral Tradition which was unfathomable, Jews for over 1,500 years lived by a system that the only thing documented was a Chumash. That’s it, a principle that they were struggling to figure out how to survive through. But the miracle — they had the Temple and they had prophets and they had a Beis Din and they had priesthoods. They had enough systems in place that kept the community in check, that the community had what to lean on for information so they couldn’t go totally confused.
Along comes Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi and says I’m not going to have that system in place anymore. I’m changing a fundamental principle. I am documenting the Oral Tradition, an unfathomable thing and save Judaism. These are new souls. These are souls that the universe never had. They’re coming at a certain time in life and changing everything.
I’ve told this story, but I’ll repeat it here. Now, I know I’m going very late, but I’m going to get back. My father was born in Ger. That’s where he was born, in Ger. He was born in (inaudible 00:48:14), but he was a Ger Chassid. He made his way to Israel in 1968 for the first time. A member of my father’s shul made a bar mitzvah of their child and my father went. They took him along; it was a big thing for my father.
It was like, he’s going to Israel. It was like — I was an eight-year-old kid. I remember, like, we all went to the airport. He was flying high. It’s like one of those things that he never dreamt was going to happen to him that he was going to Israel. He was, like, flying high. He was there — the bar mitzvah was Thursday night and Shabbos, there was a whole thing in the hotel in Jerusalem.
Then, on Sunday, he decided to go to the Gerer Rebbe. His name was the Beis Yisroel. The Beis Yisroel was the fourth Gerer Rebbe. The first one was the Chiddushei HaRim, Reb Itche Meir, who was the disciple of the Kotzker. When the Kotzker went into 22 years of isolation, he left. He was officially going to Lubavitch to become a disciple of the grandson of the Alter Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzeddek. But along the way, he stopped in Ger over Shabbos and they held on to him and he created a dynasty there. He became the Gerer Rebbe. He was a Ger. His last name — the family’s name was Alter. It’s a big name in Ger. Alter, that’s the family name. Like Schneerson in Lubavitch, Alter in Ger.
His grandson, the Sfas Emes, inherited the leadership because the father passed away the son of the Chidushei Harim passed away while the first Gerrer Rebbe was alive, so the grandson took over the leadership; the Sfas Emes. The Sfas Emes had a child the Imrei Emes. The Imrei Emes lived through a very difficult time. He was a Rebbe his leadership started in the late ’20s and then he was there during the Holocaust. He struggled to get out of Poland, but they got him out of Poland and they got him into Israel in 1945. Then he passed away during the Independence War in ’48. He wanted to be buried on Mount of Olives, but they couldn’t get him there because the war was on. So they buried him in the courtyard of Gur, where he is buried until today.
His son, who got out of Poland together with him because he lost multiple children in Poland, the Imrei Emes. His son was the Beis Yisrael, Reb Yisrael Alter. He inherited the leadership in 1948. He saw what happened to Gur, because Gur in Poland was the largest Chassidic community in the world. Nobody matched them. Then they ended up with a shtibel in Yerushalayim. His father came a broken soul and the Beis Yisrael, he was a holy man, the son who inherited that leadership. He was leader until 1977. He was the Gerrer Rebbe from ’48 to ’77.
My father shows up at the Gerrer shtibel in Yerushalayim and the Beis Yisrael is the Rebbe. The Beis Yisrael, at that time of his life, was in his late 60s, early 70s. My father, at that time of his life, he was 1968 my father was born 1920 he was a 48 year old man, he was still a young and vibrant guy. He doesn’t remember Gur much because he entered a Chabad cheder as a young child. He was an only child and his parents didn’t want to send him off to Gur, which was a far distance from where they lived in Chmelnik. There was a Lubavitcher cheder in Chmelnik, so they put him into the Lubavitcher cheder. Little did they know that their only little boychik that they put in the Lubavitcher cheder was not going to come back a Gerrer anymore, he was going to end up in Lubavitch. So he didn’t see the Gerrer Rebbe from the age of 8 9.
My father shows up in Jerusalem and goes to daven minchah, the Sunday after the bar mitzvah and he goes into Ger. He wants to go back. This is his old home. But he’s dressed as a Lubavitcher. The Gerrer have the pants tucked in, socks up to the knees. My father doesn’t look like that. How many people were there? It was a Sunday afternoon; it was a working day in Israel. The Gerrer community was starting to get itself back together, but it wasn’t a big community. My father says there was 40 50 people davening minchah. You have 40 50 people davening minchah, you stand out. You know, you have thousands of people in the room, you go unknown, but if you’ve got 40 50 people in the room and you don’t look like the rest of them, you stand out.
The Gerrer Rebbe walked in and from the corner of his eye, like, he looked. Then after the Amidah, the Gerrer Rebbe turned around again and, like, again was staring at my father. Then he said something to his gabbai. On the way out of Minchah, the gabbai turns to my father and says the Rebbe wants to see you. Just walk behind me. So my father walks behind him and they leave the shul and they go into the home, which was the second part of the same building. In a very comfortable little study the gabbai shows where my father should go and sit and then the Gerrer Rebbe, a minute later, comes walking back into this room and sits down. He looks at my father and says I recognize the face. “Ich ken der panim,” he says.
So my father smiles and he says my parents and my grandparents were Gerrer Chassidim. What’s the name of the family? My father says Bukiet. He says I think I can remember your family. Then he looks at my father and says so what are you know? “Vos bist du?” Because you know, from his dress he wasn’t Ger any more. So he says, “Vos bist du?” What are you? So my father says Lubavitch. So he gets quiet. Then he says to him can I teach you a Midrash? My father says of course. The Gerrer Rebbe wants to teach me a Midrash? Teach me a Midrash.
In Genesis, Chapters 46 and 47 is all about Joseph going to his brothers and how his brothers throw him into a pit. At the end of Chapter 47 it’s how he’s sold to the Midianites and then he gets sold from the Midianites to the Yishmaelim and then he gets sold to Egypt. In theory, Chapter 48 should continue with what happens with him in Egypt now. No. Chapter 48 there’s a break. “Vayehi ba’eis hahu, vayered Yehudah mei’eis echav,” and Yehudah separated himself from his brothers and the Torah goes into one whole chapter of how Judah leaves his brothers, gets married, has two children. The two children marry women. His two children die. One of the daughters in law wants to have a child with him. She ends up having a child with him and the child’s name is Peretz and from that child King David’s family comes out.
Then it goes back. Chapter 49 goes back to the story of Joseph, that he’s in Egypt. So the Midrash asks how does this fall in in the middle? It has nothing to do with anything. You’re in the middle of telling us a story about Joseph. He just got sold into slavery. Why did you interfere the whole story, interrupt the whole story, with Judah going? He left his brothers and he went to get married. They all got married somewhere along the whole line. Imagine things happen. Why?
The Midrash says like this. At the moment that Joseph was sold into slavery, everybody was mourning. Everybody, for different reasons. There was a whole mood and environment of mourning. Jacob was mourning; he lost a son. The brothers were mourning that their father is mourning; that they have a father. They’re not mourning because they lost a brother, because they know they didn’t lose him, but they’re mourning that they have father that’s walking around mourning. Joseph is mourning because he knows his father is at home mourning over his death. Everybody’s mourning. One brother stands up and says genug. I’m going to make a life. I can’t allow Judaism to remain in this type of reality; I need to build a family. We need to move forward. From that family, Messiah comes out.
The Gerrer Rebbe turned to my father and says we’re all mourning and we’re all trapped into what happened to us. One brother stood up and said genug, we’ve got to build Judaism. Because if we don’t stand up and build Judaism it can’t be about the negative of what happened in the past. You don’t build a religion and you don’t build a people on the negative of the past. You’ve go to get out there and build Judaism and from that brother comes Moshiach. Without having to translate to my father anything else, he said have a good day. My father left the room and my father got the message.
There are those people that have a soul, that in the midst of all chaos, with a trend and a reality of what’s taking place around you is going one way; to buck the tide and to say stop. I need to figure out how to take Judaism a whole different way, irrelevant of what the environment is. I can’t allow the moment to take hold of who we are. Those are original souls. Those are souls that everybody stands back and looks at and says okay, G d in his infinite wisdom plonks them along the generations. They’re all of a sudden, they have that ability to go beyond what’s taking place and change the reality of Judaism.
That’s why I walk you into this original soul from day one and I will keep on walking, as long as I have the energy, through these original souls as we move along. I think my time has run out so I’ll stop here and we’ll pick up next week, G d willing. I have to either control myself and do the original souls a little shorter or just simply okay. Have a good day, everybody.
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