Shneur Levin, Beis Moshiach
Following the Rebbe’s heart attack on Shemini Atzeres 5738, Chassidim were concerned for the Rebbe’s health. Some tried to get the Rebbe to reduce his activities. Every such attempt was absolutely negated by the Rebbe and despite their repeated requests the Rebbe continued to do as he always did.
One outstanding example occurred on the second day of Chanuka. During the sicha the Rebbe said after mincha and the lighting of the menorah, he announced that he would give out dollars for tzedaka in the entrance to the shul “of the Rebbe, my father-in-law.”
The secretaries, nervous about the Rebbe’s health, wanted to reduce the number of people so the distribution would be brief. The Rebbe gave each of the secretaries a dollar and told them to go back to their work in the office.
During the distribution, when the Rebbe noticed that there were still Chassidim who were preventing others from approaching, he said, “Those who are holding people back should know that they are starting up with me.” He also said he did not need policemen around him.
Likewise, he said to Dr. Resnick, “Today, it is without limitations.”
At the same time, it can be said that after that Simchas Torah, the Rebbe’s regular practice was not the same as it used to be. Several changes were seen, as will be outlined in this article.
“I LISTENED TO MY WIFE”
Erev Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan, a few days after the heart attack, the Rebbe asked his doctors for their consent regarding his traveling to the Ohel of his father-in-law, as he did every erev Rosh Chodesh. When the doctors discussed it, the Rebbe said to Dr. Weiss, “Are you a Chassid?” When the doctor said, “What difference does it make?” the Rebbe said, “A Chassid must obey.”
Despite his wish to do so, the Rebbe did not travel to the Ohel that erev Rosh Chodesh. The reason was only discovered by Dr. Weiss a few days later. It was when his wife asked him to return to Chicago after being away from home for so long. Since Simchas Torah, he had refused to leave 770 as he wanted to remain with the Rebbe until the Rebbe fully recovered.
When the Rebbe heard about this, he said, “Listen to her because she is the akeres ha’bayis; like I listened to my wife, my akeres ha’bayis, about going to the Ohel. I wanted to go but she said not to go and I accepted her view.”
That day (erev Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan), the Rebbe did not feel well. In response to the doctors who asked how he felt, he said that physically he felt well but mentally, he did not feel well. Some explained this to mean that it was because he did not go to the Ohel.
During the winter, Dr. Lown came to check the Rebbe. Dr. Lown was a teacher and mentor of Dr. Weiss. The doctor asked the Rebbe to minimize his trips to the Ohel to preserve his health but the Rebbe said, “There is nothing to discuss because I need my Rebbe.”
The first time that the Rebbe went to the Ohel was on 28 Kislev, the fourth day of Chanuka. Dr. Lev and Dr. Resnick joined him on the first trips he made.
At the Ohel, a special room was built with materials that could withstand heat and cold in order to preserve the Rebbe’s health.
YEARNING TO DAVEN WITH THE REBBE
Generally speaking, until 5748, the Rebbe would go to the small zal on Mondays and Thursdays in order to hear the Torah-reading, and for mincha and maariv.
Following the heart attack, changes were made in the times and occasions that the Rebbe came out to daven with the public.
At first, a small minyan for the Torah-reading took place in gan eden ha’tachton, near the Rebbe’s room. The minyan consisted of the secretaries and a few special invitees, such as guests from Eretz Yisrael, etc. After that, the Rebbe began going to the small zal on Shabbos in order to hear the Torah-reading and after a while, he also went there on weekdays. Since many bachurim and Chassidim wanted to join this minyan with the Rebbe, but enough space had to be left so the room would remain airy, a lottery was held among the bachurim. Whenever a certain letter was picked, all the bachurim whose name started with that letter would go in.
The times and places continued to evolve over time, and the first time that the Rebbe came downstairs to say Tehillim with the congregation was on Shabbos Mevorchim was Shabbos Bereishis 5739, a full year later.
THE REBBE WANTED TO READ THE MAIL
Right after Simchas Torah 5738, the secretaries announced that mail could be sent to the Rebbe as usual. The Rebbe asked that all the mail of the past few days be brought to him.
One of the doctors suggested that the Rebbe rest for two weeks and then resume responding to mail. The Rebbe said that two weeks later would make the work too much and hard because more mail would accumulate. The Rebbe compared it to a person who smokes. Someone addicted to smoking cannot be distracted from smoking, and if he would be forced to stop, it would affect his health.
The same was true for him, said the Rebbe. Since he was accustomed to receive and respond to correspondence, if he would suddenly have to stop for a while, that would not be healthful.
The doctors also suggested that one of the secretaries read the letters and provide the Rebbe with a written summary to spare the Rebbe’s time and effort in reading every letter. The Rebbe responded with a comparison to a doctor to whom someone comes for treatment and he sends him to a different doctor. Surely, when the patient returns to the first doctor, he won’t suffice with reading what the second doctor wrote in a report but will reexamine him to find out more information. So too, explained the Rebbe, he could not rely on a summary written by someone else; he had to know what was going on himself.
Every year, the Rebbe received guests for a private audience. After Tishrei, there were thousands of guests who wanted to see the Rebbe before leaving New York.
Due to the Rebbe’s health, a change was made. The Rebbe sat in the doorway of his office with a table in front of him on which there was a box for panim. Guests passed by in a line and the Rebbe gave each one a dollar for tzedaka. This is how yechidus was done the entire year.
To someone who wanted to make a special trip to have a private audience about an important matter, the Rebbe wrote, “As of now, the doctors have permitted answering correspondence but not receiving people for discussions and the like, and they are not setting a date when they will allow this as well. If possible, it is worthwhile that he write with the appropriate detail (if necessary – write ‘secret’ on the envelope), and I will try to answer him posthaste. And a tenth of the costs of the trip here, he should give to charity to the poor of his city. I will mention it at the tziyun.”
When many guests came for special dates in the calendar, the Rebbe received them quickly at the door to his room. The following year, toward the end of Tishrei, there were rumors that even after Tishrei 5739 the guests would not have private audiences.
How surprised people were when, at the Simchas Torah farbrengen, the Rebbe announced that he would be receiving people for yechidus as usual for a few sessions of one and a half hours, but it would be brief in the sense of “a small amount that contains much,” and he referred to it being “a minute that includes everything.” The Rebbe explained that for a number of reasons it could not be for long, and that most had already written their matters in notes. “But since there is a special preciousness to meeting face-to-face, it will be without any lengthiness, and even if they will speak of one thing or even one letter, this also is a great thing.”
TO FARBRENG AND BE WITH THE CHASSIDIM
As the Rebbe Rayatz instructed, the Rebbe MH”M farbrenged with the Chassidim every Shabbos Mevorchim and sometimes on other Shabbosos. To make it easier for the Rebbe, the doctors suggested that the farbrengens take place on motzoei Shabbos when he could use a microphone.
One of the doctors, who was a partner to the suggestions, asked the Rebbe why he wanted to farbreng specifically on Shabbos. The Rebbe said, “Shabbos is a holy day, a day when every individual is capable of reaching higher. When I go down to the Chassidim, I raise them up and they raise me up. All this is specifically together with the lofty quality of Shabbos Kodesh.”
However, the farbrengens took place on motzoei Shabbos. The first one was on motzoei Simchas Torah while the Rebbe spoke from his office using a microphone. The sicha was broadcast to the Chassidim via a speaker system. This continued until Yud-Tes Kislev of that year when the Rebbe went down to the large zal for the first time.
The farbrengens during that period were shorter than usual. Until motzoei Shabbos parshas Emor, erev Pesach Sheini 5738, the Rebbe did not deliver Rashi sichos nor sichos elucidating the notes of his father on the Zohar, as he had done since 5725. At this farbrengen, the Rebbe asked for a Chumash and after saying a maamar, he explained a Rashi for the first time in a long time. To the Chassidim, it was another stage in the Rebbe’s complete recovery.
BRACHA-BLESSING WITHOUT LIMITS
The Rebbe did not wash his hands at the Shabbos farbrengens over the years; he just tasted a bit of the mezonos that was on the table. At farbrengens on motzoei Shabbos, it happened a few times that the Rebbe washed his hands for melave malka.
This was a hint for what was planned for the conclusion of the farbrengen. By washing his hands, the Chassidim understood that after birkas ha’mazon there would be kos shel bracha.
The first time was on Zos Chanuka. The Rebbe suddenly announced a farbrengen in the course of which he said that although he had sent kos shel bracha on motzoei Simchas Torah (that was given out by his secretaries) and although one’s emissary is like oneself, so it was like he himself gave it out, since another distribution would add to Torah and mitzvos, it would be done again.
Another distribution took place on motzoei Shabbos parashas Beshalach. At the beginning of the farbrengen, the Rebbe washed his hands and then he called for Rabbi Mentlick and asked him to announce that people should also wash. R’ Mentlick made the announcement but apparently, it was not made in the traditional wording and therefore, the Rebbe told him to repeat it with the full wording.
The Rebbe added that since Rabbi Piekarski was Rabbi Teleshevsky’s neighbor (and the latter would usually make the announcements), he should do it in his place. At the end of the farbrengen, there was kos shel bracha and the Rebbe encouraged the singing of the crowd with vigorous hand motions.
On motzoei Shabbos parashas Tzav too, the Rebbe gave out kos shel bracha. Most of the bachurim did not pass by in concern for the Rebbe’s health. When Dr. Resnick approached the Rebbe, he held a few cups and said the names of some bachurim for whom he was taking wine. The Rebbe smiled and asked whether it was enough for all of them.
The Rebbe also gave out kos shel bracha on motzoei Shabbos parshiyos Shemini, Acharei and Netzavim.
On motzoei Shavuos, in the middle of the usual distribution, the Rebbe motioned to Dr. Resnick to come up to get kos shel bracha. At first, he refused and only then did he accede. When he received wine from the Rebbe, he said it was for those to whom he promised and the Rebbe gave him half a cup of wine.
One expression that stands out as far as the Rebbe’s desire that his health would not affect the usual routine was something the Chassidim experienced during kos shel bracha on motzoei Rosh Hashana 5739. The Rebbe asked Rabbi Moshe Teleshevsky to announce the order of the distribution.
R’ Teleshevsky announced the order of the distribution of kos shel bracha and added that only those whom the “vaad ha’mesader” would allow, would receive kos shel bracha (intending to make it easier for the Rebbe).
The Rebbe smiled when he heard this and made a dismissive motion with his hand. He said, “As mentioned before, the bracha will be ‘ad bli dai,’ without limitations or measurements.”
The Rebbe added that “all limitations are canceled retroactively and everyone should approach, and that it gives him pleasure and improves his health, etc. and those with ‘mara shechora’ should be more diligent in their Torah study.”
Then the Rebbe distributed wine from his cup to each person. At some point, the Rebbe noticed that some were trying to stop the line and he said, “Any who were not allowed to take kos shel bracha should come and take twice.”
After some more people passed, with two cups, he said, “If there are still candidates, they should come and take three times.”
THE FIRST WALK HOME
The first time the Rebbe walked home was on Rosh Chodesh Kislev. At first, Dr. Resnick accompanied him and they went by car and at some point, the Rebbe got out and walked the rest of the way. It was part of the healing process that included walking in the hallway on the first floor of 770 and going up the stairs between floors in 770 until the Rebbe began walking home on a regular basis.
Interesting to note, on one of those walks, the Rebbe walked together with the doctor in the hall on the first floor. As they walked, the Rebbe and the doctor reached the broadcasting room at the end of the hall where the door was slightly ajar. They could hear a Chassidic niggun that was being played there.
Later on, Rabbi Chaim Boruch Halberstam, in charge of the broadcasting room said that he left the door open on purpose in the hopes that the Rebbe would enter. The Rebbe looked into the room and said to the doctor, “Only good things emerge from here.”
At first, the Rebbe only went home in the evening but on 17 Nissan, the Chassidim saw a familiar sight when they saw the Rebbe being driven home during the day. Shabbos parashas Tazria, Rosh Chodesh Nissan, was the first time that the Rebbe went home on Friday night and did not remain in 770 for Shabbos.
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