Weekly time with the Rebbe
The Avner Institute presents two outstanding accounts – one involving Rabbi Reuven Dunin, Chabad emissary in Haifa; the other narrated by Dr. Avraham Abba Seligson, the Rebbe’s personal physician – testifying to their leader’s transformative influence on Jews of all stripes and ailments, spiritual and physical. Full story
Healer of millions
The Avner Institute presents two outstanding accounts – one involving Rabbi Reuven Dunin, Chabad emissary in Haifa; the other narrated by Dr. Avraham Abba Seligson, the Rebbe’s personal physician – testifying to their leader’s transformative influence on Jews of all stripes and ailments, spiritual and physical.
In loving memory of Hadassah Bas Schneur Zalman
“A will of its own”
Rabbi Aharon Dov Halperin recounts:
He looked very different from the rest of us sitting around the long table in the hall of Yeshivas Toras Emes, then located on Meah Shearim, one of Jerusalem’s most well-known ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. Amid the shtreimels and black hats, the young man with the long hair and the colorful kippah stood out.
It was the last day of Pesach 5732/1972, and Venerable Reb Moshe Weber was speaking at Seudas Mashiach, the customary special meal among the Chassidim at the end of Passover. The young man probably found the speech incomprehensible. But then, even the most experienced Hasidim might have found it difficult to grasp noble subjects.
Later, when Rabbi Reuven Dunin of Chabad Haifa began to speak, the young man visibly relaxed. As the contemporary idioms of Israeli Hebrew ricocheted through the walls, the visitor found this speaker easier to identify. Although he did not understand everything here too, he felt drawn to the speaker’s down-to-earth frankness. Rabbi Dunin, noticing this, made sure the young guest received four traditional goblets of wine, which were soon followed by four more. The young man tried to join in the song.
On several occasions that evening, Rabbi Dunin sprinkled his Hebrew with colloquialisms in Yiddish, which the young man did not understand. Sensing their importance, however, he asked the person sitting next to him what they wanted to say.
To his surprise, the other person dodged the question. The young man tried to ask someone else, but received the same reaction.
Eventually, frustrated, he decided to ask Rabbi Dunin himself.
âExcuse me,â he asked shyly, âbut what is’ sh? . . ‘ average?”
Rabbi Dunin answered with a question. “Have you ever looked at the tail of an animal?” Otherwise, take a look at the people sitting around you!
âThe tail is moving back and forth all the time, up and down, but it doesn’t move of its own accord. He has no bones or too many nerves. If does not even know what it is connected to!
Suddenly the young man burst into tears. At first, the rest of us, believing that he had felt offended by Rabbi Dunin’s tone of voice, tried to console him. But in vain – he continued to cry.
The farbrengen continued into the night. We all seemed to have forgotten that the Passover vacation was over. Everywhere else special dishes and cutlery were washed and put away, and long lines formed in front of bakeries. Yet in Toras Emes, the melodies of Pesach flowed, as if the party had just begun.
Finally it was midnight. After the birkat hamazon and the evening prayers, the gathering broke up. Only a few remained in the room.
It was then that the young man felt able to tell us what he had in mind.
âI come from a traditional background,â he explains. âAfter I finished my military service, I left Israel and moved to New York. There, I gave up all religious practice and started dating a nice girl. Finally, we decided to get married.
âSome of my Chabad relatives in Crown Heights kept trying to talk me out. But nothing worked. Finally, they begged me to speak to the Rebbe. I’m not a fool – I knew exactly what the Rebbe would say, so I refused. However, they managed to wrest a compromise from me. This week, I agreed to go see the Rebbe while he was distributing matzah.
âI have decided – what do I have to lose? After all, I really couldn’t believe it. I figured that once I got my little piece from the Rebbe, everyone would let go of me.
âExactly a week ago I went to Crown Heights. It was Erev Pessa’h when I joined the line, accompanied by my cousins.
âWhen I reached the Rebbe, he gave me a piece of matzah and wished me a kosher vesameach chag.
âBut then, as I started to walk away, the Rebbe called me back and asked, ‘Where do you live? “
â’New York,’ I replied.
“‘And your parents?’
âIn Israel. “
âWhy don’t you spend Seder night with the rest of your family? Suggested the Rebbe.
âI refused to answer directly, stammering that it probably wouldn’t work.
â’It is not too late,’ said the Rebbe. – That’s right, you won’t be able to spend the Seder with them, but you could travel after the first day of Yomtov and be with your parents for the rest of Pesach. It would make them very happy and you would have obtained a mitzvah. ‘
âWith this, the Rebbe gave me two more pieces of matzah which he said were for my parents. Before I could continue, the Rebbe arrested me again.
âWhere do your parents live in Israel? ” He asked.
âIn Jerusalem. “
âWhere in Jerusalem? “
â’Well,’ said the Rebbe, ‘Romema is not very far from Meah Shearim. All you have to do is keep walking straight and you’ll get there. On the seventh day of Passover, a Seudas Mashiach usually takes place at Yeshivas Toras Emes, which is found at the end of Meah Shearim. You should go and participate.
âThen the Rebbe wished me a safe journey and said he would like to hear good news.
âAs I walked away, I was besieged by my relatives, along with a host of other Hasidim, who all wanted to know what had happened. I discovered that it was very unusual for the Rebbe to engage in such a broad conversation with someone while distributing matzah.
“‘So what are you waiting for?’ exclaimed my cousins, “Let’s book your ticket!”
“What ticket? Â»I cracked. âYou told me to see your Rebbe, so I did. Stop bothering me. I’m not going back to Israel and it’s final! ‘
âMy relatives obviously didn’t see it that way. They kept harassing me until I gave in, and that’s why I’m here.
âI don’t need to tell you about the scenes that erupted after I told my family about my girlfriend. When I arrived my parents were so happy to see me after four years. That immediately changed once I told them about my upcoming wedding.
âThroughout Chol HaMoed, I felt torn apart. I began to realize how much I had been cut off from my family and my people. Today, the seventh day of Passover, I remembered the words of the Rebbe – come to Toras Emes.
âSo here I am. When Reuven started talking about the tail that doesn’t know whether it wants to be up or down and doesn’t have a will of its own, I started to think that maybe that’s why the Rebbe m ‘sent here.
We suggested that he go talk to Rabbi Dunin. We gave him the address of Rabbi Dunin’s father-in-law in Jerusalem, as well as the address of Rabbi Dunin’s home in Haifa. The young man left gracefully but without promising that he would contact him.
Unfortunately, I have no idea what happened at the end. I only hope that this confused young man made the right decision and that today he is living the life of a practicing Jew.
Who knows? Maybe he’s a Chabad emissary somewhere in the world with a wife and a family. If he’s out there, among our readers, or if anyone else knows where he is, I’d like to know what happened to him.
“A bottle of wine”
Dr. Avraham Abba Seligson OBM says:
Many years ago, after Seudas Mashiach, the Rebbe gave me a bottle of wine saying, âThis should be used for healing. “
I didn’t understand exactly what the Rebbe meant. Spiritual healing or physical healing? Since I wasn’t sure, I took the bottle home and put it away.
Years have passed and the bottle of wine has remained in its place on a special shelf. One day, noticing it there, I asked myself: “What should I do with this bottle of wine?” The Rebbe must have given it to me for a reason.
At that time, a melave malkah, the after-Sabbath meal, was being held in Crown Heights. What other event, have I decided, might be more appropriate for distributing the Rebbe’s wine for healing purposes? And to meet the Rebbe’s request?
Wine attracted all kinds of people, who came to melave malkah especially for use. Some wanted it for themselves, others on behalf of friends or relatives.
By the end of the evening, all the wine had been distributed. I wasn’t sure if he had reached his intended destination, but at least I knew I had carried out the Rebbe’s directive to the best of my ability.
Long after this event, a Jew from Boro Park came to visit me. He told me the following story:
âI was at melave malkah where you distributed the Rebbe’s wine. I took some on behalf of my wife, who was ill, and also asked for a small supplement to be given to other Jews in need of medical assistance.
âA few days ago, a Sephardic came to my house. He told me he was going to have a serious operation shortly and asked if I could give him some wine.
âIn this case, I already knew this particular individual. He had a laundromat which was open on the Sabbath and on holidays. I told him, ‘This means you are breaking the laws of Shabbos. I’m afraid I can’t give you the wine.
“‘What do you mean?’ the man exclaimed.
â’This wine is not cooked. If he is touched by someone who does not keep the Sabbath, he will no longer be kosher. Sorry, but I can’t let something like this happen to the Rebbe’s wine.
âThe man looked dejected. So I said to him: ‘I will only give you some if you promise to close your laundromat on Shabbos and Yomtov.’
âAt first, the man hesitated. Agreeing could mean giving your competition an edge. However, in the end, he agreed and I gave him some wine.
âHis operation turned out to be more effective than his doctors had imagined. As for the laundromat, it did even better after agreeing to keep it closed on Shabbos and Yomtov. Suddenly he was offered a good deal on more efficient washing machines and his business is booming right now.
I have now realized what the Rebbe had planned when he gave me the bottle of wine. For this particular Jew, it had healed his body, his soul and his livelihood.
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