Reb David Chein, the rav of Chernigov, was late for his yechidus with his rebbe, Reb Shmuel of Lubavitch. Not wanting to bother the rebbe unduly, he thought to wait in the room next to the rebbe’s study and ask his question when the rebbe was through with his last interview. The rebbe’s assistant soon joined him, carrying a fresh change of clothes.
The attendant nodded to the clothes he was holding and said, “I don’t understand why he needs to change after yechidus. And yet, when he comes out, the rebbe is dripping with perspiration. The entire period is but a single hour, and the rebbe sits at his desk the whole time. I mean, he doesn’t move or do anything physical, and yet he sweats as if he were a laborer. After all,” the attendant said sarcastically, “it isn’t as if yechidus is such hard work!”
Just then the rebbe opened his door. Looking straight at the attendant, he said, “Your services are no longer needed. Please go home. I will have your wages delivered to you there.”
Stunned, the attendant handed the rebbe his clothes, turned, and quickly walked away.
“Do you want to know why I perspire so?” the rebbe called after him. Red-faced, the man turned and said sheepishly, “Yes, Rebbe, I do.”
“Over the past hour I have received twenty-five Hasidim for yechidus. If I am to understand each person’s situation, I must divest myself of my clothes and dress myself in his. If I am to give him good advice, I must remove his clothes and change back into mine, for while in his clothes I can see only what he sees, and if he saw a way out of his dilemma he would not have come to me in the first place. So for the past hour I have undressed and dressed myself fifty times. It is very hard work!”
True meeting with another requires you to strip away the self; otherwise all you see is your own projection. Yechidus is this profound stripping away. Reb Shmuel, however, is sharing with us only the rebbe’s side of yechidus. If the rebbe is to dress in the Hasid’s clothes, the Hasid must be willing to stand naked to his or her situation. This is, of course, metaphor. The clothes are our conditioned thoughts, words, and deeds by which we define ourselves, and they, in turn, create the reality we encounter. Both the rebbe and the Hasid must see clearly how we condition our reality to reinforce the fit of the clothes we wear.
The rebbe learns what it is to be this Hasid, and the Hasid learns what it is to confront the world without clothes, without habits of thought, word, and deed. When the rebbe returns the clothes to the Hasid, he is inviting the Hasid to see things from this new perspective. And, since the rebbe knows the inner life of the Hasid, he can help him do just that.
Rav: Rabbinic leader.
Yechidus (from Hebrew for “unity”): The spiritual direction of a Hasid by the rebbe. The word suggests that the rebbe merges with the soul of the Hasid to see where, in this life or a past life, some misalignment with God has occurred. The rebbe then returns to the world of seeming duality and instructs the Hasid on how to repair the relationship with the Divine.