Who Says Kaddish For the Rebbetzin?

Cape Town Shliach Rabbi Oshy Deren writes ahead of Chof Beis Shvat: “At a Farbrengen last week for my birthday with some friends in Johannesburg the question was raised – who says Kaddish for the Rebbetzin?”

By Rabbi Oshy Deren

I can’t deny that I felt a mix of awe and excitement this week while listening to a recently discovered audio recording from 1986 wherein Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson is heard in a phone conversation with Rabbi Menachem Junik, Rov of the Beis Gavriel community in Hendon, London.

Menachem was then a young Yeshiva student Shliach studying at the Yeshiva Gedolah Lubavitch in Johannesburg. Menachem’s father, Rabbi Berel Junik, was a member of the Rebbe’s household and in that context he, Menachem, merited to have his own special connection to the Rebbetzin.

The conversation itself is mostly around a health issue that he was dealing with but irrespective of the topic, hearing our illustrious Rebbetzin in conversation about the place of my Shlichus – South Africa – in general, and different interesting points along the way; like where she agrees with the suggestion he was given of coming to Cape Town (“where there’s a Lubavitcher Shliach” he says) to recuperate, her positive response to the suggestions of the legendary Doctor Rodney Unterslak a”h to avoid the surgery, the numerous references to the Rebbe’s Shliach to South Africa Rabbi Lipskar, and many more vignettes over the course of the ten minute recording, all gave me a deeper sense of the Rebbetzin’s connection to the gift of our lives that Zeesy, I and our children have in living here as Shluchim of the Rebbe in South Africa.

It is no secret that the Rebbetzin would take great pride in the work of the Shluchim, perhaps most famously seen in her words to Rabbi Shmuel and Mrs. Bassie Azimov, the Rebbe’s Shluchim to Paris, reflecting on the time that she and the Rebbe lived there in the 1930’s that “we plowed and sowed so that you could harvest” and in numerous other stories of the collective pride that she took in the work of the Shluchim.

But far from mere anecdotal hearsay via the very select few who merited to meet the Rebbetzin, the Rebbe himself in the first Kinus Hashluchim after the Rebbetzin’s passing speaks about how as we approach the era of redemption the impact of the Rebbes of Chabad is connected with (and carried out through) the Rebbetzins. This, the Rebbe says, is similar to our matriarchs who, in a taste of the world to come where their superior feminine quality of Malchus is revealed above and beyond the patriarchs, the Rebbetzins too are the ones through whom the Rebbes’ influence of Chassidus to prepare the world for Moshiach is brought about.

And it doesn’t stop there. In the Kinus Hashluchos three years later the Rebbe demarcates the “eras” of our generation from the passing of the Previous Rebbe, the Rebbe’s acceptance of leadership, and finally, 38 years later, the day of the passing of the Rebbetzin of righteous memory, as the final step in our generation’s task to prepare the world for the coming of Moshiach – today!


All of the above are just a small glimpse of the ideas, stories and Sichos of the Rebbe that illustrate so powerfully the unprecedented perspective and understanding of the unique role of the Rebbetzins in general and our Rebbetzin in particular, especially as it relates to our generation’s task to bring us to to the ultimate redemption. While it is true year round but especially today, as we mark the Rebbetzin’s 36th Yarzeit tonight, the message here, and the charge to us, rings with a much greater sense of urgency.

At a Farbrengen last week for my birthday with some friends in Johannesburg the question was raised – who says Kaddish for the Rebbetzin?

It is well known that on more than one occasion when asked (by innocent children or others who were visiting her home) “Where are your children” her response was “in 770” or pointing out the window to Chassidim passing by, or “you and you and you” are “our children.”

If the Rebbetzin, whom for reasons we mere mortals can never understand, was not blessed with children in the simplest sense, yet chose to look at us “the community” as her children, is it a far-fetched thought that we should reciprocate in kind?

Aside for the simple mentchilichkeit of the sentiment, the Rebbe’s Sichos mentioned above and many many others, are replete with the novel understanding of the role that the Rebbetzin plays – not merely as a communal mother figure in our lives but the vital partner of the Rebbe’s work in this world – and we as Chassidim ought to feel the same in return.

“But then why did the Rebbe never tell us to follow the Minhagim of the Yarzeit for the Rebbetzin” – someone asked at the Farbrengen.

Well, as a rule of thumb, any question that starts with “why” and includes the Rebbe, is above my paygrade to attempt to answer.

That the Rebbe generally eschewed anything personal in what he asked of Chassidim (even finding it necessary at times to explain why there were Farbrengens on the “personal” days of his birthday on the 11th of Nissan or his father’s Yarzeit on 20th of Av), is clear.

So to say that we as “the community” about whom the Rebbetzin said she considers her children, don’t take the Rebbetzins Yarzeit as a personal Yarzeit only because the Rebbe never said we should is to a certain extent avoiding the question.

And perhaps it’s more than just a question of whether this “feeling” of the question of who says Kaddish, does or doesn’t resonate with you.

I for one don’t say Kaddish of course as Boruch Hashem my parents are, for many more long, happy and healthy years, alive. At the same time I will try and Daven with a Minyan where I can hear others say, and answer Amen to, Kaddish, I will learn Mishnayos, light a Yarzeit candle, make a Farbrengen with my children, etc. Obviously each person will do as their Rov and Mashpia guides them.

But the question remains for each and every one of us – who says Kaddish for the Rebbetzin?

It is 36 years since her holy Neshomo left this world, and 32 years since we heard the Rebbe say Kaddish for her, and yet, the ultimate purpose for which she devoted her entire life has still not been fulfilled, and the world needs that today more than ever!

As we approach the saintly day of her Yarzeit when all of her life’s work is more present and powered in this world than ever before, we are each given the opportunity to be the physical manifestation of the purpose for which we endured her painful loss, through the physical acts of Torah and Mitzvos that we increase and perform in her merit, and the institutions that we establish in her name, as the Rebbe explained in the moving talk on the day of her first Yarzeit.

May we merit the fulfillment of the Rebbe’s blessing that “in the merit of the righteous women we should be redeemed through the ultimate and complete redemption, and those who rise in the dust will arise and sing, and especially the (Previous) Rebbe and his daughter (Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka) with all of the Tzaddikim and Tzidkoniyos and all of those who have passed on, together will all of those alive today” to the ultimate and complete redemption” today!

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