Maayon Yisroel celebrated Yud-Tes Kislev at the Nessah synagogue with inspirational words from Rabbi Wolf, Rabbi Weiss, and a musical program by Israeli American superstar Yonatan Razel. This auspicious day, observed as by Chassidim as a yom tov, commemorates the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezerich (the successor to the holy Baal Shem Tov), and the release from prison twenty-six years later of his youngest student Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (also known as the Alter Rebbe who founded Chabad).
In addition to Yonatan Razel holding his first Los Angeles concert, Rabbi Wolf said he wanted to “[c]onnect the evening and elevate it to a different place.” He said that there is a powerful energy on the nineteenth of Kislev and that all of the events around the world serve as a magnet to draw forth the powerful light of redemption.
Rabbi Wolf gave a brief overview of the Chassidic movement. Chassidism, he said, “revived the Jewish people at a time when the Jewish people were crushed after a period of sixteen or seventeen hundred years of brutal exile and persecution.” He spoke about the holy Baal Shem Tov, who as a young boy learned from his elderly father to believe only in Hashem and love every Jew with all his being. The Baal Shem Tov could look at every Jew and see the holy sparks within. In later years, the Baal Shem Tov’s stories and teachings caused a renaissance in the Ukraine and the entire world.
The Maggid, who was well-versed in every aspect of Torah as well as a great mystic, learned from the Baal Shem Tov how to achieve a deeper soul connection, and he was the successor when the Baal Shem Tov passed away. There was great opposition to the Chassidic movement at that time.
In response, the Maggid created a nucleus of great luminaries to spread the teachings, including Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, Rabbi Nachum of Chernobyl, Reb Schmelke of Nikolsburg, Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz of Frankfurt, Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin, Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk, Rabbi Zusha of Anapoli, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, Rabbi Zev Wolf of Zotamir, and the youngest Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman was a genius, a Torah scholar at an early age, learning on his own until he was 16. He then looked for a Rebbe and had a choice to go to either the Vilna or to Mezerich. He chose to go to Mezerich, where he learned from the Maggid. After the Maggid’s death, he became the leader of Chassidism in Lithuania, which was the center of opposition to his teaching. He was accused of creating a new religious sect, which was illegal in Russia, and in 1798, he was thrown into prison in Petersburg. He made a very positive impression on the Czar due to his wisdom and majestic poise, and the Czar, b’chasdei Hashem, ordered him released from prison in 1798.
Following Rabbi Wolf’s moving speech, Yonatan Razel gave a magnificent two-hour concert, singing many of his hits including chart topping “Vehi She’amdah” with the stirring verse “V’HaKadosh Baruch Hu matzileinu miyadam. – But the Holy One Blessed Be He saves us from their hand.” This song, he said, was a present from Hashem. He hadn’t wanted to be a songwriter. He said, metaphorically, he would sit with his kids by the piano planting seeds and waiting for the rain to come down, and this song came to mind.
Other selections included a pair of Chassidic melodies which he repeated. He said that the test of a great song is that you want to sing it over and over. Razel also sang “Ptach Libcha – Open Your Heart,” which was written by top singers in memory of the three yeshiva students, Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal, hy”d.