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.”

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How to deal with Anxiety?

ial thanks to Rabbi Sholom Mendel, of the Rebbe’s secretariat.

The Rebbe Archive presents a newly released photo of the Rebbe returning to 770 after the visit of then president of Israel, Zalman Shazar, Purim 5731/1971.

Good Shabbos

By the Grace of G-d
26 Teves 5725
Brooklyn, NY

Greeting and Blessing:

This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter with the enclosure, in which you write about your problem of acute anxiety, and ask my advice.

The best and most effective thing to do, in a situation such as yours, is to study thoroughly those sections and chapters in our sacred books where the matter of Divine Providence and bitachon are discussed, such as Chovos Halvovos, Shaar Habitachon, and similar. It is well to keep in mind those chapters and verses in the Tehillim which speak of these subjects, as well as the Midrashim and interpretations of our Sages on them. These things should be studied with such depth that they should become a part of one’s thinking. In this way there will be no room left for any kind of anxiety or worry, and as King David said in the Tehillim, “G-d is with me, I shall not fear. What can man do unto me!”

As you well know, the matter of hashgocho protis is the basis of true monotheism, a concept which to us means not only that G-d is One, but that there is oneness in the whole of nature. In other words, the whole universe has one Supreme Being, Who not only is the Creator of everything, but also is the Master, continually supervising every detail of his handiwork. The corollary of this is that there cannot be a single point in the whole order of the world which is separated from the Supreme Being, or in any way not subject to His control. At the same time it is obvious that the Supreme Being is also the Essence of Perfection and Goodness.

And although many things in the world seem imperfect, and require completion or perfection, there can be no doubt that there is a perfect order in the world, and even the lowest in the scale of Creation, namely the inanimate things, display wonderful perfection and symmetry, as can be seen from the atoms and molecules of inorganic matter. Hence, the conclusion must be that even those things which require completion are also part of the perfect order and necessary for the fulfillment of the good, as all this is explained at length in the teachings of Chassidus.

It is explained there that in order for a man to attain perfection, it is necessary that he should also have the feeling that he is not only on the receiving end, but also a contributor, and according to the expression of our Sages of blessed memory, “A partner in the Creation.” This is why things have been left in the world for him to improve and perfect.

I also want to make the further observation, and this is also essential, that there is really no basis for anxiety at any time, and as you yourself mentioned in your letter, that you find no reason for it. Even in such cases where you think you know the reason for your anxiety, the reason is undoubtedly imaginary, or at any rate, not the real cause. For the real cause is that one’s daily life is not in complete harmony with the true essence of a Jew. In such a case it is impossible not to have an awkward feeling that things do not seem to fit somehow, and it is this disharmony which is at the bottom of the anxiety, and it is in proportion to the discrepancy between his way of life and his true natural self.

Everybody recognizes that anxiety has to do with the psyche. But in the case of a Jew, the so-called psyche is really the neshama. Some Jews have a particularly sensitive soul, in which case the abovementioned disharmony would create a greater anxiety. In such a case even subtle and “minor” infractions of didukei mitzvoth would create anxiety. But even in the case of an ordinary soul of the average Jew, there must inevitably be created some anxiety if there is a failure to observe the fundamental mitzvoth. It is very possible that the above may have a bearing on your situation. If this is so, then all that is necessary is to rectify matters, and bring the daily life and conduct into complete harmony with the essence of the soul, through strict adherence to the Torah and mitzvoth. Then the symptoms will disappear of themselves.

It is necessary to mention also that in your case, where your position gives you a great deal of influence on your environment, your influence is an integral part of your harmonious life, and it is therefore essential that your influence, too, should be in harmony with the Torah and mitzvoth in the fullest measure.

I suggest that you should also have the mezuzoth of your home checked, as also your tefillin, and before putting on your tefillin every weekday morning, to put aside a small coin for tzedakah.

Hoping to hear good news from you in regard to all the matters discussed above.

With blessing,


P.S. As for the question of seeing me personally in connection with this year’s occurrence, the calendar of appointments is filled to capacity and for a long time in advance. But the important thing is that it is not at all necessary for you to take the trouble and time to see me personally, inasmuch as all I could tell you is what I wrote to you above.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Did The Rebbe Serve in the Army?

/>>The Avner Institute presents the following encounter, where Rabbi Levi Pressman, of blessed memory, describes the daring act of his father-in-law that saved the future Lubavitcher Rebbe from Soviet hands. With special thanks to Rabbi Tuvia Litzman.

Good Shabbos


Ben-Tzion Goldschmidt would never have called himself a holy man, but his actions, as well as fervor, would have placed him in a close enough category. At least according to the chief rabbi of his town, Levi Yitzchak Schneerson. For Reb Goldschmidt a respected shochet, ritual slaughterer, was unquestionably pious. Even under the harsh new Soviet regime he remained defiantly Torah observant, just like the chief rabbi.
Once when the shochet came to visit the chief rabbi, he found Rabbi Schneerson weeping.

“What’s wrong?” Reb Goldschmidt asked.

The rabbi explained, “There is a Jew here, an informer who is trying to blackmail me.”

“Blackmail you?” Reb Goldschmidt exclaimed. “Why?”

Apparently in order to keep his son out of the Soviet army, and its dangerously secularizing influences, Rabbi Schneerson had been forced to pay large sums of money to this particular individual. However, this time the man had demanded an impossibly high sum.

“There is no telling what he might do,” Rabbi Schneerson said. “He might turn my son in.”

Bristling, the slaughterer demanded the man’s name and appearance. Shortly later he found this rogue at the synagogue, in the middle of prayer service. As the latter was chanting prayers, no doubt as a ruse to blend in, he caught the slaughterer’s stern look.

Motioning with his hands, Reb Goldschmidt signed that he wished to speak with him after the service.

The service soon ended. As the worshippers filed out, the informer approached the shochet, who abruptly grabbed him by the lapels and almost dragged him into a side room.

He drew out from his bag a long slaughtering knife. “See this?” he barked.
The informer nodded.

Reb Goldschmidt inched closer, practically breathing down the man’s neck. “If you ever make anymore attempts to squeeze money from Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, I shall personally take this knife and slit your throat. Do you hear me?”

Again the other nodded.

Reb Goldschmidt added, “And I don’t care if I rot in jail!”

Eyes wide with terror, the blackmailer backed away from the slaughterer, towards the exit. Once outside the man fled the building, and in fact, the entire town, never again to return.

When Rabbi Levi Yitzchak heard what had happened, he embraced the shochet:

“I owe you in this world and in the World-To-Come.”

This world was repaid many times over by Reb Goldschmidt’s courage. Because the son he had helped spare from service in the Red Army was none other than the future Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A moving Diary About the Rebbe - Summer 1950

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.

Good Shabbos

“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.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Rebbe, does my Son have to Grow a beard?

Why is the beard so important to many Jews? Especially a beard that is untrimmed? The following is a letter to a mother who, upset over her son’s decision to grow a beard, receives the Rebbe’s praise of her son’s character and the Rebbe’s insights on the beard within Jewish law.

Good Shabbos

By the Grace of G-d
16 Kislev 5744
Brooklyn, NY

Blessing and Greeting:

This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter of Nov. 14, in which you write about your son.

First of all, let me congratulate you and your husband on having been blessed with a son who stands firm on his principles and is not swayed by convention and the like. It is no small achievement for a Jew—and one who is a minority within a minority at that—to have the strength of character and conviction, where it would be so much easier to follow the crowd.

Especially in this day and age of tremendous upheavals, when so many young people are just drifting, without a firm foothold in life. Jewish parents who have been blessed with children who are unshakably rooted in, and proud of, their Jewishness, should surely thank G-d for it every day. There is no need to elaborate on the obvious.

The above is also my response to what you consider to be a problem, which to my way of thinking, based on experience of many similar cases, is really a blessing.

To be sure, there are Orthodox circles (such as Young Israel, for instance) in which wearing a beard is not considered obligatory. On the other hand, there are those who not only grow a beard, but will not even trim it. I know from experience that is highly inadvisable to pressure a young man who has strong convictions in regard to religious values. To dislodge a brick may sometimes disturb the whole structure. Even if there is the slightest doubt about the consequence, it would be prudent to leave it alone.

Be it remembered that Jews who do not trim their beards are doing it out of conviction, not caprice, fad, or the like. They consider it a sacred Torah precept. This is no reflection on those who follow a different authoritative rabbinic view. (Historically there have been legitimate differences within the Halacha as to how certain mitzvoth should be performed.) But it would not be right—for the above reasons and others—to use pressure in matters and principle and time-honored practices, or to even interfere.

Within you and yours a bright and inspiring Chanukah,

With blessing,


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Rebbe, Is Making Aliyah a Must?

Is Aliyah the only “way”? Shouldn’t every Jew simply pack his bags and move to Israel?

The Avner Institute presents an insightful reply to a professor who, depressed over his inability to live in the Holy Land, learns the Rebbe’s views on immigration, and why, for many in the modern age, the Diaspora may be the best thing.

Good Shabbos


21 Adar II 5738
Brooklyn, NY

Prof. Zeev
1601 Spring Valley Rd.
Golden Valley, MN 55422

Sholom u’Brocho:

I am in receipt of your letter, written on Purim, and in view of its contents I hasten to reply to it ahead of turn and via Special Delivery.

Following the order in your letter, I will refer to your problem of finding yourself and your wife in a depression “from the disappointment of not following through with our dreams of going to Israel.”

It is surely unnecessary to emphasize to you again that the only reason for my opinion that you ought to continue in the USA is that American Jewry, and especially the younger generation, have a priority claim on your services to help permeate them with Yiddishkeit, especially after you have had such considerable hatzlocho [success] in this area.

To be sure, the yishuv [community] in Eretz Yisroel would also benefit from your presence there, but it would not be of the same scope and quality as here. Furthermore, making aliyah [immigration] requires a certain period of adjustment and getting the proper feel of the new situation, etc., and in the present “Jet Age” every minute is of the essence, especially insofar as youth is concerned.

All the above is coupled with the consideration that doing the proper thing is the channel for contentment and inner peace and G-d’s blessings also in all personal affairs.

Pursuant to the above, my advice was further predicated on the assumption that the activities can be carried out with joy and gladness of heart, which is essential if the objectives are to be attained in fullest measure, and certainly not in a state of depression or feeling of imposition. There is no need to belabor the point to an experienced communal worker like yourself.

In light of all that has been said above—if, for any reason, the disappointment of your unfulfilled dreams of going to Eretz Yisroel creates a different situation from that I have envisaged, then of course, my advice to stay would be pointless and out of place. To put it simply, if after several months of continuing with your work here, if you still find that you cannot “snap out” of the depression, and if the reason behind it is none other than the unfulfilled dream, then, of course, you have my blessing to go to Eretz Yisroel and do what you can there.

Should you, however, decide that the cause of the present depression is after all not really the above, and hence can be eliminated, restoring you back to your former state of good cheer and confidence to be able to carry on your hafatza [outreach] activities with joy and gladness of heart—then, the second problem mentioned in your letter—the question of a house—has to be tackled.

Inasmuch as our Sages declare that “a nice dwelling broadens a person’s mind” and is conducive to greater achievements both in personal and communal affairs, you should look for a suitable house in a suitable section. As for selling all your assets, this is not advisable, nor necessary. I have at my disposal a fund for such special situations, and a loan gladly would be made available to you for the full amount that you may require to enable you to purchase a nice dwelling, as above. You may set your own terms of repayment at your convenience. As I do not wish to be involved in a hetter iska, [leniency] the loan would have to be interest-free. It would create no hardship for anyone, and you need not hesitate about it, at all.

Since your letter was written on Purim and the reply is Erev Shabbos Mevorchim Nissan, both of which are occasions for simcha [joy], may there always be true joy in your home and, to quote the Megillah, “light, joy, gladness and honor” in every sense of these terms.

With blessing,


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

David Ben Gurion and the Rebbe & New Photo 1944

Ben Gurion answered, after considering the various possibilities. "After endless agony, we were finally able to obtain a miniscule cache of guns, procured from a reluctant Russia. Incapable of supplying all the troops with proper artillery, we would have to make a tortuous choice which of our valiant comrades, all contributing their entire energies to a venerable cause, should receive the goods.

“Each commander, many of them close friends of mine, vying for his men, had his own reasoning why it was imperative that the guns be directed to them. My friends from the Galilee, locked in battle over strategic enemy positions, while outnumbered and understaffed, came to me and cried, 'While you sit here in safety, our best young men are falling, lacking the most basic weapons. Give us guns, so we can protect this land, or all will be lost.'

"From Central Command in Tel Aviv, endeavoring to withhold hostile forces from completely overrunning the heart of the country, came the besieged Hagana leaders, who demanded, 'We must have more equipment; the majority of our civilian population are under incessant fire, and without stocking our depleted stockpiles, we will be compelled to surrender.'

"Harassed and fatigued, the generals from the Negev arrived next, pleading for every morsel of warfare they could receive, 'If you don't supply us with adequate arms, we will be powerless against the armies invading the South, putting at risk all of the inhabitants of the land.'

"Finally, following these groups, a contingency appeared, representing the gallant but beleaguered soldiers defending the ancient capital, Jerusalem. Heads drooping on their tattered uniforms and shoulders slouching under the heavy weight of battle, they lifted their weary eyes and simply said, 'You must replenish our empty storehouses if we are to continue guarding our holy city. Although there may not be many Jews in the city, it is crucial to the future of the nation that it remain in our hands; for Jerusalem is the essential spirit and central organism of our people, and Israel having lost Jerusalem would be like a body without a head.'

"I was faced with a moral quandary, and this was the toughest decision in my life; how can one make such a choice? Who is to decide which region is more vital and which people best deserve to live? His anguish inconceivable, a leader is forced to make such a judgment of one man over another. In the end, unable to reach a logical compromise, I allowed my emotional instincts to override strategic concerns; the argument about Jerusalem's centrality in Jewish religion and history prevailed, and I handed over the weapons to those guarding the city."

Concluding this tale before the Rebbe, who had listened attentively to every detail, I observed how deeply moved, and even pleasantly shocked he seemed; apparently, finding it hard to believe Ben Gurion had behaved that way. Still coming to terms with the story and visibly impressed, he asked me with great feeling to repeat the entire incident.

At the end of the second time the Rebbe said:

"This is a tremendous achievement, an incredible merit. I marvel how Ben Gurion acquired the great merit to make such a monumental decision."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Chabad and Williamsburg?

Chabad to Williamsburg—how far does the love for a fellow Jew go? Especially one who strayed?

The Avner Institute presents a moving encounter told by Rabbi Nachman Twersky, whose grandfather the Rachmastrivka Rebbe, together with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, helped bring a former student of his who was living in Williamsburg Brooklyn at the time back to Torah observance, showing how through Divine Providence a lost Jewish spark can be rekindled.

Good Shabbos

The Real Reason Behind a Visa

In 1920, after the establishment of the brutal Soviet regime, the Rachmastrivka Rebbe Dovid Twersky and his family were forced to flee their native town and live in Nikolayev, which was known for its large Lubavitcher community. The current Lubavitcher Rebbe, whose grandfather was the local rav, had opportunities to meet and work with the Rachmastrivka Rebbe and establish a network of underground yeshivas throughout Soviet Russia. The Rachmastrivka Rebbe lived in Nikolayev for six years until 1926, when he had his family finally left for Israel and he rebuilt his Chassidic court in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Twersky relates:

About thirty years passed since those difficult days in Russia. In 1950, after the passing of his father, R’ Dovid, R’ Yochanan became the new Admur of Rachmastrivka. Founder of Yeshivat Meor Einayim, he continued to lead the Chassidim and rebuild the Chassidus almost from scratch after years of suffering and exile; his leadership was noted for its warmth and simplicity.

In 1954 R’ Yochanan went to Williamsburg, New York for the wedding of his son, R’ Chaim Yitzchok Twersky (the present Admur). Taking advantage of his stay in Brooklyn to renew his connection with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, R’ Yochanan Twersky arrived on night at 770 for a private audience which lasted quite some time.

During the yechidus the Rebbe asked the Admur whether he remembered a particular student in the underground Talmud Torah in Nikolayev. When the Admur said yes, the Rebbe explained how this student had emigrated from the Soviet Union to the United States, where, ironically, in a free country, he was could observe the religion freely but had chosen instead to leave the path of Torah. The Rebbe said that Lubavitcher Chassidim had met with him and tried to get him back on track but to no avail.

“Perhaps you will have an influence on him,” the Rebbe suggested, and he asked the Admur about possibly devoting some time in New York to visit with this man and inspire him to return to the fold.

It is remarkable that the conversation between these two tzaddikim focused on a Jew from decades ago and how to get him back to Jewish ways and traditions. The Rachmastrivka Rebbe, saddened to hear about the poor spiritual state of the former student, promised the Rebbe to try to reach this person.

The Rebbe did not delay. Immediately he picked up the phone and dialed the man’s number. “I have Rabbi Yochanan Twersky sitting here. Do you remember him?”

Apparently the man said yes, for the Rebbe continued, “Rabbi Twersky is interested in meeting with you. When can you meet?”

When the man said that Friday afternoon would be convenient, the Rebbe asked R’ Twersky to receive him then and gave the man the address where the Admur was staying.


Friday afternoon, the former student from Nikolayev went to Williamsburg to see the Rachmastrivka Rebbe. After nearly thirty years’ separation, the meeting was highly emotional and time was spent reminiscing about unforgettable people.

When the man asked the Admur why he had come to New York, the Admur simply replied that he had come for his son’s wedding. The former student, guessing the reason for their meeting and feeling gratitude for what the Rebbe had done for him years ago, took out a checkbook, wrote a generous check, and presented it to the Admur.

To his surprise, the Admur would not accept it. “I won’t take a check until I finish our conversation,” he declared. “I want to discuss your religious observance.”

The man, by then entrenched in the American way of life and thinking, explained that he was a respected member of his Jewish community and even went to shul occasionally. He seemed pleased with himself.

“What about Shabbos observance?” asked the Admur.

The man began to justify his lack of observance, saying that although Shabbos was very important, he couldn’t be closed while all his competitors were open on this busiest day of the week.

“What about kashrus?” persisted the Admur.

Again the man mumbled that in spite of his desire to keep kosher, he lived in an area where kosher products were almost impossible to obtain, which left him no choice but to eat non-kosher.

The Admur listened quietly. “What about tefillin?”

The man agreed that tefillin was an important mitzvah but that he did not always have time for it.

The Admur’s eyes filled with tears. At last he cried bitterly.

“Was it for a ‘Judaism’ like this that we invested so much effort into you in the underground schools in Nikolayev? Each of your teachers put his life in danger, and for what? So you would grow up to be a G-d-fearing and observant Jew. See how far you’ve strayed . . . .”

The man was touched, and he too began to cry. “You are absolutely right! I promise that from now on I will do teshuva and keep the mitzvoth as I learned them.”

The Admur was pleased. He blessed the former student with success in returning to his roots.

Before they parted, the man again tried to hand him the check, but this time again, the Admur refused. “I will take the check only after I find out that you kept your word and did teshuva. How will I know when I don’t live here?”

He then answered his own question, “When the Lubavitcher Rebbe will tell me that you did teshuva, only then will I accept your donation.”

With a heavy handshake the Rachmastrivka Rebbe and his guest said goodbye.


The Admur’s visit in New York lasted a few more weeks, during which he received many people who came to him for blessings and advice.

One day, the phone rang at his host’s house. The Rachmastrivka Rebbetzin answered.

The voice on the line asked to speak with Rabbi Twersky.

“Who is speaking?” she asked.

“Duh redt men fun Lubavitch (I’m calling from Lubavitch).”

Realizing it was the Lubavitcher Rebbe, she excitedly gave the phone to her husband.

The Rebbe gave the Rachmastrivka Rebbe the update: their former student had done teshuva and begun keeping mitzvoth.

“R’ Yochanan,” said the Rebbe, “you think you came here in order to marry off your son? You came here so that a Jew would do teshuva. Now this man is frum!”

The Visa

Rabbi Twersky adds:

“When I spoke with my uncle about his wedding, I thought about what the Rebbe had said to my grandfather and I put the following information together:

“When my grandfather went for his visa to the U.S. for the first time, he was refused. The people at the American embassy saw he was a former Russian citizen, and in light of the tension between the United States and Russia at the time, that was reason enough to be refused a visa to the U.S. The Americans were afraid to allow possible Russian spies into the country.

“My grandfather was turned down again and again, and he despaired of being able to attend his son’s wedding. The chassan went to America by himself and the family made peace with the fact that the father of the chassan would not be attending. A few days before the wedding, the American embassy contacted him and said he could submit another request. He did so and this time the visa was granted.

“When the family reviewed what the Rebbe had said to my grandfather, they realized that Divine Providence had orchestrated matters so he could travel to the United States in order to save that Jew and not necessarily because of the wedding of his son.”

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Rebbe writes To a Stamp Collector

Monday, June 6, 2011

Unique Shavuos Diary & Photos - Marking 30 Years

Over the year’s late British businessman Zalman Jaffe and his wife Roselyn spent every Shavuos in Crown Heights, where they merited an especially close relationship with the Rebbe and Rebbetzin. At the Rebbe’s request Mr. Jaffe faithfully recorded these visits, which were published annually as My Encounters with the Rebbe and savored by Chabad readers everywhere.

The Avner Institute presents an excerpt from Shavuos 30 years ago, where the Jaffes, this time accompanied by five of their grandchildren, share experiences ranging from farbrengens to private audiences. To learn more about Mr. Jaffe’s diaries Click Here

Kabalas HaTorah Besimcha U'bipnimius!

Mr. Jaffe relates in his diary June 1981:

We now had our very own apartment on Eastern Parkway—next door, but one next to 770. Under these circumstances, we would have felt rather inconsiderate or even mean, if we would not have taken some of our grandchildren with us. So when we booked our flight, we also arranged to be accompanied by five of our grandchildren. They were Leah, Chanah, and Golda Jaffe, and Golda Rivkah and Pinchas Lew.

When we arrived at 770 for mincha [afternoon prayer], the months seemed to roll away. It was as it we had never been away from 770. I was delighted to see that the Rebbe had not changed. Thank G-d he looked fit and well—and as youthful as ever.

Roselyn and I, and our grandchildren, had the pleasure of greeting the Rebbe as he marched briskly up the steps and into 770. He welcomed us all with a lovely smile and touched his hat to Roselyn—the Rebbe is always the perfect gentleman!


Over the Shavuos period there were the usual farbrengens. I managed to obtain my usual seat. Pinchas had the best place: right at the top table—sorry—under the top table, exactly by the Rebbe's feet. This was extremely cheeky, but there were dozens of similar young cheeky boys underneath the top table. They were all crawling along and pushing in order to get even closer to the Rebbe.

During the farbrengen the air conditioning was not working. The Rebbe made a strong complaint. He mentioned that it had broken down twice, consecutively, already. He did not want this to happen again, because if it failed once more, it would become a chazoka, a tradition which cannot be changed.

Shavuos Yechidus

Our yechidus was on Thursday evening. There were 155 appointments for that night, with a total of over 600 people involved. For example, our own appointment included seven of us—Roselyn and I, plus our five grandchildren.

Someone asked me in what language the Rebbe conversed with me in yechidus. I replied, “In English.”

“Hum,” this fellow grunted, “a grosser kavod (a big honor).”

It was two a.m. when Roselyn and I, and our grandchildren, entered the Rebbe's study for our yechidus.

The Rebbe raised himself from his chair and said, “Shalom Aleichem.” He greeted us with his usual wonderful and friendly smile. It is over twenty-two years since we first met the Rebbe, and thank G-d we have always received a most remarkable, heartwarming welcome, coupled with a most extraordinary happy and cheerful countenance. We shall forever be grateful to the Rebbe and always treasure his unique friendship.

I confided to the Rebbe that one of my grandchildren had told me that it was not very clever of me to write My Encounter with the Rebbe, because it was a gift from Hashem. I suggested that there should be a moral somewhere. The Rebbe agreed that if one had received a special gift from Hashem, then one needed to make full use of this—otherwise it was wasted.

The Rebbe was pleased that we now had a permanent apartment in Crown Heights. I commented that we would always feel guilty if we came alone—another wasted gift! So we had brought five grandchildren with us. The Rebbe observed that this was very good, “but next time bring seven!”

This was a bit of a shock. I looked at Roselyn. I thought she would have “gone through the floor,” but she was still standing there. She had paled a little, but in general she was bearing up well.

I complained that the grandchildren had all made certain promises—to help with the household chores, to go to bed early, and so on—and that they had not kept all these promises. The Rebbe smiled broadly and declared, “They still had two days to repent [before we left for home].” The Rebbe maintained that it was a very good thing to bring grandchildren to New York with us.

When the Rebbe inquired about my foot, I gave a demonstration with a skip, a hop and a dance—although I was wearing only sandals and not shoes. The Rebbe laughed. (I had sustained an accident to my Achilles tendon last year.)

I intimated to the Rebbe that I did not have a very good seat at the last farbrengen. I had Rabbi J.J. [Hecht] on one side—but a solid steel pillar on the other side. Although J.J. did give way a little, occasionally, I certainly could not budge the steel girder. It was tough.

The Rebbe commented, “A Chossid has to shvitz [sweat].”

The Rebbe continued with a nice smile, “I am a practical man, and I am looking for business for the Children's Sefer Torah.”

He then wished to know which of my grandchildren now present came under that category. I replied that Chanah would be bas mitzvah this coming Yud Bais Tammuz [the Previous Rebbe’s birthday and liberation from prison]. The Rebbe considered this a very nice time to celebrate a bas mitzvah. I told the Rebbe that Hindy's birthday was on Yud Shevat--also a memorable date [yahrzeit of the Previous Rebbe and day current Rebbe assumed leadership]!

(After the yechidus, I got into a terrible row with my granddaughters, who insisted that the Rebbe's question was directed to them, and that I had no right to have answered on their behalf. After all, it was also their yechidus—and so on, and so forth—ad infinitum and ad nauseam!)

The Rebbe confirmed that he was very happy with my Diary. He liked the binding, the format, and the printing, and mainly the Rebbe liked all the good things about which I wrote. He inquired whether I had given my usual talk at the Kinus Hatorah, and was delighted when I replied in the affirmative.

The Rebbe advised me to describe fully the farbrengen in my Diary. It would help our grandchildren to understand what happened much more easily. "Next year would be book number thirteen—a big year.”

I demurred. “I have nothing much to write.”

The Rebbe stated, “You are repeating yourself, just like last year.”

I said that last year I went to the brissim [circumcision ceremonies] of the Russian boys and to the Ladies' Convention, so that was additional things to write about.

The Rebbe again reiterated that I had grumbled last year and yet I had written more than ever. “So do not worry. You will have plenty to write.”

I then declared that it was getting late and that I did not want to keep the Rebbe. The Rebbe said that I was not keeping him.

The Rebbe was surprised that he had not heard from me about a certain unhappy affair. I replied that I did not wish to write unpleasant news, especially when it, thank G-d, did not affect us—and that there are always plenty of good things about which to write. The Rebbe laughed and said, “All I get is tzurus, bad news. I don't get too much good news.”

The Rebbe turned again to Roselyn and said, “And bring a special suit when you come for Simchas Torah. No, better, come for Succoth so that you [Roselyn] can have a week's rest before Simchas Torah.”

I referred to a certain gentleman who came to 770 for Simchas Torah. He put on a brand new kapote [cloak] in honor of the occasion. He jumped over benches, boys jumped and trod over him—in a very short time, he was wearing a very old and shabby kapote.

The Rebbe inquired of Roselyn about our apartment. Roselyn replied that it was adequate, but that it was in a wonderful position—right next door to the Rebbe.

“But,” the Rebbe insisted, “is it a good apartment?”

Roselyn maintained that it was very good for a couple of weeks a year. I reminded the Rebbe that at Succoth time, I was upstairs in the succah, while Roselyn was downstairs in the basement. The Rebbe repeated what he had said last year—that this basement apartment should be Roselyn's "Seventh Heaven.”

We discussed some other matters, and then I thanked the Rebbe for everything, especially his lovely welcome. The Rebbe interrupted and said, “No, no, I thank you, I thank you for coming to see me. It is my pleasure.”

The Rebbe asked us to give his regards to Avrohom and Susan, to Shmuel and Hindy, and to all our einelech [grandchildren] who had been left behind in England. Before we took our leave, the Rebbe handed everyone a dollar bill for shaliach mitzvah [charity].

We had been with the Rebbe for twenty minutes, and it was 2:30 a.m. when we left.


We were due to leave 770 at 5:30 p.m. I had asked the Rebbe whether we could see him after mincha to say farewell and receive another bracha [blessing] before our journey home. We made the usual arrangements. Roselyn would take all the children in the elevator to the second floor and then walk down the stairs to the Rebbe's waiting room.

Immediately after mincha, I followed closely behind the Rebbe to his waiting room. His secretary Leibel Groner shut the door behind us. I was gratified to see Roselyn and our five grandchildren waiting there.

I thanked the Rebbe for giving us this further privilege of seeing the Rebbe at this “mini-yechidus.”

The Rebbe said, “Faur gezunderhait [go in good health], and I should hear besuros tovos [good tidings]. Next time,” he added, with a twinkle in his eye, “don't print any lashon hara [gossip] about the pushing and shtupping. Continue to write good things.”

When I protested and said that my granddaughters push me around, the Rebbe commented, “They are alright, and that doesn't really matter.” The Rebbe said, "Grist [give regards] to your son and daughter and all the grandchildren.”

The Rebbe seemed to have realized that my granddaughters were still sore and annoyed with me about the main yechidus, because the Rebbe turned to each of them separately and gave everyone an individual bracha, mainly that they should have yiras shomayim [fear of Heaven], learn well, and be a lamdan [scholar]. The Rebbe again thanked us for coming to see him and hoped to see us again.

We then reluctantly took our leave of the Rebbe.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Moving Letter From a IDF Widow

Yom Kippur 1973. Israel was suddenly attacked, and in the devastating, dramatic battle with Egyptian forces, many lives were lost. Following the war the Rebbe sent letters of encouragement to the wounded and to the families of the departed.

The Avner Institute presents a letter to the Rebbe in which a young mother whose soldier husband perished asks: How can she explain this tragedy? What words of comfort can she give to her children, whose very beliefs might be shattered by the evil that took their father’s life?

The Rebbe Archive presents a photo of Ephraim Levy, former IDF Chief of Staff, receiving a dollar from the Rebbe after yechidus with an entourage headed by then Israeli President Zalman Shazar in 5734/1973.

Good Shabbos

To Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Shlita:

G-d was with us during this very difficult time, and we succeeded in standing strong against all of the nations. Nevertheless, every single victory needs commitment and sacrifice, and there is no greater sacrifice than giving up a life.

Because I remain a widow with no father for my children, it is hard for me to educate them and to bring them up in the best and proper way. It is hard for me to stand alone against such a large world with all the adversity out there. Because my children have a proud Jewish heritage, Rebbe, I have questions that I would like to ask.

I have one daughter who is seven years old, and one boy who is five. How do I explain that their father’s death came through self-sacrifice to G-d’s will?

My son is asking me, “Mother, when Moshiach comes the dead will return, and then Tatty will come back. So why doesn’t Moshiach come now?”

How do I answer these questions? In my eyes these questions, which are so fundamental, may have an effect on my children’s beliefs and thoughts.

It will be a tremendous honor for me if the Rebbe can answer.


In regards to the questions the children are asking which you are writing to me about:

Explain to them, the way it is in truth, that there are souls that are so pure and holy that G-d wants them to be in the heavens, after they have completed their mission in this world and guarded over all the sons of Israel who live in Eretz Yisroel.

In the heavens they intercede for all their relatives and loved ones, and especially for their children, and they ask from G-d that their children succeed in studies and conduct. When their children conduct themselves properly, that is the biggest pleasure that the soul can have – that it remains alive and existing."

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Rebbe, Why is Non-Kosher Food Not Harmful to Non-Jews?

“he never saw Heaven with a telescope.”

The afterlife and other topics were posed to the Rebbe by a group of eager college students. The Avner Institute presents part 2 of the Yechidus where the Rebbe eloquently answers his young audience and in the end challenges them with questions of his own.

Good Shabbos

Question (Student): What proof do you have of Heaven? We never saw it with a telescope.

Answer (Rebbe): What is your concept of Heaven? After you die you go to a place and there you spend the rest of your existence? Can you measure intellect with a yardstick? Can you say my intellect is two years and the next man’s is 1½ yards? By the same token . . . heaven is spiritual and has no definite material boundaries by which it can be measured.

Q: If there is another life, how can you explain the fact that people have died and by massaging the heart, etc., have been brought back to life?

A: The spirit has not departed entirely faint, deep prolonged faint. Can you state the difference between a live body and the dead body? The organs are the same? The heart is beating? That is only a condition (of motion) and not a cause. What caused this condition? The brain? What is the difference between a dead and live brain? Electrical waves? . . . . The soul.

Q: Why may we eat meat of a cow and not of a pig? Chemically they are the same.

A: The difference is one proportion. You learn in chemistry that two materials contain the same elements in different proportions. One is a benefit and the other is a poison. Strychnine, for instance—the same materials are found in sugar, bread, etc. Yet if you eat bread and sugar it will benefit the body, but if you take a pill of strychnine it will harm the body.

Q: Why is non-Kosher food not harmful to non-Jews?

A: Food is for the stomach (beneficial for the body) and unfit for the lungs. On the other hand, air is fit for the lungs (beneficial for the body) and unfit for the stomach. In a like manner, what can be good for one person can be harmful for the other ..air injected into the bloodstream .

Q: Can you prove that the eating of non-Kosher food has a harmful effect?

A: Through many generations of experiments it was found.

Q: Why do we observe the Sabbath if the atmospheric conditions of that day are the same as any other day?

A: We observe eclipses and cycles 28-year cycles of the sun that occur regularly, etc.

Are you acquainted with the function of the female body? Cycles occur regularly every 30 or 29 days. In a like manner the male body undergoes various cycles which go by less noticeably. So we Jews observe a certain cycle which occurs every seven days.

Q: Is there something you can put your finger on about these cycles?

A: Jews throughout their existence have found it, the Shabbos, wholesome for their existence.

Q: Jews believe in four elements: fire, air, water, and earth. In school, however, we are taught of 100 elements.

A: The mistake lies in the definition of the word “element.” An “element” in Jewish belief is not the simplest form of matter. That is what is meant by our reference to water—something that brings moisture.

In this watch there are twenty wheels and some springs, the watch man would say. Our word “element” is used in much the same way and sense.

Now may I ask a question? Have you ever performed experiments? How many? Billions? Less than a billion? Yet you have accepted .

Do you believe that there was once a man by the name of Columbus? Without a doubt. You never saw Columbus and you will never see him in the future, but you take the word of the history book that Columbus came to America from Spain.

When you go into a subway and drop a token into the turnstile, must you understand how the train works? A person cannot exist if he must understand how Each time you eat a piece of bread, must you first understand how the oven works? Before eating meat or drinking milk, must you first understand how the cow digests the grass?

The train itself is a miracle. You have many wagons, and you have the passengers weighing so many pounds. You have the gravitation, friction, etc., yet you take it for granted that you will arrive at the next station.