In something that was unusual for his time, Reb Avraham Ber Yirmiya’s of Babroisk merited as a little boy to visit the Tzemach Tzedek in Lubavitch. His incredible account captures life in Lubavitch in the eyes of a young boy.
Reb Avraham Ber Yirmiya’s was a chossid of the Tzemach Tzedek, the Rebbe Maharash, and primarily the Rebbe Rashab. The Frierdiker Rebbe spent much time with him and wrote very highly of him. He was a great maskil in Chassidus, a baki be’Shas, and fluent in Kabbala and Chakira. He was also a great ba’al midos tovos. Reb Avraham Ber earned his livelihood from bookkeeping.
From a young age, Reb Avraham Ber was very inquisitive and would frequently ask his father questions about Hashem’s existence. His father was worried that his inquisitive mind might bring him to doubts in emuna r”l, so he took him to the Rebbe. He wanted the Rebbe to bentch him in this regard.
When they came into yechidus, the Tzemach Tzedek took out his handkerchief and wrapped it over his hand, and moved his hand back and forth.
“What do you see?” he asked the boy.
“I see a handkerchief moving from side to side,” the boy answered.
“And who is moving the handkerchief?” the Rebbe continued.
“The Rebbe’s Hand,” the boy answered.
“But you do not see the hand,” the Rebbe continued, “which means, that things that cannot be seen with the human eye are also true and correct…”
From that moment on, Avraham Ber’s questions disappeared, and he grew up to be a great maskil and chossid.
The following is an excerpt of the fascinating and moving recount of Reb Avraham Ber’s impressions of his visit to Lubavitch as a child:
I will never forget that pilgrimage, the memory of it remains engraved upon my heart.
Mother woke me very early Sunday morning, telling me to dress quickly and go to Reb Aizik’s house. From there, the holy pilgrimage to Lubavitch would depart. With great joy, my mother packed the new suit she had sewn for me, instructing me to wear it only on Shabbos, and when I would be privileged to have a yechidus with the Rebbe.
We came to the street where Reb Aizik lived, and despite the early hour, the street was already buzzing with people hurrying back and forth, as though it were a market day. We arrived at Reb Aizik’s home and found the courtyard packed with men, women, and children: some talking excitedly, some dancing. The four wagons stood ready for the trip.
It was impossible to enter Reb Aizik’s home, for it was already filled to capacity, and Mother had no idea where my father was. As we stood there, we learned that Reb Aizik had spoken Chassidus all night, and they had begun shachris at daybreak. The other rabbonim and the baaleibatim had just now arrived to escort their rov on his way.
A short while later we heard the sound of music. Suddenly, people began to emerge from the house through the doors and windows. They walked backwards, their faces toward the house and their backs to the courtyard. Everyone in the courtyard began to tremble, and within a few seconds Reb Aizik appeared. He stood there and blessed the assembled crowd, bidding them farewell; then he climbed onto one of the wagons.
Just then, my mother caught sight of my father, as he too climbed onto the wagon after Reb Aizik. She began to shout, “Yirmeyah! Yirmeyah! Here is Avraham Berel. Please take him, please don’t forget Avraham Berke,” but her voice was lost in the loud confusion. Just as the wagon carrying Reb Aizik and my father began to move, I began to cry, seeing that my father had forgotten about me.
All those in the courtyard raised their voices in song, as they began to follow the wagon. Meanwhile, Mother noticed Reb Yisrael Aharon the melamed among the crowd, and she informed him that father had left me behind, and had not heard her when she called him. Reb Yisrael Aharon lifted me in his arms and, forcing his way through the multitude, he carried me to the wagon where my father sat.
We departed from Homel in four wagons, each drawn by two horses. There were fifteen passengers in each wagon: some were seated in two rows inside the wagon, some sat along the sides of the wagon, and two sat up above, next to the coachman. Everyone was in an extremely happy mood.
Most of the people traveled on foot, their ecstasy indescribable. They rode in the wagons only for an hour or two at a time to rest their feet. Reb Aizik Homiler rode in the lead wagon, along with my father and some other chassidim. I was seated next to my father, just opposite Reb Aizik.
The wagon proceeded very slowly, as the number of people accompanying us increased. At each intersection, hundreds more joined us. Before our escort from Homel had a chance to turn back and return home, a party from the town of Belitza appeared. They had come to welcome our procession, which would be passing through their city. In Belitza, Reb Aizik descended along with father and the other travelers. However, I was afraid that my father would forget me once again, and so I remained in the wagon to await their return…
I remember well how I went in to the Rebbe with my father for yechidus on that occasion. Father had to wait in the outer room for many hours, until it was his turn to enter. Meanwhile, I sat on a window ledge. When the time appointed for our yechidus arrived, my father asked the people standing near me to hand me over to him. I was passed hand-to-hand over the heads of the assembled chassidim.
Father entered the Rebbe’s inner chamber, and I followed him, holding tightly to the corner of his coat. The room in which the Rebbe sat was quite large, the walls lined with cabinets full of seforim. The Rebbe sat behind a large table, upon which lay a few seforim, several boxes filled with coins, and two lit candles.
As Father entered the chamber, the Rebbe was studying a sefer which lay open before him. But when we approached the place where the Rebbe sat, he raised his eyes from the sefer and gazed into father’s face, and into mine. Father’s entire body began to quake, and I also became flustered and began to weep silently.
The Rebbe stretched out his holy hand to take the pidyon from my father, as father stood in his place, paralyzed with fear and at a loss for what to do next. He remained standing in silence, his head bowed, his eyes running rivers of tears which fell to the floor. At first, he managed sufficient self-control to keep from being heard, but within a few moments he broke into loud weeping, his voice wailing up and down the scale. When I saw Father crying like that, my heart went to pieces, and I too began to cry in earnest as I looked into the Rebbe’s holy face.
The Rebbe read the pidyon that father had handed him and studied it for some time. As he read it, he looked up into father’s face, and into mine, from time to time. Then he began speaking to Father. As soon as the Rebbe began speaking, Father ceased his weeping. He moved his lips silently, repeating every word the Rebbe spoke, but making no sound. The Rebbe continued speaking to Father for a long time; then Father asked him several questions, which the Rebbe answered.
When the Rebbe finished speaking, Father said, “Here is my son,” as he pointed to me and moved me closer to the Rebbe. “I am about to enroll him in the cheder, and I beg the Rebbe to bentch him.”
The Rebbe studied me for a moment, then he closed his holy eyes. After a few moments, he opened them again, looked directly at me, and said, “Study diligently, and do not waste any time. May Hashem help you to become a lamdan and a chossid!”
“Amen!” Father and I both exclaimed.
As soon as we emerged from the Rebbe’s holy presence, we went to the small minyan room. Father lifted me onto his shoulders and began to dance with the chassidim who were already rejoicing in song and dance. This was the usual custom in those days: whenever someone had the privilege of yechidus with the Rebbe, he would break into a dance upon leaving the holy chamber…
“Remember well,” my father tells me, “the bracha that the Rebbe gave you. Im Yirtzeh Hashem, when we come home you will tell your mother everything in detail.”
I did not get a chance to prove to my father and show him that I remembered the Rebbe’s words, for at that moment Reb Zalman Yaakov Esther-Dishe’s came to my father and took him to the table to partake in the mashke and cookies that were brought.
My father handed me a cookie as well. I loudly made a bracha ‘borei minei mezonos’, and my father and those who stood nearby answered ‘amen’. Reb Aba Dovid the Chazan and Reb Boruch Shimon the Bookbinder praised my father for bringing me to Lubavitch.
“You are very wise,” Abba Dovid the Chazan said to my father, “for taking your Avraham Berel to Lubavitch. In this day and age, one has to train the children in Chassidus from the day they stand on their feet.”
“In my opinion,” added Reb Boruch Shimon, “the wisdom is more with her than with him (referring to my mother). She is truly wise. She brings in guests and she is a Chassidishe women.”
For sources, visit TheWeeklyFarbrengen.com