Rabbi Hodakov served as Menahel of “Machne Yisroel”, “Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch”, Chief secretary of the Rebbe, and was the “Yoshev Rosh” of “Agudas Chassidei Chabad Ha’Olomis”.
May his Neshama have an aliya. Vehukeetzu veranenu shochnay ufur vehu besochom!
SLICE OF SLICE from the Lchaim 8 Sivan 5753
On Friday evening, the 3rd of Iyar (April 23), Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Isaac Hodakov, passed away
at the age of 91. Rabbi Hodakov worked for the Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita, for the past 53 years, as director of the three main organizations which the Rebbe headed–Machne Israel, Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch and Kehot Publishing–as well as being the head of the Rebbe’s secretariat.
Rabbi Hodakov was known as a true chasid of the Rebbe. He was renowned for keeping confidences and for his concern not to waste a moment. In addition, he was devoted to emet–truth, so much so that among his last words were, “We must leave this world of falsehood and come closer to truth.”
In tribute to this great man we bring you excerpts of an interview with Rabbi Binyamin Klein, a member of the Rebbe’s secretariat and Rabbi Hodakov’s “right-hand man” and confidant for the past 30 years. (Rabbi Klein, himself, is known as a guarded person who measures his every word. He only agreed to the interview in order to better allow people to understand the greatness of Rabbi Hodakov.) The interview was conducted for the Kfar Chabad Magazine by Moshe Marinovsky.
At the age of 18, Rabbi Hodakov began his involvement in Jewish communal work in the area of Jewish education. Thus, his involvement in Jewish communal work spanned more than 75 years! Rabbi Hodakov established the Torah V’Derech Eretz Yeshiva in Riga. He was also one of the leaders of Tzeirei Agudas Yisrael as well as being the head of the official government-run office for Jewish education for all of Latvia. Rabbi Hodakov came, together with his wife Etel, to the United States with the Previous Rebbe in 1940.
Jewish education was the central point in his life. It is self-understood that Rabbi Hodakov fulfilled his responsibilities in this area superbly. But more than this, one could see daily how Rabbi Hodakov effectively applied all of the principles of education.
For example, he knew exactly, down to the most precise detail, what each of his students was up to in his studies and in his attitudes and behavior. And he also knew what each student did in his free time.
It is well known that many times, when questions in the area of Jewish education would reach the Previous Rebbe, the Rebbe would refer these question to Rabbi Hodakov.
Rabbi Hodakov was a person who, in addition to all of his amazing character traits, was extremely modest. In general, he didn’t speak much and he certainly didn’t speak about himself. Once, however, he did tell me that when he worked for the Previous Rebbe, of blessed memory, not a day passed when Rabbi Hodakov did not “report to work” and go in to the Rebbe. This included weekdays, Shabboses and Yomim Tovim. He related this to me to teach me how devoted one must be to the Rebbe.
There were many times, and not just a few, when the Rebbe instructed Rabbi Hodakov to call a certain person in order to give over a message from the Rebbe to the person. At those times, the Rebbe would listen as Rabbi Hodakov gave over the Rebbe’s message. He was the one person who was given the privilege and the responsibility of speaking in the Rebbe’s name.
In everything that Rabbi Hodakov did one could see two central qualities–total self-nullification and devotion to the Rebbe and a tremendous amount of wisdom and insight.
Rabbi Hodakov never took a day’s vacation. Even in his later years, when his health didn’t allow him to come into the office every day as he was used to for the past decades, he continued to work at home as much as he was able. Without exaggerating, one can say about Rabbi Hodakov that he never wasted a moment in his life.
Let me give you an example. In years gone by, the Rebbe used to come out for the afternoon services regularly at 3:15 p.m. If, for some reason, the Rebbe was going to come out even just a few minutes later, the Rebbe would ask the secretaries to inform the people waiting in the shul about the change in time. It disturbed Rabbi Hodakov when he would come out during those few minutes and see people doing nothing, just waiting. His objection was that if the Rebbe made an effort to inform those waiting, it was so that they could do something useful with that extra few minutes.
Over 30 years ago, when the Rebbe told me that I would begin working in the Secretariat, the Rebbe told me to see Rabbi Hodakov for the details. Concerning my work in the Rebbe’s office, Rabbi Hodakov told me, “I can’t tell you not to see what you see. I can’t tell you not to hear what you hear. But I can tell you not to say anything. The first condition for working as part of the Rebbe’s secretariat is to know how to keep silent.” And then Rabbi Hodakov reminded me about the words of the Rebbe Maharash [the fifth Rebbe] concerning the three levels of one who keeps a secret, the highest level being that others don’t even realize you have a secret.
Rabbi Hodakov had rules that were established in iron about working in the secretariat. For instance, one must never reveal to anyone an answer that the Rebbe gave to someone else, even if it is the husband or wife of the person! If, for instance, a man wrote a letter to the Rebbe and, when calling the house to relay the answer, the wife answered the telephone, the message was not given over to the wife but only directly to the husband.
Rabbi Hodakov was at the same time obstinate and yet very careful about other people’s honor. This was part of his greatness for he knew just when to apply either. For example, when he had to reprimand someone, he never did it directly. He always managed to do it with a story or a parable so that the listener understood exactly what Rabbi Hodakov was getting at, but wasn’t hurt by the criticism.
It is also so important to emphasize that Rabbi Hodakov was very, very careful never to say to the Rebbe a bad word about another person. When the Rebbe was not pleased about something that a member of the secretariat did, Rabbi Hodakov always took the blame rather than point out to the Rebbe who was truly at fault.
Rabbi Hodakov’s “written responsibilities” were enough to keep him busy 24 hours a day. And yet, he found time to study Talmud and Chasidut each day. This was in addition to all of the other assignments the Rebbe gave him.
Also, all the days of his life, Rabbi Hodakov worried about and kept in touch with the students he had taught in Riga. Rabbi Hodakov remained in contact with his students and also encouraged all educators and teachers to form alumni associations and to keep in touch with their students.
In a word, I would describe Rabbi Hodakov as a soldier. In truth, he directed the most important, powerful and prestigious institutions in Lubavitch. But he always saw himself as a simple soldier, always ready and willing to fulfill the Rebbe’s request precisely as the Rebbe wanted. He had no other desire in the world. Anyone who knew him even casually knew that he didn’t have any personal ambitions except to do what the Rebbe wanted of him. Anyone who saw how he entered the Rebbe’s room, each time he entered, even after more than 50 years of working for the Rebbe, could understand what is a chasid and what is a soldier.