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Discovering the Rebbe

The Rabbi with the Consensus

July 27, 2009 6:00 AM
Click to Watch Video

Rabbi Aryeh Levin was known as the "Rabbi of the Prisoners." Living in the Land of Israel prior to the State of Israel's declaration of independence, he would visit Jewish boys and girls who were incarcerated in British prisons – most of them freedom fighters for the various Jewish underground militias that operated at the time – and served as the go-between between many inmates and their families outside the prison walls.

Rabbi Levin was a caring and loving man, and he'd actively seek out those in dire need. He was always there to help them—whether it meant providing for their physical or spiritual needs.

Recently, on Channel One of Israeli television they commemorated the 40th anniversary of Rabbi Levin's passing in 1969. A panel of people who were close to Rabbi Levin discussed his tremendous love for and acceptance of every single individual. One of the panel members was Simcha Raz, Rabbi Levin's biographer.

Presented here is a transcript of an interesting anecdote mentioned on the program (you can watch the video above):

Shlomie Goldberg (interviewer): We see that Rabbi Aryeh's relationship with the non-religious community, the religious Jerusalemites and others was the same. That was an integral part of his approach to life; he did not discount the non-religious nor the religious, is that accurate?

Simcha Raz: In this regard, I could relay to you what his grandchild – a Chabad disciple – told me:

When Rabbi Levin was still alive, this grandchild visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory. The Rebbe asked him, "How does your grandfather get along with the religious groups and the zealots [who may not appreciate his close association with the non-religious]?" He responded, "Grandfather has a 'consensus,' he gets along with everyone."

The Rebbe responded, "Go tell him in my name, we learn in Ethics of our Fathers [3:10], 'One who is pleasing to his fellow men, is pleasing to G‑d…' It does not say 'one who is pleasing to scholars or the religious.' It says, if the general public is pleased with you, in Heaven, too, they are pleased with you."

I tracked down one of Rabbi Levin's grandchildren, Rabbi Shimon Yakabovitch, from Jerusalem, and I asked whether he can confirm the details of the story.

He confirmed the story (though with slight differences in the order of the Rebbe's words), saying that it occurred with his cousin, Shabsi Yudelovitch. According to Shimon, the Rebbe concluded by saying, "Regarding your grandfather the Sages said that 'One who is pleasing to his fellow men, is pleasing to G‑d.'"

Elchanan Yakabovitch with his grandfather Rabbi Aryeh Levin. Rabbi Levin asked him to ask the Rebbe whether he should publish his writings.
Elchanan Yakabovitch with his grandfather Rabbi Aryeh Levin. Rabbi Levin asked him to ask the Rebbe whether he should publish his writings.
Shimon also told me another interesting anecdote:

On several occasions, my grandfather relayed to me questions that I should ask the Rebbe. One time he had doubts whether he should publish a commentary he wrote on the Mishnah. He gave the commentary to my brother Elchanan and asked him to solicit the Rebbe's opinion. Since I was in New York and had an appointment for a private audience with the Rebbe, my brother delegated to me the mission. The Rebbe responded that it is a good idea to publish the commentary, and that it should be published as soon as possible.

Based on this advice, my grandfather started publishing the commentary. Unfortunately, various difficulties cropped up, and brought the publication to a halt. Recently, however, publication has resumed.

As a side note, this commentary is said to be fascinating, and reflective of Rabbi Levin's love and appreciation for every single individual—both the scholar and the simpleton. The commentary was written in modern and clear language, to assist those unfamiliar with the Mishnah's difficult and oft times abrupt text. However, when scholars examined the manuscript, they noted many novel approaches to the text.

I spoke to another of Rabbi Levin's grandchildren, Elye Tzvi Yakabovitch from Kfar Chabad, and he relayed the following story which he heard from Rabbi Aryeh's son, Rabbi Shlomo Levin:

Every year before the holiday of Passover the Rebbe would send matzah to three individuals in Jerusalem. One of them was Rabbi Levin.

In 1969 the Rebbe gave only two matzahs to the person who brought the matzahs to Jerusalem every year. The Rebbe named the other two recipients, and not Rabbi Levin. When the individual asked for a matzah for Rabbi Levin, the Rebbe did not respond.

A few days before that Passover Rabbi Aryeh passed away…

A (Vintage) Wedding Present in Montreal...

My Wife's Grandmother, Rivkah Chaiton

July 23, 2009 10:00 AM
Rivkah Chaiton
Rivkah Chaiton

Yosef Levi Shanow arrived in Montreal, Canada, from Warsaw, Poland, in 1900. As a follower of the Gur chassidic dynasty, he received the blessing of his Rebbe, the Sfat Emet, prior to his immigration. He had eight daughters and three sons. Being a religious Jew in Montreal at the time was not an easy task. Yosef Levi, with his flowing beard and the scholarly aura that he radiated, was unique in those years.

At first, Yosef Levi worked as a ritual slaughterer of chickens, until he found out that the store owner he was supplying was claiming that additional chickens were slaughtered by him that were not. From then on, Yosef Levi worked for a men's clothing manufacturer, Freedman and Company.

His eldest daughter, Rivkah Shanow, was my wife's great-grandmother. She married Chaim Dovber Chaiton, the son of a religious educator, Yehoshua Eliezer and Shainah Sarah Chaiton. Rivkah was a G‑d fearing woman known for her extreme kindness. Her husband was a milkman, and Rivkah would make packages of cheese and milk and send them with him to the poor people of the city, free of charge.

Family tradition relates that Rivkah never went to sleep with money in her wallet, always giving every last cent to poor people before the end of the day. She would take people into her house and give them food and shelter. Once, she exchanged shoes with a poor woman—her new shoes for the woman's old ones.

Rivkah and Chaim Dovber Chaiton on their wedding day
Rivkah and Chaim Dovber Chaiton on their wedding day
In 1942, Yosef Levi, who had been educating Rivkah and Chaim Dovber's son, Aaron Yisroel, at home, enrolled him in the newly opened Lubavitch Yeshivah of Montreal, the first of its kind in the country. A short while later, Aaron Yisroel was sent, with nine other students, from Montreal to the United States to study in the central Lubavitch Yeshivah in Brooklyn, New York.

Future generations of the Chaiton family in Montreal followed in the ways of their grandfather, the family's patriarch Yosef Levi Shanow, and sent their children to the Lubavitch schools in Montreal.

Following my brother-in-law Yaakov Glassner's wedding to Chayale Niazov in Montreal, as described in another post, I remained there for another few days for a friend's wedding. As I wrote, during that time I was given the opportunity to look through the letters the Rebbe wrote to Rabbi Zev Greenglass. The Rebbe, of righteous memory, would at times send copies of letters he wrote to other community members to Rabbi Greenglass, so that he could follow up if necessary.

Looking through the letters, I noticed a letter written in the Rebbe's handwriting, in English, to Mrs. Chaiton, 4114 Laval Ave! It turns out that the letter was written to Rivkah Chaiton! The letter contained instructions to her, her daughter-in-law Shaindel (my wife's grandmother), her son Mottel (my wife's grandfather), their children, and her father, Yosef Levi.

The letter was sent to Rabbi Greenglass for him to find out the names of all the family members (so that the Rebbe could bring their names to his father-in-law, the Rebbe's predecessor, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, of righteous memory's, resting place).

The gist of the letter was that the girls of the family should give charity for the cause of needy families in Israel (Colel Chabad) before lighting the Shabbat and holiday candles, and the sons of the family should says chapters of Psalms after their morning prayers.

No one in the family had known about the letter until I read it to the entire family at one of the seven festive meals ("Sheva Brachot") following the Glassner-Niazov wedding, and I presented a copy of the letter to the new bride.

The copy of the letter sent to Rabbi Zev Greenglass
The copy of the letter sent to Rabbi Zev Greenglass

Orbiting the Moon - 1968

July 20, 2009 4:00 PM

On December 24, 1968, Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders became the first humans to orbit the moon. The astronauts aboard Apollo 8 were the first humans to escape Earth's gravitational field, and on Friday, December 27, they became the first to return to earth from another celestial body—the moon.

The next day, on Shabbat, the Rebbe, of righteous memory, delivered a lengthy address on the lessons to be derived from that historic event. In honor of the 40th anniversary of the first manned moon landing, we present two of the lessons that the Rebbe imparted:.

Celebrations upon the arrival of the crew back to earth. (Photo: NASA)
Celebrations upon the arrival of the crew back to earth. (Photo: NASA)

(The following is an adaptation of the Rebbe's words—DZ.)

This past week we witnessed an extraordinary event: people orbited the moon, and sent back photos of both the light side as well as its hitherto unseen dark side.

We can extract two lessons from this event:

Formerly, there was scientific "proof" that it is impossible to land on the moon, since it was thought to be impossible to achieve the necessary takeoff velocity without the rocket breaking up or catching on fire and the like. From this we see that mortal intellect is unreliable, given that whatever man thinks today may very well be proved erroneous tomorrow.

An image of the Moon and the Earth taken by the Apollo 8 crew. (Photo: NASA)
An image of the Moon and the Earth taken by the Apollo 8 crew. (Photo: NASA)

At the same time, we see demonstrated the tremendous feats that man can accomplish. This leads us to have an increased admiration and awe for the Creator: if this is what the finite human mind can accomplish, how much greater must be the infinite Creator, before whom all creations are absolutely nothing!

We can learn the second lesson from the way the moon landing was orchestrated. NASA took three men, and told them ahead of time that they would have to ignore their own personal wills and behave, to the last detail, according to the instructions they would be given from their superiors. If they wanted to eat, they would eat only when and what they would be allowed. The same would go for sleeping, and even for what shoes they would be allowed to wear.

Each astronaut was informed that a slight deviation from instructions in any of his actions could cause the loss of billions of dollars and endanger all his colleagues in the spaceship.

We learn from this how crucial a single action by one man can be. The astronaut, even if he does not understand why he must not do it and the harm it could cause, and even if he has only heard that this is the case from a sixty-year-old man who studied the subject for some time, trusts him and follows his orders precisely.

Nor does he argue that he's only one astronaut out of three, and can therefore do whatever he wants as long as the others follow orders—after all, he's just the minority—for he knows full well that whatever he does affects not only himself but the others in the spaceship with him.

From this we may learn a lesson in our service of G‑d through Torah and adhering to the commandments of G‑d: What an individual does has an effect not only on himself and his family; it has an effect on the whole city where he lives and on the entire world.

For another fascinating excerpt from this same farbrengen (chassidic gathering), see The Astronaut.


Mission commander Frank Borman, command module pilot James Lovell and lunar module pilot William Anders gave the greeting from lunar orbit on Dec. 24, 1968, as the Apollo 8 crew became the first humans to leave Earth's gravity and reach the moon. (Photo: NASA)
Mission commander Frank Borman, command module pilot James Lovell and lunar module pilot William Anders gave the greeting from lunar orbit on Dec. 24, 1968, as the Apollo 8 crew became the first humans to leave Earth's gravity and reach the moon. (Photo: NASA)

When the Rebbe Directed the Publishing House

July 15, 2009 3:00 PM

It is not every day that I have the privilege of viewing close to a thousand letters written by the Rebbe and by his predecessor, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, of righteous memories.

I was recently in Montreal for the wedding of my brother-in-law, Yaakov Glassner. There, I met Rabbi Moshe Cohen, grandson of Rabbi Zeev Greenglass—may G‑d grant him a speedy and complete recovery. Rabbi Greenglass is a founding member of the Chabad-Lubavitch institutions in Montreal and had a special relationship with the Rebbe, of righteous memory, beginning yet in the 1940s.

Students at the new Lubavitch school in Montreal, Canada, in 1942. Rabbi Greenglass was from the founding members of the Lubavitch institutions in the country. (photo courtesy of the Kramer family)
Students at the new Lubavitch school in Montreal, Canada, in 1942. Rabbi Greenglass was from the founding members of the Lubavitch institutions in the country. (photo courtesy of the Kramer family)

At that time, the Rebbe headed the education (Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch), publishing (Kehot) and social (Machane Yisroel) arms of Chabad-Lubavitch. Rabbi Greenglass worked with the Rebbe, among other projects, on publishing books of Chabad philosophy, and he himself authored works on Lubavitch customs.

I also knew that Rabbi Greenglass had been in touch with the Lavut family from Montreal with regards to obtaining permission to reprint the works of Rabbi Avraham Dovid Lavut, of righteous memory, the Rebbe's great-grandfather and a renowned authority on Jewish law. When I asked Moshe if he knew anything about this, he promised to look into the matter.

I continued with my preparations for the wedding, and actually forgot about my request. Moshe, however, called me and said that the family would grant me permission to look through Rabbi Greenglass's archives.

I arrived at the Cohen family's home and Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Moshe's father, brought out the letters... hundreds of them. Close to a hundred of them were penned by the Rebbe before 1950, the year that the Previous Rebbe passed away, demonstrating the Rebbe's intimate involvement in Montreal's Jewish activities and programs even before he assumed the mantle of leadership.

Rabbi Dovid Cohen with the letters his father-in-law, Rabbi Zeev Greenglass, received from the Rebbe. In the left corner is a letter from the Rebbe with blessings for a sweet new year.
Rabbi Dovid Cohen with the letters his father-in-law, Rabbi Zeev Greenglass, received from the Rebbe. In the left corner is a letter from the Rebbe with blessings for a sweet new year.

Many of these letters contained personal advice to Rabbi Greenglass, others pertained to his work with members of the Jewish community and as a mentor at the Lubavitch school. I was impressed by Rabbi Greenglass's sensitivity—he made sure to cross out the names of individuals about whom the Rebbe wrote personal information, so that if the letters were read by others – as I was doing – no personal information would be divulged.

Here is a letter from the Rebbe, dated Elul 12 5709 (September 6, 1949), wherein he expounds upon the difference between the founder of the chassidic movement, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, and the founder of the Chabad stream of chassidism, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi.

Rabbi Zeev Greenglass in Montreal’s City Hall during an event on the holiday of Chanukah. (Photo: Menachem Serraf)
Rabbi Zeev Greenglass in Montreal’s City Hall during an event on the holiday of Chanukah. (Photo: Menachem Serraf)

As was the Rebbe's practice, he would send copies of the same letter – which contained a timely original Torah insight – to many individuals, and would then address the individual recipients of the letters on the page's margins. On this particular letter, the Rebbe added on the bottom a handwritten response to Rabbi Greenglass, in which he urged him to write down the anecdotes he had heard from elder Lubavitch chassidim, and also requested that he send various manuscripts of Chabad chassidism that the Rebbe had heard were in Montreal. Below is the Hebrew original and an English translation of the handwritten response:

I am in receipt of your letter from Elul 6 [August 31].

I saw the manuscript of holy writings that you obtained from Rabbi Y. Horowitz, but not the manuscripts of Chassidic teachings that you mentioned.

Once again, I urge you, as I did in the past, to put in writing everything you heard regarding the customs of the elder Lubavitch chassidim and ideas of chassidism, etc. – from Rabbi Schneur Zalman Schneersohn of Lodz [Poland], of blessed memory, and similar individuals.

It seems that what the aforementioned Rabbi Y. told you is along these lines. It is a shame that you have not written in detail what you discussed.

I also wish to remind you regarding the manuscripts of Chassidic teachings from Iaşi [Romania] that are in your city; they should be sent here—at very least on loan.

I await your response regarding this.

A copy of the letter from the Rebbe dated August 31, 1949.
A copy of the letter from the Rebbe dated August 31, 1949.

The Rebbe Relates: How to Give Advice

July 8, 2009 12:00 PM

Many times in the course of farbrengens (public chassidic gatherings), the Rebbe, of righteous memory, would relate stories. The stories always included messages, lessons to be incorporated by the listeners into their daily lives.

I'd like to start a series of posts, titled The Rebbe Relates, wherein I'll share some of these stories that the Rebbe related on various occasions.

In the first story of this series, the Rebbe recounts an episode involving two sons of Rabbi Shmuel, the fifth Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe. The two young boys played a game of "Rebbe and Chassid," with the older son playing the role of Rebbe and the younger son that of the Chassid.

The game went somewhat awry when the younger son decided not to accept the advice that "the Rebbe" gave him. Click here to read why he refused the advice and the lesson we could all learn from this anecdote.

The Decision Maker When Purchasing a Home

July 6, 2009 12:30 PM

In this letter, the Rebbe responds to an individual who wished to move from Jerusalem to another city. This person already owned a home in Jerusalem, but wanted to purchase a home closer to the Torah school where he worked. I have translated the letter from the original Hebrew (while removing all identifying information):

New condos ready to be filled in the Israeli city of Kiryat Malakhi
New condos ready to be filled in the Israeli city of Kiryat Malakhi

May 4, 1953
Brooklyn

Greetings and blessings!

In response to your question regarding the opportunity to purchase a house in proximity to [...], the location where you are involved in holy work.

In my opinion it is an appropriate idea—if the house is suitable, spacious, and if your wife agrees. Regarding your home in Jerusalem, it is advisable for the first time period to rent it out, and not to sell it [immediately]. G‑d should grant success to you and your household in all of your needs—material and spiritual.

With blessing for success,

M. Schneerson

P.S. […]



On a related note, my grandmother, Esther Bukiet, related to me:

"For many years, your Zaidy (grandfather) wanted to move to Crown Heights in order to live closer to the Rebbe, but I preferred to live close to the friends that I made over the years in East Flatbush (a Brooklyn community a short distance from Crown Heights).

"So Zaidy wrote to the Rebbe asking what to do. The Rebbe responded: 'It is up to the wife where to live...'"

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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