A daughter in critical condition. A son forced to shave his beard. Even before officially stepping into his late father-in-law’s role, the Rebbe faced many challenges.
The Avner Institute presents two anecdotes by Rabbi Berel Junik, who merited a close relationship with the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin and who in his diary recorded that summer of 1950 the issues already landing at the Rebbe’s desk and the Rebbe’s careful analysis.
“Eighteen” Means “Life”
Wednesday, 13 Menachem Av 5710/July 27, 1950:
It was crowded that day at 770, with the congregation in the midst of morning service. Suddenly a middle-aged Jew burst in, crying, “Help me! Please! My daughter is in trouble!” That very moment his daughter lay in the hospital, where she had been enduring labor pains for over twenty-four hours.
A yeshiva student Dovber Junik approached him, holding out a pair of tefillin, and asked, “May I?”
The bewildered man held out his arm. He let the student lay the tefillin, then guide him through the morning service. Afterwards, he was brought by the student to the Rebbe, before whom the anguished father poured out his heart.
The Rebbe answered, “You must immediately say Psalm 71, the chapter of my father-in-law. Then give $1.80 to charity--ten times eighteen, which means ‘life.’ Your daughter must agree to put coins in the charity box every Friday night before candlelighting.”
The man listened intently, while the Rebbe commanded, “You must do this as quickly as possible, so that your daughter will merit an easy, healthy birth.”
As the man was escorted from the Rebbe’s office, the Rebbe concluded:
“Please call me and let me know what happens!”
The Rebbe repeated his instructions to Dovber Junik, having him relay them to the man and again stressing the urgency. “If only he had told me already by afternoon,” the Rebbe sighed. “He should tell his daughter right away about the charity on Erev Shabbos. This is not a trivial matter—this is most relevant!”
Around eleven p.m. the Rebbe asked if the man had called. When told no, he gave instructions to phone him. Dovber dialed and finally got through.
“My daughter is fine,” the man answered. “And thank G-d, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl! My new granddaughter!”
When Dovber brought the happy news to the Rebbe, the latter commented, “The man must have been very confused, since he forgot to call me, as I had asked.”
Nevertheless, the Rebbe’s face beamed with satisfaction. “But I am delighted over the news. Mazel tov!”
A Time of War
Sunday, 16 Menachem Av 5710/July 30, 1950:
It was only a month after the outbreak of the conflict in Korea. But times were tense even in Brooklyn, the other side of the world, where a student awaited his private audience outside the new Rebbe’s office.
Standing nervously in the hall, the young man watched the retinue of secretaries, scholars, and other visitors hurried past him. At last he was ushered inside.
Immediately he asked, “Rebbe, what should I do?” Apparently his parents, who had just arrived in Crown Heights, demanded that he shave off his beard.
The Rebbe answered quietly, “Since we are now approaching the month of Elul, when we increase in the reciting of Psalms and currently we fear there will be a war, this is definitely not the time, G-d forbid, to remove one’s beard. All this would apply even if you came from a city where the local Jews don’t grow beards, and it most surely applies to a city where Jews do grow beards. And especially since there are Lubavitcher members here, you must continue to grow your beard. You should have brought your parents here, and I would have spoken with them directly about this matter.”
The Rebbe concluded with a blessing for a successful journey and his desire to hear good news.