by Rabbi Sholom DovBer Avtzon
In the last two years, I merited to present to you parts of the phenomenal story of Malka, a.k.a. Dr. Melliisa. As noted, her intent is only to make us aware that as much as we think we know of the Rebbe’s greatness, it is much greater than we realize or imagine. With that in mind she sent me the following story. So in honor of Yud Aleph Nissan, I am presenting it.
It was in 1981 and keeping my promise I flew to New York to meet the Rebbe for my yearly visit. This time he requested of me the following:
That I should speak with a certain specific resident-student of mine whose origins were from Iran, to not go forward with his plans of becoming engaged to a non-Jew.
As a doctor in the hospital, I never discussed with my students anything about their personal lives, so I did not know of this happening, but somehow the Rebbe did, even though it was in a different state.
I was surprised that the Rebbe (1) knew my student, (2) knew the student’s entire background: that he is from Iran, and he also knew about the student’s parents and siblings, (3) and also knew that the student was getting engaged to non-Jew. I didn’t know any of these things!
The Rebbe asked that I speak and influence this student not to get engaged to his non-Jewish lady friend.
When I replied to the Rebbe my reasons why I do not have the ability to influence and make someone break up a romantic relationship, he would not accept that.
The Rebbe said that he was mosser nefesh to help get these Jewish Iranians out of Iran (after Khomeini revolution against the Shah in 1978-9) and the mesiras nefesh of his, was not for the purpose so that this Jew should get engaged to a non-Jew!
He then told me the story of how his father in law, the Previous Rebbe was mosser nefesh to get the yeshiva in 770 recognized/registered as a college (an institute of higher learning), to the point that he cried bitterly over it until it became accredited, and he – the Rebbe – was being moser nefesh at that time to maintain it. He said that I should repeat to the student what he said (that he was mosser nefesh for him…)
[Sholom Avtzon is adding, the way I understand it, the Rebbe saw that to Malka, this represented mesiras nefesh on her, and he informed her that he too went against his nature to maintain his father-in-law’s – The Frierdiker Rebbe’s – Mesirus nefesh, and is requesting the she too does the same in this situation.]
When I returned to the hospital I worked in, I called this young man into my office and did as the Rebbe requested of me. When I finished telling him the story of the Previous Rebbe and I told student that Rebbe said that he was mosser nefesh for you to get you out of Iran – not so that you should marry a non-Jew in America [inferring that this wouldn’t have happened in Iran].
I don’t know why, but I stopped talking further as I felt tears were rolling down my cheeks non-stop and uncontrollable.
It was silent for a long time – just me sitting there unable to move or speak while tears flowed like a river (my shirt / blouse became wet from the tears), and the student was just staring silently at me, till he finally picked himself up from the chair and left without saying a word.
I was told shortly afterwards by his friends that he had cancelled the engagement.
This is her story.
I [Sholom Avtzon] would like to add the following two points:
To me the lesson of this story is extremely powerful:
This Iranian boy was barely in Crown Heights, at most he was here for a year, until he left New York to continue his pursuit of his medical degree. Yet when he heard the Rebbe’s plea to him, he had the strength to break up and remain committed to his roots. So if he, who barely had a connection to the Rebbe, took the Rebbe’s words to heart and successfully accomplished a true change and/or transformation, overcoming an extremely difficult test. Us who are the Rebbe’s chassidim, and also benefit from the Rebbe’s mesiras nefesh on our behalf, can also find the strength within us, to dedicate ourselves to a higher level to fulfill the Rebbe’s desire.
The second point:
As the readers of this column know that for various reasons, I believe everything Malka informs me about the Rebbe. Among them is that her desire is only to bring out the Rebbe’s greatness, as that was the only reason she originally contacted me, as she thought one of my stories was not respectful of the Rebbe. Only after I explained her that she erred in that assumption, as a way of asking mechilla, (forgiveness) for accusing me wrongly, did she begin sharing her phenomenal connection to the Rebbe. Additionally, there are numerous points that I have been able to verify by others, such as the fact that the Rebbe gave her, his personal Hayom Yom which he used for numerous years, and also that she was related to me certain aspects about Beis Harav that very few people are aware of. Her source for that was the Rebbe and his mother Rebbetzin Chana (both of these aspects I posted about them previously).
Nevertheless, there are those who feel that some of these stories are too Baal Shemske and question many of these points. So anticipating some of these questions, I decided to see what those cryptic words about the mesiras nefesh of the Frierdiker Rebbe and the Rebbe’s in connection to the Yeshiva was all about. In order not to take away the message of this story, I will just note in short what I found out:
Yehudah ben Meir (the foreign minister in the government of Menachem Begin and Yitzchock Shamir) once related that his father was one of the two inspectors to verify the application of accreditation, and his father related to him, how he saw the Frierdiker Rebbe crying.
I also found out that in 5741 (1981) mazkirus informed a bochur that the Rebbe would like to speak with him in gan eden hatachton (the hallway directly outside the Rebbe’s room). The bochur was startled, as this almost never occurred and he realized it was something of great importance. Entering gan eden hatachton, he saw that Rabbi JJ Hecht was waiting there as well. He was informed that he was going to be farhered (tested) by Rabbi Weinberg of Montreal. The Rebbe then gave him certain guidance about his upcoming farher (test) and discussion in learning. The bochur, who by now is a grandfather, initially declined to discuss it. Only after I repeated words that he personally heard from the Rebbe did he acknowledge that it occurred and informed me why Rabbi JJ Hecht was also there, and the some of the points that the Rebbe addressed.
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Shochet verified that he was the bochur, and Rabbi Shia Hecht and his brother in law Rabbi Abramowitz (verified other details and expressions of the Rebbe in connection to that situation).
Sholom Avtzon is adding; When I informed Malka that it took me some two weeks of detective work to find out to find out what she was referring to, and that I spoke with the bochur who represented 770, she added the following thought.
It is beyond coincidence that the various details are interconnected: Rabbi JJ Hecht was heavily involved in saving Jewish youth exit from Iran, my student was one of them. Rabbi JJ Hecht was involved in the accreditation situation.
[The Rebbe felt the need to do something on a matter which Previous Rebbe was mosser nefesh. The Rebbe used that story of Previous Rebbe as a motto to his getting Jewish Iranian Youths out of Iran (being mosser nefesh). Then to get this youth back to traditional values (tell student I wasn’t mosser nefesh for student to get engaged with non-Jew). Like, what’s the connection? I don’t know. But clearly there must be one.
Further, I learned that if the Previous Rebbe was mosser nefesh for something (recognizing 770 as a college/center of higher learning), even if we might not see the great importance to it, it doesn’t matter, it IS important BECAUSE the Previous Rebbe was mosser nefesh for it. That is how a true follower of a Rebbe thinks.
Also, the actions of a tzadik continue onward. If the Previous Rebbe succeeded by silently crying.. we too can reach the heart of another if that person sees that we truly mean it and even cry about it (like the simple cry of shofer which pierces souls).
But I too am mystified by the interwoven connection between the parts of the story.]
Rabbi Avtzon is a veteran mechanech and the author of numerous books on the Rebbeim and their chassidim. He is available to farbreng or give a talk in your community and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
For practical reasons, next week’s story, will be posted Wednesday night.