In honor of 22 Shevat, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka’s Yartzeit, the Beis Mashiach Magazine put together an article about the Rebbetzin, focusing on her care and concern for others, even when it was at her personal expense.
The Communist Revolution began before the passing of the Rebbe Rashab. His successor, the Rebbe Rayatz, fought fearlessly to defend Judaism. Throughout this time, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka stood at her father’s side and was involved in his dangerous holy work.
For example, when the Rebbe Rayatz needed someone to secretly bring food and candles to the Litvishe Novardok yeshiva which was in Rostov at the time, he chose his middle daughter. She did the job successfully, every day, for a long time.
SAVING THE MANUSCRIPTS
Even when they came to arrest the Rebbe Rayatz and take him to prison, she had her wits about her. When she noticed through the window that the Rebbe (her future husband) was approaching, she warned him, “Schneersohn, guests came to visit us!”
The Rebbe got the hint and worked all that night to rescue the precious manuscripts and to burn incriminating evidence that was in the homes of several Chassidim. She had a great share in this rescue, and the efforts to rescue her father.
ON FOREIGN SOIL
After she married, the couple settled in Berlin. The Rebbetzin followed her husband willingly and happily, even though this meant being cut off from the Chassidic center of her father’s court. She lived in a studio apartment in west Berlin and then in Paris, isolated and far from her family. She literally fulfilled, “Following you in the desert, in a land not sown,” and it was all for the Rebbe.
TO SAVE THE REBBE
The Rebbetzin recounted that she was once walking down the street in Germany with her husband when she saw a group of Nazis in uniform heading in their direction. She was frightened by the looks on their faces and she asked the Rebbe to hide in a nearby store until they passed. But the Rebbe decided to ignore their existence and continued walking as though they did not exist.
While in Paris, the Rebbetzin would walk long distances to a barn in order to watch the milking so it would be chalav Yisroel. Then she used the milk to prepare food for the Rebbe.
R’ Eliyahu Reichman arrived in Paris around Pesach time. He was surprised to see the Rebbetzin selecting kernels of wheat and doing the entire matza baking process in a small hand oven. He was amazed by the great care she took and she explained that her husband ate nothing outside the home. Despite the limited quantity, the Rebbe gave him from those matzos.
THEY PLOWED AND SOWED FOR US
Regarding the period they lived in Paris, the Rebbetzin once said to one of the shluchos there, “We plowed and sowed and you need to reap.”
RETURNING TO THE LION’S DEN
When the Nazis were in control of Germany but had not yet invaded France, the Rebbe’s brother, R’ Yisroel Aryeh Leib, needed documents from the Nazi regime. The Rebbe wanted to go to Germany for this reason but the Rebbetzin carried out this dangerous task.
T’SHUVA FOR PUSHING A JEW
After the Nazis invaded, the Rebbe and Rebbetzin escaped Paris for Vichy. During one of the bombing raids, the Rebbetzin saw that one of the planes that passed overhead had dropped a bomb. Near her stood a man who had not noticed this. The Rebbetzin, fearing that if he did not lie down immediately, he would be hurt, quickly pushed him with all her strength off to the side, and he was saved.
When she related this, she said, “Although the Jew was saved from being injured, I pushed him, and for pushing a Jew, t’shuva must be done.”
The Rebbetzin related:
“I was once walking near the coast in Nice and I saw a Jewish woman, the wife of a rabbi from Belgium. I asked her, ‘What are you doing here?’ She said she was waiting for her husband who had gone to immerse in the sea. He had immersed some distance away from where people bathed and his clothes were off to the side.
“As we stood there, we suddenly noticed a group of Germans approaching us. Nice was not officially under their control, but their fear was felt there too. The main concern was for her husband who looked obviously Jewish, and we did not know what to do.
“Then I had an idea. I went over to the lifeguard and told him in French, ‘Isn’t that a head over there, far out in the water?’ As he looked, I hinted that ‘they’ shouldn’t see him. The lifeguard understood the hint and took the lifeboat and rowed over as though to rescue someone. He then grabbed the rabbi and dragged him far from the beach.
“In the meantime, the Germans came over and watched what was happening. They paid no attention to me or the other woman. They saw the Jew who was in the boat with the lifeguard, but since they were at a distance, they just walked on.
“The lifeguard dropped the rabbi off further away and let him get dressed. Later on, when he returned home, the woman sent me one of her little daughters to tell me not to worry since he came back and everything was fine. But I wasn’t home because I had just gone to bring chalav Yisroel.”
IT TIPPED THE SCALE
After the passing of the Rebbe Rayatz, the Chassidim begged the Rebbe to accept the Chabad leadership, but to no avail. The one who may have had the deciding voice was the Rebbetzin, who said “It is not possible that my father’s mesirus nefesh for thirty years will go to waste.”
FALSEHOOD FOR A CAUSE
The Rebbe’s brother, R’ Yisroel Aryeh Leib, passed away on 13 Iyar 5712/1952. The Rebbe and Rebbetzin did all they could so that his mother, Rebbetzin Chana, would not know of his passing. The Rebbetzin helped arrange scripted telegrams from the deceased son to his mother. In a rare comment, the Rebbetzin said to Rabbi Bentzion Shemtov, “I never said anything that wasn’t true (another version: a falsehood), and now I need to do so,” and she sighed.
CONCERN FOR THE WELFARE OF THE REFUGEES
In 5714, the Rebbetzin made a quiet visit to Paris. R’ Refael Wilschansky a”h, told about this:
“The Rebbetzin took a great interest in the lives of the refugees in Paris, among whom was a large group from Anash. They had left Russia and lived under very difficult conditions. In the tone and type of questions, and in her general demeaner, her genuine concern, like a mother for her children, was apparent.”
HIS WILL – HER WILL
On Shmini Atzeres 5738, when the Rebbe suffered heart trouble, the Rebbetzin arrived at 770. They asked her to prevail on the Rebbe to go to the hospital. The Rebbetzin firmly refused to do what the Rebbe did not want. Throughout that period, the Rebbe stayed in his room in 770, as he desired.
THE REBBE AND SEFARIM BELONG TO THE CHASSIDIM
In the court case regarding the sefarim, the issue revolved around one question: Did the sefarim belong to the Rebbe as a private person or as a leader. They went to the Rebbetzin, in her home, to obtain testimony.
The Rebbetzin answered all the questions clearly and firmly, without being fazed by the lawyers of the other side who tried to get her to say at least a few words in their favor, but they were unsuccessful. During her testimony, she said the famous line, “My father belonged to the Chassidim, and what he had belonged to the Chassidim.”
This line led to the decisive victory in the courthouse and on 5 Teves 5747, the court declared that the Rebbe and the sefarim belong to the Chassidim.
One of the T’mimim was once asked to bring some items that the Rebbetzin had ordered from the grocery store to her house. He hurried to do so and when he arrived at her house, after the Rebbetzin thanked him, he said that the man at the store asked him to take back some empty beverage bottles. When the Rebbetzin realized that he had no wagon to carry them, she refused to allow him to take the empty bottles.
I HAVE HIM IN MIND
R’ Berel Junik related that one of the times that R’ Berel Levy a”h was in Russia, for Chanuka 5742, the Rebbetzin told him, “I call him to mind every day because the current relations with Russia are tense.”
R’ Berel also told about a visit he made to her house with his daughter:
“The Rebbetzin spoke a lot with the girl. She asked her whether she missed her mother who went to Miami for a few days, took an interest in her studies and all the family members in detail. Outside it was very cold and the Rebbetzin said, ‘When I call to mind that you will soon have to go out to the street, I become cold now.’”
A GIFT THAT WILL MAKE THE RECIPIENT HAPPY
When a certain girl went to the Rebbetzin to receive a blessing before her bas mitzva, the Rebbetzin did all she could to ascertain what present she would most like to receive.
FEELING FOR OTHERS
R’ Chesed Halberstam related:
The Rebbetzin’s personal concern for my family was apparent in every detail. When a family member was in labor and she was in critical condition due to some complication, the Rebbetzin said she could not sleep at night!
So too with a joyous occasion, when my family was able to get an apartment, which entailed many difficulties, the Rebbetzin said that she could not sleep all night because she was so happy for us.
SEEING THE BLESSING IN EVERYTHING
A chassan and kalla and their families went to visit the Rebbetzin. On the table was a pitcher with a red punch and near it were large glasses. The Rebbetzin offered drinks and said to the chassan, “You are the chassan, please pour.”
The chassan poured and the glass turned over and the punch spilled on the tablecloth. You can imagine how he felt. But the Rebbetzin immediately said, “Nu, it is a siman bracha.”
THE DAILY GUEST
A certain bachur was invited by the Rebbetzin to eat in her home every day. It was during the summer, when most of the bachurim had gone off on shlichus and he was practically alone. He would come each day and the Rebbetzin would prepare a hot meal for him and do everything to make him feel comfortable.
Mrs. Frieda Kugel, a wig maker in Crown Heights, recounts:
“Shortly after I opened the wig store, as per the Rebbe’s instructions, I received a call from the Rebbetzin who asked to order a wig. From then until her passing in 5748, she ordered wigs from me on a regular basis. The Rebbetzin ordered many wigs from us and would also send them in to be repaired, but she always ordered the same style. Apparently, the reason that the Rebbetzin chose to buy from me and not from the larger stores, was because the Rebbe had asked that people support the wig stores that had opened in the neighborhood.”
NOT TO HOLD HIM BACK
The Rebbetzin did everything in her power to support the Rebbe’s holy work. She never asked the Rebbe to curtail or lighten his workload because of her loneliness. And on nights that a farbrengen or yechidus was held, the Rebbetzin would not go to bed until he returned home.
Once, she experienced pains in her hand during the evening hours, and she called one of the women close to her to ask that she get a nurse to come to the house. Due to the late hour, it was hard to find a nurse that would come out. Ten minutes later, she called again to find out what was happening, and she explained: “My husband is here with me and he says he will not leave to go to 770 until a nurse arrives. I know how important it is to him to be with the Chassidim and for the Chassidim to be with him, and I don’t want to hold him up even one extra second.”
TO AVOID NOTICE
Once the Rebbetzin hurt her foot and was not able to walk properly. She did everything possible so that the Rebbe should not notice, and on Friday night she awaited the Rebbe’s arrival while she remained seated. When it came time to serve the soup, she was concerned that the Rebbe might notice that she was not serving the soup herself. However, at that exact time, the Rebbe began to sing “Azamer B’Shevachin” with tremendous d’veikus and closed eyes. The helper hurried to serve the soup, and when the Rebbe concluded the niggun and opened his eyes, the soup was already on the table.
NOT TO CAUSE HIM ANGUISH
In her later years, when the Rebbetzin was suffering greatly from health problems, she did all that she could to conceal it from the Rebbe. When they asked her, “Jews from all around the world wish for themselves that the Rebbe mention their names for a blessing, and you are avoiding telling him?” She responded simply, “It is important to me not to cause him any anguish.”
THE TITLE THAT STUCK
R’ Chesed Halberstam recounted: “One time during the period leading up to Pesach, the Rebbe walked into the house while I was still in middle of working. The Rebbetzin took the opportunity to tell the Rebbe, ‘This bachur made Pesach for me this year.’ The Rebbe answered glowingly, ‘He is a Sanzer descendant and you call him a bachur?’”
On another occasion, during that same period, when the Rebbe heard the Rebbetzin refer to him as Halberstam, the Rebbe corrected her and said, “Rabbi Halberstam.” From that point on, every day for the next 18 years, the Rebbetzin was particular to refer to him only as Rabbi Halberstam. Because that is what the Rebbe said.
SHARING THE JOY
The Rebbetzin took great pride in the work of the shluchim. She would speak of them with admiration, amazement and endless love. She would often say, “The shluchim deserve all the credit.” She was always very happy to hear a report about the growth and development of any individual shliach or the institution of shlichus in general. It was something that she lived with and would become very excited and emotional about their work.
The Rebbetzin once inquired of a chassan as to his plans following his wedding. When he answered that he planned to learn in kollel, she asked about what he planned to do after that. When he answered, “We are hoping with Hashem’s help to go out on shlichus,” the Rebbetzin became very serious and said, “You are young and energetic, and with Hashem’s help you will succeed in shlichus.”
THE POWER OF BLESSING
In honor of the Rebbetzin’s birthday, N’shei Chabad once sent a bouquet of flowers to the Rebbetzin. Attached to the bouquet was an envelope with a list of names of people who needed a blessing. R’ Chessed Halberstam handed the bouquet to the Rebbetzin and brought the envelope to the Rebbe. The Rebbe glanced at the envelope and seeing that it was addressed to the Rebbetzin asked why R’ Halberstam had brought it him. When he answered that it was a list of people that were in need of a blessing, the Rebbe responded, “Nu, she can bless too.”
At the conclusion of a visit to the Rebbetzin, a certain Chassid wished her “that the Rebbe should be healthy and derive much nachas from us.” The Rebbetzin replied, “Our nachas is when we hear that you have nachas.”
NEED FOR REVELATION
On a number of occasions, the Rebbetzin was heard to say, “Moshiach is here, it is only necessary to reveal him.”
DEPARTING WITH A BLESSING
Before her passing in the hospital, the Rebbetzin asked for a glass of water. Mrs. Esther Sternberg ran immediately to bring her a glass of water. Knowing that the Rebbetzin would feel uncomfortable if she would see her there, at a time when she would ordinarily be home with her children, she avoided showing her face and gave the glass to R’ Sholom Dovber Gansbourg to give to the Rebbetzin. The Rebbetzin made a “shehakol” and drank a bit of the water. Then she said to him, “Sholom, just as you were mechayeh (revived) me, Hashem should be mechayeh (give life) you.”
HER TRUE WORTH
To one of the people who came to offer consolations, the Rebbe said, “In my opinion, any assessment is insufficient to express her true level. Only Hashem knows her true level.”