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The Ache in My Heart

The Ache in My Heart


I am basically one of those “flesh and blood” sort of people. While the Rebbe’s writings and teachings are of great importance to me; while I continue to experience the Rebbe as a very active, involved part of my life; still, I miss the flesh and blood connection.

Perhaps I must apologize for not having risen to greater spiritual heights. For if I had attained these heights, then perhaps my spiritual connection with the Rebbe would suffice; or perhaps I would have more internalized the truth that a great tzaddik, once freed from his body, is freed as well from the limitations of his body.

But, if I am to use this opportunity to write, I must use it to be honest. And in honesty, in spite of my spiritual connection to him, I miss the Rebbe. My heart aches to once again have him as part of his and my flesh-and-blood relationship.

What was this relationship? Well, if I were to tell you how few times I even saw the Rebbe, you might wonder at my grief. And knowing that I never spoke directly to him, your wonder would be greater.

No, I was simply one of those people who went to a few farbrengens (I never lived in Crown Heights), stood in line for “dollars” once or twice, and sent letters when needed and received answers when they were necessary. I was thirty-six years old when I first saw the Rebbe, some seventeen years ago.

But, you see, whenever I went to the Rebbe, or even when I wrote him, I felt known by him. Seen by him. And I mean these words—“known” and “seen”—in their most profound sense. I felt naked before him. And through him, I saw myself fully exposed. Stripped of illusion and self-deceit.

Whether I was privileged to a momentary glance when he caught my eye and nodded as I lifted my cup at a farbrengen to say l’chaim; whether, in a whoosh of excitement, I passed before him to receive a dollar; or whether, in one of those extraordinary times when he caught and held my eyes for what seemed like an eternity but was in truth only five or ten or fifteen seconds, I was stripped bare: known from my most superficial, petty self to the depths of my being, deeper than even I knew existed.

My conscious self cannot know, much less describe, what the Rebbe placed within me during these encounters. The incomprehensible ways he affected me; the life, inspiration, courage and commitment with which I left these brief meetings—changed my life more than any human could ever expect a life to change.

But there was something else, something much simpler, more easily comprehensible, more connected to the simple flesh-and-blood existence of the Rebbe that had great power over my life.

It was merely the expectation that I would see the Rebbe again. Or, to be more precise, that he would see me.

I knew that I would, at some point in the future, stand fully exposed before him, his eyes piercing through my best “look good” to see who I really am.

And I wanted both he and I to feel proud at that moment. And I didn’t want to feel ashamed. And I knew that while the Rebbe had the greatest compassion and understanding of my very limited self, still he had great expectations of me. That he saw my highest potential, and believed that I could attain it. And though I knew that he would love me in spite of what I did or didn’t do to live up to his expectations, I wanted him to love me for what I did do to live up to his expectations.

Is this a childlike relationship? Perhaps. Would it be better, more mature for me to strive for my highest potential without requiring “outside approval”? Perhaps. But as I said, I am a simple, limited person of flesh and blood, who has not reached such great spiritual heights. So be it.

The expectation of meeting soul-to-soul with a person who has reached heights so far greater than I can imagine, and the knowledge that this meeting would reveal the gap between who I was and who I could be, kept me straight. It helped me be more honest with myself. It invigorated my potential and forced it before my awareness, constantly. When I saw the Rebbe’s capacity for love, it enlivened and expanded my own capacity for love. When I encountered, directly, personally, the Rebbe’s capacities, it enlivened the whole of my own.

And always, daily, I carried with me the anticipation of our next meeting.

So, what do I do now?

I have much advice to give myself in answer to my own question, as I’m sure many of you who read this have much advice, words of wisdom to share with me. Certainly there are countless, perhaps even more profound ways, to maintain communication with and receive inspiration from a tzaddik even when we cannot see him, hear his voice, and experience his physical presence.

But this does not ease the ache in my heart. Nor replace my personal encounters and my very fervent expectation of them. Nor have I found a way to replace that moment when I stand revealed before one who can both see me for who I am and love me at the same time.

As a man of flesh and blood, I find consolation neither in my memories nor in the Rebbe’s writings.

I find it instead in the ache in my heart, the place I keep the Rebbe. For each time I feel the ache, I am reminded of him for whom it aches. I am reminded of what he taught me: that for every sickness there is a remedy, for every pain a consolation, for every act of G‑d there is a purpose, for every lack there is a fulfillment; for whatever potential the Rebbe sees in me, there is the possibility of its realization.

Will I find the strength, wisdom, courage, devotion and faith during this most difficult time?

The Rebbe thinks so.

Jay Litvin was born in Chicago in 1944. He moved to Israel in 1993 to serve as medical liaison for Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl program, and took a leading role in airlifting children from the areas contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster; he also founded and directed Chabad’s Terror Victims program in Israel. Jay passed away in April of 2004 after a valiant four-year battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and is survived by his wife, Sharon, and their seven children. He was a frequent contributor to the Jewish website
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Gloria Krasno Milwaukee, WI June 8, 2013

distant learning , , , It was in the early 70's, studying Tanya with the new young teacher, Rabbi Samuels in the tiny front office of the new Lubavitch House on Milwaukee's east side.
Side by side with Jay and Sharon, with Max and doc, with Lucille and Shirley,
what a joy to share in the world and words of The Rebbe, whose Spirit opened lifetimes of Hassidic learning. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA August 2, 2010

I don't understand the love of a Rebbe; BUT I somewhat feel that same feeling when I connect with my Rabbi in Chabad in Riverside. Is that the same feeling? After reading the comments here, I was crying. I couldn't help it, Knowing the author is deceased just touched me to my soul. I believe the Rebbe who was his mentor must have died long before the author. But, being together. That touched me so much. May I, also, be together with them after I die, so I might feel that same feeling of connectedness and love. Reply

Judy Resnick Far Rockaway, NY December 29, 2009

Jay and the Rebbe Jay and the Rebbe are now both in the Olam HaEmes, the World of Truth.

Both Jay Litvin and the Rebbe are now free of pain. Jay is no longer tormented by his cancer and the Rebbe is no longer imprisoned by his stroke.

Jay Litvin and the Rebbe have no more questions. Both know exactly when The Righteous Moshiach is going to come. Which is very soon with G-d's help.

Years ago, I learned an interesting Midrash about the "cities of refuge" mentioned in the Torah. When someone must flee to a city of refuge, his rebbe has to go with him. I thought about this after the death of young Ari Halberstam in 1994, which was too shortly after followed by the passing of the Rebbe.

We among the living, bereft of Jay Litvin's warmth and insight, bereft of the Rebbe's wisdom and comfort, well we are a broken hearted generation.

May G-d send us the Lasting Consolation very soon, and change our tears into laughter. Reply

Anonymous Sao Paulo, SP - Brazil January 23, 2007

Transcendence I First read article by Jay Litvin a few years ago, and I wsa deeply moved by his sensitivity.

After when I learned about his work with Chernobyl Children, and in Israel against terror, I saw clearly that, in addition to his theologicall life he had a great strength and leadership. This article makes me feel, not only closer to the Rebbe but also that Jay Litvin may be together, in heaven , with his inspiring mentor, that he himself left us a heritage of deep spiritual achievements.

I prayed for him when I read about his passing, and I will pray especially for his wife and children. A person like Jay Litvin leaves a legacy that time will not fade out.

I send Shalom to his family and friends throughout the world! Jay Litvin lives in every work of his, every child he rescued and every word he wrote for our enlightenment. Reply

Racheli Yerushalayim, Israel July 21, 2004

Inspiration I must say that this piece very much spoke to me. It reached the very core of my soul.... for I too miss my Rebbe. And although I've never actually seen his face, I feel him very deeply and strongly within me - within my very being. But that, too, is not enough.

As I was sitting here in the Internet Caffe of the Moscow Chabad House... I began to cry. All the pain that was choking me over the years finally came out in expression. I saw that if someone was brave enough to relay to others in words - such a deeply personal and heart wrenching subject... that I am not the only one who feels this great and painful lacking. That it's ok to cry. Its ok to be vulnerable to the idea that I miss my Rebbe. And your essay helped me do just that...

Tell me, how is one to make peace with this? How are we to agree to live each day without him by our side, (so that we may SEE him) ? Are there any condolances? Is there a way to ease the pain? Or are we to play hide-n-seek forever? Reply

Helga Hudspeth Leavenworth, WA June 20, 2004

a connection Since my introduction to Jay Litvin, which was not all that long ago, a connection between him and "my Niagara Falls " has formed. When I lived near those falls, I had very little money and no car. And so I put a few dollars aside whenever I could so that I could afford a taxi that would get me there and back...... whenever I needed to be there.

When I returned home, I knew that I could deal with anything..... I mean, anything at all. And so, as soon as I closed the door of my apartment behind me, I immediately put one dollar into "the kitty " toward saving for the taxi.... for the time I would not feel that I could deal with anything at all..... for the time I would need to be there again.

A person who talks about himself without prettying things up, but still striving to do his best, has power. Most people can't do much with perfection or near perfection, because they can't identify with something like that.

But Jay was not perfect. And so he talked to and reached us non-perfect persons, and I believe he helped us to change and become better people.

And so, in a sense, Jay has become "my Niagara Falls. " I read or reread one of his articles when I need to do so. And after I've read something he's written........ and he always talks to me " directly, " I feel that I can deal with anything..... I mean, anything at all.

I believe that, because of him, my little world inside me has become a far better world.

Thank you, Jay. Reply