Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Lubavitcher Rebbe's Gaze Into The Future

The following story involving the Lubavitcher Rebbe was sent to me and I find it to be one of the most fascinating stories I've ever heard. Although it is a Chanukah story, it is worth repeating it on the yahrzeit of this great tzadik.

(As told by Reb Moshe Chaim Greenwald - NY)

Since the Histalkus (death) of the Lubavitcher Rebbe ZY"A, at the places where I daven (pray) and work, Jews from all sects don't stop talking about the Rebbe. Not just stories in general, but it's interesting to see that every Jew feels some sort of personal relationship with the Rebbe. When I speak to these Jews, I tell them that I think that even though until now they have not told their story, now it's a Mitzvah to tell it so that our children would know about the great Tzaddik (righteous person) and shepherd we had amongst us. As it says, "Bless Hashem (G-D), Bless the servant of Hashem." To fulfill what I am telling others to do I will tell a wondrous story that happened to my father Z"L. Up until now this story remained in the family, but now I feel it is incumbent upon me to publicize it.

In the merit of belief in Tzaddikim, we should merit the redemption which the Rebbe has worked his whole life to bring. Now the Rebbe is surely still toiling from above to hasten the redemption.

My father, Reb Avrohom Tzvi Greenwald Z"L (of blessed memory), was born in Lodz, Poland. At the young age of 8 years he was orphaned from his father. His mother was left with 7 little orphans and was very worried about raising her oldest son. She sent him to her cousin, Reb Menachem Ziemba ZT"L (May Hashem avenge his holy blood). Reb Menachem Ziemba raised my father with great devotion and understandably worried about my father's learning and even personally learned with him.

My father was almost 17 years old when the "great wedding" took place in Warsaw in 1927. This was the wedding of the daughter of the previous Rebbe to the Rebbe ZY"A. My father always used to talk about the wedding in itself and about all the great leaders of that generation who had attended. My father also used to tell us how he merited meeting the young groom, the Rebbe ZY"A, personally. How did my father get to meet with the groom?

My father, who was then a young boy of almost 17 years, went to the wedding with his relative and teacher Reb Menachem Ziemba. The day after the wedding, Rabbi Ziemba told my father that he would like to go visit the groom at the hotel where he was staying. He also invited my father to escort him if he was interested. Of course my father agreed, and together they went to meet the groom.

My father could not remember the entire conversation which took place between the Rebbe and Rabbi Ziemba, but he remembered well the words, the parting words of the Rebbe. The Rebbe faced them and said, "There are several days left to Chanukah - do you know why on the night that we light the 5th candle there is joy and happiness in the "Shtiblach" (small Chassidic synagogues)?" My father didn't know what to answer, and remembers how Rabbi Ziemba looked at the Rebbe intently waiting for his answer. The Rebbe then faced my father and said, "The fifth night symbolizes the greatest darkness, because this day can never fall on a Shabbos. Therefore, the fifth candle can even illuminate the greatest darkness. Therefore, the power contained in the light of Chanukah expresses itself mostly on the fifth night of Chanukah, which symbolizes darkness. And this is the job of every Jew in every place; whether in Warsaw or London to illuminate the darkest spot."

As I already mentioned, my father could not recall what details were discussed between Rabbi Ziemba and the Rebbe, but he will never forget how the whole Talmud was traversed by these two great men. When they left the hotel, - my father recalled - Rabbi Ziemba was in awe of the groom, the REBBE, and for many days thereafter, did not stop talking about his conversation with the Rebbe.

Almost 20 years later, my father lived through the atrocities of the war, first in the ghettos and then in the concentration camp. His wife and five children were slaughtered in front of his eyes. When the war was finally over, he was left alive, thank G-d, but was broken in body and spirit.

For the next two years, he went from camp to camp in search of any family members who might have remained alive. This was in vain as all his family members were killed by the accursed Nazis.

In the year 1948, my father traveled to the United States to visit his uncle, an Amshinover Chassid, (Reb Moshe Chaim Greenwald) who had moved there before the war. His uncle tried to put my father back on his feet, since he was broken physically and spiritually from all that he had encountered in Europe.

Under pressure from his uncle, my father remarried my mother OB"M, also a war survivor. My mother was born in Kharkov to a prominent Alexander Chassid, Reb Zusia Shimkevitz. She and her sister were saved right at the outset of the war, when they escaped to Canada. There they were raised by an uncle, Reb Kopel Schwartz from Toronto.

Before their wedding, Reb Kopel took my father to a Yechidus with the previous Rebbe for a blessing. My father told me how much the previous Rebbe had changed since his daughter's wedding to the Rebbe ZY"A in Warsaw.(It was very difficult to understand the speech of the previous Rebbe, and the previous Rebbe was saying.)

Reb Kopel told the previous Rebbe that my father was a sole survivor of the war. A stream of tears poured from the holy eyes of the previous Rebbe as he blessed my father with a good life and long years. Before my father left the room, he mentioned to the previous Rebbe that he was at the great wedding in Warsaw. The previous Rebbe's eyes lit up and he said, "My son-in-law is in the other room, so go in and give him Shalom."

Reb Kopel and my father walked down together to the room of the Rebbe. They knocked on his door and when they entered, they told the Rebbe that the previous Rebbe had sent them to him.

My father was really surprised that the Rebbe ZY"A recognized him. The Rebbe then asked my father for a description of the last days of the life of Reb Menachem Ziemba who was killed in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. After my father told the Rebbe all he knew about the days of Rabbi Ziemba, the Rebbe said, "Since my father-in-law sent you to me, I feel obligated to tell you a Dvar Torah. As we are now in the month of Kislev I will tell you something pertaining to Chanukah." The Rebbe then continued, "Do you know why on the night that we light the fifth Chanukah candle there is such great joy amongst Chassidim?"

The Rebbe then answered the question himself saying, "The joy of the 5th night is so immense because that night cannot fall out on Shabbos, therefore the strength of the light of the candles gives forth the most light on this night. This is then the role of any Jew, whether he finds himself in New York or London, it is his responsibility to illuminate the darkest spot."

There is no need to say how shocked my father was to hear these same words that he had heard from the Rebbe ZY"A 20 years earlier. These were the exact words that the Rebbe, then the groom, had said 20 years ago in the hotel in Warsaw.

After his wedding, my father began teaching in Adas Yisroel in Washington Heights, NY. There my sister and I were born. When I was 5 years old, we moved to Toronto to live near my grandfather, Reb Kopel Schwartz. My father continued his teaching career in Toronto.

During our years in Toronto, my father became a Satmar Chassid but sent us to learn in the well-known Yeshiva of Nitra.

Even though my father's way of life was similar to the system of Satmar, he never spoke a negative word about Lubavitch. On the contrary, he always wanted his children to know about Lubavitch.

In the year 1969, I got married. My father said that even though we didn't stem from Lubavitcher Chassidim, he would like me to go to the Lubavitcher Rebbe for a blessing, just as he had done before his wedding. It was 20 years since my father had last seen the Rebbe and felt a great desire to see again.

I agreed full-heartedly, but was told that it was not that simple to gain entry to the Rebbe. After explaining that we could not wait for months for an audience with the Rebbe, (since I wanted to get a blessing from the Rebbe before my wedding) we were granted permission to see the Rebbe, but just for a blessing, and of course we were not to hold the Rebbe up with any other matters. We left Toronto to meet with the Rebbe on our designated day.

I don't recall the exact time we finally entered the room of the Rebbe, but I do remember that it was during the very early morning hours. This was the first time I saw the holy face of the Rebbe. My father gave the Rebbe a note with my name and my bride's name, and asked the Rebbe to give us his blessing.

The Rebbe took the note, and even PRIOR to opening it said, "20 years; it's high time, especially since my father-in-law had sent you to me…"

My father stood shocked, not able to answer the Rebbe. At this point, the Rebbe then unfolded the note and gave his blessing. He then turned to my father and said, "Just like you rejoiced at my wedding, may Hashem give you the strength to be at your grandchild's wedding."

My father's eyes streamed with tears of emotion, since he had suffered much torture in the past and was now blessed with such fortune.

Before we turned to go, my father asked the Rebbe if he could ask a quick question. To this the Rebbe answered, "Since the previous Rebbe, my father-in-law, sent you to me I will answer any question you may have."Again they heard a further knock on the door, however the Rebbe motioned us to ignore the persistent knocking.

My father faced the Rebbe and said, "For various reasons I have lived amongst the Satmar Chassidim. From some of them I have heard several complaints against Lubavitch. Of course I never believed what I had heard. Nevertheless, I have one question regarding the work of Lubavitch. There is a well-known verse of 'The Enemies of Hashem, I should dislike.' How is it that Lubavitch goes into the midst of these people who are against Hashem?"

The Rebbe faced my father and said, "What would a zealous neighbor of yours do if G-d forbid his daughter strayed from the proper path of life? Would he help her, or would he say 'The enemies of Hashem I should dislike,' and 'It is forbidden to associate with wicked people', and therefore distance himself from her and not want to show her friendship?" The Rebbe did not wait for an answer and immediately continued: "This zealot would certainly answer that this case is different, since we are dealing with HIS daughter, since there is a verse that states, 'you should not turn a blind eye to your flesh'".

At this juncture the Rebbe's face took on a serious look and he closed his eyes and banged on the table and said: "As far as the Almighty is concerned EVERY Jew is as dear to HIM as his only son. As far as the Rebbe my father-in-law is concerned, the concept of "not turning a blind eye to one's flesh' applies to EVERY YID."

My father apologized profusely for asking such a question, but he just wanted to understand the system that the Rebbe had implemented, in order that he would be better able to explain it to others.

Following this the Rebbe looked at me and my father OB"M, with a penetrating look and said: "And we will conclude with a blessing. As is well-known, it has been the custom of Chassidim to celebrate the 5th night of Chanukah. What is the reason? The 5th night of Chanukah cannot fall out on a Shabbos (Sabbath), therefore it symbolizes the greatest darkness The power of the light of Chanukah illuminates the greatest darkness. This is the job of every Jew whether he is in Toronto or London. Every Jew has a part from Above in him and it is his duty to awaken a Jew who is in the darkest situation."

My father was so shocked to hear these words that he didn't hear the rest of the Blessing of the Rebbe. He didn't even remember leaving the Rebbe's room.

The whole way back to Toronto my father whispered these same words over and over, "Very strange, very strange indeed."

Another twenty years passed. In the year 1978, my younger brother was getting married in London. My entire family, including my parents, sister, brother-in-law and myself all traveled to London for his wedding. On the way to London I noticed that my father was perturbed by something. I asked my father what was bothering him, but he wouldn't tell me. Finally after pestering him several times, he told me the following:

Several minutes before my father left the house in Toronto, his neighbor came into him crying uncontrollably. He told my father not to tell anyone a secret that he was going to entrust to my father. He then commenced telling him his secret.

He told my father how his daughter left the path of Yiddishkeit (Jewish way of life). They did not realize how bad it was until two weeks ago when they received the tragic news that she ran off to London with a "Goy" (gentile). All his relatives in London had tried to help and bring her back to her religion, but all efforts were in vain. He then asked my father, who was going to London to see if he could possibly help and do something to bring her back.

My father who was a close friend of this neighbor was terribly shaken by this story. I was also distraught and began thinking about what we could possibly do about this situation in London.

The wedding passed propitiously and with great success, and on the first night of Sheva Brochos, (seven days of rejoicing with the bride and groom) my father turned to the bride's father and told him the story of his neighbor's daughter. He asked if perhaps he could help my father contact somebody who could help them.

When the bride's father heard the story he said, "I know someone amongst the London Lubavitcher Chassidim, to whom the Rebbe had personally sent on several missions. His name is Rabbi Avrohom Yitzchok Glick and if there is anyone who can help, it's Rabbi Glick. He has already helped many people throughout Europe who have strayed from Judaism."

The bride's father called Rabbi Glick that same night and told him the tragic story. Rabbi Glick called Toronto to get some more information in order to give him a hint as to where to start looking. Rabbi Glick then gave his word that he would do all he could to help.

I don't know where Rabbi Glick looked or where he went or who he asked, but one night, (my parents stayed in London for 12 days, until after Chanukah) Rabbi Glick called the bride's father to come to his house urgently because he had a real surprise.

The bride's father called my father and they quickly went to see Rabbi Glick. As they walked into his apartment, they saw a girl sitting in the living room crying bitterly. At the door of the living room there was a lit Menorah.

As soon as my father saw the Menorah lit with 5 candles he felt faint. He remembered the words that the Lubavitcher Rebbe had told him 50 years ago, 30 years ago and again 20 years ago: "The fifth night of Chanukah symbolizes the power of the Menorah It is the job of every Jew to illuminate the darkest spot, whether in Warsaw or LONDON, in New York or LONDON, in Toronto or LONDON What would that zealous neighbor do if his daughter strayed from her religion? For the Al-mighty every Jew is like an only child. For the Rebbe every Jew is part of his own flesh that he cannot turn a blind eye to."

There is no need to say that this young girl returned from her wrong-doings. There is also no need to say that from that day on this "zealous neighbor" stopped speaking against Lubavitch.

When my father returned to Canada he felt a strong desire to see the Rebbe again. But by this time it was very difficult to get a private audience with the Rebbe.

In 1980, the following October, my father succeeded in having a private audience with the Rebbe, along with all the guests who came for the Holidays.

My father told me how when he finally got into the Rebbe, he could not speak and burst out crying as a result of great emotion. The Rebbe heard only several sentences from my father. The Rebbe then faced my father and said, "My father-in-law, the previous Rebbe (who sent you to me in Warsaw) had a far-reaching look."

Every time my father retold this story, he could not get over the wondrous miracle of the Rebbe. Fifty years ago when he was a bridegroom, the Rebbe saw what would happen 50 years later. But even more so he could not come to terms with the modesty of the Rebbe, who said with such simplicity, "My father-in-law had a far-reaching look.

The chain of miracles did not end there. On the 15th day of Kislev, 1989, the moment the last Sheva Brochos of my daughter ended, (the Rebbe had blessed my father with a long life, and to live to see the wedding of his grandchild) which was exactly 60 years since the great wedding of the Rebbe in Warsaw, that same day my father returned his soul to it's Maker.

Zchuso Yogen Aleinu V'Al Kol Yisroel


Anonymous said...

Regarding suspect provenance of this story, see http://www.shturem.net/index.php?section=artdays&id=328

Anonymous said...

Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles of Ascent in Tzfas, supports the authenticity of the story (as he tells it) here: http://ascentofsafed.com/cgi-bin/ascent.cgi?Name=113-13

At the bottom of the page, after the story he comments as follows:

"** Editor's note: I now have first-hand testimony from a reliable person who heard the story from the mouth of the author. -YT, 16 Adar 5770"