Weekly Chasidic Story #1059 (s5778-28/ 10 Nissan 5778)


Meeting the Rebbe from Paris, Israel and Lakewood, NJ the Rebbe from Paris, Israel and Lakewood, NJ

"I could not appreciate my father's intensity at the Seder until he disclosed the story of my birth."

Connections (2): Seasonal -- PESACH!; and Nissan 11 is the 116th anniversary of the birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.


Meeting the Rebbe from Paris, Israel and Lakewood, NJ the Rebbe from Paris, Israel and Lakewood, NJ


[The narrator requested to remain anonymous.
All interjections in square brackets are mine.

I was born in Paris after World War II, about forty-five years ago. I remained an only son as my parents were already middle-aged. Even when I was young, I sensed that my parents were withholding some secret about my birth.

I became engaged at the age of twenty-four. A short while before my wedding, my father, may he rest in peace, disclosed the story. I can still see him, as he sat close to me, with tears coming to his eyes when he lifted the veil of confidence from his long-kept secret.

My parents were among the lucky Polish Jews who escaped to Russia during World War II. They joined bands of homeless refugees who wandered from place to place until they arrived in the city of Tashkent in the Carpathian Mountains. Tashkent was a temporary haven for refugees, including many Lubavitcher chasidim.

My father always spoke highly of the Lubavitchers whom he had met in Tashkent. Self-sacrifice was their way of life. They offered assistance and support beyond their means. Their prayers reflected a deep commitment to Judaism. But most outstanding was their intense struggle to educate the young, despite their hardships during these difficult years.

My father was already nearly fifty years old, and my mother was about forty, when the war ended. They wanted to establish a home. Fortunately, being Polish citizens, they were able to leave Russia. They mingled with the migrating masses who were crossing Europe, and eventually made their home in Paris. They were grateful for having survived, but they faced the pain of childlessness after twenty years of marriage.
In those days, Paris was a melting pot of refugees, and my parents were delighted to come across former acquaintances. Among there were some Lubvitcher chassidim whom they had befriended in Tashkent.
One day, shortly after my parents arrived in Paris, my father met a beaming Lubavitcher chassid, who exclaimed. "We've merited an important guest in town. Rabbi Schneerson the son-in-law of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, has arrived in Paris. He came to welcome his mother, Rebbetzin Chanah Schneerson, who just left Russia."

On several occasions, my father met Rabbi Schneerson in the shul at the Pletzel in Paris and talked with him. My father was a learned scholar, and he cherished these talks with Rabbi Schneerson. During one of those conversations, Rabbi Schneerson inquired about my father's experiences during the war. When he touched upon the topic of family, my father tearfully explained that he did not have children.
With compassion in eyes, Rabbi Schneerson [who was childless almost as long,] gripped my father's hand warmly, and blessed him, "May G-d enable you to fulfill the mitzvah of Vehigadeta levincha ('Tell [about the Exodus at the Seder] to your children…') next year."

The following year, when Pesach arrived, I was already two months old.

Two more years passed, and my parents emigrated from Europe to Israel. From the time I can remember, the Seder has always been an emotional experience for my father. He always expounded upon avadim hayinu [the "telling" section of the Passover Hagaddah] patiently and extensively, and with much love and joy.

I could not appreciate my father's intensity at the Seder until he disclosed the story of my birth."

And that's not all. Three years ago, my daughter married a yeshiva student from Lakewood, New Jersey. She was due to give birth the following Pesach. We had planned a family trip to the States to spend the holiday together, and celebrate the arrival of our grandchild. My wife arrived a month earlier to assist my daughter, while my younger children and I arrived in New Jersey a week before Pesach.

"At that time I told my son-in-law, 'I would like to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe and have my younger son receive his blessing.'

"My son-in-law was less enthusiastic. His home community did not have many followers of the Rebbe and he felt no need to make the two-hour journey. I, however, was not to be dissuaded.

When my son-in-law saw that I was intent on going, he told me about the opportunity meet briefly with the Rebbe on Sunday morning, when the Rebbe distributes dollars to be given to charity. I readily agreed, and my son-in-law arranged a ride to Brooklyn for me and my young son.

"We neared '770', where we were amazed to see a winding, block-long line of people waiting to see the Rebbe. During those hours in which we waited our turn, I told the miraculous story of my birth to my son.

"He was very moved to hear the story, 'I was surprised that you were so determined to come here, he said, 'and I did not know why you were willing to wait so long. Time has always been very precious to you. Now I understand.'

"Finally, after hours of slowly inching forward, we reached a point from where we could see the distinguished and impressive appearance of the Rebbe. There was a tangible spirit of divinity in the air. I was amazed at the thousands of people who passed by. He blessed each one and handed out tzedakah [a dollar for (charity)] personally.

Though the line of people passed quickly, I could see that some of them said something to the Rebbe and that he responded. I hadn't planned to say anything. I just wanted to see and approach the Rebbe once. "Maybe because it was my personal need to thank him for the blessing that he gave my parents, which culminated in my birth," I thought to myself.

Our turn arrived more quickly than I had anticipated. The Rebbe gave my son, who was standing before me, a dollar. Brochah v'hatzlacha ("blessings and success"), the Rebbe said. Then, without pause, he asked him in Yiddish, "Are you ready to ask the Four Questions?"

My son was caught by surprise, not having expected the Rebbe to address him. Sensing his surprise, the attendant explained the question.

My son regained his composure and responded, "Yes." The Rebbe smiled and handed him another dollar. "This is for the Four Questions" he said.

As I approached the Rebbe, he handed me a dollar saying, "Brochah v'hatzlacha." Then, he handed me a second dollar, "for the answer to the Four Questions." Whereupon he gave me a deeply penetrating look, and with a tremendous smile he added: "and for Vehigadeta levincha.'"
Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from "To Know and to Care" Volume 1, by Eliyahu and Malka Touger.

Connection: Seasonal--the 116th anniversary of the birth of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

Biographical note:
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe ?''?: [11 Nissan 5662 - 3 Tammuz 5754 (April 1902 - June 1994 C.E.)], became the seventh Rebbe of the Chabad dynasty after his father-in-law's passing on 10 Shvat 5710 (1950 C.E.). He is widely acknowledged as the greatest Jewish leader of the second half of the 20th century. Although a dominant scholar in both the revealed and hidden aspects of Torah and fluent in many languages and scientific subjects, the Rebbe is best known for his extraordinary love and concern for every Jew on the planet. His emissaries around the globe dedicated to strengthening Judaism number in the thousands. Hundreds of volumes of his teachings have been printed, as well as dozens of English renditions.

Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.

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