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Rebbe Avraham of Slonim: A Personalized Rebbe

Rabbi Avraham Weinberg of Slonim, called the “Yesod Ha’avodah” for the book that he wrote, was the founder of the Slonim Chassidic sect. He was born in 5564 (1803) to Rabbi Yitzchak Matityahu, who was close to the first Rebbe Asher of Stolin. In his youth, Rabbi Avraham was a disciple of Rabbi Noach of Lechovitz and then of his successor, Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin. After Rabbi Moshe’s passing, Rabbi Avraham became the leader of a congregation in Slonim.

Rabbi Avraham Weinberg was a prolific writer and his important book, Yesod Ha’avodah, is one of the only chassidic books that was not written on the basis of the Torah portions, but rather, as a treatise that explains the foundations of Chassidut.

Like his predecessors in the Lechovitz-Kobrin-Slonim dynasty, Rabbi Avraham was known for his special connection to the Land of Israel and its communities and was the president of Kollel Reissen (Belarus), which supported the Jews of the Land of Israel. He also encouraged many of his chassidim to make aliyah to the Land of Israel. Rabbi Avraham even sent three of his grandsons who were just thirteen years old to live in the Land of Israel. When asked why, he explained that “there will be an era of terrible concealment of Godliness… I want there to be a representation of our group in the Land of Israel so that there will be around whom to gather.” Years later, it turned out, that this step did indeed ensure the continuation of his dynasty. Those grandsons were the foundation for the renaissance of the chassidic sect of Slonim following the Holocaust. Rabbi Avraham passed away on the 11th of Cheshvan, 5644 (1883).

Following the passing of the Beit Aharon of Karlin (the grandson of the Great Rabbi Aharon of Karlin) one of his most important chassidim came to Rabbi Avraham of Slonim requesting to become his disciple. Rabbi Avraham rejected his request, saying, “I cannot accept you, for your soul root does not belong here.” The Slonimer Rebbe continued to explain: “The sages say that every blade of grass has a mazal that strikes it and tells it to grow. The blades of grass are the chassidim and the mazal is the soul root. The Rebbe, as well, is the all-inclusive soul and is the soul root of all his chassidim. There is not a Jew in the world who does not have a Rebbe (whether he is aware of that or not) who does not strike him and tell him to grow. When a blade of grass that grows by the light of the moon is exposed to the light of the sun, not only will it not help him, but it will harm him.

In his words to the chassid, Rabbi Avraham suggested that even if the difference between him and the Beit Aharon was like the advantage of the sun over the moon, he must remain in the place that is appropriate to him. According to Rabbi Avraham of Slonim, the chassid should not overshoot his true place. If he would attempt to adopt a Rebbe loftier than his stature, he would ultimately wilt in the bright light, like a delicate plant that is exposed to direct sunlight.

Similarly, it is told that a certain wealthy man supported Rebbe Zusha of Anapoli for an extended period of time. When this wealthy man heard that Rebbe Zusha himself was a disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch, he began giving his donations to the Maggid instead of to Rebbe Zusha. But much to his chagrin, instead of the abundance and blessing that he had been experiencing in his business until then, he began to lose money. When this man asked Rebbe Zusha why this could be happening, Rebbe Zusha answered: “When you gave your money to Zusha, without checking if he is worthy or not, Heaven also did not check you out. But when you began to look for ‘nobility,’ Heaven did the same….”

Not all the tzaddikim agree with this approach. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said that a seriously ill patient needs a greater doctor to cure him. By the same token, a Jew who is more removed from Torah needs a greater Rebbe to bring him home.

It is important to note that Rabbi Avraham served as the moon to his Rebbe, Rebbe Moshe of Kobrin. Rebbe Moshe of Kobrin was known as a demanding man of truth, in whose presence it was difficult to stand. His statements and prayers were like flaming fire and he demanded the same of his disciples. Rabbi Avraham of Slonim, on the other hand, was among the most orderly and reserved of the Rebbes of Poland. His book, Yesod Ha’avodah, puts an emphasis on creating “vessels” to contain the light of Chassidut and modes of service of God more than on arousal of the soul.

The sun-moon relationship between Rabbi and disciple is common. The rabbi brings a great, chaotic light down to the world. The light is still difficult to integrate. Then comes the disciple and serves as an intermediary between the rabbi and the world, serving as a “vessel of rectification.” Rebbe Nachman himself said that without his disciple, Rebbe Natan, not even one page of his writings would have been preserved.

In a way, the ‘chaotic’ tzaddik is like a ba’al teshuvah (newly observant Jew) who discovers a new light in the world. Ultimately, however, despite the lofty status of the ba’al teshuvah, the world needs a tzaddik who will take rectified steps to integrate this light into the world. (The Lubavitcher Rebbe said that after the coming of Mashiach—who will bring everyone back to Torah observance—everyone will become a tzaddik). The chaotic, messianic lights must be embedded in broad, stable vessels.

Once Rabbi Avraham brought his grandson, Shmuel (later to become the Divrei Shmuel of Slonim) to his Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin, for a blessing. The Rebbe of Kobrin turned to the small child and asked, “Shmuel, who is the Mashiach?”

“The Rebbe [you]!” Shmuel spontaneously answered like a true chassid.

“A Jew like your grandfather—a consummate tzaddik who guards the covenant to the greatest extent—is a person worthy of being the Mashiach,” the Rebbe of Kobrin responded.

Not long afterwards, the Rebbe of Kobrin passed away and Rebbe Avraham of Slonim was appointed to succeed him.

The Rebbe of Kobrin taught the child an important rule: Despite our amazement with the chaotic lights (that characterize a tzaddik who is similar to a ba’al teshuvah, in this respect), ultimately, what we need for redemption are rectified vessels, something that truly characterizes a tzaddik who is the personification of guarding the covenant to the greatest extent.

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