The Jewish Press/Written by Rabbi Shmuel Butman
Like other communities, Lubavitch has recently suffered grievous losses. Particularly hard to bear is the loss of Rabbi Yehuda Leib Groner, the Rebbe’s long-time secretary and personal aide.
Rabbi Groner was born in Brownsville, Brooklyn, in 1931. His father was the memorable chassid, Reb Mordechai Avraham Yishaya. His mother, Menucha Rochel, born in Chevron, was the first great-granddaughter named after the renowned Rebbetzin Menucha Rochel Slonim, daughter of the second Lubavitcher Rebbe and granddaughter of the Baal HaTanya.
Leibel was an early student of Lubavitcher Yeshiva, founded by the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe after he reached New York in 1940. From his early youth, Leibel excelled in his Torah studies and, at the age of 16, was selected to be part of a group of students sent to establish a senior yeshiva in Chicago.
In 1949, while still studying at the “770” yeshiva, he was invited by the Rebbe – whom the Rebbe Rayatz had appointed to head Chabad’s publication society, among other important educational organizations – to assist, in his free time, in preparing chassidic works for publication.
After the Rebbe Rayatz’s passing in 1950, the Rebbe drew Leibel into his own ever-expanding responsibilities that culminated in his acquiescence to the pleas of chassidim to accept the Chabad leadership. He asked that Leibel stand near him during his frequent farbrengens, in case he would need something.
For the next 40-plus years, Rabbi Groner always stood close by whenever the Rebbe appeared in public. He never sat in the Rebbe’s presence – he always stood – almost without movement, listening intently to the Rebbe’s every word and watching him for the slightest indication that he might need something. Chassidim regarded him as a living model of one who nullified his own existence before the Rebbe’s greatness.
Rabbi Groner’s family members attest that he had no personal life. Whenever the Rebbe was in 770, even if he was giving yechidus – private audiences – to scores of people through the night, Rabbi Groner was there. He served the Rebbe 24/7, including every Shabbos and Yom Tov. Despite that, he invariably rose very early every morning to study Chassidus before hurrying to 770 in time for the Rebbe’s arrival.
In 1954, he married Rebbetzin Yehudis, granddaughter of the renowned chassid, Rabbi Yitzchok Hurvitz, known as “Reb Itche, the masmid.” The Rebbe gave him special instructions, at his request, for how a chassidic chassan should act and prepare for his wedding – instructions he publicized for the benefit of future chassanim. The couple had three sons and four daughters.
Rabbi Groner worked on preparing various chassidic works for publication. For some, he compiled detailed notes and learned references that remain very useful for those studying these works. Together with Rabbi Zeev Volf Greenglass of Montreal, he compiled the authoritative Sefer Minhagim of Chabad based on the Rebbe’s careful records of Chabad customs as observed from the Rebbe Rayatz or noted in works of the previous Chabad Rebbes.
After the Rebbe’s heart attack at Hakofos on Shmini Atzeres, 1977, Rabbi Groner’s role as the Rebbe’s personal aide became more pronounced. Previously, he had insisted on enforcing strict time limits on the length of everyone’s yechidus so as not to over-burden the Rebbe. But now the Rebbe’s health became perhaps his prime responsibility.
His constant closeness meant that the Rebbe occasionally confided in him his thoughts and outlooks. Often the Rebbe gave him special tasks, asking him to find out what was happening in the world in general and among chassidim, in particular, such as following up on those who had requested his blessing for serious health problems, etc.
After the 3rd of Tammuz, 1994, Rabbi Groner’s life changed. Without the responsibility of having to attend to the Rebbe’s personal wellbeing, he became instead a world-class mashpia, traveling the globe wherever he was invited, telling inspiring anecdotes and teachings of the Rebbe, drawing on his memory and private notes of what he had observed of and heard from the Rebbe.
An excellent speaker in Yiddish, English, and Hebrew, he was personally amiable and concerned about everyone’s welfare, always inquiring about family members. He has also publicized many of the Rebbe’s written answers to personal queries over the years, from which we gain insights into the Rebbe’s counsel.
Rabbi Leibel Groner was a true chassid in every sense of the word, whose entire life was centered on the Rebbe. May his memory be blessed.