The vintage chassid, Reb Mendel Futerfas, was wont to say: "There are chassidim who would say: A dank der Oibershter far'n Rebbe'n. "Thank You G-d, for giving us the Rebbe," expressing their genuine appreciation to G-d for giving them the opportunity to know and appreciate the Rebbe.
Others would say: A dank der Rebbe'n far'n Oibersht'n; "Thank you, Rebbe, for giving us the opportunity to know G-d." The intent is not merely that the Rebbe's teachings open up new windows of spiritual awareness. Although this is true, these chassidim meant more: Their intent is that from watching the Rebbe, and seeing his uniqueness, they were able to appreciate G-dliness.
R. Leib Sarah's would say that he went to Mezritch not to hear the Maggid's teachings, but to watch the way he tied his shoes. For everything that a tzaddik does is a lesson.
The chassidim of the early generations would ask: Why isn't there a tractate of the Talmud that focuses on the knowledge of G-d? And they would answer that this is unnecessary, because in every generation there are tzaddikim who, in our Sages' words:  "resemble their Creator," and thus enable us to perceive Him.
The understanding of G-d generated by observing a tzaddik is not abstract. On the contrary, it comes from watching how a person actually lives his life. This makes it possible for us to have actual awareness of the G-dliness which we possessed within ourselves and which is latent in every element of existence.
In this chapter, we have included various stories that did not seem to fit any of the others. Each one of them is, however, significant, for it sheds light on still a different element of the Rebbe's character, adding one more way to enable us to know him, and thus know G-d.
A state senator from New York once asked for a private meeting with the Rebbe. After spending over an hour with the Rebbe, he came out excited. "Until now, I never realized what a great man your Rebbe is," he told Rabbi Leibl Groner, the Rebbe's secretary.
The senator explained that he had sought the Rebbe's counsel concerning certain issues involving the Jewish community. After offering advice with regard to these matters, the Rebbe asked if he could request a favor.
" 'Here it comes,' I thought to myself," he told Rabbi Groner. " 'Just like all the others, he's looking for the payoff.'
"But what did the Rebbe ask of me?
"He said: 'There is a growing community in Chinatown. These people are quiet, reserved, hard-working and law-abiding - the type of citizens most countries would treasure. But because Americans are so out-going and the Chinese are, by nature, so reserved, they are often overlooked by government programs. As a state senator from New York, I suggest that you concern yourself with their needs.'
"I was overwhelmed. The Rebbe has a community of thousands in New York, and institutions all over the state that could benefit from government support. I was in a position to help secure funding for them, but the Rebbe didn't ask about that. He was concerned with Chinatown. I don't think he has ever been there, and I'm certain that most people there don't know who he is, but he cares about them. Now that's a true leader!"
When the Rebbe suffered a heart attack in 5738 (1978), Dr. Ira Weiss of Chicago served as the head of the team of doctors who treated him. After the Rebbe recovered, Dr. Weiss would visit him several times a year, attending a farbrengen and then giving the Rebbe a physical examination.
One year, Dr. Weiss brought a friend with him, Dr. Gerald Dorros, a distinguished cardiologist from Milwaukee. After the farbrengen, Dr. Dorros waited in the foyer outside the Rebbe's room while Dr. Weiss conducted his examination. When he was finished, Dr. Weiss mentioned his friend and asked if he could introduce him to the Rebbe.
The Rebbe consented and invited Dr. Dorros into his room. "You should devote yourself to treating healthy people, not only sick people," the Rebbe told him.
"How can I improve on what the Almighty has done?" replied the doctor with a smile.
"You can," responded the Rebbe. "If a layman can't improve on what the Almighty has done - and if a doctor can't improve on what the Almighty has done - then what are we doing here?"
"Are you asking me to make man perfect?" asked the doctor.
"No, that is not what is asked of you," the Rebbe told him. And with a twinkle he added: "Leave that for Mashiach."
Prof. Velvel Greene was employed by NASA in the early years of the space program. He once told the Rebbe that despite all their research, scientists had found no sign of extra-terrestrial life.
"Shouldn't we stop looking?" the professor asked. "After all, is it not a point of faith that there is no life outside Earth?"
"Why put limits on G-d?" the Rebbe answered. "Continue looking! Whether or not there is life in outer space is a question for the scientists; it is not an object of faith."
The Rebbe once asked his secretary, Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, to purchase a certain item for him. Rabbi Krinsky went to a store at which Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch (the educational wing of the Lubavitch organization) had an account, charged the article to the account, and brought his purchase to the Rebbe.
When the Rebbe received the article, he said he wanted to pay for it himself. Upon examining the receipt, he noticed that sales tax had not been charged.
Rabbi Krinsky told the Rebbe that he thought the article was to be used by the organization, and that as a charitable organization, the item would be tax-exempt.
The Rebbe replied that the item was for his personal use. He asked Rabbi Krinsky to contact the store, cancel the original receipt, and pay the tax due.
One day in the early 1970s, Reb Avraham Parshan was sitting in his office in Toronto when he received a call from Rabbi Chodakov, the Rebbe's personal secretary. "The Rebbe wants to know whether you have a valid passport."
Reb Avraham answered that he did.
"Would you be willing to fly to Milan?"
"Yes," answered Reb Avraham, without questioning why he was being sent. "When would you like me to go?"
To this Reb Avraham also agreed.
"Ask your wife for permission," instructed Rabbi Chodakov.
Reb Avraham's wife consented, and he set off, still not knowing why the Rebbe wanted him to undertake this journey.
Upon arriving in Milan, Reb Avraham tried to contact the shliach there, Rabbi Gershon Mendel Garelik, but was unable to locate him either at home or at shul. Unsure of what to do, he took a taxi to Rabbi Garelik's shul.
Rabbi Garelik and Reb Avraham arrived at the shul at approximately the same time. "I'm sorry, I can't spend time with you today," Rabbi Garelik told Reb Avraham. He explained that the mother of Astro Meair had passed away that morning. Mr. Meair was a member of one of the wealthier families in Milan. He was also very involved in Israeli politics, and had taken a firm stand in favor of amending of the Law of Return to require a halachic conversion.
Despite a lifelong involvement with the secular Zionists who opposed such a revision of the law, Mr. Meair had advocated the position for which the Rebbe had fought so powerfully.
As Rabbi Garelik was explaining this to Reb Avraham, Rabbi Chodokov called from New York with a message from the Rebbe. The Rebbe said that since Reb Avraham was in Milan (he had left the previous day, before Mr. Meair's mother had passed away), it would be proper for him to represent Lubavitch at the funeral.
Because of the position of the Meair family in the city, many gentile dignitaries of the city also planned to attend the funeral, and it had been arranged that a delegation from the Catholic Church be present. When Reb Avraham heard this, he called Mr. Meair and told him that the Rebbe had sent him as a special messenger to attend the funeral in recognition of Mr. Meair's efforts to amend the Law of Return. Mr. Meair was greatly appreciative.
Reb Avraham continued, explaining that he could only attend if the funeral was carried out according to Jewish law, and thus no members of the Church could participate. Mr. Meair agreed, and the funeral was carried out in accordance with Halachah.
At the funeral, in the presence of many representatives of the Israeli government, Reb Avraham gave a stirring speech praising Mr. Meair's efforts to amend the Law of Return, and explaining that this would be counted in his mother's eternal merit.
Reb Nachum Rabinovitz, one of the vintage chassidim of Jerusalem, was once waiting for yechidus. Among those waiting was a young man, obviously wealthy, but wearing a morose and despondent expression.
A short while later, the young man entered the Rebbe's room, and when he emerged, his expression had changed. His face beamed forth energy and vitality.
Curious about this abrupt shift in emotion, when his own yechidus concluded, Reb Nachum inquired about the young man's identity from the Rebbe's secretaries and was able to arrange a meeting.
"I am a millionaire," the young man told Reb Nachum, "but recently, my only son died. At that point, I felt that my life no longer had any purpose. I saw no value to my wealth or my position.
"I went to the Rebbe for solace and advice.
"The Rebbe asked me what my feelings would be if my son went overseas and was living in a foreign country from which he could not communicate to me, but in which I could be assured that all his needs were being met and he had no suffering at all.
"I answered that although the separation would be difficult to bear, I would be happy for my son.
" 'And although he could not respond, if you could communicate with him and send packages to him,' the Rebbe continued, 'would you do so?'
" 'Of course,' I answered.
" 'This is precisely your present situation,' the Rebbe concluded. 'With every word of prayer you recite, you are sending a message to your son. And with every gift you make to charity or institution which you fund you are sending a package to him. He cannot respond, but he appreciates your words and your gifts.' "
In his diary, the Rebbe once wrote that on Kislev 12, 5693 (1932), the Previous Rebbe told him: "You should give mashkeh because of the dream I had today. Give me a kiss, give mashkeh, and begin studying Chassidus."
The Rebbe wanted to kiss the Previous Rebbe 's hand, but the Previous Rebbe motioned that he should kiss him on the forehead. Afterwards, the Previous Rebbe kissed the Rebbe on his cheek, and told the Rebbe that he had seen his own father, the Rebbe Rashab, in a dream. The Rebbe Rashab told the Previous Rebbe: "Why are you heartbroken? It's bright in your home!"
The Previous Rebbe awoke and saw that the moon was shining into his room, but he understood that his father had not been referring to physical light. He then entered his library and saw the Rebbe studying.
It was a yechidus night and, as usual, the Rebbe had received people until the early hours of the morning. When the last visitor had departed, he did not tidy up his desk and go home. Instead, he asked his secretary, Rabbi Groner, for the day's mail.
Obediently, Rabbi Groner brought in several piles of letters that had been received that day. When he saw that the Rebbe was not merely interested in seeing how much mail had arrived, but began reading each letter and penning answers, Rabbi Groner found himself in a quandary.
He knew how taxing yechidus was, and he saw that answering these letters would take time. He wanted to suggest that the Rebbe go home and rest, leaving the letters until the next day, but he hesitated to interrupt the Rebbe and make his suggestion.
Finally, he had an idea. He wrote his suggestion on a note and put it on top of the next pile of letters.
The Rebbe read the note and looked up with a smile. "Would you like me to put off answering this question until tomorrow as well?" he asked Rabbi Groner, and went on to the next letter.
The tefillin campaign was central to Rabbi Moshe Feller's activities when he first arrived on shlichus in the Twin Cities. He would frequently go to the Hillel building at the University of Minnesota campus and put on tefillin with the students.
One day, as he was busy giving students the opportunity to perform the mitzvah, Lewis Milgrumb, the Hillel rabbi, approached. "You're helping so many others," he told Rabbi Feller. "What can you do for me?"
Aware that Rabbi Milgrumb was orthodox and put on tefillin daily, Rabbi Feller answered: "For you, we will bring Rabbeinu Tam's tefillin, or maybe four pairs of tefillin?"
"Do you mean that there are people today who put on four pairs of tefillin?!" Rabbi Milgrumb asked.
Rabbi Feller explained that the Rebbe and certain select chassidim would don four pairs of tefillin daily, so that their observance conformed to the conceptions of Rashi, Rabbeinu Tam, the Raavad and the Shimusha Rabbah.
As the two men struck up a friendship, "four pairs of tefillin" remained their buzzword. "I'll do it when I put on four pairs of tefillin,' Rabbi Milgrumb would tell Rabbi Feller. And for his part, Rabbi Feller would quip: "Come on, Rabbi Milgrumb, it's a lot easier than putting on four pairs of tefillin."
Rabbi Milgrumb was chosen by the B'nai Brith to open a Hillel House at the university campus in Melbourne, Australia. Before departing, at the suggestion of Rabbi Feller, he wrote to the Rebbe asking his advice and blessing.
The Rebbe answered, telling Rabbi Milgrumb that in Australia, he should feel freer to introduce more religious programming. "There," the Rebbe wrote, "the students are more traditional than in America, and will welcome the opportunity for religious experience."
"Did you tell the Rebbe what to tell me?" Rabbi Milgrumb asked Rabbi Feller.
"Of course not," answered Rabbi Feller, explaining that such a thing would run contrary to the entire thrust of the chassid-Rebbe relationship.
"I am sure you did," said Rabbi Milgrumb. "Look at the next line."
The Rebbe's letter continued: "I am not asking you to have the students put on four pairs of tefillin, but merely to give them the opportunity to observe those Jewish practices that they are accustomed to performing at home and in school."
At the burial of his mother, Rebbitzin Chanah, the Rebbe looked very disturbed. Initially, he would not allow the pallbearers to lower the coffin into the grave. No one understood why he was so upset.
Reb Avraham Parshan saw the gentile gravediggers watching, and it occurred to him that they might be the cause of the Rebbe's discomfort. He took out a $100 bill and gave it to them, telling them to take a break. As soon as they turned their backs, the Rebbe motioned for the pallbearers to continue.
A few days later, Reb Avraham received a receipt from Machne Israel (the central Lubavitch charitable organization) for $100. Rabbi Chodakov called and told him that the Rebbe had sent a check for $100 to Machne Israel, explaining that this was for his mother's burial expenses.
Rav Shmuel Shneid is a scribe living in Monsey, N.Y. He is not a Lubavitcher chassid, but nurtures a growing relationship with the Rebbe. His feelings are shared by many in his community, as evidenced by the countless occasions on which neighbors have come, asking him to check their mezuzos on the Rebbe's instructions.
Once a woman who had come to him because the Rebbe told her to have her mezuzos checked was upset when Rabbi Shneid did not detect any problems. She had been experiencing several difficulties, and was hoping that correcting her mezuzos would alleviate these hardships.
Rabbi Shneid explained that checking mezuzos is in itself a positive activity which brings blessing. The woman accepted his explanation and waited, but her difficulties persisted. She wrote the Rebbe again, mentioning that her mezuzos had been checked. The Rebbe advised her to have them checked again.
She went back to Rabbi Shneid, who agreed to check the mezuzos again without charge. When the woman brought in her mezuzos this time, however, Rabbi Shneid noticed two wrapped in wax paper. Now, after checking a mezuzah, Rabbi Shneid always wraps it in saran wrap. Obviously, he had not checked these two.
He asked the woman about them. She replied that she had not wanted to leave her home totally without mezuzos while they were being checked, and had therefore left one on the front door and one on the back door. She had forgotten about them, and so was bringing them in now for the first time.
While checking the mezuzah for the front door, Rabbi Shneid discovered that it was invalid.
It once happened that Reb Nissan Nemanov, the renowned mashpia from the Lubavitcher yeshivah in France, emerged from yechidus in tears. Rabbi Leibl Groner, the Rebbe's secretary, was puzzled. Reb Nissan was known for his self-control. What had happened to provoke such an outburst?
After ushering the next person into yechidus, Rabbi Groner took Reb Nissan into the office of the secretariat, gave him a chair, and asked him the reason for his tears.
"I came to the Rebbe with a problem," explained Reb Nissan. "The bachurim studying at the yeshivah today cannot be compared to the bachurim of previous years. In previous years, when I would tell bachurim to spend hours davening, to practice iskafia (control of one's natural desires), and to carry out all the other dimensions of avodah (the Divine service of mastering oneself), they would listen; they would try. Today, even the terminology is foreign to them.
"On the other hand, I don't know what other message to give. Chassidus is avodah; there is no alternative. I asked the Rebbe what to do.
"The Rebbe answered: 'Learn from my example. When I think of a new directive, I consider who my followers are. If half of them are capable of putting the directive into practice, I speak of it.'
"I'm crying," Reb Nissan continued, "because of those directives the Rebbe withheld because he thought that less than half of his chassidim could follow them. Who knows what they could have been?"
Once the Rebbe and the Previous Rebbe were discussing the tefillin mandated by the Shimusha Rabba.
The Previous Rebbe asked the Rebbe if he possessed such tefillin.
The Rebbe replied that he did not and asked the Previous Rebbe whether it was appropriate for him to begin putting them on, for our Rabbis had counseled that only those most fastidious in their observance should put them on.
The Previous Rebbe answered: "For you, every Jewish practice is appropriate," and promised that he would have them ordered for the Rebbe so that the matter would not be publicized.
(Significantly, years later, with the publication of HaYom Yom, the Rebbe publicized the order in which all four pairs of tefillin should be put on.)
In the 1960s, Rabbi Asher Zeilingold was one of the graduates of the Lubavitcher yeshivah who accepted Rabbinical positions in what were then far-removed Jewish communities. Serving as the Rabbi of the Adath Israel Congregation of S. Paul, Minnesota, Rabbi Zeilingold combined energy, erudition and commitment in his efforts to spread Yiddishkeit in his congregation and in the community at large.
These efforts frequently attracted the attention of the local media. Methodically, Rabbi Zeilingold would collect any write-ups of his activities, and on his trips to New York, or when the pile became uncomfortably large, he would send it to the Rebbe.
One year, Rabbi Zeilingold visited Crown Heights on Lag BaOmer, taking a package of clippings. This time the package was larger than usual, because Rabbi Zeilingold had been honored by his congregation and the local papers had made much of the event.
Before Rabbi Zeilingold left for New York, one of his congregants had entrusted him with a question for the Rebbe. The man was observant, and the head office of the corporation for which he worked was threatening to fire him unless he removed his beard. He wanted the Rebbe's advice. Rabbi Zeilingold submitted this question to the Rebbe together with his package.
Before leaving for Minnesota, Rabbi Zeilingold asked Rabbi Chodakov, the Rebbe's personal secretary, if there was an answer for the man. Rabbi Chodakov replied that the Rebbe had not answered yet, but to wait a short while and inquire again.
A little later, Rabbi Chodakov came out with a letter of a page and a half, advising the man to keep his beard, and supplying various explanations that he could give his company. Together with the letter was a picture from Rabbi Zeilingold's clippings. In the letter, the Rebbe noted that the picture showed the mayor of S. Paul, who was also bearded. "Tell your company," the Rebbe wrote, "that if this is acceptable for a mayor, who does not wear a beard because of religious beliefs, surely it is acceptable for a Jew who does so out of religious commitment."
What amazed Rabbi Zeilingold was not the Rebbe's argument, but the fact that he had singled out the mayor of S. Paul. The picture had been in the middle of the package which Rabbi Zeilingold had sent. Only in the small print of the caption was the mayor mentioned. He understood that the Rebbe had not merely skimmed the clippings, but had read them all, even the captions.
On another occasion, Rabbi Zeilingold visited Crown Heights for Chaf Av, the yahrzeit of the Rebbe's father, Rav Levi Yitzchak. He brought a copy of his shul's bulletin announcing the coming High Holidays, and submitted it to the Rebbe.
Shortly afterward, Rabbi Zeilingold received a message from Rabbi Chodakov that the Rebbe would like to see him. "After the Minchah service, wait in the corridor outside the Rebbe's room. When he buzzes, open the door and enter."
Rabbi Zeilingold was unnerved, not knowing what to expect. As he entered, the Rebbe pointed to the upper right hand corner of the bulletin. Inadvertently, the traditional greeting vWc, Baruch HaShem, - "with G-d's blessings" - had been omitted.
"Ever since you accepted the position in Minnesota," the Rebbe said, "I have read every one of your publications. This is the first time the Baruch HaShem is missing."
- (Back to text) Rus Rabbah 4:3; Bereishis Rabbah 67:8.
- (Back to text) There are four opinions regarding the order to place the passages in the head tefillin: that proposed by Rashi which are worn during prayer, that proposed by Rabbeinu Tam which are put on by many after the prayer service, and those proposed by the Shimusha Rabba and the Raavad which are worn by a select few.
- (Back to text) Entry 19 Menachem Av; see also Sefer HaMinhagim: The Book of Chabad Lubavitch Customs, p. 37ff.