One day in 5717 (1957), Michil Vishetsky entered
a shul in the Bronx (he was making the rounds of the synagogues to
raise money for Ezras Achim, an American organization which
sent food packages to Jews in Russia). The only person on the premises
was an old Jew, who was sitting off to the side, immersed in a volume
of Talmud. He turned out to be Rabbi Rabinowitz, the rabbi
of the shul. When R. Michel asked to speak to him, the Rabbi led him
to a table that he explained was used for the third Shabbos meal.
The Rabbi sat down on a chair along the side of the table. When Reb
Michel happened to sit at the head of the table near him, the Rabbi
jumped up and asked Reb Michel to please move to another chair. "No
one may sit in that chair!" the elderly man exclaimed.
"Why is that?" asked the curious chassid.
"It is a long story, but if you have time, I am happy to tell
you," said the Rabbi.
"I am from Poland, from a chassidic family. When World War II
broke out, I managed to escape across the Russian border. There I
fell in with a large group of Chabad chassidim who were headed for
Samarkand in Buchara. When I saw the great sacrifices they made for
Torah and mizvot, I became very close to them with all my heart and
"When the war ended, I flitted from one place to another. Eventually,
in 1949, I arrived in New York.
"Since I had heard so much from those Russian Chassidim about
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch, I wanted to visit him. When
I was able to enter for yechidus (private audience) and mentioned
to the Rebbe about my war experiences, the Rebbe asked me many questions
about the situation of the chassidim I had met. When I related him
the hardship and suffering I had witnessed, he started to cry in front
"After that, the Rebbe asked me about my plans. 'I have always
been a Rabbi,' I answered him, 'but here in America nobody seems to
need an European-style Rabbi, so I will probably take a factory job.'
" 'No,' the Rebbe said to me firmly, 'You must remain in a Torah
framework; you should continue to serve as a Rabbi.'
"I accepted his holy advice and began to look for a rabbinic
position. I was unable to find anything. I went back to the Rebbe
and reported my lack of success, but he insisted that I be determined
and continue to search. Finally, I discovered this shul. The
members all spoke Yiddish. They seemed to like me and decided to offer
me the position.
"I traveled back to Brooklyn to consult the Rebbe if I should
accept. He gave me a strange reply: 'A shul is a shul, but I don't
like the shames,' were his words.
"I asked him again what I should do, but the Rebbe only repeated
his words. I couldn't understand so I asked him a third time, but
the reply was the same thing. Finally he agreed for me to accept the
"After I started the job and was there a while, I found out
the meaning of the Rebbe's previously incomprehensible statement.
The shammes (manager of the shul) had a long beard and an impressive
appearance, but I quickly discovered that his behavior did not measure
up. Then, once, when Shabbos had already begun, I found him lighting
candles in the shul! I screamed at him. After that, he seemed to devote
himself to making trouble for me, both in shul procedures and with
"After a while, I felt I couldn't tolerate it any more. I went
to see the Rebbe, this time asking his permission to quit. 'No,' he
replied, 'Didn't I tell you: A shul is a shul, but I don't like the
shammes. Don't leave.'
"The situation continued to worsen. The shammes succeeded
to make my life even more miserable. Once more I ran back to the Rebbe.
'G-d will help,' he assured me. 'Remember a shul is a shul, with everything
that belongs to it.'
"As I was leaving, the Rebbe called to me at the door, 'Also,
you should come here Sunday morning.'
"I didn't know why he said that, but I came that Sunday anyway.
A huge funeral was taking place. The day before, on Shabbos, the 10th
of Shvat 5750, the Rebbe passed away. Then I understood: he knew I
would want to be there.
* * *
"A year passed, but the situation remained oppressive. I heard
that Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak's younger son-in-law had accepted to be
the next Rebbe, so I went to visit him and told him my problem. To
my surprise, as soon as finished speaking he responded, 'Isn't it
so that my father-in-law told you that a shul is a shul and he didn't
like the shames?'
"I was stunned speechless. How did he know? The Rebbe continued.
'This means that he can't remain the shammes, because my father-in-law
" 'But,' I interjected, 'it is impossible for me to fire him.'
" 'Nu. When you catch him doing something wrong,' smiled
the Rebbe, 'then you can dismiss him.'
"I left the Rebbe's office and returned to the Bronx. There,
outside the shul, I encountered one of the congregational leaders.
We entered the shul together, and were greeted with a shocking sight.
There was the shammes, emptying all of the contents of the
different tzedakah boxes into his pocket. Caught red-handed
by an important member of the shul in addition to me, none of his
machinations could help him. He was summarily dismissed from the job.
* * *
"Several years passed. A new problem arose. Years before, there
had been a butcher shop next to the shul. Its owner prospered, and
decided to move the store to larger premises across the street. He
offered to sell his old shop to the shul, which the board had been
happy to agree to, in order to be able to expand the shul. For certain
reasons, however, the contract was never signed.
"One day, all of a sudden, the owner of the butcher shop came
and demanded that the shul return his property to him. He had never
sold it to us, but only allowed us to use it, he claimed. We were
shocked, but had no proof. He took us to court and, of course, he
won, since the deed was still registered in his name.
"After the official verdict, I hurried to the Rebbe and asked
him what to do. The Rebbe looked at me, smiled and said, 'It seems
that you are not a chassid, Rabbi Rabinowitz. My revered father-in-law
said that a shul is a shul with everything that belongs to it. It
is not possible to turn a shul into a butcher shop!'
"I left, perplexed but hopeful.
"The night before the court decision was to be executed and
the shul evicted, I had a dream. I saw the Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak,
of blessed memory, sitting at the head of this table. Next to him
was the present Rebbe. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak was smiling at me with
a shining face and saying 'A shul is a shul. It will never turn into
a butcher shop.' I woke up suddenly in confusion and was shocked to
discover that it was already eight o'clock! I was always at shul by
six o'clock in the morning.
"I ran to shul as fast as I could. A frenetic, distressing scene
was already taking place. Policemen were dragging benches out of the
shul onto the street. A large crowd had gathered to stare.
"Suddenly we heard the wail of an ambulance. It stopped right
outside the butcher shop across the street. I went over, and there
was the owner, stretched out on the ground, unconscious. A large beam
had somehow become dislodged from the ceiling and fallen right on
"The men from the ambulance placed him on a stretcher. Just
then, he opened his eyes. His gaze found me and he cried out 'Rabbi!
I admit it! I admit it! I did sell you my old shop. Tell the police
to leave the shul alone.'
Rabbi Rabinowitz concluded his astonishing story to a, by then, deeply
moved chassid: 'From then on, nobody sits on that chair at
the head of the table. That is the chair on which the Rebbe, Rabbi
Yosef Yitzchak of blessed memory, sat.' "
[Translated-adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles (and first published
in Kfar Chabad Magazine - English) from Sichat HaShavua #263. You
may pass on this email rendition to whomever you wish as long as you
give full credit, including Ascent's email and internet addresses.]
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (12 Tammuz 1880-10 Shvat 1950),
known as the Rebbe Rayatz, was the sixth Lubavitcher
Rebbe, from 1920 to 1950. He established a network of Jewish educational
institutions and Chassidim that was the single most significant factor
for the preservation of Judaism during the dread reign of the communist
Soviets. . In 1940 he moved to the USA, established Chabad world-wide
headquarters in Brooklyn and launched the global campaign to renew
and spread Judaism in all languages and in every corner of the world,
the campaign continued and expanded so remarkably successfully by
his son-in-law and successor, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (11
Nissan 1902 - 3 Tammuz 1994), became the seventh Rebbe of the Chabad
dynasty on 10 Shvat 1950. 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.
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