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Our Heroes: Rabbi Chaim Meir Bukiet (1919-1998)

by Rabbi Michoel Seligson
With special thanks to Reb Dovid Zaklikowski

Trip from Vilna: “Not to Sleep”

Horav Chaim Meir Bukiet recalled. “For the trip from Vilna we needed to have visas. There were different opinions among the various non-Chabad yeshiva students, regarding whether it was worthwhile to travel through Russia. Many were with of opinion not to go through Russia. The Lubavitch students unanimously supported the trip through Russia since or being that this was the Previous Rebbes’ directive.

The officer who was responsible for issuing visas in the Russian consulate in Vilna was a Jew and a communist. It seemed that he knew Chabad chassidim, since he commented by that we were Lubavitch chassidim. To our astonishment he requested that we supply him with a talis for his father. This is how a relationship developed with him.

He pointed out that the Lubavitch bochurim were walking very slowly. Actually, this was because we were very cautious with every step. At one point he instructed a student, ‘Tell them to be quicker and not to sleep.’

When this student relayed the message to all of the students, the mashpia Reb Aizik Boruch heard about it and gathered the students for a Farbrengen. Over the course of a full hour he elaborated on the words of this communist. He added, ‘I constantly demanded of you not to sleep, but to hasten and do avodas Hashem with full energy and my words were not accepted. [But] when the communist demands not to sleep, you are immediately on the run.’”

In Shanghai, there were three yeshivas. One of them was Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim Lubavitch, where the students sat and learned this was varied during good times or harsh times, and whether there was food or not.

The Lubavitch Yeshiva was in Shanghai for almost five years. There was no food at times, which caused susceptibility to them many illnesses ramping on Shanghai. this eventually took the life of one of the students who was nifter in Shanghai. Rabbi Mordechai Bryski told this story. “An epidemic spread throughout the Jewish Ghetto. The sick were brought to a house at the outskirts of the ghetto, since they were contagious. For a while, no one took care of them, since no one wanted to become infected. When Reb Chaim Meir heard, he visited them daily, took care of them and gave them the food that he had managed to find one way or another. In this fashion he risked his own life in order to possibly rescue the others.”

Kiruvim from the Rebbe

In Shanghai, Reb Chaim Meir established his first contact with the Rebbe then referred as the RaMaSh. At that time the Lubavitch Publication house, Kehot, printed sforim in Shanghai, some of which were used in the yeshiva. The remaining copies were sent to New York to be sold.

One of the students involved in the printing was Reb Cham Meir. At that time the RaMaSh was the administrator of Kehot in New York. He would send instructions regarding which sforim needed to be printed and in which format to do so. Reb Chaim Meir would correspond with RaMaSh regarding Kehot businesses.

The esteem and kiruvim from the Rebbe to Reb Cham Meir grew. Once the Rebbe asked Reb Chaim Meir about a certain law regarding Brich Shmeh, which is recited at the open Aron Kodesh and Reb Chaim Meir responded according to what he remembered from Otwock. The Rebbe then approached distinguished elder chassidim from Russia and asked them the same question. Their response was the exact opposite of Reb Chaim Meir’s. The Rebbe then called Reb Chaim Meir and again asked the same question in the presence of the elder chassidim. Reb Chaim Meir gave the same answer as before. The elder chassidim dismissed it saying, “It is a Polishe maaesh (story)”. The Rebbe said, “I asked my father-in-law, the Rebbe, and he responded as this young man responded.”

“A Rosh Yeshiva Darf Nisht Shlepen Zeklach”

From time to time, Mrs. Bukiet was accustomed to give Reb Chaim Meir a list of things to purchase at the store on his way back from yeshiva. Once on his way home, walking on Eastern Parkway with packages in his hand, the Rebbe walked over to him and took the packages out of his hands and saying, “A Rosh Yeshiva darf nisht shlepen zeklach” – A Rosh Yeshiva should not carry packages. Reb Chaim Meir answered, “Than for sure the Rebbe should not carry the packages” The Rebbe did not return the packages. Reb Chaim Meir said to the Rebbe “I will find a bochur to carry them”. The Rebbe did not release the bags until a bochur passed by and the Rebbe gave the bags to the bochur to take to Reb Chaim Meir’s home.

In 1988, a letter which Reb Chaim Meir wrote to the Rebbe regarding several sforim was discovered. The letter contained the RaMaSh’s handwritten response.

Member of the Lubavitch Yeshiva Faculty

In 1946, the last group of students from Shanghai arrived in New York City. Reb Chaim Meir was asked to become a Rosh Yeshiva and join the faculty of the Central Lubavitcher Yeshiva, then located in 770.

The Shidduch

When Reb Chaim Meir came to New York, he entered into yechidus with the Previous Rebbe to receive a brocho to find a shidduch. The Rebbe told him, “You have a cousin in Uruguay. Go there to meet her, and it should be in an auspicious time.” With that the Yechidus ended. Reb Chaim Meir left for Uruguay to meet his future wife. He was greeted at the port by his uncle, aunt and their two children that he had never seen since they moved to the country following WWI. There they agreed to marry.

They wedding was scheduled to take place on Sunday, the 3rd of Kislev. All the preparations were nearly completed, as the big day grew closer. At some point they received a telegram from the Previous Rebbe which stated that the wedding should be held on Friday, Rosh Chodesh Kislev, as a replacement or instead of 3rd of Kislev.

The bride recounted that when they received the telegram, the family desired to inform every person who received an invitation that the wedding date was changed to Friday. However, Reb Chaim Meir did not let the family inform everyone, just or except those who will be able to return to their homes after the wedding before the beginning of Shabbos without any difficulty.

In the summer of 1948, Reb Cham Meir was offered the position of becoming Rav in the Oneg Shabbos Shul in East Flatbush and in Elul he relocated to East Flatbush.

This Shul served as a milestone or foundation or first location for the Lubavitch yeshiva in Brooklyn, since the founding of the yeshiva on the tenth of Adar 1940, the day after the Previous Rebbe had arrived in the United States, was in this very Shul.

In 1957 Reb Chaim Meir was selected to be Rosh Yeshiva of the Central Lubavitcher Yeshiva on Bedford Avenue and Dean Street until 1969, he continued at the yeshiva’s new location, at 841-53 Ocean Parkway, and then at Chovevei Torah Shul, at 885 Eastern Parkway until his last day.

Concern for Others

He gave a shiur, twice a week and enhanced the lives of many of the students, talking to their hearts with the warmth and love of a father to his son. Reb Chaim Meir showed a special concern for students who were from out-of-town and this warmth reflected likewise from the students to him.

Following is one of the many stories which told by one of the parents. “My son loved to do petty things and when he was sent to deliver shlach manos to Reb Chaim Meir. Reb Chaim Meir sat down with my son and spoke to his heart and since then he changed his silly ways.”

After the Rosh Yeshiva of 770, Horav Hagaon Hachossid Reb Mentlik was nifter, Reb Chaim Meir also succeeded in maintaining the Kupas Bochurim fund, which supported bochurim who needed funds for clothing. His house was open for all and it expressed his good heartedness.

One of his famous quotes that he would constantly repeat and delve on was the Rebbe’s Maharash’s saying, quoted on the 8th of Menachem Av in the Hayom Yom.

“From my grandfather’s aphorisms: What good is Chassidus and piety if the main quality is lacking – ahavat Yisrael, love of another – even to the extent of causing (G-d forbid) anguish to another!”

Chizuk Hashechuna of East Flatbush

Reb Chaim Meir together with, may she live and be well his wife, lived in East Flatbush, which is a five-minute drive from Crown Heights and served as the Rav of the Lubavitcher Shul in the community, The Oneg Shabbos Shul, where he was appointed to be the Rav in 1948.

Many years afterwards, East Flatbush, after years of being a vibrant Jewish community became a community where you seldom saw a Jew there. When Mrs. Bukiet was asked why they stayed there throughout the years, even when there were no Jews there, she related the following.

Remaining in East Flatbush

“My husband wanted to move a long time ago to Crown Heights to live as close as possible to the Rebbe, but I wanted to live close to my friends which I acquainted over the years in East Flatbush. So my husband wrote to the Rebbe asking his advice what to do and the Rebbe responded, “This is up to the wife where to live, since she is home the whole day and would like to be around her friends.”

“When there was no longer a community of Jews I wanted to move to Crown Heights. However, the Rebbe had come out with a declaration not to flee from a Jewish community, as a result he would never have the audacity to leave to write a letter to the Rebbe to leave”.

So there they lived till his last day, taking care of the Mikva in the community that was still standing and the Shul, gathering` a Minyan every Shabbos and Yom Tov. He also traveled every day back and forth to the Yeshiva in Flatbush on Ocean Pkwy, in Flatbush.

A few times a year Reb Chaim Meir was accustomed to make for his students a Farbrengen in his house and in later years in the Shul. The Shul was located five blocks away from his house. Once at the conclusion of one of the Farbrengens, the students wanted to escort him home, since East Flatbush in those days was not as safe. Not wanting that they should go out of their way (which was only one block…), he told them “I am not scared of them, they are scared of me.”

Throughout the years, Reb Chaim Meir walked to the Rebbe’s Farbrengens, which would take place on Shabbos and Yom Tov. When the Farbrengens began happening on every Shabbos, he walked every Shabbos for thirty-five minutes. His son remembered until this day how they were accustomed to run home from Crown Heights to notify him that there was going to be a Farbrengen that Shabbos.

Exceptional Hospitality

His love for every Jew was beyond bounds, if it was in spiritual matters or even in physical matters, he was willing to do every single Jew a favor. There was once an individual, who came from Israel to New York to collect money for an institution there, he asked Reb Chaim Meir if he could stay in his house for a few weeks, Reb Chaim Meir answered of course and he moved into the basement of the house. Mrs. Bukiet used to prepare for him supper every night.

A few weeks passed and he did not depart or leave. After a month and a half, two months that he did not leave, and so it went on for a few months. All that time Reb Chaim Meir did not let anyone even hint him or ask him why he did not depart yet. A year after he left, he returned to the United States and requested that he stay again and of course he let him stay again. The same story repeated itself, but to Reb Chaim Meir it did not make a difference in the way he treated him.

Choosing Esrogim

His stand not to hurt another Jew could not be described in words. An example for this is the following story. Reb Chaim Meir was very careful not to further himself an inch from Halacha or from any customs. He went out of his way that everything should be just right according to Halacha. It is an ancient custom to buy the 4 Minim for Sukos from a Rav who would choose a nice set, since the Rav was knowledgeable in the standards of Halacha. Many people were accustomed to come to Reb Chaim Meir to buy the 4 Minim, which he chose especially for them.

Giving Away His Esrog

There was an individual who once called him up on the eve of Sukkos, and told Reb Chaim Meir that his esrog had a blemish in it. Reb Chaim Meir had already distributed all of his sets and knowing that this fellow would have an unpleasant Yom Tov if he would not receive a new esrog; he took his personal esrog and exchanged it with the fellow’s blemished Esrog, not wanting to cause him any unpleasantness. On the next morning, the first day Yom Tov, he went looking for another Esrog.”

Reb Pinchos Blatt recalled. “In Reb Chaim’s last year, he was weak and unable to choose esrogim. When I visited him, he told him that he had already requested from someone to choose an esrog for me.”

The Oneg Shabbos Shul

In shul he was accustomed to give a Shiur every Shabbos in Likkutei Torah. Quite a few non-Chabad individuals participated in the Shiur. Someone related that he once spoke in a Shul in Boro Park and one of the individuals told him afterwards that his speech did not coincide with what he learnt in Reb Chaim Meir’s Shul in Likutei Torah on Shabbos morning.

The Yud Tes Kislev gathering in the Shul brought back many of the old members of the Shul, many of them living in Boro Park and Flatbush. There Rabbi Bukiet would Farbreng for many hours with the crowd.

His knowledge in Chassidus was great and throughout the years he continuously learnt Chassidus. During the period when he was sick, his family gathered together over Shabbos and brought a Sefer Torah from the Shul where they davened together. In the afternoon after Mincha on Shabbos following the Chabad Minhag to recite a Maamar by heart or orally, Rabbi Bukiet turned to those gathered for someone to say a Maamor. As Reb Chaim Meir saw that no one started saying a Maamor, he began saying a Maamor which went on for over a half hour. Taking in consideration how much pain and anxiety he went through in those days, the only thing that was never assumed was to strain his mind to say a Chassidic discourse from memory.

Chabad Houses

Reb Chaim Meir had a special fond towards the Chabad Houses of his children, of Rabbi Alter Bukiet in Lexington, MA and Rabbi Zalman Bukiet in Boca Raton, FL. He traveled there often, for dinners, etc. He was accustomed to call up every Motzoei Shabbos his son Zalman, and ask him, what he said in his speech that week.

Almost every Chanukah and Purim, he traveled to Lexington to be there. This story transpired there: Community members still repeat his speeches that he made with Chassidic zest.

Mark was his name, he had no interest in anything Jewish, and all he wanted to do was study in university and have fun. His mother worked in the Chabad House and he helped her out there from time to time. But he was never to be seen, at any of the Chabad House functions or celebrations.

Once when Reb Chaim Meir asked her where her son was, she answered it was a waste of time trying to get her son to the Chabad House. “Your son tried all day, to get him to come here, but he refuses to come.” Reb Chaim Meir asked her for phone number in the house.

Reb Chaim Meir asked Mark, “Why don’t you come to the Chabad House?” After a few minutes of a small argument, he agreed out of respect, to come. From the minute he came until the end of the party, Reb Chaim Meir continuously danced with him as if he met his best friend that he has not seen in many years.

Today Aryeh (Mark) is married, learned in the Kolel Tiferes Bachurim in Morristown and today is a Frum social worker in Florida.

Reb Chaim Meir left thousands of his manuscripts or written pages of written scholarly texts from Chumash to Gemoro, which are currently being prepared for publication by his children.

“Long years on his reign”

On the 24th of Av 5751 which marks his birthday, Reb Chaim Meir went to the Rebbe for a dollar and the Rebbe told him that he should have long years on his reign. The Rebbe then gave him an additional dollar, saying, “Shnas Hatzlacha” and suddenly the Rebbe turned to him and said, “This is for the Rebbetzin.”  Reb Chaim Meir was puzzled since in the past the Rebbe never gave him a dollar for his wife.

That summer, Mrs. Bukiet was in camp and was bitten by a creature, suffered from the poison and was hospitalized. He then understood the Rebbe’s foresight.

In addition to Reb Chaim Meir’s involvement in rabbinic matters and conducting the yeshiva, he was among the elite member of Vaad Rabbonei Lubavitch, and served as the Rav of the Chevra Kadisha. When the Rav of Crown Heights, Horav Hachossid Reb Zalman Shimon Dworkin would have a Din Torah, he would in general include or choose Horav Hachossid Reb Yitzchok Duber Ushpal and Reb Chaim Meir as the members of the Bais Din, about whom he said, “He has a straight mind”. When Vaad Horabbonim Hakloli was established, Reb Chaim Meir was chosen as one of the first members.

In his last months, Reb Chaim Meir suffered great pain or terribly from his illness. Rabbi Bryski told that when he asked Reb Chaim Meir about his pain, he responded, that pain purifies or refines the person.  He was nifter on Motzoei Shabbos on the 27th of Teves, which in Hebrew, the Hebrew letters for 27 is כז , pronounced in English as “zach”, which means refinement. His ptira was or marked a great loss for his family, students and Chabad community.

Rabbi Bukiet’s Family

He left, may she live and be well, his wife, Rebbetzin Esther Bukiet; his daughter, Mrs. Rochel Stillman, the wife of Horav Hachossid Reb Yerachmiel, Mashpia of the Lubavitch shul in Los Angeles, California; his son, Horav Hachossid Reb Yosef Yitzchok, the Rebbe’s Shliach of Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad, Los Angeles, CA; his son, Horav Hachossid Reb Levi, of Chicago, Ill; his son, Horav Hachossid Reb Avrohom Shmuel, the Rebbe’s Shliach in Israel and Mashpia for the girls school in Lod; his daughter, Mrs. Chaye Bukiet of Crown Heights; his son, Horav Hachossid Reb Alter Bukiet, the Rebbe’s Shliach in Lexington, MA; his daughter, Mrs. Sara Kramer, the wife of Horav Hachossid Reb Shmuel, a member of the board of Tomchei Tmimim Lubavitch in Montreal and administrator of the yeshiva Zal; his son, Horav Hachossid Reb Zalman, the Rebbe’s shliach in Boca Raton, FL; and grandchildren serving as Shluchim across the globe, from Brazil to the Ukraine, to Canada and the United States.

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  • 1. Shoshana wrote:

    Rabbi Bukiet Alav Hashalom was a real tzaddik and thank you for sharing his amazing life and wonderful stories about him. The article inspired me so much. Near the end of the article, It says, “He left, may she live and be well, his wife and daughters.” However, no daughters are listed. Would it be possible to list them please and what they’re doing? It mentions all his wonderful sons who are Rabbis all over the world and his grandchildren too doing amazing work. He truly left an amazing legacy behind him.


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