In 5741, a young boy from Teaneck wrote to the Rebbe saying he was “curious and frustrated” about Hashem’s existence. The Rebbe’s response continues to inspire him until today.
By Anash.org reporter
“I am curious and frustrated because I want to know more about Hashem.”
These were the opening words of a letter written by then 8-year-old Chaim Elchonon Cohen of Teaneck, New Jersey to the Rebbe in the summer of 5741. Despite the incredible responsibilities shouldered by the Rebbe, and the countless letters he received, the Rebbe took the time to send back a short, but profound letter. The recipient continues to be inspired by it today.
Anash.org sat down with Rabbi Cohen, today of Monsey, NY, to hear the story of his correspondence with the Rebbe and what it means to him four decades later.
“My parents left Crown Heights when I was three years old, and moved to Teaneck, New Jersey, where I started attending Yeshiva Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, known as ‘Breuer’s’, because it was the closest yeshiva, as my parents said, that served chalav yisrael milk.
“At Breuer’s, we learned limudei kodesh in the morning, and secular studies in the afternoon. During that time period, when I was in fourth grade, some of the afternoon studies, or perhaps some books I read at home got me thinking about Hashem.
“The concept of the omnipresence of Hashem blew my mind. How can you have something that was always there?
“So I asked my rebbi, who got very upset with me. I could imagine that he was thinking that I was spouting kefirah… So I remained with the question and it was really bothering me.
“Seeing how much it bothers me, my parents suggested that I write to the Rebbe,” Rabbi Cohen recounts.
An early draft of the letter he sent to the Rebbe was kept by his mother, and shared by Rabbi Cohen with Anash.org.
“I am curious and frustrated because I want to know more about Hashem. I want to know where Hashem came from and who made Hashem and who made him exist because everyone tells me the same answer: He was always there, and I want to know more. Can the Rebbe shlit”a give me an answer,” the letter reads, before the writer signed his name and mother’s name.
“I don’t know if my parents expected to get a response or not, but we did get a letter back,” Rabbi Cohen says.
The short, but incredibly profound, letter from the Rebbe reads as follows:
“I received your (undated) letter, in which you write that you want to know more about HaShem, etc.
“The desire for such knowledge is, of course, commendable, and so King David instructed his son Shlomo, “Know the G-d of your father and serve Him wholeheartedly and eagerly” (I Chron. 28:9). However, there is a time for everything, and at this time the most important thing for you is to concentrate on the fulfillment of the Mitzvoth and your Torah studies, and in due course, you will speak to your Hebrew teacher or Rabbi in your community in connection with the questions you may have. There is surely no need to point out to you that in matters of Torah and Mitzvoth, Naaseh (we will do) comes before v’Nishma (we will understand), and it is through Naaseh that a Jew attains v’Nishma in the fullest possible measure.”
“I have to say that at the time in fourth grade, I didn’t appreciate the Rebbe’s response as much as I appreciate it today,” Rabbi Cohen says. “But today, I am wowed by the depth of the answer the Rebbe gave to a young, confused boy.”
“As a kid, you want instant gratification. And that was not an instant gratification letter. But the Rebbe said it in such a way that he made it known that it’s very good that you’re thinking about this. This is critical, as it says in the passuk, and ultimately you will get your answer, don’t worry. The Rebbe went about it clearly in a beautiful way.
“Besides for the message in the letter, I learned an additional detail later in life. In recent years, I once had Rabbi Leima Wilhelm, mashpia in Morristown Yeshiva, was farbrenging in my house for my son who was in Morristown Yeshiva. During the farbrengen, I showed him the letter. ‘You should know,’ he told me, ‘that this letter is very unique for another reason. During that period of time, the Rebbe wasn’t really answering personal letters. Thousands of letters were arriving at the Rebbe’s doorstep each day, dealing with life-and-death issues, and the Rebbe’s word could literally cause a ripple effect felt around the world.’
“‘Despite all that, the Rebbe felt it was of utmost importance to take the time and write a letter to a young boy who was frustrated, who felt that his questions weren’t being answered, and give him direction in life…'”