Part I: Saying Yechi
In this section, we will examine the Rebbe’s stance on publicizing that he is Moshiach. Please note that this entire discussion is about (publicizing and) saying Yechi before Gimmel Tammuz (in Part II below, we will address the post-Gimmel Tammuz era).
A. The Rebbe as Moshiach
At the time (before Gimmel Tammuz), it was the accepted belief among Chassidim that the Rebbe is Moshiach. There are a few reasons for this:
1. The Rebbe was a very good candidate for the job.
In Hilchos Melachim ch. 11, the Rambam lists the qualifications that someone who is Moshiach would have, and, save for a little interpretation, they fit the Rebbe well. The Rebbe is a descendant of Beis Dovid; the Rebbe was a leader (not exactly a “king”, but who is a king nowadays?); the Rebbe obviously fulfilled the condition of toiling in Torah and Mitzvos; the Rebbe was bringing many thousands of Jewish people back to Torah (=”forcing” in a nice way); and as for “fighting the wars of Hashem”, first of all we can forgive one condition (“wars of Hashem” doesn’t really even exist nowadays, right?). And secondly, the Rebbe was politically involved in actual wars, as well as disputes for the sake of Hashem, so maybe that’s close enough.
In short, according to the identification method that the Rambam set forth, it seemed acceptable — appropriate, even — to assume the Rebbe was Moshiach.
2. It is the belief of chassidim that their Rebbe would be Moshiach.
[There are many hints among the Rebbe’s vast works that he could be considered Moshiach, starting from his very first ma’amar, basi l’gani 5711. However, I won’t go into those; why do we need hints if it’s stated explicitly?]
In his sicha of Parshas Naso, 5720, the Rebbe told a story of when the Frierdiker Rebbe came out with his announcement “l’alter l’teshuva l’alter l’ge’ulah”, and the Chassidim publicized this with the addition that it was referring to the (Frierdiker) Rebbe himself (i.e. that he is Moshiach).
In the sicha of the 5th night of Sukkos, 5747, the Rebbe said: “Chassidim in every generation believed with complete faith — and had we merited, it would have actually happened physically — that the Rebbe of his generation (like the leader of our generation) would have actually been Moshiach, had we merited it.”
In Kuntres Beis Rabeinu Sheb’bavel par. 5, the Rebbe writes, “…the leader of the generation is also the Moshiach of the generation… as is known that in every generation there is ‘one who, by his piety, is fitting to be the redeemer, and when the time comes Hashem will reveal Himself to him and will send him [to redeem the Jewish people]….’ And it is reasonable to assume that this refers to the leader of the generation, as the Gemara makes clear with regard to R’ Yehudah Hanassi: ‘Rav said… if Moshiach is of those who are currently living, it is definitely Rabbeinu Hakadosh,’ [i.e.] the leader of the generation.”
[Interestingly, it is apparent from these sources that the idea of the Rebbe being Moshiach is an idea of chassidim/talmidim. We sometimes find a completely different perspective from Rebbeim, for example R’ Akiva believing that Bar Kochba was Moshiach; or the Alter Rebbe saying that Moshiach must be a non-chassid; or in the Rebbe’s case, when in response to many who addressed their letters to “the Rebbe Melech Hamoshiach”, the Rebbe said, “when he will arrive I will give it to him.” (However, see Sanhedrin 98b, where R’ Nachman claims himself to be Moshiach.)]
For a discussion on Sefer Hasichos 5751, Tazria-Metzora footnote 67; as well as Gemara Sanhedrin 98b, see below, Part II D4 and B1 respectively.
B. Did the Rebbe want us to say Yechi?
Before we begin, it must be emphasized that nowhere, at no time, did the Rebbe ever instruct or tell anyone to publicize that he is Moshiach. This is simply an indisputable fact. Stated in other words, this movement of publicizing that the Rebbe is Moshiach was started by Chassidim, without the Rebbe’s instruction or consent, neither orally, in writing, or even hinted. Consequently, the only question here is whether or not the Rebbe eventually supported this movement.
The Rebbe’s stance on this issue couldn’t have been more plain. For this discussion, it is imperative to read this document on Publicizing the Identity of Moshiach. It is a comprehensive collection of sichos and answers (many well-known by anyone who was around at the time) that the Rebbe said about publicizing that he is Moshiach. From the entire collection, the Rebbe’s position is abundantly clear that he was adamantly against anybody publicizing that he is Moshiach. Of them, there are three pieces that stick out in my mind:
1. “This is a specific and general war against me!”
In the month of Iyar, 5744, Rabbi Wolpo wanted to print his book “Yechi Hamelech,” in which he attempt to demonstrate, with numerous hints, that the Lubavitcher Rebbe is Moshiach. After he sent the Rebbe the book’s proofs, he immediately received the Rebbe’s answer, written in the Rebbe’s handwriting, and read over the telephone by Rabbi Hodakov. The Rebbe’s words were:
“Telephone him in my name the following:
“It is apparent that he is feigning as though he doesn’t understand what I already answered before, that it is possible to do much damage to Chabad, rachmana litzlan, and to the spreading of the wellsprings, through writing on this theme – and my intention was mainly to him; enough said.
“Now I warn him that he must stop speaking, writing, and how much more so, publicizing, especially in print, anything pertaining to Moshiach – whether in his own name, under an assumed name, through an intermediary or the like – with whatever kuntz he may concoct, and in whatever format or manner that may be. And if, chas v’sholom, he goes ahead and does anything in this regard, he should know clearly that this is a specific and general war against me.
“Obviously the above includes any interpretations of matters regarding Moshiach in the Rambam or other Seforim, Chassidic discourses and anything of the like.”
It may seem astounding that the Rebbe would tell someone not to talk about anything related to Moshiach, but in Rabbi Wolpo’s case, such a measure was necessary. (This is also evident from the fact that he did not listen to the Rebbe, but still kept talking in this manner as before, and asking the Rebbe again multiple times (!) to “rethink” his answer.)
The Rebbe said something similar publicly in a sicha on Shabbos Parshas Bereishis, 5745:
“Therefore, let it be known: Anyone who continues with these activities – is an opponent who fights against Chassidus Chabad, against Nosi Doreinu, the Baal Shem Tov, and even Malka Moshicha… who wants to come… but [can’t, because this person] is furthering people from Chassidus, rachmana litzlan!”
The Rebbe is saying that someone who makes it his business to publicize that the Rebbe is Moshiach, is waging a personal war against the Rebbe. The reason for this is simple. The Rebbe worked his entire life toward one goal: to bring an unprecedented number of Jewish people back to Yiddishkeit, by creating a worldwide network of Shluchim who would spread Yiddishkeit and Chassidus throughout the entire world. However, publicizing that the Rebbe is Moshiach has the effect of alienating people from Yiddishkeit and Chassidus. It follows, that someone who publicizes that the Rebbe is Moshiach is destroying everything the Rebbe worked for all his life.
In simple terms: those who publicize that the Rebbe is Moshiach (including saying Yechi), are literally fighting the Rebbe and everything he stood for. Can someone like that really be called a chossid of the Rebbe?
2. “They tear me to pieces!”
During the yechidus of Rabbi Tuvya Floss, a Chabad activist from Israel, the Rebbe, among other things, spoke strongly and sharply of Chassidim in Israel (even mentioning names) who go around in the streets announcing the Lubavitcher Rebbe is King Moshiach. The expression the Rebbe used to describe how he felt about this was:
“When they do things like this they tear me to pieces!”
After hearing this, how can any chossid of the Rebbe allow anyone to say Yechi, let alone say it himself?! Even if there was a doubt of a doubt that a chossid could be causing this to his Rebbe, he should be trembling!
3. “I should get up and leave!”
On Shabbos Parshas Noach, Mar-Cheshvan 4, 5752, Chassidim started the farbrengen by singing the “Yechi… Melech HaMoshiach…” [most reports say it was “chayolei adoneinu”]. When they finished singing the Rebbe said:
“This is extremely absurd. Here a song is sung with such words, while I sit here at the table… The truth is that I really should get up and leave!…
“As for why I am not leaving – first of all, whether I do or I don’t, it anyway would not help; and secondly, it would upset the goal of ‘sheves achim gam yachad’ (‘brethren sit even together’) – for if I leave others too will leave, and automatically this opportunity for ‘brethren sit even together’ would be lost. Everyone knows how important this is – as the Rashbi elaborates in the Zohar…”
Can you imagine what would have happened had the Rebbe left the farbrengen? Would he have ever held another farbrengen for chassidim again? Would he have ever said another sicha to the Chassidim after that? What would us chassidim have had to do to regain the Rebbe’s favor? The implications of such a thing are unimaginable.
So consider this: every time someone says or sings Yechi, the Rebbe gets up and leaves. Now let me ask you: would you want to be in a room within which the Rebbe can’t bear to be? In my estimation, if Yechi is sung anywhere publicly, every chossid should be compelled to promptly stand up and leave.
C. Did the Rebbe change his mind?
Notwithstanding the very clear position the Rebbe took in this matter, there were — and still are — many Lubavitchers who believe that the Rebbe “changed his mind” about this issue. This notion itself, chutzpadik as it is, is also baseless, seeing as how the Rebbe consistently stood steadfast in his stance that nobody should publicize him as Moshiach. So where does this notion come from?
As stated above, the Rebbe never explicitly supported publicizing him as Moshiach. As such, all we have are non-explicit (neither orally nor in writing) “hints”, that, if interpreted a certain way, may indicate that the Rebbe supported the movement.
It is self-understood, however, that something the Rebbe said explicitly multiple times — both orally and in writing — in the strongest of terms, can’t be overturned by “hints”, which are neither explicit orally nor in writing. This is an essential problem with any and all of the so-called proofs for saying Yechi. That said, let’s still bring these proofs and see why they can’t be accepted for other reasons as well.
1. The “Non-Answers”
In the last few months before 27 Adar, there were a few times that the Rebbe didn’t specifically say not to publicize him as Moshiach. One example:
In the month of Shvat, 5752, Rabbi Bernard of South Africa asked: In the past the Rebbe expressed his will strongly against calling him Moshiach, but was this still against his will? The Rebbe answered:
“It depends on the conditions in the place it is done. It is up to your local Chabad leadership to decide.”
Some people take this as a “proof” that the Rebbe started allowing chassidim to publicize him as Moshiach. However, besides for the obvious problem mentioned above (that non-answers can’t overturn clear answers), there is another fundamental problem with this proof, and the others like it: At the very same time that the Rebbe gave these answers, and after the Rebbe gave these answers, he still held steadfast (in other answers) to his adamant position against publicizing him as Moshiach (— sometimes to the very same people), as evident from the document referenced above.
But if that’s the case, why did the Rebbe leave it up to the local Chabad leaders? If he was still against the movement, why didn’t he answer as such, as he did all other times? A possible, very simple explanation: The Rebbe had — for close to 10 years — made his position as clear as he possibly could, and now he wanted us to get the message. He wanted chassidim to stop pestering him about their mistaken ideologies, and finally accept the Rebbe’s position in this matter. This is evident from the answer the Rebbe gave to N’shei Chabad:
In Adar I, 5752, the management of Neshei Chabad Organization of New York wrote to the Rebbe about their plan to publicize throughout the world that the Rebbe was Moshiach. The Rebbe answered:
“The job of every management, the aforementioned included, is to manage in the way it understands, and not to ask me to mediate on every subject, that I should be the manager. A notice [to me] is enough, and this should be obvious.”
It’s obvious that in this answer the Rebbe wasn’t encouraging or discouraging publicizing that he is Moshiach. It wasn’t even about that. The Rebbe here is scolding the management of N’shei Chabad for turning to him at every juncture. As he says, “not to ask me to mediate on every subject, that I should be the manager…” The Rebbe is a busy man, and shouldn’t have to deal with every time someone gets it into their head that “maybe the Rebbe changed his mind.” The Rebbe’s position was clear, and he wanted us to finally get on the same page as him.
Let me give you a mundane example: suppose my 3 year old daughter wakes me up at 5:00 am every morning by walking into the bedroom, and I want that to stop. So I sit her down a few nights in a row and explain how sleep is important and ask her to play quietly outside the bedroom until we wake up. At the same time, I lock the bedroom door to ensure she won’t come in. It goes on like this for a few months, until one night, I knowingly leave the bedroom door unlocked. Now, as an objective observer, what would you automatically assume: that a) I have changed my mind, and I now allow and even want my daughter to come in and wake me up every morning; or that b) by now I trust my daughter and don’t think she’ll come in even if the door happens to be unlocked?
Sometimes, all we need to do is take an objective look at something to see the truth of it.
2. The 5753-4 Era
For a year and a half beginning in Tishrei 5753, the Rebbe would be brought to the window, and later onto the balcony, above the shul in 770. There, he would encourage the singing of the chassidim, which for the most part consisted of Yechi.
This, in addition to alleged answers that the Rebbe gave (through nodding or shaking his head), led chassidim to believe that the Rebbe had now changed his position, and that it was now appropriate to publicize that the Rebbe is Moshiach. (It’s important to note that during that time, the Rebbe also gave answers against publicizing he is Moshiach.)
However, there are serious problems with this proof:
1. The same question could be asked as above, whether this encouragement of singing Yechi (a “hint”) in and of itself could overturn the Rebbe’s clear and oft-stated policy not to publicize him as Moshiach.
2. The Rebbe already explained why he didn’t leave the farbrengen at which chassidim were singing Yechi: because it wouldn’t help! In other words, the Rebbe knew that no matter what he did or didn’t do, chassidim wouldn’t listen to him; they would still sing Yechi. So what difference would it have made to the Rebbe if he sat still or waved with his hand; the chassidim did whatever they wanted anyway… (see below.)
[Additionally, the Rebbe also explained that he didn’t leave because it would be counterproductive to the goal of “sheves achim gam yachad.” The same logic could be applied here, that sitting together with his chassidim and communicating with them in some way is a loftier goal than disabusing them of their erroneous ideology.]
However, notwithstanding the baselessness — and sheer chutzpah — of the claim that the Rebbe changed his mind, that doesn’t bother me, as it could be forgiven as a mistake. What really bothers me about this “proof” is the audacity and insensitivity to remember this era (5753-4) for anything good. Before any knee-jerk reactions kick in about what I’m claiming here, please allow me to explain:
Well before 27 Adar, most chassidim knew very well the Rebbe’s position on publicizing him as Moshiach (which included singing Yechi), as illustrated above. Everyone had heard about the extremely sharp answers quoted above, and they knew about the times when Yechi and “chayolei adoneinu” were sung in front of the Rebbe, and the Rebbe’s responses to them. Nevertheless, chassidim consistently (and very audaciously) persisted to sing Yechi in front of the Rebbe (before 27 Adar), and ask him if they should publicize him as Moshiach, all for the sole purpose of seeing whether or not the Rebbe “changed his mind” this time. But regardless of how many times he was asked, and how many time the Rebbe said “no!”, the Rebbe still had to disabuse the chassidim of this notion each and every single time (and if he didn’t say it in the strongest of terms, it would be (and was indeed) seen as a “green-light” by many of them). And so, the game went, with the chassidim pushing the Rebbe to his limit, and the Rebbe attempting to keep chassidim under some modicum of normalcy.
And then 27 Adar happened.
The Rebbe physically couldn’t continue playing his part of the game. One would hope that the chassidim would stop provoking. But instead, the first time the Rebbe came out to the chassidim, what did they do? The very first thing they did was put him through the same nightmare he had to endure for the previous decade. Only this time the Rebbe couldn’t do anything, besides for doing nothing. And that’s exactly what the Rebbe did: nothing. In fact, it took a few weeks of singing Yechi (incessantly) before the Rebbe even acknowledged it (specifically, they started singing Yechi when the Rebbe came out for the first time on Rosh Hashanah 5753, and the Rebbe began responding on Simchas Torah, during the fourth hakafah).
[According to some reports from that time, it seems that in the beginning not everyone sang Yechi. Instead, there were two factions which were singing two different songs simultaneously, one being Yechi, and the other being a different chassidishe niggun. The Rebbe would encourage the niggun that wasn’t Yechi, until everyone was singing that other niggun. (However, I’ve also heard contradictory reports.)]
But we (— at least the majority of us) kept at it. No matter what the Rebbe did — or didn’t do — we kept singing that song, waiting for the Rebbe to finally “change his mind”. What was left for the Rebbe to do? What could the Rebbe do? In my view, all that was left was for the Rebbe to enjoy a few moments with his chassidim, even audaciously rebellious as they were being.
Looking back at that saga, proponents of publicizing the Rebbe as Moshiach view it as a “victory”, or redemption of sorts, for their ideology. It’s not bad enough that we put the Rebbe through this nightmare, pushing him until there was absolutely nothing left for him to do. No; on top of that, we also celebrate this time and use it as the basis for our new way of thinking, as if we finally “beat” the Rebbe and got him to “change” to our side, rachmana litzlan!
You know what I think? (I know; you don’t really care. But still:) I think every single chossid, whether or not we participated in singing Yechi, regardless of whether we were even there, should bury our heads in shame for what we did to our Rebbe in that time. That entire period after 27 Adar should be considered the darkest time in Chassidic history, and remembered only for mourning. Not mourning for the Rebbe, but for chassidim. It should be remembered as the time when chassidim rose up against their Rebbe and didn’t let up, until there was absolutely no other choice…
[On a similar note, I was present recently as someone asked Rabbi Manis Friedman, that in 5753 the Rebbe allowed the printing of a sefer with “Admo”r Melech Hamoshiach” in the Rebbe’s title, which would seem to prove the Rebbe wanted us to publicize him as Moshiach. Rabbi Friedman answered (in Yiddish) that by that time “Chassidim [had] stopped listening (חסידים האבן אויפגעהערט צו פאלגן)…”]