Towards evening on the Friday of my brief, last visit, I went with Grandfather to the synagogue to welcome the Shabbat. Then I learnt that his small synagogue, shtiebel, too, had perished. It had been destroyed during the last fire and now all the remaining Chabad Chasidim met in the unfinished house belonging to one of the faithful members, a carpenter by trade. In this workaday atmosphere - its scaffolding still not removed, bundles of wood scattered everywhere - the worshippers themselves seemed like accidental survivors of some catastrophe. Grandfather towered over his surroundings, awesome in his dignity and his rare obstinacy of spirit.

During those flaming moments of prayer, Grandfather and I, his young antagonist, were reconciled.Till my last moment I will remember Grandfather standing before the quorum, chanting the prayers that welcome the Shabbat. He was thin and tall, and the narrow girdle on his black silk frock seemed to lend even further length to this figure. All his movements were directed upwards; even his pointed beard seemed raised. A candle burning in holiness on the eve of Yom Kippur—that was the image he brought to mind.

His prayer was a raging fire, kept in check and subdued. It rose from the depths within him to the source of consolation. My eager eyes, with those of all the assembly, were lifted to him. And it was during those flaming moments of prayer that Grandfather and I, his young antagonist, were reconciled. The power of his prayer, and my participation in it, bridged the differences between us.

Actually, there had been an occurrence which might have made our reconciliation almost impossible. My Party comrades in the town had learnt of my visit and my forthcoming aliya to Israel, and arranged a public meeting in my honor. My name leaped out of the advertisements they had posted. The meeting could not be kept secret from Grandfather and his friends, and I was full of fear that, as a result, my visit would make the chasm between us wider. But when we prayed together, the fear was dissipated and the chasm disappeared.

Listening to Grandfather chant, I heard beneath the words his deep lament over the inexorable decline of the precious world that had been his. I heard his grief over the differences dividing kinsmen. I heard his passionate gratitude for the great bliss he felt in nearness to the source of all blessing; in the eternity of Israel unimpaired from generation to generation; and in the bond—at last—between my soul and his.

I can still hear Grandfather's voice chanting to his Father in Heaven, in the presence of his grandson on earth:

"Sanctuary of the King, city of sovereignty, rise, go forth from thy ruins.

"The afflicted of my people trust in You—the city shall be built upon its prior site."

And then Grandfather sang out the Shabbat Psalm in a hearty, rhythmic tune, a mood of purest thanksgiving:

"How great are Your works, O L-rd! How very profound Your thoughts.

"A brutish man know not; neither does a fool understand this...."

That his Shabbat prayer was a gift to last all my years, Grandfather could hardly have known. And in the very last moments before my carriage moved, he gave me still another, utterly precious gift.

Except for set meetings with my comrades, I had spent the whole of the Shabbat and the hours of its departure on Saturday night in Grandfather's company. To the best of my recollection, we spoke very little about the family and not at all about controversial matters. It was scholarly discussion of Torah that occupied us, and we were both overjoyed that I could still be somewhat of a match for him, though more as a listener than a talker. Whether he spoke of the mysteries of Chasidism or the rationality of Talmud, or even when he sang his prayer melodies before his Creator—it seemed very clear to me that in a sense he was addressing me, in the hope that his words, with all their connotations and all their special flavor, would enter my heart. And my heart was indeed wide open to receive them.

Early Sunday morning, when the waggoner came to take my valise, Grandfather put on his summer coat, opened his sunshade, and walked out with me to the end of town.

As he walked, he said something like this:

"My child, you know the melody of the 'Old Rebbe' [Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Chabad Rebbe] very well. There is something special about it, something I learned from the old Chasidim in the Rebbe's house.

"There are times when a man wants to remember a tune familiar to him and he simply cannot recall it no matter how hard he tries. On the other hand, there are times when a tune keeps humming in a man's mind and he does not enjoy it but cannot get rid of it. In both cases it is clear that the tune—however good it may be—does not grow from the same root as the man's soul. He and the tune are two completely separate entities.

"But if a man can recall a tune whenever he wants to and it gives him pleasure each time, that is a sign that the tune is really his, deriving from the same source as the man's own soul.

"The melody of the Old Rebbe is rooted in the soul of every Chabad Chasid and his children and children's children until the end of the generations. If a righteous Chasid or any one of his descendants wants to remember this holy melody and it escapes him no matter how hard he tries to recall it, this simply proves that at that particular time he has deviated somehow from the true path and must search his soul and repent.

"It cannot be for nothing, my child, that a Chasid forgets the Rebbe's melody—this precious gift and touchstone. Do not lose it, my child!"

Our sages have said that men should part from each other while talking of the Law. Grandfather did just that. When he saw the waggoner, he posed a complicated problem about sacrificial offerings of fruit of the Land and solved it by reference to a passage in Maimonides. Then he kissed me on the mouth and the wagon started to move.

Many stormy days have passed since then, but I have never forgotten how Grandfather stood under his sunshade in the middle of the road in the noon heat of a July day, at peace with his grandson and erstwhile antagonist, his lips murmuring the traditional blessing of parting, his moist, shining eyes fixed on the wagon as it moved away towards the Land that he and all his people longed for, the Land that was at once his and his grandson's. His radiance will remain in my heart till its last beat, and his wonderful gift, too, is with me till this day.

In all the perplexities of my life, whenever I have suddenly wished to remember the melody of the Old Rebbe, the good tune has responded. I have felt new strength welling up within me each time, evidence that my direction is right. All despair conquered, I have gone on my way in hope and inner peace.

Zalman Shazar (born Shneur Zalman Rubashov, 1889-1974) was an Israeli politician, author and poet; he served as the third President of Israel from 1963 to 1973. For more on Shazar see here.

Listen to the melody.