Not long before his passing, Reb Zushya of Anapoli told his disciples: "When I appear before the heavenly court in judgment, they're not going to ask me, 'Zushya, why weren't you as great as Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob?' They're going to ask me, 'Zushya, why weren't you Zushya? Why weren't you the best Zushya you could possibly be?' "
* * *
This thrust - motivating every individual to use his own capacities, whatever they may be, to the utmost - has always characterized the relationship the Rebbe has established with people from many different walks of life. We have collected several examples of various people whose relationship with the Rebbe has escalated their potential for achievement.
Professor Yirmeyahu (Herman) Branover has achieved world-wide renown as an authority on magneto-hydrodynamics. Research in this area of alternative energy technology is carried out by a very limited number of highly trained professionals. Raised in the then Soviet Union, Professor Branover's published research had won him an international reputation in this field in the '60s.
Along with his work on hydrodynamics, Professor Branover has a dynamic Jewish heart. He applied for an emigration visa to Israel, knowing that it would mark the end of his professional career in the Soviet Union. He was dismissed from his post at the Academy of Sciences in Riga and prevented from continuing his research.
During this time, he was exposed to the Torah and mitzvos by members of the Lubavitch chassidic underground. When he was finally allowed to emigrate from the Soviet Union to Israel in 1972, he was already fully observant.
After making aliyah, Professor Branover was in constant demand as a lecturer, but not only in his profession. He was frequently invited to lecture on science and Torah. Campus audiences around the globe were extremely interested to hear an internationally renowned scientist reconcile his belief in the Torah with the supposed conflicts emerging from modern science.
"In the winter of 1973," relates Professor Branover, "I was on a lecture tour in the United States. Towards the end of the two-month tour, Rabbi Avraham Shemtov, one of the leading shluchim, requested that I add the University of Pennsylvania to my itinerary. My wife and I were both weary from the constant travel, but our commitment to spread Torah motivated us to agree.
"Shortly before the scheduled date, I was privileged to visit the Rebbe Shlita at yechidus (a private meeting). Among other matters, I mentioned the trip to Philadelphia. The Rebbe inquired about the details of the program and commented: 'During your stay in Philadelphia, do not forget to introduce yourself to a local professor who has an interest in your field.'
"The Rebbe's statement baffled me. I was well acquainted with the names of the American scientists involved in magneto-hydrodynamics and I knew the universities with which they were associated. I was certain that no Philadelphian was familiar with my field.
"I made the trip to Philadelphia following the busy schedule of lectures. On the morning of my arrival, when Rabbi Shem Tov met me at the train station, I spoke about my encounter with the Rebbe. I mentioned the Rebbe's strange remark and added that it appeared to be an error.
" 'The Rebbe does not make mistakes,' Rabbi Shemtov said emphatically. 'Allow me to assist you in locating the scientist.'
"Rabbi Shemtov convinced me to visit Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania and to check the faculties of these institutions. After many hours of searching, we were introduced to Professor Hsuan Yeh. It was a refreshing change of pace to engage in a sophisticated discussion with a person who was clearly knowledgeable in magneto-hydrodynamics.
As we concluded our conversation, Professor Yeh said: 'In six weeks there will be a Magneto-Hydrodynamic Energy Convention at Stanford University in California. Although the program is already finalized, I will insist that your name be added to the list of lecturers. A colleague who has arrived so recently from Russia should be given the opportunity to present his thoughts.'
"I looked at him in surprise. 'Didn't you just say that the program was finalized?'
Professor Yeh added with a smile, 'You see, I am on the program committee.'
"I appreciated the Professor's offer, and yet I graciously declined, explaining that both my wife and I were anxious to return to our home in Israel. The trip had already been extended more than we would have liked.
"I returned to New York and we prepared to return home. Just before leaving, I wrote the Rebbe a report of our trip to Philadelphia, mentioning my encounter with Professor Yeh. Once again, the Rebbe made an unexpected statement. He advised me to reschedule my plans and to accept the invitation, for the convention presented an important opportunity.
"My wife and I were taken by surprise by the Rebbe's response. Despite the need to rearrange our plans, we were acquainted enough with the Rebbe to value his advice. I called Professor Yeh, who was happy to arrange for me to deliver a lecture.
"The significance of my participation at the convention became clear very rapidly. I met two representatives of the Office of Naval Research in Virginia who had read about my work, and who were prepared to finance further research. They added, 'We understand that you want to establish your laboratory in Israel, and we are willing to provide you with funds for your work there.'
"As a result, I set up a laboratory in Beer Sheva, which has gained worldwide recognition for its magneto-hydrodynamics research. My contract with the Office of Naval Research was been renewed six times since that original grant. I could not have imagined at that point how valuable and far-reaching the Rebbe's advice had been.
This year, 1993, marks twenty years since the Stanford convention. My project has just been awarded a 15-million dollar grant by the United States government to further research and development of this energy technology."
Professor Branover frequently briefs the Rebbe on his various research projects. In one report, he presented a very sophisticated study built upon extensive calculations that had been prepared by computer. As he reviewed the details, the Rebbe remarked: "Two numbers here are inconsistent."
Professor Branover was stunned. "But all the calculations were done by computer and the program used is based on our most advanced theory."
The Rebbe smiled. "With all due respect to the experts, you will see that there is an error."
In the preparation of the calculations, an incongruity indeed had appeared. It took Professor Branover's research team six months to locate it.
Once before Professor Branover was scheduled to address a conference of Jewish scientists, the Rebbe told him: "You have an important message to communicate. Tell your colleagues that as a scholar of solar energy you encourage every Jew to emulate the sun.
"Why is this star of such great importance? There are larger heavenly bodies, indeed, many which dwarf the sun in size. What is unique about the sun? It provides light and generates heat.
"There are other heavenly phenomena called black holes. These are also powerful sources of energy, but in this instance, the energy is directed inward. The black holes pull everything, even the energy they emit, to themselves.
"The sun, by contrast, generously gives of itself to the entire planetary system. So, too, a Jew must radiate Ahavas Yisrael - love for a fellow Jew. After all, if the sun was only capable of heating its own mass, who would have paid any attention to it?"
Professor Branover also is active in developing programs of Jewish education and professional training for Jews in the former Soviet Union and for Russian immigrants to Eretz Yisrael. In the course of these activities, he has been chosen by the Rebbe for several missions.
"In the spring of 1985, I received word from the Rebbe's office that the Rebbe requested to speak to me," relates Professor Branover. "Of course, I arrived at "770" as soon as I could. The Rebbe greeted me and informed me of his desire that I relay his forthcoming message to various persons in Russia. Not in my wildest dreams was I prepared for the content of the message.
"The Rebbe unraveled before me the precise details of the unbelievable change that was going to take place in Russia. With Mikhail Gorbachev's ascent to power, a new era of openness and freedom would begin, the Rebbe prophesied. Waves of Russian Jews would immigrate to Eretz Yisrael. Two years afterwards, in expectation of this wave of immigration, the Rebbe initiated the plan to build a special housing project in Jerusalem for the new immigrants.
"To say that I was stunned is quite an understatement. If I had heard these words from anyone but the Rebbe, I would have dismissed them as fantasy. As such, I was neither surprised nor offended when various people in Russia whom I contacted by phone were skeptical. 'Are you sure this is exactly what the Rebbe said?' they asked again and again. And, may I add, these people were not unfamiliar with the Rebbe. Quite the contrary, these were his own people who were directing the Lubavitch underground activities in Russia. It was simply that the Rebbe's prediction seemed so far-fetched."
"In the spring of 1985, newspapers such as the New York Times and the New York Post had published front-page articles predicting that Gorbachev's government would follow a Communist hard line. This was felt even more powerfully by people who were living in the then Soviet Union.
"When I related the response from Russia to the Rebbe, he requested that I contact them once again, assuring them that these changes would indeed take place.
"The realization of the Rebbe's words is now history. In 1992, when Mikhail Gorbachev visited Israel, I was introduced to him, and I told him and his wife Rayisa what the Rebbe had said seven years earlier. Gorbachev was stunned. 'When I assumed power in 1987, I myself had no concrete plan for the future. I would like to meet this man who knew so much about the direction which my country and I would follow.' "
It is difficult to tell whether the business enterprises of Reb Yissachar Dov Weiss, a prominent West Coast businessman, support his charity endeavors or whether the distribution of charity sustains the business. Reb Yissachar Dov prefers the second explanation. "That is the real bottom line," he maintains. "Let me tell you about a friend also involved in business.
"This man had attempted several business ventures, but none of them had met with success. Once, he consulted the Rebbe before embarking on a new business. The Rebbe suggested that he give five thousand dollars to charity before starting the new position. The man was pressed for funds and failed to heed the Rebbe's advice. Shortly afterwards, his business faltered.
"Some time later, the man again presented his troubles to the Rebbe. 'I had advised you to give a substantial amount of money to charity,' the Rebbe reminded him. Saying this, he removed a volume of the Talmud from his shelf and read from it: 'Rabbi Yochanan teaches, Aser bishvil shetisasher' - "Tithe so that you may prosper." Had you donated the money to charity, I would have been able to address a claim to Rabbi Yochanan....'
In another instance, Reb Yissachar Dov explained that "I have always wanted to fulfill my obligation to give charity properly. I was not always sure how much to give or which charity was the most deserving. I decided to consult with the Rebbe.
"The Rebbe responded: 'The most important thing is to give tzedakah with an open and happy heart. Take pen in hand, and you will be able to sense the proper amount to write on the check.'
Having established such a relationship with the Rebbe, it is not surprising that Reb Yissachar Dov often consults him about his business affairs. "Once," Reb Yissachar Dov recalled, "I asked the Rebbe whether my company should go public on the stock market. 'One can make a fortune overnight,' I said with enthusiasm. 'This will enable me to donate a million dollars to Lubavitch institutions.'
"The Rebbe was less enthusiastic about my grandiose plans. After a short silence, he asked, 'Why would you want others to have a say in your business?'
"I was persistent, and ultimately, I received his blessing for the endeavor. Afterwards, the Rebbe asked: 'And what will you give me?' I responded spontaneously that I was willing to offer anything.
" 'In that case,' the Rebbe replied, 'I would like you to give me a thousand pages of Talmudic study.' "
On many occasions the Rebbe's advice saved Reb Yissachar Dov from extensive losses. A favorite story involves an investment offer for Liberian diamonds on Africa's West Coast in 1976.
"The Belgian diamond dealers who had made the proposal were familiar with my business procedures," related Reb Yissachar Dov. "They knew that the Rebbe's blessing was essential to any of my endeavors. They were, however, surprised by the degree to which I relied upon him.
" 'We understand that you want your Rebbe's blessing,' their representative remarked. 'After all, we are considering a million dollar project. But....'
" 'Excuse me,' I cut him off. 'I will not invest anything before I receive the Rebbe's blessing and consent.'
"The jewelers were very anxious that I invest. 'We want to clarify your statement. Do you really mean that you will not take advantage of this opportunity unless the Rebbe approves? What does the Rebbe know about business or about African gems?'
"I did not answer. My past experience and burgeoning bank account had proven to me that the Rebbe's approval exceeded any calculable value.
"At my next opportunity, I discussed the subject with the Rebbe. He told me not to invest, warning me that a revolution was impendent.
"I was surprised. 'How's that?' I asked the Rebbe. 'Everybody in the business world knows that Liberia, a neutral country, is the Switzerland of Africa.'
"The Rebbe was determined in his opinion: The political situation was shaky, and investment was dangerous. Anything longterm should not be considered at all. Only something where money can go in and out immediately was worth thinking about.
"The Belgian dealers were extremely disappointed and skeptical. 'A revolution in Liberia? The most stable country in Africa?'
"Soon afterwards, I invested fifty thousand dollars in the diamond business. I hired a broker, instructing him to purchase Liberian diamonds quickly and to depart immediately. He purchased coarse stones which were to be cut, polished, and then forwarded to the buyer.
"Shortly afterwards, the revolution which the Rebbe had predicted broke out. The stones were never exported, and I reclaimed only a portion of the price I paid. I comforted myself with the thought that I had not invested millions."
Rabbi Yitzchak Vorst is one of the dynamic forces behind Lubavitch activity in Holland. He is well suited to the job, because precise timing and calculated scheduling are ingrained in his Dutch culture. He has also been the recipient of numerous "timely" responses when corresponding with the Rebbe. It is obviously not a simple question of culture.
Rabbi Vorst relates, "World War II could not sever my family's seven-generation link with the Dutch Jewish community. After the trials and tribulations of the war, my father devoted himself to rebuilding Jewish life here, while at the same time urging the youth to emigrate to Israel. When I graduated as an engineer, I postponed my career, choosing to taste deeper Torah study. I enrolled in the Lubavitcher Yeshivah in Lod, Israel.
"During the spring, I spent the yeshivah break in the then small town of Ashdot Yam, by the sea. I learned that a new harbor was being built there. Considering my future, I inquired about possible employment at the project. My application was readily accepted. Having spent two months of study at the yeshivah, I desired to seek the Rebbe's advice and blessing before making a final decision and signing a contract.
"I wrote the Rebbe a letter, but I did not receive a response. I consulted with the yeshivah's mashpia - Rabbi Shlomo Chaim Keselman, who served as a spiritual mentor to the students. 'Perhaps the letter was lost in the mail,' he suggested. I wrote again. Still no reply. I asked Rabbi Keselman once again. With a thoughtful look, he responded, 'I think the Rebbe is waiting for you to decide for yourself whether you want to continue your yeshivah studies.'
I had already come to the conclusion that I should continue the course of study I had begun at yeshivah. So on Friday morning, I wrote the Rebbe of my decision. I went out to mail the letter, only to discover two days later that a letter for me had arrived from New York, posted before the Rebbe received my letter.
"The Rebbe's reply to my question was clear. He advised me to continue studying for at least two years. The letter was dated the 9th of Elul.
"After an inspiring year at yeshivah in Israel, I felt that it was time to travel to the States and see the Rebbe. Shortly after my arrival, I prepared myself for a private yechidus. My letter contained several questions and requests for blessings. I also included a note about my father vwwg, the late chief Rabbi of Rotterdam, reiterating a previous requests that the Rebbe appoint an official shaliach to fill the urgent needs of the Dutch Jewish community. To date, my father had not received a reply.
"After responding to my personal questions, the Rebbe addressed himself to my father's request and said: 'I have not yet found the appropriate person who both desires and is capable of filling this position.' At this point, the Rebbe's eyes met mine, and he looked at me with a broad smile.
"Later, contemplating on this yechidus, I suspected that the Rebbe was hinting that I assume this responsibility. I decided to ask the Rebbe if this was his intention. The Rebbe's answer was short and to the point: 'Continue your studies.'
"Months passed, and I concentrated vigorously on my studies. Eventually, my visa rights were nearing expiry and I consulted the Rebbe again. I was debating whether to return to Israel or to extend my stay in the States.
"I did not receive an answer. Upon the advice of the Rebbe's secretary, Rabbi Hodakov, I wrote a second time. There was still no reply. But a month later I did receive the Rebbe's answer, which clearly indicated that I should return to help build the Dutch Jewish community. Wondering why this answer had been so long in coming, I glanced at the date of the reply. It was the 9th of Elul, exactly two years since that first reply which I had received while still studying in Israel: to continue studying for at least two years!
"While I was studying in New York, I had another experience with the Rebbe's 'expertise' in proper timing. I was twenty-five, and my friends and relatives had gently hinted that I consider marriage. I sought the Rebbe's advice. Instead of extending his usual blessing for this type of question, the Rebbe responded, 'Do not pursue this matter at all until the end of the school year, or at least until after the holiday of Shavuos.'
"The answer surprised me. I wondered about the two dates which the Rebbe had mentioned. What did he mean by this response?
"Only later did I grasp the extent of this time frame. In Brunoy (near Paris), there is a well-known Lubavitch family called Kalmanson. Some time after I received the above answer from the Rebbe, their daughter considered a trip to the States. Her intention was two-fold; to see the Rebbe, and to inquire about a suitable match. She debated whether to spend the holiday of Shavuos in Crown Heights or to set her departure date for the end of the school year.
"That young woman later became my wife. It now became clear that the time when I was to begin acting on my future had depended upon the departure date on her Paris-New York plane ticket."
"Making a total commitment to a Lubavitch way of life was an ongoing process for me," explains Rabbi Nachman Meir Bernhard, Rabbi of the prestigious Oxford Synagogue in Johannesburg, South Africa. "Before I left America for South Africa, it was the Rebbe who, in a long first Yechidus in 1964, convinced me that I had a responsibility to return to the Rabbinate, although I had inclinations to the contrary, and he encouraged me to accept my present Rabbinic position.
"After ten more years of community service, I began to consider leaving the Rabbinate again. For many years, I had been longing to settle in Eretz Yisrael, and I felt that the time had come to make this dream a reality. I began making plans and scheduled a pilot trip in search of a suitable position and housing. I was involved enough in Lubavitch by that time to know that I should consult the Rebbe before making any binding decisions. So, after my visit to Eretz Yisrael, I flew to New York before returning to South Africa.
"It was the summer of 1974, and this was my second yechidus with the Rebbe. At great length, the Rebbe explained why I could accomplish much more by continuing to serve the South African Jewish community, 'Don't you think that I too would like to be there (in Eretz Yisrael), close to the Kedushah (holiness)? But we have responsibilities.'
"Though I obviously said I would follow the Rebbe's directive, I could not hide my disappointment. I felt the need to discuss the matter further with the Rebbe before my return to South Africa, and I hesitantly requested to be allowed another yechidus. I was grateful when the Rebbe agreed to see me again on Sunday, for I knew this was most unusual.
"That Shabbos, the Rebbe granted me extraordinary measures of attention and encouragement. I appreciated this very much, and the first thing I said when I went into his study on Sunday was a word of thanks for the expression of closeness (Keiruv).
" 'Expressing closeness is a two-way street,' the Rebbe replied.
" 'Must I too show closeness to the Rebbe?!' I asked in wonder.
" 'What does the Rebbe mean? I have already agreed to accept the Rebbe's advice. I am staying in South Africa.'
" 'Yes,' said the Rebbe, 'but your decision should not be made with the resignation of one who has reluctantly accepted a decree. Rather, it should come happily and good-heartedly!'
"Although I didn't move to Eretz Yisrael, over the years the Rebbe spoke to me on several occasions about issues concerning the Holy Land. Once he told me of a conversation he had with the then Minister of Defense of Israel. The Rebbe had asked him what plan or strategy the government had for the next ten years.
"The Minister answered, 'G-d will help.'
" 'What's going on here?' the Rebbe said. 'I am asking you like a layman (i.e., from a worldly perspective), and you are answering me like a Rebbe!' He then grew very serious and said, 'The truth is, they have no plan!'
"The Rebbe has also expressed his opinion on South Africa's internal policies. On more than one occasion, he spoke of the need for the government to replace the apartheid regulations with a system of justice and equity. Upon the Rebbe's directive, Rabbi Lipskar, the head shliach in South Africa, and I once visited the former Prime Minister, John Vorster, and encouraged him in his very cautious pioneering attempts to modify these policies, conveying the Rebbe's prophetic words that South Africa had a bright future.
"Some months later, we received notice from government officials that the Prime Minister requested to see us again. This was just a short time before a scheduled historic meeting in Europe with U.S. Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, which the South African government regarded as vital to the country's future.
"After welcoming us, the Prime Minister lost no time in expressing his desire: 'I would like to know what the Gentleman in New York has to say now.' This was just one of many indications that innumerable Jews and Gentiles have drawn great comfort from the Rebbe's repeated reassurances that all will be well in South Africa - and that there is no need to fear, panic or flee.
On a more personal note, Rabbi Bernhard recalls one of numerous occasions when the Rebbe assisted him with regard to his family. "Once, during yechidus, I mentioned that one of my daughters who had been an excellent student was becoming lax and falling behind in her studies. The Rebbe listened attentively and said, 'This is not laziness. She has a particular medical problem', which he named. 'Your wife should take her to a specialist, who will find and treat the condition.'
"After the yechidus, I immediately phoned my wife. She took our daughter to see a specialist, who arrived at the same diagnosis, and prescribed effective treatment."
"For the past twenty-odd years, since I had first met the Rebbe, my life can be described as a pocket full of miracles," says Mr. David Chase, one of America's foremost businessmen. "And I don't mean only in my business endeavors. To the contrary, the greatest miracle of them may have been my ability to appreciate the message that the Rebbe conveys. My relationship with the Rebbe has given me and many others a sensitivity to matters which are beyond ordinary mortal understanding. For this reason, over the years, I have committed myself to advancing the Rebbe's work in many areas and to different people.
"The Rebbe's directives are so far-reaching and never ending. The Rebbe himself once described his 'insatiable appetite' for ongoing Jewish activity. Perhaps it is the Rebbe's total lack of self-concern and constant devotion to the welfare of others that has motivated me to regard my Lubavitch activity as a cherished labor of love.
"Once, at the annual meeting of the Machne Israel Development Fund, I told the Rebbe how pleased I was to be one of the soldiers in his army.
"You are not merely a soldier," the Rebbe replied. "You are my general."
"Some time later, when I came to receive a dollar on Sunday, I received a promotion; the Rebbe told me, "I regard you as a five-star general."
"I consider it my pleasure and duty to help others benefit from an association with the Rebbe, just as I have benefited in both my business and private life. My activities bring me in contact with many public figures around the world, and I do not hesitate to share my experiences with the Rebbe and with his directives with Jews and non-Jews.
"I often visit my native land, Poland, where I have business interests. Prior to one trip to Poland, I visited New York and asked for the Rebbe's blessing. The Rebbe handed me an additional dollar, saying: "Give this to a person in Poland who will benefit the Jewish people."
"Due to my business endeavors, I have various contacts in the Polish government, and I contemplated who would be the proper recipient of the Rebbe's dollar. One day I found myself aboard a domestic flight with the newly elected President Lech Walesa. I had several contacts with Mr. Walesa in the past, and it occurred to me that I would not be able to find a better person to whom to give the Rebbe's dollar. I approached him, handed him the dollar, and conveyed the Rebbe's message.
"Mr. Walesa looked at me thoughtfully. "I sincerely hope I will be able to live up to your Rebbe's expectation."
"After this encounter, my acquaintance with Mr. Walesa grew and we became quite friendly. Some time later, Mr. Walesa personally invited me to accompany him on his upcoming visit to Israel. This trip was a major breakthrough in relations between the two countries, and he felt that my inclusion in his delegation would be helpful.
"Though I was not inclined to accept the invitation, I saw this as a further step in enhancing the impact of the Rebbe's influence on 'a person who will benefit the Jewish people,' and I agreed. Mr. Walesa told me he wanted to express the regret of the Polish people for their inexcusable behavior towards the Jews during World War II.
"As a Holocaust survivor myself, I insisted that his statement be forthright, without minimizing the issue or covering it up with bland diplomatic wording.
"Mr. Walesa surprised the Israeli government with his non-evasive statement of regret on behalf of the Polish people. Subsequently, former Prime Minister Shamir was very demanding in several points, including a change in the pro-Arab approach that had been advocated by Poland's previous Communist leaders and a cessation of arms sales to countries hostile to Israel. Despite Poland's heavy financial loss, one could almost see the Rebbe's directive at work as Mr. Walesa agreed to one concession after another.
"Later, I accompanied him on a visit to the Diaspora Museum, where I pointed out the picture of the Rebbe which is displayed there. "Is this my Rebbe?" Mr. Walesa asked bowing his head in reverence. Mr. Walesa's response was striking. He was clearly impressed and moved by the Rebbe's intense gaze. He actually lowered his head as if acknowledging his leadership.
"In many other instances, I have been privileged to bring the Rebbe's message to people who might otherwise not have been exposed to them. The best way we can reciprocate for the good which the Rebbe showers upon us is to express his teachings, ideals, and principles in our daily lives."
Great Torah giants of our day stand in awe before the magnitude of the all-encompassing knowledge of Torah texts and sources which the Rebbe displays in all realms and levels of study. The illustrious Rabbi Yisrael Yitzchak Piekarski, Rosh Yeshivah in Lubavitch for many years, said: "Appreciation of the Rebbe's unparalleled knowledge of Torah takes priority over describing his miraculous feats. Nevertheless, there is a connection between the two. If I am not mistaken, the Rebbe himself once said, 'One who is great in the study of Torah law (nigleh) is also great in other things.' "
His preference for highlighting the Rebbe's scholarship did not, however, prevent Rabbi Piekarski from relating some of his own personal experiences with the Rebbe. "Once, prior to a journey, I visited the Rebbe. When I informed him of the details of my return flight, he responded, 'Why should you stay away so long? You can return two days earlier.' I was very surprised. I had already made all the arrangements and booked my flight. The departure date fitted my itinerary perfectly.
"Of course, I did not question the Rebbe's remark, and immediately changed my plans. Later, I learned that the flight on which I was originally scheduled to depart met with disaster. The plane was involved in a tragic accident in Bulgaria and its passengers perished.
"And yet," continued Rabbi Piekarski, "perhaps more than these miracles, is the tremendous concern for others that the Rebbe displays. His willingness to deal with the most insignificant and minute details touches me most deeply.
"Before my annual summer trip, the Rebbe always asks about my itinerary and the length of my stay in each country. He always gives me shaliach mitzvah coins in the currency of the countries I will visit. As a rule, Switzerland is usually my first stop.
"Once, the Rebbe spent a considerable amount of time searching his drawers for Swiss coins. Waiting uncomfortably, I finally said that the Swiss accept U.S. coins as well. Only then did the Rebbe seem satisfied and stop his search.
"On another occasion, shortly before the wedding of a certain yeshivah student of limited means, the Rebbe questioned me in detail about the wedding arrangements. I could not understand how the Rebbe knew of all these minute details, nor could I understand his concern. The Rebbe noticed my discomfort in discussing these details and explained, 'I manage the distribution of funds from several charities. This is a responsibility that I don't want to give up.' "
A colorful combination of adept professionalism, personal charm and downright chutzpah blended in the "770" photographer, Reb Levi Yitzchak Frieden.
Reb Levi Itche, as he was affectionately called, has visited "770" from his home in Eretz Yisrael during each of the High Holidays since 1975. His camera's lens captured many touching incidents, such as the Rebbe's blessing of yeshivah students moments before Yom Kippur began. With one eye on his watch, as he dared not desecrate the holiest day of the year, and the other eye focusing his camera, Levi Itche took shot after shot of this memorable moment.
He was so involved in his work that the Rebbe once told Frieden to tell the yeshivah students studying at "770" that if their enthusiasm would match Frieden's passion for photography, things would look much better.
Frieden was eager to share the scenes of "770" with other Jews in Eretz Yisrael. In 1976, he held an exhibit called "770" at Tel Aviv's journalist center, Beit Sokolov. The exhibit, which later moved to Jerusalem and Bar Ilan University, afforded the large crowd of viewers a mix of spiritual experience and professional expertise.
On the whole, the exhibit was highly applauded. However, one journalist commented in the guest book: 'With all due respect to the superb photography, the subject you have chosen is extremely clerical and takes us back to the primitive darkness of the Middle Ages.'
"Upon my next visit to the States," Frieden continued. "I presented the Rebbe with the guest book. Leafing through it quickly, the Rebbe noticed that negative remark. " 'Please compliment the journalist on his strength of character. It takes fortitude to differ from all of the other responses,' the Rebbe said, 'But tell him that not everything in the Middle Ages was dark. Furthermore, ask him to review his own newspaper. Today's news is not all that bright either.'
"The Rebbe then handed me a dollar, asking me to deliver it to that journalist."
Before he returned to Eretz Yisrael each year, Reb Levi Itche would wait at the sidewalk before the Rebbe's home to take leave of the Rebbe. He always thanked the Rebbe for allowing him to take photographs, excused himself for any disturbance he may have caused, and also asked for a blessing for his family.
One year, he waited with increased emotion. He had just met a young man who sorrowfully confided of his distress at having been married ten years without having children. "You have your own way of approaching the Rebbe. Please mention my difficulty," he asked. Reb Levi Itche was touched by his request and resolved to bring up the subject in his brief encounter with the Rebbe.
As he described the man's troubles, the Rebbe gazed sternly at Reb Levi Itche while the secretary, Rabbi Binyamin Klein, waited nearby to drive the Rebbe to "770". When Frieden concluded, the Rebbe responded: "Tell the young man to write a note with his name, his wife's name and the names of their mothers. I will take it to the Previous Rebbe's grave."
Then, as he often did, the Rebbe invited Reb Levi Itche to accompany him in the car to "770". Usually, Reb Levi Itche would decline. However, this time he entered the car, hoping to put in another good word for the young man. He did not have the opportunity. During the short ride, the Rebbe asked Frieden about his family and inquired if he had purchased a gift for his wife and children.
When the car arrived at "770", Frieden took leave of the Rebbe and rushed to the man's home. He quickly gave him the Rebbe's response, took off for the airport and boarded his plane to Israel.
Less than a year later, on the twenty-fifth of Elul, Frieden returned to New York. As he arrived in Crown Heights, his host, Rabbi Gavriel Shapiro, was just leaving his house. "Welcome, Reb Levi Itche. Remember when you requested a blessing for that childless couple at the beginning of the year? Well, you're just in time for the bris."
Frieden glanced at his watch. It was almost 10 o'clock, when the Rebbe would be leaving his home for "770". Without a second thought, he dashed over to President St. "Rebbe," said Frieden, "the blessing you gave last fall was fulfilled. Today is the bris."
The Rebbe listened patiently, radiating composure. "Don't make an issue of everything," he said waving his hand in dismissal. "There is no need for you to get excited."
- (Back to text) Taanis 9a.
- (Back to text) It is customary to give a traveler some money to give to charity in the course of his journey. This designates him as a shaliach ("emissary") charged with a mitzvah. Our Sages (Pesachim 8a) declare: "A person who is on a mission to perform a mitzvah will not be harmed."
- (Back to text) The holy place at which the Rebbe reads the names of those who have asked him to intercede on their behalf.