Stories about the Rebbe

The Previous Rebbe Sat Right There

This Monday is the 60th anniversary of the passing of the Previous Rebbe and the begining of the Rebbe's leadership.

Previous_Rebbe_laugh.jpg rebbe12-1.jpg

Here is a story with the Previous Rebbe, and the Rebbe.

Once, a Lubavitcher chasid, Rabbi Michoel Vishetzky, went to visit a Rabbi Rabinowitz in the rabbi's synagogue in the Bronx, New York. Rabbi Vishetzky was surprised when he noticed that Rabbi Rabinowitz sat at a corner of the table rather than the head of the table. "No one sits in that place," the elderly rabbi told Reb Michoel. When the rabbi noticed Reb Michoel's surprise, he began to tell him the following story.

"When I came to America, I was privileged to meet with the Previous Rebbe. I told him everything that had happened to me in Europe and asked him what I should do with my life. The Previous Rebbe said, 'Since you are a Torah scholar, you should look for a position as a community rabbi.'

"Soon after that, I was recommended for a position in this shul (synagogue), here in the Bronx. I asked the Previous Rebbe if I should take the job. The Previous Rebbe said, 'A shul is a shul, and so it's very suitable. But I don't like the shammas (sexton).'

"Why did the Rebbe mention the shammas? I wondered. The Previous Rebbe saw that I was confused and repeated, 'A shul is a shul, but I don't like the shammas.'

"Time passed. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until I found out that the shammas was not pleased with me. After the passing of the  shul's previous rabbi the shammas had assumed many responsibilities and had become the unofficial rabbi. He felt that I had pushed him aside and he began to cause trouble for me. Eventually the situation became  unbearable.

"When it became too much for me, I went to see the Rebbe, who had assumed the leadership after the passing of the Previous Rebbe on the tenth of Shevat, 1950. Before I even had a chance to open my mouth, the Rebbe said, 'My father-in-law said that a shul is a shul and he did not like the shammas. Continue to serve as rabbi in the Bronx. As for the antics of this shammas, he will soon need to worry about how long he will keep his job.'

"I was amazed by the Rebbe's words. When I had spoken with the Previous Rebbe, no one else had been in the room, and I had never discussed the matter with the present Rebbe.

"A few nights later I couldn't sleep. At daybreak I decided to go to shul a little earlier than usual. On my way, I was surprised to meet the president and manager also walking toward the shul. The manager pointed to a light in the windows of the shul. It looked suspicious. We quietly  opened the door and walked in. The shammas was holding the tzedaka boxes and emptying the money into his pockets. Needless to say, we fired him.

"The next few years passed peacefully. Then something even more incredible happened. The shul shared an adjoining wall with a butcher's shop. Business went very well for the butcher, and the shop soon became too small. He found a much larger shop, and sold the old shop to the shul as the congregation needed more space. After some friendly negotiations, a deal was struck. The whole transaction was conducted without a written contract.

"A few years later the butcher began to look for a storeroom. When he couldn't find one, he remembered that there was no official contract with the shul. Without any scruples, the butcher went to the shul management and asked them to give him his shop back. He hired a lawyer and was positive that the court would decide in his favor as there had been no written contract of sale.

"After a short court case, the shul board received a court order telling them to vacate the premises by a certain date. If they disobeyed, the police would be called in. The date was drawing near. I went to the Rebbe for a blessing.

"When I described the situation, the Rebbe said, 'My father-in-law told you clearly that a shul is a shul. Everything will turn out the way it should.'

"The night before the critical date, I had a dream which I will never forget. In the dream I went to the shul and I saw the Previous Rebbe sitting in the chair at the head of the table - the very same chair which I never let anyone sit in. Standing next to him was the Rebbe. He said, 'Don't worry. G-d will let everything turn out for the best.' He then looked toward the Previous Rebbe. 'The Rebbe told you that a shul is a shul. What do you have to worry about?'

"I stood there in astonishment. The Previous Rebbe was right there, even though he had passed away ten years ago. I was still marveling at this extraordinary sight when I woke up. I ran to shul as fast as I could. A crowd had gathered outside the shul and people were arguing with the policemen who had blocked the entrance. They had started to remove he furniture. Then something very dramatic happened.

"On a nearby street, in the butcher's large shop, a light fixture fell suddenly from the ceiling. The butcher was knocked unconscious. When he regained consciousness, his first words were, 'Please, stop emptying he shul.' When the police arrived, the butcher admitted that he had made false accusations against the shul. He had, indeed, received payment for the old shop.

"Now you understand why I don't let anyone sit in that chair. The image of the Previous Rebbe sitting there will be in front of my eyes forever," Rabbi Rabinowitz said as he finished telling his story.


Some 30 years ago, Rabbi Yitzchok Vorst, was just beginning his assignment as a Chabad representative in Amstelveen, Holland. Shortly before Passover, he received a phone call from Lubavitch Headquarters in Brooklyn. Rabbi Hodakov, the Rebbe's personal secretary, informed him that the Rebbe wants him to go to a certain small town and give shmura matza, the special matza hand-made from flour that was guarded against moisture, to the Jew that lived in that town. The young rabbi asked for the name of this Jew, whereupon he was informed that the Rebbe did not mention any names. Rabbi Hodakov assured him, though, that he would be able to locate him once he got to the town.

Rabbi Vorst attempted to explain that the town was many hours' drive from Amsterdam that he was busy making preparations for his first communal Seder in Holland and distributing matzos, and besides, he did not believe there were any Jews located in that town anyway. Rabbi Hodakov was adamant. The Rebbe said that he should leave tomorrow for this town. There was no choice.

The next morning Rabbi Vorst packed a lunch and spent the day driving to this secluded town. Once there he spent hours searching and inquiring for any Jews in the town, to no avail. He finally decided that the expedition was a total waste of time and went to fill his car with petrol for the return trip. The gas station attendant asked the rabbi what had brought him to town. Upon hearing his story the attendant replied that he believed that a worker at the local butcher shop was indeed Jewish.

With nothing to lose, Rabbi Vorst made his way to the shop. When he walked in, the man behind the counter took one look at him and fainted. When he revived he told Rabbi Vorst the following story:

His mother and he were the only survivors in his family of the Nazi horrors. They moved to this secluded part of Holland to avoid further persecution. On her deathbed, his mother made him swear never to marry a non-Jewish girl and always be true to his faith. That had been five years prior. For the last several months the local priest had frequented his shop and began proselytizing him. They would enter into long discussions, but for this man, conversion was out of the question.

Eventually, though, the priest began to make headway. One of his arguments G-d had abandoned the young man, as proved by the fact that he was the only Jew in the area.

Therefore he should convert and become part of a community.

After several months of being worn down, the young Jew agreed to be baptized. But, he insisted, first he wanted three days to think it over further.

He felt confused and depressed. He was indeed all alone. But how could he abandon his faith? How could he renege on the vow he made to his mother? He cried bitterly. Finally he called out to the Almighty, "I will wait for you, dear G-d, to show me a sign that you are still watching over me. If I do not see anything from you by 6:00 PM on the third day, I will convert!"

And so the man cried. For three days he became more morose. He found work impossible.

The third day had arrived and still no sign. The man spent the day looking at the clock. At lunch time he took a break and again beseeched the Almighty. There was less than six hours before he would agree to convert. During his 3:00 break the man again turned and prayed.

Boy with MatzahNow there was less than three hours. If he did not see some sign indicating that the G-d of the Jews still cared for him, he would be baptized.

As the minute hand passed the 5:00 mark, the man was besides himself. Perhaps the priest was right after all. Maybe it would be better for him to convert. The minutes ticked on. Each one felt like an entire hour. At 5:45, he began closing the store. At 5:55 PM Rabbi Yitzchok Vorst, armed with his matza from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, walked into this man's store.

After hearing this story, Rabbi Vorst begged the man to come back with him to Amsterdam and spend Passover. The man agreed. Every step of the way was a new beginning for this man. He had never been exposed to Judaism as his mother wanted to hide him from it. After Passover, he thanked the Rabbi and left.

Twenty-five years later, Rabbi Vorst traveled to Jerusalem for the wedding of a relative. He was praying devoutly at the Western Wall, deep in concentration, when he heard his name being called and felt a hearty slap across his back. He turned and saw a large, burly man. The man asked him in Dutch, "Rabbi, don't you recognize me, I am so and so from the town of …. I spent Pesach in your house one year. Now I live in Jerusalem with my family. I owe everything to you." Sometimes, it is possible to make a deal with the Almighty.

Adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from

Two miracles are better than one

Phil and Elaine Brown were married for many years but had no children, even though they had visited several doctors and tried many kinds of treatment. One of the doctors told Elaine bluntly: "There is absolutely no chance that you will ever conceive naturally."

Phil and Elaine Brown were married for many years but had no children, even though they had visited several doctors and tried many kinds of treatment. One of the doctors told Elaine bluntly: "There is absolutely no chance that you will ever conceive naturally."

Hearing this, they decided to adopt, and went to a social service organization to fill out the papers. The case worker looked at their forms and said: "It's difficult to find Jewish children. The wait may be anywhere from a year to two or three or more." Still, the Browns decided to go ahead.

The agency examined their financial background, their education, their friends, their attitudes to children, their friends' attitude toward children, their attitude towards their friends' children, and dozens of other factors. After 13 months of questions, the agency finally asked for references.

At the time, Phil and Elaine lived across the street from Rabbi and Rebbetzin Zalmen Kazen, Lubavitch shluchim in Cleveland. Every time Rabbi Kazen would see Phil, he would say "hello" and invite the couple over for Shabbos dinner. Now, although Phil didn't know what to make of a Rabbi with a beard, the adoption agency wanted references, and so Phil thought that maybe he could combine business with pleasure. He could get a reference for the social service agency - after all, what could be better than a reference from a Rabbi? - and fulfill his obligation to the Kazens once and for all.

During dinner, Phil and Elaine told the Kazens that they were looking to adopt children. The Kazens told them that many couples had been blessed with children after receiving a blessing from the Rebbe, and suggested that the Browns try this route as well.

The Browns politely declined; they were not observant and did not want to make any commitments. Mrs. Kazen, however, is a very persistent lady. Ultimately, she persuaded the couple to send in a letter.

Several weeks later, the Browns received a reply. The Rebbe suggested they observe the mitzvah of taharas hamishpachah.

While they appreciated the Rebbe's concern and his suggestion, Phil and Elaine didn't feel ready for formal observance of any sort, and so they put the letter away. By this time, all their references had been checked, their personal character had been analyzed, and their bank statements reviewed. Still there was no child for adoption.

One day, a representative of the social service agency came for a visit; as part of the decision-making process, the agency wanted to inspect the home. The Browns graciously let the representative in, but it wasn't long before their attitude changed. The representative pulled open drawers, looked through closets, peered under beds and behind bookshelves. After going over every inch of their home, the representative departed. By that time, Elaine had made up her mind.

"Let's try the mikveh," she told her husband.

They did, and that month she became pregnant with the first of their many children. Shortly afterwards, the agency called and told them it had a child for adoption. The Browns, however, replied that they were no longer interested.

nf_3521_46237.jpgOne day as Phil was cleaning out some drawers, he noticed the Rebbe's letter. He read it again and saw that the Rebbe had told him that in the month of ___ , they would hear good news. That was the month in which their first son Mordechai was born.

Several months afterwards, Phil's mother Sadie became so ill that she was hospitalized and lost consciousness. The doctor solemnly told the family to call all her children together. "She probably has only several hours to live," he said. "It is highly unlikely that she will regain consciousness. If she survives beyond morning, it will be as a vegetable."

Phil sat with his brother and two sisters. It was as if they had already started mourning.

And then Mrs. Kazen arrived. "Did you write the Rebbe yet?" she asked the Browns. "You'll see! He will give his blessing and everything will be all right!"

The family were amazed, and even upset. Their mother was on the verge of death, and here this lady was treating it in what seemed a cavalier fashion.

Phil's brother Burt was piqued enough to usher Mrs. Kazen out of the room, but not before she had secured Mrs. Brown's Hebrew name and that of her mother.

"I'll write the Rebbe for you," she promised as she was being pushed out.

A few hours later she came back. The Brown family were deep in sorrow, and hardly listened as she told them: "I spoke to Rabbi Chodakov, who caught the Rebbe as he was leaving 770. 'Tell the family there is no need to worry,' the Rebbe said. 'Let the doctors repeat the tests; they'll see they made a mistake. In the morning, everything will be fine.' "

The Rebbe's answer did not make the Browns feel any better. They could not understand how a Rabbi in New York could know their mother's condition more accurately than the doctors who were treating her. But in the morning, their attitude changed. Mrs. Brown woke up, demanded a cup of coffee, and read the morning newspaper. Her answers to questions were sharp and to the point. This lady was no vegetable.

At that point, Phil's brother Burt decided to adopt a chassidic lifestyle. "The Rebbe didn't just give a blessing," he explained. "He set a time. That's putting yourself on the line. When he proved right, I felt I had to make a commitment."

* The picture is for illustration purposes only

Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.