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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 8
Shepherding His Flock

by Eliyahu and Malka Touger

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  Opening the Iron FistUnveiling Hidden Treasures  

One of the chassidim in Moscow had been wealthy before the revolution, but had been reduced to poverty by the Communist regime. Once during the 1920s, when the Previous Rebbe visited that city, this chassid did not have the money to pay the trolley fare, and so he walked from one end of the city to the other to see him at yechidus.

At yechidus, he asked only about his divine service.

"And what about your material concerns?" the Rebbe asked.

"My material concerns don't interest me," the chassid replied.

"But they interest me," the Rebbe responded.

Unquestionably, the Rebbe thinks of every Jew. That said, there is undeniably a unique degree of closeness and care shown for Anash, the members of the chassidic brotherhood. A chassid regards the Rebbe as his father, sharing with him his inner conflicts, appealing to him for help in times of need.

And the Rebbe responds - sometimes with advice, sometimes with words of blessing, and sometimes with a blessing that is not expressed in words.

A chassid's relationship to the Rebbe is not one of give and take. His commitment is based on the genuineness of the Rebbe's message and the truth of his principles.

And indeed, the relationship goes deeper than that. As the Alter Rebbe writes in Tanya: [1] there are certain comprehensive souls who serve as a conduit for the spiritual nurture of others. A chassid feels that the Rebbe is the source of his spiritual vitality, and therefore he is willing to devote that energy to the Rebbe's objectives without reservation.

Such wholehearted devotion calls forth a reciprocal commitment to the chassid on the part of the Rebbe. The Rebbe will keep him in mind and invest energy in seeking out his material and spiritual welfare.

Every parent is concerned with his children's future. This is particularly true with shluchim. They want their children to grow up with the same dynamic attachment to the Rebbe that they themselves feel. They understand, however, that these feelings do not sprout spontaneously, but must be carefully nurtured over time.

A shlichus environment provides both advantages and disadvantages for such a process. The exposure to - and participation in - outreach efforts certainly has a effect on the shluchim's children, producing a heightened sense of commitment to the goals and values that Lubavitch endeavors to spread. On the other hand, growing up in a city far from observant Jewish communities does not have the greenhouse effect that growing up near Crown Heights does.

With these thoughts in mind, whenever Rabbi and Mrs. Heschel Greenberg, shluchim in Buffalo, NY, went to the Rebbe to receive a dollar on Sunday morning, they always thought of asking for a blessing for their children's education. But they always refrained. They didn't want to make any extra demands on the Rebbe's time, and felt that from a certain perspective, such a request was unnecessary. By the very fact that the Rebbe had appointed them as shluchim, he had certainly granted them all the blessings necessary both for themselves and for their families. On the other hand, they felt that although the Rebbe would grant them the blessings anyway, they should nonetheless ask for them themselves.

For several years, Rabbi and Mrs. Greenberg thought and spoke about the matter. Once, when Mrs. Greenberg was preparing for a trip to Crown Heights, she decided that this time, when she appeared before the Rebbe to receive a dollar, she would ask for a blessing for her children.

As she was preparing to leave Buffalo, her telephone rang. A relative of one of the members of the Chabad community had become ill. Mrs. Greenberg naturally responded that when she approached the Rebbe that Sunday, she would ask for a blessing for the person's recovery.

Inside, however, she felt a twinge of regret. She didn't want to hold the Rebbe back by asking for two blessings. Asking for the sick person would prevent her from asking for her own children.

But shluchim are trained to put the needs of others before their own. She therefore did not give the matter a second thought, and when she approached the Rebbe, she wholeheartedly asked for a blessing for the sick person.

The Rebbe responded with a blessing. And as Mrs. Greenberg prepared to walk away, he continued with a fatherly smile: "May you have satisfaction from them."

Once a shluchah left for a foreign country shortly after marriage, and while in the first months of pregnancy. She did not know the local language, felt difficulty adjusting to the culture in her new country, and was overwhelmed by the estrangement from Judaism which prevailed there.

These factors, combined with the natural feelings of depression and melancholy which occasionally accompany pregnancy, made her feel even more despondent. These feelings multiplied as the woman considered her position: here she was, she was the representative of the Rebbe in this country. And what was she doing? Absolutely nothing! No outreach, little teaching; all she did was feel sorry for herself.

Rather than let herself be overwhelmed by these feelings, she decided to write the Rebbe and ask for a blessing. The Rebbe replied that such feelings are natural during pregnancy. She should talk to other woman, he said, and see that they also experience such emotional states.

The Rebbe did not content himself with these words of reassurance. Shortly afterwards, he addressed the annual convention of Lubavitch women. The shluchah's sister was one of the organizers. Each of the delegates was able to enter the Rebbe's room for a short yechidus. The Rebbe told Rabbi Chodakov, his personal secretary, to see to it that the shluchah's sister entered last.

At yechidus, the Rebbe told her of her sister's letter, and advised her to have a woman-to-woman talk with her. "Tell her," the Rebbe explained, "that these feelings are natural, that she shouldn't be weighed down by them. This will help her regain her equilibrium and return to a productive life."

Rabbi Shlomo Matusof, a shliach in Morocco, visited the Rebbe for the first time during Sukkos, 5715 (1954). At yechidus the Rebbe inquired into many details of the shlichus, and asked how Rabbi Matusof and his family had adjusted to life in that country.

"Do you have pictures of your children?" he asked.

Rabbi Matusof had several photos in his wallet. The Rebbe looked them over intently, but instead of returning them, he left them on his table. Although somewhat surprised, Rabbi Matusof did not ask for them back.

Now, a few years earlier, while living in Poking - the camp for displaced persons which housed many Chabad families after World War II - Rabbi Matusof had become acquainted with the Rebbe's mother, Rebbitzin Chanah.

A day or so after the Sukkos yechidus, Rabbi Binyamin Gorodetsky, the Rebbe's chief representative in Europe and North Africa, asked Rabbi Matusof if he would like to visit Rebbitzin Chanah. Rabbi Matusof happily consented.

Rebbitzin Chanah greeted Rabbi Matusof warmly. "You have charming children," she told him, explaining that the Rebbe had shown her the pictures that Rabbi Matusof had left with him at yechidus.

One of the Rebbe's shluchim took his wife to the hospital for the delivery of their fourth child. Before leaving home he called the Rebbe's office, asking the secretary to request a blessing for an easy and successful birth.

The delivery took longer than usual, so it was several hours before the shliach was able to inform the Rebbe's office that both mother and child were well. When the secretary heard the news, he remarked: "A short while ago, the Rebbe asked 'What is happening with...'?"

Once a Lubavitcher chassid teaching in an out-of-town yeshivah came to yechidus with a question: The school at which he had been working was several months late in paying his salary. This situation had been recurring for several years. A member of the community in which he worked had seen his difficulties, and had offered to help set him up in business. Should he accept the offer?

As soon as the Rebbe read the letter, he made a wry face. He paused for a second and asked the chassid: "How much do you need to tide you over your immediate difficulties?"

The chassid named a figure. The Rebbe told him to go to Rabbi Chodakov the following day, and that Rabbi Chodakov would give him a loan for that amount.

The chassid remained a teacher, educating thousands of students throughout his lifetime.

Once at yechidus, Rabbi Yaakov Gluckowsky had a question: He was teaching at the Beis Yehudah school in Detroit. He took his job seriously, spending many hours preparing classes and organizing activities for the students. Nevertheless, he also saw that the Jewish community at large needed attention. Would it be considered a conflict of interest for him to involve himself in such matters?

The Rebbe replied that when a school hires a teacher, the intent is that in addition to teaching, he perform a certain measure of community service. Every teacher should look for one or two matters outside the school that require attention, and devote himself to them. This is not in conflict with his job; it is part of his job!

This message stayed with Reb Yaakov all his life. In his later years, he was teaching a Bar Mitzvah program for Israeli youth in Toronto. Besides the classes, he would spend Sunday mornings with the boys, arranging a minyan and a breakfast.

The director of the program, Rabbi Landau, wanted to pay him extra for the Sunday morning hours, but Reb Yaakov refused to take the money.

He told Rabbi Landau the above story and concluded: "The situation with these Israeli boys is one of the matters in the community that require attention. I have decided to devote myself to it, and so the extra time is already included in the check I receive for teaching."

As a member of the Lubavitch underground in Russia, Reb Aharon Chazan had often risked his life to preserve Jewish tradition and observance for the coming generations. When he left Russia for Eretz Yisrael, Reb Aharon was an elderly man, and it was several years before he made his first trip to the Rebbe. Finally, in 5733 (1973), he came to spend Yud Shvat at 770. That year Yud Shvat fell on Shabbos, so the Rebbe held two farbrengens: one during the day, and a second after nightfall, which was broadcast by telephone to Lubavitch centers around the world.

The first farbrengen ended shortly before sunset. After reciting the afternoon prayers, Reb Aharon hurried to his hosts to partake of the Shabbos meal. The meal extended past nightfall, after which Reb Aharon recited the evening prayers and hurried back to 770 to find a place for the second farbrengen.

Now Reb Aharon had always been very careful about observing the custom of partaking of the Melaveh Malkah ("accompanying the [Sabbath] queen") meal. He wondered when he would be able to observe his custom that night. As he was waiting for the farbrengen to begin, he had an idea. He had completed the Shabbos meal after nightfall. Could that also be considered a Melaveh Malkah, despite the fact that the Havdalah prayer had not yet been recited?

He began discussing the matter with a rav sitting next to him, noting that the Machanovka Rebbe would partake of bread for the Shalosh Seudos (third Shabbos) meal, and then before reciting the grace after meals, partake of another portion after nightfall. Thus the same meal served him as both Shalosh Seudos and Melaveh Malkah.

As the two were discussing the matter, the Rebbe entered and their dialogue ceased. In the middle of one of his talks, however, the Rebbe began a tangential discussion about the uniqueness of the hours after Shabbos.

"All the matters involving Motzaei Shabbos must be carried out after Havdalah. A meal which is eaten before Havdalah (i.e., by prolonging the Shalosh Seudos) is not considered a Melaveh Malkah," said the Rebbe.

When he heard those words Reb Aharon was transfixed. He had always felt connected to the Rebbe, but now, on his first visit to 770, he comprehended just how powerful this bond could be. It was as if the Rebbe had read his mind!

A girl from a prominent Lubavitch family was finishing high school and considering her future. She wanted to go to college, and indeed had qualified for a Regents scholarship. Her parents, however, did not view that option favorably. After months of discussion, they reached a compromise: she would go to seminary for a year, and afterwards, if she still wanted to attend college, her parents would allow it.

When it came to choosing a seminary, she thought of places that would enable her to transfer credits to university. She narrowed her options down to one school in Eretz Yisrael, and wrote to the Rebbe telling him of her plans. For the first time in her life, she bared her heart to the Rebbe, writing a letter several pages long that spoke of her desire to attend college, her discussions with her parents, and their ultimate decision. She promised to follow the Rebbe's advice, but wanted his assurance that the decision would ultimately bring her happiness.

The Rebbe did not answer immediately. Indeed, for many weeks, the girl did not receive a reply. Several months later, Rabbi Klein called her with the Rebbe's response.

Rabbi Klein told her that the Rebbe had kept her letter, choosing to respond only to her question about the particular school she had chosen.

The Rebbe's answer was written several days after Chanukah, and referred to the theme of that holiday, saying: "We are now coming from the holiday of Chanukah, which is connected with the concept: 'Ascend higher with regard to holy matters; do not descend.' You should apply this maxim to your life. The school which you attend should be one which raises you to a higher level of fear of G-d and observance of His mitzvos. At the very least, it should not be at a lower level."

Taking the Rebbe's words to heart, the girl realized that the school she had chosen did not meet the Rebbe's criteria. She changed her plans and decided to spend the next year in the Beis Rivkah Seminary in Kfar Chabad. It proved to be a year of personal transformation, as chassidic thought and many other aspects of her Jewish heritage took on a new relevance. Although she still had the option of using the Regents scholarship, that alternative no longer held any attraction. She continued in the seminary and received her diploma.

It was a choice that helped shape her future. Twenty years later, she reflects on the path her life has taken. "Going to Beis Rivkah allowed me to discover who I really was and where I wanted to go. It was a decision that brought me great happiness."

It was one of those moments when a person unburdens himself. Two old yeshivah friends were speaking, and one was telling the other of his difficulties. He had been married for a little over a year. He'd tried several jobs, but had not been able to find anything satisfying. Neither his parents nor his in-laws were able to help him financially or establish him in business. Ultimately, he was forced to resort to driving a truck in order to support his family. But even so, his income was insufficient; every month, he was sinking deeper and deeper into debt.

But that wasn't the only thing that bothered him about truck driving. The main problem was that he felt himself growing coarser; after a day behind the wheel, he had no patience to study, and was losing touch with spiritual refinement. This had also affected his relationship with his wife.

He wanted to change, but had seen no way to do so until one of his clients - an older man who ran a book bindery - told him he was planning to retire and wanted to sell the business. Now the bindery was not so prosperous, but the young man felt that if he invested enough energy, he could make a go of it. True, he would have to borrow money to purchase the business, but he had taken and repaid loans before.

In truth, he didn't want to run a bindery, but he was desperate for a change, and this seemed to be the best opportunity available. Should he take it?

His friend didn't know how to answer him. "From a business perspective, anyone would say No. So why are you thinking of trying it? To reverse the downward trend in your life? That isn't a question for me. Write to the Rebbe," he told the trucker.

Now the trucker hadn't written to the Rebbe for years; ever since he had left yeshivah, he had been too embarrassed. It was hard for him to write the letter, but he put his heart into it, telling the Rebbe about his dissatisfaction with the direction his life had taken, his difficulty in making a change, and his hope that this opportunity might allow him to do that.

He delivered his letter to the Rebbe's office and waited.

And waited.

After two weeks, he sent in another copy, but still there was no answer. Nonetheless, he began to notice a change in his business. He found several new customers, and one offered him a part-time job selling. His debts began to evaporate and his tension lifted. He suddenly found time to study, and his relationship with his wife improved.

He never did receive a written reply from the Rebbe, but he knew that he had been answered.

In 1965, Prof. Yitzchak Block, an expert on Plato and a full-fledged Lubavitcher chassid, was serving in the philosophy department of the University of Western Ontario.

One of the professor's colleagues, the head of the philosophy department at Brown University, invited Prof. Block to read a paper at a conference on Plato. But there was a difficulty: Prof. Block would be expected to speak on Shabbos morning.

There was no question in Prof. Block's mind; he would not violate the Shabbos. On the other hand, the Rebbe had always encouraged Prof. Block to speak at conferences. In certain instances, the Rebbe had urged Prof. Block to participate even when a conference had been held on Shabbos.

But Prof. Block made a distinction between those conferences and this one. They had been held in small conference rooms in hotels. He had been able to bring his notes to the room before Shabbos, and there had been no need for a microphone. At Brown University, he did not know where he would be able to put his notes beforehand, and he would probably be asked to use a mike.

He called Rabbi Chodakov, the Rebbe's personal secretary, and explained his dilemma. Rabbi Chodakov promised that he would bring the matter to the Rebbe's attention.

After a few months, Prof. Block called Rabbi Chodakov again. Rabbi Chodakov told him that he had informed the Rebbe about the professor's problem, but the Rebbe hadn't replied. He promised to bring the matter up again.

Two weeks later, Prof. Block called back. Rabbi Chodakov answered that he had mentioned the matter to the Rebbe, but again had received no answer. Prof. Block told him that it was now only two weeks to the conference and he needed a reply. "Could Rabbi Chodakov please communicate this to the Rebbe?"

This time, Rabbi Chodakov called Prof. Block back with an answer. The Rebbe had said to call the professor organizing the conference and tell him that an emergency had arisen requiring that Prof. Block be in New York that Friday evening, but that he would be happy to deliver his paper on Friday morning instead.

Professor Block was very uncomfortable, because this type of bartering for time is frowned upon in academic circles; conference schedules are set well in advance, and speakers cannot be shuffled around at will. Nevertheless, having asked and been given this answer, he saw no alternative.

Prof. Block's colleague at Brown received his call happily. "Block," he said, before the professor could speak, "I was just going to call you. One of the professors at Yale was supposed to deliver a paper on Friday morning, but he just called and said that he has a throat infection and won't be able to make it. I have no one else who can speak at that time. Would it be possible to shift you from Saturday to Friday?"

Prof. Block explained that Friday morning presented no problem, but that an emergency would require him to be in New York Friday evening. Would that be a difficulty?

Happy to have solved his main problem, the Brown department head told Prof. Block that he would be able to leave directly after delivering his paper. There was a bus leaving Providence in the early afternoon, so the professor could be in New York by Friday evening.

Prof. Block delivered his paper, received favorable comments, and was able to catch the bus. Despite a difficult journey, he arrived at Crown Heights for Shabbos. On Shabbos afternoon, the Rebbe held a farbrengen. Spotting Prof. Block in the crowd, he asked him to fill his cup of wine and say LeChaim.

"What's with Yankel Friedman's Tehillim?" the Rebbe asked his secretary, Rabbi Leibl Groner, one morning in the winter of 5713 (1953).

Rabbi Groner didn't understand the Rebbe's question, but promised to speak to Rabbi Friedman and get an answer.

Rabbi Friedman reacted with surprise when informed of the Rebbe's inquiry, and asked Rabbi Groner to tell the Rebbe that the matter would be rectified.

Later Rabbi Friedman explained the story. He worked in the office of the Central Lubavitcher Yeshivah, then located at Bedford and Dean. At that time, the yeshivah was always short of funds, and therefore perpetually short-staffed. In his devotion to his duties, Rabbi Friedman found himself continually taking on new responsibilities.

The municipal authorities in New York City paid for yeshivah students who lived beyond walking distance to be bussed to school. But there was a difference of opinion between the yeshivah administration and the city authorities as to just how far "walking distance" was, and so there were many students for whom the yeshivah felt it necessary to provide bussing without being reimbursed. To relieve some of this pressure, Rabbi Friedman received a bus driver's license, and every morning would pick up those students who lived in the area surrounding the yeshivah.

Now, the Previous Rebbe had instituted the practice of reciting a portion from Tehillim each day after the morning service, so that the recitation of the entire book would be completed once a month.

Rabbi Friedman was not known to hurry his prayers, but children must not be late for school, and so, as a compromise with the clock, he would sometimes postpone his recitation of the daily portion of Tehillim until after he had completed his bus route. He understood the Rebbe's question to be an affirmation that yes, what he was doing was important, but that it should not come at the expense of Tehillim.

From that time on, he somehow managed to complete the daily portion of Tehillim and also get the children to school on time.



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