Despite the privacy with which the Rebbetzin lived her life, those who had the privilege of knowing her share countless stories which display the incredible role the Rebbetzin served at the Rebbe’s side, caring for the welfare of Chassidim, giving brachos, and strengthening the Rebbe’s initiatives.
By A Chassidisher Derher
In order to better understand the role that the Rebbetzin plays in the nesius, let us take a look at a sicha spoken by the Rebbe during the year following her histalkus. The Rebbe references a lengthy discussion in Chassidus about the Avos and the Imahos of our people: The role of the Imahos is to channel the spiritual energy and lofty levels of the Avos into this physical world.
For this reason we find that the Imahos were a step ahead of the Avos when it came to matters that were more practical: Avraham wanted Yishmael to stay with him, because he saw Yishmael at his spiritual source where he was indeed in a good state. But Sarah knew that in the physical world, Yishmael was far from perfect and needed to be sent away. Similarly, Yitzchok wanted to give the brachos to Esav, because at his spiritual source there was immense energy. But Rivka knew that in the physical world it was Yaakov who would properly utilize the brachos instead.
The same is true about the Rabbeim of Chabad, the Rebbe explained. The work of the Rabbeim in the physical world is accomplished through their Rebbetzins.
Despite the privacy and deep humility with which the Rebbetzin lived her life, staying as far away as possible from the public eye, those who had the privilege of knowing and serving the Rebbetzin share countless stories which display the incredible role the Rebbetzin served at the Rebbe’s side, caring for the welfare of Chassidim, giving brachos, preserving and strengthening the Rebbe’s initiatives, and protecting the house of Lubavitch at its most critical moments.
Below we will explore a few of those cherished accounts.
The Baby Should Hear The Farbrengen
The following story teaches us about the Rebbetzin’s great interest in educating young children in the ways of Chassidus, even from the moment of birth.
Mrs. Esther Sternberg relates:
Her father, Reb Zalman Gurary, was sent by the Rebbe to Eretz Yisroel as his shliach to bring the crown for the first children’s sefer Torah, which was to be completed on Chof Av 5741. Mrs. Sternberg was about to give birth at the time, and due to some complications her father was quite concerned about her wellbeing. It seems that Reb Zalman mentioned his concern to the Rebbetzin, and when Mrs. Sternberg gave birth on 17 Av, the Rebbetzin called her at the hospital twice a day to inquire how she and the baby were doing. The Rebbetzin also called the Sternberg household every evening during this time period to speak with the oldest daughter and check on the other children.
On Chof Av the Rebbetzin called Mrs. Sternberg and during the conversation she asked: “Do you have a way to hear tonight’s farbrengen?” Mrs. Sternberg said that she does.
The Rebbetzin said: “If so, it would be a good thing for you to take your meidele (baby girl) with you into bed, and you should put the receiver between your ear and hers so that she can listen to the farbrengen, because it is very important for a child to hear Chassidus.”
Mrs. Sternberg was amazed by what she heard. In all her years as a wife, mother, daughter and granddaughter of prominent Chassidim, she had never heard of something like this, that even such a newborn baby should hear the Rebbe’s voice. She readily promised the Rebbetzin that she would do so. She later said that to her surprise the baby was calm the entire time the Rebbe was speaking.
A Caring Mother
The Rebbetzin is known to have cared deeply about the wellbeing of the shluchim and their families.
Mrs. Bassie Azimov related that she once visited the Rebbetzin during the 5730s, at a time when several American families had moved on shlichus to France. This was quite a novelty then, as the number of shluchim around the world was still fairly small. The Rebbetzin spoke to Mrs. Azimov about the difficulty that is involved in moving to a new country, not speaking the local language, and so on. The Rebbetzin appeared to be very concerned. In an attempt to “calm” the Rebbetzin, Mrs. Azimov began to explain that it was not so strenuous since these are Lubavitcher couples who had been educated to go out on mesiras nefesh. The Rebbetzin said, “This is indeed the chinuch that you received, though not everyone received that chinuch, and we need to sympathize with their hardship.”
Another story is related by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Greenberg:
“In 5743, I traveled on shlichus to the yeshiva in Seattle. It was shortly before we were set to leave, we already knew exactly who was in our group, when we found out that another bochur was joining us.
“Many years later, that bochur, Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein, told us how he came to join our group.
“One day, he was walking up the stairs at 770 on the way to the office of the hanhala of the yeshiva to try and receive a shlichus. After passing the doorway leading to the second floor, he saw an elderly woman in the stairwell. He immediately realized that it was the Rebbetzin.
“The Rebbetzin asked him, ‘Why do you look so down?’ He explained that he really wanted to go on shlichus, but since he learned in Tiferes Bachurim he was officially not eligible. The Rebbetzin said that she will see what she can do. Within a few days he was added to the list of bochurim going to Seattle. At that time, not even all bochurim from Tomchei Temimim in Morristown would go on shlichus, but the Rebbetzin as a mother stepped in and took care of him!”
Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky relates:
“I was learning in yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel on the 25th of Cheshvan 5748 when the verdict was announced that Chabad had won the appeal on the sefarim case. Two days later it was announced that the sefarim would finally be returned to their rightful home in 770 on Beis Kislev.
“In true fashion of ‘better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission,’ a friend and I decided to travel to New York to celebrate the final return of the sefarim. As is well known, the Rebbe was not pleased when the bochurim left seder hayeshiva to witness the return of the sefarim. My father, being a staunch Chossid, was disappointed in my choice as well, and for the entire week to follow he reminded and reprimanded me for the bad choice I made.
“On Friday night, my father (as the head of Hatzalah) had a tradition of visiting the Rebbetzin to check in and see how she was feeling, how the Rebbe was feeling, and then go home before the Rebbe arrived. That Friday night, my father came home and gave me a very warm shalom aleichem! I asked my father, ‘In what honor did I receive such a warm shalom aleichem?’ He said: ‘I was by the Rebbetzin and she asked how all of the children were doing. I said that you came from Eretz Yisroel and that I am very disappointed.’ I became very anxious, my father had told the Rebbetzin! My father continued: ‘The Rebbetzin looked at me and said, “Leibel, other bochurim in other communities, when they want to make trouble, they go to a movie, they find other things to do. At least you know that Lubavitcher bochurim, including your son Shloimy, their gashmius is their Rebbe! Go easy on him.”’
“I share this story because it illustrates the very personal, deeply rooted love the Rebbetzin had—as a partner with the Rebbe—for each and every one of us. Many of us perhaps did not merit to see it personally, but we have a Rebbetzin that only saw our goodness and our potential. She loves each and every one of us unconditionally.”
Another incredible story that brings out the deep care the Rebbetzin shared with the Rebbe for the Chassidim is the following:
Someone once knocked on the door of the Rebbe and Rebbetzin’s house in the middle of the night and apologized for knocking so late. The Rebbetzin said: “Don’t you know that my husband and I are all about being here for others?”
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