For a number of years, Chassidic artist R’ Elazar Kalman Tiefenbrun went to the Rebbe for Shavuos. During yechidus he merited to hear interesting comments about the importance of Jewish art. On one occasion, the Rebbe even gave him a bottle of liquor and told him to mix it into his paints.
Below are excerpts from the diary of his son R’ Elimelech Tiefenbrun, which was printed in honor of his grandson’s bar mitzvah.
Why So Serious?
In 5727/1967, my father, R’ Elazar Kalman Tiefenbrun, painted a picture of the Rebbe standing next to his lectern, wrapped in tallis and tefillin, of which he planned to print copies and distribute. In those days, it was quite a novelty to publicize the Rebbe’s photograph — all the more so a drawing.
My father sent a copy to the Rebbe, asking for his consent and blessing, along with questions about personal matters. After some time, he received the standard form letter, with an identical message and blessing at the end. From this my father concluded that the Rebbe approved of my father’s printing the drawing and disseminating it.
A short while later, during yechidus, communal leader R’ Avrohom Yitzchok Glick was asked by the Rebbe, “How is Tiefenbrun?’
“He is in the middle of printing the Rebbe’s picture,” R’ Glick answered.
The Rebbe intensely looked over the picture. “Why am I always made to look serious? Perhaps this can be changed.”
When R’ Glick returned to London, he told my father about the conversation, which my father construed to be an agreement to the publicizing of the picture but with a change of expression. He sent a letter to the Rebbe with a promise to do so. However, he wrote, everyone knew that the Rebbe was a serious man, and that tallis and tefillin were serious matters.
Within a few days my father received an express letter—again the usual template, but with a postscript that he should change the drawing only if it did not entail a bother or expense, since a Jew’s money is very important.
In the days prior to Shavuos 5735/1975, my father took me for yechidus. My brother Naftali was also with us. After testing us, the Rebbe blessed my brother and me for success in our Torah studies.
My father then told the Rebbe about numerous suggestions that he paint pictures of other people, including the Royal Family.
The Rebbe answered, “I would not want you to waste the energy you can put into Jewish pictures. Nevertheless, according to Shulchan Aruch, I do not see why not, as long as it is not immodest. However, nowadays even non-Jews are interested in Jewish subjects.”
Afterward, the Rebbe gave my father three dollars for my sister to influence three others to light Shabbos candles, as well as another dollar “payment” for the effort she would have to expend.
This was the third time that the Rebbe was alluding to his approval, much to my father’s delight, since back then getting the Rebbe’s consent to publicize his picture was quite unusual. My father printed more than 3,000 copies, which he sent all over the world, especially to Eretz Yisroel. And, from then on, he tried to draw the Rebbe smiling.
In another yechidus, a few days before Shavuos 5732/1972, where my father had brought along my sister Rania Feinland, the Rebbe said, “Your success should be such that it is good for you and good for those who receive the pictures.”
When my father told the Rebbe about an incident that caused him particular pain because he was a Lubavitcher, the Rebbe answered, “That you had aggravation from being a Lubavitcher – if it was decreed that you would have aggravation, this should be the aggravation.”
My father, realizing that his remark had sounded like a connection to being a Lubavitcher, quickly corrected himself. “Aggravation? Why, it’s a tremendous pleasure!”
The Rebbe smiled broadly. “You should know that a good thing always has opposition.”
He added, “This is meant for your daughter, too.” And turning to my sister the Rebbe said, “If you see someone who is not so pleased with Lubavitch, do not be concerned, since in a place where there are more qualities and more holiness, there is more opposition.”
In Tishrei 5739/1978, my father and I had another yechidus, along with my brother Naftali.
“Shalom aleichem to all of you,” the Rebbe announced. “May G-d grant everyone a good and sweet year for all those who are here and for those who remained in England. May G-d accept all prayers.”
The Rebbe turned to my father. “You write nothing about the pictures.”
My father apologized. “I did not want to lengthen the yechidus.”
“But in actual fact?”
“I brought four pictures with me.”
The Rebbe beamed. “You brought four pictures! Were they all bought already?”
“No, I spoke to people about them.”
The Rebbe remarked, “If parnassa needs to come through paintings, may it be an ample parnasa, so that you and your wife can raise all the children to Torah, chuppa, and good deeds.”
My father slightly bowed his head. “I would like to thank the Rebbe for everything he does for us.”
The Rebbe replied, “You don’t need to thank me; you need to thank G-d.”