The Previous Rebbe Sat Right There

Thursday, 21 January, 2010 - 6:59 am

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.

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