Weekly Chasidic Story #1279 (s5782-41)
14 Sivan 5782/June 13, 2022
"The Professor, The Spy, and The Rebbe"
"I entered the Rebbes office holding two sheets of
paper. The first contained all my personal concerns. The second referred to
the situation in Yemen."
Connection - Weekly Torah (this week in Israel; next week in
Diaspora): The Reading, Shelach, is mainly the parsha of the Spies.
The story in PDF
format for more convenient printing
The Principal, The Spy, and The Rebbe
Rabbi Shlomo Giladi, former director of the Vocational
School of Kfar Chabad, relates:
It was 1978, right after the Camp David Accord. I was sitting in my office,
working on some papers, when I was told I had a visitor.
A man I had never seen before walked in and took a seat. "My name is Yair,"
he said, and presented himself as an employee in the office of the prime minister.
He took out some ID as proof.
He removed a file from his briefcase and placed it on my desk. "Please
read it," he said quietly.
I opened the file and leafed through it. To my shock, it was filled with biographical
information about me. Every detail of my personal life was included and arranged
in correct chronological order: when I emigrated from Yemen, every address I
ever lived at, when I was drafted, where I had fought during the Six Day War,
every job I ever worked at. Clearly, a great deal of time and effort had gone
into compiling all this.
Then it dawned on me: this was not just an "employee in the office of the
prime minister," but a member of the Mossad,
which technically lay under the prime minister's jurisdiction.
I closed the file and looked at him expectantly. "What do you want from
The man remained silent for a minute as if composing his words. Then he asked
me a question. "Is it true you're going to the Lubavitcher Rebbe
in two weeks?"
I told him yes, still guessing at where the conversation was leading.
"That is the reason I have come to you," my visitor declared. "I
am here in the name of Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Surely you know that a
large Jewish community still exists in Yemen. Over the years, the State of Israel
has been trying to reestablish contact, but unsuccessfully. The Yemenite government
has blocked all attempts at getting through."
The man leaned forward intently. "We thought that because of the isolation
of that community, it would be a good idea if a handful of students were allowed
to leave Yemen to study Judaism in another country. When they return home they
can serve as rabbis and teachers."
The problem, the man continued, was the lack of formal ties between Israel and
Yemen. "We came to the conclusion," he said, "that for the plan
to work, it must be initially proposed by a Jewish spiritual leader from the
U.S. And the most suitable one for the job is the Lubavitcher Rebbe."
He announced, "I am, therefore, asking you to convey our request to him."
I stared at the man in bewilderment. Chassidim had long whispered about a possible
relationship between the Rebbe and the Mossad. Nothing could stop them from
simply picking up a phone. The whole thing seemed fishy.
"All right, how do I come into all of this?" I said. Why would the
Mossad need me as an intermediary? Surely there are more direct ways of asking
"We already tried," answered the man, calmly. "Several times."
He revealed names of higher-ups who had approached the Rebbe -Yisrael Yeshayahu,
Speaker of the Knesset (who like me was of Yemenite origin); Henry Kissinger,
U.S. Secretary of State.
My mysterious visitor left room for doubt whether he was referring to getting
the boys out of Yemen or establishing contact with the Rebbe. So I continued
to protest. "But what's all this got to do with me? Do you really think
I have some kind of influence over the Rebbe? If these men couldn't do it, why
do you think I could?"
"We have reason to believe that the Rebbe would agree if it came through
you," the man replied, unfazed.
He wouldn't tell me where they had gotten that idea. "Look," he added,
"you'll be speaking to the Rebbe anyway. All we're asking for is five minutes
of your time."
I kept trying to explain that the whole idea was off-base. The Mossad must have
mistaken me for someone else. But the man wouldn't let go. The meeting ended
without my giving him a clear commitment.
But that was only the first visit. Yair returned several times to pick up where
he had left off. Once he even came to my house. He never revealed too much information,
but kept hinting that there was more than met the eye. In the end, I agreed.
* * *
Two weeks later, I flew to New York. Nevertheless, I remained somewhat unconvinced.
Saturday night, the night before my yechidus (personal private audience
with the Rebbe), I finally decided to mention it in a very general way to the
Rebbe's secretary, Rabbi Chaim-Mordechai Hodakov, and ask for advice.
Talking to him, I avoided too much detail. I merely said that I had been approached
by the Mossad to deliver a message to the Rebbe. Rabbi Hodakov listened carefully,
and his answer was quite interesting. "I'm sure they know how to contact
the Rebbe without you. Why did they choose you to act as liaison?"
"I asked them the same thing, but I never got a satisfactory answer."
In the end, he didn't tell me yes or no. A few minutes before the yechidus,
I decided to mention it briefly at the end of my pahn, my written request to
the Rebbe. At the very worst, the Rebbe would answer the same way as Rabbi Hodakov
and tell me that the Mossad would know of a more direct way of contact.
Interestingly, that Shabbat there had been a farbrengen (Chasidic gathering)
during which the Rebbe had vehemently spoken out against the Camp David Accord.
How ironic: I could picture the people in the prime minister's office patting
themselves on the backs for attaining "peace," thinking the Rebbe
was their big supporter. And here, the Rebbe had not only rejected the Camp
David Accord outright, but strongly condemned it. I was certain the Rebbe would
turn them down.
I entered the Rebbe's office holding two sheets of paper. The first contained
all my personal concerns. The second, which I presented to the Rebbe only after
he had finished discussing the contents of the first, referred to the situation
This was the first time I had ever broached a communal matter with the Rebbe.
And it was strange: as soon as the Rebbe read the note, his manner changed completely.
He relaxed into his chair and gave me an encouraging smile.
"This person that you spoke with," he said. "Is he reliable?
Can you trust him?"
I told the Rebbe that the man claimed to be a senior agent in the Mossad, head
of the department that dealt with Jewish communities in Arab lands. From the
Rebbe's reaction I could see that he knew whom I was referring to, and that
this gentleman was indeed reliable.
He then asked, "Are you able to contact them from here, without phoning
or writing a letter?"
I didn't know what the Rebbe meant. Without a phone or a letter, the only way
to contact them would be if they contacted me first. I waited for the Rebbe
to continue, as he obviously wanted to verify a few more facts.
"I want to know two things," the Rebbe began. "First, would the
Israeli government allow the Yemenite boys to study in an American yeshiva before
going to Eretz Yisroel (Land of Israel)? And second, would the government willingly
exempt them from serving in the IDF?"
My hunch had been right all along: the situation was a lot more complicated
than Yair had let on. "As far as I know," I answered, "the Mossad
doesn't seem to care if the students ever went to Eretz Yisroel after studying
The Rebbe appeared pleased. Then, to my surprise, he said, "They've already
contacted me about it."
The Rebbe then mentioned Knesset speaker Yeshayahu and Secretary of State Kissinger.
"There was nothing to talk about when they approached me, so I turned them
down," he explained. "At the time, the climate in the Arab world was
not conducive to such matters. Now, however, the situation has changed and become
more open. At least there is a chance of success."
I understood that the Rebbe was referring to the peace treaty, which had presumably
taken the edge off Arab hostility. In the current climate, it was not unfeasible
to approach the Yemenite government with the request.
"It is obvious," the Rebbe continued, "that I will do whatever
I can to help. You know that I operate in all kinds of remote places, even if
only two or three Jews live there. How much more so when a community of many
thousands is at stake! Without a doubt, I will do whatever I can."
I told the Rebbe that, to my understanding, the Mossad wanted him to speak directly
to the Imam, the chief religious figure in Yemen. The Rebbe answered in approximately
these words, "I will do whatever I am able. My honor isn't important."
The Rebbe knew that the Israelis' interests tended to lean toward the secular.
Nevertheless, if there was even the slightest chance of a spiritual benefit,
he would do whatever was necessary.
The Rebbe reiterated his willingness to become involved. "Even if I need
the American president's help, I'll find a way to get it," he insisted.
At the end of the yechidus, the Rebbe asked me to keep him posted. "The
next time they contact you, I want to know all the details. But remember,"
he cautioned, "do not use the telephone or commit anything to writing."
The Rebbe was certain I'd find some other method of communication. He then asked
me several more questions about the Mossad agent who had contacted me and his
relationship with the Prime Minister.
At the time, Yeshayahu was in the hospital at Holon. I was surprised when the
Rebbe suddenly changed the subject and asked if I had visited him before coming
to New York. The thought had never occurred to me, an average citizen. Nevertheless,
the Rebbe insisted that I go and convey my personal greetings.
Now it was the Rebbe's turn to be surprised. "But you knew he was sick
and in the hospital. How could you not have gone to visit him?"
* * *
Of course, that was the first thing I did when I returned to Israel. When I
approached the Knesset speaker at the Wolfson Hospital, I told him that the
Lubavitcher Rebbe had sent me to see him and had even chastised me for not coming
Yeshayahu laughed. "The Lubavitcher Rebbe has nothing else to do?"
I took advantage of the opportunity to mention the idea of getting some students
out of Yemen to learn in yeshiva. Awhile later, on my second visit, I added
more details, telling him that the Rebbe had given his approval.
"I'm surprised," Yeshayahu exclaimed. "As far as I knew, the
Rebbe wasn't interested."
Personally, I was very happy at the Rebbe's positive answer, which was exactly
what the Mossad had wanted to hear. Until today I'll never know why they chose
me, or why they thought that I, of all people, could change the Rebbe's mind.
But by Divine Providence, I was in the right place at the right time.
I called Yair with an answer for him. He hurried over to my house, and I repeated
the entire exchange with the Rebbe. He was surprised but happy at the Rebbe's
response, and promised to pass on the information.
Several days later he returned and told me he had discussed the matter with
the prime minister. "Mr. Begin thanks you very much," he said. He
even gave me the prime minister's home phone number should I ever need to contact
Without getting into too much detail, I can tell you that the Mossad was very
appreciative of the Rebbe's involvement. They ended up consulting with the Rebbe
quite often, even though their goals were not exactly the same.
When I mentioned to Yair that the Rebbe had cautioned me against using the phone
or writing letters, he gave me a mysterious smile and said simply, "The
Rebbe is a very wise man."
He then asked if I was willing to make several more trips to the Rebbe. But
being that I was too busy with a steady job, I gave him instead the name of
a Yemenite friend living in the U.S. who I knew would be willing and able to
act as a liaison.
I really don't know what went on behind the scenes. Whatever negotiations were
made continued for a good two or three years. Then I heard that a group of five
Yemenites had been allowed to travel to the U.S. to study Judaism so they could
return to Yemen and serve as religious leaders. It was not widely covered by
the media - only a few lines in the newspaper. But I was relieved when I saw
that the endeavor had been successful.
When those five students left, it was the first contact between the Jewish world
and the Jews of Yemen in decades. And thank G-d, the lines of communication
have grown and continued ever since.
Source: Excerpted and supplemented
by Yerachmiel Tilles from an emailing of the Avner Institute (Rebbebook@ gmail.com)
on May 3, 2022, which is based on the translation of an interview with Rabbi
Giladi by R. Menachem Zigelbaum.
Connection - Weekly Torah (this week in Israel; next week in Diaspora):
The Reading, Shelach, is primarily concerned with the episode of the Twelve
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.
Footnote:  The covert intelligence and special operations agency
of Israel abroad, whose director is required to answer only and directly to the
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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