Once, when Rabbi Sholom DovBer Schneersohn (who later served as the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe in the years 1882–1920) and his brother Rabbi Zalman Aharon were children, they played at “Rebbe and Chassid.” The young Sholom DovBer was close to five years of age at the time, and his brother a year and four months older. Little Sholom DovBer refused to play the “rebbe,” asserting that “there is only one rebbe” (i.e., the real rebbe, the children’s grandfather Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch). So Zalman Aharon acted the role of rebbe, and Shalom DovBer played the chassid.

A chassid’s consultation with his rebbe in yechidut (private audience) usually concerns one of two things: a query of haskalah—an intellectual question or problem; or a request for guidance in avodah, the chassid’s personal service of G‑d. In the children’s game, the “chassid” entered into yechidut with a query in each of these areas.

In the haskalah portion of the audience, the exchange went as follows:

“Rebbe, what is a Jew?”

“A Jew is fire.”

“So why am I not burned when I touch you?”

“Fire does not burn fire.”

The “chassid” then complained of a deficiency in his personal avodah, and the “rebbe” advised him on how to correct it. To this the young Sholom DovBer said: “You’re not a rebbe.”

“Why not?” asked Zalman Aharon.

“A rebbe,” said the child, “would emit a sigh before replying.”