One of my earliest memories is of my mother telling me a story as I sat in a high chair eating, the sunlight slanting across the kitchen floor. It was probably the first of more than a thousand stories she nourished me with. I cherish the legacy my parents bequeathed to me and the portraits of Chassidic tradition they painted on my soul.

Storytelling has always been integral to Chassidism. The Rebbe said, “Stories about righteous individuals ignite the innermost soul of man.”1 Catalysts for growth, they put your whole brain to work and enter your heart like an arrow of truth and wisdom, renewing the faith and energy required to fulfil your personal Divine mission.

My tall, broad-shouldered grandfather stood near the door of the Rebbe’s room in Chabad Headquarters in Brooklyn, charged with a holy mission. My parents had gotten married earlier that week, and it was their sheva brachot, two weeks before the holiday of Passover in the Jewish month of Nissan. The community members yearned for the Rebbe to farbreng and implored my grandfather, who was visiting from Toronto, to ask on their behalf.

A farbrengen is a Chabad pastime, a vehicle for spiritual growth and character development. It is time spent gathered together in unison as brothers and sisters focused on inspiration. The Rebbe’s farbrengens are legendary and were the prime medium of teaching large gatherings his revolutionary Torah insights and practical lessons for daily life.

My grandfather approached the Rebbe as he returned from praying and requested that the Rebbe make a farbrengen in honor of the bride and groom. The Rebbe looked at my grandfather and responded that it was not on the normal schedule, since, at that time, the Rebbe’s custom was to speak on the Shabbat in which we bless the new month.

With a twinkle in his deep blue eyes behind the poker-face solemnity of his expression, my grandfather responded: “In Nissan, the nasi, the leader, gives.”

Wedding of my parents, Rabbi Dovid and Rebbitzen Batsheva Schochet, Nissan 3, 1957, Brooklyn, New York.
Pictured with Rabbi Dov Yehuda and Rebbitzen Sara Sosha Schochet and their siblings.
Wedding of my parents, Rabbi Dovid and Rebbitzen Batsheva Schochet, Nissan 3, 1957, Brooklyn, New York. Pictured with Rabbi Dov Yehuda and Rebbitzen Sara Sosha Schochet and their siblings.

The portable sanctuary built by the Jews in the Sinai Desert, was inaugurated on the first day of Nissan. Beginning on that day, and continuing through the first 12 days of the month, the tribal leader, the nasi, of each of the 12 tribes of Israel brought offerings as the representative of his tribe.

The Rebbe smiled his broad, soul-warming smile at my grandfather’s retort and acquiesced. He went upstairs to the small study hall and farbrenged.

The Rebbe spoke about the saying of our sages: “Anyone who rejoices with and gladdens the groom and bride at their wedding merits the five voices with which G‑d blessed the Jews at the time of the giving of the Torah.”2

Despite the fact that there were no other women present at this impromptu farbrengen, my grandmother insisted on being there. She stood unseen, outside the windows. In her honor, the Rebbe spoke also about the power of the Jewish woman.

“All things in the world are dependent on will.”3 When you desire something that is right and expend efforts to achieve it, nothing will hinder your success and your accomplishments will exceed all expectations. My grandfather desired hearing the Rebbe’s holy words so much that he made it happen.

My grandfather, Rabbi Dov Yehuda Schochet, came to a fork in the road of his life after World War II. A distinguished student of the Telshe yeshivah in Lithuania, he was an accomplished and renowned scholar who served as the rabbi in Basel, Switzerland, and then The Hague in the Netherlands.

As an activist for Jewish causes, my grandfather corresponded regularly for decades first with the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe and then with the Rebbe. He was greatly impressed with the Rebbe’s scholarship in the writings that he studied.

Almost all of my grandfather’s family, his close friends and mentors were slaughtered by the Nazis. The few that remained alive were broken. The Rebbe and Chabad began to fill a vacuum for him after he emigrated to Toronto with my grandmother and their 10 children.

Reb Yoel Kahn, renowned for his dynamic personality and expertise in Chassidic thought, conveyed to my cousin that it was in my grandfather’s merit that the Chassidim warranted such illuminating teachings on that special Shabbat.

He also related to him how much he enjoyed my grandfather’s insight on what it means to be a Chassid of the Rebbe. The bond with the Rebbe is a central feature of Chassidic life.

“Years ago during an encounter with your grandfather, he said to me, ‘I want to tell you the difference between us. You, Reb Yoel, are a Lubavitcher chassid, therefore you are a Chassid of the Rebbe. Whoever the Rebbe of Lubavitch would be, you would be his Chassid.”

“‘On the other hand,’ continued your grandfather, ‘I knew great tzaddikim, great Jewish leaders, and to me, there is no one like him. He breathed new life, hope and confidence into a broken, post-Holocaust nation. He revived the soul of global Israel. He ignited the latent powers in every person he met with his deep concern for every individual. I am a chassid of the Rebbe because there is no one like him. I am also a Lubavitcher because I follow the Rebbe and that is the Rebbe’s way.’ ”

Despite the decades that had passed, Reb Yoel still repeated this anecdote. He perceived the tremendous inspiration and strength my grandfather drew from his connection with the Rebbe that empowered him to actualize his potential and fulfil his G‑dly purpose despite the devastation he endured.

Rabbi Dov Yehuda and Rebbitzen Sara Sosha Schochet, Toronto, 1970.
Rabbi Dov Yehuda and Rebbitzen Sara Sosha Schochet, Toronto, 1970.

We often can learn more from a story than actual study. Through hearing, reading, writing and telling stories from the Chassidic masters, we get an in-depth lesson in Divine service. To be a Jew is to see yourself as part of the story, to make its lessons come alive and to do your best to hand it to others.

This past year has been one of uncertainty—unpredictable, frightening moments that catapulted me into anxiety, pain and fear. I am mourning the deaths of loved ones while dealing with rehabilitation for a severe injury, along with the multiple challenges caused by the pandemic.

Yet these stories evoke the Chassid within me. I feel a renewed connection with the Divine spark within and can see that spark in others despite the darkness. Nothing stands in the way of willpower. My desire to carry on is reinforced and will give me the superhuman strength I require to relinquish control to G‑d, and awaken a sense of profound faith and gratitude for the abundance with which He has already blessed me with.