Friday, January 20, 2012

Calling the Rebbes House at 3am?

Did the Rebbe even have a private life? Or his Rebbetzin?

She served faithfully at her husband’s side, sharing not only his work but his belief that every Jew was their priority. The Avner Institute presents the following encounter with one of the Rebbe’s secretaries which deeply reflects the 24/7 dedication of the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin.

Good Shabbos

The following was told at a Chassidic gathering in Jerusalem 2003 by the Rebbe’s secretary Rabbi Binyomin Klein:

It was a winter morning in 1966, about 3:30 a.m. The Rebbe had left for home already—rather early, considering that there had been no private audience that night.

Just then a phone rang in the secretariat’s office. An employee picked up and asked, “Who is it?”

“Who is it?” he asked.

“My baby,” came a frantic woman’s voice. “He just fell—he’s been badly hurt.”
Apparently the doctors were arguing over procedures because of the baby's critical condition.

“Please, can you contact the Rebbe for me?” she cried. “I need a blessing right away, and his advice.”

“I’m very sorry,” the secretary explained, “but the Rebbe has already left. I’m afraid this will have to wait until morning. But I promise—I’ll ask the Rebbe first thing.”

The mother pleaded, "It's a matter of life and death. I need an answer now."

Placing the woman on hold, the secretary stared at the phone, deep in thought. The Rebbe might already be fast asleep. And yet . . . .

At last he decided to give it a try. If the phone was answered, he would ask forgiveness for calling so late.

He dialed uneasily.

The Rebbetzin answered. "Ver ret (who is talking)?"

The secretary gave his name and immediately said, "I am terribly sorry for calling so late," and proceeded to give his forgiveness speech—“how it was a chutzpah (nerve) to call at this hour.”

Then he continued, “But there is a lady here in desperate need. She says it is a matter of life and death." He described her plight.

The Rebbetzin exclaimed, "Why on earth are you asking forgiveness? On the contrary, this is what my husband and I are here for. We are meant to serve Jews twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. For us, there is no ‘time off.’ By your calling us you are helping us fulfill our mission."

The Rebbe - Being an Engineer Myself

The Rebbe seldom spoke of personal history, or of issues in which he was involved. Nevertheless, there were times when his opinions, in private correspondence and in public speech, reflected a profound range of both secular and religious knowledge.

One painful example, in the 1950's, was the “kosher ships” that traveled on Shabbos in the U.S. and Israel. The Avner Institute presents a letter to a visiting student, Marilyn Bell, where the Rebbe, drawing on scientific background, describes in expert detail the workings of an ocean liner and the technical reasons why they create a Sabbath desecration. With special thanks to Rabbi Reuven Leigh, director of Chabad at Cambridge, UK.

Good Shabbos

By the Grace of G-d
21 Shevat 5718
Brooklyn, NY
Miss Marilyn Bell
c/o Diane Hotel
237 Madison Avenue
New York 16, New York
Blessing and Greeting:

I was pleased to receive your letter of January 30th, in which you wrote about your spending your vacation at home, after which you planned to return to your studies in New York. I am gratified to note that you do not content yourself with your own progress in Hebrew Studies, but that you are trying to use your good influence with your friends in that direction. This kind of benevolent effort expresses in the best possible way the commandment of “Love thy fellow-Jew,” which is the great principle of our Torah. For, if helping a fellow-Jew in material things is so great a mitzvah, how much more so helping one spiritually, in matters of Torah and mitzvoth, which are eternal.

Moreover, the mitzvah of Sabbath observance that you write about is one of the most fundamental ones, and as the rabbis stated in the Talmud (Jerusalemi, Nedarim 319) that the Sabbath equals in importance all the other mitzvoth combined. By the same token Sabbath desecration is one of the gravest transgressions, so that Rabbis have ruled that he who publicly desecrates the Sabbath is regarded as if he was desecrating the entire Torah.

I mention this particularly in reference to your inquiry regarding the disgraceful Sabbath desecration which is perpetrated by the Jewish ocean liner. The claim that everything is done automatically during the 24 hours of the Sabbath is completely absurd, and I state it with the fullest authority, being an engineer myself, and having studied also marine mechanics. For one thing, certain machinery cannot be operated automatically especially those in connection with the steering, radio communication, services, and similar ones.

Secondly, even those machines which can operate automatically are required by their very operation, as well as by international law, to be checked periodically every few hours, which involves direct Sabbath desecration a corresponding number of times during the 24-hour period of the Sabbath.

Thirdly, certain so-called automatic machines, including some of the boilers, require change of parts periodically, approximately every six hours, when the affected sections of these machines are stopped and restarted for the said purpose, diminishing or extinguishing the fire and them starting it again.

In addition to the above, there are so many other instances on a ship plying the high seas which involved Sabbath desecration, as anyone who is familiar with the technical aspects of modern shipping will know. For instance, the water which is supplied for drinking, and even the running water in the cabins, is derived from the seawater by a process of distillation, which, as you no doubt know, means the boiling and evaporating of the water and converting it back to distilled water by cooling.

The water supply is not stored for days ahead, not even for 24 hours, because of the storage room that it would require, but is produced simply by a continuous process of distillation. In other words, even if the entire crew consisted of non-Jews, the water could not be used by the passengers on the ship several hours after the Sabbath had begun, because the water supply from before Sabbath would have been exhausted, and the crew would be providing fresh water on the Sabbath, specifically for the Jewish passengers, the use of which Jewish laws prohibits until several hours have elapsed after the termination of the Sabbath.

The same is true of the lighting system. This law would apply even if only a majority of the passengers were Jews; how much more so in the case of the Jewish ships which carry almost exclusively Jewish passengers, for it is on their behalf that the ship is operated and the machines are regulated, involving flagrant violation of the Sabbath. Only one who has no conception of how much machines are operated can be made to believe the absurd claim that an ocean liner can, for 24 hours, be operated automatically, without any Sabbath desecration.

Unfortunately, there have been rabbis who have been misled, and have misled others, on this subject. In their ignorance of the technical aspects involved, and under the influence of misleading statements by technicians who, for reasons of their own, did not choose to disclose all the facts, the rabbis have regretfully been misled into thinking, or even declaring openly, that no Sabbath desecration was here involved.
You mention in your letter that one of your friends has spoken to a captain of a Jewish boat, who is said to have declared that his boat was operated automatically on the Sabbath. In this connection, I would like to enclose a copy of a questionnaire which I sent a year ago to an executive of the shipping company, who had claimed that the ships are navigated automatically during the Sabbath. This communication remained unanswered to this day, for obvious reasons, for I am sure there will not be found anyone who will state that any of the enumerated items can be worked automatically, if he has any regard for truth and does not wish to be caught in making false statements.

I would like to comment also on your reference regarding the kashruth of the food served in the said ships. You can easily see, and any rabbi will confirm this, that when food is served by Jews who openly desecrate the Sabbath (as on the ships), the kashruth of such food is under a serious question mark. Moreover, even if a mashgiach (supervisor) is engaged to supervise the kashruth on these ships, it would not change the situation, since the mashgiach himself would be guilty of open Sabbath desecration, and his reliability as a mashgiach would thereby be “jeopardized.”
The question has been asked: If the operation of the Jewish ships involves such a violation of the Jewish law, why is there no storm of protest raised in the Holy Land to stop it? The answer will become self-evident from the following two instances:

a) For some ten years the supply and distribution of milk in the Holy Land has been in the hands of cooperatives and farms, many of which have been known to raise pigs and under very strong suspicion of tackling with the milk, which therefore made the milk trefah. Yet, until late last summer, nothing was done about it, until finally Rabbi Nissim stepped in and banned such milk, inducing the guilty farmers to give up their pig breeding, since they did not want to lose the more lucrative milk business. No doubt you have read about it in the papers. Surely, no one would declare cow’s milk mixed with pig’s milk as kosher, yet for years this disgraceful thing went on unchallenged.

(b) Fact #2 is connected with Sabbath violation, which had for a long time been practiced by the paper factory in Hadera. This, too, was only recently stopped by Rabbi Nissim when he banned such paper from use by publishers of sacred literature. Again the issue was not in doubt, for no one will say that Torah permits a Jewish paper factory, because it is in the Holy Land, to operate on the Sabbath.
Finally, I must forestall another “argument” in connection with the Jewish ships. Some interested parties refer to a book written by Rabbi Waldenberg, in which the legal aspects and conditions under which a Jewish ship could, theoretically, run its course on the Sabbath, are examined. This book is “cited” as purportedly giving approval to travel on the Jewish ships during the Sabbath. How misleading this is can easily be seen from the fact that none of the mitigating requirements mentioned in the book have actually been met in practice, and the conditions prevailing on these ships are precisely such as make the operation of the ships a definite violation of the Torah.

I want to mention here that last year that a group of Jewish girls who were planning to go to the Holy Land on one of these ships, on learning of the Sabbath desecration that it involved, changed their plans and went by air instead. I believe they belong to the Mizrachi and Poel Hamizrachi. These girls certainly deserve credit. Actually, would it not be ridiculous, were it not for the grave issue involved, for a person desirous to go to the land which is regarded as holy even by non-Jews, that he should choose a way of transportation which involves the open violation of one of the Ten Commandments, namely, the commandment of “Keep the Sabbath Day holy,” which, as we noted above, equals in magnificence all the commandments observed.

I trust that you surely know that the Shulchan Aruch begins with the admonition, “Do not be influenced by scoffers” (cf. Tur and Rema, Orach Chaim, beginning of par. 1). I sincerely hope that this will be so in your case, and may G-d help you to save others from open desecration of the Sabbath, which, even when committed unwittingly, is one of the most serious offences, especially as, insofar as the onlooker is concerned, the distinction between conscious or unwitting Sabbath desecration does not apply.

With prayerful wishes for your success in all your affairs, and in connection with the above in particular.

With blessing,

A Kosher Holistic Center?

Avner Institute presents a letter to Doctor Yehuda Landes, wanting to open a holistic center for fellow Jews, where the Rebbe’s response reveals remarkable insight – not only as to the need for proper guidance, but the use of “alternate therapies” within a Torah framework.

Good Shabbos

21 Adar II, 5738
Brooklyn, NY
Dr. ---
Palo Alto, CA
Sholom uBrocho:

Thank you for your letter of 13 Adar II. I appreciate your comprehensive response to my letter and memorandum on the need to organize widespread use of T.M. and similar techniques in psychotherapy compatible with the Torah with the double objective of making such therapy available to Jewish patients in a kosher way and at the same time saving numerous Jews from getting involved with avoda zora [idolatry] as now commonly practiced in the USA.

Needless to say, I noticed your suggestions and observations in this connection with understandable interest.

In reply, let me first say that, as a general principle, so long as the said two objectives can best be served, whatever project is determined to be most effective is most desirable, and, of course, acceptable to me.

There are, however, some points in your response which need careful assessment. For instance, the suggestion that an Institute employing the said healing techniques might be linked with a strictly Orthodox, even Lubavitch, orientation should be examined in light of its being a possible, or even likely, deterrent for many candidates who might hesitate to turn to such an institute for fear that it may impose upon them religious demands and commitments which they are not yet prepared to accept.

The above is not to say that the idea should be rejected out of hand, since there may be individuals who would not be deterred by it. But I believe that if the project is to attract a wider circle of candidates for therapy, it would have a wider acceptance of it is not overtly tied in with such an orientation, or discipline; at any rate, not in the initial stage.

Needless to say, the emphasis is on the overt orientation of the projected Institute, which should have no religious or other preconditions for anyone seeking its services. But the Institute itself should, of course, be run in strict keeping with the Torah, with a kosher, indeed glatt kosher, kitchen, strict Shabbos observance, with mezuzot on all doors—just as there are glatt kosher hotels and institutions.
With regard to the basic point you make in your letter, namely, that most people for whom our plan is envisaged consider themselves “normal” and would not be interested in a program that offers professional (medical) services, but would prefer a more simplistic setup for relaxation, etc.—this should certainly be taken into account, since the ultimate goals of our plan would not be affected. And, if as you suggest, this would be the more practical setup for attracting more people and achieving our two objectives—healing and elimination of avoda zara—then by all means, this method should be given due consideration.

I would like to make a further point, though entirely not in my domain, namely, in reference to hypnosis as one of the techniques used in psychotherapy, as mentioned in your letter.

I have always been wary of any method that deprives a person of the free exercise of his will, and which puts him in the power of another person, even temporarily—except, of course, in case of pikuach nefesh [saving a life]. Certainly I would not favor the use of such a method on a wider scale, least of all to encourage psychologists and psychiatrists enrolled in our program to use it.

Finally, a point which for understandable reasons I did not want to mention in my letter accompanying the memorandum: If in the first stage of implementing the program there would be need for funding the initial outlay, my secretariat would make such funds available.

Your further comments will be welcome, and many thanks again.
With blessing,
M. Schneerson

Elie Wiesel - I am No Chabadnik

What exactly makes a “Chabadnik”? Why are Chabad Houses seen everywhere, on campuses and communities from Alaska to Australia?

The Avner Institute presents a tribute by famed humanitarian Elie Wiesel on this distinctive breed—the young couples who willingly, and often at great self-sacrifice, devote themselves to the Rebbe’s outreach, and who have helped to make Chabad so widely popular, With special thanks to Rabbi Moshe Langer and Rabbi Levi Margolin.

Good Shabbos

By Elie Wiesel

As known, Chabad means carrying through a mission. A mission of Chabad and a mission of the Rebbe, its leader, missions from the Rebbe to his admirers, from follower to follower; from emissary to the mass public.

Chabad also means emissaries: these remarkable young men and women whom the Rebbe sends to the closest and far distant places, wherever Jewish people live, and wherever one has to spread Judaism and rekindle the Jewish spark of faith, hope, and redemption.

I would like to offer them a public expression of gratitude and thanks. Let the world know that even in human deserts, Jewish people are not left alone; let the Jewish and Chassidic world know that in the most abandoned cities and hamlets, in small and even smaller colleges the Chabadniks are there, seeking and reaching out to Jewish students, to affectionately offer them guidance and counseling, to expose them to their “roots” and—quite simple—to warm them up.

This does not mean that they are the only ones. There are also other organizations that do what they can and sometimes even what they should do. There are Hillel Houses, Community Centers, and various educational agencies that dedicate themselves to students, affording them an education in the Jewish spirit. However, Chabad is still different.

I sound like a Chabadnik? In order that no one accuses me of misleading, I usually admit at every Chabad gathering that I am actually not a Chabadnik, but rather a Vishnitzer follower. I am a Vishnitzer descendent and will probably remain an admirer of Vishnitz until the end.

So what? I am also close to the Gerer dynasty; and, quite frankly, I feel very close to the Chassidic movement as a whole. However, Chabad does occupy a special place in the Chassidic world. In the field of disseminating Torah and Judaism amongst Jewish students who have gone adrift, no one can compare with Chabad.

I witnessed this more than once. You arrive in a community somewhere in the South, Midwest, and you meet colleagues and students who speak with great fervor about their relationship with Chabad. If not for the emissaries of Chabad, many young people would have been misled and lured into various cults or drug addiction, etc., G-d forbid.

Thanks to these quiet, modest, but capable emissaries, many young people found an address where to find shelter, where they can meet human beings with warm hearts and talk about their problems. In those places Chabad emissaries are the only contact for youth with the Jewish people and with Judaism.

Seattle and Detroit, Madison and Boston, Amherst, Minneapolis and Chicago—no one has invited them, no one prepared any contacts or apartments for them, and in some cases, no one was even aware of their coming. They just showed up one bright morning and began to seek Jews.

Following the first week, they already had an explicit picture of the situation, what has to be done, where, and how much manpower is needed. The following month they have already organized their own center for the students, educational programs, etc. A year or so later, this small center turns into a huge edifice of activities.

Today we already have, thank G-d, hundreds of big branched-out Chabad centers in the United States of America. They draw the rich and the poor, the religious and the non-committed, the children and their parents. You learn, you pray, you sing, and organize joyful gatherings and rallies.

I wish that other Chassidic movements would envy them and also send emissaries, build schools and educational centers, and would also save Jewish souls—should that be the case our situation would be different.

How come the Chabadniks are the only ones in this field? Can we (or are we allowed to) say that others do not have the same self-sacrifice? G-d forbid. Perhaps it is rooted in the fundamental approach of Chabad to Judaism on the basis of education.
For Chabad, education is a fundamental principle. Second, its dedication is also attributed to the personality of the Rebbe. Every emissary feels that he serves in an army where the Rebbe is its Commander-in-Chief. One goes where the Rebbe asks him to, one fulfills all his requests. When an emissary once expressed his concern to the Rebbe that his center has a great deficit, the Rebbe responded: “Next year, I wish you a greater deficit.”

Come what may, a solution is always found. One finds philanthropists to cover the budget expenditures, one finds Jews who help here and there. “I sought and I found: believe,” the Talmud states. When we deal with seeking, one must have faith.
I am enthusiastically moved by the Rebbe’s emissaries. I see them on the battlefield, I see how they educate children, how they speak to estranged people. How can one stand from the side? One must lend a hand. One must respond by saying, Amen.

I must add that their personal conduct is to be admired. Whatever they or their families do, it is done for the sake of the cause. Their only ambition? To reach out to another young man, another young woman, and bring them closer to Judaism. To awake another heart, another soul, and to save them from assimilation or conversion, G-d forbid, so that their achievements may serve as an example.

I know what you think: The Chabadniks grabbed me, took me into their net. No, I am still a Vishnitzer. If Vishnitz shall establish centers on the colleges, I will praise them a hundredfold. In the meantime, Chabad is the only one doing this.

The Rebbe Opposes - " I Will Try my Best"

“Rebbe, I’ll try.” Why, to the Rebbe, was human effort not enough? Why did “offering one’s best” seem so . . . well, weak and uncommitted?

The Avner Institute presents an insightful letter to a newlywed who learns the dishonesty behind certain words – all talk and no follow-through – and the Rebbe’s simple reply: “Just do it,” and the One Above will help.

Good Shabbos

By the Grace of G-d
27 Elul 5717
Brooklyn, NY

Blessing and Greeting:

I was pleased to receive your letter of September 17th, and was particularly gratified with its contents, that you are well and happy, and gradually taking over your routine activities.

There is a well-known saying to the effect that making a good start sets off a good chain of reaction for continued success. This is especially true in marriage, which begins a new life. Therefore it is important to start it off well, to ensure continued happiness and contentment. May G-d help that this be so in your case.
Most important of all is to start the new life in a way that corresponds with the teachings of our Torah, the Law of Life, and then the going is much easier than one anticipated.

This brings me to the next point. You write that you do not want to use the expression of “promise to do,” but would rather use the expression “to try to do,” as you are afraid to commit yourself, lest you would find it difficult to live up to your promise. Experience has shown that when a person makes a promise to do something, this very promise gives him the strength to carry it out without hesitation, and with greater ease. Whereas, when one does not commit himself, promising only “to try,” or “to do one’s best,” then, when the matter comes up, and there is temptation not to do it, he is more likely to fail, saying to himself that, after all, he did not promise to do it, but only “to try,” and therefore he is not breaking his word, and his conscience doesn’t bother him. That is why I think that you should be determined to observe the laws, etc., and, knowing that you have made a promise to do so, will give you not only greater strength, but also peace of mind, as it would eliminate all doubts and hesitations.

Needless to say, if the things in question were impossible to carry out, there would be no room for making a promise. However, in this case, where it concerns the practical observance of the Divine Commandments, given by G-d, the Creator, Who knows also the abilities of the human beings, it is certain that He would not have commanded to do anything which is beyond one’s power to do, for G-d is the Essence of Goodness, and does not impose a greater obligation that one is capable to fulfill. Moreover, the laws that He commanded are not for His sake, inasmuch as G-d is not deficient of anything, but they are for the good of the observer.

You will recall what I said to you when you were here that, in regard to the practical precepts, the less one debates with himself, but, rather, fulfills them with simple faith in G-d, the easier and the more natural life is, and the more harmony and happiness it brings. For one of the essential aspects of the Torah is to serve G-d with joy. Such service is carried out, not only through the act of fulfillment of a certain precept, such as putting on tefillin, or the lighting of candles, etc., but every action, word, and thought, which are dedicated to G-d with a spirit of joy of being able to serve the Creator, brings additional light in one’s world, and in the world at large.

On the threshold of the New Year, may it bring blessings to us all, I send you and yours my prayerful wishes for a good and pleasant year, materially and spiritually, with the traditional, and all-embracing blessing of kesivo vechasimo toivo.

Although you do not mention it, I trust that you duly received my two previous letters. As for your question with regard to using certain expressions, you may, of course, use the expression that best describes your thoughts and feelings, and also in any language you find most convenient.

Dear Rebbe, I like you very much.

A six-year-old girl expresses her feelings for the Rebbe. How did the Rebbe reply?

The Avner Institute presents a sweet story from Mrs. Chaya Kahan, whose daughter Rivka, inspired by her mother, wrote a heartfelt letter and received proof of the Rebbe’s willingness to take time off from the thousands of matters crossing his desk to tend to his youngest Chassidim.

Good Shabbos

Mrs. Chaya Kahan relates:

I remember sitting down and writing a letter to the Rebbe. My daughter Rivka, who was then six years old, approached me and asked, “Mommy, what are you writing?”

I replied, “I am writing a letter to the Rebbe for his advice.”

My daughter then continued, “Mommy, will the Rebbe answer you?" When I told her yes, Rivka then asked, “Can I write a letter to the Rebbe also?”
I told her, "Yes.”

My daughter then sat down and wrote the following:

Dear Rebbe, I like you very much.

~Chasia Rivka Kahan.

The Rebbe's Response

Two weeks later, much to my excitement, an envelope came in the mail addressed to Miss Chasia Rivka Kahan. I then called my daughter over, where we sat down and read the letter together:

Miss Chasia Rivka Kahan,

Blessings and Greetings,

I was pleased to receive your letter, and thank you very much for letting me know how you feel.

I am therefore sure that you conduct yourself in a way that is fitting for a Jewish girl, the daughter of Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah, the mothers of our people, about whom you have surely heard about.

With Blessing.
(The Rebbe's signature)

What is the Role of a Chabad Shliach?

What is the role of a “Shliach”? What does it mean to commit to a lifetime of outreach and, wherever a Chabad emissary goes, to carry out the Rebbe’s work?

In honor of this year’s Shluchim Convention, the Avner Institute presents a moving story by Rabbi Shimon Sonnenfeld, of Kiryat Malachi, Israel, of a young “shaliach-in-training” whose Shabbat in a secular kibbutz turns out to be anything but coincidence.
This week’s e-mail is sponsored by Daqri LLC of Los Angeles, California, in honor of Chabad Shluchim around the world. To learn more about Daqri and how it can benefit your community.

Good Shabbos

Rabbi Sonnefeld relates:

One Friday afternoon a van with eight teenage boys, students of Migdal Emek yeshiva in northern Israel, was traveling on a winding road in the Galilee. They made a round every Friday, visiting different settlements in order to give the residents an opportunity to lay tefillin, have their mezuzot checked, and send out pamphlets explaining various mitzvoth.

After hours of traveling and outreach work without a moment of rest, the time had come to return to the yeshiva. They were tired, hungry, and thirsty. “Let’s have a short rest by the roadside,” said one of them. “There seems to be a nice spot over there.”

The boys exited the van and searched for a suitable place. Resting in the shade of a large, ancient olive tree, they drank soda and breathed in the clear air of the Galilee hills.

One of the boys went to lie down in the shade of a tree a short distance away from his companions. In exhaustion he fell fast asleep.

After ten minutes, the boys returned to their van. Since all of them went to different places each Friday and the team frequently changed, nobody noticed that one of the students was missing.

After about an hour, the boy awoke and to his surprise discovered that the van had disappeared. He ran to the road, but there was no trace of the van.

Here he was, alone on a dusty road in the Galilee, and Shabbat was approaching! How would he make his way back to the yeshiva on time? Where would he stay for Shabbat? Where would he eat the Shabbat meals? Where would he pray and listen to the Torah reading? And how would he be able to shower and change his clothes in honor of Shabbat?

On the Road

He started to walk briskly along the road. Perhaps he could reach the main road and find a car that would take him to the yeshiva. But the road was silent and no cars were passing by on that late Friday afternoon.

The sun cast its red rays on his face as it set on the western horizon. The boys hastened his steps in order to reach a settlement before the entrance of the day of rest. However, the only settlements he could see were Arab villages where naturally he had no desire to spend Shabbat.

Since carrying on Shabbat was forbidden, he removed whatever he had in his pockets and placed them under a stone. He was careful to leave a certain sign in order to find them later.

Darkness had already descended upon the Galilee hills when the student reached a Jewish settlement. It was a kibbutz where the members were non-observant. Reluctantly he decided to ask permission to remain there during Shabbat. He met a member of the kibbutz on one of the concrete paths and said, “Excuse me. I have nowhere to stay in this area for Shabbat. Is it possible to find a place for me to stay in your kibbutz?”

“The kibbutz secretary lives in the third house on the right. You should ask him,” the member answered.

The student went to see the secretary, who understood his situation and showed him a room where he would sleep. The secretary also invited the young man to supper in the kibbutz dining hall. The student thanked him but felt that he could not eat there, as the kibbutz lacked a kosher kitchen.

Instead, he asked for two whole loves of bread. Afterwards he prayed the Shabbat evening prayers alone, much of which he fortunately knew by heart, in his room. He made Kiddush on the bread and ate his Shabbat meal—bread and tomatoes.
Morning After.

The next morning he awoke when the sun’s rays penetrated his window. He remembered at once where he was. Now he had to get ready for the Shabbat day, praying by himself, without the synagogue Torah reading, without the Shabbat meals together with his friends in the yeshiva.

He prayed again by heart and read the Torah portion in a Bible from the kibbutz library. By noon he had his meal, consisting of the same menu as the night before.
With many hours left until the end of Shabbat, he took a pleasant walk through the kibbutz and saw the many children strolling around. An idea crossed his mind. “If I’m still here, maybe I should make a children’s gathering and tell them something about Yiddishkeit!”

He approached the children and asked if they wanted to participate in a small party. A big group readily agreed. A few youth counselors from the kibbutz also joined in order to see what was going on.

The yeshiva boy started to sing Jewish songs together with the children. They all happily joined in with loud voices, clapping their hands. He told them about the weekly Torah portion and a number of Chassidic stories. All the children gave him their full attention. This was the first time in their lives that anyone had introduced them to authentic Judaism. They enjoyed every moment of the Shabbat party.

Certain Mission

Towards the end, the yeshiva boy said to the children:

“You should know that everything that happens in the world is by Divine Providence. The Creator of the world prepares the steps of each man. Wherever he goes, he has a certain Divine mission to fulfill, although we are not always able to understand the purpose of everything that happens.

“For instance, look at what happened to me and where I am now. I was supposed to be together with my friends in my yeshiva right now, and instead I ended up here, together with you.

“I am one hundred percent sure that it was not by pure chance that we decided to stop that van exactly next to those olive trees on the side of the road. It was not by chance that I fell asleep under a tree at a distance from my friends. It was not because of ‘luck’ or ‘bad luck’ that my friends continued the trip back without noticing I was missing. Neither was it a coincidence that no cars passed by on the road and I continued by foot until I reached the first Jewish settlement on my way – which was your kibbutz.

“Why did I have to come here? Well, I do not know the answer to that, but I am sure that . . . .”

His speech was suddenly interrupted. One of the girl counselors jumped up and exclaimed, “I know the reason for your coming here!”

All of them present turned around and stared at her in amazement.

“I have always taken an interest in my religion,” the girl continued, “and I always wanted to learn more. I heard that Lubavitchers organize evenings with explanations about Judaism, and I asked the head of the cultural committee here to invite them, but he always turned it down. Despite my efforts, my request was always rejected.
“Finally I decided to do something entirely different. I turned to G-d for help. During this whole week I have been praying to G-d to send a Lubavitcher to our kibbutz—and here you are!”

Is America truly different? - The Rebbe's Blessing

Is America truly different? Can the Rebbe’s blessings be revealed beyond his inner circle?

The Avner Institute presents a fascinating encounter from the memoirs of Rabbi Yehoshua Dubrawski who, after the ordeal of childlessness, saw the Rebbe’s miracles fullfilled, and the Rebbe’s assurance that a holy man’s presence, even in photo, creates a holy environment wherever his Chassidim can be found.

Good Shabbos

Rabbi Yehoshua Dubrawski relates:

Over a year had passed since our wedding, and there were still no children on the way. My wife finally went to see a top doctor in Paris, who stated that her chances of becoming pregnant were slim.

In 5713/1953, a few years after our marriage, we arrived in Brooklyn, and it was then that we had our first audience with the Rebbe. I will add parenthetically that at that time my grandfather Rabbi Menachem Mendel Dubrawski, of blessed memory, lived with us and shared our private audience. The war had left him a broken man, but when the Rebbe rose and asked him to be seated, he refused. After reciting the she'hechiyanu blessing and the Rebbe's blessings, Zeide said he was the uncle of the Rebbe's father.

The Rebbe responded with his charming smile and said, “We know, we know.”
When I told the Rebbe about our long wait for children and the Parisian doctor's diagnosis, the Rebbe dismissed it all and said the following, unforgettable words, “Over here it is otherwise. But since you need to operate within the parameters of nature, your wife should go to a local doctor.”

Then the Rebbe blessed us.

A Promise Fulfilled

As New York was flooded with refugees, the Joint Distribution Committee wanted us to settle in Detroit, where a large Jewish community existed. Meanwhile my wife was examined by an American doctor, but he too had nothing positive to say. After months went by without our seeing the fulfillment of the blessings, I wrote to the Rebbe and detailed our requests. The Rebbe answered that we would see salvation, and he showered us with blessings.

More time passed with no change. Again I wrote to the Rebbe, and to this day, I don't know where I got the nerve to ask not only for a blessing but for a promise.

I did not receive an answer to this letter; instead, my wife gave me the answer.
When I informed the Rebbe of the good news, he told me not to publicize it until three months had gone by. Later, on one of the Chassidic holidays, I traveled from Detroit to see him.

“Nu, how is your balabusta doing?” the Rebbe asked. “Whatever the doctor said, I hope?” Later, when my wife was visiting in Brooklyn, the Rebbe stopped her on the street and asked her how she was feeling and how the pregnancy was progressing.

Thanks to the Rebbe's blessings, our oldest daughter Sarah was born. She is currently an emissary in Lyon, France.

The Eighth Day

When our second child was born, this time in New York, I met with the Rebbe alone—as my wife could not go—before the circumcision ceremony and requested both a blessing for the ceremony and a name to give the baby. Although the parents customarily picked a name, neither my wife nor I could decide whether to call him Yosef Yitzchok, after the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, or Eliezer Lippman, for my father. Therefore we would leave it up to the Rebbe.

The Rebbe answered firmly, “You must not make ‘tricks.’ This is a matter solely up to you and your wife. Go home and discuss it with her, then come back and tell me what you have decided.” To avoid any problems with his staff upon my return, I was to tell them that the Rebbe had told me to come back.

I don't think I ever heard of anything like this before—to go home and then right back just to report what name was chosen. Nevertheless, I did what the Rebbe said.
My wife and I had a quick consultation, after which I hurried back to the Rebbe. I was admitted immediately, although I never found out if anyone else was having an audience in the meantime.

The Rebbe welcomed me with a big smile. “Nu, vos vet R' Heishe itzt zogen" (what will Heishe say now)?” By the way, it was from the Rebbe, for the first time, that I heard myself being called Heishe, as it had been the practice to nickname any Yehoshua in our family and in our home town, Podobronka.

When I told the Rebbe that we were going to name the baby Yosef Yitzchok, I could see he was pleased, and he blessed us. However, for a reason I can’t recall, he asked that I not honor him with holding the baby at the circumcision ceremony. To be sure, I was disappointed.

The Rebbe then said, “Since you wish for my participation, you must put a picture of the Rebbe [meaning the Previous Rebbe, “my teacher and father-in-law”] in front of you while the ceremony is taking place. It will be just like I am participating.”

Rebbe, What does it cost to get Chabad out of debt?

A desperate lawyer. A daughter at death’s door. When crisis knocked, the Rebbe answered. The Avner Institute presents an excerpt from the diary of Berel Junik, who as a student over 60 years ago saw firsthand the Rebbe’s Divine help, with the stern lesson that the price of miracles is not measured in dollars, but mitzvoth.

Good Shabbos


November 1950:From the diary of Rabbi Berel Junik.

It was Maariv, Motzei Shabbos. The holiday season over, it was business as usual at 770 when the Sabbath Queen was being ushered out. Students and congregants alike looked forward to a week of study or the latest news.

In the middle of the service an elegant, well-dressed gentleman walked in. “Good evening,” he announced. “I’d like to see the Rebbe.”

He sounded like someone accustomed to giving orders and having them obeyed.
The yeshiva boys eyed him. “The Rebbe can’t see anyone right now,” one of them explained. “He’s in the middle of davening.”

The man suddenly wilted. “Oh please,” he cried, “can’t he see me? My daughter is very sick.”

Waving his hand, he promised $10,000 to whoever would heal his daughter.
“I’ve been to every Jewish leader in New York,” he continued, on the verge of tears. “They could do nothing. The Rebbe is my last hope.”

Softening with pity, the students steered him toward the Rebbe’s secretary, Rabbi Chodokov.

“You may see the Rebbe in his office after ma’ariv,” the Rabbi Chodokov said, “but I must ask his permission first.”

The service concluded, the Rebbe strode into his work place, where he was to devote many hours. Deferentially, the secretary approached him and explained the visitor’s predicament.

“I will receive him tomorrow morning,” the Rebbe replied.
Hearing this, the visitor cried, “Rebbe, please! My daughter’s condition is critical! Who knows what tomorrow might bring?”

Gently Rabbi Chodokov answered, “I’m sorry, but once the Rebbe says something, it is impossible to change his mind.”

The man was taken aback. As a prominent attorney, he was used to a world where money talked, backed by persuasion and guile. Yet not even $10,000 could sway the Rebbe. He was firm: it must wait till tomorrow.

Heaven Awaits

The next morning the lawyer reappeared at 770.

“It was amazing,” he explained to the Rebbe. “I was told by the doctors that in a case like my daughter’s there could be two things: either she’d pull out of it or she’d deteriorate further. By now I thought she’d be in a coma.

“Yet, it was strange. Starting from the night before, her condition had not changed at all.”

The Rebbe replied, “You see that from heaven they are waiting for you, and it all depends on you. If you commit to three areas of Torah and mitzvoth like Shabbos observance, your daughter will recover.”

The man, who was not observant, tried to offer money instead, but the Rebbe remained silent.

“How about $20,000?” the man offered.

The Rebbe smiled. “I am just a shaliach, a messenger of G-d who is here to tell you how things really are. There is nothing to discuss since it does not depend on me.”
When the man stormed out, the Rebbe summoned his secretary. “Please leave word to all our schools and agencies that not one penny should be accepted by this gentleman. He should not think he could buy someone off.”

When word—and enough rejection—was brought to the gentleman, he humbly returned to the Rebbe.
“All right,” he said. “You win. What should I do?”

When he slowly took on observances, he received word that his daughter's life was no longer in danger. Soon a seed was planted.

As the man grew more involved in Jewish life, he began learning how to daven. It was slow and awkward, but the Rebbe, following his progress, told his students not to pressure him.

“Don’t do the entire service with him,” he explained to one of them, Berel Junik. “Don't rip the cord. And then to have him say the entire Tehillim as well? Way too much!”

A few weeks later, the Rebbe told Berel Junik, “You exhausted him today with the davening. Don't make it hard for him.”

When Berel explained that the man wanted to donate a Kiddush at 770 on Shabbos Mevorchim Teves (because he knew that Farbrengens took place only on Shabbos Mevorchim), the Rebbe commanded, “Don't let him. He’ll probably want to come with his family and friends, and it will be hard for them to come on foot. A shul near his home, maybe, he can make a Farbrengen there whenever he wants. The most convenient time is the Shabbos before 10 Kislev, which is close to 19 Kislev [holiday commemorating the release of the first Lubavitcher Rebbe from Russian prison]. Some yeshiva students should attend and use the opportunity to speak about Chassidus, our Rebbes, and Jewish education. Make sure there is a shul near his house or he will have the same problem.”

The Rebbe concluded, “He thinks that by making a Kiddush he fulfills his obligation, that all of Judaism rests on this.”

In the end, however, the Rebbe did allow the lawyer to donate a Kiddush at 770 and during the weekly Torah portion of Vayigash the Rebbe farbrenged.

Before a mass of followers the Rebbe discussed the difference between a son and a daughter in the service of G-d. “A son represents intellect and a daughter acceptance of mitzvoth.”

Turning to the lawyer, the Rebbe concluded, “Since G-d did a miracle and saved your daughter’s life, you need to serve Him unconditionally, with no calculations.”

"Your children Must be my Chassidim"

Why are you so angry? Why are you not Happy?

He was one-of-a-kind. A Chassid, a shliach, and a mentor for Jews throughout the Holy Land, The following is a transcript of a unique audience Reuven Dunin, a”h, a Chabad rabbi of Haifa, had with the Rebbe in the winter of 1964.

Good Shabbos

In his diary, Rabbi Reuven Dunin, a”h, remembers a profound private audience with the Rebbe that took place Tishrei 5724 (1964):

"They say the Rebbe knows all that goes on. He certainly knew me like the back of his hand, because as soon as I entered his office, the Rebbe asked me:

“Nu, what’s going on? Why are you so angry? What is the reason you are not Besimcha (joyful)? I told you that I wanted you to be be'simcha. If you don't do my work with happiness, then you are not fulfilling my will, and you are not performing in the same way that I am.

"Because I can't be everywhere at once. I can't be in Holon, Kfar Chabad, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Eilat, Paris, Melbourne -- and also in Brooklyn! Therefore I send out shluchim. I chose for you to go to Haifa and I want to make you a high commander, a general. I would hope that knowing what I want would be a source of joy that would stay with you -- just knowing that the one who is being commanded is doing what his commander wants.”

When my mood, however, did not seem to change, the Rebbe demanded, "Haven’t I influenced you in ways that make you happy yet? You must be involved in shlichus in a happy way.”

I mumbled to the Rebbe my concerns -- concerns over money, and the source, or rather, lack of income. It was hard to be a Chassid, or at least a happy Chassid, when mundane problems stared me in the face.

The Rebbe listened sympathetically, then answered, "Regarding a livelihood -- it doesn't make a difference if you work for a company or if you work for an individual. The main thing is to have as much income as possible, because you need to feed and clothe your family. They should have the proper amount--as much as the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) dictates.”

He admitted the importance of personal responsibility. "It is not enough that you and your wife are Chassidim,” he added. “The children, too, must be my Chassidim and their material needs properly met. I want your whole family to be comfortable, so that they will be the finest Chassidim they can be.”

Nevertheless, he again stressed the role of a Chassid – to obey his leader and carry out his leader’s tasks.

“When you return to Israel you should make a farbrengen for your friends, neighbors, and acquaintances,” he commanded. “Tell them about your trip here, and convey my best wishes. People will be inspired by hearing what you have learned here, if your message is properly delivered, since 'words that come from the heart enter the heart.'"

The Rebbe concluded: "Your trip back should be with a joy just like the joy felt on Motzei Simchas Torah. Take good news from here and send good news from there."

Monday, October 17, 2011

Simchat Torah With the Rebbe - The New York Times

Simchas Torah. The very walls of 770 Eastern Parkway would thunder, as thousands of visitors from all over the world gathered to rejoice with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who would dance intensely in a circle with the Sefer Torah.

The Avner Institute presents the following article, reprinted from the New York Times, Oct. 30, 1967, where journalist Sidney E. Zion avidly shares with his readers the sheer bliss – and honor – of watching the Rebbe’s Hakafos.

Good Yom Tov

Thousands of Hasidic Jews ended a long weekend of singing, dancing, jumping and clapping yesterday, rejoicing as ever in the Torah, if a little tired from it all.

“We hustle—religion is no picnic with us,” said a red-bearded young rabbi, Samuel Schrage, at the height of the tumultuous Simhath Torah festivities at the Lubavitcher Synagogue, 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn.

The happiest day in the Hebrew calendar, Simhath Torah (literally “rejoicing in the law”) marks the completion of the Torah cycle, a year-long reading through the Five Books of Moses, which detail the basic guidance and teaching imparted to Israel. The cycle ends with the chanting of the last chapter of the last book and the reading of the first chapter of the first book.

The holiday is celebrated with gaiety by all branches of Judaism, but none of the Hasidim, whose rejoicing in strict Orthodox beliefs leads them to pitches of religious excitement unknown in others less fervid.

Indeed, while Simhath Torah officially ended before sundown on Friday, Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky said confidently: “The Rebbe will keep things moving right up to Sunday.”

Converge on Brooklyn

And he did, speaking until 1:30 a.m. yesterday when the service ended with the singing of “Dem Rebbens Niggun” (“The Rabbi’s Tune”), written by Schneor Zalman, the founder of the movement.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe is Menachem M. Schneerson, who, as the rabbi of rabbis, is the leader of 250,000 people, the world’s largest Hasidic group.

Black-coated, bearded Jews from many parts of the world flocked to Brooklyn last week to be near the Rebbe, and in the early hours of Friday, the cavernous synagogue was packed.

The 65-year-old Rabbi Schneerson, whose family traces back some 200 years to the group’s birthplace in the Russian village of Lubavitch, brought 30 elderly Russian Jews to Brooklyn for a visit over the holidays.

Many had been imprisoned in the Soviet Union and were quietly released and sent to Israel within the last two years, due largely to the efforts of the Lubavitcher movement.

Some of the Russian émigrés, white-bearded and wearing peaked caps reminiscent of the Lenin period, stood behind the Rebbe’s dais for five hours as he spoke in Yiddish to 1,500 people on subjects ranging from the mystical interpretation of the scriptures as continued in the Cabala to hippies.

“That man spent 22 years in a Russian prison,” a congregant said, pointing to an old but alert man standing by Rabbi Schneerson. “All his life he’s waited to be where he is now, all his life to be with the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Simhath Torah.”

Vodka is Served

Rabbi Schneerson stopped speaking from time to time to serve vodka and sponge cake to those around him. As the Rebbe sipped, so did the Hasidim. Women of the synagogue looked down from the balcony.

But the singing and dancing was dominant as the pulsating rhythms of the melodies turned the synagogues into a festive hall.

A visitor, the Rev. William Sloane Coffin Jr., chaplain of Yale University, smiled as he watched the celebration. “Wonderful,” he said, “wonderful, just wonderful.”

Rabbi Schneerson, patriarchal figure in a long black coat and soft black hat, led the singing at the apex of the Simhath Torah ceremonies. Using his right hand to conduct, he brought followers to a high point and the chanting and jumping seemed to rock the building.

He then turned and began to pray, and the congregants stopped where they were.

Finally, the Torahs were removed from the Ark and Rabbi Schneerson walked with his closest followers between the crowds swarming to get near him.

In the middle of the synagogue, Rabbi Schneerson and a few elders did the traditional dance – one man’s arm on another’s shoulder, circling the floor with scrolls in hand.

At a high post nearby, where the rabbi had earlier led the singing, a Russian Jew looked into the eyes of a stranger, smiled, and without a word put his arm on the stranger’s shoulder and the two danced until the rabbi stopped.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Rebbe and The IDF

An air force pilot is cruelly punished. His crime? Giving bar mitzvah lessons. But ever loyal to his faith, he learns the true test of sacrifice.

The Avner Institute presents the following story full of miracles, showing not only the Divine spark within every Jew but the Rebbe’s help within the strangest of places. With special thanks to Rabbi Tuvia Litzman, author of Chassidic Gems.

Good Yom Tov

The “Prophet” & the General

Eliahu Gabai was an outstanding pupil in high school back in 1986, a guy singled out for special training in the Israeli Air Force. Eventually he was inducted to train fighter pilots in flight-simulation machines.

But before beginning his service he met up with the unique Rabbi Reuven Dunin and became a Chabad Chassid. Rabbi Dunin himself had once been an atheist tractor driver from notoriously left-wing Haifa who had met up with Chabad Chassidim some years earlier. Clearly his enthusiasm was infectious.

Of course, all this had nothing to do with Eliahu's army service, which he performed diligently, but it did give him a greater sense of responsibility and the desire to make a difference. After all, the Lubavitcher Rebbe had taught that peace in the world would come only when the “Jewish spark” is revealed within each and every Jew. But Israeli society, especially the army, was cold to Judaism. Although there was a rabbi on every base, it was more a passive than active job.

Eliahu prayed for a miracle . . . and his prayers were answered.

On every air force base were (and still are) neighborhoods of pilots and their families, which naturally included boys approaching the age of bar mitzvah. Eliahu, well acquainted with a number of the pilots, was the obvious candidate to prepare their sons for what would be for many the only religious occasion in their lives.

The class began with seven boys, and Eliahu was thankful for that many. Nevertheless, the boys enjoyed the class; friends brought friends, and soon over seventy were meeting twice a week. A story Eliahu told about Eliahu HaNavi (Elijah the Prophet) earned him the nickname “Eliahu HaNavi” and the group “the course of Elijah the Prophet.”

Eliahu wrote a letter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe reporting his success. It was like heaven on earth! But, as we know, heaven and earth aren't always compatible. Dark clouds soon gathered over the horizon!

One evening, the commander of this base, a general by the name of Ron Huldai (who later would become mayor of Tel Aviv), came home. “Hello,” he called out.

No reply. He caught sight of twelve-year-old son, Gad, standing silently in a corner, feet together, swaying back and forth and reading from a book.

The man approached the boy. “Hakol beseder? Is everything all right?”

The boy continued swaying, eyes on the book.

His mother entered and saw what was happening. “Nothing to worry about,” she explained. “A rabbi’s been coming to the base and giving bar mitzvah classes. He told the boys not to interrupt in the middle of prayer.”

“Prayer? Rabbi? On the base? In my house? Brainwashing my son?” The general screamed, “Who is this rabbi? How did he get here? Why didn’t anyone stop him?”

When the boy finally found a break in prayer, he told his father of “Eliahu Hanavi.” But because Eliahu always changed into civilian clothes before class, that was all the boy knew about him. Apparently prophets didn’t wear army badges or uniforms.

Immediately Huldai contacted the chief of security. “How dare you allow unauthorized personnel on the base,” he shouted.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” the chief answered. So he yelled at the chaplain, who was also bewildered.

In desperation the chief summoned the commanding general of the entire air force. When told that the invading rabbi's name was "Elijah the Prophet," the general almost fell off his chair laughing.

The next step was a meeting with several other officers. When this didn't help, the chief decided to take things into his own hands. He lay in wait at the classroom, as the boys were entering, and the very next day caught the Elijah the Prophet red-handed.

When Eliahu revealed his identity, he was ordered to pack his bags and leave the base first thing the next morning. Heartbroken, he went home. Soon he started weeping, then fell asleep in exhaustion.

That night he had a dream. The Lubavitcher Rebbe appeared and asked him how things were going. When Eliahu burst out crying; the Rebbe approached, opened his coat, placed Eliahu's head inside, and covered it as if to say, “There is no need to worry.”

The next morning Eliahu received an envelope from New York containing two letters from the Rebbe. The first thanked him for the news about the classes and the second was the weekly Torah portion. Clearly, miracles were starting to happen.

He finished packing, left the base, and took a bus to central command where he was to be reassigned to a new location. The officer there examined his papers, scratched his head, and examined them again. “What is going on?”

Eliahu stammered, “What do you mean?”

“Why are they kicking you out?” The officer waved the papers around his head. “It will take me months to find someone to replace you! Why do I need headaches?” Scanning the papers again, he continued, “And I don't anything wrong. No problems with health, conduct, performance, attendance.”

He glared at Eliahu. “Nu, say something! Why are they expelling you?"

Eliahu had no choice but to tell him. “I taught children on the base Torah.”

“Torah?” The officer lapsed into thoughtful silence. After a while he leaned forward, narrowed his eyes and asked angrily, “Tell me, does this have anything to do with the Lubavitcher Rebbe?”

Eliahu nodded.

“If so,” the commander yelled, “they will kick me out before they kick you out. I'm sending you back! After the Rebbe saved my father's life I'm ready to do anything for him. Anything!”

He pounded his fist on the table with all his might. “Now you go back to your base and tell them I sent you!”

Eliahu couldn't believe his ears. This officer, who had appeared blatantly non-observant, suddenly transformed into a self-sacrificing Chassid.

“Thank for very much, sir,” Eliahu mumbled. “I’m very grateful someone is fighting for me. But I can’t help wondering . . . why?”

The officer scribbled something on Eliahu's papers and pushed them back to Eliahu on the table. Then he cleared his throat and began.

“About ten years ago my father awoke one morning to find he couldn't move his legs. We called a doctor and took my father to the hospital. The biggest medical team in Israel showed up, but after thorough testing they advised us to take him to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York for expert treatment.

“We did what they said, but over there it was pretty much the same story. They made all kinds of tests but weren't sure what exactly to do, except make more tests.

“Meanwhile, a bunch of young religious kids came to ask people to lay tefillin. My father and I put on, we got to talking, and in no time these kids suggested taking my father to the farbrengen, some sort of happy meeting, of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in honor of the Chassidic holiday Yud Tes (19) Kislev.

"My father didn't exactly agree, but before we knew it they got a wheelchair and permission from a doctor. An hour later we were in this big synagogue in Brooklyn that was packed with people. The place was called ‘770.’

“They made way for my father’s wheelchair, and we got a place close to the Rebbe. My father said it was one of the happiest moments in his life; everyone was singing and smiling—exactly the opposite of the hospital.

“Suddenly the Rebbe gazed at my father and motioned l’chaim. Someone produced a small plastic cup with some vodka in it and he drank. It was bitter, maybe not even permissible in his state, but he figured one time wouldn’t hurt.

“But then the Rebbe motioned for him to stand and make another one. We tried to refuse, pointing to his wheelchair, but the Rebbe just kept signaling. Someone placed a hand under my father's arm, and with superhuman effort . . . he stood! And even more amazing, he didn't fall back down! From that moment he was on the road to recovery, and in a month or so he was totally healthy.”

The officer pointed to the door. “And now . . . go back to your base!”

Lasting Moment

Eliahu returned to his base, but with the warning never to teach the children again. Nevertheless, he was granted permission for one farewell meeting.

He gathered the boys around. “Children, remember how I told you that in the days of Rabbi Akiva there were harsh decrees against learning Torah? Well, now there is a similar decree on us. So we will do what the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe did and what
Rabbi Akiva did; they taught Torah 'underground'.”

When the boys murmured in excitement, Eliahu continued that once a week he would put a code in the corner of a certain blackboard on the base indicating where and when to meet. And so, for the next year, until he finished his service in the army, Jewish children overcame all obstacles and learned Torah . . . in the Holy Land. Occasionally, even today—over 25 years later—Eliahu runs into one of those “children” who tell him how his classes changed their lives.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

How did the Rebbe React?

Watching his mother’s life ebb away, the Rebbe wept and prayed. He pleaded to heaven that her soul remain on earth; around him doctors fought to save her life. After over a twenty-year separation—during which the Rebbetzin shared with her husband a painful exile in Soviet Russia—the Rebbe had personally escorted her from postwar Paris to a new home in America. Now their time together was coming to an end. The Avner Institute presents the diary of Rabbi Levin, at the time a yeshiva student at 770, who recorded those sad, final days of the Rebbetzin’s life, the Rebbe’s deep grief, and the unfailing devotion that he carried to her grave.

The Rebbe Archive presents a photo of the Rebbe blessing congregants the eve of Yom Kippur.

Wishing everyone a gemar chasima tova and an easy fast,


Shabbos Shuva, 6 Tishrei
At ten a.m., the Rebbe entered 770 for morning service. After the prayers began, the Rebbe kept looking to the side, as if waiting for someone or something. Rabbi Groner approached and spoke with him for a minute, then went to Rabbi Hadakov and then back to the Rebbe. As of now, no one knows what exactly is happening, but it seems as if something is wrong.

At 1:30 p.m., the Rebbe entered the shul for a farbrengen, during which Dr. Seligson spoke to him for a few minutes. After asking the Rebbe for his mother’s name, Dr. Seligson called out, “Chana bas Rochel l’refua shelaima—Chana, daughter of Rochel, for a speedy recovery.” It was then that the crowd understood.

As the farbrengen continued, the Rebbe explained the quote from the Ba’al Shem Tov, that the concealment of G-dliness in the time of Exile is itself hidden and not noticeable. The Rebbe began to sob, leaning his head on his hands—a frightening sight to behold.

Suddenly, the Rebbe crossed his hand over his forehead, and the cries immediately ceased. Later, while speaking about the non-Jews’ inability to obstruct G-d’s mitzvoth, the Rebbe began to cry again.

The farbrengen ended at 4:00 p.m. Reb Beryl Junik ran to Rebbetzin Chana’s house and found the Rebbetzin breathing heavily. When he approached her she grabbed his arm, saying, “Help me!” It seemed that she wanted to continue, but couldn’t. Reb Beryl hurried to 770 and told Dr. Seligson that Rebbetzin Chana’s condition had worsened, and the doctor hurried off.

After mincha, Reb Beryl told the Rebbe that his mother had asked to see him. The Rebbe rushed to his room, dropping off the handkerchiefs from his pocket, and continued to his mother’s house. He arrived to find his mother in critical condition, lying in pain and breathing with difficulty. The Rebbe approached her bedside and asked Reb Beryl to call two more doctors. Meanwhile, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, the Rebbe’s wife, arrived.

At first the Rebbe opposed sending his mother to the hospital, but after the two doctors, in addition to Dr. Seligson, agreed that it was vital, the Rebbe said, “Since this is the opinion of three doctors, I give in.” She was immediately placed in an ambulance, the Rebbe at her side.

As soon as the news reached 770, everyone sat down and recited Tehillim. Many people walked towards the hospital, along with a “Shabbos Goy” who carried a meal for the Rebbe.

At the hospital, the doctors did all they could but, after a while, emerged and told the Rebbe that they thought it was too late. When the Rebbe suggested a number of possible medical methods to save his mother’s life, the doctors promised to try. But, shortly later, the doctors again said that their efforts were to no avail. Once more, the Rebbe proposed ideas, but things did not get better.

At approximately six p.m., Rebbetzin Chana’s soul ascended in the presence of the Rebbe, who stood facing the window, his eyes heavenward. All was quiet; only every so often, the Rebbe let out a cry. Some of the people there, realizing the Rebbe had not yet eaten, offered him the meal that was brought, but the Rebbe refused and asked if there was a Rav present who could rule if eating the meal under such circumstances was permissible. Rabbi Groner approached, answering that he was a Rav and that the Rebbe should eat, but the Rebbe still refused. Instead, he asked if there was a Code of Jewish Law around. In the end, the Rebbe didn’t eat the meal.

The Rebbe asked if anyone from the Chevra Kadisha, burial society, were present, then asked for Rabbi Jacobson. Seeing all the pushing, the Rebbe said, “No one should push! Only those who have been in the mikvah today should enter the room to say Tehillim. The yeshiva students are here totally unnecessarily, and as for everyone else, there’s no reason to push; this is not a farbrengen.”

When Rabbi Y. Weinberg asked if he should announce the news of the passing on the radio, the Rebbe answered affirmatively. Rabbi Y. Jacobson and Rabbi E. Simpson of the Chevra Kadisha arrived and asked everyone to leave the room, except for some of the elder Chassidim.

At the end of the Sabbath, the Rebbe asked if anyone present had a prayer book, but no one did. After ma’ariv, the Rebbe said Kaddish. An hour later, Rebbetzin Chana was brought to her home. Before leaving the house, the Rebbe asked that a quorum of ten Jews remain there for the night.

7 Tishrei
At eight a.m., the Rebbe emerged from his house. The funeral procession was immediately called for at eleven. At 9:15 a.m., the Rebbe left his room and joined the minyan for Kaddish after Shir shel Yom. During the recitation, the Rebbe cried slightly.

At 11:05 a.m., the Rebbe, bag full of seforim in hand, was driven to his mother’s house. The funeral began straightaway, the Rebbe following closely behind the coffin. When the Rebbe noticed a photographer videoing the scene, he angrily motioned with his hand to stop doing so. The Rebbe gazed at the coffin until it was placed in the hearse, then asked if anyone knew where the plastic mat was (seemingly, the one onto which some blood had spilled) and a certain piece of wood. When those nearby answered that all had been arranged, the Rebbe appeared quite satisfied.

The procession continued by foot through Kingston Avenue onto 770, and from there to the cemetery. On the way, the Rebbe asked repeatedly, “Why are the students here?” The Rebbe also asked that the women not follow after the coffin.

During the burial, the Rebbe asked, “Where is the plastic?” Everyone was asked to search, but to no avail. The Rebbe apparently found this disturbing. Seeing so much pushing, he cried, “Leave me alone, why all the pushing? I see that I’m forced to keep order by myself! There is no mitzvah to push.” The Rebbe tried to make his way back to the car to see if the plastic was possibly there, but could not, due to all the commotion. In the end, however, the plastic was found.

After covering the grave, the Rebbe said some Tehillim and the Kaddish, but wept so much that he could not finish. The entire crowd, including rabbis and leaders, felt a deep sense of mourning.

Lines were then formed. The Rebbe removed his shoes and asked that students not participate. While passing by the Ohel, the Rebbe walked inside for two minutes, and after exiting, entered the car to be driven to his mother’s house.

Throughout the formal days of mourning, a lottery was arranged to determine who would participate in the Rebbe’s minyan. After the first afternoon service, the congregation passed by the Rebbe to offer condolences. The Rebbe, noticing students among them, darted them a startling glance, as if to ask, “What are they doing here?”

8 Tishrei
Morning service began at ten. Throughout the prayers, the Rebbe cried occasionally. Rabbi Z. Katzman, who was called to the Torah for the birth of a daughter, asked the Rebbe if she could be named after the Rebbe’s mother. The Rebbe agreed and blessed her with a long life (later sending sixty-three dollars, the numeric equivalent of “Chana”).

Throughout the day, many distinguished individuals came to visit the Rebbe. After evening service, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka came to the house.

Erev Yom Kippur
The Rebbe did not distribute the traditional honeycake, but it was rumored that he would do so on Hoshana Rabba. Following the afternoon service, the Rebbe rose and asked that a minyan take place in the house for each service throughout Yom Kippur.

At six the Rebbe went to the mikvah, then entered his room for a bit. Leaving while his face was covered with his prayer shawl, he blessed the students standing there.

The Rebbe went to the main sanctuary, stood up on a table, and chanted a blessing to all present. The relatively small crowd could not hear the Rebbe very well, since he spoke with closed eyes and many tears. When Rabbi Hadakov told this to the Rebbe, the Rebbe climbed onto the table a second time and repeated the blessing, word for word.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Student from Paris Meets the Rebbe

The immortal quote of Rabbi Akiva is the cornerstone of Chabad philosophy. Into the Rebbe’s office walked Jews of every stripe, from the insular ultra-Orthodox to the ignorant secular, to meet with the Rebbe and receive his tireless attention.

The Avner Institute presents the following audience with Yosef, a Sorbonne professor and returnee to Judaism, which displays the Rebbe’s heartfelt concerns not only toward the newly observant but toward all members of the “Jewish nation.” Special thanks to Rabbi Yosef Gurevitch for his reminiscence of the encounter.

Good Shabbos

Rabbi Gurevitch relates:

Yosef waited outside the office alone, an island of Western attire amid a sea of long black coats. The bearded men who swirled around him, running errands for 770 or preparing for prayers, were still a novelty in his new life – a life he had forged, still hesitantly, after years of wandering. He guessed that quite a few were rabbis or Torah scholars. Although even in his secular days he had shown rabbis proper respect, he had kept a distance. To him rabbis were a separate species.

But this rabbi was different. Famous, in fact, the world over. That’s what the follower said, the emissary in Yosef’s native France who urged Yosef to cross the Atlantic. Maybe it was the singing and dancing at the emissary’s little Chabad synagogue, the relaxed atmosphere inside the sanctuary. Or maybe it was holiness surrounding the Shabbos meal that had first attracted Yosef to the beauty of Judaism. But he came back again, then again, until he had become one of that congregation’s permanent members.

While at the center, later the yeshiva, Yosef had become intrigued by the writings of this rabbi. And now Yosef was lucky, the emissary said, to get to meet such a famous rabbi face to face.

As he waited outside, he mentally rehearsed the questions, pondering their potential interpretation. He looked up and caught the motioning hand of the Rebbe’s secretary to summon him inside.

He entered the office shyly, standing before a desk behind which was a massive bookcase. He expected somewhat a more severe environment, but instead was put at ease by the kindly visage peering at him from behind the oaken desk.

“Bonsoir,” said Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. “What can I do for you?”

Yosef was startled to hear the Rebbe address him in French, rather than Yiddish. Don’t all these rabbis speak only Yiddish? But then he remembered the emissary’s saying that the Lubavitcher Rebbe had lived in Paris before the war and even studied at the Sorbonne.

Yosef sat down. He gazed at the walls, surprised to find them bare. “I am accustomed to visiting Lubavitcher homes,” he mumbled in French, “and in all of them I have seen pictures of you on the wall. Is displaying a picture of the Rebbe a Lubavitcher custom?”

“If a large picture bothers you, then a small one is fine,” the Rebbe replied in the same language. “But if even a small picture bothers you, then don’t bother putting up any at all.”

Yosef, impressed by the Rebbe’s modesty, sensed nevertheless a power which derived from a source far higher than human photography. Feeling more at ease, he described to the Rebbe his exploration of the tradition, which exposed him to the amazing diversity of Jewish practice.

“I have visited many different Jewish communities,” he continued, “and I have found that each one has a particular mitzvah or custom on which they place a stronger emphasis than on others. This had me wondering: what mitzvah should I personally choose and take extra measures to fulfill?”

“You do not have to search and discern which mitzvah is more important,” the Rebbe quickly answered. “Instead, you must fulfill all the mitzvoth without any exception.”

Yosef nodded, then continued describing his travels through Jewish life. “In the many communities I have visited, I have found that often one community might be jealous of another.”

At this point the Rebbe fixed his gaze at the visitor. “There is nothing wrong with one community’s observation of another—as long as the purpose is to emulate the other’s growth and development, and to apply and integrate the other’s benefits. But to regard another community with jealousy is absolutely forbidden.”

“I have a feeling sometimes that the love of your Chassidim towards you in Paris is . . . a bit exaggerated?” Yosef ventured.

The Rebbe shrugged. “Nu, what can I do? I myself love every single Jew.” He chuckled. “Now, perhaps that you might call exaggerated.”

“How does the Rebbe know how to answer every Jew who asks him a question?” Yosef pressed. “Some of these people the Rebbe had never met before. Where does the Rebbe get his understanding?”

The Rebbe leaned forward. “In every human being’s life, not everything goes so smoothly. Life has its ups and downs, and problems arise. So what does a healthy person do? He will go to a friend, someone he feels will know what is best for him and want to see him improve. He will share his problems with this friend or person, and then, based on the advice given to him, he will, it is hoped, improve himself from there.”

The Rebbe continued sternly, “It is written: VeAhavta leReacha kamocha – love every Jew as yourself. You must love every member of the nation of Israel with unconditional love.”
There was the proverbial dramatic pause, for further emphasis. Then the Rebbe smiled.

“I hope you consider me as a member of the Jewish nation. Therefore, I love every single Jew with the greatest love in the world. So when a Jew asks me a question, knowing how much I love and care for him, I know what to answer.”

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Rebbe's Secretary Speaks

“Patience,” said Benjamin Franklin, “is a virtue.” The Rebbe’s was tested many times—be it audiences, dollar lines, or even strange questions, such as whether the Rebbe could ever make a mistake.

The Avner Institute presents three inspiring stories, related recently by the Rebbe’s secretary Rabbi Binyomin Klein, who witnessed firsthand the Rebbe’s remarkable grace under fire.

Good Shabbos

Rabbi Klein relates:

One of the things we can learn from the Rebbe is patience. The Rebbe’s patience for every Jew was astounding: whenever he gave out dollars for charity hundreds, and even thousands, of people passed by in line and on the spot told him their problems and whatever was on their minds.

The Rebbe never interrupted anyone. He always allowed the person to finish talking and only then responded. There were those who repeated themselves, thinking that the Rebbe did not understand them, but the Rebbe always heard them out.

The Rebbe’s time was extremely precious; nevertheless, he always listened. He never “kicked anyone out” of his office, even if the visitor was a total pain.

“It’s late. The Rebbe needs to go home.”

A woman once came for a private audience at the time allotted. Because she willingly let others go ahead of her, she became the last person for the evening. She started talking to the Rebbe, but it didn’t look as though she planned on finishing anytime soon.

It was very late, but the Rebbe continued to listen. Having no choice, we went in and told her: It’s late. The Rebbe needs to go home. But she continued talking.

When the yechidus ended, the Rebbe stood up. He answered her as he took his coat from the nearby alcove and got ready to leave. Still, she continued talking. When the Rebbe walked out of his office she followed him right out the building, still talking. As soon as the Rebbe got home, he called the office and asked that two yeshiva students escort her by taxi to her home and that the secretaries pay for it.

“A Rebbe does not err.”

Many years ago, a group of students visited the Rebbe. When told that the spirit of G-d spoke from the Rebbe’s throat, one of them exclaimed, “Does that mean the Rebbe never makes a mistake?”

When they entered the Rebbe’s room, one of them asked the Rebbe pointblank, “If the Rebbe never makes a mistake, why does he have an eraser on his pencil?”

The Rebbe quietly answered, “A Rebbe does not err, but today he is greater than yesterday and today he adds to what was written yesterday. In other words, it’s not in order to erase a mistake, but to erase what was correct yesterday. Today he is of a different, higher stature.”

“I will never finish.”

We saw this with the Rebbe when he edited his discourses. Whenever one was brought to him, the Rebbe worked on the editing for several hours, sometimes four or more. Afterwards he phoned the secretaries to come and take the pages to the editors and from there to the printer.

Sometimes, after going in, we waited in the room for another three quarters of an hour as the Rebbe continued to add and correct. Once, on such an occasion, the Rebbe told me, “Take this to the printer because otherwise I will never finish.”

After all the corrections were made, the discourse was submitted a second time. Once again, the Rebbe made corrections, because he was adding fresh new insights.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

See how far you can go?

The power of outreach. On Friday afternoon young Chabad students can be seen all over town, distributing candles, talking to strangers, and doing anything possible to light the Jewish spark.

The Avner Institute presents a fascinating encounter with an Israeli dentist, who describes to two young visitors how he made his way back to Torah, and how the Rebbe's campaign set the ball rolling.

Good Shabbos

It was Friday afternoon in Haifa, a notoriously left-wing city where workers would be soon leaving their desks, not for home or synagogue, but for cinemas and nightclubs. Nevertheless, two young students Yitzchok Levin and Ayal Blau, from Yeshivat Migdal Emek faithfully combed the main street, as they did every week, in search of outreach activity. Since it was the Friday before 3 Tammuz, the anniversary of the passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the students decided to extend their route in order to reach even more Jews and lay tefillin, the phylacteries worn by men during prayer.

That is how they learned the following story.

“I noticed a huge office building,” Yitzchok began, “and we decided to go in, even though it was almost Shabbos. As soon as we entered the first floor, I noticed an open dentist’s office. We walked in and saw the dentist sitting and talking on the phone.

“Just one look at him made us nervous. Those who go on outreach regularly know this type a mile away. You could see the angry eyes and the way he was getting ready to curse us out.

“Well, what we were afraid of came to pass. As soon as he finished his phone conversation, he bombarded us with questions, in an angry and even demeaning tone.

“We weren’t scared off, though. We’re used to reactions like this. I glanced at my watch and saw that it was almost Shabbos. As the man was plainly only listening to himself, I motioned to my friend to leave.

“We were standing on the threshold when suddenly Ayal turned toward the dentist and shouted in the same number of decibels, ‘Hey, Jew! You’ve been in this world for forty years now. You eat and sleep, but what’s with your soul? You think you’re yelling at us, but you are really yelling at the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who has helped thousands of Jews do good deeds!’ And he went on in this vein.

“In my mind’s eye I could picture the dentist getting up and hitting us, but that’s not what happened. When he heard the Rebbe’s name, he trembled, his face fell, and an uncomfortable look flashed in his eyes.

“After my friend finished his tirade, the dentist said in surprise, ‘Oh, you’re from the Lubavitcher Rebbe!?’ His voice was so calm and quiet that we wondered if this could really be the same man we had just been talking to!

“`Sit down," he said. ‘You probably think I don’t know your Rebbe. Listen, and I’ll tell you who the Lubavitcher Rebbe is.’

“The anger in our hearts immediately changed to curiosity. We sat down and the dentist began his tale.”

I grew up in Vienna, and my sole connection with Judaism was through the Zionist youth movement in our city. After I finished school I moved here, to Israel, and was drafted. During the Six-Day War I served as a combat officer on the front.

In the course of my work as a dentist, I got to know a religious girl from Boro Park who was visiting here. We stayed in touch even after she returned home. At some point I returned to Vienna.

A few months went by and with her agreement, I decided to go to New York in order to meet her and ask her parents for her hand in marriage. I visited her home. Her parents were gracious, but when I left the house, the father came out with me. Placing his hand on my shoulder, he said I must break up with his daughter.

“You don’t deserve to be my son-in-law,” he declared.

I was shocked. I truly wondered what was wrong with me. After all, I was a dentist, an officer, an Israeli, tall and good-looking, making nice money—in short, I had it all.

“He doesn’t know what he’s missing out on,” I thought sadly. “Other people would be proud to have a son-in-law like me. Not only that, but if I married his daughter, she would get me to become religious.”

I was still thinking this over when my cousin Yaakov, with whom I was staying in America, appeared. Seeing me upset, he asked what was wrong, and I told him what had just happened.

He brightened. “Listen, not far from here lives a great rabbi who everybody talks about. Maybe you should visit him and he can explain what happened, or maybe he would even agree to convince the father.”

A few weeks later I met with the Rebbe. The Rebbe listened with great interest as I told him at length about the area where I grew up, the Jewish community, my army service, and then finally, the reason I was there. I told the Rebbe about our desire to marry and the father’s veto.

When I finished my story, the Rebbe told me to get up. To my surprise he looked me over in satisfaction and said, “I’m pleased. Until now I was pleased. Now I’m even more pleased.”
Having no idea what the Rebbe was talking about, I waited for him to continue.

The Rebbe began by explaining that in the Jewish America of today there was unprecedented assimilation and intermarriage. People practically gave no thought as to the nationality or religion of their future spouses.

“Now,” said the Rebbe, “if somebody were to tell me that an observant Jew took a dentist, who was also an officer and a nice-looking fellow, despite the fact that he was not observant, for a son-in-law, I wouldn’t be at all surprised. But when you tell me that here, in America, there are Jews who consider the Torah more important than the honor they would get when people heard they got ‘a young man from Eretz Yisroel,’ I am very pleased.

"That’s why I asked you to stand up—so I could see how tall you are and how well-built. To believe that a Jew from Boro Park gave you up despite all your good qualities—just because he wants an observant man for his daughter!”

I was in shock. I had come to tell the Rebbe my sorry tale, and here the Rebbe was telling me he was happy about it!

Despite what the Rebbe had said thus far, I kept trying. “Rebbe! Who knows? Maybe if I marry her, I would try to live more like she does, and I would even return to the faith. Why shouldn’t I get a chance?”

The Rebbe answered with a parable. “There are two friends—one on the top of a mountain where there are plenty of delicious fruits, and one on the bottom of the mountain without fruits. The one on top tosses a few fruits down to the one on the bottom, and when the one on the bottom tastes them he sees how good they are. With his friend’s help, he makes it to the top of the mountain. But this happened only because the one on the bottom tasted the fruits and saw how good they were. If he hadn’t tasted them, he would never have made the attempt to climb to the summit.”

The Rebbe gazed at me penetratingly and said, “You’re not even willing to lift 200 grams, and you want to be a Boro Parker?”

I wracked my brains trying to figure out what the Rebbe was referring to when he said “you won’t even lift 200 grams,” but came up with nothing. Had I tried to lift something weighing 200 grams and not succeeded?

With that the yechidus ended, and I left both confused and disappointed. Meanwhile my cousin was still waiting outside, and I told him what the Rebbe had said.

“I had no idea what the Rebbe was referring to when he said I couldn’t even lift 200 grams,” I explained.

Yaakov pondered it over for a few seconds and then jumped up. “Tell me, do you lay tefillin every morning?’

"No, I don’t. I’ve never even given it a second thought.”

"Nu,” Yaakov declared, “that’s what the Rebbe meant! You’re not even willing to lay 200 grams of tefillin on you. So what makes you think you’ll change your lifestyle and fulfill all 613 mitzvoth simply because you’re marrying someone?

“First, start doing mitzvoth on your own—just basic things like tefillin—and then with her help or the help of a good friend, see how far you can go.”

This time it was my turn to get excited. “What a Rebbe! How wise he is!”

Sometime later, I married a religious girl and thank G-d, we have three children, all yeshiva graduates. The first is named Menachem, like the Rebbe, of course. My daughter leads a religious life, and even though I still have a lot to work on personally, whatever I do have is in the merit of that yechidus.

“We sat and listened to his story,” concluded Yitzchok, “and when he finished I asked him, ‘Nu, after a story like that about 200 grams, are you still not ready to put on tefillin?’

“The dentist looked at me slyly and said with a smile, ‘Since that yechidus, my morning exercise consists of lifting 200 grams on my arm.”