Guest Posting By Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin - Pesach With The Koidenover Rebbe
A few days before Pesach I got the call. The Rebbetzin just had a baby. The Rebbe requested that I come to his house a few days early so I could lend an extra hand with Pesach preparations. I was on my way to experience my first Pesach in Eretz Yisroel with the Koidenover Rebbe. I was filled with excitement to know that I would be spending Pesach in Koidenov. The Rebbe had already given me a copy of the Koidenover Hagaddah, replete with divrei Torah and many unique minhagim previously unknown to me. The one thing I did know, and which besides the tefillin was my “shtar eidus” that my family came from Koidenover Chassidim, were the Pesach nigunim. These nigunim were taught to my grandfather by his father and passed down to my father. They were not the standard nigunim. From what I have later heard, many of them are attributed to R' Aharon haGadol of Karlin and his talmid R' Chaim Heike of Amdura.
Pesach was quite an experience: the maim shelanu, the bedikas chometz, biur chometz, baking matzos Erev Pesach, the seder with the Rebbe, the bris of the Rebbe’s son on Chol haMoed with the Lelover Rebbe as sandek, shvii shel Pesach, the neilas hachag. The one lesson that stood out for me most was at the seder.
Here we were sitting at the seder with the Rebbe, the Rebbetzin’s grandfather, the Naroler Rav zt”l, who lived with them, the Rebbe’s children, myself and another American (a Canadian) whose family also comes from Koidenov. I remember how the Rebbe engaged his children. This was not like a tish where he would say over a Torah; this was about the kids, as that is the point of the hagadah anyway. I remember him taking out the matzo and saying “matzo zu”. Perhaps I was feeling the effects of the wine, but it sure looked like that matzo that he flashed in the air was on fire. Finally, I remember the feeling of cheirus as the Rebbe, the Naroler Rav, and two of the latter’s sons and their children took a little walk on the streets of Bnei Brak after the seder in the wee hours of the morning. Although the rest is a bit of a blur as it was eight years ago, the biggest impression still remains. See, the Rebbetzin was in Netanya for Pesach with her new baby. Although she had cooked a lot of food in advance, her absence was noticeable. The Rebbe actually plated the meal and served us. In addition to his regular involvement as a father, he did whatever needed to be done given the circumstances.
As I was caught up with the novelty of just being at the Rebbe’s seder, it was not until the Rebbe himself later mentioned what happened that I became aware of an essential lesson that I carry with me to this very day. When we were walking to the Rebbe’s beis medrash the next day for Mincha, he brought to my attention that the ikkar question a Yid must ask himself is, “what does Hashem want from me now, at this moment?” He went on to explain about the seder night and how it is the highest night of the year, yet he was without his Rebbetzin and had to serve the meal himself. This is not necessarily what he was envisioning, yet this is exactly what Hashem wanted from him. While this may not be the biggest chiddush in the world as it is intellectually self-evident, for a self-centered yeshiva bachur with no responsibilities it was eye-opening.
Unless one lives in a bubble and does not have a wife and children, it is inevitable that these moments will occur. In fact, I had one this Shabbos. It is especially challenging for those of us who strive to find meaning in our avodah, when things don’t necessarily go as planned or others don’t act according to our program. Yet, the anger and resentment that can result when our expectations are not met, negates any possible ruchnius we could have gained. As we prepare for Pesach and seek spiritual heights on the seder night, yet the table may not be set, and the kids may be fussy, a fifth question we must ask is: “what does Hashem want from me now?”
Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin's website can be seen here.