Sichos In English   Holidays  Shabbat   Calendar  ב״ה

     Sichos In English -> Books -> Stories & History -> To Know and To Care - Volume 2
Volume 1   |   Volume 2



What You Need and What You are Needed For

No Small Matter

A Shepherd of Souls

Reaching Outward

Digging For Roots

Jewels in the Streets

Opening the Iron Fist

Shepherding His Flock

Unveiling Hidden Treasures

Precious Souls

"The Language of the Wise is Healing"

"Rejoice O Barren One"

Beyond Nature's Limits

Sparks of Greatness

More Than During His Lifetime


Glossary and Biographical Index

To Know and To Care - Volume 2
An Anthology of Chassidic Stories
about the Lubavitcher Rebbe,
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson

Chapter 1
What You Need and What You are Needed For

by Eliyahu and Malka Touger

Published and copyright © by Sichos In English
(718) 778-5436     FAX (718) 735-4139

Add to Shopping Cart   |   Buy this now
  IntroductionNo Small Matter  

As one of the Alter Rebbe's wealthy chassidim advanced in years, he was able to marry off his children and establish them in business. A generous man by nature, when the responsibilities of his immediate family became less pressing, he committed himself to pay for the weddings and dowries of his relatives' children.

Suddenly, however, his business affairs took a sharp turn for the worse, and instead of being affluent, he found himself in debt and unable to meet his commitments. Before his financial situation became public knowledge, he hurried to Liozna to receive advice and blessings from the Alter Rebbe.

At yechidus, he poured out his heart to the Rebbe, saying that he was prepared to remain impoverished himself, but he needed to pay his debts and honor the commitments that he had made to his relatives.

The Alter Rebbe responded: "You are speaking about what you need. But you have not given a thought to what you are needed for."

The chassid fainted; the Alter Rebbe's attendant had to help him out of the Rebbe's room. When he came to, he began to devote himself to prayer and study, without thinking of his business concerns.

After the chassid had conducted himself in this fashion for some time, the Alter Rebbe sent for him. Standing before the Rebbe, the vision of his previous yechidus flashed in his mind, and he could barely muster the strength to look the Rebbe in the face. This time, however, the Alter Rebbe spoke to him gently: "Now you appreciate G-d's truth.... You can return home...; may G-d grant you success."

The man made his way home and discovered that the gloomy picture he had seen previously could be corrected. A few favorable strokes of fortune had given him the opportunity to right his financial course.

The sequence is noteworthy. Once he was able to appreciate his purpose, he was granted the means to accomplish it.

The Rebbe gives people a sense of mission, enabling them to see what they were needed for. This awareness helps them mold their characters. Commitment to a purpose beyond self empowered them to redefine their sense of self and live fuller and more complete lives.

Rabbi Moshe Feller and his wife Mindy were one of the first couples to begin the tradition of shlichus. Before leaving for the twin cities of Minneapolis-S. Paul, they went to yechidus to receive the Rebbe's blessing and advice.

At that yechidus, Rabbi Feller was a little surprised. The Rebbe spent most of the time speaking to Mrs. Feller, telling her that since she had studied mathematics, graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Hunter College, she should continue her studies and try to get a university position. This would not, the Rebbe emphasized, compromise her position as a shluchah. On the contrary, having a post at the university would facilitate outreach activities there.

Shortly after arriving in Minnesota, Mrs. Feller was able to secure a position at the University of Minnesota. The head of the mathematics department was Paul Rosenbloom, soon to become famous for developing the "new math."

Besides being a mathematical genius, Prof. Rosenbloom had a vibrant Jewish heart, and a sincere desire for spiritual growth. His discussions with the new faculty member soon went far beyond mathematics, and he established a close relationship with the Feller family and a growing interest in Judaism and Chassidism.

In 1963, Prof. Rosenbloom was called to Brooklyn College for consultation. When he told Rabbi Feller about the upcoming trip, Rabbi Feller suggested that he visit the Rebbe for yechidus.

"Why would the Rebbe want to spend time with me?" Prof. Rosenbloom asked.

Rabbi Feller assured him that the Rebbe would find subjects which would interest both of them, and arranged an appointment.

The meeting was scheduled for 11 PM. Prof. Rosenbloom realized that the Rebbe would be seeing many people before and after him. Feeling that the area in which he shared the greatest common interest with the Rebbe was chinuch (education), and to save the Rebbe time, he wrote some of his ideas down and gave them to one of the Rebbe's secretaries.

When he gave him the note, Prof. Rosenbloom told the secretary the general thrust of his thinking: that the programs of limudei kodesh (Torah studies) and limudei chol (secular studies) in Jewish day schools should be integrated.

The secretary reacted with shock. "There must be," he told the professor, "a distinction between the holy and the mundane! A child must know what is sacred and what is not."

When speaking to the Rebbe, however, Prof. Rosenbloom received a different picture. "Children should be taught to appreciate that everything is connected with the Torah," the Rebbe told him. "When they perform an experiment in a science lab, they should know that it is G-d's creative power that is causing the chemical reactions they observe.

"There are some," the Rebbe continued, "who have two sets of bookshelves, one for seforim [sacred texts] and another for secular books. That is the wrong approach. If a person thinks of secular wisdom as being unrelated to the Torah, he does not understand the Torah, nor does he truly understand the secular subject he is studying."

This yechidus spurred Prof. Rosenbloom to continue his progress in Jewish observance and deepen his connection with Lubavitch. Several years later, when he moved to New York to accept the mathematics chair at Columbia University, Prof. Rosenbloom was an observant Jew with a strong connection to the Rebbe. At first, he rented an apartment close to the university, but he and his family felt the lack of Jewish community there, and he asked the Rebbe if they should move to Crown Heights.

"Absolutely not," the Rebbe answered. "You should live near the university. A Jewish professor on campus should see that he has a colleague who wears a yarmulke; a Jewish student should see a young boy who walks proudly with his tzitzis hanging out."

Although the Rebbe wanted Prof. Rosenbloom to serve as an example of Jewish practice, he made it clear that this was not to be done at the expense of his professional advancement. On the contrary, he urged Prof. Rosenbloom to forge ahead with his research. At one point, he invited him to bring a new mathematics paper to every farbrengen he attended.

Prof. Rosenbloom faithfully adhered to this directive. On Yud-Tes Kislev, Purim, and other occasions when some people chose to offer presents to the Rebbe, Prof. Rosenbloom would present him with a mathematics paper.

Once he brought a copy of a paper that had been published in a major journal. The Rebbe gave it a quick perusal and asked if he had not seen the paper before. The professor directed the Rebbe's attention to a footnote on the first page. There it stated that the preliminary draft had been presented to the Lubavitcher Rebbe at a Yud-Tes Kislev farbrengen.

Prof. Rosenbloom shared a birthday with the Rebbe, Yud-Alef Nissan. Year after year, at the farbrengen held on that date, he found a unique way to celebrate together. He would present the Rebbe with a mathematical problem which he had devised in the course of weeks of work, then wait a few brief moments until the Rebbe responded with its solution.

As their connection developed, the Rebbe began to entrust Prof. Rosenbloom with projects, some in the field of Jewish outreach and some in mathematics. One day, Prof. Rosenbloom received a package from the Rebbe's office containing a mathematics paper written in German and a note from the Rebbe's secretary, Rabbi Groner. Rabbi Groner stated that the Rebbe would like to know if the professor could find someone who understood German, and who would complete the paper and prepare it for publication.

Prof. Rosenbloom answered that the language was not a problem; most students of higher mathematics knew enough German to appreciate the paper. The problem was that mathematical research was very individualized, and it would be necessary to find someone with an expertise in the particular field which the paper addressed.

Rabbi Groner relayed the professor's answer to the Rebbe, who replied by asking the professor to prepare a summary of the paper so that it could be presented to another person.

As Professor Rosenbloom began writing the summary, he realized that it would be difficult to find someone to complete the paper, and so he chose instead to offer advice to the author as to how he could complete the research himself. Neither the Rebbe nor Rabbi Groner had revealed the author's identity, and Prof. Rosenbloom had not inquired.

At his next visit to a farbrengen, Prof. Rosenbloom presented his letter of advice to the Rebbe. The Rebbe asked him if he could find someone to complete the research, but the professor answered that it was unlikely. "Any person who would have the knowledge and ability to think creatively needed to complete this paper would most likely want to work on his own research," he explained. The professor added that he had prepared the summary in a manner that would allow the author to finish the paper himself. This, he felt, would be the best alternative.

The Rebbe answered that this was impossible because the author was no longer living, and again spoke of finding someone else. "Would money make a difference?" asked the Rebbe, offering to pay a generous fee for the work.

"No," answered the professor. "For such a person, the project itself would have to be the inspiration."

"Could you find a graduate student whom you could direct in this work?"

"I'm afraid not," answered the professor, explaining that the subject was too complex for an ordinary student.

Seeing the Rebbe's sharp interest, however, Prof. Rosenbloom offered to complete the paper himself. Initially, the Rebbe refused, saying he did not want to take him away from his own research. But the professor persisted, sensing that the Rebbe genuinely wanted the paper completed.

Ultimately the Rebbe agreed, and allowed him to undertake the project. He then revealed that it was his own brother, Reb Yisrael Aryeh Leib Schneerson, who had begun the paper.

When the project was completed, the Rebbe asked the professor to try to have it published. He requested, however, that it be published under a pseudonym, with no biographical data concerning the author, aside from the fact that he had served as a professor of mathematics at the University of Liverpool.

The Rebbe showed an interest in all the members of the Rosenbloom family. Once the professor's young son was having problems at school, and the guidance counselor suggested that professional counseling be sought for him. Mrs. Rosenbloom was very upset by this suggestion, and arranged a yechidus at which the problem could be discussed.

At yechidus, the Rebbe explained that there was no need for such an approach. Shifting the focus of discussion, he asked the Rosenblooms what they intended to do with their son on Chanukah. The Rosenblooms answered that they were planning to light candles with him and give presents, but nothing out of the ordinary.

The Rebbe suggested that they throw a Chanukah party for the members of their son's class. Since he was only seven, the Rebbe added, they should invite the girls as well. The Rosenblooms should make sure that their own daughter had other plans for the afternoon, however, so that the boy could be the center of attention.

The party was scheduled for the Sunday of Chanukah. On the preceding Friday, a package arrived at the Rosenbloom home with a copy of the Merkos publication, "The Complete Story of Chanukah" for every member of the class. On Monday, Rabbi Chodakov, the Rebbe's personal secretary, called and asked how the party went.

From that time onward, the child's socialization ceased to be a problem.

At a yechidus before the boy's Bar Mitzvah, the Rebbe showed an interest in Mrs. Rosenbloom's activities. She told the Rebbe that she was involved with the Speakers Bureau of the Lubavitch Women's Organization, arranging talks at meetings of Hadassah, Bnei Brith and other Jewish organizations in an attempt to heighten the awareness of Torah Judaism.

"And do you speak yourself?" the Rebbe asked.

"Oh no," Mrs. Rosenbloom answered, explaining that she shied away from public speaking.

"That's a shame," the Rebbe told her. "It would be far more effective if women could hear the Torah's message from someone who came from the secular world and understands that perspective."

The Rebbe did not content himself with merely making a suggestion. The following day, the Rosenblooms received a message from his office asking that Mrs. Rosenbloom be the primary speaker at their son's Bar Mitzvah, announcing the establishment of a free loan fund in honor of the Rebbe's mother.

After making this speech, Mrs. Rosenbloom found public speaking less daunting, and began speaking at many of the functions arranged by the Lubavitch Women's Organization.

As a youth, Rabbi Naftuli Estulin studied in the underground Lubavitcher yeshivah in Russia. The boys lived in constant fear of detection, and dreamed of leaving Russia and going to a place where they could practice Judaism openly.

From time to time, the Rebbe would send shluchim to Russia. Posing as tourists, they would have clandestine meetings with members of the Lubavitch underground. Once when a shliach came, all the students of the yeshivah wrote pidyonos (requests for blessings) to the Rebbe, asking that he pray that they be able to leave Russia. Now the shliach could not carry the pidyonos out as they were, for his luggage might be searched and the notes confiscated. So the chassidim baked a cake and put the pidyonos into the batter. The shliach packed the cake carefully, thinking that if he were questioned by the authorities, he would tell them that a relative had baked it for his father.

The shliach was not questioned, and was able to bring the cake to the Rebbe, who said it was the sweetest cake he had ever received. And the Rebbe's prayers and those of the chassidim bore fruit; shortly afterwards, Naftuli and his fellow students were allowed to leave Russia.

His family settled in Israel, arriving just before Rosh HaShanah, 5727. When Naftuli heard that a group of chassidim were planning to visit the Rebbe for the holidays of Tishrei, he felt an urge to join them. A fine chassidic feeling, but he lacked an Israeli passport, a visa to America, and money for the ticket! Yet Naftuli was not one to let such obstacles stand in his way. Through a succession of minor miracles, on the day before Sukkos, he was standing in 770, waiting to see the Rebbe.

Later, at yechidus, the Rebbe greeted Naftuli with a broad smile. He told him to stay in Crown Heights for a month and then return to Israel. After discovering that Naftuli had borrowed money for the trip, the Rebbe gave him the funds to repay the loan.

After studying for a year in Eretz Yisrael, Naftuli's parents and teachers decided that he was ready to study in the Rebbe's yeshivah in 770, and he made his second trip to the Rebbe.

When Naftuli came to 770, he found it difficult to adjust; he didn't speak the language, the culture was different. But beyond the obvious problems of acclimation to a new setting, Naftuli had trouble finding his place in the yeshivah. Although he had grasped the basics of Talmudic study in Russia, all the other yeshivah students his age had been studying their entire lives. They were already capable of tackling advanced Rabbinic texts, and were busy preparing themselves for ordination. Because of this, Naftuli had difficulty finding a chavrusa (study partner). Moreover, while friendly, the American students were more at home with their own, and Naftuli often felt out of place.

One of the elder chassidim whom Naftuli knew from Russia, Reb Avraham, was visiting 770 at the time, and was scheduled to meet the Rebbe at yechidus. Naftuli opened his heart to him, telling him of his difficulties, and requesting that he ask the Rebbe for a blessing.

In the course of his yechidus, Reb Avraham mentioned Naftuli's plight. The Rebbe looked at him in surprise: "Why is he discouraged? He will be an atamanom buded " (a Russian term meaning "heroic leader").

In 5730 (1970), Naftuli became engaged, and sought to go out on shlichus. Back then, there were only about 30 people working as shluchim in America. The students who had grown up studying at 770 were all enthused with the prospect, but the idea was still on the horizon; there simply were not many opportunities available.

At that time, one of the more colorful Lubavitcher shluchim was Rabbi Gershon Mendel Garelik, Chief Rabbi of Milan. Rabbi Garelik was interested in opening a kosher restaurant in his city, and offered Naftuli a shlichus position. He would be the mashgiach (kashrus supervisor) in the restaurant, and would have other duties spreading Yiddishkeit throughout the city.

Naftuli was excited. What the opportunity was did not concern him; what was important was that he would be the Rebbe's shliach.

He wrote to the Rebbe, asking whether or not he should take the job, but did not receive an answer. Undaunted, he wrote a second time. But although he anxiously awaited the Rebbe's reply, none was forthcoming. When Rabbi Garelik saw that Naftuli had not received a response, he also wrote the Rebbe, describing the offer he had made and asking whether it was appropriate.

The Rebbe replied that G-d had not worked miracles to take Naftuli out of Russia so that he could become a kashrus supervisor!

Naftuli was happy that the Rebbe had greater aspirations for him, and began looking for another offer. His brother-in-law, Rabbi Begun of Brazil, proposed that he join him there, and promised to find him a position. Again, he wrote to the Rebbe asking whether he should accept the offer, but again, the Rebbe did not reply. At that time, Naftuli's sister was visiting the Rebbe, and at yechidus she asked whether Naftuli should come to Brazil.

Again, the Rebbe had other plans. "There will be time for him to come to Brazil," he told Mrs. Begun. Naftuli soon understood. It became clear that the Beguns were hoping that a place could be found for him, but that there was no job immediately available that fit his personality and training.

So Naftuli spent a year in New York, studying half a day in kollel (a higher Rabbinic academy) and teaching Russian children at a new school opened by the Friends of Refugees from Eastern Europe.

In 5731 (1971), Rabbi Shlomo Cunin, the head shliach in California, heard rumors that large numbers of Russian Jews would soon be allowed to emigrate. He spoke to several potential sponsors, and found patrons willing to finance an outreach program to connect these Russian Jews to their spiritual heritage. When looking for a rabbi to head the program, Rabbi Cunin could find none more suitable than Naftuli.

Naftuli was excited; this seemed to be exactly what he should be doing. Immediately, he wrote to the Rebbe about the proposal, but again he did not receive an answer! After a few days passed, he wrote a second time, but the Rebbe again did not reply.

Baffled, he went to Rabbi Chodakov (the Rebbe's personal secretary), and requested that he ask the Rebbe to clarify the matter for him.

Rabbi Chodakov told him that he would speak to the Rebbe at 11 that night; Naftuli should come back at about 12 for an answer.

At midnight, Rabbi Chodakov had a broad smile. He told Naftuli: "The Rebbe told me that in your letters you wrote about what you want, what you think is appropriate for you. But your wife was not mentioned at all, nor did she sign."

Naftuli went home and told his wife the Rebbe's answer. She was also happy to go on shlichus, and readily agreed. Naftuli wrote another letter, which both he and his wife signed. This time the Rebbe replied immediately, advising him to accept the position.

At yechidus before they left for California, the Rebbe told the couple that their first responsibility was to spread Yiddishkeit to Jews coming from Russia, Czechoslovakia, and other countries from behind the Iron Curtain, and beyond that, to spread the wellsprings of Chassidus throughout California.

Three months after they moved, Mrs. Estulin gave birth. Seeing an opportunity to promote his program, Naftuli wanted to publicize the bris. He imagined the headlines: a Russian immigrant whose own bris had been performed underground was now making a bris for his child in public.

Rabbi Cunin disagreed; he did not see this as an issue on which public attention should be focused.

Convinced that his position was right, Naftuli wrote to the Rebbe, asking whether he should publicize the bris or not. The Rebbe answered that with regard to this question, he should listen to Rabbi Cunin, but that there would come a time when Naftuli would publicize circumcisions for Russian children throughout Los Angeles.

The Rebbe's words proved prophetic, as many of the Russian immigrants arriving in Los Angeles had never been circumcised. Reb Naftuli was among the first in America to organize circumcisions for older youths and adults, and had mohelim specially trained to perform the surgery. Over 9,000 such circumcisions have been performed in Los Angeles to date, attracting media attention around the world.

The wave of Russian immigrants which Rabbi Cunin expected did not materialize immediately, so in his first years, Naftuli also took on other duties, including the establishment of a Chabad Information Center on Fairfax Ave. But by the mid-70s, thousands of Russian Jews had settled in the Los Angeles area, and Naftuli found himself occupied day and night providing for their material and spiritual needs.

In 1978, Naftuli opened a facility for the immigrants on La Brea Ave., where most of them had settled. Two years later, when the center of the Russian Jewish community moved to West Hollywood, Naftuli opened another center there. Not only was Naftuli responsible for the spiritual needs of these Jews, he also had to bear the entire burden of fundraising.

Naftuli's building was only 3,000 sq. feet. That small space housed a shul, a kitchen, a library, classrooms for adults and youths, offices and counseling rooms. And in the summer, it also served as the center for a camp for hundreds of children. It was constantly teeming with activity.

On one hand, the close quarters made everyone feel at home. On the other, as Naftuli's work became more successful, the overcrowding became unbearable. There were simply too many people.

From his youth in Russia, Naftuli had dreamed of building a large shul. Now he saw this objective, not only as a dream, but as an absolute necessity. But the prospects of acquiring such a building were daunting, for real estate prices in Los Angeles were exorbitant.

Before the holiday of Shavuos 1991, Naftuli wrote to the Rebbe asking for a blessing that he be able to build or acquire a shul in the near future, and somehow find $500,000 - the amount he felt would be needed for a down payment. The Rebbe replied that he would soon receive more than he could possibly have expected!

On the 18th of Tammuz, while the summer camp was in session, a middle-aged man walked into Naftuli's shul, apparently looking for a minyan for the afternoon services. When told the minyan would be later, he stayed and watched the children eating lunch. Naftuli was there at the time, and introduced himself to the visitor, asking if he could be of any help.

The visitor started asking Naftuli about the camp: "Why isn't there a bigger facility? The kids seem to be having a good time, but everything is so crowded!"

Naftuli answered that he would love a bigger facility, but couldn't afford it.

"Maybe I can help," the man said. "Come, let's take a walk down S. Monica Blvd. (the main street in the area). We'll see if there is any suitable property."

Naftuli could barely believe what he was hearing. He had never seen this man before and, though neatly dressed, the stranger was far from elegantly clothed. He looked more like a candidate for a donation than a person able to make a large one!

But Naftuli wanted to make the man feel good, was interested in finding a property, and besides, maybe the man could help. And so he accompanied him.

As they walked, the man told his story. His name was Harry Rubinfeld. His daughter was being treated in a hospital nearby. After visiting her, he had come to the shul looking for a minyan.

He had been born in Czechoslovakia. (Naftuli remembered the Rebbe's words in yechidus about Jews from Czechoslovakia). As a youth after the war, he had often gone hungry in the post-holocaust communist society.

Afterwards, he had migrated to America, and found work in California as a painter. He had been able to save some money, and had invested in real estate. Slowly but surely, he had been able to amass capital. He had invested this further, and thus put together a considerable nest egg. His wife had recently passed away, and he was thinking of making a large donation in her honor.

When he had seen the immigrant children eating lunch, he had remembered his own days of hunger, and his difficulties in finding a place in American society. It occurred to him that he would like to dedicate a building for these children.

As they were walking, the man noticed a large garage for sale. "This looks like an appropriate location," he told Naftuli. "I will return to the shul for minchah. Find out what they're asking, and we'll see what we can do."

Naftuli walked into the garage and was impressed. The property was huge, 12,000 square feet. The location was ideal. In his mind, he could picture it renovated and transformed into a perfect facility. But the owners were demanding a high price; as a down payment alone, they were seeking $500,000!

Naftuli returned to his shul and conveyed this information to Mr. Rubinfeld. "I was thinking of giving $400,000, but I was impressed by the children and I was impressed by you. Here," Mr. Rubinfeld said, writing out a check for $50,000 on the spot and placing $450,000 in escrow, to be transferred upon completion of the sale.

With the down payment in hand, Naftuli was able to negotiate from a position of strength with regard to the total price of the building. After completing the purchase, he called the many Russian Jews he had helped over the years and told them of the opportunity they had been given. In all, he received pledges of close to one million dollars!

Today, working from the renovated facility, Reb Naftuli exclaims: "My life story is an advertisement for Mashiach. It shows that redemption is a possibility, and that by following the Rebbe's vision and accepting the mission with which he has charged us, each one of us can find success that exceeds our highest expectations."

When Rabbi Immanuel Schochet was in his teens, the Central Lubavitcher yeshivah in which he studied had a varied student body. Only about half the students came from Lubavitch homes, and many of the others didn't identify themselves as Lubavitcher Chassidim. For them, the yeshivah was a Torah academy of high repute, a center for yiras shamayim (fear of heaven), which at the same time had an accredited high school. These students were thinking of combining their yeshivah studies with a college education in the future, and needed a recognized high-school diploma for admittance to college.

In his senior year, Immanuel also had such plans. He applied to an institution which offered both yeshivah and university training, and was accepted subject to his passing a college entrance exam.

On the Shabbos of Yud-Beis Tammuz, the Rebbe delivered a sichah sharply criticizing the attitude which had begun to spread within the American Jewish community, that every youth must attend college.

"For what purpose?" the Rebbe asked. "Why should Torah studies be sacrificed in favor of secular knowledge? It is assumed that a college degree will insure a person a successful livelihood, but that is far from the truth. A person's livelihood is in G-d's hands, and He can provide for a person whether or not he has a degree."

On the days following the farbrengen, the Rosh Yeshivah, Rabbi Mentlick, spoke to each of the senior students, repeating the Rebbe's message. Almost all of those who had contemplated college agreed to spend the following year studying solely in yeshivah.

Immanuel did not make a final decision about the matter. He had already paid for the college entrance exam, and considered postponing his decision until he had completed the test. He wrote the Rebbe a letter explaining his decision. The Rebbe responded, detailing the reasons for his public statements, but he did not apply any pressure, and instead left the decision in Immanuel's hands.

On the Shabbos before the scheduled exam, the Rebbe held a farbrengen in honor of Chaf Av, his father's yahrzeit. In the course of the sichos, the Rebbe focused on the Rambam's statement (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos De'os 6:1) that a person is always influenced by his surroundings, and therefore should seek out a setting conducive to moral and spiritual growth. If he cannot find such a setting, it is preferable to dwell alone in the desert than to live in a morally corrupt environment.

While the Rebbe's words were obviously of general import, Immanuel felt that they were also directed to him personally. This impression was strengthened when he made eye contact with the Rebbe after the sichah. At that point, Immanuel decided that he would not take the exam.

Nevertheless, he did not give up his college plans entirely. On the contrary, he felt that there were several reasons for both the private and public attention which the Rebbe had given him. Perhaps one of the factors was the effect his decision might have on other students. The following year, he thought to himself, he would be more private about his plans. He would devote himself to his Torah studies with diligence, but would keep his options open. He had heard about a combined program operated by a renowned yeshivah and a recognized university, in which the university gave college credit for one's Rabbinical studies. He thought that after completing one year of full-time yeshivah study in Lubavitch, he would enroll in that program.

Everything proceeded according to plan. Immanuel studied diligently, and kept his thoughts about the future to himself. He applied to the joint program, was accepted, and planned to begin his studies the following September.

On Shavuos, the Rebbe delivered a sichah in which he focused on the practice of going away to the Catskill Mountains for summer vacation. "It is important," the Rebbe emphasized, "to pay attention to one's health. But one's vacation should not be a vacation from Torah study, nor a vacation from modesty.

"Too often," he continued, "a vacation is considered a time to relax, and standards are also relaxed. 'After Labor Day,' people say, 'we will return to the city, and then we will return to our pattern of Torah observance.' "

During the singing which followed the sichah, the Rebbe sought out Immanuel with his eyes. When he found him, the Rebbe spoke: "Immanuel, you also have plans to fix things up after Labor Day. Say LeChaim and forget about them."

Immanuel was stunned. For a moment, he didn't even realize what the Rebbe meant. But the Rebbe kept looking at him with a broad smile. After a few moments, he understood that the Rebbe must be referring to his plans for the following year.

Now Immanuel had kept his plans a secret. For that matter, he hadn't thought about the issue much himself. In his mind, the matter had been resolved, and his life had focused on more immediate concerns. Surely, he hadn't been thinking of his future during the farbrengen.

Again, the Rebbe spoke to him: "Say LeChaim. Your plans will never work out anyway. Forget about them."

Immanuel said LeChaim and heeded the Rebbe's advice. That was the last time he thought about college for many years. Instead, he devoted his energies solely to his yeshivah studies.

Several years afterwards, he was serving as Rabbi of a congregation in Toronto and teaching in a local yeshivah. He also took several university courses to upgrade his teaching skills. When he became engaged and began to think about earning a livelihood, he wrote to the Rebbe regarding a business opportunity. The Rebbe directed him to ignore the matter. "Your energies," the Rebbe told him, "should be focused solely on Torah study, general knowledge, and writing about these matters."

Rabbi Schochet was thankful for the Rebbe's encouragement, but was unsure of what to do. He had considered the opportunity, not because he was attracted to business, but because he would have to provide for his family. How was he to do that and focus his attention "solely on Torah study, general knowledge, and writing about these matters"?

The Rebbe had an answer for that as well. He hired Rabbi Schochet to translate some of his private correspondence, and to write and translate for several of the Lubavitch outreach organizations. At the same time, he told Rabbi Schochet to enter university to pursue general studies.

In the years that followed, in lectures at college campuses and Lubavitch centers around the world, at the Ivy League Torah Study Program, and in a variety of different outreach programs, Rabbi Schochet has used both his Torah studies and his general knowledge to spread Yiddishkeit.

It all started ordinarily enough. Avraham and Tuvia Lerner, two brothers from the Lubavitch community in Montreal, had birthdays only a few days apart. They came to New York for yechidus and entered the Rebbe's room together. Avraham approached the Rebbe, gave him the note he had prepared, and listened carefully as the Rebbe gave him a short blessing.

Then Tuvia gave the Rebbe his note. This was the yechidus before his Bar Mitzvah, and so Tuvia listened attentively as the Rebbe gave him a blessing.

And then the entire nature of the yechidus changed; Tuvia spoke up: "Rebbe, you'll have to excuse me. I'm sure you want me to appreciate the blessing you gave me. I want to understand it, and know it well enough so that I can repeat it at my Bar Mitzvah. Could you say it again, and then listen while I repeat it back to make sure I'm saying it right? And could you speak a little slower? I wasn't able to understand it the first time."

The Rebbe smiled broadly, leaned forward in his chair, and repeated the blessing, speaking slower and using simpler words. After he finished, he told Tuvia: "Now you say it."

Tuvia began, but made several errors. Before he could finish, the Rebbe interrupted him: "You weren't listening carefully," he told him. "I'll say it for you once more, but this time pay attention."

The Rebbe then repeated the blessing a third time, speaking even more slowly and using even simpler words. He then listened carefully as Tuvia repeated it, correcting him from time to time. When Tuvia was finished, the Rebbe asked him: "Are you happy now?"

Tuvia answered that he was, and the Rebbe concluded: "I'm happy too."

This began a unique relationship that continued for 13 years, until Tuvia's untimely death from cancer. Throughout that time, the Rebbe would frequently call Tuvia to yechidus, affording him the opportunity several times a year. (Ordinarily, a yeshivah student would have yechidus only once a year, on - or near - his birthday.) The Rebbe would also give Tuvia presents of the new Torah texts printed by Kehot, the Lubavitch publishing house.

Once, after the Rebbe had given him the newly printed collection of discourses from the year 5666 entitled Yom Tov Shel Rosh HaShanah, Tuvia said he did not think himself worthy of such a gift. The text was reputed to be very difficult, and Tuvia did not think he could understand it.

The Rebbe told Tuvia that if he studied only the first page and learned it well, that would be enough to prove him worthy of the present.

Tuvia was not a gifted student. If anything, his abilities were less than ordinary, but he possessed simple faith and great trust. His sincerity was inspiring. The Rebbe took a special interest in his development, offering him encouragement and help.

Once Tuvia came to yechidus unhappy. He wanted to advance spiritually, he told the Rebbe, but was not being given the opportunity. His teachers and fellow students considered him too simple to make real progress, and so they gave up on him before he could achieve anything.

The Rebbe reassured him. "Find study partners," he told Tuvia, "and find a mashpia (spiritual mentor), and tell me who they are. I'll make sure they give you the help you need."

Indeed, throughout the years, the Rebbe paid special attention to the teachers and students who worked with Tuvia, granting them distinctive blessings.

When Tuvia was 16, he wanted to go to Eretz Yisrael to study. Unfortunately, none of the yeshivos would accept him. They felt that the difficulties any student feels acclimating to a new environment, Tuvia's modest abilities, and his unfamiliarity with Hebrew would not make it a productive experience.

Tuvia took all the letters of rejection and showed them to the Rebbe at yechidus. He told him of his desire to study in Eretz Yisrael , and his difficulty at being accepted.

The Rebbe read each letter, commenting each time: "This letter; it's not a problem," and when he completed them, told Tuvia: "Go to Eretz Yisrael. You will succeed in your studies there. Eretz Yisrael needs a boy like you."

After receiving these blessings, Tuvia was able to prevail on the Lubavitcher yeshivah in Kfar Chabad to accept him. The Rebbe made frequent personal inquiries to see how Tuvia was doing, asking for monthly updates on the lad's studies. Tuvia studied in Eretz Yisrael for two years, and made significant advances.

After Tuvia returned to America, he wanted to study in the Lubavitcher yeshivah in Montreal so that he could be close to his mother; his father had passed away and he felt she needed his help. The yeshivah's administrators, however, felt he should study in New York. "You have a unique relationship with the Rebbe," they told him. "Why not study in the yeshivah closest to him?"

Tuvia was not convinced, and took this problem also to the Rebbe. "I too think you should study in Montreal," the Rebbe told him, and so it was.

During the time Tuvia was in Montreal, the Rebbe asked him to keep in contact, requesting that he write at least once a week. And the Rebbe would almost always answer these letters, though not necessarily at length.

Once the Rebbe did not answer a letter, and the following week, Tuvia did not write. Shortly afterwards, he was called to yechidus. "Why didn't you write?" the Rebbe asked him.

"Since you didn't answer my previous letter, I thought you were no longer interested," Tuvia replied.

"I was busy," the Rebbe responded, "and I didn't have the opportunity that week. I have many responsibilities. You're a yeshivah student; you have more time. Even if I don't have a chance to answer you, you must continue writing."

At one point, the Rebbe asked him: "Do you have a special feeling for a mitzvah that I can help you with?"

Tuvia told the Rebbe that he had been looking to purchase tefillin prepared according to the views of Rabbeinu Tam.[1] He had tried to find a pair that were written and whose compartments were fashioned behiddur (with meticulous care, so that the mitzvah could be performed in a beautiful and conscientious manner), but had been unsatisfied with the tefillin he had been shown.

"I will help you," promised the Rebbe. "I'll find tefillin that are written and prepared with the proper care."

"I'm glad you will help me find such a pair," answered Tuvia, "but I want to pay for them myself."

"How can you afford to pay for them?" replied the Rebbe. "You're a yeshivah student; you have no income."

But Tuvia was adamant. He would let the Rebbe find the tefillin for him, but he wanted to pay for them. The Rebbe contacted Rabbi Aronow, a veteran Lubavitch scribe from Toronto, and gave him precise instructions with regard to how the tefillin should be written, and the compartments fashioned. Rabbi Aronow communicated the instructions regarding the compartments to Rabbi Shneur Zalman Gafni in Israel, for it was more likely that the Rebbe's specifications would be met there.

Thus began a four-year effort. The specifications set by the Rebbe were so difficult that the professionals chosen by Rabbi Aronow wanted to give up. They did not see how it was possible to make tefillin that met such standards. Over 30 pairs were submitted for the Rebbe's examination, but he rejected them all. "The specifications are too difficult for anyone to meet," Rabbi Aronow told the Rebbe.

"These tefillin are for a unique individual," the Rebbe answered. "All the particulars should be adhered to."

When, after four years, an acceptable pair was finally completed, the Rebbe called Tuvia to yechidus. He was extremely happy to give him the tefillin, and Tuvia was happy to receive them. "But I want to pay for them," Tuvia insisted. "How much do they cost?"

"Ninety dollars," the Rebbe answered.[2]

Shortly afterwards, Tuvia came to the Rebbe with a problem. He wanted to receive semichah (rabbinic ordination). At that time, the Rabbis of the Lubavitcher yeshivah would convey this status on a student when he had demonstrated proficiency in the details of the kashrus laws. Tuvia knew those laws well, but because his knowledge of Talmud as a whole was lacking, the Rabbis did not want to grant him semichah.

"So I will test you," said the Rebbe, and he proceeded to ask Tuvia 10 questions with regard to the laws of kashrus.

"You know the laws well," concluded the Rebbe. "I am giving you semichah."

"Would the Rebbe give it to me in writing?" Tuvia asked.

"Why have it in writing?" the Rebbe replied. "This way, your study is lishmah, for the sake of the mitzvah itself."

"Studying lishmah is very nice," Tuvia answered, "but having it in writing would be even better."

This was one time when Tuvia did not prevail. The Rebbe did not give him a written semichah.

Then Tuvia asked the Rebbe if he could help him find Rashi tefillin that met all the specifications required for his Rabbeinu Tam tefillin. The Rebbe agreed, but told Tuvia that it would take some time. In the interim, he showed Tuvia how to correct the Rashi tefillin which he already had.

At one point, the Rebbe told him that he had found a pair of Rashi tefillin. "Are they the very best in the world?" Tuvia asked.

"Are you sure you want to wait for the very best?" the Rebbe asked, and looked sad when Tuvia answered affirmatively.

Shortly afterwards, the reason for the sorrow became evident: the cancer that was to claim Tuvia's life began spreading throughout his body. He did not live long enough to have "the best tefillin in the world" prepared.

He passed away in Montreal, and there was a question as to whether he should be buried there or in the Lubavitch cemetery in New York, near the Previous Rebbe's grave. Between [3] and [4] a.m., Tuvia's brother Avraham received a call from the Rebbe's office. The Rebbe had advised that Tuvia be buried in New York.

On the following day, the Rebbe went to pray at the Previous Rebbe's graveside, so he was only several yards away from Tuvia's funeral, and at night he held a surprise farbrengen.

Perhaps this was the Rebbe's way of saying farewell to this unique neshamah in whose development he had shared.



  1. (Back to text) There is a difference of opinion between Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam regarding the order in which the four passages involved should be placed in tefillin. The majority of halachic authorities follow Rashi, and therefore the tefillin worn during prayer follow this order. But because a substantial number of authorities advocate following the order suggested by Rabbeinu Tam, all G-d-fearing men should wear them also. They are customarily put on after the conclusion of the morning prayers. See Shulchan Aruch HaRav, ch. 34.

  2. (Back to text) At that time, the price of carefully prepared tefillin (without any of the unique specifications required by the Rebbe) was approximately $400 a pair.

  IntroductionNo Small Matter  
Volume 1   |   Volume 2
     Sichos In English -> Books -> Stories & History -> To Know and To Care - Volume 2
© Copyright 1988-2024
All Rights Reserved
Sichos In English