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Discovering the Rebbe

Asking for Honey Cake on the Eve of Yom Kippur

September 27, 2009 7:15 AM

Presented are images of the Rebbe, of righteous memory, distributing lekach, honey cake, on the eve of Yom Kippur.

On October 7, 1989, the Shabbat before Yom Kippur, the Rebbe discussed at length the custom of requesting and receiving lekach:

Level One

Among the reasons given for the custom of asking for a piece of lekach on the eve of the holiday of Yom Kippur is to circumvent any possible Heavenly decree that one should have to ask another for sustenance during the upcoming year. For even if such a decree had been issued, once one receives the lekach, the decree has been fulfilled... And from hereon there will be no further need to ask; all one's needs will be provided by G‑d alone.

Level Two

On a deeper level, we can take this concept even further. Since the purpose of the custom is to avoid having to receive food from a person, it is logical to say that even the lekach is not really being received from a person.

In reality, all food comes from G‑d, and therefore a poor person who receives food from another also thanks G‑d, who "provides nourishment and sustenance for all." This is because the human benefactor is only an intermediary delivering G‑d's blessings.

Nevertheless, both parties still feel that a transaction has taken place between two human beings. The poor person naturally feels some sense of shame, as evident from the fact that we all beseech G‑d in the Grace after Meals: "Please, do not make us dependent upon the gifts of mortal men." The giver also feels that he has given; and the Torah therefore must emphasize for him that he must give generously.

The giving of the lekach on the eve of Yom Kippur is different. Since these are the days when G‑d is "close," all parties involved feel that G‑d Himself is doing the giving, and the giver is no more than a messenger. Even more so, the giver is not even seen as a messenger, but just a conduit, enabling G‑d's gift to come to the beneficiary.

For this reason, the giver needs no admonition to give generously, for he does so naturally. Similarly, the recipient feels no shame, and takes the lekach not out of need, but in order to fulfill the custom.

Photo: Levi Freidin/JEM
Photo: Levi Freidin/JEM

Level Three

On a yet deeper level, one can assume that everyone has already been signed and inscribed for a good year on Rosh Hashanah. One need not take special measures to avoid a possible harsh decree; we are confident that there is no such decree.

What, then, is the purpose of taking lekach? Perhaps the explanation is that in the past year either the giver or the taker did not have the proper awareness that everything really comes from G‑d. By requesting and giving honey cake, this realization is reinforced, and the shortcoming of the past year corrected.

The Rebbe at His Mother’s Funeral

September 24, 2009 6:30 AM

Presented are images of the Rebbe, of righteous memory, saying the kaddish, mourner's prayer, during the funeral of his mother, Rebbetzin Chana, in the Old Montefiore cemetery, just after her interment.

Today, the sixth of the Jewish month of Tishrei, is her anniversary of passing.

In a rare public moment, the Rebbe can be seen shedding tears as he says the prayer.

The following is the text of the press release issued by Lubavitch World Headquarters following her passing:

Rebetzin Chana Schneersohn – mother of the Lubavitcher Rebbe – passed away in New York

(LNS) Brooklyn, N.Y. (9/13/1964) Rebetzin Chana Schneerson, mother of the Rebbe, passed away here Saturday afternoon after a brief illness.

Rebetzin Schneerson, the eldest of three sisters, a descendant of the Janovsky-Lavut rabbinic family, was born in Romanovka, [Ukraine] in 1880. Her father, Rabbi Meir Shlomo, was the rabbi of Nikolaev.

In 1900, she married Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, a direct descendant of the Schneerson dynasty, who became renown as an outstanding Talmudic and Kabbalistic scholar.

In 1902, the first of her three sons, who is now the Lubavitcher Rebbe, was born.

Five years later, her husband was appointed chief rabbi of Yekatrinislav, known now as Dnyepropetrovsk, where they lived till 1939.

Because of his activities in promulgating Judaism, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was deported by the communists to a prison in Alma Ata, in Kazakhstan, Central Asia. Rebetzin Chana gallantly stood at her husband's side during his difficult plight in prison, and encouraged him to continue writing his Kabbalistic and Halachik commentaries. When ink was not made available to the rabbi, Rebetzin Chana prepared a home made ink formula for him. Because of her singular efforts many of these manuscripts are available today in the Rebbe's library.

Ill health resulting from his exile took its toll, and Rabbi Levi Yitzchak passed away in exile in 1944.

In 1945, Rebetzin Schneerson moved to Paris and soon thereafter to Brooklyn, New York, near the Lubavitcher world headquarters headed by her illustrious son.

She was a woman of striking aristocratic elegance and remarkably brilliant and well informed.

Her interment took place on Sunday at the Old Montefiore cemetery in Springfield Gardens, Long Island, in the presence of some 5,000 people.

A Lesson in Honoring Thy Mother

September 23, 2009 11:59 AM
Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson
Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the passing of the Rebbe's mother, Rebbetzin Chana. The Rebbe's honor for his mother was unsurpassed. Despite his impossibly jam-packed schedule, he visited her every day and showed her great respect.

Levi Bukiet relates:

Every Passover after concluding the second Seder, at around 1 a.m., the Rebbe would walk his mother to her apartment at 1418 President Street. After she was settled at home, the Rebbe would return to 770 for a chassidic gathering scheduled for 1:30 a.m.

Crowds of chassidim would trail behind the Rebbe and his mother to observe their every move. One year, the Rebbe insisted that no one follow him, and from then on no one did.

But our family lived in East Flatbush, a neighborhood approximately a half-hour's walk from Crown Heights, and after finishing our Seder, we would convene with the other families who lived there to walk together to the gathering.

On the way, if we planned our schedule properly, we would sometimes meet the Rebbe walking down Kingston Avenue with his mother.

In 1963 and 1964, the last two years of Rebbetzin Chana's life, I was privileged to watch the Rebbe walking and talking with his mother, and it made an everlasting impression on me.

Our group from East Flatbush would hide in the alcove of a grocery store on Kingston Avenue so we could see the Rebbe escorting his mother. As the Rebbe passed us across the street, he would nod his head slightly towards us in greeting.

The Rebbe and his mother would talk casually, with the Rebbe slightly bent over to listen to her. Rebbetzin Chana was very frail and every step was difficult for her. Periodically, she had to stop and catch her breath. The Rebbe, very patiently and with concern, was responsive to his mother's every move.

When they would reach a curb, the Rebbe would first step down onto the street and then gently hold his mother's arms and carefully help her down from the curb. Similarly, when they stepped up onto the sidewalk, the Rebbe would first step up onto the sidewalk, then turn and face his mother, gently holding her arms and delicately raising her onto the sidewalk.

Once, as the Rebbe and his mother were walking down Kingston Avenue, Rebbetzin Chana stumbled on the broken sidewalk and lost her balance. The Rebbe quickly embraced her, and did to let go until he was sure she had regained her balance. Rebbetzin Chana was visibly shaken and breathing very hard. They remained standing there until she had relaxed and regained her composure. The Rebbe asked his mother something that we could not hear, she nodded, and they continued.

When the Rebbetzin started to walk again, the Rebbe slipped his arm under her arm. She immediately stopped walking, releasing the Rebbe's hold, and we saw a joyful discussion develop between them. Shortly after that, they continued walking, with the Rebbe's arm under his mother's arm, as the Rebbe guided her every step until they reached her apartment.

Reaching for the Best

September 11, 2009 10:59 AM

My iPod was stolen from my car a few weeks ago. This iPod was loaded with every available recorded word of the Rebbe. Yesterday, I mentioned to a friend that I was bereft of my iPod and spending a lot of time bored on airplanes because of my loss. In a touching act of kindness, he gave me one that he had in his office, also loaded up with the Rebbe's talks. This morning, I heard the Rebbe recount the following story:

A newly married young man was ready to travel to S. Petersburg, the "big city," in pursuit of a livelihood. He faced two problems, however: a) He didn't have any money. b) He wasn't fluent in Russian. He approached the fourth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn (1834-1882, known as the Rebbe Maharash), for advice.

"Both these factors are to your benefit," explained the Maharash, after hearing the young man's concerns. "If you'd speak Russian, you'd be limited to your communicative abilities. Better let others speak for you and don't be limited by your language skills. Additionally, if you borrow money before you go, you'd be limited to however much money you borrowed. Better find a deal first and then create the financing to suit the deal."

The Rebbe continued: In the Russian train system, there were various classes. In a light-hearted vein one can say that only a poor man travels first class. The wealthy man goes second class because he tries to conserve his hard-earned resources. But the poor man anyways has to borrow to pay for his trip. Once he is borrowing, he borrows enough to travel first class!

There is no doubt that the Rebbe was not advocating frivolous borrowing without a repayment plan. But he was advocating having a plan that has a broad and far-reaching vision along with a sound strategy that finds solutions to challenges, even if those solutions are not traditional.

We are deep in the month of Elul, the month that precedes Rosh Hashanah. During this month, G‑d Almighty makes Himself available to us like a king who is in the field en route to the palace. So long as he is in the field anyone can approach about anything.

Let us all make a plan for the New Year that has a broad vision for bettering ourselves. Let's reinvent ourselves to the point where prior challenges do not exist. Let's go out of the box!

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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