Sitting down to write this on a Friday afternoon, in my messy homey kitchen, I’m suddenly struck. Who am I, an average shlemazel (person bumbling through life) to have even had interactions with the Rebbe?

How did some spaced-out girl from Michigan end up getting to study, go to farbrengens,Who am I to have even had interactions with the Rebbe? getting numerous dollars and interactions with such a truly great and G‑dly person (in addition to being a renowned genius and world leader)?

That is just one aspect of many of the Rebbe’s uniqueness. He made himself available, offered so many opportunities for connection, in addition to the troves of guidance and wisdom in his talks and writings. He really cared about a spaced-out girl from Michigan, and he showed that caring in very directed, personal, and life-changing ways, like King David—a shepherd caring for that one little stray sheep.

I will say that because of the time I was so fortunate to be around the Rebbe, I was able to accept and integrate the Torah and concepts that I don’t know if my skeptically trained mind would have otherwise been able to even consider.

Though my parents were surely worried that I was diving off the deep end, I didn’t abandon my critical thinking during my months and years of study and immersion into Torah life. (Really, Mom and Dad. Don’t worry.) It coexisted with the feeling of a sweet homecoming, of putting down deep roots. I sensed that I could trust this whole deal even though it was culturally different, even in some ways so seemingly backwards. I got that trust from being around and observing the Rebbe.

No, he didn’t brainwash me. His minions didn’t tie me up and force-feed me chicken soup, drop by drop, until I surrendered, screaming, “Kreplach forever; I see the light!”

It was more like being around a pure, authentic and whole pillar of light.

One of many personal vignettes:

About 18 months after I started becoming observant, after a year of studying in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., where the Chabad-Lubavitch movement is based, I felt I was ready to start looking for my other half. Some friends introduced me to a special young man. When we eventually decided to get engaged, the custom was to write a letter to the Rebbe for his blessing. When you received the Rebbe’s blessing, generally that day or the next, the engagement was considered official and was announced.

We had an off-again, on-again courtship. I came to feel strongly that our marriage was meant to be and was good, but at the same time, I continued to have wavering doubts. When I sat down to write to the Rebbe, I was going to explain all my inner turmoil and ask for a blessing for clarity and a settled heart. But then, something inside me just wanted to keep things simple and pure, with no extra words, just the essence. I decided to just write the traditional request for a blessing that I had learned about. I mentally inserted all my swirling thoughts and struggles in my heart, but didn’t write anything about them.

The formula was something like, “I have met with _____ many times and would like to ask the Rebbe for his blessing for our marriage.” Then I signed it in my fledgling cursive Hebrew with my Hebrew name. I’m not sure why I didn’t want to explicitly describe my issues, but I somehow felt I was saying it all, in between the lines, in my heart.

We each wrote to the Rebbe separately, butWe had an off-again, on-again courtship were called by the Rebbe’s secretary to receive the one blessing addressed to us both. Nachon hashidduch, was the reply: “The match is fitting and right.” My teacher Rabbi Majesky told me that this was a very unusual answer. The Rebbe’s reply to young couples usually emphasized how important it was for the new home to be built on the foundation of Torah and mitzvot, but our answer didn’t include any of that.

My guess for that reply is that many young people feel starry-eyed and infatuated, but perhaps they need reminding that building their home on Torah and mitzvot is critical for having an enduring foundation. “Your love and excitement is great, but it needs direction and substance to endure and thrive” is my paraphrase of that response.

As for us, the Rebbe knew that we were very committed to that foundation, but I needed that surety that this dear man was my soulmate, as our connection was very strong but more subtle at this point—not a Hollywood, Prince Charming, swept off my feet and breathless kind of drama.

During the engagement period, I continued to be pestered with occasional waves of doubt and fear—not based on anything tangible, just phantoms in my mind. Fear of such a big commitment, perhaps, made harder because the thunder and lightning that would have dashed such fears were somewhat muted. Those two words of the Rebbe’s were exactly what I needed. I held onto them like a lifeline, a buoy through the crashing waves.

On a freezing February night, under a starry sky, surrounded by mountains of snow and family and friends, we stood under a chuppah several months after we heard those crucial words: nachon hashidduch. At the end of the ceremony, my fears shattered, like the glass my husband stomped on. A wave of joy engulfed me, and we began our adventure of building our beautiful family and life together.