The Chernobler Rebbe, the Me'or Aynayim, R' Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl (1930-1797), was looked upon as the youngest student of the Ba'al Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement. There are even stories of some Chassidic Masters who chose the Chernobler rebbe to be his successor, and not the Maggid of Metzrich (d. 1772). Reb Pichas of Koretz laments that because of the Maggid's appointment he didn't merit to be the disciple of the Chernobler. Other voices claim that had the Chernobler been picked as the Ba'al Shem Tov's successor the movement would have never split into the many 'schools' and dynasties as it has through the generations. It is hard to imagine, even though it is true, that at times when two families from different Chassidic communities marry off their children to each other, it is considered "inter-marriage". When I visited the Slonim community for the first time some twenty years ago, one of the women that spoke to me said, in response to my question regarding affiliation: "I'm eighth generation Slonim!" with unquestionable pride.
There is one tradition which is documented in the official writings of the Chernobyl dynasty that I find myself coming back to time and again. It is taught, not only in the Chernobyl dynasty, that when a Chassidic Master gave over teachings during the Third-Meal, the s'udah shlishit, it was a time of prophecy. His words were perceived as if he were channeling the Shekhinah. Truth be told, I have no problem with this concept at all... The time of the Third-Meal, the s'udah shlishit, is considered to be, in our mystical teachings, the peak of the Shabbat. The time of the union of the Divine masculine and feminine, the Kudsha-Brich-Hoo and the Shekhintei. If you can imagine this moment, when the Chassidim are sitting in the dark, chanting niggunim, melodies that enhance an altered state of consciousness, and it is from this space of departure that the Rebbe begins to share words of Torah that come from a higher source. A moment in the Shabbat where our hearts are open, our yearning for a moment of bliss and peace that we have held on to since lighting candles the night before is heightened as the Shabbat begins to slip away. This experience is shared throughout the Chassidic communities.
What distinguished the Chernobyl dynasty from others is the rendition of these teachings! There are many forms in which Chassidic teachings have reached us. Only a minority actually were written by the Rebbe himself or were even published in his life time. Much of what we have was documented by the disciples and printed after the death of the Rebbe. Sometimes close enough to the death of the Rebbe, such as the case of the Or Hameir (R' Ze'ev Wolf of Zhitomer, d.1798), that we can lend ourselves to the belief that the Rebbe actually saw the written version of his teachings. In the Chernobyl tradition what is brought down through the generations is that the Chassidim would write down, immediately on motzei Shabbat, Saturday night, everything they remembered the Me'or Aynayim saying during the Third-Meal, the s'udah shlishit, and then they would bring it to him for revision. It is told that whatever he remembered saying he would have his disciples burn. He said that if he remembered saying it then this means that it come from him, and not from the Shekhinah. It was his teachings and not words that were channeled from a higher source. Hence, based on this tradition, the only teachings we have in the whole book of the Me'or Aynayim are teachings that the Rebbe didn't remember saying. It is for this reason that I am most interested in the Torah portions that we have no teachings of his whatsoever. I continuously question, in light of this tradition, what was it about these specific portions that he would remember everything he said every year. One thing I do know for a fact - Chassidic Masters did not have an annual contract that brought with it vacations on identical given shabbatot every year.
This week's Torah portion brings me back to this tradition. The Me'or Aynayim does have a teaching for this week's Torah portion, but only one! With four chapters that are so rich with events - Yoseph's dreams; Ya'akov's love for Yoseph; the rivalry of the siblings and Yoseph being sold to slavery; Yehuda and Tamar; Yoseph in Potifar's home and what this entailed; the dreams of the Baker and Wine Butler and their decoding. I can't not ask why a portion so rich in details and figures is so bereft in the Chernobler's teachings.
The one teaching, you may want to know, is on the pasuk, the verse "And Yisrael loved Yoseph". The Me'or Aynayim begins with a statement, rather than a question. He states that "it is known that the Torah is eternal in every human being, and in all times. She precedes the world and was garmented in the stories of the patriarchs... but in any event, it has to be so in all times and is called Torah like the linguistic use of the word Morah (teaching, guiding), and we have to understand what is this pasuk teaching us here."
The Torah, for the Chernobler Rebbe, is not a historical document but rather a garment of God's light. The Torah is a garment that manifests God's light in all people, in all times. It is a blueprint that defines the totality of who we are! The question that the Me'or Aynayim would be challenging each and every one of us with is, how do all these pivotal moments in our tradition define us and mold us? He would ask us, for example, based on the first pasuk of our Torah portion, "What does it mean for each and every one of us to dwell in our parental definitions of living in the world that we live in?" Or perhaps, as Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (d. 1809) understands the word "megurei" not as 'dwelling' but rather as 'fear' (magore), and thus would ask, "Have we inherited our ancestral fears?"
It is in this spirit that what the Ma'or Aynayim leaves us with, as sitting with this Torah portion, is not his rendition of all these intricate stories, but rather the essential question of how we, individually, are mirrored in these stories. How do the voices of Yosef, Ya'akov, the 'Brothers', Tamar, Yehuda, Potifar, Mrs. Potifar, the Baker and Wine Butler, and even those that have just been born - Zerach and Peretz - how do they manifest in who we are, and how we live our lives. Who are you and whose voices do you carry in your actions, whether consciously or not?
May we find time during the hour of the Third-Meal, the s'udah shlishit, to channel the Divine Spark within each and every one of us, to see ourselves, to hear ourselves, to be ourselves!