By Rabbi Levi Wolff – Shliach and spiritual head of Sydney’s Central Synagogue
The following is a personal story, something special that happened to me. I think about it annually, on this weekend each year.
It was in 1982, and I was about eight years old, the Rebbe devoted a speech to a cryptic passage in Rashi’s commentary to the weekly sidrah. That particular passage in Rashi discussed one of the differences that set Esau, the wicked, apart from his righteous brother, Jacob. The contrast in their worldview and moral pyramid lay in the way they treated their women and children; whilst Esau paraded first his wives and then his children, in an act which lent itself to promiscuity and lewdness, the more modest Jacob presented his family in the opposite order: first his children and then his wives.
The discussion was longer and deeper than that which my young mind could fully grasp, but I was able to get the gist of things.
The following day, while learning in cheder, we stumbled upon the story of Moses – read this week in Shule – the first leader of Israel, was making his return to Egypt with his family, after a significant absence. The verse tells that he loaded ‘unto the donkey’ his wife Tzipporah, and then his newborn children. A sudden light went off in my mind, as I noticed a seeming incongruence between this and what I had heard only the day before from the Rebbe himself. Here was Moses, a righteous person, behaving in the manner that was worthy of Esau- how could this be true?!
When my teacher could provide no answer to my query, he suggested I put the question in writing and offered to deliver it personally to the Rebbe’s office, later that afternoon. I did as he said, and continued with my day.
That evening, around eleven o’clock the phone in our home rang, and it was the Rebbe’s secretary, Rabbi Klein. My father, bewildered by the unexpected event, listened in awe as Rabbi Klein related that the Rebbe had just seen my letter and had personally given a response to be communicated back to me.
Beyond how honored and important I felt, that the Rebbe had answered my question, thinking back to this story I cannot but notice the powerful messages hidden within.
For one, The Rebbe, whose mailbox was the recipient of the highest number of private letters delivered in New York, had taken the interest, time and care to respond to a query posed by an eight year old child — and at eleven o’clock at night, no less! The meaning I always drew from this reflection is that the Rebbe wanted to give me the feeling that I mattered, my learning mattered and my questions were worthy of a reply.
Mine wasn’t a burning question; the nature of my letter didn’t have reverberations in the halls of power and could well have waited till the following morning. But the Rebbe didn’t think so, he felt that if it was important to me, it was crucial to show that it was important to him too.
Even his fascinating answer exuded this keen sensitivity and personable approach; the Rebbe had explained that since the babies were in fact just born, it would be impossible to sit them on the animal, without their mother being there to hold them. A simple technicality, a small nuance, but the Rebbe hadn’t overlooked it.
Perhaps it was this seed planted in my young conscience that bore fruit years later, when my wife Chanie and I decided to join the Rebbe’s army, an army of candles, bent on spreading the light of Torah and perpetuating his three-fold message of the love of the people of Israel, the love of Torah and the love of G-d.
From the height of his genius, the Rebbe spoke to each at his or her level, counseling and accompanying them through their difficult — as well as joyous– times. He had a warm word for the barren woman, as well as sound advice for the business entrepreneur. His smile healed the broken hearts of so many who came to his address to find solace and respite.
Serving at the helm of a worldwide movement, sought out and consulted on issues that would likely change the course of history, the Rebbe never lost sight of the individual, never dismissed any request for assistance as too trivial or insignificant. He saw that in the curiosity of an eight year old child lay an entire existence, and if fostered correctly it could well turn into a lifelong endeavour.
I hope to live up to the faith he has placed in me and fulfill the mission he has entrusted to me.