15th May 2010

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    1. By Yanki Tauber

      And he was youth-like (37:2)

      Joseph would engage in youthful follies, curling his hair and making-up his eyes

      - Rashi's Commentary

      Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Horodok was once asked: "You are forever extolling the trait of humility. So why do you dress in such handsome clothes?"

      Said Rabbi Mendel: "The surest place in which to conceal a chest of treasure is a pit of mud and slime…"

      When the third rebbe and leader of Chabad chassidism, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, passed away in 1867, he was survived by a number of scholarly and pious sons. Each had a following of disciples who wished to see their mentor assume his father's place.

      Rabbi Grunem Estherman, one of the great mashpi'im1 in the annals of Lubavitch, was a young man at the time, and undecided as to which of the Rebbe's sons to turn for leadership and guidance. When he discussed his dilemma with the famed disciple Rabbi Shmuel Ber of Barisov, the latter said to him: "Listen, Grunem. They are all children of the Rebbe's. 'They are all beloved, they are all mighty, they are all holy.'2 But let me tell you of one incident, and then you do as you see fit.

      "During one of my visits to Lubavitch, there was something in our late Rebbe's discourse which I found difficult to understand - it seemed to contradict a certain passage in the kabbalistic work of Eitz Chayim.3None of the elder disciples were able to provide an answer satisfactory to me, so that night I made my rounds among the Rebbe's sons. I visited Rabbi Yehudah Lieb, Rabbi Chaim Schneur Zalman, and the others. Each offered an explanation, but, again, none of their ideas satisfied my mind.

      "By now it was fairly late at night. I was headed for my lodgings when I noticed a light burning in Rabbi Shmuel's window. I had not considered asking him - he is the youngest of the sons and, as you know, his behavior is that of a rather ordinary and indistinct individual. However, I was curious to know what he is up to at such a late hour. So I pulled myself up on to his windowsill and looked in. What did I see, but Rabbi Shmuel immersed in the very section of Eitz Chayim where my difficulty lay?! So I figured I had best go in and discuss it with him.

      "I went round to the door and knocked. 'Just a minute' he called out. After a rather long minute the door opened. I took in the scene: newspapers were laid out on the table, German papers, Russian papers. Of the Eitz Chayim not a trace.

      " 'Reb Shmuel Ber! Rather late, isn't it?' he said. 'How can I help you?' I told him of my problem with the discourse the Rebbe had delivered that day and the passage in Eitz Chayim. 'Ah, Reb Shmuel Ber' he said 'they say you are a smart Jew. Nu, I ask you, you come to me with a question in Eitz Chayim…?'

      " 'Listen, my friend,' I said, "your game is up. Five minutes ago I saw you with the Eitz Chayim. Now either you tell me how you understand it, or else tomorrow the entire Lubavitch will hear about the interesting tricks you pull with your German papers.'

      "We sat and discussed the matter till morning," Rabbi Shmuel Ber concluded his story, "and I came away thoroughly impressed with the extent and depth of his knowledge. This is what I can tell you, Grunem, now you do as you see fit..."

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