STANDING BY THE REBBE
In 5738, following the Rebbe’s heart attack, he went up to his office and remained there. Toward morning, his condition deteriorated and it was learned afterward that the Rebbe had experienced another heart attack, worse than the first. The doctors said the Rebbe must go to the hospital and they decided to use an anesthetic so as to “force” him to go in an ambulance.
As they spoke, the Rebbetzin came down from the second floor to gan eden ha’tachton.
The doctors reported to her about the critical situation and said they must employ anesthesia in order to bring the Rebbe to the hospital. The Rebbetzin was taken aback by this but they said that even the top doctors who were there previously insisted this must be done.
The Rebbetzin asked, “What does my husband said about this?” They said the Rebbe said he could be treated in his office and it wasn’t necessary to go to the hospital.
“In all the years that I know my husband,” she said, “there was not one moment that he wasn’t in absolute control of himself. I cannot allow you to do something against his will.”
This line, said in matter-of-fact fashion though firmly, expressed her respect and belief in the Rebbe. It was only thanks to her that the Rebbe’s wishes were followed.
A CUP OF TEA – SACRED TIME
Dr. Ira Weiss, during his stay in 770, was privileged to experience many signs of closeness from the Rebbe.
One time, Dr. Weiss asked the Rebbe for advice about a problem that was on his mind. Professionally, he was phenomenally successful. He conducted complicated heart operations, he was invited to lecture and his articles in top medical journals were considered groundbreaking. But this exacted a toll. He hardly saw his wife and children and he did not know how to balance his work and family life.
The Rebbe said: I will tell you what I do. Every evening, I sit with my Rebbetzin to drink tea and this time is sacred. I will not forgo it just as I wouldn’t forgo putting on tefillin.
Dr. Weiss later said that what the Rebbe told him became the center-point of his life. If the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who was considered an extremely busy man, who never went on vacation, made time every day to sit down with the Rebbetzin, and considered this sacred time, surely he could do the same.
During the court case over the sefarim, those involved in the matter wanted to ensure that the Rebbetzin would not have to testify. When they saw that they were unsuccessful, they informed the Rebbe who said, “Why worry? She knows just what to say.”
BUYING JEWELRY FOR THE REBBETZIN
When R’ Zalman Gurary worked in importing pearls from Japan, the Rebbe asked him to buy beautiful pearls for him to give to the Rebbetzin.
Some time, later, he brought two strands of pearls and presented them to the Rebbe. The Rebbe examined them and said he wanted nicer pearls.
The next time, R’ Gurary brought a nicer strand and the Rebbe bought it from him, for the Rebbetzin, and R’ Zalman gave one of the other two strands that the Rebbe had held in his hands to his wife.
WAITING FOR THE REBBE
Every day, about an hour after the Rebbe arrived at 770 in the morning, the Rebbetzin would send a thermos of hot tea for him from home. The Rebbe spent all day at 770 and returned home for a short time in the evening. Then he continued his schedule at 770.
On the nights that the Rebbe received people for yechidus until the wee hours, the Rebbetzin always remained awake until the Rebbe returned home. Sometimes, it was morning.
SPARE NO COST
R’ Zalman Gurary, who was devoted to the household of the Rebbe, was the one that Rebbe appointed to attend to all maters relating to the Rebbetzin’s health. One time, the Rebbe told him, “According to halacha, I must be concerned and involved with her health. I am hereby placing this responsibility on you and rely on you to carry this out faithfully and responsibly, although I am the one responsible for all of the expenses this entails.”
A short while later, the Rebbe felt that R’ Zalman was not presenting him with accurate billing statements for the Rebbetzin’s medical treatments and that he was rounding the numbers in the Rebbe’s favor. The Rebbe told him, “It is my obligation as written in the kesuba to take care of her health. If I see that you are not submitting the correct amounts, in order to reduce my share, I will take away the merit that you have for paying for the security for my house and I will pay for that myself.”
The Rebbe did not spare any means to help with the Rebbetzin’s health and was very devoted to this.
One time, R’ Zalman reported to the Rebbe about a payment that he made to the doctors and the tip that he added. This is what the Rebbe wanted, as he heard from him a number of times, to add a tip to the doctor in addition to the official cost, “since maybe this would add to increased attentiveness etc.” The Rebbe even ordered him not to save the Rebbe’s money.
One time, R’ Zalman submitted a not quite exact report about how much the expenses were for a certain medical treatment of the Rebbetzin. The Rebbe reacted sharply, “I asked and warned you not to make pshetlach, kuntzin and dreidlach, etc.”
THE REBBETZIN’S EFFORTS SO THE REBBE SHOULDN’T WORRY
The night of Tisha B’Av 5743, while the Rebbe was in 770, the Rebbetzin went out on her porch and fell. R’ Sholom Ber Gansbourg rushed over and she told him to call R’ Zalman Gurary. R’ Sholom Ber raced over to R’ Zalman who was in a shul near his house on Lefferts, resting on a bench because he did not feel well. As soon as R’ Sholom Ber appeared in shul, R’ Zalman got up and hurried over to the Rebbe and Rebbetzin’s house in his car as he alerted Dr. Moshe Feldman.
After a brief examination, it seemed the Rebbetzin had broken her hip and she was taken to the Hospital for Joint Diseases. R’ Zalman spent the night at the hospital and during the night he spoke with the Rebbe and updated him about what was going on. In the morning, he made a personal appearance in the Rebbe’s home and gave a full report about the Rebbetzin’s condition.
A short while after the fast was over, the secretariat announced that the Rebbe was about to go to the hospital to visit the Rebbetzin.
“Shortly before the Rebbe arrived,” said Mrs. Esther Sternberg, R’ Zalman’s daughter, “the Rebbetzin asked a nurse to put makeup on her and help her straighten up so the Rebbe wouldn’t see what she really looked like. She was in terrible pain and every move was agony, but with tremendous effort as she bit her lips not to make a sound, she did her utmost to look the best she could so that her husband, the Rebbe, would not see how much she was suffering.
“I will never forget how, in those tense moments, before the Rebbe appeared, I spotted the head nurse as she left the Rebbetzin’s room and burst into tears. Later on, I asked her why she cried and she said, ‘In my life, I have never seen anything like it. Every sick woman wants her husband to feel bad for her and see how miserable she is. This woman was suffering terrible pain and see how much effort she made so that her husband would not see her suffering.’”
THE DAILY VISIT
Every night, the Rebbe went to visit the Rebbetzin in the hospital. “Each time,” said Mrs. Sternberg, “the Rebbe would come at night. The Rebbe would be met by the personal aide, R’ Chesed Halberstam, who would wait at the main entrance and escort the Rebbe to the elevator and then to the Rebbetzin’s room.
“On Sunday, the eve of 15 Av, due to the farbrengen the Rebbe held that evening (as he did every year on this date), the Rebbe did not pass up on the visit but came during the day instead.”
I CAN’T DELAY MY HUSBAND
At a certain point, after the Rebbetzin was discharged, she had a nurse attend her. At first, a nurse was hired from one of the agencies while Mrs. Sternberg saw to it that the nurse reported to her post; three nurses for three shifts.
Said Mrs. Sternberg, “The Rebbetzin never called to ask for something for herself or to ask me to extend myself, ever. There was one time that was an exception. It was getting close to nine in the evening and the nurse who was supposed to come and stay the night with her, had not showed up. The Rebbetzin prefaced the call by saying, ‘I truly apologize for the call but it is almost nine o’clock and at 9:30 my husband has a farbrengen. He said he will not leave the house until the nurse comes and I don’t want to delay him and cause the farbrengen to be delayed.’
“I quickly got a replacement nurse.”
HE KNOWS WHAT TO DO
One of the Chassidim, a mekurav of Beis Rebbi, once spoke with the Rebbetzin and asked her to mention the name of a sick person to the Rebbe, for a bracha. At a certain point, he asked whether she thought it was also worthwhile for the Rebbe to go to the Ohel to daven for him.
The Rebbetzin responded in her characteristically measured way, “My husband knows on his own what to do.”
TANYAS ARE NEVER HEAVY
Rabbi Leibel Zajac was very involved in the printing of new Tanyas. He once printed some editions of the Tanya and sent some of them in a nice box to the Rebbe. When he left the house, on his way to 770, the Rebbe held the box with Tanyas in one hand and in his other hand he held a bag that he always took with him.
The Rebbetzin, who was accompanying the Rebbe, said to R’ Sholom Gansbourg, “Sholom! Be so good and take it from my husband so it shouldn’t be difficult (in Yiddish, shver) for him.”
The Rebbe said, “Tanyas are never heavy (in Yiddish, shver),” and he continued to hold them.
A NEW MEMBER OF THE HOUSEHOLD
In the beginning of the 80s, the situation was such that it became necessary for regular assistance in the running of the home of the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin and its everyday upkeep.
At a certain point, R’ Sholom Gansbourg was called to the Rebbe’s house. “When I arrived at the house, I went to the bedroom where the Rebbe and Rebbetzin were. The Rebbe was standing between the beds and the Rebbetzin was sitting in a wheelchair. When the Rebbetzin saw me, she said, ‘I would like you to come and spend the nights here.’ I said I would do so; I just wanted to get some things from my house.
“When the Rebbe heard this, he smiled, looking pleased. I got my personal belongings from my house and lived in the Rebbe’s house after that.
“The first night of Pesach, I assumed the Rebbe and Rebbetzin wanted to have their own seder alone, as they always did. I thought, since I prepared everything they needed for the seder, I would quickly make my seder at my parents’ house and then go to the Rebbe and Rebbetzin’s house for ‘Shulchan Aruch.’ That’s what I did.
“Upon arriving, I was surprised to see the Rebbe and Rebbetzin waiting for me. They hadn’t started their seder yet! As soon as she noticed me, the Rebbetzin said, ‘Sholom! Where did you disappear to? My husband has been waiting for you.’
“With my teeth chattering and me trembling all over, the Rebbe said to me, ‘What are you up to?’ I told the Rebbe where I was up to in the Haggada. The Rebbe pointed at the matzos and said, ‘Nu, take a matza and make a ke’ara.’ I was so disoriented, as I have never been in my life, that I had to look into the siddur in order to remember how to arrange the ke’ara.”
The night of Succos, half a year later, a similar thing occurred:
“In addition to the fact that the succa was built in a very narrow area (between the library and the house of Rabbi Meir Itkin), it was small, and the table that the Rebbe and Rebbetzin ate at was very small. I felt it wasn’t right for me to eat the Yom Tov meals with them.
“I served the first course and waited outside the succa. After a while, when I assumed the Rebbe and Rebbetzin had finished eating the first course, I went in to clear the plates and serve the next course.
“As soon as I walked in, the Rebbetzin said what she said on Pesach night. ‘My husband is waiting for you.’ I saw that they had waited for me and had not begun to eat. In my attempt to explain myself I said, ‘The succa is small. Why should I come in? I can eat afterward.’ Then the Rebbe said, ‘Perhaps you can sometimes obey as you are told?’
“After those two occurrences, I always ate with the Rebbe and Rebbetzin.”
NOT TO CAUSE AGGRAVATION
One time, while traveling back from a visit to an eye doctor, the Rebbetzin voiced her uncertainty about which of two approaches to take that the doctor had proposed. R’ Zalman Gurary, who was there, said: Why not ask the Rebbe what to do?
The Rebbetzin said she did not want to cause him pain and tell him about the problem from which she suffered.
R’ Zalman mustered his courage and asked: The entire world brings medical dilemmas to the Rebbe and you, the Rebbetzin, won’t have the Rebbe resolve your medical dilemma?!
The Rebbetzin responded in a calm voice: Not causing the Rebbe aggravation is more important to me than his decision-making regarding my medical matters.
THE REBBE ESCORTS THE REBBETZIN TO THE CAR
The night of 22 Shevat 5748, the Rebbetzin did not feel well and the doctors who were called to the house said she should be taken to the hospital for tests. The two doctors who were there had already left for the hospital to prepare for her coming.
The Rebbetzin left by the back door. She went down the steps slowly and entered the car. The cars of R’ Zalman Gurary, Dr. Feldman and R’ Sholom Gansbourg joined the procession.
The Rebbe left the house and escorted his wife to the car which stood in the alley facing the street so that the driver’s side window was toward the house. R’ Yudel Krinsky opened the window and asked for a bracha to return swiftly and in peace. The Rebbe looked at him and said, “Gam atem” (to you as well).
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