Every so often, I have an intense experience that remains in my mind for some time. I had one such experience with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory.

I had traveled from New England to Brooklyn especially for my meeting with the Rebbe. People came from all over the world to consult with the Rebbe, but as a young woman in my early twenties, it felt like a long trip.

A buzzer sounded, signaling that my time was up. Then the Rebbe asked, “Do you have any additional questions?”I had come to discuss some personal issues with the Rebbe. Sitting in the waiting room, I was able to put my concerns out of my mind for the first time in months, for I knew I would soon have clarity. With my mind clear, I began to doze off.

I found myself in a state of consciousness between sleep and wakefulness. I started to daydream and think about what I would ask the Rebbe if I had unlimited time with him.

I was startled by a nearby commotion, and, still in a daze, I pulled out a scrap of paper and scribbled my dream-like questions. Then I stuffed the paper into one of my pockets and promptly forgot about it, as I waited another couple of hours for my turn.

Finally, Rabbi Groner, one of the Rebbe’s aides, motioned me in. Still slightly groggy, I stood in front of the wooden desk, my legs wobbly in the Rebbe’s presence.

I asked about my personal issues, and the Rebbe addressed them for twenty minutes. A buzzer sounded, signaling that my time was up, and I began to walk out. Then the Rebbe spoke in Yiddish, Host nit kein andere frages?—“Do you have any additional questions?”

Yehudis Fishman receives a dollar from the Rebbe decades after her first meeting.
Yehudis Fishman receives a dollar from the Rebbe decades after her first meeting.

The Rebbe had reminded me of what I myself had forgotten!

I mumbled, “As a matter of fact, I do,” and pulled out my crumpled scrap of paper.

One by one, as patiently as someone who had endless time, the Rebbe replied to each of my questions.

In my inexperience, I didn’t think to write down his answers right away. Though I no longer recall them verbatim, I do remember some highlights.

Question: How do we know that the Torah is true? Aren’t there other religions that claim to be direct revelations from G‑d?

Response: In those religions, the claims of G‑dly revelation are made by one person or a small group of people. The giving of the Torah, on the other hand, took place in the presence of the entire nation of Israel, around three million men, women and children.

For example, look at the difference between historical personalities like George Washington and mythical figures like Merlin the magician. In the case of Washington, we have clearly documented evidence of his existence and the detailed facts of his life. In contrast, any mention of Merlin is clouded in uncertainty and doubt.

Why are the laws of gender separation so strict in the Torah? Question: If given a choice between doing something that is hard and goes against one’s nature and something that is compatible with one’s natural strengths, what should one choose?

Response: Now in particular, as we approach Messianic times, one should follow the Talmudic directive of chatof v’echol—“grab and eat.” That is to say, one should seize any opportunity for a mitzvah that comes one’s way, whether it’s easy or difficult.

Question: Why does the Talmud say that kindness done by the nations of the world is only for their own self-glorification? Aren’t there altruistic people among the non-Jews?

Response: Certainly! However, if people are not commanded by G‑d to do good, then ultimately the reason they perform kind actions is in some way connected with their own self-glorification, even if it is [that glorification is on a pristine level such as] only the gratification of feeling good.

The Talmud is not referring to Chasidei Umot Haolam—“the pious ones of the nations of the world.” These righteous individuals’ benevolence is not motivated by self glorification, but by genuine concern for their fellow.

Yehudis Fishman in her twenties.
Yehudis Fishman in her twenties.

Question: Why are the laws of gender separation so strict in the Torah?

Response: The potential power of male-female relationships is like atomic energy. When used in a positive and holy way, there is nothing more powerful and valuable in the world. But when used recklessly, and not in a sacred context, it can be the most destructive force in existence.

Although the Rebbe’s aide came in several times during my audience to remind me that my time was up, the Rebbe motioned that I should remain until he was able to reply to all of my questions. I walked out after almost an hour, feeling deeply moved by the Rebbe’s attention to my queries.

I know I had a fifth question that the Rebbe responded to, but I cannot remember it. For almost fifty years I have tried to recall it, so far, to no avail. But maybe that is as it should be.

Throughout my life I have been a questioner, delving ever deeper into the wisdom of the Torah. Perhaps the forgotten fifth question has been the impetus behind my life’s work, seeking out new insights and presenting Torah’s truth to a questioning world.