Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Igros Kodesh

Ever since Gimel Tamuz, chassidim of the Lubavitcher Rebbe have been writing letters to the "Igros Kodesh" [Holy Letters] - the 24 volumes of books containing letters written by the Rebbe during his lifetime.   A letter or "pan" is written and a random volume of the Igros is chosen and opened: sometimes a miraculous answer to the question posed is received, and sometimes not.  There is great debate over whether this practice is kosher or not, and also why some people receive answers, and some do not.  

Some Lubavitchers will tell you that it depends on your emunah.  If you believe enough, you will get an answer.  But just as before Gimel Tamuz, sometimes the Rebbe would respond to a question, and sometimes he would not.  The same thing applies to the Igros answers.

Rabbi Yosef Yeshaya Braun [ex-Sydney and now a member of the Crown Hts Beth Din] gives his definitive response to the practice of writing to the Rebbe, via the Igros, for an answer to a question.

Rabbi Braun:

The hardest questions are those having to do with Igros Kodesh.  When people open to an answer in the Igros Kodesh and they come to me with it, I tell them that these are the most difficult questions because I never did shimush (i.e. hands-on rabbinic internship) in this.

I did shimush with my grandfather and other rabbanim in various areas of halacha but with this, there are no clear-cut rules.  There are no “Rules of Igros Kodesh.”  And to a certain extent, it depends on hergesh (feeling).

People are inclined to grasp at signs like the date of the letter or to whom it is addressed.  On the one hand, they have upon whom to rely because to a certain extent, the whole inyan of answers through the medium of the Igros Kodesh is based upon the traditional Jewish practice (which the Rebbe praised), to open a Chumash or another seifer and to look for signs.

On the other hand, we tend not to regard an answer we open to in the Igros Kodesh as merely a sign, but as an answer from the Rebbe.  People write a letter to the Rebbe and expect a response.  So when they come to me with questions about the answers they opened to, I have to see whether there is a clear answer and if there isn’t, I am inclined to think (although there is no doubt that the Rebbe always responds and blesses, impacting the actual events in our lives) that this is because we don’t always receive an answer from the Rebbe in writing.

In several sichos of 5748, the Rebbe said that when questions arise in health matters, to speak to a doctor-friend; in parnasa matters – to knowledgeable friends.  Also, in the sicha of 2 Adar 5748 of “come and let us make an accounting of the world,” it says to refer all questions to three Chassidishe rabbanim.  Does asking the Rebbe questions in the Igros Kodesh contradict this instruction from the Rebbe?

When we talk about writing to the Rebbe, we must differentiate between requests for a bracha and questions on various matters.  The Rebbe told us that we can continue asking him for brachos.  Today, when we cannot ask the Rebbe directly, we should write to the Rebbe for a bracha.  Ditto for reports of our activities – we should continue sending them to the Rebbe.

Requests for brachos using s’farim of the Rebbe is an old Chabad practice.  We know that Chassidim would put panim in a Tanya, like it says explicitly in the Rebbe’s letter for Yud Shevat 5711, that after reading a pan it “should be placed among the pages of a maamer, kuntres etc. of the teachings of the Rebbe, my father-in-law, and sent to him (if possible, that day) so it can be read at his gravesite.”

This was the practice of Chassidim when they needed a bracha immediately and could not contact the Rebbe (because in those days there were no faxes or emails and even telephone service was expensive and not always handy).  They would write their request for a bracha and put it in a volume of the Rebbe’s teachings, with the knowledge that as soon as they did so, the Rebbe received it and gave his bracha.

However, when you want to ask the Rebbe a question and receive a response, in that sicha of 2 Adar 5748 the Rebbe makes it clear that all questions should be referred to three Chassidishe rabbanim.

I was in 770 at the time and I heard that sicha.  The hanacha of the sicha wasn’t written as clearly as the sicha itself was said.  The Rebbe reviewed these guidelines a number of times and it is impossible to explain what the Rebbe said in any other way.

At the time, when the Rebbe said that certain questions should be referred to mashpiim or doctor-friends or knowledgeable friends, there were Chassidim who refused to accept this and they wrote the Rebbe that they wanted to continue asking him directly.  The Rebbe responded that when you follow the guidance of knowledgeable friends, he is conveying his answer through them.  In the years that followed, the Rebbe said that after 40 years, the sensibilities of the talmid become like the sensibilities of the teacher.

Yet people do ask questions using the Igros Kodesh and many open to amazingly precise answers.

There’s no question that after this practice has spread and we see amazing answers from the Rebbe to many people, that this is (as the Chasam Sofer put it) a “mofes chai” (living miracle) and “experience the ultimate witness,” that the Rebbe answers even those who ask him questions.

However, we should not be doing the opposite of what the Rebbe told us to do! And as I said, this is not a horaa that is debatable.  It’s a clear horaa that the Rebbe repeated a number of times in that sicha.  I don’t understand how Chassidim can ignore a clear horaa of the Rebbe.  A Chassid who wants to fulfill the Rebbe’s horaos should do as the Rebbe said and ask his questions according to the guidelines the Rebbe set out.

It is possible that a rav or knowledgeable friends will decide that they cannot answer his question, and will tell him to write to the Rebbe.  In the Igros Kodesh we find that Rabbi Dvorkin was asked about a certain thing, and he said it was a spiritual question and should be asked of the Rebbe.  Although the Rebbe usually refrained from answering halachic questions and referred the questioner to a rav, in this case, the Rebbe responded.

There are however, many Chassidim who write any questions and put them in the Igros Kodesh.  Maybe it’s because they don’t know the Rebbe’s explicit guidelines or for other reasons.  Sometimes the answer they open to isn’t clear, and they go to a rav for him to explain it.  Although the rav has to try and explain it, since they wrote already, he needs to tell them that if they want to fulfill the Rebbe’s horaos, these questions should be asked of Chassidishe rabbanim from the outset.

I’ll put it this way – those who ask the Rebbe questions through the Igros Kodesh are doing this on their own responsibility, while those who ask Chassidishe rabbanim are fulfilling the Rebbe’s horaa.

I’ll emphasize yet again, all of this is just about shailos (questions).  When it comes to requests for brachos (blessings), the Rebbe said we can continue asking him directly and based on the Chabad practice of putting a pan in the pages of the Rebbe’s teachings, we can certainly ask the Rebbe for brachos through the Igros Kodesh.

More from Rabbi Braun's interview at : Chabad.Info
Related: Igros Kodesh Story from Chabakuk Elisha A Simple Jew


Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver said...

Re asking questions of Chassidishe Rabbonim, see here.

Re the Rebbe answering questions even after his Histalkus, see here.

Anonymous said...

See this video Asking the advice of a Tzaddik