In honor of Gimmel Tammuz, we present the following excerpt from the forthcoming book Footprints: Challenging Lives, Huge Impact to be published by Hasidic Archives.
by Dovid Zaklikowski
In 1952, at the suggestion of his uncle Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Isaac Hodakov, chief aide of the Rebbe, 17-year-old Immanuel Schochet traveled from Toronto to the Lubavitch school in Brooklyn, New York. Initially, while attending the school, located in Crown Heights, close to Lubavitch World Headquarters, known as “770”, he found Chassidic life foreign. Although he enjoyed the gatherings presided by the Rebbe, he had little understanding of a Rebbe’s role and felt out of place whenever the crowd sang melodies for lengthy periods. In addition, he found the study of Chassidic texts bewildering.
His views changed one day after waiting outside 770 to wish the Rebbe a good Shabbos. “I followed the Rebbe into 770,” he recalled. “When I came to the stairs, I saw that the door was open, and it was the Rebbe himself holding the door open for me.” He said that the encounter made him feel closer to the Rebbe, who he discovered was not only brilliant but also uniquely sensitive to others.
According to those who knew him, Rabbi Schochet’s deep consideration for others, regardless of differing views, was a trait the rabbi gleaned from the Rebbe. One illustration of this took place while Rabbi Schochet was still a young student in Crown Heights. In 1954, he had remained in the neighborhood for Passover, so as to experience the Rebbe’s court. During one of the Rebbe’s gatherings, an elderly Jewish scholar entered the room. Unknown to most there, he was waging a personal battle against the Rebbe.
The room was already packed, with no place for this man to sit among the elders at the head table. He tried to inch his way over the benches and tables when someone suddenly pulled him back forcefully.
The Rebbe, watching the scene, turned white as a tablecloth, as Rabbi Schochet described. The hall grew silent and the Rebbe spoke sharply about G-d’s command to the Jewish nation not to show anger towards the Egyptians, “for you were once strangers in their land.”
“A person should never be embarrassed in this way,” the Rebbe continued, “and certainly not one who has many merits from the good deeds he has done.”
Another incident took place following the passing of Uriel Zimmer, professional translator for the Rebbe. Letters in foreign languages continued to pour in, and so Rabbi Schochet was asked to translate letters in languages in which he was fluent. Considering many of the letters too laden with detail, he suggested to the Rebbe that only relevant sentences be translated.
The Rebbe responded: “You never know what the writer expresses about himself and his pain in the seemingly non-essential parts of his or her letter. Therefore, you should translate the entire letter.
This was a lesson Rabbi Schochet took to heart: other people’s “nonsense” should never be trivialized. One must always listen. He was never a man for small talk, but questions or opinions broached by others were considered with thoughtfulness and sincerity.
One acquaintance told Rabbi Schochet’s children, “Your father could highbrow with top professors and great rabbis, yet he talks to us at our level and as our best friend.”
One Shabbat morning, a man in crisis was waiting near Rabbi Schochet’s home as he was about to make the 25 minute trek to the synagogue. For Rabbi Schochet, this walk was a sacrosanct time for quiet thought. Nevertheless, he allowed the man to accompany him. Together, they walked to the synagogue, while discussing the man’s issues at length. As they neared the synagogue, Rabbi Schochet embraced the man warmly.
Yet the man remained outside the synagogue until Rabbi Schochet completed his prayers. When the rabbi re-emerged, he happily let the man escort him home, while they continued their conversation. This act repeated itself for the next several months, until the man was able to regain his former life.
An excerpt from the forthcoming book Footprints: Challenging Lives, Huge Impact to be published by Hasidic Archives.
Dovid Zaklikowski’s latest book Learning on the Job: Jewish Career Lessons is available at your local Judaica store or Amazon.com. Bulk orders are available from RebbeAdvice@Gmail.com.