Immediately after the news of the Mumbai Massacre was released, the Sudilkover Rebbe contacted me and informed me that he had to delay his upcoming visit to the United States in order to attend the levaya of his close friend Rabbi Leibish Teitelbaum, HY"D.
Even before receiving this news and the news of the horrible attrocity, I had felt that I was in prolonged period of mochin d'katnus due to numerous things that were happening in my personal life. All of these events compounded led to to my decision to take a three-week break from blogging in order to recharge my batteries.
During the week of Parshas Vayishlach, my phone rang minutes before my weekly shiur in Likutey Moharan. The Sudilkover Rebbe was on the other side of the line calling from Boro Park telling me that he had just arrived in the United States. I replied by telling him that I would definitely come to see him the following week since I missed the opportunity earlier in the year.
The Rebbe's phone call immediately gave me a burst of enthusiasm that I had not felt for a long while. I had difficulty that night sleeping and my mind raced with anticipation of the trip. I quickly made train tickets for the following Tuesday and took care of all the other logistical details in lightening speed. I tried to write down a list of questions to ask the Rebbe. In my excitement, however, I had great difficulty remembering anything that I had not had the opportunity to ask him in the past.
Tuesday finally arrived and auspiciosly it coincided with Yud Tes Kislev. Turning off 16th Avenue in Boro Park, I walked down a side street until I came to the basement apartment where the Rebbe was staying. He ushered me in with a smile and a hug and then we sat down to discuss a wide variety of topics. Understanding the distance I had come to see him, the Rebbe told me that he had devoted his whole afternoon to spending time with me.
I began by asking him the only question that I could remember: of all the teachings in Degel Machaneh Ephraim, which one did he find the most inspirational and consider to be central to understanding the derech of the Degel.
The Rebbe responded that the answer to this question was not simple; it has to be answered with an understanding of the level of each person asking. For the majority of people, he said that the first piece in Parshas Ekev on emuna and hischadshus (self-renewal), was the piece to concentrate on and live with. For himself, however, he said that he would often reflect on the teachings from Parshas Noach and Parshas Vayishlach in which the Degel lambasted those who falsely and pretentiously exhibited only the outer trappings of piety.
The Rebbe candidly told me that during the few occasions when he finally had time alone he would ask himself whether he was one of these people whom the Degel spoke out so harshly against; whether he even had the right to call himself the "Sudilkover Rebbe" and wear rebbeishe kleider (clothes worn by a rebbe) on Shabbos and during the week days. He would repeatedly ask himself whether his holy zeide, the Degel, would be pleased with him, or chas v'shalom, be angered by this person who claimed to be carrying on his derech. The Rebbe explained that he continually focused on these two pieces in Degel Machaneh Ephraim as a way to ensure that he always approached his avodas Hashem with complete honesty.
I was absolutely amazed to hear these words that provided a glimpse into the inner world of a rebbe. Perhaps of all the insights that I received during the 5½ hours that I was with him, this was the most remarkable. Days later, I understood that the main lesson that I received from him during this visit was that I must ensure that my focus on hischadshus is counterbalanced with a focus on emes.
My mind has still not completely settled and coherently organized all the disparate pieces of information from our time together. With Hashem's help, I will write more postings detailing the things that I learned during the hours that I spent with the Rebbe; hours that I consider to be some of the most precious hours of my entire year.