Discovering the Rebbe

Israeli Prime Minister: The Rebbe, a Symbol of Giving and Kindness

March 24, 2010 2:54 PM
Click to Watch Video

The Prime Minister of Israel, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, sent his greetings to an event honoring the 108th anniversary of the birth of the Rebbe, of righteous memory, this coming Friday: a bar mitzvah of 108 orphans organized by Colel Chabad.

In introducing his blessing and greeting to the bar mitzvah boys, Netanyahu said:

It is 108 years since the Lubavitcher Rebbe, a man who is a symbol of giving and kindness, an extraordinary personality, was born. I had the merit to meet with him several times and every meeting with him made a deep impression on me. Today you are celebrating 108 bar mitzvahs

Click here to watch the Prime Minister speak about his encounters.

Additional Correspondence with President Carter

March 22, 2010 7:10 AM

In addition to the correspondence regarding the evolution of Education Day U.S.A. that we are publishing this week in honor of the anniversary of the birth of the Rebbe, of righteous memory, we present here a short correspondence between the Rebbe and President Carter following the Rebbe's heart attack in 1977.

White House DC
Oct 7 [1977]
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
770 Eastern Parkway
Brooklyn, NY 11213

I was sorry to learn of your illness. I hope that you will be strengthened knowing that the thoughts and prayers of your many followers and admirers, both here and abroad, are with you.

Jimmy Carter

Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
770 Eastern Parkway
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11213

By the Grace of G‑d
29 Tishrei, 5738
October 11, 1977
Brooklyn, N.Y.

President Jimmy Carter
The White House
Washington, D. C.

Greeting and Blessing:

I thank you, dear Mr. President, for your kind telegram in connection with my recent illness. Your warm expression of concern for my health is deeply appreciated.

With the help of G‑d - the "Healer of All Flesh Who Works Wondrously" (as we praise Him daily in our prayers) - my recovery has been most satisfactory, I have already been able to resume my duties.

With prayerful wishes for your continued good health and for success in carrying out in the fullest measure the enormous responsibilities which Divine Providence has bestowed on you, and

With esteem and blessing,

M Schneerson

The Rebbe Establishes Children’s Choir

March 15, 2010 4:44 AM
Rabbi Binyomin Levin, extreme right, with the choir that the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, instructed him to organize.
Rabbi Binyomin Levin, extreme right, with the choir that the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, instructed him to organize.

A recent discovery on an 8mm film of a recording of a choir in Jaffa, Israel, sheds light on an innovative program initiated by the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory.

In the late 1950s, Rabbi Benyomin Levin of Kfar Chabad, Israel – a cantor by profession and a teacher in the Chabad school in Jaffa – received a letter from the Rebbe requesting that he organize a school choir—which he promptly did.

Levin was born into a cantorial family in Communist Russia, and was educated in the underground Chabad school system. His father, Feitel, an accountant, also served as cantor in one of the synagogues in Nevel, Russia. Levin once relayed that his home in Russia was always filled with music, as the family would sing and harmonize together.

Levin married Freidah Rivkin, and they moved to Tashkent after the Germans invaded Russia. Though they did not have much money, the Levins assisted students in the city's underground Lubavitch school system as best they could with meals and provisions.

In 1945, they escaped from the USSR to Austria, and in 1949 they moved to Israel, where they were among the first to live in the newly-founded village of Kfar Chabad, not far from Tel Aviv.

Levin studied agriculture and found cantorial positions during the holidays in Ramat Gan and Bnei Brak. Levin would also travel to Europe to fundraise for the Lubavitch Yeshivah. When his travels included a Shabbat stay, he would serve as the cantor in the local synagogues.

At one point, he was offered lucrative cantorial positions in England and Geneva. Levin wrote to the Rebbe about the prospects and the Rebbe responded that he should stay in Israel and become a teacher in "the Reshet," the Oholei Yosef Yitzchak Lubavitch school system.

Levin was amongst the organizers of the famous chassidic gatherings in the village of Kfar Chabad in the 50s and early 60s. Many guests participated throughout the years, including Knesset members, prime ministers and presidents. At the gatherings, Levin's choir would sing chassidic melodies for the crowd.

The choir later traveled several times a week to kibbutzim in Israel, where it would captivate often-secular audiences with Chabad melodies. Over the years, the choir made appearances before hundreds of thousands across Israel. One member of the choir was charged with explaining the meanings behind the melodies, as well as other concepts in Chabad philosophy.

In 1964, at the young age of 44, Levin suddenly passed away. Many of his children and grandchildren have followed in his footsteps by teaching young Jewish children.

Rabbi Soloveitchik Cries during Prayers

March 14, 2010 3:31 PM
Rabbi Soloveichik delivering a passionate talk
Rabbi Soloveichik delivering a passionate talk

In 1963 and again in 1967, my father became unwell; several times I took the trip to Boston to visit him. When I'd tell the Rebbe of my plans, invariably he'd ask me to visit the famed scholar Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, and bring along the latest Chabad publications, more specifically the works of the third Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, which incorporated many Talmudic subjects that Rabbi Soloveitchik would appreciate.

In 1980, Rabbi Soloveitchik came to a farbrengen (chassidic gathering) at Lubavitch World Headquarters. The Rebbe greeted him and then delivered a scholarly Talmudic talk. Though Rabbi Soloveitchik only planned on staying for a short time, due to his precarious health, he ended up leaving close to 11:30 p.m.

The next day, I went to see Rabbi Soloveitchik in his Washington Heights apartment. He mentioned that when he speaks and holds lectures, he arrives with a pile of notes to aid him in delivering his dissertation. "Beim Rebben iz nisht geven kayn zachen," he said in Yiddish, "but by the Rebbe there was nothing..." The Rebbe went from Torah verse to Talmudic sources to commentaries, brilliantly expounding his thesis—without the assistance of notes. Rabbi Soloveitchik said that this was a phenomenon he couldn't grasp.

He continued by referencing the ancient "libations celebrations," held in the Holy Temple during the holiday of Sukkot, from which the Prophet Jonah derived his prophecy. Rabbi Soloveitchik continued, "Now I understand what Jonah experienced"—alluding to the great inspiration he received while listening to the Rebbe "pouring" Torah.

Candle Lighting for Young Girls

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik is greeted by the Rebbe at a chassidic gathering in Lubavitch World Headquarters.
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik is greeted by the Rebbe at a chassidic gathering in Lubavitch World Headquarters.
I had the opportunity to speak with Rabbi Soloveitchik shortly after the Rebbe began his campaign to encourage women and girls to light Shabbat and holiday candles. I asked Rabbi Soloveitchik regarding the candle-lighting custom in his prestigious family.

(Some people had taken issue with the campaign, claiming that having unmarried girls light Shabbat candles was a "new" custom, to which the Rebbe responded that before WWII, the custom in many communities was for young girls to light Shabbat candles.)

Rabbi Soloveitchik answered that it was the custom in Brisk, his family's hometown, for young girls to light a candle. However, he did not know if they began at the age of three or later.

Crying During Morning Prayers

I was told by someone who was in synagogue with Rabbi Soloveitchik in the days following the Rebbe's heart attack in 1977, that Rabbi Soloveitchik once began crying during prayers.

Someone asked him what happened, and he responded that he'd heard news of the Rebbe's condition, and "I can't envision a world without the Lubavitcher Rebbe..."

Click here to read more about the relationship between the Rebbe and Rabbi Soloveitchik.

The Rebbetzin Stands Up for the Rebbe’s Rights

March 11, 2010 6:47 AM
The Rebbe reciting Psalms on the night before his heart attack (Photos: Levi Freidin/JEM)
The Rebbe reciting Psalms on the night before his heart attack (Photos: Levi Freidin/JEM)

It was during the Shemini Atzeret dancing in 1977 that the Rebbe, of righteous memory, had a heart attack. Suddenly, the Rebbe's face turned ashen and, standing beside his chair, he grabbed it and sat down.

Somebody approached the Rebbe, inquiring about his condition, and sparse words were communicated between them. The Rebbe, in general, was not very forthcoming about his personal needs. He indicated that the singing and dancing should continue. As customary, the Rebbe descended the podium and danced with his brother-in-law, Rabbi Shmaryahu Gurary. After the dancing ended, the Rebbe went up to his office, walking the steps alone. He refused support from anyone.

Four doctors, from Cleveland, Toronto, Manhattan and Brooklyn, who had come to Crown Heights to spend the holiday with the Rebbe, were called together in order to treat the Rebbe's still-undiagnosed condition.

The doctors decided they'd sedate the Rebbe and take him to a hospital. Just that moment, the Rebbetzin came walking down from upstairs. The doctors told the Rebbe to eat something, and he responded that he'd make Kiddush over wine, but would need to do it in the sukkah outside. We were all in the sukkah when the Rebbe's wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, arrived from her home. She was relaxed and calm, as was her nature. The Rebbe made Kiddush and ate some food. He returned to his office, and a bed was brought in so he could rest.

The four doctors decided that the Rebbe had had, in all probability, a heart attack, but without proper medical equipment, they could not treat it. Several well-known cardiologists, from Brooklyn, Manhattan and Long Island, were called.

They began arriving at Lubavitch World Headquarters sporadically around 11:30 p.m. Each one confirmed that it was not only a heart attack, but a serious and massive one. They all opined that the Rebbe must be admitted to a hospital, but the Rebbe refused.

The doctors replied that they would not treat him outside a hospital, and they all left.

Some equipment was acquired, and we began monitoring the Rebbe's heart rhythm. Around 5 a.m., the Rebbe's heartbeat became irregular, a potential fatal complication. We were completely unsure of what to do. We could not take the Rebbe by force if he'd refused hospitalization.

The doctors decided they'd sedate the Rebbe and take him to a hospital. Just that moment, the Rebbetzin came walking down from upstairs.

"What is the commotion about?" she asked.

She replied, "All the years that I know the Rebbe, there was never an instant that he was not in total control of himself." The doctors explained that the Rebbe's condition was life-threatening, hospitalization was imperative, and explained the plan they'd just devised.

She replied in Yiddish (paraphrased), "All the years that I know the Rebbe, there was never an instant that he was not in total control of himself. I cannot consent to sedating him and forcing him to go to the hospital."

It was incredibly courageous.

I went into the secretariat's office across the hall and she entered after me. She said, "Rabbi Krinsky, you know so many people. Can you not find a doctor for my husband?"

Suddenly, I remembered a young cardiologist, Dr. Ira Weiss from Chicago, who once sent the Rebbe a book he had authored on arrhythmia. I decided to call him at once, as the Rebbe's situation was not improving. It was 6 a.m. when I woke him. I explained the situation and he replied that if the Rebbe didn't want to go to the hospital, we should not take him against his wishes. Psychologically, it could be very damaging. He promised to get onto the next plane to NY, and in the interim, we should contact Dr. Louis Teichholz from New Jersey, head of cardiology at Mt. Sinai Hospital.

Cardiologists Ira Weiss (right) and Louis Teichholz confer in the office of the Rebbe's secretariat.
Cardiologists Ira Weiss (right) and Louis Teichholz confer in the office of the Rebbe's secretariat.

Teichholz arrived at 11:30 with a police escort. Dr. Weiss came in from the airport around a half hour later, also with a police escort. They consulted with each other, and soon began treating the Rebbe. By 2 p.m., the situation was stabilized.

The next morning, the Rebbe prayed morning services in his room, and was called up to the Torah during the Torah reading.

Having been with the Rebbe the entire time, I can affirm that we never heard from him even one complaint about his situation.

Dr. Weiss stayed for two and a half weeks; he slept on the floor and didn't leave the Rebbe's side. (Click here to read Dr. Weiss's account of the medical miracle.)

Though the Rebbe had suffered a grave heart attack, it was not just a single letter to the small boy that he responded to (click here to read the story); the world did not stop, people needed advice and blessings, and the Rebbe heeded the call.

With the Rebbe at His Father-in-Law’s Resting Place

March 11, 2010 5:55 AM

The Rebbe would often go to the Ohel, the resting place of his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (the "Rayatz"), of righteous memory. In the first year after the Rayatz's passing in 1950, the Rebbe would take a bus to the Ohel together with the yeshivah students before every Rosh Chodesh (the first day of a new Jewish month). After that year, the Rebbe would travel by car. After the Rebbe's mother passed away in 1964, the Rebbe started going an additional time, mid-month. In even later years, there were times when the Rebbe would go to the Ohel four times a week, nearly every weekday.

I drove the Rebbe almost every time, thousands of times. The Rebbe always had bags of letters with him, filled with requests of every kind that the Rebbe would read at his father-in-law's resting place.

The Rebbe (far left) at the resting place of the sixth Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory.
The Rebbe (far left) at the resting place of the sixth Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory.

The Rebbe stood opposite Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak's burial spot the entire time. There was a small room built to protect the Rebbe from the cold, heat, snow and rain. In the summertime, we had an air conditioner, and in the wintertime a heater, so the Rebbe would remain relatively comfortable.

The custom at the Ohel is to tear your letter after reading it, and toss the shreds onto the burial spot. The Rebbe would do this with many of the letters he received. Sometimes, however, the Rebbe would jot a response on a letter and bring it back with him to his office.

I had a telephone in the car, an entire mobile unit. Sometimes, at the Ohel, the Rebbe would tell me about something that needed to be taken care of immediately or instruct me to call the office in Brooklyn. There was much communication between the Rebbe and myself throughout the time at the Ohel.

The Rebbe was generally non-demonstrative, as was the case during prayers which he spoke quietly and serenely. The Rebbe's behavior at the Ohel was essentially the same.

Before leaving the Ohel, the Rebbe would circle the burial site, sometimes once, twice, or seven times.

During our drives to the Ohel and back, the Rebbe and I had many conversations, often catching up on important matters.

The last time I drove the Rebbe to the Ohel, the day he had a stroke, he spoke more than usual. He said many interesting things I am not at liberty to share, but which, retrospectively, I find quite momentous.

On Monday, March 2, 1992, at 5:20 p.m., the Rebbe became ill while standing at the Ohel. I tried to communicate with the Rebbe, but he was unresponsive. I understood what had happened; I've seen stroke victims before. We were in the cemetery alone and I knew that the situation was extremely serious. I immediately called the main office at 770 and told them to send Hatzolah, the volunteer ambulance service.

Unfortunately, things didn't move fast enough; they could not get their ambulance through the cemetery's narrow paths. And then, as they were trying, the battery of their vehicle died. It was terrible.

Finally, after an hour and a half, another ambulance arrived.

The Rebbe never spoke again.

Exactly two years later, the Rebbe's condition deteriorated and he was hospitalized in Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan. After Shabbat, on the third of Tammuz, 1994, I stood next to the Rebbe's bed with three other people when, at 1:50 a.m., the Rebbe, of righteous memory, returned his soul to the Creator.

Responsibility for Others Trumps Personal Growth

March 4, 2010 2:39 PM

In the early 1950s, my grandfather, Rabbi Meir Blizinsky, joined the Board of Directors of the Oholei Yosef Yitzchak network of schools, also known as the "Reshet." The Reshet was an initiative – spearheaded by the Rebbe, named in memory of his father-in-law, the sixth Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn – to establish Torah day schools across Israel.

The Reshet quickly became a place of quality Torah study and warmth. The Rebbe, of righteous memory, was heavily involved in the Reshet's structure, curriculum and, at times even, its day-to-day operation.

A Chabad-Lubavitch emissary who wished to join the Rebbe in New York for the High Holidays would first need to request "permission" from the Rebbe. Seldom would the Rebbe permit someone to leave behind their community. (For this reason, many emissaries had the custom to come the Shabbat following the holidays.)

In the late 1950s, Rabbi Blizinsky arrived in New York for the High Holidays, and had a private audience with the Rebbe. "I was waiting to speak to you," the Rebbe said. "You are on the Board of Directors of the Reshet, and you know that a principal of one of the Reshet schools traveled here for the High Holidays. Did he obtain permission to come for the entire month?"

Rabbi Blizinsky responded that the principal had not.

The Rebbe then exclaimed in an unsettled tone, "Since he arrived here, I have wanted to sit and study," and he pointed to the bookcases lining the room's walls. "However, I cannot focus on my learning. My mind is occupied with the thoughts: Where is the responsibility? How could a principal leave a school for the entire month of the holidays? How is it possible for anyone to take on the responsibility of leaving his post?"

After the meeting, Rabbi Blizinsky approached the principal, and kindly asked him to take the next possible flight back to Israel.

Do You Want to Live in the Dark Ages?

March 1, 2010 6:46 AM

Are you sick of a world that spins so quickly? I am. Sometimes I just want to move to some far-off island, where there are no cars, computers and only seldom would I be able to catch a signal for my cell phone.

My dear friend, the award-winning photographer Marc Asnin, was in Haiti documenting the aftermath of the horrible earthquake. He slept outdoors and ate cold food. There was no internet, air conditioners, or phones. It was an island returned to the Dark Ages.

Marc in Haiti
Marc in Haiti

As terrible as it may be, a part of me questioned whether the alternative – living life in the fast lane – is an entirely better situation.

My answer came in the form of a recent discovery: a series of letters between the Rebbe and philanthropist Irving I. Stone.

The Rebbe writes in a letter dated November 1973 (paragraph marks are mine):

In normal times, steady, albeit slow, progress might be satisfactory, and sometimes steady progress and speed may not even be compatible. However, we live in "abnormal" times, when things move with whirlwind speed, and we must not lag behind the times in our method of tackling problems in the vital area of Torah and [education].

Indeed, in light of the Baal Shem Tov's teaching that a person must learn from everything around him how better to fulfill his purpose in life, especially in fundamental matters, the present jet age and supersonic speed should inspire the idea of time-saving in the spiritual realm.

A distance that not so very long ago took days and weeks to cover, can now be spanned in a matter of hours, and a message that took as long to communicate can now be transmitted instantly.

If this could be accomplished in the physical and material world, surely the same should be true in the spiritual realm, whether in the area of personal achievement, or in the area of affecting a change in the environment.

To be satisfied with less in the realm of the spirit would be like arguing to return to the era of the horse and buggy on the ground that this was satisfactory in olden days, all the more so since spiritual matters have never been subject to the limitations of time and space...

So as life flies by, let us not forget to move our spiritual matters and good deeds at a comparable rate.

Read Wise Charitable Giving: The Rebbe responds to a Charitable Foundation

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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