Friday, June 11, 2010

A Professor’s Moving Encounter with The Rebbe.

Some people had the honor of spending hours with the Rebbe in private audience. Yet thousands who merited a mere short moment felt transformed. The Rebbe sees everything, and those who found themselves at the receiving end of the Rebbe’s blessing or dollar changed not only their life but their entire perspective. The Avner Institute would like to present a wry and fascinating encounter Dr.Yaakov Brawer, Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology at McGill University Faculty of Medicine, shared with the Rebbe in the winter of 1990. With special thanks to the TAV Seminary of Montreal, Canada.

The Rebbe Archive would like to present a beautiful photo of the Rebbe, with special thanks to Rabbi Levin and Yechi Ezagui.

Good Shabbos

Dr. Brawer Relates:

"The biography of every Jewish man and woman among us could and should read like an anthology of Chasidic stories. I would like to share one of my own stories from my personal anthology of such tales.

For many years I have participated as a speaker in the mid-winter Shabbaton in Crown Heights.

Several years ago, however, I began to "burn out." It got to the point where I could barely stand the sound of my own voice. I could no longer answer the same questions over and over again. I had had it.

It was in this frame of mind that I arrived in Crown Heights in December of 1990 for what I perceived as my last speaking engagement.

Blended in with the ennui was a large measure of guilt.

The Rebbe had encouraged me in my speaking activities, and now I was afraid that I would be letting him down.

Chassidut has little patience for quitters.

There was, however, no help for it; I simply had no more talk left in me. I had spent hours casting about for some suitable activity that would serve as a replacement for public speaking, but thus far I had come up with nothing.

Predictably, the talk I delivered at the Shabbaton that Saturday evening was a disaster -- rambling, fragmented and uninspired. My swan song was most definitely off-key. In addition to the boredom and guilt I was now dejected.

On Sunday morning, the Rebbe received visitors. Anyone who wished could meet the Rebbe and obtain from him a blessing and a dollar to be given to charity.

The crowd of people hoping to see the Rebbe always numbered in the thousands, and the wait in line was long and uncomfortable.

Fortunately, I was a participant in the Shabbaton, and Shabbaton guests and participants were allowed through first.

Given the miserable performance of the preceding night and my planned retirement from the speaking circuit, I felt more than my usual apprehension at encountering the Rebbe.

Nonetheless, at 10:30 a.m. Sunday morning I set off for the Crown Hotel to join up with the Shabbaton party, which was scheduled to pass by the Rebbe at 11:30.

On the way I met a group of Shabbaton guests who wished me good morning and asked me about my horrible presentation of the night before.

The subject matter, they said, although interesting, was quite complicated and difficult to follow.

They wanted to know if I had published these ideas anywhere. When I told them I hadn't, they wanted to know why not.

I informed them that I am (was) really a speaker and that I express myself poorly in writing. They couldn't understand it. They knew that I had to write extensively and well in order to survive in the academic world. I explained that scientific writing is different from expository prose.

Indeed, my stilted writing conformed beautifully to the monotonous, dry, pedantic style that characterizes scientific journals. When we arrived at the hotel, another group of people approached to ask where they could find my writings. When I told them that there weren't any, they also wanted to know why not. I had to repeat my explanation once again.

I went up to the hotel lobby to await our departure for 770. Several yeshiva students who had been helping with the Shabbaton came over and wanted to know where they could find my "stuff." I told them there was no "stuff" in print.

"Why not?" they asked. By now, I was losing my patience. I explained to them, a little sharply, that I am not a writer, that I never was a writer, and that in fact, I cannot write.

"How can that be? You're a professor, aren't you?" they insisted.

I got up and walked outside. Finally, the Shabbaton group left for the Rebbe.

On the way, I happened to walk next to a couple who introduced themselves and wanted to know where I had written... I couldn't believe it. I smiled and pretended that I hadn't heard the question and walked on ahead.

When we arrived at 770, we skirted the throngs of people waiting and entered a door in the basement of the building. As our line crept forward, my heart began to pound and my mouth became dry.

An encounter with the Rebbe is, after all, no light matter.

An instant later I was before the Rebbe. Although a meeting with the Rebbe lasts only a few seconds, they are very long seconds.

During those precious moments the Rebbe is totally attentive to you. No one and nothing else exists. The Rebbe looked at me with unfathomable love, handed me a dollar and wished me "bracha v'hatzlacha" (blessing and success).

I had started to move on, when his secretary caught my sleeve.

I turned back to the Rebbe, who was holding out another dollar for me. As I took the dollar, the Rebbe, with a little smile and laughter in his eyes, said: "Hatzlacha in schreiben" (Success in writing).

I was stunned.

As we left the building, someone who had heard the Rebbe's words to me asked: "Yankel, are you a writer?"

"I am now," I answered.