It is well known that when kids play, they often imitate exactly what they see adults doing at home. So it is not surprising that Zalman Aharon and Sholom Ber, grandchildren of the third Lubavitcher rebbe who spent many hours in his home, would roleplay “Rebbe and Chassid.” But unlike most children’s play, their games reveal a level of insight that is beyond shallow imitation.

When they played, Zalman Aharon, the older son, would sit on a chair and put a hat on his head. He was the rebbe. Sholom Ber would prepare himself by wrapping a gartel1 around his waist, and he would then enter the “rebbe”’s room for a private audience.

One time when they were playing this game, the “rebbe” asked the “chassid”: “Is there something that you want like to discuss regarding your spiritual life?”

“I did something wrong. Before I was aware that our ancestor2 wrote, ‘It is better not to eat nuts on Shabbat,’ I cracked nuts and ate them on Shabbat.”

“To atone for this lapse, do not pray from memory,” advised the rebbe. “From now on, always read the prayers directly from the prayerbook.”

Despite the little rebbe’s advice, young Sholom Ber continued to pray from memory. Sholom Ber’s mother noticed this and asked him, “Why aren’t you listening to the rebbe’s advice?”

Sholom Ber replied, “I can't value his advice. When a true rebbe responds to his chassid about a problem he is facing—whether spiritual or physical—he first pauses for a moment and sighs. Only after demonstrating empathy does he reply.”

When we are in a position to advise another, we must never take the attitude that we are superior and that the other person’s problem is minor and easily solved if only s/he would listen to us. Such advice has no value. Flippant advice, even if it is correct, will never solve a problem.

On the other hand, when we internalize another’s problem as if it is our own, when we feeling another’s pain so that we are forced to sigh before responding—such advice is real, and will go a long way to solving the issue.

As the Talmud says, “Words that emanate from the heart, enter the heart.”3

Sholom Ber (1860–1920) grew up to be the fifth Lubavitcher rebbe. His elder brother Zalman Aharon became known as the Raza, and refused to accept any leadership position.