An Original Picture

During the shivah mourning for the Rebbe Rashab, one of the vintage chassidim began extolling the Rebbe’s character with all kinds of superlatives.

In the middle of the venerable gentleman’s talk, the Rebbe Rayatz cut him off. “You’re not speaking about my father,” he admonished, “you’re speaking about yourself!”

Now the speaker had been saying: “The Rebbe was this…, the Rebbe was that….” Why, then, did the Rebbe Rayatz say he was speaking about himself?

He meant that though ostensibly praising the Rebbe Rashab, the chassid was really enumerating those of his own characteristics which he considered good, developing them to the extreme, and crediting them to the Rebbe Rashab.

He was unable to expand his vision beyond his own horizons. He wasn’t talking about the Rebbe, because there is something about a Rebbe that transcends our comprehension.

A Rebbe’s wisdom is wisdom; his emotions are emotions, and his directives are directives. But when encountering and relating to a Rebbe, there is something that transcends intellect and emotion, something that you can’t put your finger on.1

The Secret of Attraction

Consider: What distinguishes a masterpiece from a copy? A good copyist may use the same colors and even brushstrokes as the original artist, but there will always be something missing.

The original is vested with a unique vitality and energy that the copy simply does not possess. And it’s precisely that vitality and energy that tells us we’re in the presence of a masterpiece.

In other words, what makes a painting beautiful is not what we can describe about it its lines and colors but what we can’t put into words, the inspiration and energy which the artist breathed into it.

To explain this using the language of chassidic thought: The Kabbalah teaches that our three primary emotive attributes express Chessed (kindness), Gevurah (power), and Tiferes (beauty).

What is unique about beauty, chassidic thought goes on to explain, is that it is a combination of kindness and power. This is not to imply that kindness is half-beautiful and power, half-beautiful, and true beauty is a composite of them both. Instead, the intent is to point out that kindness and power are opposites that cannot ordinarily be fused. The only factor that can bring them together is a quality that transcends them both.

So the thing that attracts is not what we can describe the two opposites which we see coming together but what we cannot describe, the transcendent power which brings them together, and which shines forth through their fusion.

The same is true of people. What attracts us in people is not what we can tell about them, the qualities and attributes they possess, but what we can’t put into words the quality we call soul.

A soul is an actual part of G‑d,2 and, like Him, is boundless. What draws us to our fellow man is this transcendent quality, the spark of G‑d which glows inside each person.

A Rebbe is a person in whom this spark of G‑dliness is revealed without hindrance.

Accordingly, we are not trying to explain the Rebbe or interpret him; that would be presumptuous. We would do no better than the well-meaning elder chassid we encountered at the outset.

Moreover, the attempt would defeat the purpose. What is special about a Rebbe is not the superlatives people use to describe him: a Torah genius, a visionary leader, a caring and sympathetic listener, or the like. What draws us is the quality that can be described only with the term “Rebbe” something without limit, a unique energy and vitality that comes from the G‑dliness which we all possess, and which a Rebbe reveals in a distinctive way.

Stories are a good way to express this quality. First of all, a story is alive; it breathes in a way that an essay or thesis cannot. In the Torah, it is the stories which we remember, and which have the greatest impact on us. So, too, stories have always been the Torah Shebichsav, the Written Torah, of Chassidus. For like the Torah itself, these stories convey a multidimensional message which inspires and empowers.

If this is true of an individual story, it surely is true of a collection of stories.

There is no way we can “sum up the Rebbe,” but as a person reads one story after another after another, he will come to perceive some of the Rebbe’s dimensions, and come to appreciate, recall and relive those unique qualities for which we have no words.

Stories, Not Tales

When we were considering a name for Vol. I of To Know and To Care, the subtitle seemed obvious: “Contemporary Chassidic Stories About the Lubavitcher Rebbe.”

Then a member of our editorial board said: “Wait! ‘Tales’ sounds much more literary than ‘stories.’ ”

Another forcefully objected: “Tales,” he argued, “are tall! We want to make it clear that these stories actually happened. ‘Stories’ may not sound so literary, but it conveys the point more powerfully.”

But what would be so bad about tales? After all, if the point in telling a story is to learn from it, to derive inspiration and direction, is it so important whether it happened or not?

Yes.

Because for a story to make a sincere impression, you have to know it’s true.

Any argument is communicated better with a story. That’s why the best speeches are rich in allegory, and why a lecturer will often relate an anecdote.

But then his listener knows he is hearing an argument; he understands that this is merely an illustration of the thought the lecturer wants to convey.

When a person actually sees a story happen, however, or hears about it from a trusted friend, it’s very different. He’s coming face-to-face with reality. And there is nothing more powerful than truth.

Whenever he told a chassidic story, the Rebbe would always emphasize the importance of detail and accuracy, because it is precisely the details that imbue a story with the ring of truth.

Accordingly, every one of the stories related below was heard either from the principals involved or from a reliable source who heard it firsthand. Countless faxes and telephone calls have gone into checking and rechecking the authenticity of these narratives. Our intent is not to convey merely a chassid’s feeling of what could have happened, but a truthful record of what actually took place.

In writing this book, my friends’ dialogue still echoes in my mind. This volume is not intended to be merely a collection of heartwarming memories. Instead, I wanted to allow every reader the opportunity to live with the Rebbe so that he could understand and connect with that dimension which transcends intellect and emotion.

Experiencing this quality as it was expressed through the Rebbe will inspire and empower us to reveal a similar spark in ourselves, and within our surroundings. In doing so, we will further the mission with which the Rebbe charged us:3 making the world conscious of Mashiach , and preparing an environment in which his purpose can be fulfilled.

Eliyahu Touger

Sivan 15, 5756
Pittsburgh, Pa