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Discovering the Rebbe

This Art is in the Details

Artist Michoel Muchnik

January 29, 2010 6:00 AM
Click to Watch Video

Surrounded by original paintings and bas-relief mosaics, long-white-bearded Michoel Muchnik was working on a 3D mosaic of Shabbat and holiday candlesticks when I arrived at his Brooklyn studio.

Joyous scenes pop up all around me. The Hebrew aleph bet comes to life, flying boats holding mitzvahs float by on a huge canvas, and a mitzvah train is chugging along one of the walls.

Born in Philadelphia in 1952, Muchnik received his artistic training at the Rhode Island School of Design. He later studied at the Rabbinical College of America, in Morristown, New Jersey.

Muchnik graciously took the time to sit with me and share some anecdotes, memories of his relationship with the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory.

Click here to read "Chasidic Artist Keeps it Lyrical and Spiritual"

Click here to view a gallery of Muchnik in his studio

What the News Should Not Report

January 28, 2010 8:47 AM

I had the privilege of being a go-between between the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, or righteous memory, in New York and Rabbi Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam, the Sanz-Klausenberg Rebbe, who lived in Israel.

One night, I got a call from the Lubavitcher Rebbe's secretariat. "Tell me," the aide on the phone said. "Who publishes the monthly magazine Sanz? Whether it is you or someone else, the Rebbe has an important request."

At that time, the Klausenberg community was going through a very distressing time. Our Rebbe was very ill, and everyone was with bated breath, at every moment waiting for any news regarding his situation.

Also at the time, the magazine Sanz ran several articles of harsh critique regarding a certain community issue.

The Rebbe's request was:

"The chassidic way is to give encouragement and bolster people's strength and morale. This is especially important at this time for the followers of the Klausenberg Rebbe, because their leader is not healthy. His disciples are broken and it does not befit the magazine to print such articles during this difficult time."

A Hospital is Not a “House of the Sick”

January 24, 2010 9:43 AM

A short while after the Sanz-Klausenberg Rebbe, of saintly memory, established the Laniado Hospital in Netanya, Israel, he requested that I meet with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, for counsel regarding several complex issues relating to Jewish law and the daily operation of the hospital.

I called the Rebbe's secretariat and told them that the Klausenberg Rebbe has charged me with asking the Rebbe several questions. I was given a time for an audience; I was to meet with the Rebbe the following day.

I immediately called the Klausenberg Rebbe and told him that I had an appointment for a private audience with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. "There's probably a long waiting period," the holy man told me.

The Sanz Medical Center
The Sanz Medical Center

I told him that the appointment was actually set for tomorrow. "You are obviously regarded highly by the Lubavitchers if they gave you an appointment so quickly!" the Klausenberg Rebbe humbly responded.

"Of course I am regarded highly when I come as your emissary..." I responded.

Joining me for the audience was the Klausenberg Rebbe's son-in-law, Rabbi Shlomo Goldman; the chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau; and another community activist. The Rebbe responded to all our questions and inquired as to how the hospital was funded. The Rebbe suggested that the hospital be called the Sanz Hospital instead of what it was called at the time. (Today, in fact, the hospital is called the Sanz Medical Center).

Then the Rebbe asked, "Why is it called a Beit Cholim (the modern Hebrew term for hospital, which literally means 'House of the Sick')? Better it should be called a 'House of Healing.'"

The Rebbe continued, "I would ask you to either call it a 'House of Healing' or a 'Center for Healing'; for one goes to the hospital not to get sick, but rather to heal."

Eventually it was called Merkaz Refui, a "Healing Center."

At the end of the audience, the Rebbe gave a check for the hospital. "Binyomin," he told me, "make sure this check is deposited. If you want to make a copy for publicity purposes, fine, but deposit it into the bank."

The King of Morocco's Envoy and the Rebbe's Secret

The Rebbe's Aide Relates - Part IX

January 11, 2010 12:41 PM

The Rebbe always made those who entered his office feel comfortable.

I remember once an envoy from the King of Morocco came for a private audience with the Rebbe. He arrived a few hours early and respectfully asked me what the procedure was for an audience with the Rebbe. I told him that there is no procedure, and that when he enters the Rebbe's room he will know what to do.

In general, the Rebbe's chassidim would not sit during a private audience or shake the Rebbe's hand. However, this was never policy, and most people who had a private audience would sit down. In fact, the Rebbe would regularly invite those who entered to sit and would shake the hands of the men.

It seems that by the time the envoy entered the audience with the Rebbe, he had asked some of the rabbinical students what was customary behavior and what was not. They had told him that the custom is not to sit or shake the Rebbe's hand.

When the Rebbe extended his hand to him, the envoy said that he was told that the custom is not to shake the Rebbe's hand.

The Rebbe responded, "Don't worry, I will not tell them that I shook your hand."

When the Woman Would Not Stop Talking

The Rebbe's Aide Relates - Part VIII

January 3, 2010 7:34 AM
The Rebbe exits his office.
The Rebbe exits his office.

I learnt a lot from the way the Rebbe interacted with those that came to ask him his advice. The Rebbe had an unlimited amount of patience for each individual that came to speak to him. Thousands would come for the famous distribution of dollars on Sundays, when the Rebbe would hand each person, many of whom had stood in line for hours, dollar bills to give to charity.

The Rebbe never interrupted the words of another, always listening until the other had finished speaking. There were those who would repeat what they had said, thinking that the Rebbe had not heard or understood what they were saying, and the Rebbe would always listen to the end and then respond again.

To say the least, the Rebbe's time was very precious; however, there was never a question of distinguishing between the "important" and "not important" people who were in audience with him. The Rebbe never told anyone to leave his room.

I remember once there was a woman who was waiting on line to enter the Rebbe's room for an audience. When her turn came, she let the next person go ahead of her. She did this until she was the last person to enter for an audience. This was in the wee hours of the early morning.

She was speaking to the Rebbe for a very long time, and it seemed that she did not have any plans to end the conversation. The Rebbe listened to her every word, not interrupting her, except when needed to respond to her queries. When it was getting very late, way past the latest time that the Rebbe usually remained for audiences, we asked her to kindly say goodbye to the Rebbe, explaining that the Rebbe needs to go home.

She continued to speak, and the Rebbe continued to listen. The Rebbe wished her well, giving her many blessings. She continued to speak as the Rebbe got up to put on his coat and gathered the letters he would be taking home with him. She continued to speak, and the Rebbe continued to intently listen and respond to her.

Still speaking, she escorted the Rebbe out of his office, and the Rebbe continued to respond to her, without any sign of annoyance.

The Rebbe walked home, and, immediately upon his arrival, he called the office and instructed us to immediately arrange for two students to escort her back home in a taxi, to make sure she arrived home safely.

Many have struggled to describe Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, the seventh leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. A task so daunting due to the multifariousness of the Rebbe’s personality and achievements.

Rather than attempting to describe the Rebbe, this forum will share hitherto unknown tidbits of information about his life and teachings — information that was recorded in writing, audio and video.

Join us as we explore the Rebbe’s life and teachings. Manuscripts, letters, firsthand experiences and more.
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