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Discovering the Rebbe

Treat All the Children Equally

December 27, 2009 10:03 AM

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky related this story:

My older brother Yaakov Dovid, of blessed memory, was born during the holiday of Sukkot; hence his thirteenth birthday, his Bar Mitzvah, was also during Sukkot. My parents, Rabbi Tzvi Yosef and Golda of blessed memory, wanted to make a grand celebration to mark the event, especially since it would be the first big simchah our family would celebrate since the Holocaust. Considering that during Sukkot all meals are held in an outdoor hut known as a sukkah, my parents planned the event for the Saturday night following the Sukkot holiday (after Shabbat ended). This way they could invite many guests to celebrate the Bar Mitzvah in a spacious hall, as opposed to a small outdoor hut, which would have severely restricted the guest list.

Prior to his birthday, my parents and brother had a private audience with the Rebbe, of righteous memory. During the course of the audience, the Rebbe asked my parents when they are making the celebration. They responded that they were scheduling it for after Sukkot.

The Rebbe wasn't happy with the idea, and suggested that they hold the celebration closer to the actual birthday.

When my parents explained the predicament they faced, fitting everyone they wanted to invite into a small sukkah hut, the Rebbe responded that they could build a bigger sukkah and if need be invite a lesser amount of people...

And that is precisely what they did. They made the celebration in the biggest sukkah in town, the one near the synagogue—with a somewhat smaller invitation list.

Prior to my thirteenth birthday, I also went with my parents for an audience with the Rebbe. On that occasion the Rebbe told my parents that based on the Talmud's statement (Shabbat 10b), "One should never differentiate between one child and the other," the celebration of my Bar Mitzvah should be done in a similar fashion as my brother's, not bigger or smaller.

My parents followed this directive, both with regards to my Bar Mitzvah as well as my younger brother Mendel's.

It’s Time to Play Chess

December 24, 2009 8:37 AM

Life is controlled by time. If utilized properly, time lingers; otherwise, time evaporates into thin air. Jewish law teaches that the only thing one cannot repay back to a friend is "stolen" time.

For a variety of reasons, many Jews have the custom to abstain from studying Torah on the night of the 25th of December. What is a Torah scholar to do on this night? The individual whose every second is ordinarily spent studying Torah—what is the best way for him to utilize this time?

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn related that his father, Rabbi Sholom DovBer, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, would play chess on this night, or observe others playing and advise them on their moves.

Chess sharpens the mind. Honing our analytical skills is a valuable activity, one that will also enhance our learning.1


Based on the talk of the Rebbe, the first day of Chanukah, 1988 (Toras Menachem vol. 2, p. 50).

Playing Chess to Win

December 22, 2009 4:57 PM

In 1937, the sixth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory, traveled to Perchtoldsdorf, Austria, for health reasons. Perchtoldsdorf was a resort area which boasted fresh air and comfortable accommodations.

The Rebbe plays chess with his father-in-law in Perchtoldsdorf, Austria. Photo courtesy of Meir Harlig
The Rebbe plays chess with his father-in-law in Perchtoldsdorf, Austria. Photo courtesy of Meir Harlig

His son-in-law, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, joined him from Paris, where he and his wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, were living at the time. During his stay in Perchtoldsdorf, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, who would later succeed his father-in-law as leader of the Chabad movement, directed all the Chabad activities in accordance with the instructions of his father-in-law, the Rebbe.

In order to preserve his health, the doctors instructed Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak to refrain from all forms of exertion, including his habitual strenuous intellectual activity. This precluded him from following much of his standard daily routine of studying and contemplation.

So the Rebbe would at times play chess.

During one such game with his son-in-law, he realized that Rabbi Menachem Mendel, out of his deep respect for his father-in-law, was trying to lose — albeit in an unobtrusive manner.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak told his son-in-law, "We must play honestly..."

I heard this story from Sholom Ber Butman, a cousin of the Rebbe.

How Many Hours Did the Rebbe Sleep?

The Rebbe's Aide Relates - Part VII

December 20, 2009 7:57 PM
The Rebbe's home
The Rebbe's home

In the earlier years of his leadership, the Rebbe would come to his office at around 11 o'clock in the morning, and leave in the wee hours of the next morning—on a regular day, he would leave at around one in the morning, and on days when there were private audiences, he would leave much later, at times at five or six in the morning.

When the Rebbe would leave, he would usually take home with him some letters and drafts of his talks. The talks were submitted to the Rebbe for review before being published. The Rebbe would add scholarly notes and make hundreds of edits on these drafts of talks. By the next morning, the Rebbe would bring everything back with him, with responses and edits for the secretariat to send out.

The truth is that I do not know exactly how many hours the Rebbe would sleep in his home. However, after the Rebbe's heart attack in 1977, the Rebbe's office became a mini hospital and he slept there for over a month.

The Rebbe's aides remained there that entire month too, 24 hours a day. At that time, we realized that the Rebbe did not sleep for any long period of time. I remember that if the Rebbe went to sleep at 10 p.m., at 11:30 he was back up at his desk studying or responding to individuals' letters or attending to other tasks. Later on, the Rebbe would sleep for another hour or so.

Before going to sleep, the Rebbe would always prepare what he would be doing when he woke up, whether it was a scholarly book that he would study or letters that he would respond to when he woke up.

I heard that the Rebbe's father-in-law, the sixth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of saintly memory, said about the Rebbe, "At 4 a.m. he is never sleeping; either he did not go to sleep, or he already woke up."

Is Kosher Food Tasty?

The Rebbe's Aide Relates - Part VI

December 13, 2009 5:00 PM

In a private audience, the Rebbe encouraged a rabbi to start a campaign in his city to purchase kosher food.

"Why would I want the people to purchase kosher food?" the rabbi asked. "Their kitchens are not kosher." Once the kosher food would be cooked in the non-kosher kitchens, it would become non-kosher too.

"Currently, in your city, the general perception is that kosher food is not tasty," the Rebbe responded. "Once people eat kosher food and see that it is tasty, they will realize that it is not that removed from their current eating habits to eat kosher food.

"Once they begin eating kosher food, it will be much easier for them to make their kitchens kosher."

Entering the Rebbe's Chamber

The Rebbe's Aide Relates - Part V

December 6, 2009 2:30 PM

I would enter the Rebbe's office at least once a day. I would always knock on the door beforehand. Sometimes I would be in the office only for a very short time, to give the Rebbe letters that people had dropped off, and sometimes I would be there for longer periods of time. There was a special corner on the Rebbe's desk where we, the aides, would place all the letters that had arrived. The Rebbe would then give us the responses to the previous batch of letters. The Rebbe would always say "a dank" – "thank you."

The Rebbe says thank you to Rabbi Klein as he leaves the car.
The Rebbe says thank you to Rabbi Klein as he leaves the car.

The Rebbe would spend a significant amount of time responding to individuals' letters. Most often, if I would enter the office and I had something to tell the Rebbe, or the Rebbe had a question about how something was coming along, the Rebbe would listen to me while continuing to respond to the letters. If need be, he would ask me questions.

Whenever the Rebbe would ask me to do something, he would say, "If it is not difficult…"

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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