Stay Home for Shavuos?

Just after Pesach I received a lovely long letter from the Rebbe dated the 3rd of Nissan, 5731 (March 29, 1971), full of profound words of Torah, and:

...Wishing you and yours a kosher and happy Pesach, as well as Mazel Tov on the birth of your grandchildren on the side of your son and daughter respectively, and wishing you and Mrs. Jaffe true Yiddish chassidish nachas from all your offspring, in good health and happy circumstances.

Very, very nice indeed. Then, I found enclosed an extremely long postscript. From my past experiences I have become rather wary of the Rebbe’s post scripts. I certainly was not “disappointed” in this instance. (I subsequently wrote to the Rebbe that I always look forward to his most welcome and lovely letters; but sometimes, I did wish that he would omit these postscripts! I did not relish these at all.) The Rebbe wrote:

P.S. I refer to the subject of the problem of accommodation in our area, which you mention in your recent letters, as experienced last Shavuos when you were here, and the inconvenience connected with it. – I have, of course, kept in touch with the situation to see if there has been any improvement. I cannot say that I am quite satisfied, all the more so that it is difficult to speak for another person, especially if that person is also not very certain. On the other hand, it is certain that no Jew should have inconveniences at any time of the year, least of all during Yom Tov, when all aspects have to be with joy, and especially such a Yom Tov as Shavuos, the Yom Tov of matan Torah, when all the [other] Yomim Tovim were instituted.

In addition to the above, there is another factor to be considered, namely that in line with various changes which took place lately, and as was also the case on this past Purim, there does not appear a likelihood for joint seudos on Yom Tov, at which I could join you and other Chassidim (except yWuh htmun [at Yom Tovs end]).

In the light of all that has been said above, and although it would have been a real pleasure to see you here on Yom Tov during the davening and farbrengen, there are the overriding considerations of the physical inconveniences mentioned above, especially during the days of Yom Tov and Shabbos (adding also the fact that the (newborn) grandchildren could not accompany you), and also the fact that there would be no mutual Yom-Tov’dige seudos, it would seem advisable to defer the pleasure of your visit. Moreover, it appears from your letter that there is also a serious doubt whether there would be sufficient co-travelers to reduce the financial cost.

All this adds up to the conclusion that it would be best at this time to take the thought for the deed, and defer the pleasure for a more suitable time. Consequently, this letter is sent to you by special delivery, in order to halt registration for the flight and avoid further inconveniences.

To me this seemed like a definite invitation to “stay at home.” But, I recalled four years previously when I had decided not to come for Shavuos to the Rebbe and instead stay in Manchester, when two days before the chartered flight was due to leave I received the following cable from the Rebbe:

Very surprised your writing about changing longstanding good custom spending Shavuos here. Confident your presence here Shavuos as previous years b’simcho vtuv levov [with joy and gladness of heart] Blessing all family = Menachem Schneerson.

That year, I had plenty of reasons and arguments for not wishing or indeed being able to travel to Brooklyn, but there just was no time to write or contact the Rebbe to explain, as the flight was due to leave almost the following day. So having no option, I went. (Subsequently, the Rebbe told me that this was the whole idea why he had not written to me earlier to this effect.)

Since that time, the Rebbe had told me more than once that my z’man (time) for visiting 770 was Shavuos, and that I must always come with my wife.

Additionally, last year, at our final yechidus, the Rebbe told me that “next year you should speak at the kinus haTorah in Yiddish,” (we agreed half-Yiddish and half-English) and that he would see me next year.

So why had the Rebbe now ordered me to stay at home?

The answer is simple and so typical of the Rebbe. Knowing full well the difficulties and inconveniences which we had experienced in the Union Street apartment the previous year, and realizing that matters had still not improved, the Rebbe was giving us a loophole, an excuse, for not coming this Shavuos.

I knew quite well that the Rebbe was only thinking of us, our comfort and our convenience. He considered it most unfair to ask us to stay again at that apartment.

Well, we were thinking of the Rebbe too, and therefore we would certainly not break this seven year chazoka and tradition.

I immediately wrote to the Rebbe to this effect and pointed out that for many years, before staying upstairs in the kollel, we had stayed with Mendel and Sarah Shemtov who had always made us feel extremely welcome and comfortable. Although, thank G‑d, their family had now increased and it might not be so easy for them as in the past, we know that they would be delighted to put us up for a week or so.

Naturally, we would rather not impose on others and we preferred to stay by ourselves at the apartment. So, I decided to phone Brooklyn and ascertain the exact position.

I dialed 770 and within seconds Rabbi Binyomin Klein answered the phone. I asked for Rabbi Chodakov and I was told to try again in half an hour. At my next attempt I was very lucky, for Rabbi Yudel Krinsky answered this time. He was the very person I wanted, because he was in charge of the Rebbe’s apartment.

When I asked Yudel if we could once again stay in the Union Street apartment, he wanted to know “Are you asking a shaileh whether to come to New York or not?”

“Not at all,” I replied, “no question about our coming; just simply to find out where we may stay, either with friends or on our own in the apartment.”

Yudel informed me that the Rebbe’s usual apartment in Union Street had been redecorated, painted and made fully self-contained. New doors and locks were fitted all over, and the place was made 100% secure. We were very happy to hear this and we asked Yudel to please reserve this for us. He replied that he would be delighted to do so. We told him he should be expecting us in a few days time at 4:00 p.m in 770 to give us the keys and further information.