Thoughts on Judaism

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Yud Shvat Kiruv

In the chabad world, many a tale, spiritual and physical, is spun around the passing of the previous Rebbe, Rayatz, on Yud Shvat, 5710 (Jan, 1950) . When one attends Chabad at this time, he will likely hear of tales of mesiras nefesh, unflinching heroism, and the bursting of spiritual realms, previously sealed to mere mortal humans. He may hear of the encounter of the Rayatz with the Golem of Prague (legend has it that he encountered the golem in the Maharal shul, another legend has it that he transported it to 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn), how he was moser nefesh for every Jew (Rayatz, not the golem), how he was an ohaiv yisroel for every Jew (except for those misnagdim and maskilim who had earned his dislike, of course), and how there would be no frumkeit in America today without him. He will likely not hear of the Rayatz's early holocaust experiences, miraculous escape, nor the theodicy of the Rayatz on why the holocaust occurred. He will likely hear how, when the Chabad Rebbe referred to Rayatz as the Moshiach and leader of the generation, he was really referring to himself. And doubtless, he will hear of the famous Chasidic ma'amar, Basi L'Gani. The Rayatz was to say this ma'amar on that fateful day in 1950, and the late Chabad Rebbe spoke it in his place. This in itself is a wonder, since these ma'amarim come from heaven and are spoken without any notes, but I am sure that the Chabad historians out there can explain how it happened this time.


Anyway, I was at a Chabad shul on shabas when one of the young shluchim spoke on Basi L'Gani. He is a frequent visitor to our part of town, and he had in tow a young college student. This particular shliach is not dogmatic, unintelligent or even misguided, as Chabad shluchim go, quite the opposite. He is a decent and earnest fellow, and a quite a good speaker, besides. On this occasion, he delivered a personal translation of the four words that open the ma'amar (a pasuk from Shir HaShirim), Basi l'gani achosi kalah. His translation was "Come to my garden, my sister, my beloved". The ma'amar continues "l'gani, l'ganuni", which he left out as he continued. The actual translation is "Come to my garden, my sister, my bride" "my garden, meaning my bedchamber". Now all of the Chabad chevra understand that this refers to the sh'china, on two levels, as sister and as bride. They understand that this verse is not to be taken literally, that it is exclusively a parable. On this occasion, though, the speaker saw fit to dodge the obvious literal translation. When called to the mat, he was helped along, that "kalah" actually means "bride" not "my bride" and that "achosi" can mean "relative" not just "sister", as with Sarah and Lot. This is not withstanding the clear meaning of the ma'amar and other Chasidus, in which context "relative" makes no sense. IOW, in front of the uninitiated, they preferred the apologetics to simply commenting that this was a parable. WHY?

It was an odd moment, transfixed in time, whatever that means. The fundamentalists were calling for a nonliteral translation and interpretation. The rebels were calling for a literal reading. And the machine of kiruv rolled on, and I, ambivalently, with it.

13 Comments:

  • That is so...bizarre. I think what it comes down to is your level of comfort in explaining the parable in a way that you think others will find convincing. When you deal with people who have a high level of skepticism in place already, you may feel a need to be extra prepared...and if not, you reach for easier tool: editing

    By Blogger Ger Tzadik, at 1:13 PM  

  • rebel jew, you are in good company here. Neither you not the people you criticize seem to be able to taitch a simple posuk. While you quibble over the precise meaning of the word kalloh, please note that “bosi” means "I came", not "come".

    By Anonymous berl, crown heights, at 5:43 PM  

  • berl
    As usual your dikduk is precise, though you must admit, the difference between Bo and basi doesn't have the same punch.
    ;)

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 6:00 PM  

  • that would be "boi" vs "bosi". :)
    punch? well... to my taste, bosi is a more subtle invitation, an implied one and a tease. boi would be crass.

    By Anonymous berl, crown heights, at 6:30 PM  

  • I know that the point of your post is not about this side point, but I would be interested to read more about ...

    > the Rayatz's early holocaust experiences, miraculous escape, nor the theodicy of the Rayatz on why the holocaust occurred...

    Do you know where I can enquire ? thanks.

    By Blogger Hayim, at 5:09 AM  

  • "He may hear of the encounter of the Rayatz with the Golem of Prague (legend has it that he encountered the golem in the Maharal shul, another legend has it that he transported it to 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn)"
    As one who was born and bred in chabad and well read in chabad literature I'm quite surprised to learn about these legends here. The Rebbe once related that his father in law the Rayatz said that he visited the off-limits attic in the Altneu Shul in Prague and when he returned to his father the Rashab the latter told him that he, the Rayatz, did not realize what he had to do (to pray, presumably to protect him). Everything else can be left to the immagination, which it seems you, or your sources, use abundantly.
    "The Rayatz was to say this ma'amar on that fateful day in 1950, and the late Chabad Rebbe spoke it in his place."
    This is also untrue. The Rayatz had not been saying ma'amarim for a while due to his speech problem - he would write and publish them in honor of yomim tovim and special occasions. he wrote and published a ma'amar Basi Legani for 10 shevat 5750 in honor of his grandmother's yahrtzeit (wife of Rebbe Maharash, d. 1914). On that same day in 1950 the Rayatz passed away.
    One year later the Rebbe formally accepted the leadership of Chabad by reciting a Maamar, also entitled Basi Legani and based on the 1950 ma'amar written by his predecessor.

    Please check your facts next time.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:00 AM  

  • facts? we don't need no stinkin' facts! right "rebel without a cause"?


    Please stay away from Chabad, they're obviously bad for you.

    By Blogger Hirshel Tzig, at 6:10 PM  

  • anon
    I knew I could count on a historian showing up with the official version and much of it is plausible. Thank you. BTW, that is a sincere, not sarcastic Thank you.

    hayim
    The book is "Rescued by the Reich" by Bryan Mark Rigg.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 7:29 PM  

  • They understand that this verse is not to be taken literally, that it is exclusively a parable.
    Whatever you say, wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more, say no more...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:29 PM  

  • "IOW, in front of the uninitiated, they preferred the apologetics to simply commenting that this was a parable. WHY?"

    This is the point. Why are you trying to make it about something else? If it is a parable, why the revulsion at saying so? Why make up a bunch of apologetics that are unsourced? And WHY DODGE THE QUESTION?

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 6:24 AM  

  • rebel, thanks for your sincere thanks. Just for the record I am not an historian nor is this an "official version". I am a simple chabadnik and these are the only "versions" I've ever heard in Chabad.("versions" in quotations because they are not legends but easily verified historical facts--obviously I'm referring specifically to the two points I spoke about). The things people say are being said in Chabad are sometimes beyond preposterous.
    1st anon

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:35 PM  

  • ooo lets make fun of the "not-over-extremely-intelligent" chabadniks who nevertheless try to give as much as they can.

    lets lean our shtenders back and poke our overused thumbs at our misguided friends.

    have you honestly looked into any mystical approach. as in asking questions to find answers, not just to find wrongs?

    have you taught the "immense-wealth-of-talmud-knowledge" you obviously posess, to the less fortunate?

    get a life. you make me sick.

    By Anonymous uh oh my hats pinched, i must be stupid, at 3:17 PM  

  • ya moshiach is right arond te corner and guss what like it or not it the rebbe you may not bulive me but soon youll have to admit it

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:32 PM  

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