In honor of Chof Beis Shvat, which this year marks the 30th year to the passing of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, Rabbi Lipa Brennan shares a personal story from which he learned a lesson in caring for another personal, especially if its someone they care about.
by Rabbi Lipa Brennan
Friday night Shabbos Shuva, 5736 – 1975 I ate at a friend’s house on President Street between Brooklyn and New York Avenues, opposite the Rebbe’s house. As I left at around 11:00pm I saw the Rebbetzin standing on the porch of her house. I knew it was the Rebbetzin because I had seen her a few times when she came to 770 to visit her sister Chana, who was married to Rabbi Gurary (the Rashag), and lived on the 2nd floor of 770. In general the Rebbetzin was a very private person and was not seen in public too often.
The Rebbetzin saw me and motioned for me to come over to the house. I crossed the street, nervously went up the steps to the porch and the Rebbetzin said that it’s very late and the Rebbe is usually home by now to make Kiddush.
Did the Rebbe daven Maariv yet? She asked. Yes, I answered. Was there a Farbrengen or a Maamar tonight? She asked. No, I answered.
The Rebbetzin then asked me to go to 770 and see what is happening and to come back and let her know. I started running to 770 and as I turned the corner from Brooklyn Avenue onto Eastern Parkway, I saw the Rebbe had already starting to walk home. I quickly turned around and ran back to the Rebbetzin.
When I reached the corner of Brooklyn Avenue and President Street, I saw the Rebbetzin standing on the corner. Apparently, she had walked from her house to the corner herself. I told the Rebbetzin that the Rebbe is on the way home and started to walk away to go back to my dormitory.
The Rebbetzin called me back and said that its late at night and would I wait with her until the Rebbe arrives. I did not know what to say, all I knew was that I did not want to be seen by the Rebbe when he met the Rebbetzin. The Rebbetzin saw my apprehension and said it’s not the right thing to leave a lady standing by herself on a street corner in New York!!
Not having any choice I stood a little behind the Rebbetzin near the bushes of the corner house. (Today the bushes have been taken away and now there is a metal fence). As the Rebbe approached I squeezed in further into the bushes in order to distance myself from the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin.
When the Rebbe reached the corner and saw the Rebbitzin he made a motion with his hands as if to say “what are you doing here?” The Rebbetzin answered the Rebbe but I could not hear the conversation. They then started to walk home together with two Bochurim walking behind them and I joined the Bochurim to walk the Rebbe home. (Whenever the Rebbe walked home on Shabbos or Yom Tov, 2 or 3 Bochurim would always follow behind as a sign of derech eretz so the Rebbe should not walk alone. On Shabbos and Yom Tov mornings, the Bochurim would wait outside the house to walk the Rebbe to 770).
The Rebbe always walked pretty fast and the Rebbetzin walked slowly. So after a little while the Rebbe looks to his left and did not see the Rebbetzin, so he turned around and saw the Rebbetzin slowly catching up to him. When she reached him they started walking again together, and again the Rebbe walked faster and again, after a little while, he turned around and waited for the Rebbetzin to catch up. This happened 3 times till they made it home!!
When they reached the steps to go up to the house the Rebbe turned to me and said “a dank un a gut Shabbos” [thank you and good Shabbos].
They then walked up the steps, the Rebbe opened the door, held it open for the Rebbetzin to enter, and they both went inside. When the Rebbe closed the window lock in the front room. That was the sign for the Bochurim to leave.
A very unusual aspect of this story is that I never before, or after, ever saw the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin walking together.
Reflecting on the story I took an important lesson in life. The care and concern the Rebbe showed to the Rebbetzin by waiting for her 3 times to catch up to him and then opening the door to the house for her.
The lesson that can be learned is that however busy a person is he/she should always make time for another Jew especially if it someone they care about.