On Monday morning of Parshas Beshallach
, 6 Shvat ,
after davening Shacharis
with the congregation for the last time in her life, [my grandmother Rebbetzin Rivkah] stopped off at our home to visit us on her way back from shul
. The air quality was poor that day and it was very muddy. There had been a heavy snowfall, and where the sun shined it had melted. There was water with slush and mud underneath. In spite of all this, she had not refrained from going to shul
After davening she came to see us and brought me a letter she had written to a certain rav, requesting a favor on behalf of one of our relatives. I read the subject matter contained in the letter, and at her request I made some corrections, and she took the letter back. She then remained with us for more than an hour. That was the last time she visited our home. As usual, we walked with her as far as the front door. At 5 P.M. of the same day, the letter was brought to me fully corrected, and I sent it off to its destination.
At eight in the evening I went to visit her at her home; it was my regular custom to visit her each day at about that time. I found her sitting at her desk writing letters. She interrupted her writing and I took a seat near her. We then spoke for a half-hour or a little longer. During the conversation I mentioned to her that I planned to leave for Petersburg the next day and remain there for two days, and that possibly I would stay there over Shabbos. She remarked, "You are almost always at home for Shabbos."
I replied that if I could return for Shabbos I would try to do so. But if not, I would be compelled to remain in Petersburg over Shabbos. We thus concluded our conversation and I went home. She walked with me to the front door, as she always did.
At about eight o'clock Tuesday morning I was informed that at about 3 A.M. Grandmother had felt pains on her left side. Dr. Shachor had come to see her at six, and determined that she had caught a slight cold. She was now feeling better. I immediately went there and found her lying in bed and drinking tea. She told me what had happened: she had felt severe pains in her left side. She also had some fever, but didn't know the exact temperature. She had also had pain in her abdomen, but she had applied heat, and it had gone away.
At about ten o'clock I summoned the physician again. He reassured us, saying that her illness was quite trivial and he prescribed some medicine to relieve her dizziness. At twelve o'clock he came a fourth time, and found that the situation was markedly improved. Her heart had now returned to its normal healthy state.
Nevertheless, I determined that she needed better care, for there was no one there to attend to her properly. I wrote to my cousin Sarah requesting her to come here, and I sent the letter off by post. Grandmother then requested that I cancel my trip to Petersburg and that I send a note to the Ohel.
At two o'clock the physician came a fifth time and declared that nothing had changed. He ordered that she be given some squeezed grapes or the like at frequent intervals. Seeing that there was no one to attend to this properly, I remained there myself all day. I brought with me some of the financial ledgers of Tomchei Temimim, which I had to inspect.
At five o'clock the physician came again and found some slight additional improvement. The fluid was beginning to drain from her left side, and he also reassured me about her general condition.
I began discussing with her whether I should inform Father who was then in Menton (France). Knowing Father well, and being acquainted with his [poor] state of health, Dr. Shachor scolded me [for thinking of such a thing]. I therefore dropped the subject. Thus, the night passed. I myself remained there until late in the night.
At eight o'clock the physician came and found the left side to be completely clear. He now examined the right side and found nothing of note. Nevertheless, I decided not to let the matter go unreported, but I did not wish to inform my father directly. Our friend Rav [Yaakov Mordechai] Bespalov of Poltava was also in Menton at the time, and so I sent a telegram for him in care of the Gurarie brothers in Kremenchug.
At two o'clock her condition suddenly took a turn for the worse. Her pulse rose to 90, and her temperature rose to 39 degrees. The physician arrived within minutes and was alarmed by the change. He gave her some medicines to quiet her heart and after about ten minutes the episode passed. The next three hours went very well; I sat with her the whole time, and she spoke lucidly. In the evening my Aunt Devorah Leah arrived, along with her daughter-in-law Basyah. She felt much better and they conversed with her at length about worldly matters.
Meanwhile, I had sent two telegrams: one describing what had happened at two o'clock, and one reporting that by six o'clock she had improved. I received a reply [from the Gurarie brothers] saying that we should not disturb Father [by reporting the situation to him]. Regarding my request that they inform me of Bespalov's direct address, they replied that I should inform them of what was happening and they would send the telegram. That is what I did.
At nine in the evening I discussed the idea of calling in a specialist from Vitebsk, but we decided against it. I next visited her at one in the morning; finding her to be in fair condition, I went home. I arrived again before 8 A.M., and discovered that they had sent for Dr. Lieberman from Vitebsk by telegram. At four or five in the morning there had been a repetition of what occurred on Monday at two o'clock, and they had summoned Dr. Shachor. She was now weak, but she was not in pain.
When I arrived she told me what had happened, and that her opinion had been that they should apply leeches. This had done her much good, and she was now feeling better. She said to me, "You were supposed to travel to Petersburg. You can still go today and be there before Shabbos. But I request that you postpone the trip until after Shabbos. G-d will help you."
I replied that I was not planning to go now, and that G-d would surely help. "Send a note to the Ohel begging for mercy, so that I may recover my health and live to see your father and mother return from their trip abroad in good health."
She then sighed loudly and said, "He is, after all, my child. But beyond that, I long to see him very much (with G-d's help). I have not seen [my son] Mendel either for a very long time. G-d must want it to be that way."
I departed to send a note to the Ohel and to daven. When I returned to her at half past eleven she was lying down, just finishing her prayers. She inquired whether I had already sent the note to the Ohel.
That evening two letters arrived: one from my father the Rebbe, and one from my uncle Reb Menachem Mendel. I put both letters under her pillow, but she did not read them for several hours. Later, she took the letter from uncle Menachem Mendel and attempted to read it. She was unable to do so, and so she asked my aunt Devorah Leah to read it to her. Meanwhile, Father's letter remained sealed. "There is also a letter from Rashab," Aunt Devorah Leah said, but Grandmother made no reply.
When I arrived on Thursday morning after davening she was reading that letter. Together with the letter, the envelope also contained a note apparently regarding my cousin Sarah with the request that a match be found for her, and suggestions for ensuring that she would receive her share of the townhouse. When she had finished reading the letter she remained silent for some time. Then, she began telling me about my father:
He is a very great person. Apparently, your grandfather knew just how great he is. May G-d grant him long life, until Mashiach
arrives. Master of the World! He truly follows in his ancestors' footsteps. How very devoted and resolute he is in his fear of Heaven. But it is all done in a very discreet manner.
Sometimes we try to persuade him not to do something because it would injure his health. He remains silent, and we mistakenly think that we have persuaded him. But it is not so at all. It is all fixed within him and he continues to insist that everything must be exactly thus and not otherwise. And G-d helps him.
During the time of the dispute with the Zionists he wrote the letter against Zionism. I was then approached by Moshe Madayevsky and Reb Yitzchak Yoel [Raphaelovitz]. They told me that this would put his life in real danger, and that I must order him under the laws of honoring one's mother to refrain from writing anything. I did mention it to him, but I was unable to speak firmly [ordering him not to write anything at all]. When you begin discussing it with him, you quickly become aware that he is truly resolved to do what he says. And in truth, G-d helps him, in the merits of his holy ancestors. Truth is more powerful than anything else. He himself also told me that he is not afraid, for he trusts in G-d.
Just look at what he's done with the Yeshivah! That is his biggest accomplishment. We see that it is financially stable (may G-d be praised for it). It's not easy, and it takes a great toll on him. People ordinarily don't donate twice; and especially in his case, for he has little talent when it comes to money. But as soon as [the prospective donor] hears that this is his desire, and he has been approached on that basis, [the donor gives generously], for everyone trusts him, and all hold him very dear. It is all because he is a man of truth, and has been so since birth (may G-d grant him long life until Mashiach).
Master of the Universe! May he be well and continue to serve as Rebbe. He is the only one of my father-in-law's grandchildren who has succeeded to the position held by his ancestors. May G-d grant him the necessary power and strengthen him.
These days the Jews are in dire financial straits. Everyone has problems with finances, children, and following the Jewish religion. But G-d helps him. May G-d (blessed be He) help him to have satisfaction, in the merits of his holy ancestors.
She wished to say more, but I don't know what it was, for she stopped speaking for a few minutes. Then, she began moving her lips. But meanwhile, someone began walking on the stairs from the parlor to her bedroom, and so she stopped speaking. They gave her a glass of warm milk, which she drank down thirstily.
At half past twelve the physician visited her and found her left side to be clear, though the right side still contained some fluid. He did not want to give her any medication until Dr. Lieberman arrived.
Afterwards, she slept for half an hour, and I remained seated near her almost continuously. Her lips moved as she slept, but no articulate phrases could be heard, only isolated words - "Sterna ... Chayim Avraham ... why? ... give ... Oy! ... agreed! ... giving..."
She then opened her eyes and looked at me, saying, "My thoughts babble inside my head; they are confusing me."
She fell asleep again, and her lips began to move soundlessly; only at wide intervals did she speak the following words (which I wrote down at the time): "Why? ... a gift ... abroad ... bless ... it's true."
She then awoke, but spoke nothing further. At half past two, for no apparent reason, she began to speak about how dear her children in general were to her father-in-law, and especially her daughter Devorah Leah. She said:
He used to say that "apparently a name has some significance - after all, she is named after my mother."
He also loved your father very much. Once, during yechidus, your father wanted to go in to see his grandfather. [Your father] (may he be well) was three years old at the time (may he live until Mashiach comes). The waiting room was filled with guests and the attendants refused to admit him in the middle of yechidus, so he began to cry. When the Rebbe heard it, he ordered them to admit him right away. But he wanted to go in together with his nanny, and again they refused him. When he began crying once more, the Rebbe heard it again and ordered them to admit him, and so he went in together with the nanny.
There was a stove right next to the door, and farther in there was a second stove. He left the nanny standing there and went in to his grandfather by himself. The Rebbe took him into his arms and gave him a big kiss. Then he took a pile of coins and gave them to him. He came running (may he be well), saying, "Zayde gave me a kiss! And money!"
Zalman Aharon (may [Rashab] live a longer life) must have taken the coins away from him, because he became very angry and began fighting with him, crying, "But the kiss stays with me!"
Who ever heard of a three-year-old child being so strong willed (may the evil eye not affect him)? No matter how much we begged him, he refused to take the money back, saying, "The kiss stays with me; the money stays with you!"
When I went in to see her again at 4:45 P.M., she said to me, "They have summoned [Dr.] Lieberman. When Lieberman comes, if he gives no hope [for recovery], I wish you to send a telegram to you father. I want to see him very much"...
Here ends the available portion of the manuscript.
- (Back to text) Actually, it was already afternoon.
- (Back to text) [Daughter of his uncle, Reb Zalman Aharon.]
- (Back to text) [The Rebbe Rashab.]
- (Back to text) I did not have his direct address.
- (Back to text) [Celsius, which is about 102 degrees Fahrenheit.]
- (Back to text) [Ginsburg, daughter of the Rebbe Maharash.]
- (Back to text) [The wife of her son Reb Menachem Mendel.]
- (Back to text) [In Vitebsk; see Igros Kodesh of the Rebbe Rashab, Vol. 2, p. 531.]
- (Back to text) [In 5659.]
- (Back to text) [Printed in Igros Kodesh of the Rebbe Rashab, Vol. 1, p. 206.]
- (Back to text) Here she began to raise her head while still asleep with her eyes closed.
- (Back to text) Now her face was composed as if in restful sleep.
- (Back to text) [I.e., the Tzemach Tzedek.]
- (Back to text) [I.e., Rebbetzin Devorah Leah, daughter of the Alter Rebbe.]
- (Back to text) [Reb Zalman Aharon had already passed away, 11 MarCheshvan 5669. It is customary to use such an expression when speaking - in the same sentence - of someone who has died and someone who is still living.]