My Encounter With The Rebbe


Editor’s Note: The following account (translated from the Hebrew weekly Kfar Chabad) is told by a young man who met the Rebbe on three occasions.[5]  As a young boy of Bar Mitzvah age, his encounter with the Rebbe changed the course of his life. Below is a description of his second visit to the Rebbe many years later.

My second encounter with the Rebbe was in June of 1967, shortly before the outbreak of the Six Day War.

Spurred by the drama of the Cuban Missile Crisis and a young man’s desire to be a player on the international scene, I decided to major in political science and pursue a career in the diplomatic corps. 1967 found me an up-and-coming diplomatic aide, on the staff of the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Arthur Goldberg.

In the first week of June I received a call from a cousin of mine. In an anxious voice, she asked that I stop by at her apartment after work. As I sat in their living room that evening, she and her husband told me the cause of their distress. Their only child, Abraham–a young man several years my junior who had become a baal t’shuvah[6] the year before–was studying at a Lubavitcher yeshivah in Israel. Alarmed by the increasing talk of war, they sent him a plane ticket and begged him to come home. Abraham remains adamant in his refusal: the Lubavitcher Rebbe says to stay.

“We tried to approach the Rebbe,” my cousin continued. “We wanted to explain to him that Abraham is our only child, that he is our entire life, and to appeal to him to please allow Abraham to return home. But it seems that one must wait several months for an audience with the Rebbe. We wrote him a letter, as his secretaries advised, and received this as a reply.” She showed me a short note with the sentence, “The Guardian of Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers.” She seemed little eased by the quote from Psalms.

“Tell us, Joe,” my cousin asked, “What’s really going on? You have the inside story. Is Israel in any real danger?”

I didn’t want to add to their distress, but I felt duty-bound to tell them the truth: the State of Israel is indeed in grave danger. War is all but certain. The Arab states have mobilized forces far superior to Israel’s and stand a good chance of defeating the tiny Jewish state; if this happens, I didn’t want to imagine the fate of the Jews residing there. My boss, Mr. Goldberg, a deeply committed Jew, cannot sleep at night. “I cannot emphasize enough how serious the situation is,” I concluded. “We must get Abraham out of there at once!”

“But how?” cried my cousin. “To him, the Rebbe’s word is law. If the Rebbe says to stay, he’ll stay!”

“Listen,” I said, “I’ll speak with the Rebbe. When I introduce myself as Mr. Goldberg’s aide, I’m sure to be received immediately. I am certain that I will succeed in persuading him to allow Abraham to come home.”

The next morning I contacted the Rebbe’s personal secretary, Rabbi Hadakov. I introduced myself as a member of the United States delegation to the U.N. and said that I had an “urgent matter” to discuss with the Rebbe. Rabbi Hadakov promised to contact me shortly. A half-hour later he called back to inform me that the Rebbe would see me the following night at 2:00 a.m. “But you don’t understand,” I objected, “this is urgent!” “Because it is urgent,” came the reply, “I have arranged for you to be received by the Rebbe tomorrow night.”

There was more white in the beard, but otherwise the youthful face and manner had changed little. The same noble countenance, the same penetrating eyes gazed at me from across the desk that 2:00 a.m. thirteen years after my bar mitzvah visit.

The handshake was firm and warm. “I have already had the privilege of meeting the Rebbe,” I began, “Grandfather brought me before my bar mitzvah.” The Rebbe’s broad smile assured me that he indeed remembered me.

“I must apologize to the Rebbe,” I went on. “I’m afraid that I used my position rather unjustly to gain this audience. The ‘urgent matter’ I spoke of is a personal one.”

Again, the Rebbe’s warm smile put me at ease. Encouraged, I told the Rebbe about my cousins and their son. “The parents are beside themselves with anxiety.” I concluded. “They would greatly appreciate it if the Rebbe would allow their only child to come home until the danger blows over.”

The warm smile had disappeared. A grave expression now cloaked the Rebbe’s features. “I have thousands of only children in the Land of Israel,”said the Rebbe. “If I tell them to remain there, it is because I am certain that no harm shall befall them. Tell your cousin and her husband that they can put their fears to rest. The Guardian of Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers. G-d watches over His people wherever they are, and especially in the Holy Land.”

“Rebbe,” I said, “with all due respect, they cannot put their fears to rest. Neither can I. Perhaps the Rebbe is unaware of the gravity of the situation, but because of my position I am privy to extremely reliable information. Unfortunately, as we speak, the state of Israel is in grave danger.”

“Israel,” said the Rebbe with absolute conviction, “is not in grave danger. She stands on the threshold of a great victory. With the Almighty’s help, this month shall be a month of great miracles for the Jewish nation.

“Now,” continued the Rebbe, “If you don’t mind, I would like to request something of you. Tell Abraham’s father that he, too, can do something for our brethren in the Land of Israel: tell him that I request that he begin observing the mitzvah of donning tefillin every weekday. I ask that you, too, should begin the daily observance of this mitzvah. I don’t know how much you can help Israel in your capacity as an assistant to the U.N. Ambassador, but with your daily donning of tefillin you will certainly contribute to Israel’s victory—without,” added the Rebbe with a slight smile “encountering any complications of ‘divided loyalties’…

“One more thing. When all this will be resolved, with G-d’s help, in a most positive manner, I would like to speak with you again.”

I don’t know how long I stood there, staring at the Rebbe, unable to utter a sound. Awestruck by the man seated across the desk from me—by the incredible confidence he exudes, by the tremendous responsibility he assumes upon himself. At that moment I understood how so many thousands place their lives in his hands and unquestionably obey his every word.

“Rebbe,” I said spontaneously, and with deep emotion, “as a Jew, I am grateful that we have someone like you in these difficult and terrifying times. Thank you for the time you devoted to me.”

“May we soon hear good tidings,” said the Rebbe.

Several days later the world held its breath. Israel, fighting for her life on three fronts, defeated her attackers in six fleeting days, in a victory unprecedented in military history. I sat with Mr. Goldberg in his office at the U.N. as the image of the liberated Western Wall appeared on the television. We saw Rabbi Goren sounding the shofar and the soldiers weeping on the Wall’s stones. Mr. Goldberg and myself could not contain our tears. Everyone in the office, Jew and non-Jew alike, sensed that a great moment in Jewish history was unfolding before their eyes.

I remembered the Rebbe’s request and phoned Rabbi Hadakov to arrange for an audience. A week later, I again stood in the Rebbe’s room. If I expected an air of celebration and a tinge of “I told you so” in his smile, I was surprised to find the Rebbe in an extremely grave mood. After a welcoming handshake he came straight to the point.

“This is a great and awesome moment in the history of the Jewish nation. Our history is a chain of miracles — our very existence is an ongoing miracle — but only rarely are they as openly manifest as they were last week. Only rarely does the Almighty show Himself to the entire world and so openly proclaim the eternity of His people. Such a moment was the Exodus from Egypt, so it was on a few other occasions, and so it was last week.

“There are times when G-d hides His face from us. But there are also times when He shows Himself in all His glory and showers us with kindness and miracles. We now find ourselves in such a time.

“G-d, who created and rules the universe, gave the Land of Israel to the people of Israel. For a time — for a very long time — He took the land from us and gave it to others. Last week, He took it away from them and gave it back to us. To remove any doubt that it was indeed G-d who restored the land to us, He did so with an open display of divine power, as the entire world watched and wondered how Israel would persevere in the face of the many and mighty enemies who wished to destroy her.

“However,” continued the Rebbe, “man has been granted freedom of choice. We can seize this moment, or, G-d forbid, reject this divine gift. There are two things we must avoid at all costs. The first is not to fall into the trap of attributing this victory to our own military prowess. Our army and arms were but the tool through which G-d channeled His miracles. This victory, which defied all natural norms, was achieved by the Almighty and by Him alone.

“The second thing is where you can play a significant part,”said the Rebbe, giving me the full benefit of his penetrating gaze, “and this is why I have asked you to come see me. Unfortunately, many Jews, including those who head the government of Israel, have yet to free themselves of their intimidation before ‘world opinion.’ I expect that they will lose no time in dispatching all sorts of delegations to Washington with the message that they are prepared to return the territory conquered in the war. They do not understand that they have not ‘conquered’ anything themselves — that G-d has granted the people of Israel their eternal heritage amidst tremendous miracles. We must prevent them from making this drastic error.”

I spoke for the first time since entering the Rebbe’s room. “What can I do about this?”

“You meet with the Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. and with many other key Israeli officials. You have connections in the State Department and you will know if and when such initiatives are put forth by Israel. My request to you is this: when you discern a weakening of resolve on the part of the Israeli government to retain the liberated territories, repeat to them what has been said here.”

The Rebbe immediately sensed the objection that was forming in my mind. “I’m not suggesting that you use your position to in any way to counteract the interests of the United States Government, which you are duty-bound to serve. But, first of all, the United States has no interest that Israel retreat from the liberated territories — quite the contrary. Secondly, as a Jew and as a private citizen, you have every right to express your views.”

Then the Rebbe said to me, his voice choked with emotion: “And if they ask you: What gives you the confidence to speak this way? On what basis do you presume to know what is good for Israel and what is not? Tell them about the only child whose parents feared for his life and wished to bring him back to the States. Tell them how, from this room, it was promised to him, and to thousands of other only children, that there is nothing to fear and that all will end well. And on what basis was this promise made from this room? On the basis that our world has a creator and master, and that the Creator decided to give the Land of Israel to the people of Israel! On the basis that when the Creator of the world gives us a gift, we must treasure it and defend it, and not look for ways to rid ourselves of it!”

I left the Rebbe’s room in turmoil. Some would describe my encounter with the Rebbe as a “spiritual experience,” but these words fail to convey the utter transformation I underwent that night. My half-hour in the Rebbe’s room shook my sense of Jewish identity to its very foundations and completely rearranged the points of reference in my life. For the second time in as many weeks the thought formed in my mind: Fortunate is the nation that has the Lubavitcher Rebbe as its own.

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber.


[5]  An account of the other two meetings with the Rebbe are printed in WIR Vol VI  No 10 and No 13

[6] A “returnee”—a non-religious Jew who recommits himself to the observance of the mitzvot.


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Chaim Vogel
1 year ago


1 year ago

Thank you for posting such wonderful stories. I’ve read two today by this author.

1 year ago

Thank you for posting such wonderful stories. I’ve read two today by this author.

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