Thoughts on Judaism

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Did the Rebbe know me?

As many of you know, I spent many years in the heart of Chabad, in Crown Heights, on shlichus, in 770, in the mosdos of the Chabad Rebbe. The Rebbe spoke volumes, stood at dollars lines for hours, and he spoke to gatherings every Shabbos, again for hours. He danced on Simchas Torah. He waved to the crowd. But did he ever know me? Did he ever put my name on a din v'cheshbon together with a face?

When I was in Chabad, the usual thought was that the Rebbe knew everyone, magically and omnisciently, like G-d Himself. We had no yechidus, no personal interaction, but Chabadniks envisioned yechidus in certain matters:

1) Between sichos, the Rebbe would nod at the crowd and answer l'chayim presumably. It was difficult to see or hear the Rebbe from much of the shul, but my mashpiyim were certain that the nod was a form of yechidus.

2) After yom tov, the Rebbe would make havdalah and give out kos shel brachah. If you could hold back the tide behind you or the mazkirim pulling you away, you might say something to Rebbe and he might even respond with a few words. Did he know the person or was he just responding to the request. My mashpiyim were certain that even the Rebbe's standard word in passing was yechidus.

3) If one were wealthy enough to donate $20,000 per year to Chabad's Machne Yisroel "millionaire's club", the Rebbe would spend a couple of minutes with the "gevirim". Here he might address a personal question. This was as much "yechidus" as anyone would have.

4) On the line for dollars, pamphlets, or whatever the Rebbe was handing out, again, one might stop in the line for a moment, but mostly, people just took the dollar and walked on. Again, this was yechidus.

5) On erev yom kippur, the Rebbe would have yechidus with the bachurim. This was more of a sicha than a yechidus.

6) On Simchas Torah, when the Rebbe danced, my mashpiyim told me that the Rebbe looked at each individual and that this was a yechidus.

7) In reponse to invitations to simchas, the Rebbe would sign a form letter for the vast vast majority. Even in response to a mailed question, if he answered at all, it would be a response to issue of the letter, usually, rather than a "yechidus". I was told that this form letter was personally crafted for each and every person, and that his non-response to a letter was just as much a response as an actual response.

I'll note here, that I am not blaming or criticizing the Rebbe for this. I would have no desire to try and make a personal connection and respond to the mail of the thousands upon thousands upon thousands. I am sure that the Rebbe made a monumental effort in this regard, and his visibility on the dollars lines and kos shel brachah proves that well.

But, my thought is rather, according to my mashpiyim, I had many personal yechiduses with the Rebbe and many other opportunities. Now, years later, I wonder if I ever even met the Rebbe. I wonder if he ever knew my name, my ideas, my potential, my feelings about anything. As I think of it, he never used my name in conversation or response. He never referred in a letter to anything I had said or mentioned outside the letter. Most of the time, it was a form letter response. When I gave the "duch", did the Rebbe see me walk by and think, that was the guy who put tefilin on Jews here? That was the guy who came from this place and became frum. Did the Rebbe ever know why I was there? Did he know of or care about my concerns, my dreams, my fears, my feelings? I know it sounds like chick stuff, but bear with me.

Certainly, I knew details that were recounted in the official record. I know basically what made him tick, but there was a lot more I wanted to hear. I wanted to know what bore and drove his amazing vision, his grand ideas of what Judaism could be. I wanted to know what he would have us do to bring Moshaich and why he was dedicated to that single goal. I wanted to know what he feared most and what gave him the most nachas. I wanted to know the person. But alas he spoke volumes, but in riddle form. In all the years, sichas, dollars, letters, I never got an inch closer to who this man was.

Did he know who I was? Did I ever even meet him? I guess I will never know for sure.


  • I grew up in Crown Heights and watched the "Rebbe' show from a safe distance. (We were NOT ChaBaD.)My sisters married Lubavitchers. I stood my more than few farbrengens myself.

    Emmedige ma'aseh. Before my chasunah, my very close chaver, a devotee of the Schneerson Mob, persuded me to go for a pre-chasunah yechidus with the Rebbe. Being from a chasidus myself, I was familiar with how the Rebbe/chosid contact was supposed to go. I made many wrong assumptions re:Lubavitch.

    First of all, it was the most impersonal experience I ever had. The gabbai(Krinsky?)was total ass. I was jammed into a tiny anteroom with 35 other chosin-bochurim and we waited
    20 minutes to be led into the 'Kodesh HaKedoshim'. By the time I got there I was exhausted, but still hopeful the Rebbe would at least shake a hand, give a nudge, or offer some divrei chizuk or Torah. None of the above occurred. I couldn't even see the Rebbe from where I was jammed in.

    As quickly as we were ushered in, we are then shoved out by the same set of Borsalino wearing goons.

    So when I got home my father o'h asked me "So nu? Host du epes gezugt oder geredt mitn Rebbe?" I answered "I'm not even sure he was there."

    By Blogger Shlomo Leib Aronovitz, at 4:17 PM  

  • Chabad Chasidim believed that the Rebbe was in touch with every Jewish neshama on the planet. This reminds me of the movie "X-Men" where Xavier goes into his inner sanctum, puts on a helmet, and locates the mutants.

    By Blogger Shlomo Leib Aronovitz, at 5:23 PM  

  • He never referred in a letter to anything I had said or mentioned outside the letter.

    Eh, so you mean the Rebbe did not address you by name without your being introduced to him and did not give an extra dollar for your wife/child/doctoral thesis ?

    Nu, so clearly you were not worthy of the open miracles that seem to have happened to every single Lubavitcher other than yourself.

    Well, okay, and myself :)

    I sometimes wonder about all those Igros stories that are never published, all the stories where a person asks a question and opens up to a page that has nothing to do with anything at all in the questioner's life. Oh, wait. That must only happen to me. Nevermind.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:41 AM  

  • I happened to have very different experience. of getting much recognition from the rebbe just thru dollars etc despite being some no name russian bt so my personal experience doesnt count.
    but I heard an interesting story years ago that I would have relegated to the pile of chassidic myths that the rebbe tought us to disregard (I havent heard this from my father in law so i dont know how accurate it si in refrence to stories from supposedly very reliable chassidim!)
    only last week did someone tell me the name and I was able to confirm ut
    Rabbi Yossi R (anyone from pittsburgh will know the principal I mean) went to precisely such a "impersonal" general yechidus for his bar mitzva, and as the rebbe took the letters from every boy the rebbe took his and asked him "did you get my letter?" he stood there dumbfounded and so the rebbe repeated the question, and then said "because I wrote you one, if you didnt get it you can pick one up from the secretariat"
    as noted above almost any form of persoanl interaction at these yechidus was extremely unusual so he was later asked by whoeevr noticed it what was this about.
    the way he tells it is that he and a few other bar mitzva boys were discussing the bar mitzva standard letter the rebbe would send to each one and while they all knoew the rebbe insistence on signing each one individually instead of ruybber stamping it one boy maintained it is lit. a personal letter from the rebbe, the 2nd said it is not a personal one but the rebbe is sending everyone a letter and he said what are you talking about the rebbe doesnt even see who the letter is for, he just gets a pile to sign and barely has time to sign them all.
    so he felt the rebbe was answering him "i sent YOU one"
    the miracle isnt the point because many rebbes performed miracles the point to me was , i always thought i am some exception with all the individual attention the rebbe gave me ((to this day i know not why)
    and here we see they all passed and if the rebbe didnt have reason to address this one boy he wouldnt have nown another thing yet the rebbe without any external motion was taking the entire person into acount while going through the routine motion of giving a dollar or taking a letter
    aother blind chossid?
    i guess i am

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:10 PM  

  • I would say that it was a great memory and intellect that lead others to misconstrue what the Rebbe said/did as the miracle of knowing every neshama.
    A man I know told me of his personal visits to the Rebbe (he is not Lubavitch). He is an author and had given the Rebbe a pile of his seforim, he believed they would go to a place where all the millions of things that were given to the Rebbe would go.. some storeroom in the basement. A few years later and another book published, he visited and again gave the new book to the Rebbe, who called him back and gave him a suggestion about his last book (he didnt include the hebrew text in one of the books he originally published) The Rebbe was not forewarned of the visit, and it has nothing to do with the insight of the Rebbe into this man, but to the Rebbes great intellect and memory.
    The Rebbe deserves credit for what he was, without making up big unbelievable stories that lead other to doubt any of what had transpired.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:57 AM  

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    By Blogger Rebecca, at 9:17 PM  

  • bs'd Yeah, The Rebbe was sincere. Just because there is always some mishagos somewhere, the Rebbe was sincere. What do you expect?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:04 PM  

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