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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 12
"Rejoice O Barren One"

by Eliyahu and Malka Touger

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  "The Language of the Wise is Healing"Beyond Nature's Limits  

"Rejoice O Barren One" (Isaiah 54:1)
It is a well-known story.[1] Chanah the prophetess had been childless for many years. Each year, she and her husband Elkanah would journey to the Sanctuary at Shiloh. One year, embittered by her barrenness, Chanah left the sacrificial feast, entered the Sanctuary and opened her heart in prayer for a son: [2]

"She prayed at length before G-d... only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard. And Eli [the High Priest] thought her to be drunk.

And Eli said to her, 'How long will you be drunk? Put away your wine.'

'No, my lord,' replied Chanah. 'I am a woman of sorrowful spirit. I have not drunk wine or strong drink; I have poured out my soul before G-d...'

And Eli answered, 'Go in peace. May the G-d of Israel grant your request....' "

A few words of explanation by the Rebbe enable us to peer beneath the surface of this familiar narrative. Eli never regarded Chanah as literally drunk; otherwise, he would have had her removed from the Sanctuary. On the contrary, he heard Chanah's prayer and perceived her sincerity. When he accused her of drunkenness, he was speaking figuratively. He could not understand how Chanah - standing before G-d, in the holy Sanctuary - could think of herself and ask for a son. He considered her to be intoxicated by her personal desires, immoderately given to self-concern.

To this, Chanah replied, "I am not drunk." (I.e., "I did not want anything for myself.") Rather, "I poured out my soul before G-d." (I.e., "My desire came from the very depths of my being.")

Chanah was not at all motivated by self-concern. This may be seen from her vow to dedicate her son "to G-d all the days of his life."[3] In "pour[ing] out her soul before G-d," she expressed the inner motivation of her soul. For at the core of each of our beings lies the desire for posterity. This desire is not self-oriented, but instead relates to G-d's desire for a dwelling in the lower worlds.

As soon as Eli heard Chanah's explanation, he responded with a blessing, asking that Chanah be granted the opportunity to bring the innermost desire of her soul to fruition.

Throughout the years, tzaddikim have been sensitive to the prayers of men and women who like Chanah desire a posterity. And like the blessing giving by Eli, their blessings have borne fruit.

David and Gail Goldberg were married in 1965. By 1969, Gail had delivered two stillborn babies, and had been warned by her doctors not to consider another pregnancy.

She and her husband desired children, however, and began to consider the possibility of adoption. Gail's brother had been in contact with Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Hecht of Chicago. Although at that time he was not observant, David wanted to know whether the Jewish tradition included any restrictions with regard to adoption, and what the pertinent laws were. Before contacting the adoption authorities, he decided to sit down with Rabbi Hecht.

Rabbi Hecht was friendly, and provided a great deal of relevant information. But then he asked why David was thinking about adopting children when there was a chance to have his own? As David looked at him incredulously, Rabbi Hecht told him that many childless couples had been helped by the Rebbe's blessings.

The Goldbergs didn't understand: "Who is the Rebbe?" they wanted to know. What were they to do? Rabbi Hecht promised to arrange a personal meeting with the Rebbe, at which they should request a blessing for children.

The Goldbergs were willing to try. At yechidus, the Rebbe told them: "You shall have a boy and a girl. Conceive them in love, raise them in Yiddishkeit, and come back in a year with good news."

Within a year, their first son was born. A few years later, they were blessed with a girl.

In the '50s and '60s, the orthodox community in Detroit had few chassidim. Nevertheless, Rabbi Meir Avtzon was respected by all for his self-sacrifice in Russia, his Torah knowledge, and his strict adherence to Jewish law. His growing family (ultimately to include 15 children) also attracted the attention of everyone.

A respected teacher from a "Litvishe" background once approached Rabbi Avtzon and asked to study Talmud and Tanya with him twice a week. As their relationship developed, the teacher and Rabbi Avtzon became close friends.

After the teacher had been married for two years without having children, he and his wife began seeking medical advice. Two doctors told them they would never have children. When the teacher told Rabbi Avtzon about his problems, Rabbi Avtzon suggested that he see the Rebbe at yechidus and ask for his blessing.

At yechidus, the Rebbe questioned the teacher concerning the medical tests he had undergone. It was clear that the Rebbe was not pleased with the doctors' approach.

Suddenly, without being prompted, the Rebbe asked: "Before your marriage, were you ever engaged to anyone else?" And before waiting for an answer, he continued: "You gave your fiance a present."

Shocked, the teacher nodded, and the Rebbe continued: "Did you ask her forgiveness when you broke the engagement?"

"No," the teacher answered, explaining that he had merely told her the reasons, and that she had understood.

"That's not enough," the Rebbe replied. "You must ask her forgiveness. When you do, your personal difficulty will be solved."

The teacher asked the Rebbe if he should ask the woman directly. The Rebbe replied that it would be better to do so through a third party, and that another person should be present.

The teacher asked: "Since forgiveness is dependent on a person's feelings, how do I know that she will forgive me with a full heart?"

The Rebbe responded: "Tell her - through a third party - in my name, that if she forgives you with a full heart, I promise that she will soon find her intended, marry, and establish a Jewish home."

The teacher was amazed. "Do you really mean that?" he blurted out.

"A promise is a promise," the Rebbe answered.

The yechidus took place on Thursday night. On Friday, the teacher returned home and located the phone number of his former fiance's brother. On Saturday night, he called, telling him the entire story and asking him to approach his sister on his behalf.

At first the brother refused to believe the story, so the teacher told him that he could verify the particulars by writing to the Rebbe's secretariat.

This appeared to satisfy the brother. He asked the teacher if his wife could serve as the other person present when his sister gave her forgiveness, and the teacher agreed. The brother then revealed that his sister had been visiting that Shabbos, and if he would wait on the line, the entire matter could be concluded then and there.

The woman willingly gave her forgiveness. Three weeks afterwards, she became engaged and a month after that the marriage took place. Within days of his former fiance's engagement, the teacher's wife entered her first pregnancy.

When one of Rabbi Avtzon's children retold this story at a chassidic farbrengen, one of the participants remembered a similar story that had taken place in Manchester, England.

One of the members of the Lubavitch community who had been childless for many years wrote the Rebbe for a blessing. The Rebbe replied that he should try to recall whether he had insulted anyone on his wedding day. If he had, he should ask forgiveness.

As he recalled the day of his wedding, he remembered the incident involving the badchan.

In many Eastern European communities, it was common for a badchan to perform at weddings, singing comical rhymes to lift the spirits of the celebrants. In many parts of England's Jewish community, this custom is still practiced.

At this young man's wedding, a badchan had performed. Now there are different types of badchanim. The humor of some borders on - or goes beyond - satire, and after a few LeChaims, can even be perceived as biting. And so it was at this wedding. Moreover, the badchan chose the groom and his family as the subject of his barbs. Rightly or wrongly, the groom could not appreciate the jest, and as the performance continued, he exploded and chased the badchan off the stage.

Was the badchan the person he had shamed? Could he have stopped the performance without embarrassing him?

The young man looked up the badchan and asked his forgiveness. The badchan said he had long forgotten the matter, and gave his forgiveness willingly.

Shortly afterwards, the young man and his wife were blessed with the first of many children.

Phil and Elaine Brown were married for many years but had no children, even though they had visited several doctors and tried many kinds of treatment. One of the doctors told Elaine bluntly: "There is absolutely no chance that you will ever conceive naturally."

Hearing this, they decided to adopt, and went to a social service organization to fill out the papers. The case worker looked at their forms and said: "It's difficult to find Jewish children. The wait may be anywhere from a year to two or three or more." Still, the Browns decided to go ahead.

The agency examined their financial background, their education, their friends, their attitudes to children, their friends' attitude toward children, their attitude towards their friends' children, and dozens of other factors. After 13 months of questions, the agency finally asked for references.

At the time, Phil and Elaine lived across the street from Rabbi and Rebbetzin Zalmen Kazen, Lubavitch shluchim in Cleveland. Every time Rabbi Kazen would see Phil, he would say "hello" and invite the couple over for Shabbos dinner. Now, although Phil didn't know what to make of a Rabbi with a beard, the adoption agency wanted references, and so Phil thought that maybe he could combine business with pleasure. He could get a reference for the social service agency - after all, what could be better than a reference from a Rabbi? - and fulfill his obligation to the Kazens once and for all.

During dinner, Phil and Elaine told the Kazens that they were looking to adopt children. The Kazens told them that many couples had been blessed with children after receiving a blessing from the Rebbe, and suggested that the Browns try this route as well.

The Browns politely declined; they were not observant and did not want to make any commitments. Mrs. Kazen, however, is a very persistent lady. Ultimately, she persuaded the couple to send in a letter.

Several weeks later, the Browns received a reply. The Rebbe suggested they observe the mitzvah of taharas hamishpachah.

While they appreciated the Rebbe's concern and his suggestion, Phil and Elaine didn't feel ready for formal observance of any sort, and so they put the letter away. By this time, all their references had been checked, their personal character had been analyzed, and their bank statements reviewed. Still there was no child for adoption.

One day, a representative of the social service agency came for a visit; as part of the decision-making process, the agency wanted to inspect the home. The Browns graciously let the representative in, but it wasn't long before their attitude changed. The representative pulled open drawers, looked through closets, peered under beds and behind bookshelves. After going over every inch of their home, the representative departed. By that time, Elaine had made up her mind.

"Let's try the mikveh," she told her husband.

They did, and that month she became pregnant with the first of their many children. Shortly afterwards, the agency called and told them it had a child for adoption. The Browns, however, replied that they were no longer interested.

One day as Phil was cleaning out some drawers, he noticed the Rebbe's letter. He read it again and saw that the Rebbe had told him that in the month of ___ , they would hear good news. That was the month in which their first son Mordechai was born.

Several months afterwards, Phil's mother Sadie became so ill that she was hospitalized and lost consciousness. The doctor solemnly told the family to call all her children together. "She probably has only several hours to live," he said. "It is highly unlikely that she will regain consciousness. If she survives beyond morning, it will be as a vegetable."

Phil sat with his brother and two sisters. It was as if they had already started mourning.

And then Mrs. Kazen arrived. "Did you write the Rebbe yet?" she asked the Browns. "You'll see! He will give his blessing and everything will be all right!"

The family were amazed, and even upset. Their mother was on the verge of death, and here this lady was treating it in what seemed a cavalier fashion.

Phil's brother Burt was piqued enough to usher Mrs. Kazen out of the room, but not before she had secured Mrs. Brown's Hebrew name and that of her mother.

"I'll write the Rebbe for you," she promised as she was being pushed out.

A few hours later she came back. The Brown family were deep in sorrow, and hardly listened as she told them: "I spoke to Rabbi Chodakov, who caught the Rebbe as he was leaving 770. 'Tell the family there is no need to worry,' the Rebbe said. 'Let the doctors repeat the tests; they'll see they made a mistake. In the morning, everything will be fine.' "

The Rebbe's answer did not make the Browns feel any better. They could not understand how a Rabbi in New York could know their mother's condition more accurately than the doctors who were treating her. But in the morning, their attitude changed. Mrs. Brown woke up, demanded a cup of coffee, and read the morning newspaper. Her answers to questions were sharp and to the point. This lady was no vegetable.

At that point, Phil's brother Burt decided to adopt a chassidic lifestyle. "The Rebbe didn't just give a blessing," he explained. "He set a time. That's putting yourself on the line. When he proved right, I felt I had to make a commitment."

To be one of the Rebbe's shluchim, you don't have to be officially employed in that capacity. On the contrary, the Rebbe gives everyone the opportunity to take such an initiative.

Mordechai Baron is one individual who takes this invitation seriously. An Israeli jack-of-all-trades, with the outgoing assertiveness that characterizes his countrymen, he always carries an extra pair of tefillin with him, and often puts them on with others.

One summer, as he drove from his home in Kfar Chabad, he would often pass a new housing development in Ramat Gan. Apartments were being constructed, as well as a commercial center, but not a synagogue. Each time Mordechai passed the project, it became more and more obvious that the complex must contain a shul.

One day, he pulled over at the development, put his tefillin in his briefcase, and went to speak to the owner about the importance of adding a synagogue.

"May I speak to the owner?" he inquired at the rental office.

"Who shall I say is calling?" answered the receptionist.

"Mr. Baron," Mordechai answered. "I have an important offer regarding the development of this property."

And so Mordechai went from secretary to secretary until he reached the project manager.

"I need to speak to the owner," Mordechai told the manager.

"That's impossible," the manager said. "He's overseas. Listen, tell me about your offer. If it's attractive, I'll tell the owner."

"I want to build a synagogue here," Mordechai replied.

"You must be a Lubavitcher," the manager smiled.

"That's right," responded Mordechai. "How can you tell?"

"That's not important," the manager told him. "Come to my office. I have to ask you about writing a letter to the Rebbe."

As Mordechai entered the manager's office, he reached into his briefcase for his tefillin. The manager could not protest; after all, he had invited Mordechai in!

After performing the mitzvah, he told Mordechai his story. He and his wife had been childless for 12 years, and had gone to the most renowned fertility specialists in Eretz Yisrael, but to no avail. After hearing that with the Rebbe's blessings, many childless couples were able to conceive, he and his wife had decided several months earlier to write the Rebbe, but did not know any Lubavitchers.

"You came at the right time," he told Mordechai. "We had almost despaired of getting the message to him."

"I'll gladly help you write the Rebbe," Mordechai replied. "But if you want something from him, you have to give something in return."

"How much?" asked the manager, reaching for his checkbook.

"No. I'm not speaking about money. What the Rebbe is most interested in," explained Mordechai, "is mitzvos. Make a commitment to observe a mitzvah. Tell the Rebbe that, and ask for a blessing."

"Which mitzvah should I chose?" asked the manager.

"Have you ever kept a Shabbos?" asked Mordechai. "Tell the Rebbe that you will observe one Shabbos: no driving, no cooking, no electricity, you'll go to shul. And then ask for your blessing. Put in your name, your mother's name, your wife's name and her mother's name. That's all you have to do.

"Write the letter now. I'll wait here and mail it for you."

The manager wrote the letter, and within two months his wife was pregnant. He invited Mordechai to the bris, and there, among all the leading real estate figures in Tel Aviv, he told the story.

Mordechai and his tefillin were very busy that afternoon.

In 5752, several weeks before the Rebbe suffered his first stroke, a middle-aged woman from Jerusalem joined the thousands of men and women waiting to receive a dollar and a blessing. A childless descendant of a long line of distinguished Rabbis, she asked for the Rebbe's blessing that she be granted children.

The Rebbe responded with a smile and gave her three dollars: one for herself and two for the children to be born. Her joy could not be contained.

She returned home, put the dollars in a safe place, and waited.

She waited almost five years. In the interim, she shared the grief over the events of 27 Adar and 3 Tammuz. And she had her own private grief, for the Rebbe's blessing had not been fulfilled.

Then, when she was nearly 50, the woman gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. At the bris, her husband told the story of the dollars the Rebbe had given for his children, and promised that they would receive them when they came of age.



  1. (Back to text) See I Shmuel, ch. 1; see also Timeless Patterns in Time, p. 13ff., where this concept is developed.

  2. (Back to text) Ibid. 1:12-17.

  3. (Back to text) Ibid. 1:11.

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