We thank our friend Reuven Pollack of Monsey, NY, for letting us know about this moving story, as published in Rabbi Elchonon Lesches, “Chassidic Portraits” (Otzar Sifrei Lubavitch), pp. 3-4. A “yechidus room” is designated for private interviews between a Rebbe and his Chassidim or other visitors. In Chabad, to “think Chassidus” means to contemplate subjects in Chassidic philosophy.
The Rebbe Maharash of Lubavitch: True Penance
A chossid once entered the yechidus room of the Rebbe Maharash (Rabbi Shmuel, 1834-1882) and bemoaned his wily and scheming character. “I do everything with cunning,” he lamented, and asked the Rebbe for advice on how to rectify his shortcomings.
“Fast six hundred times,” came the curt reply. The chossid gazed at the Rebbe in astonishment – “six hundred times?”
“Come now,” the Rebbe continued, “what do you think, fasting means not eating from sunrise to sundown? That would be starvation, not fasting! Rather, fasting means to work on oneself to perfection. Think everyday about your character for fifteen minutes, and I don’t mean to think Chassidus. Simply spend time contemplating your entity, your own existence. Restrict your speech.”
The chossid worked on the Rebbe’s directives for two years, devoting the allotted time each and every day as the Rebbe has instructed. He became a changed man.
When the Rebbe Rashab (R. Shalom Dov-Ber, 1860-1920) related this story to his son, the Frierdiker (“Previous”) Rebbe (R. Yosef Yitzchok, 1880-1950), he added: “Don’t think I mean to say that he was a changed man only in regard to his spiritual faculties. I mean a complete transformation, a metamorphosis. If you would have seen him yourself, you would have been greatly impressed by the unbelievable difference this ‘fasting’ made on him. His very nature changed!”
When the Frierdiker Rebbe repeated this story in 1944, he added: “There is a Talmudic expression – ‘this means to teach us,’ and this story has what to teach us. Namely, that every individual should think about his entity for fifteen minutes a day.”