When his doctor asked about Moshiach’s arrival, or a yeshiva advisor discussed the attitudes among the young, what was the Rebbe’s reply? What secret did his father-in-law, the Rayatz, share about the latter’s own father, the Rebbe Rashab? The Avner Institute presents a trio of charming anecdotes, as told by Rabbi Leibel Groner, member of the Rebbe’s secretariat, about the hidden yet powerful work of the Chabad Rebbes as moral and spiritual shepherds of their flock. With special thanks to Rabbi Noach Levin.
In loving memory: Hadassah bas Shneur Zalman
“To Fill the Cup”
Rabbi Groner relates:
It was 5752 (late 1991). The Rebbe was hunched over his volume of Gemara, deep in thought, when he noticed a blurriness in the Aramaic script. He rubbed his eyes, but the smaller letters on the page did not get any clearer.
He summoned me with the complaint, and I promptly phoned an eye doctor. This man, a prominent ophthalmologist and well-traveled communal figure, came to the Rebbe’s office in 770 and gave a private examination. He looked over the Rebbe’s glasses, as well, and increased the prescription.
However, none of this worked, and again the Rebbe summoned me. So I again phoned the doctor.
“This might require a more intensive exam,” the doctor said, after listening to me. “I have an instrument at the office I can use, but it isn’t portable. I’m afraid the Rebbe will have to come over here.”
Knowing of the Rebbe’s need for privacy, he added, “I can arrange a time when no one else is around.”
So the Rebbe went. Opening wide the Rebbe’s eyes, the doctor deftly squeezed into them the liquid from the dropper.
“It will take about fifteen minutes for dilation to take effect,” the doctor commanded.
Taking advantage of the interval, he decided to broach the Rebbe with a question.
“Certainly,” the Rebbe answered.
The doctor began, “As the Rebbe knows, I have visited many places in the world and seen many things, wonderful but also tragic. How is it that after everything Chabad has accomplished, Moshiach still hasn’t come?”
The Rebbe smiled broadly. “I have the same question, but apparently there’s a little left to do to fill the cup.”
To make his point, he motioned with his hand.
“This is why,” he continued, “that whenever I speak to the Chassidim, I urge them to do a bit more. I don’t let my Chassidim sleep.”
“Reading the Names”
I once heard from the Rebbe a little story told by his father-in-law, the Rayatz (Previous Rebbe), about the Rebbe Rashab, the Fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Rayatz’s father who, while leafing through the names of Chassidim and often pause and linger over certain names.
“Why do you do that?” the Rebbe Rayatz asked him.
The Rebbe Rashab answered, “As I read the names, I think of the Chasid and his entire family. Whenever one of them needs special help – a specific prayer or blessing for deliverance – I stop at his name and pray for improvement in his situation.”
“At Least 50%”
A private audience with the Rebbe was no small thing. An honor akin to meeting royalty, it required special preparation. For this reason, whenever there was a crowd of people waiting at 770 to have yechidus with the Rebbe, Rabbi Nissan Nemenov, beloved spiritual advisor of the yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim, always asked to be allowed in last.
Once he left the Rebbe’s office with a rather red face. He pulled me aside and said, “I must tell you what just happened.
“I told the Rebbe about instructions from the rabbeim [chief rabbis] not to change the structure of Tomchei T’mimim and its demands. Yet the students today are quite a diverse bunch, from all different backgrounds. They aren’t always receptive to classic Chassidic concepts, like iskafia [Divine attachment] or is’hafcha [transformation].
“Seeing that this is the case, I asked the Rebbe, what is the point of even discussing these concepts with them?
“The Rebbe answered, ‘You have to learn from me. Whenever I plan on asking the public something, I must first figure out whether they can do at least fifty percent of what I ask them; then I’ll speak about it. Otherwise, I won’t.”
Rabbi Nemenov gasped, “Just imagine how many things the Rebbe wanted to tell us!”
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