By Dovid Zaklikowski for COLlive and Hasidic Archives
Every year on the eve of Pesach, the Rebbe would distribute shmura matzah. After Reb Yisroel Duchman met Chaim Grade, the famed Yiddish writer, he made a point of asking the Rebbe each year for some extra matzah for the writer. Later that day, in the midst of frantic Passover preparations, he would take the time to drive to Grade’s home in the Bronx to deliver it. The matzah was very precious to the writer, Duchman said, and Grade was amazed that Duchman made the effort to drive from Brooklyn on such a busy day.
Family members said that Duchman viewed the mission as a privilege, and Grade came to expect it, once telling Duchman that he was always nervous that perhaps he would not come, “When it comes the eve of Passover, I shudder at the thought that you will not bring the matzah.”
In 1978, after a massive heart attack, the Rebbe stopped distributing matzah himself, and handed the task over to others. Duchman continued to collect matzah for Grade and deliver it, and would usually call the writer ahead of time to arrange a place to meet. In 1979, however, Grade did not hear from him, and called to see what was wrong.
Duchman told him that those who had been distributing the matzah that year had not given him any, and so he had none to bring. Disappointed, Grade replied that if he [Grade] were to say that he could live without the matzah, and that he did not expect it, “I would be a hypocrite twice, which is a greater sin than not eating the matzah.” He told Duchman not to bother coming.
That year Grade used the machine-made matzah he had purchased for the Seder. “So went by the gloomy first days and the intermediary days of the holiday,” he wrote.
On the eve of the seventh day of the holiday, Grade received a call from Duchman, “in panic: gevald! The Rebbe brought into his office a piece of wrapped matzah and told his secretary, Rabbi Leibel Groner, ‘This matzah has to be brought to Chaim today before candle-lighting.'”
A frantic search for Duchman ensued, and when he was located, he dropped everything and drove up to the Bronx. “Do you know what kind of merit you have,” Duchman asked the writer that day, “that the Rebbe chose you as the only one to have matzah for your table?”
Grade was very proud, telling anyone who would listen, “The Lubavitcher Rebbe sent his personal shliach to bring me these matzahs.”
Shortly before Passover 1982, in honor of his 80th birthday, the Rebbe distributed copies of the Tanya, the fundamental text of Chabad Hasidism, to those who attended the Hasidic gathering.
As always, Duchman called Grade the night before he would come with the matzah, and mentioned how the Rebbe had distributed the Tanyas. An emotional man, he described how the Rebbe, by then quite frail, stood for hours distributing Tanyas to women, men and children. Grade told Duchman to tell the Rebbe “that Chaim is asking for a Tanya.”
That posed a dilemma for Duchman, who knew that the Rebbe made it a rule to give only to those who attended the gathering. Rumor had it that those who asked later did not receive one. He decided to write to the Rebbe and relay Grade’s request.
The Rebbe replied that he would give Grade a Tanya, but that it had to be kept secret so as not to anger others. Shortly after Passover, Grade passed away, asking to be buried in his prayer shawl.
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