“At age sixteen, I had a private audience with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. It impacted me for life. In my entire life he was the only one who listened to me.”

—A University of Wisconsin graduate student

The Rebbe’s personal lifestyle was a model of simplicity. He lived in a modestly furnished home and had virtually no material possessions.

Though he was constantly in the public eye, few people knew anything of the Rebbe’s private life. He rarely spoke about himself, his inner feelings or his experiences.

From his deportment one could intuit littleThe Rebbe's consummate modesty was matched by his sensitivity about his inner joy, pain or agony. However, the Rebbe’s consummate modesty was matched by his sensitivity, and there were occasions when the Rebbe did not contain himself.

He shed tears publicly when recalling his own Rebbe – his saintly father-in-law, while talking about the pain and sacrifice of Russian Jews, when discussing G‑d’s love even for idolaters, or while speaking of a single soldier killed on Israel’s front lines.

Yet, the Rebbe would immediately continue his talk at the farbrengen and encourage lively song and dance, as if he had not just undergone a personally moving experience.

The Rebbe’s sensitivity to all who met him is well-known.

Until his heart attack in 1978, the Rebbe received people for private audiences well into the night, two or three nights a week. (He continued this practice on a different scale even afterward, until 1982, at which point the sheer volume of people seeking the Rebbe’s counsel was mathematically impossible to accommodate. A few years later the Rebbe began his practice of seeing people each Sunday while distributing dollars for charity.) People would often have to wait for weeks to have a private audience with the Rebbe, yet no one was screened for their intended questions and everyone was eventually accommodated.

Relating to each person with devotion and humility, the Rebbe accepted and listened to each individual with total attentiveness. In the Rebbe’s presence, visitors of all backgrounds and ages felt as if they were his only concern, as if nothing and no one else existed at that moment.

The Rebbe was also noted for remembering people he had met only once, decades before, and for recalling all the details of these meetings.

Reverence for G‑d

With the discovery in 1994 of the Rebbe’s reshimos (his personal notations on a wide range of subjects), we were afforded a rare insight into his private thoughts. Reading these journals, one is struck throughout by his complete sensitivity, submission and reverence before G‑d. The Rebbe’s sense of inner servitude to the Almighty was manifest even while he was immersed in the most complex subjects in Talmud, Jewish law, or Kabbalah.

The Smallest Deed is Infinite, the Greatest Insufficient

Remarkably, the Rebbe would ascribe great importance to even the smallest activity on behalf of Torah and mitzvos and general goodness. He would vigorously encourage each of them.

Yet, when informed of great accomplishments the Rebbe would often challenge those involved not to be satisfied.

To the Rebbe, even the smallest deed reflected and expressed the depth of the Jewish soul and the Divine infinity contained within a mitzvah. Yet even the greatest accomplishment cannot fully contain the full, immeasurable greatness of G‑dliness.

In the Rebbe’s world, not a single individual is excluded, not a moment is to be wasted, the call is for now and the call is to all. No task is too vast and no cost is too great to share with all Jews that which is their birthright – our heritage.

Indeed, the Rebbe would often cite the words of Maimonides, that “one should always view the world as if the scales of judgment are precisely balanced.” One’s very next act, however small, has the power to tilt the scales, “bringing salvation to the entire world.”

To an individual offering a gift of a silver wine decanter, the Rebbe writes: “I certainly appreciate the good intention and desire. But for practical considerations, I must take the thought for the deed. For, as a matter of principle and practice over the past 30-odd years, I prefer to use a “bagged” glass container that conceals its contents, though I have, thank G‑d, silver vessels. Similarly, I do not use a silver Esrog box… one reason… is that I do not wish to make a distinction between me and those surrounding me.”

Sensitivity, Truth, Love and Wit

It is Sunday. The line of people waiting to see the Rebbe is very long. After hours, I finally find myself face to face with the Rebbe. At first, I just see the Rebbe’s penetrating eyes. Everything I had prepared to say escapes me. Finally I say, “I have a problem… I have begun to become more observant, but I am involved in an inappropriate relationship….”

I have anticipated theEverything I had prepared to say escaped me... response. The Rebbe will likely become upset and tell me what a terrible sin I am committing. He would speak of Heaven and Hell ... But the response I get is completely different. The Rebbe’s face is very serious, yet I think I detect a hint of a smile on his lips.

“I envy you,” the Rebbe says.

At first I don’t grasp what the Rebbe just said. The Rebbe, the pious Jew, the revered rabbi and Torah-genius, world-renowned Jewish leader, envies me?!

The Rebbe continues, “In life there are many ‘ladders.’ Each person has his or her own ‘ladder’ to climb. I was never faced with the challenge that you are. G‑d has given you a choice, a ladder, the top of which reaches the Heavens. This test is the challenge which will raise you to the greatest of heights.”

I don’t remember what happened afterwards. Several minutes later, I find myself in the synagogue, sobbing like a baby. Someone approaches me and asks if he could get me some water, and before I have a chance to respond, a glass of water is handed to me….

My Charge – To “Lift Up”

A Chasid, who lived in the Rebbe’s neighborhood in Crown Heights, once received a midnight call from an acquaintance in Oklahoma regarding an urgent business matter. The caller sought the Rebbe’s counsel and blessing.

The Chasid rushed to the Lubavitch World Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway, hoping to relay the matter to the Rebbe’s personal secretary, Rabbi Hodakov, who would bring the matter to the Rebbe, before leaving the office for home.

Upon reaching “770,” the Chasid learned that Rabbi Hodakov was already inside the Rebbe’s study. He decided then to write a note describing the urgent matter and insert it in the crack of the door of the Rebbe’s office, hoping that Rabbi Hodakov would notice the note and forward it to the Rebbe.

Standing in the waiting room of the Rebbe’s office, the Chasid was disappointed to see Rabbi Hodakov exit the Rebbe’s office without noticing the note, which had fallen to the floor as the door was opened. It was the Rebbe himself who walked over to the door, bent down, and picked up the letter.

The next day, the Chasid wrote to the Rebbe apologizing for inconveniencing him by causing him to have to retrieve the note from the floor.

The Rebbe replied, “Is this not my charge to ‘lift up,’ especially those whom others overlook?!”

Prisoners’ Visit

A Chabad Shliach, who served as a prison chaplain, once organized a spiritual retreat to Crown Heights for a group of Jewish inmates. The highlight of their stay would be attending the Rebbe’s farbrengen. Before the gathering began, the Shliach received a message from the Rebbe’s secretariat: “The Rebbe does not want the prisoners to sit together. They should be interspersed throughout the crowd.” The emissary, who had gone to great lengths to arrange that the group should have a place to sit at the standing room only farbrengen, was puzzled by the request. One of the secretaries then explained, “The Rebbe feels that if your group were to be seated together, they will attract attention. People will ask who they are, and it will be known that they are prisoners, causing them embarrassment. To prevent this from happening, they should be seated throughout the crowd.”

What’s With the Girl in Bowie, Maryland?

A well-known activist in the Rebbe’s Shabbat Candles campaign, relates the following story.

“Twenty minutes before Shabbat, I received a phoneThere would be no way to reach the girl's home before sunset call from the Rebbe’s secretariat saying that the Rebbe had read a letter from the father of a little girl in Bowie, Maryland who wanted his daughter to start lighting Shabbat candles. The Rebbe requested that I be contacted and see to it that the girl light candles this Shabbat!

“I immediately called the Shliach in the town nearest the girl, hoping that he could rush candles to her in time, but he told me that there would be no way for him to reach the girl’s home before sunset. I then called the girl’s home and spoke to her mother. I asked if she had any candles in the house. She answered that, indeed, she had candles that she used for formal dinner parties. I asked her to give a candle to her daughter to light for Shabbat. I then asked the mother if she, too, would light. She said that she had no objections, but that she had no idea how to do it. If I could instruct her over the phone, then she and her daughter would both light candles together, which they did.

“The following Friday afternoon, close to candle lighting time, I received another call from the Rebbe’s secretariat. “The Rebbe wants to know, ‘What’s with the girl in Bowie, Maryland?’” I was glad to report that the girl and her mother had both lit candles; and, as a matter of fact, during the week, I had even sent them several more candles for the girl’s classmates and the mother’s friends to light.”