The Rebbe Shlita has explained that having children - and many children - is one of the greatest treasures that can be granted a family. And in many instances, his blessings have helped childless families bring children into the world.
Mrs. Cheyena Avtzon had given birth to six children in Europe. When she and her husband, Rabbi Meir Avtzon, came to the U.S., she expected to receive a more advance and patient-oriented approach to medical treatment.
How surprised was she that upon a visit to a gynecologist, he adamantly told her she should never consider having another child!
Mrs. Avtzon tenaciously told the doctor that his job was to help women have children, not to count them or try to prevent them from having more. When she told the Rebbe Shlita about the doctor's prognosis of the dangers that might arise in future pregnancies, the Rebbe Shlita answered with a vigorous blessing, promising her that she would have many more children.
Which she did. Nine more children subsequently joined the Avtzon family.
In 1981, the Rebbe Shlita spoke publicly about the importance of having large families in his address to the Convention of the Lubavitch Women's Organization. Afterwards, it was decided that the Convention be closed with an address from a women who grew up in a large family. And it was no surprise that one of Mrs. Avtzon's daughters was the one chosen to give the address.
For many, the financial burden of raising children can be as challenging as bearing them. During one yechidus, Rabbi Avtzon told the Rebbe that his children were reaching marriageable age. He and his wife had never worried about their own finances, but he wanted to be able to provide the children with at least a modest wedding and dowry.
The Rebbe replied, "Material nadden (dowry) comes and goes; spiritual nadden stays forever. G-d gave you the unique gift to offer your children spiritual nadden. This is genuine
nadden. You can tell this to your prospective in-laws in my name when you sit down to discuss the wedding details."
"Many of the people living in the large Jewish community of Monsey, New York, are native New Yorkers," says Mr. Klein. "I dare say I represent a large proportion of the people living in Monsey who do not miss the Big Apple at all. There are, however, attractions in the city which are close to our hearts. Although I am not a Lubavitcher, one of the things which I try not to miss when I'm in the city is the chance to receive a dollar from the Rebbe on Sunday mornings.
"I wanted to share this uplifting experience with my neighbors, a couple who had been married for fifteen years without children. At first the couple, affiliated with the Satmar chassidim, were reluctant to consider the option. Eventually, however, the woman decided she would make the trip to New York and seek the Rebbe's blessing.
"When she returned, the woman disappointedly told my wife, 'If this was an opportunity to receive a blessing from a tzaddik, then I must have forfeited it.'
" 'What happened?' asked my wife.
" 'I arrived at "770",' the woman explained. "The line of women was very long, so I had ample time to consider how to phrase my request. However, when I finally reached the Rebbe. I was so overwhelmed by the Rebbe's awesome personality that I could not utter a word.
" 'The Rebbe handed me a dollar and said, Brochah v'hatzlachah (blessing and success). Then he gave me another two dollars saying: These are for the children.
" 'That was that. I was so excited, I didn't open my mouth and I never got the blessing.'
"My wife eagerly responded, 'What do you mean, you never got the blessing?' she cried excitedly. 'You received a great blessing! The Rebbe gave you two dollars for the children you will have!'
"The woman shrugged, 'The Rebbe didn't specifically bless me to have children. I'm sure he routinely gives Jewish women additional dollars for their children.'
"It took some convincing to explain otherwise. However, exactly nine months later there was no need to convince anyone. The woman gave birth to twins."
"No, I'm not a follower of the Rebbe," the scholarly looking man confided in me. "As a matter of fact I am the head of a Kollel (an intensive adult Torah study program) and my lifestyle is far from chassidic. But I do recognize greatness...."
I sat back to listen as the man related his tale:
"I was born in Paris after World War II, about forty-five years ago. I remained an only son, as my parents were already middle-aged. Even when I was young, I sensed that my parents were withholding some secret about my birth.
I became engaged at the age of twenty-four. A short while before my wedding, my father, may he rest in peace, disclosed the story. I can still see him, as he sat close to me, with tears coming to his eyes when he lifted the veil of confidence from his long-kept secret.
"My parents were among the lucky Polish Jews who escaped to Russia during World War II. They joined bands of homeless refugees who wandered from place to place until they arrived in the city of Tashkent in the Carpathian Mountains. Tashkent was a temporary haven for refugees, including many Lubavitcher chassidim.
"My father always spoke highly of the Lubavitchers whom he had met in Tashkent. Self-sacrifice was their way of life. They offered assistance and support beyond their means. Their prayers reflected a deep commitment to Judaism. But most outstanding was their intense struggle to educate the young, despite their hardships during those difficult years."
My acquaintance paused, as if he was reflecting upon his father's tale, and then he returned to his story:
"My father was already nearly fifty years old, and my mother was about forty, when the war ended. They wanted to establish a home. Fortunately, being Polish citizens, they were able to leave Russia. They mingled with the migrating masses who were crossing Europe, and eventually made their home in Paris. They were grateful for having survived, but they faced the pain of childlessness after twenty years of marriage.
"In those days, Paris was a melting pot of refugees, and my parents were delighted to come across former acquaintances. Among them were some Lubavitcher chassidim whom they had befriended in Tashkent.
"One day, shortly after my parents arrived in Paris, my father met a beaming Lubavitcher chassid. 'We've merited a great guest in town. Rabbi Schneerson, the son-in-law of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, has arrived in Paris. He came to welcome his mother, Rebbetzin Chanah Schneerson gwwb, who just left Russia.'
"On several occasions, my father met Rabbi Schneerson in the shul at the Pletzel in Paris and talked with him. My father was a learned scholar, and he cherished these talks with Rabbi Schneerson. During one of those conversations, Rabbi Schneerson inquired about my father's experiences during the war. When he touched upon the topic of family, my father tearfully explained that he did not have children.
"With compassion in eyes, Rabbi Schneerson gripped my father's hand warmly, and blessed him, 'May G-d enable you to fulfill the mitzvah of Vehigadeta levincha ("Relate to your children...") next year.'
"The following year, I was two months old when Pesach approached. Two more years passed, and my parents emigrated from Europe to Israel. From the time I can remember, the Seder has always been an emotional experience for my father. He always expounded upon avadim hayinu patiently, extensively, and with much love and joy.
"I could not appreciate my father's intensity at the Seder until he disclosed the story of my birth."
My acquaintance was visibly moved as he retold his father's story. I could see his eyes glistening at the edges. Before I could think of an appropriate response, he waved his hand as if beckoning me not to interrupt.
"And that's not all," he exclaimed. "Three years ago, my daughter married a yeshivah student from Lakewood, New Jersey. She was due to give birth the following Pesach. We had planned a family trip to the States to spend the holiday together, and celebrate the arrival of our grandchild. My wife arrived a month earlier to assist my daughter, while my younger children and I arrived in New Jersey a week before Pesach.
"At that time, I told my son-in-law, 'I would like to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe and have my younger son receive his blessing.'
"My son-in-law was less enthusiastic. His home community did not have many followers of the Rebbe, and he felt no need to make the two-hour journey. I, however, was not to be dissuaded. When my son-in-law saw that I was intent on going, he told me about the opportunity to meet briefly with the Rebbe on Sunday morning, when the Rebbe distributes dollars to be given to charity. I readily agreed, and my son-in-law arranged a ride into Brooklyn for me and my young son.
"We neared "770", and we were amazed to see a winding, block-long line of people waiting to see the Rebbe. During those hours in which we waited our turn, I told the miraculous story of my birth to my son.
"He was very moved to hear the story. 'I was surprised that you were so determined to come here," he said, "and I did not know why you were willing to wait so long. Time has always been very precious to you. Now I understand.'
"Finally, after hours of slowly inching forward, we reached a point from where we could see the distinguished and impressive appearance of the Rebbe. There was a tangible spirit of divinity in the air. I was amazed at the Rebbe's alertness, despite many hours of speaking to the thousands of people who passed by. He blessed each one and handed out tzedakah personally.
"Though the line of people passed quickly, I could see that some of them said something to the Rebbe and that he responded. I hadn't planned to say anything. I just wanted to see and approach the Rebbe once. 'Maybe it was my personal need to thank him for the blessing that he gave my parents, which culminated in my birth,' I thought to myself.
"Our turn arrived more quickly than I had anticipated. The Rebbe gave my son, who was standing before me, a dollar. Brochah v'hatzlachah, the Rebbe said. Then he asked him in Yiddish. 'Are you ready to ask the Four Questions?' My son was caught by surprise, not having expected the Rebbe to address him. Sensing his surprise, the attendant explained the question.
"My son regained his composure and responded, 'Yes.' The Rebbe smiled and handed him another dollar. 'This is for the Four Questions' he said.
"As I approached the Rebbe, he handed me a dollar saying: 'Brochah v'hatzlachah.' He handed me a second dollar, 'for the answer to the Four Questions.' Then he gave me a deeply penetrating look, and with a tremendous smile he added: 'And for Vehigadeta levincha.' "
Rabbi Elimelech Nieman is one of the leading communal figures in the Jewish community of Boro Park. He has a long relationship with the Rebbe and consults him on many issues.
Each year, he comes to the Rebbe on the day before Yom Kippur when the Rebbe distributes lekach (honey-cake) and gives blessings to his followers for the coming new year.
Once he took a friend who had been childless for several years after marriage. The Rebbe gave Rabbi Nieman's friend his customary blessing for a good and sweet year. The friend told the Rebbe he had no children.
The Rebbe replied, "I blessed you with 'A good and sweet year.' This includes children."
A little more than nine months later, the friend's wife gave birth.
"We want children very badly," the woman told her rabbi, Yossi Goldman, one of the Lubavitcher shluchim in South Africa. "I've already had one miscarriage, and the doctors are very pessimistic about my ability to carry through a successful pregnancy. We have looked into adopting a child and the agencies have located a boy for us. Should we adopt the child or endeavor to have her own?"
Rabbi Goldman had much experience in consulting families, but this was a responsibility that he did not want to accept alone. With tactful sensitivity, he helped the woman compose a letter to the Rebbe.
The Rebbe's answer was not long in coming: "You will be able to have your own child. There is no need for adoption."
Shortly afterwards, the woman became pregnant. In the nine months of pregnancy, many complications arose. Each time, she wrote to the Rebbe, and each time, the Rebbe replied with confidant assurance. Ultimately, she gave birth to a healthy baby.
"Approximately five years ago, when I was working at the Kingsbrook Medical Center in Brooklyn," relates Renee Javer, "I was given a copy of L'Chaim, a weekly Lubavitch newsletter, by some young boys who came to the hospital every Friday to lift the patients' spirits and to distribute literature.
"The publication was interesting, and I became a subscriber. This opened the door to a greater interest in Judaism and subsequently, I subscribed to other Lubavitch publications. After a number of years, a Lubavitcher outreach worker called and asked if I was interested in 'learning.' At that time, I had recently retired, my mother was severely ill, and I felt the need for spiritual guidance - I readily agreed.
"I was contacted by a very pleasant young woman and we studied together for several months. We exchanged more than knowledge and became close friends. At one point, she asked me to come to a Sunday brunch in Crown Heights to be held for women who had begun to participate in these study sessions. I was happy to attend.
"After the brunch, my friend asked me if I wanted to see the Rebbe. I had heard that every Sunday the Rebbe would distribute tzedakah, but had never thought of going myself. After a word of gentle persuasion, I decided to join the line.
While we were waiting in front of "770", my emotions began to mount. When I finally stood before the Rebbe, I was overtaken by awe. With tears in my eyes, I told him that my daughter-in-law desired to have another child, but was encountering difficulty.
" 'Think positively,' the Rebbe replied, assuring me that she would have a child.
"My friend arranged that a picture be taken of my meeting with the Rebbe. Thirteen months later, my daughter-in-law gave birth to a baby boy. Today, the two pictures - me and the Rebbe, and my daughter-in-law and her son - hang on my refrigerator door. When friends and family see them, they ask questions, and it brings on a wonderful discussion."
- (Back to text) The Biblical phrase (Exodus 13:8) commanding Jews to tell the story of the Pesach miracle.
- (Back to text) The response to the Four Questions asked by a child during the Seder.