Weekly Chasidic Story #

1001 (s5777-19 / 10 Shvat 5777)

Ask Grandmother

When he was a young child, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, wondered why it took his father so long with the prayers, which even he, a boy of five, knew so well and could read so fluently.

Connection: Seasonal - the 67th yahrzeit of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, and the 184th yahrzeit of his paternal grandmother, Rebbetzin Rivka Shneersohn, wife of the 4th Rebbe.


Ask Grandmother

Even at the tender age of five, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (the "Rayatz"), had a fixed daily schedule. At eight o'clock in the morning, he jumped out of bed, and half an hour later he was in the synagogue praying with the congregation. From 9:30 until 10:00 was breakfast. Then, for four hours he studied in yeshiva. Then came lunch for an hour and another hour devoted to writing. From 4:00 until 8:00 there was yeshiva again, then supper and some free time to spend in his room, before retiring to bed.

Shabbat, of course, was different. Most of the morning was spent praying in shul. In addition, he had a special treat, a visit to his grandmother, his father's mother, Rebbetzin Rikva. There he would find the elder members of the Chasidic community, white-bearded chasidim who came to pay their respects to the "Grand Old Rebbetzin." They would stay for a while and relate stories about the lives of older chasidim or even of the Rebbe Maharash, the Previous Rebbe's grandfather (Rebbetzin Rikva's husband).

When everybody went home to eat the Shabbat meal, the boy would go back to the shul. There all the worshippers had long since finished their prayers and gone home - all except his father, the Rebbe Rashab. He sat with his head near the ark. He was still praying. Once, the boy approached his father quietly in order to listen to his prayers. His father prayed very slowly, as if he were counting the words. Sometimes he paused, and then would slowly continue.

The Rebbe's son wondered why it took his father so long with the prayers, which even he, a boy of five, knew so well and could read so fluently. But his heart throbbed as he listened to the soulful melody which his father hummed now and again, and the singsong of the words.

He asked his uncle, Rabbi Zalman Aaron, his father's brother. "Why does Father pray so slowly?"

His uncle smiled as he answered with a twinkle in his eyes, "Your father finds it difficult to read the words from the siddur very quickly. He has to say each word separately, and can't pray very fast. That's why it takes him so long."

The boy turned away without saying another word. But he felt a deep pain and a burning shame that his father couldn't pray more fluently.

The following Shabbat, he silently approached his father and listened carefully. His father was saying the Shema. "Shema Yisrael..." His father said slowly, then he paused. The son was startled to hear his father sobbing. His father said another couple of words, and sobbed again, and when he said "Hashem Echad - G-d is One" the words seemed to burst from his heart, with a flood of tears.

The son couldn't listen any more. His heart was bursting with pity for his father. He went home, and with tears in his eyes, appealed to his mother, "Mother, Father is crying in the shul. Why does he pray so slowly, and why is he crying? Come, see for yourself. I can't bear it."

"There is nothing to be worried about," his mother consoled her little son. "Go to your grandmother and tell her about it. She is a very wise lady, maybe she will be able to explain it to you."

The boy lost no time and went to his grandmother, certain that the wise, old Rebbetzin would find a remedy to help his father learn to read the prayers more quickly, perhaps even as quickly as all the other Jews in the synagogue.

When he came to his grandmother, the child told her about his poor father's difficulty saying the prayers. "Mother said that you could do something about it," he concluded hopefully.
Grandmother looked at him seriously and said, "Your father is a great chasid and a righteous man. Before he reads any word from the prayerbook, he thinks about it carefully. What it means and to Whom he is saying it. And when he thinks about the holy words of the prayers, his heart is filled with love for G-d, just as a son loves his dear father who is near and yet far away. So your father longs to be closer to Him and the tears just come. I cannot tell you more now, but when you grow older you will understand this better, and you will know how it feels."

With his grandmother's explanation, the boy felt as if a tremendous weight came off his heart. So it wasn't that his father couldn't read the prayers quickly. It was because his father was such a great person that he prayed differently. Yes, he realized that his father was different, in the way he spoke, the way he acted, the way he studied, the way he prayed. That very day, the Rebbe Rayatz recounted, he resolved that as the only child of such a great person, he too must act differently, to merit being his child.
Source: Adapted and supplemented by Yerachmiel Tilles from //LChaimWeekly.org, (#878), with permission.

Biographical notes:
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn [of blessed memory: 12 Tammuz 5640 - 10 Shvat 5710 (Jan. 1880-June 1950 C.E.)], 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.

Rabbi Sholom-Dovber Schneersohn [of blessed memory: 20 Cheshvan 5621 - 2 Nissan 5680 (Oct. 1860 - April 1920)], known as the Rebbe Rashab, was the fifth Rebbe of the Lubavitcher dynasty. He is the author of hundreds of major tracts in the exposition of Chasidic thought.

Rebbetzin Rivka Schneerson (1833- 10 Shvat 1914) a maternal granddaughter of Rabbi DovBer, the 2nd Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, at age 16 married her first cousin, Rabbi Shmuel, who later became the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe. Surviving her husband by 33 years, for many years she was the esteemed matriarch of Lubavitch, and chasidim frequented her home to listen to her accounts of the early years of Lubavitch. She is the source of many of the stories recorded in the talks, letters and memoirs of her grandson, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak (the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe). Today's Beis Rivka network of girls' schools, founded by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak in the 1940's, are named after her.

Connection: Seasonal-the 67th yahrzeit of the Rayatz, and the 184th yahrzeit of his paternal grandmother, the Rebbetzin Rivka Schneersohn.


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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