Soul to Soul
What did a Gerer Chassid learn from the Rebbe after a casual encounter so many years earlier? What did a Gentile maid learn from the Rebbetzin about honor and devotion? The Avner Institute presents two charming stories, adapted from the personal diary of the Rebbe’s secretary Rabbi Leibel Groner OBM about the power of the Rebbe to see beyond the physical and grasp the essence of a Jewish soul, even of those outside his immediate community, and his warm, private moments with Rebbetzin, who herself went beyond the call of duty to support and nurture.
In Loving memory of Hadassah bas Shneur Zalman
“Answer for the Neshama”
The fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe (Maharash) was once asked by a Chassid: “How is it that several people can ask the same question, yet each person gets a different answer?”
The Rebbe replied: What kind of Rebbe would I be if I only had one answer for every question?”
I have a handwritten note from the Rebbe, who explains that whenever he gives an answer to a certain individual, it doesn’t necessarily mean that someone else is meant to learn something from that same answer. Why? Because when someone asks a question, you have to consider the type of person he is, where he comes from, the nature of the question, etc. All this serves as the basis for the specific answer.
But there is an aspect that’s on an even higher level. Here is a story to illustrate the point.
There was a Gerer Chassid from Israel, a merchant and businessman who, back in the 1950s, dressed in modern, rather than traditional attire. Even among the Gerer community, and their strict dress code, he preferred to go around in a white hat and short jacket.
One day, while on business in the U.S., he came to the apartment building at 346 New York Avenue, on the corner of President Street, in Crown Heights. He entered the vestibule and waited for the elevator.
Suddenly, a younger man with a black beard came in and also stood waiting for the elevator.
“Shalom aleichem,” he said to the Gerer businessman, then asked, “Who are you?”
When the Gerer gave his name, the younger man asked, “What do you do for a living?” After hearing the nature of the business, he continued, “Do you frequently have to travel to foreign countries to sell your merchandise?”
“Yes,” the businessman answered.
Just then the elevator doors opened and the two entered.
As the doors closed behind them and the elevator began its slow ascent, the young man asked, “Where have you gone recently?”
“Is there a mikvah there?” the young man asked.
“No,” replied the businessman.
“Perhaps the reason why you go there to visit is in order to build a mikvah for Jewish women and tourists,” the young man said.
Just then the doors parted and the young man, with a quick goodbye, exited.
Many years passed. As he grew older, the businessman eventually rediscovered his Polish heritage. Soon he returned to the clothing in accordance with Gerer custom – long jacket, high fur hat (spodek), beard, peyos, etc. Meanwhile, he continued his line of work, traveling all over the world.
Once he made the usual business trip to New York. Hearing that the Lubavitcher Rebbe gave out dollars Sunday afternoon, he decided to go and ask for a blessing.
As he approached the Rebbe, the Rebbe asked him, “Is there already a mikvah in Nicaragua?”
At first the Gerer Chasid stared uncomprehendingly.
“Don’t you remember?” the Rebbe pressed. “A number of years ago, we met at an elevator and I asked you about the mikvah.”
When the Gerer Chasid returned to Eretz Yisroel, he went to speak with the previous Gerer Rebbe.
“How is it that although I look different now than I did back then – younger and in modern clothes – the Rebbe immediately recognized me?”
The Gerer Rebbe smiled. “When a Rebbe looks at someone, he looks at the soul, not the physical body.”
He continued, “Your neshama is the same now as it was then. Therefore, when you approached the Lubavitcher Rebbe, he saw that this is the same person with whom he spoke a number of years ago.”
In other words, when the Rebbe gives an answer, he answers according to the neshama, not only according to the physical body. Since every soul is different, each one has different ways to receive G-d’s blessings from Above.
“Hour of Relaxation”
The Rebbe’s attentiveness to his wife was moving. When a Chassid reflects on the life that couple shared, he or she cannot help but be overwhelmed.
Here’s an example of the extraordinary concern the Rebbe and Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka showed for one another.
It was agreed: during the winter, at around five p.m., the Rebbe would return home. In the summer, at around seven p.m., the same. Whenever the Rebbe got delayed, and a pressing matter kept him at the office, he would have one of the secretaries call the Rebbetzin. The secretary would explain the situation and tell her not to worry, because the Rebbe would be home as soon as he was done. The Rebbetzin, in turn, always informed the Rebbe about what was happening.
Private audiences with the Rebbe usually began at eight p.m. On a normal night, he would continue receiving visitors until three or four in the morning – in some cases, nearly six.
The Rebbetzin would stay up all night until he came home. “If I’m not there, he won’t take a cup of tea for himself,” she explained.
The Rebbetzin had a non-Jewish cleaning lady who for about ten years came three times a week to take care of the house. A few days after the Rebbetzin passed away, and I came to the Rebbe’s house to pay the Rebbe a shiva call, I found this lady in the kitchen sobbing.
Naturally I assumed that, after a ten-year relationship, the lady would feel some kind of grief. Right when I approached her she calmed down and said, “Of course I’m crying about the Rebbetzin. But I’m mainly crying for the Rebbe.”
“Why?” I asked.
She proceeded to explain, “You saw the Rebbe when he was always under pressure, always working. The only time you could see him relaxed was when he sat together with the Rebbetzin at the dinner table. For one hour he seemed to forget about everything else.”
She sniffed. “So why am I crying? Who is going to give the Rebbe that hour of relaxation?”
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