REBBE MATZAH, EXTRA MATZAH
The Lubavitcher Rebbe sized me up with a rapid glance and turned to break off a piece of matzah.
REBBE MATZAH, EXTRA MATZAH
In 1976, after several years of marriage, we finally mustered the courage to make our own Passover seder, at least for the second night. As soon as we made the decision, we began to invite guests. As the festival drew closer, the guest list grew. And grew. And grew! All of a sudden we were expecting sixteen!
After burning chametz on Erev Pesach, a new flush of excitement overtook me. Every year, for the few hours before the festival began, the Rebbe would stand in the doorway of his office and distribute pieces of his matzah, which had been baked earlier that afternoon. As we lived in walking distance of 770 Eastern Parkway, I decided I would tell the Rebbe how many guests we were having. Then, surely, he would give me extra matzah.
Over-enthusiastic and impractical as usual, we sorely underestimated the amount of work left to be done that day. When I finally reached the Rebbe's office, it was too late! He had gone back inside to prepare for the Evening Prayer. "Oh no," I thought. "From one piece of matzah to a lot to none. How will I face my wife?"
"Don't be upset," I was told by an old-timer. "The Rebbe will give out some more after Maariv for a short while."
"Boruch HaShem!" I exhaled. Immediately after the final "Amen" (or perhaps even a bit before, I must admit), I charged out of the shul and sprinted up the stairs to the Rebbe's office. I wasn't first on line, or even close to it, but-praise G-d-I could tell from the pace we were moving that I would get in. No sweat.
My turn came. The Rebbe sized me up with a rapid glance and turned to break off a piece of matzah for me. Before he could do so, I quickly mustered my courage and blurted, "We have sixteen guests."
The Rebbe looked at me. Time froze. I froze. Finally the Rebbe spoke: "For the first Seder or the second?" "The second," I answered, much surprised. "Then I can not give you matzah now," he declared.
My face must have registered great perplexity, or perhaps the Rebbe sensed I was about to faint. He hastened to explain, and in English! "It is already the first night of the holiday. We are not allowed to do anything on a festival or Shabbat in preparation for the following day, even if the next day is also a festival. Do you understand?"
I nodded, choking back my disappointment. But the Rebbe hadn't finished. "So come again tomorrow night after Maariv (the Evening Prayer), and I will give you then. Gut Yomtov. A kosher freiliche Pesach."
Gut yomtov and what a yomtov! I excitedly ran home to tell everyone what the Rebbe had said. Immediately after the prayers the next night, I proudly marched up to the Rebbe's door... whereupon his attendant, may he be well and live long, refused to admit me. "The Rebbe doesn't give out matzah tonight. Only the first night," he said, turning away.
"But the Rebbe told me to come," I gasped in panic. He clearly didn't believe me. In desperation, I told him the whole story. I could see he was still skeptical. He could see I was about to either explode or collapse. Or both. Finally, he agreed to go and ask the Rebbe. I peeked after him and saw the Rebbe nod.
How did the Rebbe know to ask me which night? I can't answer that. He certainly didn't say that to anyone else - I asked around to find out. I know only that I'm grateful he made an exception for me, on both nights.
Oh yes. He did give me a large amount which I happily shared. I don't know about the other sixteen people, but sixteen plus six years later, I still remember my bag of rebbe-matzah!
Tilles (first published in Ascent Quarterly #31)
Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of
Ascent Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He
has hundreds of published stories to his credit.