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“L’chatchila ariber!” Revisited

We will now return to the statement made by the Rebbe Maharash, the Hassidic counterpart of Joseph. The statement is: the world says that if you cannot bend down and pass under an obstacle that obstructs your way, then you have no choice but to leap over it. However, I say l’chatchila ariber!’” I say, do not even try to bend down and pass under it; always leap over it. One amazing fact about this statement is that it was the Rebbe Maharash's own father, the Tzemach Tzedek, who quotes this very statement in the name of the Alter Rebbe, yet the Rebbe Maharash quotes the statement as one which “the world says.” The Tzemach Tzedek quotes it unconditionally, without continuing it in any way and the Rebbe Maharash adds, “but I say, ‘l’chatchila ariber!’”


From here, we can see that Hassidic leadership does not remain static. On the one hand, there is a progressive descent from generation to generation, yet, on the other hand, as we approach the culmination of the redemption process, the spark of the Messiah becomes stronger. This intensification is particularly notable in the leader of the generation, sometimes to such an extent that the method of bringing the Messiah employed by previous leaders is considered outmoded by his standards. In physical terminology, this is referred to as a quantum leap, an energy leap.  The greatest example of all such quantum leaps is the cry to “leap over it!”


It is said that the Rebbe in Chabad who most resembles the Baal Shem Tov is the Rebbe Maharash.  In one famous statement, the Lubavitcher Rebbe of our generation said that if one wishes to connect oneself to him, then one must study the articles written by the Rebbe Maharash, because he too studies them. As stated in the introduction to this article, it was the Rebbe of our generation who began referring to the Rebbe Maharash by this expression, calling him “L’chatila Ariber. However, what is truly unique about this statement is that it takes a formula that was definitely accepted by his own father, the Rebbe of the previous generation, and claims that it is no longer relevant.


A further example of this quality in the Rebbe Maharash, will clarify this trait in his character and assist us in our perception of the way we must act today. In the year 5608 (1848), there was a calculation made that that year was a time conducive for the coming of the Messiah. Obviously, when that year passed without the arrival of the Messiah, everyone was very disappointed, as we all are existentially disappointed and frustrated from year to year and from day to day. The Rebbe Maharash asked his father, the Tzemach Tzedek how one can explain the fact that the Messiah did not come. The Messiah was apparently supposed to come; yet, he had not come. The Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, rationalized, saying that on that year there was a certain revelation of the Messiah in the publication of the collection of the Hassidic dicourses of the Alter Rebbe, “Likutei Torah.” Under normal circumstances, any other Hasid would have accepted the words of his Rebbe unconditionally, however the Rebbe Maharash was not prepared to accept that as an answer. He said, “Likutei Torah is not sufficient. We want the Messiah himself!” Despite the fact that he was totally devoted to his father and to the whole line of Hassidism, he was not prepared to suffice with the current rate of their accomplishments.


Another statement made by the Rebbe Maharash was in reference to the name of the movement chosen by the original Zionists, which was “Bilu.” This word is an acronym of the words “Beit Yaakov lechu venelcha,” “House of Jacob, go forth and we shall proceed,” however, the verse concludes, “beor Hashem,” “In God’s light.” The Rebbe Maharash stated that had they added these two words to the name of their movement, he would have joined them with a hundred thousand Hassidim and brought them to Israel.  Obviously, he recognized that non-committed Jews were leading the campaign, and it was therefore doomed to failure, as we see now in retrospect.


From all three anecdotes concerning the Rebbe Maharash, we can see that he was a person with great energy resources inherent in his nature. The Rebbe Maharash, therefore, is related to the trait of Joseph, yesod. He recognized these energies, knew how to conserve his resources, yet never wasted his energy unnecessarily.

One way in which we can attempt to rationalize the Rebbe Maharash’s statement of “l’chatchila ariber, ” is that if someone bends down in an attempt to pass under an obstacle, discovering that it is a practical solution, he may become extremely limited in his actions. He may become spiritually crippled, never using his power to leap. Under such circumstances, there may come a time when a person will bend down once more to pass under an obstacle but this time he will discover that it is not a practical solution. Nonetheless, because he has become used to doing bending down, the person will not be able to reveal his innate power to leap over at all. This is why the Rebbe Maharah says, “never bend down; always leap over.”


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