By Rabbi Avrohom Brashevitzky, Co-Director of Chabad Jewish Center of Doral, Florida
I’d like to share with you my experiences and reflections on the most inspiring trip I have ever taken in my life. Although the longest trip I’ve taken in the shortest time; traveled more than 15,000 miles in three days (left Miami on Monday eve and returned on Thursday afternoon) – it had the quickest and most effective (and B’ezras Hashem most lasting) impact on me – that I can ever recall.
To begin, I must declare that I’m not of the caliber to properly size up the spirituality of this trip; I’m no Mashpia nor a true student of Chassidus to be in the position to truly appreciate this experience – and transmit it – on the level it truly deserves. Yet, I feel compelled to savor you with my experience in the hopes that it inspires you to become a fellow participant (as will be characterized further.)
Throughout the plane travel to Almaty, Kazakhstan, I was full of excitement. It was 27 years ago that I attempted to visit the Ohel of Rebbe’s father unsuccessfully and here I was, actually flying there. I spent the over 24 hours of travel time finishing Maseches Moed Kattan which has a full 27 pages to correspond to the 27 years since I tried coming to Alma Ata for Chof Av. This Maseches – as explained by the Rebbe – truly brings out the aspect of turning sadness into joy, something that is so overwhelmingly prevailing in one’s visit to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s Ohel.
Unless you’ve been there yourself, you cannot imagine the deep sadness that hits you when you enter the cemetery to go to Reb Levik’s ohel. It’s a stark contrast to anything you’ve experienced going to the Rebe’s Ohel, or almost any holy Kever, ever.
The reality hits you in the eyes as you enter the cemetery. Crosses protruding from all the gentile graves throughout the path leading to the very end corner where the ohel stands, surrounded by a small number of Jewish graves. The only adjective that springs to mind is “Golus”, real Golus! Even a heart of stone cannot help but melt at the sight of this pain: such a great Tzadik, the father of our Rebbe, resting in such a desolate and forsaken place, till the coming of Moshiach.
As Rabbi Eli Wolf so eloquently described during the Farbrengen: “If one thinks of the arrest of the Rabbeim, one notices a beginning of an end. The Alter Rebbe was arrested on Isru Chag Hasukkos and released on Yud Tes Kislev; The Frierdiker Rebbe was arrested by the Communists on the 15th of Sivan and freed on 12th of Tammuz. Whereas Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was arrested on the ninth of Nissan 1939 and his saga never ended; he passed away in Golus after so much suffering and pain, and still lays in rest in Golus until the time that Hashem will bring us the revelation of Moshiach.”
Walking towards the Ohel brings tears to one’s eyes. All the pain, all the suffering of Am Yisroel in general and Chassidie Chabad in particular, torrent to the surface of one’s cognizance. A deluge of agony and tears start to flow. Then you notice all the Shluchim and Chassidim, then you encounter the young Bochurim of the Yeshiva Kayitz that’s held there, and you feel triumph! Exultance! The Rebbe’s victory! The Rebbe’s sweet revenge over those who fought so resolutely to crush Yiddishkeit.
All the time since I began this trip I had this lingering anxiety alongside my excitement: “Who am I? How can I be one to represent the Rebbe in fulfilling His Kibud Av – to go visit his Father’s grave!?” I got the answer in the Farbrengen that was held in the tent adjacent to the Ohel- with the young Bochurim of the Yeshiva Kayitz.
R’ Avi Shaulson, patron of this entire amazing event, shared a story about a friend of his: Nochum is a general contractor who used to live in Crown Heights and saw the Rebbe quite often. His daughter was once very ill, and the doctors could not find the source of the problem. The Rebbe told him to check the Mezuzos and report back to him the findings. The Mem of the word “Bom” was Passul. The Rebbe told him to check her heart (the letter Mem is the “heart” of the Aleph- Beis.) The doctors found a hole in her heart which was repaired and with the Rebbe’s Brochos she made a full recovery.
A while later he moved out of Crown Heights and his encounters with the Rebbe became much less frequent. The Rebbe asked him why he doesn’t see him. Nochum replied that to come to the Rebbe he needs to prepare; as his work clothes are always dirty due to the nature of his work, he needs to clean himself and dress in a suit, tie, etc. The Rebbe replied, “Due Koom Vi Due Koomst” (“You come as you come”)!
Fast forward, Avi Shaulson has been coming to Alma Ata for a number of years. At the time one needed to secure a visa which took quite a while to obtain. Thus, one needed to make all the arrangements far in advance to come to Reb Levik’s Ohel. Then, they changed the rules of entry for anyone holding an American passport. On the Spot, at the time of entry, one receives his Visa. Avi invited Nochum to join him for his annual trip for Chof Av. At JFK, the problems started: Nochum has a Canadian passport, so he was not exempt from obtaining a prior visa; they refused to let him board. Avi advised him to close his eyes and ask Reb Levik to help him. Suddenly, they agreed to let him fly as it was evident from his return ticket that he was going to be there less than 24 hours. However, they cautioned him that he may still encounter problems at entry by passport control.
They landed in Alma Ata and Nochum decided to be last in line for passport control with hopes that the officer will be in the mode of stamping entry for those in front of him… thus stamping his too. They stopped him and refused his entry. They began to plead and cajole but to no avail. Even the argument that he’ll be there less than 6 hours had no effect. Avi ran from one officer to another including the head supervisor – to no avail. Finally, Avi made a silent prayer, “Reb Levik, it’s known that Chassidim who couldn’t make it out of Russia made the effort to come to you and very quickly received their exit visa; here is someone who wants to come to you – can you please help him get in.”
That’s when an innovative idea popped into his mind: They approached the chief inspector and offered that he take Nochum in his own private car to the cemetery and back to the airport – thus avoiding any concern of him staying in the country illegally. But he emphatically refused.
Nochum told the rest of the group to continue on and hopefully, he will work something out with them one-on-one. As much as it pained them, they headed out to the Chabad House, went to Mikveh, changed into nicer clothing, and headed out to the cemetery. When they arrived, guess what they encountered: The chief passport control officer was there with Nochum in his car waiting for them. The chief passport control officer had become a taxi driver in the Zchus of Reb Levik! As for Nochum, he was still in his casual travel clothes – no shower, no Mikveh, no preparations. But he was there! “Due Koom Vi Due Koomst”
Just like going to the Ohel of the Rebbe (of course one should prepare physically and spiritually but whatever the case is): “Due Koon Vi Due Koomst”, Come! Be there! We all go, we all need to be there. Come, come to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s Ohel, come to represent the Rebbe in honoring his father, come help relieve Reb Levik from the loneliness which he has so much suffered from during his imprisonment and exile, and now after his passing!
At the height of the grand Farbrengen concluding the Yom Hilula in Alma Ata, Avi Shaulson was invited to speak. One of the anecdotes he shared was so apropos to the entire occasion. He related how when Rabbi Avrohom Korf in Miami wanted to establish a shul in Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s name, the Rebbe told him that it has to be grand, beautiful, because “by his father everything was in a manner of ‘Va’eshalcha Ba’rchava’ (Tehillim 119, 45) “I will walk about in expansion – abundance.”‘
Amazingly, this was so eloquently and elaborately exemplified in the incredible accommodations provided by two great individuals who merited to bring so many to Reb Levik – to honor Him and his glorious son our dear Rebbe. Avi Shaulson and R’ Shmuel Stern amazingly epitomized this adage with the warm and elaborate Hachnosas Orchim provided to all the Shluchim, Anash, and Bochurim that came for Chof Av. Can you imagine gourmet Kosher food in such a remote place like Alma Ata!? The entire Ramada Hotel was rented out by them, all the food and transportation were included.
To tell you the truth, I would have been more than happy to receive a cot for the few hours that I put my head down, just like the Bochurim who spend time at the Rebbe’s Ohel. Here each individual received an entire room for his comfort with a Mikveh (pool) on the ground floor and all meals and Farbrengens included.
Typically, the adage would go: “what a great Z’chus they have”. I say the opposite: “What a great Z’chus WE have that such individuals exist – who appreciate and care for the wellbeing of others and do so, so graciously and without fanfare. Certainly, Hashem will reward them in the Z’chus of what they have done for the Rebbe’s father with the fulfillment of their hearts’ desires and wishes.
It’s 1:15AM on Wednesday morning – time to head to the airport to catch the 4:00AM flight back home. Rabbi Yossi Gordon insists that we must stop at the Ohel on the way to the airport. “We need to get to the airport on time,” I argue.
We end up going to the Ohel for one last prayer. There we meet the two Rabbi Butman twins – Shluchim in Eretz Yisroel. As we are davening, Reb Yossi suddenly asks out loud: “Is it okay to sing?” Spontaneously, we start singing the Hakofos Niggun of Reb Levik which the Rebbe would always begin in times of great joy. We start to dance, the five of us (a bochur, Levi Green is with us) and tears start to flow… joy, tears of joy, images of Simchas Torah by the Rebbe are flashing in my mind. How we stood together; people we knew, guys who we didn’t yet know personally – we were all together – Kinder Foon Rebbin.
My cheeks are getting wet from tears when suddenly Reb Yossi says: “Imagine, Reb Levik never got to see Simchas Torah by his son – our Rebbe!” And the pain – joy overflows… Dancing without shoes in our socks, I reminisce of the story how on a Simchas Torah in the early years the Rebbe danced in his socks without his shoes in Zal of 770 so not to make noise, so the Frierdiker Rebbe who suffered so much from the communists, should not be disturbed by the noise.
TEARS. JOY. TRIUMPH!
On the way back home, I read cover to cover the memoires of Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson OBM. She describes the pain, the suffering, the hunger and the loneliness. She describes her loneliness (here in the USA) and how her son – the Rebbe’s visits kept her going. Her Nachas seeing the love of Chassidim to her beloved son. She concludes with the wish that Reb Levik’s works be published.
“Koom Vi Due Koomst”. Come. Be there. Help take away the loneliness.
At the Farbrengen, Rabbi Eli Wolf described how the Rebbe championed the study of his father’s Torah. How at every farbrengen he would explain, elaborate on the teachings his father left behind. How much he wanted us all to study and relive his father’s holy work. Rabbi Wolf described an amazing initiative which he started in Eretz Yisroel: every week he published an adaptation of (a thought of) the teachings of Reb Levik which is studied by the Reshet Oholei Yosef Yitzchak – network of Chabad schools (for Non-Chabad children) students. He argued that if they can study Reb Levik’s works on a weekly basis, certainly we can and should!
I invite you to come. “Koom Vi Due Koomst” come in person, study his Torah; be there! Be there physically and/or spiritually.
May the Z’chus of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and all he went (and is still going) through, stand by you and all of us for much blessings and success in all our endeavors, and the fulfillment of all our hearts’ desires; primarily our most important wish – the revelation of Moshiach and reuniting with our Rebbe and the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash speedily. Now!