The Rebbe by Tanya Canvasser (Kalms)
The Rebbe by Tanya Canvasser (Kalms)

At the age of sixteen, my daughter Tanya came with me to meet the Rebbe, of righteous memory, for the first time. In response to her letter, the Rebbe said: "I bless you with regards to all that you have written in the note, to be able to fulfill all that you write about, and to think of others and not keep good things only for yourself, and to spread Torah with spirit and in the right way." After she left the room, the Rebbe said to me, "I hope there will be some opportunity for her to extend her Jewish education..."

Three years later, I came again with Tanya. The Rebbe greeted me, shook my hand, and invited us to sit down.

"Who comes first?" the Rebbe asked. "Daughter or father?"

"As the Rebbe wishes," I replied.

The Rebbe said that the "father decides," and it was agreed that Tanya would go first.

"You know," the Rebbe continued, "there's a blessing printed in the prayer book asking that G‑d Almighty should not test us with temptation." At that time, she had been studying for a year at the Michlalah Seminary in Jerusalem, and wanted to transfer to a leading art school to develop her artistic talent. She explained that although the complete Michlalah program was two years, most of those attending were the Israelis, and she wanted to suffice with the special course for girls from overseas, which was only for one year.

"But why not have the full course," the Rebbe asked, "and receive the diploma for two years? If you ask my advice, it is more effective, more logical and advisable, to complete at least two years.

"I am not a diplomat, but I am not wholeheartedly for you going to the art school," the Rebbe smilingly said.

"You know," the Rebbe continued, "there's a blessing printed in the prayer book that we say every morning, asking that G‑d Almighty should not test us with temptation. The same prayer is recited by the righteous, as well as all others."

East by Tanya Canvasser (Kalms)
East by Tanya Canvasser (Kalms)

The Rebbe explained the blessing: "King David was sixty years old when he asked G‑d Almighty to test him with temptation. G‑d Almighty accepted his demand, and King David failed! So he then included in his prayer a request not to be tested with temptation.

"A school of art does more than teach art," the Rebbe explained, "it has a unique atmosphere, a distinctive environment for students and teachers which is not agreeable with the spirit of Judaism." Students come from everywhere, the Rebbe gently continued, bringing in ideas foreign to the Jewish way of life.

Tanya said that she wanted to prove to herself that she had a real talent in art. The Rebbe responded that if she has the ability, it is possible for her to study privately at home.

After Tanya left the Rebbe's office, I said to the Rebbe, "I now realize the meaning of the Rebbe's first question, 'Who comes first?' It was good for me to have been present."

I then told the Rebbe that we did consider the hostile environment at art school, but thought that she could withstand it, and she does seem to have some very good talent.

"You cannot choose who will be her companions," the Rebbe said. "There will be ten boys and ten girls in the class, and who can tell who will be the eleventh. Everyone there will have an inclination to art. The students are mostly the children of painters or sculptors or those of the theatre, there are not many who are children of businessmen. The attitudes of these are fortified by the homes they come from. They are, for the large part, not from modest families."

The Rebbe concluded, "I am 100% against her going to a school of art. You must stress the logic of her finishing the seminary. If she will not [finish], it would be a constant reminder of her personal disappointment. From the point of view of psychological effectiveness, if she will go elsewhere, this part of her experience is invalidated and will be only a reminder of failure."

Commitment or Inspiration

Back to the audience with Tanya, in the letter she submitted to the Rebbe, she articulated her feelings towards Chabad. The Rebbe addressed this, saying, "You talk of your feelings for Chabad in your letter. I am not enthusiastic if someone says that he is committed to Chabad. I prefer inspiration, not commitment. It is not our way to force anyone to follow the ways of Chabad.

"We try to influence others, and hope that they come to understand that it is the best for them; but ultimately, it is up to the person."

The Rebbe then asked if she was at the women's Chassidic gathering where two new campaigns were established: for Kosher and Family Purity awareness. Tanya said she had heard about it.

"I would like to draft you in the campaigns," the Rebbe said smiling, "even if this contradicts what I said before. These campaigns need support, especially by women. I wholeheartedly ask that you draft others – friends, relatives, even your mother – in these campaigns. Now is a crucial turning point in building the character of the generations to come. You should have the merit to influence your friends and relatives in this matter."

Before she left the Rebbe said, "G‑d Almighty should bless you to have good news for yourself, your parents and the Jewish community. And my blessing for your future life."

When she left, the Rebbe said to me, "She sounded frightened in her letter."

I told the Rebbe that she is not frightened, and that she just wanted to be very honest with the Rebbe and show that although she is warm to Chabad, she does not want to be a complete Chassid.

The Rebbe said, "I read between the lines that she is frightened. This is not the way of Chabad..."