The word yechidus signifies a private meeting. But for chassidim, the concept of a yechidus with a Rebbe has a far deeper implication. The word yechidah refers to the highest rung of the soul, the innermost core which is at one with G-d in constant and consummate unity. A yechidus with his Rebbe - a one-to-one encounter between the yechidah of the chassid and the yechidah of the Rebbe - charges the chassid's yechidah with dynamism, so that it vitalizes his day-to-day conduct.
"Of all my yechidus experiences," related Rabbi Yehudah Leib Posner, "the one I remember most wasn't only for me. During the Spring of 1965, I was assistant principal of an elementary school for girls in Vineland, New Jersey. I had been trying to direct the eighth grade graduates to enroll in religious high schools. I suggested that they visit New York City and acquaint themselves with the different educational opportunities available for them there: Bais Rivkah, the Lubavitch High School for girls, the Beis Yaakov schools, and others.
"I organized a trip to New York on Sunday with a stop in Crown Heights and a tour of the Lubavitch school. I then phoned the office at "770" and arranged with the secretary, Rabbi Shalom Mendel Simpson, to arrange that the girls meet the Rebbe at yechidus for the girls at 3:00 on Sunday.
"The trip was very pleasant, and at 2:45 on Sunday we were waiting outside "770". However, in the office I was told that the Rebbe had unintentionally not been informed of the arrangement. Rabbi Simpson asked us to wait a short while, and then announced that the girls would be able to see the Rebbe after minchah at 3:15.
"It was Pesach Sheni, the minor holiday instituted to enable all those who had not offered a sacrifice on Passover to compensate by bringing an offering on this date. The Rebbe spoke to the girls about the lesson one can learn from this holiday, that Es iz nito kein farfal'n - Nothing is ever lost; there is always an opportunity to compensate.
"After the Rebbe finished talking to the girls, I requested an opportunity for a personal yechidus and the Rebbe consented.
"Afterwards, I wondered how great an exception the Rebbe had made to grant the girls yechidus on such short notice. I was curious how far in advance it was necessary to schedule yechidus. I asked Rabbi Simpson if he could arrange a yechidus for me in the near future. Rabbi Simpson shook his head.
" 'Of course, I don't mean tomorrow or the next day,' I said quickly, fully aware of the waiting line for yechidus. 'I had in mind about six weeks from today.'
Rabbi Simpson shook his head again. 'It's absolutely full. There are no openings until after Sukkos.'
"I understood something about the Rebbe's choice of priorities. For myself, I had been told that I would have to wait at least five months to be received at yechidus. But when six young girls might possibly be influenced in their choice of high school education, the Rebbe took time in mid-day to speak to them despite the lack of previous notification."
And the Rebbe's words made a difference. Most of the six girls decided to continue their Jewish education.
Back in the 'seventies, distraught parents often placed long-distance phone calls to Rabbi Chaim Yitzchak Drizin, the shaliach in Berkeley, California. They sought help in communicating with their children who had joined cults and communes, or who were drifting about on the permissive West Coast shores.
So he was not fazed when a worried father, Mr. Friedman, called from New York to ask for help in contacting his daughter, Adina.
"She's a lovely girl, a student at Columbia," Mr. Friedman's words tumbled out in confusion. "They're in Immigrant Gap, California now.... Our family tries to keep Shabbos... but her black boyfriend is a missionary Christian.... Tomorrow night, he's taking her to Hawaii to convert her to Christianity. I think she's only doing it to please him. Please help."
Rabbi Drizin promised that he would do what he could. However, it was Friday. He wasn't even sure that he could find Immigrant Gap.
"I hesitated," recalled Rabbi Drizin. "I had heard the town's name before and I believed that it was somewhere near Sacramento. But I had no address, I didn't want to run late shortly before Shabbos. Could I really influence a stranger and bring about a change on such a critical issue on one short visit?"
"Yet, I was prompted to go. I planned what I thought was enough time to get there and back, left another two hours for discussion, and an hour to get ready for Shabbos. Instinctively, I hurried over to the Chabad House to pick up my tallis. I brushed by a poster announcing our Saturday night program, and again reminded myself that I must be home for Shabbos.
"After setting out on my journey, I realized that I had miscalculated. Immigrant Gap was further than I thought, but I had already traveled so far that I could not turn back. I arrived at five thirty, only a few hours before sunset. The residents of the tiny village could not direct me to the person I described. Realizing that I would have to stay here over Shabbos, I notified my family and then bought some kosher food. Finally, after an intense search, I located the people in a cottage atop a hill on the outskirts of town.
"It was just a few minutes before Shabbos when I knocked on the door. The owners, a devout Christian family, invited me in, and I saw their guests - the man and woman in the dining room - Adina and her friend. I introduced myself and told Adina the purpose of my visit. She showed no interest and left the room. Her missionary companion, in contrast, was more friendly. Perhaps he thought I would be an interesting challenge.
"I asked the houseowners if I could spend the night and the next day. They cordially offered me a spacious room.
"That Shabbos was quite an experience. Most of the day was spent in intense conversation. I often regretted being pitted against Adina, whose responses alternated between indifference and hostility. Instead of speaking to her directly, I spent most of the time speaking to her friend, trying to impress both of them with one concept: Before Adina should consider adopting a different religion, she should know more about her own.
"Late Saturday night, shortly before their scheduled flight to Hawaii, Adina surprised me by agreeing to attend a course on Judaism. I immediately placed two phone calls: one to Bais Chanah - a Lubavitch institute for girls in Minnesota - and the other to an airline ticket office. Early Sunday morning, I drove Adina to the airport in Sacramento.
"On the road, Adina broke the tense silence between us: 'I assure you, Rabbi, that you have no idea why I decided to accompany you. Not only that, but I'm sure that you have no idea what you are doing here in the first place!'
"Her outburst caught me unprepared. I had naively concluded that my extensive persuasion had finally borne fruit.
" 'You see,' she continued, 'fifteen years ago, when I was growing up in New York, my father and I visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I did not understand what was being said at that meeting, but over the years, my father explained it to me.
" 'While the Rebbe was granting us blessings, he stopped and said to my father: 'A day will come when you will need assistance with this child - contact us and we will help.'
" 'Initially, I was not impressed when you introduced yourself on Friday as an emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Then, on Saturday, the profound prophecy of those words struck me. Nothing you said convinced me to change my plans. I still want to go to Hawaii, but I cannot disregard those far-sighted words of your Rebbe. I decided to go only out of respect for his profound vision.'
Today, Adina is the mother of a lovely, observant family in Jerusalem.
An Israeli police officer taking a professional training course in America decided to take advantage of his stay in the States in order to meet the Rebbe privately at yechidus. He handed the Rebbe a list of his family members, requesting a blessing for each of them.
After reading the note, the Rebbe asked: "How is your wife's leg?"
When the police officer simply responded with a blank look, the Rebbe gently reminded him about a letter that his son had written ten years earlier while attending a Lubavitch school.
When the child had been in third grade, the officer's wife had contracted a serious leg illness. The child's teacher saw his concern, and suggested that he write a letter to the Rebbe. Soon he received a blessing for a speedy recovery. In due time, his mother's leg healed.
In the interim, the officer and his family had moved to a different city, the children had grown up, and the officer had forgotten about the illness until now, when he was reminded by the Rebbe.
Later, the officer explained, "I do not know what is more moving to me: the fact that the Rebbe remembered after ten years and many thousands of other letters, or the genuine interest and care the Rebbe expressed for the well-being of another person."
One of the first students at the Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim, the yeshivah established in the village of Lubavitch in 1897 by the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rashab, was Rabbi Shneur Zalman Gorelik, who later became the first rav of Kfar Chabad in Israel. Rabbi Gorelik assumed this position at the age of 70, following a lifetime of vibrant communal activity. He established and managed a gemach, free loan fund, from his own salary, thus helping many struggling immigrant families establish the future Lubavitch center in Israel.
Once Rabbi Gorelik confided in a friend, "Besides the mitzvah of offering free loans, the gemach helps me perform my rabbinical duties. You see, I am not young, and it is difficult for me to pay home visits as an active Rabbi should in our growing town.
"When people come for a loan, I can offer them assistance and guidance about their families, their finances, and their spiritual advancement.
But at his first yechidus, when he was already eighty years old, Rabbi Gorelik mentioned that the gemach required too much of his time.
The Rebbe replied, "To the contrary. The gemach grants you additional time." And Rabbi Gorelik was indeed granted much time, living well into his nineties.
At one point, Rabbi Gorelik told the Rebbe that he felt Kfar Chabad deserved a more dignified Rav. The Rebbe replied: "You can increase your dignity."
Professor Lombruzi is a prominent physicist who lives in Nice, France. He had become acquainted with Lubavitch, and once made a trip to New York to meet the Rebbe. Among the topics he discussed with the Rebbe during yechidus was a book on the subject of electricity. "I invested years of research and hard work in the publication, but it has not sold successfully," he said disappointedly. As he spoke, Professor Lombruzi presented a copy of the book to the Rebbe as a gift.
The Rebbe leafed through the book for about a minute, and offered some constructive criticism. He suggested publishing a revised edition, promising that it and his subsequent works would gain a wide readership.
Many years have elapsed since the professor's first encounter with the Rebbe. He has published over twenty other volumes following his first book, and each one was a prodigious success. They have been translated into eight languages and have been chosen as compulsory texts in many major universities in France and other European countries. The title page of each book bears a dedication to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Curiosity, more than anything else, brought an Israeli journalist to yechidus in 1971. He had been visiting the States, and some of his American acquaintances said that they could arrange an encounter between him and the Rebbe.
Though he lacked the reverence of the Rebbe's followers, he appreciated the opportunity to meet such a great man. When the arranged date came, he entered the Rebbe's study and handed him a note with his questions and requests, as he had been advised.
The Rebbe gazed intently at the piece of paper. "I recognize this handwriting. You have written to me in the past," he said.
The journalist was taken aback by this unexpected comment. "With all due respect," he replied. "I have never written you a letter."
The Rebbe sat in deep thought for a few moments. "There is no doubt that you have written to me in the past," the Rebbe maintained. As he spoke, he opened the drawer of his desk, took out a piece of paper and handed it to the journalist.
The journalist stared at the paper, stunned. Here it was, a letter to the Rebbe written in his own handwriting. But what is this at the bottom? The letter was signed by someone else.
Then he remembered. A few years earlier, during the Six Day War, one of his buddies had injured his hand. After the war, the friend had wanted to send a letter to the Rebbe. Unfortunately, because of his injury, he was unable to write. The journalist wrote as his friend dictated, and the injured man managed to sign his name.
The journalist's attitude changed abruptly. The yechidus became far more than a curiosity, and he departed far less indifferent than when he had entered.
The Rebbe receives thousands of letters every week. Any letter which he decides to keep at hand must have a specific purpose.
"Upon the Rebbe's request, I delivered to his office forty volumes of scientific reports which I had prepared for the American Government. But I didn't really think he would take a look at them," related Dr. Velvel Green, a professor of microbiology. "After all, how would he find time to read through all this extensive research?"
Some months later, when the professor came to see the Rebbe for yechidus, the Rebbe noted that a conclusion reached in Volume 18 contradicted an assumption in Volume 38.
Migdal Ha'Emek is a development town in northern Israel. Anyone who meets Uzi Biton, the cook at the Migdal Or educational complex in that city, cannot see anything lacking in his manual ability. He effortlessly drags huge sacks of potatoes or large cartons of oranges around the campus kitchen.
"Look at the scar near my fingers," he points with a smile to his hand, which is stirring the contents of a huge pot. "I was wounded in the army. The palm of my hand was severely cut and the doctors told me that I had little chance of ever moving my fingers again. I underwent prolonged physical therapy to renew the blood flow, but to no avail. Having no other choice, I learned to live with my handicap.
"After my discharge from the army, I began to plan my future. During this time, I encountered Chabad and became more committed to Jewish life. Shortly afterwards, I decided to visit the Rebbe. In those days, it was still possible to have a private yechidus. As I prepared the note for yechidus, I wondered if I would be able to understand and remember everything the Rebbe would say. I decided to record the yechidus on a pocket tape recorder which I would place in my jacket pocket.
"The two points in my note to the Rebbe reflected the two issues which were of pressing importance in my life at that time: The first was the prospect of marriage. A young woman had already been introduced to me. The second, of course, was my handicap.
"The Rebbe read the note, marked it with a pencil, looked up at me, and said: 'Go ahead and propose marriage. Plan the wedding in the nearest possible future. And may G-d grant you a full recovery immediately.'
"I fervently answered Amen and left the Rebbe's study. Outside, I was eager to review the Rebbe's words and reached into my pocket for the recorder. Suddenly, I realized to my amazement that my injured hand had removed the tape recorder - a feat previously unthinkable! The Rebbe's blessing for immediate recovery had been fulfilled in the most literal sense.
"His advice about marriage also taught me about the Rebbe's far-reaching vision and precision of words. I proposed to my wife shortly after my return, and plans were made for the wedding. Nevertheless, for various reasons, the wedding did not take place "in the nearest possible future." Shortly afterwards, my fiancee's father passed away. Not only did he not merit to see his daughter married, but we had to postpone the marriage until after the year of mourning."
- (Back to text) The Rebbe's ability to assimilate mathematical and scientific knowledge was noticed at a young age and was table-talk throughout Yekatrinoslav, the town where the Rebbe's father served as Rav.
Yeshayahu Sher, then a young lad who frequented the Schneerson home, studied privately with a noted engineer named Ostrovsky. He once told his teacher about the three gifted sons of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Schneerson (the Rebbe's father - the Rebbe had two brothers; DovBer and Yisroel Aryeh Leib).
"Gifted, eh?" remarked the engineer. "Well, we shall see. I will write down a mathematical problem for you to present to them. If they can solve it, I will put their names on the university honors list!"
Yeshayahu delivered the equation to the boys and returned with their solutions a while later. Ostrovsky was amazed. "They are all correct," he announced. He set aside one of the papers. "This one displays the most concise and direct method of calculating the answer," he added. That paper was the Rebbe's.
Some time later, the headmaster of the local preparatory school visited the Schneerson home. He desired to test the reports he had heard about Rabbi Levi Yitzchok's oldest son. He presented the youth with a complex mathematical problem, allotting him three days to solve it. Half an hour later, while the headmaster was still speaking to Rabbi Levi Yitzchok, the youth returned with his answer. The headmaster considering him impudent at having worked on the problem so swiftly. He pocketed the paper without even looking at it.
At one-thirty in the morning, the telephone rang in the Schneerson home. "Please forgive me for calling at this unearthly hour," the headmaster said excitedly. "But I could not contain myself. Your son's solution to the problem I gave him is absolutely correct. I can't believe this; even an experienced mathematician would have taken three days to solve this problem."