I am basically one of those “flesh and blood” sort of people. While the Rebbe’s writings and teachings are of great importance to me, while I continue to experience the Rebbe as a very active, involved part of my life, still, I miss the flesh and blood connection.
Perhaps I must apologize for not having risen to greater spiritual heights. For if I had attained these heights, then perhaps my spiritual connection with the Rebbe would suffice; or perhaps I would have more internalized the truth that a great tzaddik, once freed from his body, is freed as well from the limitations of his body.
But, if I am to use this opportunity to write, I must use it to be honest. And in honesty, in spite of my spiritual connection to him, I miss the Rebbe. My heart aches to once again have him as part of his and my flesh and blood relationship.
What was this relationship? Well, if I were to tell you how few times I even saw the Rebbe you might wonder at my grief. And knowing that I never spoke directly to him, your wonder would be greater.
No, I was simply one of those people who went to a few farbrengens (I never lived in Crown Heights), stood in line for dollars once or twice, and sent letters when needed and received answers when they were necessary. I was thirty-six years old when I first saw the Rebbe some seventeen years ago.
But, you see, whenever I went to the Rebbe, or even when I wrote him, I felt known by him. Seen by him. And I mean these words—known and seen—in their most profound sense. I felt naked before him. And through him I saw myself fully exposed. Stripped of illusion and self deceit.
Whether I was privileged to a momentary glance when he caught my eye and nodded as I lifted my cup at a farbrengen to say l’chaim; whether, in a whoosh of excitement, I passed before him to receive a dollar; or whether, in one of those extraordinary times when he caught and held my eyes for what seemed like an eternity but was in truth only five or ten or fifteen seconds, I was stripped bare: known from my most superficial, petty self to the depths of my being, deeper than even I knew existed.
My conscious self cannot know, much less describe, what the Rebbe placed within me during these encounters. The incomprehensible ways he affected me; the life, inspiration, courage and commitment with which I left these brief meetings changed my life more than any human could ever expect a life to change.
But there was something else, something much simpler, more easily comprehensible, more connected to the simple flesh and blood existence of the Rebbe that had great power over my life.
It was merely the expectation that I would see the Rebbe again. Or, to be more precise, that he would see me.
I knew that I would, at some point in the future, stand fully exposed before him, his eyes piercing through my best “look good” to see who I really am.
And I wanted both he and I to feel proud at that moment. And I didn’t want to feel ashamed. And I knew that while the Rebbe had the greatest compassion and understanding of my very limited self, that still, he had great expectations of me. That he saw my highest potential, and believed that I could attain it. And though I knew that he would love me in spite of what I did or didn’t do to live up to his expectations, I wanted him to love me for what I did do to live up to his expectations.
Is this a childlike relationship? Perhaps. Would it be better, more mature for me to strive for my highest potential without requiring “outside approval”? Perhaps. But as I said, I am a simple, limited person of flesh and blood who has not reached such great spiritual heights. So be it.
The expectation of meeting soul to soul with a person who has reached heights so far greater than I can imagine, and the knowledge that this meeting would reveal the gap between who I was and who I could be, kept me straight. It helped me be more honest with myself. It invigorated my potential and forced it before my awareness, constantly. When I saw the Rebbe’s capacity for love, it enlivened and expanded my own capacity for love. When I encountered, directly, personally, the Rebbe’s capacities, it enlivened the whole of my own.
And always, daily, I carried with me the anticipation of our next meeting.
So, what do I do now?
I have much advice to give myself in answer to my own question, as I’m sure many of you who read this have much advice, words of wisdom to share with me. Certainly there are countless, perhaps even more profound ways, to maintain communication with and receive inspiration from a tzaddik even when we cannot see him, hear his voice, and experience his physical presence.
But this does not ease the ache in my heart. Nor replace my personal encounters and my very fervent expectation of them. Nor have I found a way to replace that moment when I stand revealed before one who can both see me for who I am and love me at the same time.
As a man of flesh and blood, I find consolation neither in my memories nor in the Rebbe’s writings.
I find it instead in the ache in my heart, the place I keep the Rebbe. For each time I feel the ache I am reminded of him for whom it aches. I am reminded of what he taught me: That for every sickness there is a remedy, for every pain a consolation, for every act of G-d there is a purpose, for every lack there is a fulfillment, for whatever potential the Rebbe sees in me, there is the possibility of its realization.
Will I find the strength, wisdom, courage, devotion and faith during this most difficult time?
Sometimes I wonder. But then, in these moments, if I allow myself to truly feel the ache in my heart, to enter fully into the depths of this ache, a strange thing happens. I begin to see myself once again standing before the Rebbe, bringing before him my doubts and my fears, my loneliness and limitations.
And from the ache in my heart, in a soft and gentle voice, I hear his answer, clearly..
. Editor’s note: Beginning in 1980, the Rebbe adopted the custom of distributing dollar bills for the recipient to give to charity. In this way, the Rebbe combined the opportunity to meet him with the opportunity to do a mitzvah. Every Sunday, thousands of people would pass before the Rebbe to receive a dollar and his blessing.