My family immigrated to Israel from Ksar Souk, Morocco. We are Sephardi Jews of rich ancestry, and this is why, when I was about ten, I began to wonder about an unusual picture that hung on the wall of our home. Our Sephardi neighbors typically decorated their walls with portraits of Sephardi tzaddikim—usually arrayed in turbans and robes—but we had a picture of a bearded man in a black hat, a suit and a tie.

One time I asked my mother about him, and she told me this story:

Many years earlier—this was in the early 1950s, after the birth of my older brother Shmuel and sister Simcha—she became pregnant again. It was a normal pregnancy, nine months, and a normal birth in the local hospital. But a half-hour after the birth, the baby died.

When I was about ten, I began to wonder about an unusual picture that hung on the wall of our home.

When this happened the first time, the family was very upset, of course. When it happened a second time, they were shocked. But when it happened a third time, they began to panic.

And then my mother became pregnant again. During the pregnancy, she consulted with specialists and with rabbis. The doctors said that there was no health problem—that this pregnancy was completely normal, just as the others had been, and that they had no idea at all what could be wrong. Then one of the rabbis in our city, Rabbi Rachamim Lasri—a relative of our family, from whom I also learned aleph-beit in school before I immigrated to Israel—suggested that she turn to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

At that time the Rebbe’s name was famous throughout Morocco because of the emissaries he had sent, some of whom our family was acquainted with. So, it was decided that Rabbi Lasri should write to the Rebbe.

It was a normal pregnancy. But a half-hour after the birth, the baby died. This happened three times.

My mother told me that Rabbi Lasri took this very seriously—he first immersed in the mikvah and then he sat down to write a letter to the Rebbe, relating our family’s story.

Shortly, there came a response. The Rebbe said that the mezuzah of the house, as well as my father’s tefillin, should be checked to assure that they are kosher. Whatever is wrong with them should be fixed; my parents should give charity; and, with G‑d’s help, everything would turn out well and a boy would be born. He made only one small request: “If possible, could the child be named after my father-in-law, the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak.”

Of course, the Rebbe’s response was greeted with great joy. The mezuzah of the house was checked and, indeed, it needed to be fixed, as did my father’s tefillin, and everyone hoped for the best.

Yosef Yitzchak Lasri
Yosef Yitzchak Lasri

This time the pregnancy ended well. A healthy baby boy was born on August 21, 1957, and he survived.

But when it came to naming the baby, the family faced a dilemma that they hadn’t foreseen: There had been a highly revered rabbi in our city, Rabbi Yechiel Dahan, and my mother’s best friend had dreamt about him. In the dream, she saw him coming to my mother and putting a son into her arms. Everyone considered this to be a sign from above, and many in the family thought the child should be named Yechiel after Rabbi Dahan.

Things got even more complicated when my father revealed that he had committed to name the baby Shimon after Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. My father was a member of a group which would study the Zohar every night after the evening prayers. Some years before, my father had resolved that if he would have a healthy boy, he would name him after the Zohar’s author.

Indeed, two years later, my younger brother was born, and he was named Yosef Yitzchak.

After much debate—whether to name the baby after Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, after Rabbi Yechiel Dahan, or after Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai—a conclusion was reached. The honor of the local community was paramount, so I was named Yechiel Shimon.

The family wrote to the Rebbe to explain, and his response was: “You did the right thing to honor your community. G‑d willing, you will have another son, and I ask that you name him Yosef Yitzchak.”

Indeed, two years later, my younger brother was born, and he was named Yosef Yitzchak.

This is the story my mother told me when I asked about the unusual picture on the wall of our house—the picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. My mother now lives in Ashdod, Israel, and to this day the Rebbe’s picture hangs proudly in her living room.