Chapter 4: Encouraging Jewish
Dr. David Weiss has achieved world renown for
his work in cancer research. Although he came from an observant
home, his involvement in American culture presented him with many
challenges. His encounters with the chassidim and the philosophy
of Lubavitch helped him overcome these hurdles.
Once while at yechidus with the Rebbe, he asked
him if he could consider himself a chassid. “I am attracted
to the chassidic way of life,” he explained, “but can
never see myself donning a black hat or chassidic garb. Does this
The Rebbe responded, “When a Jew endeavors
to take a step forward in the service of G-d and the love of his
fellow man every day, I am happy to consider him my chassid.”
This is the thrust of this chapter: to share examples of how the
Rebbe has personally encouraged people to advance in Jewish practice.
“I was one of the counselors who led Shabbos
parties for Jewish children during the period before the Rebbe assumed
leadership of the chassidic movement,” relates Rabbi Moshe
Lasker. “Each week, I would submit a report of the activities
“One Friday, as I submitted my report at
“770”, the Rebbe called me to his office. ‘Are
you busy?’ he asked.
“I realized that he wanted to delegate a
responsibility to me, so I immediately answered that I was not.
The Rebbe then told me: ‘Please take two candles and visit
Mrs. … in the hospital. Ask her to light them. If the hospital
staff protests about the regulations, try to work it out. If the
woman herself is hesitant, tell her that Rabbi Schneerson requested
that she light Shabbos candles.’
“I hurried towards the subway to carry out
my mission. I met the woman and gave her the message. She was indeed
reluctant at first, but when I mentioned that the Rebbe had sent
me, she readily agreed. I enlisted the cooperation of the non-Jewish
nurse who promised to assist her and to move the candles to a safe
“I rushed home, arriving just ten minutes
before Shabbos. Seconds after I walked through the door, the telephone
rang. ‘This is Schneerson speaking,’ the voice on the
line said. ‘Has Moshe arrived home yet?’
“A few weeks later, while I was in “770”,
I felt a friendly tap on my shoulder from the Rebbe. “Yasher
Koach for fulfilling the mission,” he told me.
A young Lubavitch yeshivah student quickened his
step down one of Manhattan’s busy boulevards. It was Friday
afternoon, and he still had some more rounds to make. He was on
his way to one of his ‘regulars’ a businessman whom
he visited every Friday, sharing the messages of the Rebbe’s
As he entered the store, he noticed a marked change
in the interior.
“Don’t ask!” the businessman
greeted him with a strained look on his face. “My place has
been flooded. I lost a great deal of merchandise. I’ve written
a letter to the Rebbe requesting a blessing for a successful turn
of fortune. Would you please deliver it for me?”
The yeshivah student assured the businessman that
he would do so. As soon as an answer came, he hurried to notify
his friend in Manhattan. “The Rebbe has instructed you to
be meticulous in keeping Shabbos and Yom-Tov (festivals)”
he told him.
The businessman was visibly agitated. “What
does that mean?” he retorted indignantly. “I do observe
Shabbos and the holidays.”
The student decided to inform the Rebbe of the
man’s response. The Rebbe answered tersely: “The onset
of Shabbos and Yom-Tov.”
That Friday, the student brought news of the Rebbe’s
second answer to the businessman. Trying to help him put the Rebbe’s
directive into practice, he inquired about the man’s routine
on Friday nights.
“Well, obviously, I say Kiddush and sit down
to a Shabbos meal.”
Suddenly, a thought came to the student’s
mind. “When do you close your business on Fridays?”
“Oh, about seven or eight,” the man
replied naively. During the ensuing conversation, the businessman
learned for the first time about the correct time for the onset
of Shabbos and holidays.
“I had studied in a yeshivah for many years,
but had not been exposed to Chassidus,” related a young man
in Eretz Yisrael. “As I began to question my purpose in life
and to search for deeper meaning, I met some Lubavitcher chassidim,
and was very impressed by the depth, meaning, and joy of their way
of life. I began to study Chassidus and spend more time within the
“Although I felt a strong attraction, many
elements of the chassidic way of life differed from those of my
family and of my yeshivah. I decided to ask the Rebbe about my concerns
“A few weeks later, the Rebbe sent me a detailed
answer to all of my questions. I felt satisfied and no longer hesitated
about my involvement with Chassidus. The Rebbe also added a puzzling
postscript: ‘There is no need to ask why Chassidus was not
revealed in previous generations,’ and proceeded to explain
this concept in full.1 This issue had not bothered me at all, and
I had mentioned nothing to this effect in my letter.
“Soon my interest in Chassidus became known
in my yeshivah. One day, a Torah scholar whom I admired and respected
asked me to have a talk with him. I knew that he wanted to discourage
me from the new path which I had begun to explore.
“He presented many arguments against the
study of Chassidus, and I countered all of them successfully. I
realized that his objections stemmed from his lack of familiarity
with the subject.
“He then unsheathed what he thought would
be his most convincing argument. ‘If Chassidus is so valuable,
then why,’ he asked, ‘was its study not revealed to
“He was surprised at both the speed and the
depth with which I answered his question.”
One of the unique dimensions of yechidus, a private
meeting with the Rebbe, is the Rebbe’s ability to find an
answer which satisfies the person asking the question. For example,
although he had maintained an interest in Chabad activities for
an extended time, one of the young men in contact with Rabbi Berl
Shemtov, the shaliach in Detroit, would not agree to put on tefillin.
“I am a thorough person,” he explained, “and I
don’t feel ready to make a commitment which must be fulfilled
every day without any possibility for a break.”
Rabbi Shemtov convinced him to visit the Rebbe
for a yechidus. When he emerged from the Rebbe’s study, he
told his friends that he had decided to put on tefillin every day.
“But what about your hesitation to commit yourself on a daily
“The Rebbe resolved that for me,” said
the young man with a smile. “He told me that there was always
one day a week Shabbos when I would not be required to perform this
Eliezer Steinman was a well-known Israeli authority
on Chassidism. He wrote about various chassidic streams, including
Lubavitch. Before writing about Lubavitch, Mr. Steinman contacted
the chassidic writer, Rabbi Chanoch Glitzenstein of Jerusalem, for
source material. Being an author himself, Rabbi Glitzenstein wondered
whether a person who did not live a chassidic lifestyle would be
able to communicate an authentic picture.
He consulted the Rebbe, who encouraged him to assist
Mr. Steinman, despite his secular orientation. The Rebbe added that
Rabbi Glitzenstein should refrain from making any comments about
Rabbi Glitzenstein offered Mr. Steinman extensive
help and direction. Although as a Lubavitch chassid committed to
outreach, it was difficult to avoid any mention of religious practice,
he was careful to follow the Rebbe’s directive. In time, Mr.
Steinman himself initiated a direct contact with the Rebbe and began
to correspond with him.
Over the many months of contact with Rabbi Glitzenstein,
the author and his wife began to seek his assistance in obtaining
various religious items. Beginning with a request for a machzor
from which they could pray during the High Holidays, the couple
soon inquired about other religious necessities. At their own pace,
the Steinmans made a turnover in their lifestyle, creating quite
a sensation in the cultural circles of secular Israeli society.
Some time later, Mr. Steinman confided in Rabbi
Glitzenstein. “You should know that throughout our relationship,
I was expecting you to lecture me on religion. I had planned to
reproach you for foisting your beliefs on others. But contrary to
my expectations, you respected my tendency to make my own decisions,
and did not mention my personal religious practice at all. That
was more convincing to me than any lecture.”
“This incident occurred in the early years
of the Rebbe’s leadership,” relates Rabbi Sholom Ber
Gordon. “I became friendly with a family in Newark, New Jersey,
where I was serving as a shaliach. The parents were anxious to see
their older daughter happily married and settled, but she remained
“After becoming better acquainted, I told
them about the power of the Rebbe’s blessings. ‘I come
from the Ukraine,’ the mother told me. ‘I am familiar
with Rebbeim and have sought their counsel in the past. I would
actually like to visit this Rebbe of yours and receive a blessing
for my daughter.’
“I arranged for a yechidus and traveled with
the mother and an older son to Brooklyn. I waited for them outside
while they entered the Rebbe’s study. We met after the yechidus
and the woman was very upset. ‘What happened?’ I asked.
“ ‘The Rebbe inquired about our source
of income,’ she explained, ‘I told him that although
we were financially secure and could easily retire, we still maintain
our business for the sake of our unmarried daughter. We are concerned
about her welfare and want to provide for her future.
“The Rebbe asked about Shabbos and I replied
that the business was open on Shabbos.
“ ‘Why?’ inquired the Rebbe.
‘You’ve described your family’s income as financially
secure. Why then do you work on Shabbos?’
“ ‘I explained to the Rebbe that it
was not for our sake that we kept the business open on Shabbos,
but for our daughter’s future. I then requested the Rebbe’s
blessing for a good match. I promised that as soon as she would
marry and settle down, we would close the business on Shabbos.
“ ‘G-d wants it to be the other way
around,’ the Rebbe replied. ‘First close the business
on Shabbos. I assure you that afterwards your daughter will find
a suitable match.’
“The mother concluded indignantly, ‘Back
in Ukraine, I would often consult Rebbeim. They always offered their
blessings, and they never asked about our Torah conduct.’
“Mother and son returned to Newark and resumed
their daily routine. Over ten years elapsed since that yechidus.
The father passed away, the business remained open on Shabbos, and
the daughter remained single.
“In the mid-sixties, sporadic demonstrations
and riots erupted in cities throughout the country. Soon enough,
the streets of Newark were also rampaged and violent mobs burned
and looted many places of work. This family’s business was
among those which were ruined. At her advanced age, and after such
an experience, the mother did not consider opening it again. Thus
it remained closed the entire week, including Shabbos.
“A few months later, the daughter was introduced
to a very nice, observant and learned man who also came from a wealthy
family. Later I was invited to officiate at the wedding. Incidentally,
although the bride was over forty at the time, the couple did have
a child, who grew up to be a Torah scholar in Eretz Yisrael.”
In the first years of the Rebbe’s leadership,
during the farbrengen of Purim 1953, the Rebbe told one of the participants
to study Chassidus. The person voiced his hesitation; he had never
been trained in this system of thought, nor did he understand how
this study would contribute to his personal development.
The Rebbe replied with a rhetorical question: “When
you board a train, do you fully comprehend its precise mechanical
“When a passenger sits in the coach, whether
he understands how it works or not the train crew will perform their
task, and the train will transport its travelers to their desired
Yaakov, a taxi owner from Tel Aviv, was accustomed
to driving others. Now, however, it was his creditors who were driving
him to desperation.
He thought the purchase of his own cab would increase
his income, because it would save him from paying a monthly percentage
for a company taxi. Instead, the purchase plunged him deeper into
debt. He exhausted the resources that friends and family could give
him, and the interest on bank loans was devouring a major source
of his income. Furthermore, he was beginning to discover that it
was costly to maintain his own taxi.
Yaakov needed an urgent thousand-dollar loan, but
to whom could he turn? Finally, he thought of asking the other drivers
in his company. It was embarrassing they were not well-off themselves,
but he had no other alternative; he needed money urgently.
He thought of Amnon, a decent, shomer-Shabbos taxi
driver. Amnon was often taunted by the other drivers. “Ridiculous!
Most of our income comes from Shabbos fares when there is limited
bus service.” They mocked Amnon’s parked taxi. “Lease
it to someone else over Shabbos, Amnon. At least make some commission.”
Amnon refused. “No one is going to desecrate
the Shabbos with my taxi!” he replied with quiet determination.
Yaakov was surprised when Amnon offered to lend
him the entire sum. He hadn’t expected him to agree so readily,
and he certainly did not think that he would have had such a sum
available. He had hoped for no more than part of the amount and
for advice on whom to approach for the balance of the money.
But Amnon added, “Before I give you the money,
I want you to hear me out,” Amnon said.
Though he was in no mood for conversation, Yaakov
had no choice but to listen. “Listen,” began Amnon.
“I experienced the same hassle you are going through when
I first started out. I worked day and night, and I still couldn’t
get out of debt.”
“Yes,” Yaakov mumbled. “I remember.”
Amnon continued, “You might also remember
that my son became critically ill. My wife and I struggled during
the weeks he was in and out of the hospital, but the doctors could
not cure him. We even tried different kinds of natural remedies
and healing charms, but nothing helped. One day, an observant neighbor
with whom I had little contact stopped me in the hallway.
“Do you mind if I have a word with you?’
he asked politely. ‘I would like to give you some advice concerning
your sick son.’
“I was inclined to shrug him off, but I was
so emotionally spent that I listened wearily. ‘A Rabbi in
New York has helped many people in time of need,’ he said.
‘Let me give you his address. You have nothing to lose by
requesting his blessing.’
“The name and address he gave me was that
of Rabbi M. M. Schneerson at “770” Eastern Parkway.
In reply to my letter, Rabbi Schneerson gave my son a blessing and
directed me to incorporate Shabbos, kashrus, and tefillin into my
life. It was a difficult transition, but let me tell you, my son
recovered. And since we started keeping Shabbos, my income has been
steady and sufficient. We have even managed to save some money.”
Amnon took a deep breath. “The money that
I will lend you comes from keeping Shabbos. I’d like you to
try to keep Shabbos for a while as part of our loan agreement.”
Yaakov needed the money and agreed to start observing
Shabbos. As a result, many things in his life changed for the better.
Within several months, he repaid the loan.
Yaakov was not the last person in the chain of
Shabbos adherents which began with the Rebbe’s directive to
1. The subject is discussed in Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXX, p. 171ff.
See sources cited there in footnote 22.