My late husband and I were very close to the Bostoner Rebbe, zt”l, and many memories came flooding back when he passed away earlier this in Yerushalayim.
My husband and I first met the Rebbe in 1974. I was expecting our third child and my parents had offered to sit the others so we could get away for a few days to Cape Cod. We detoured to Brookline (a long story) and spent Shabbat with the Bostoner Rebbe and Rebbetzin.
In the years to come, our family would try to spend every Rosh Hashanah with the Bostoner. We were assigned a big room in the attic of the Rebbe’s home, with six beds made up for us. The Rebbe was humble and had a sweet sense of humor. One day when he came home, our little daughter was sitting on the couch. The Rebbe smiled at her and asked her where we were sleeping. She answered, “In the attic.” With a twinkle in his eyes he responded, “We call that our penthouse.”
The Rebbe was unbelievably compassionate, but he would not make light of things, nor would he rely on a Band-Aid for a merely superficial effect.
One of our daughters, at age 10, had gone through several months of excruciating pain. She wrote the Rebbe, asking him why Hashem wanted her to suffer so much. The Rebbe wrote back, giving a blessing for a speedy recovery and adding that no one can tell her why Hashem does something to her that is so hard. She would have to find out the reasons for herself, and perhaps as she grew up her path in life would somehow be shaped by this difficult experience.
Is it any wonder she became a physical therapist who, with love and professionalism, is devoted to relieving the pain of others?
I cannot think of the Rebbe without hearing niggunim in my head – the Rebbe’s joyful songs at the two first meals of Shabbat and the songs of yearning at the third. He and the Rebbetzin made every guest feel so welcome. They both wanted to know about each person and made us all feel important and part of the family.
And what a varied crew came to the Rebbe’s tisch! Professors of nuclear physics from MIT; shlichim from institutions in Israel trying to raise money in the U.S.; people with heartbreaking illnesses and their worried, exhausted families. Those who had never before experienced a Shabbat sat next to roshei yeshiva and devout chassidim. And we were all one.
The Rebbe made an extra effort to speak with the women. He knew that men had many opportunities to approach him to talk things over at davening or the Shabbat table, and that women didn’t have such easy access, so he tried to give time to women who sought his advice and prayers.
One incident typified to me his utter respect for each person’s holiness and potential. There was a time my husband and I were deeply conflicted over an important decision. We talked and talked but could not make up our minds. We decided to go the Rebbe to ask him to decide.
The Rebbe starting asking many probing questions about our conflict. I stopped him. I said, “Rebbe, we have spent hours trying to figure out what choice to make and we have explored all the possible consequences. Please just tell us what to do and we will do it.”
The Rebbe explained that a main difference between animals and people is that people have free choice. “If I tell you to do something and you do it because I told you to,” he said, “then I have taken away what is your kedusha and I will not do that. So let us talk the situation over some more until you can chose.”
In the end we made a decision and the Rebbe blessed it.
The Rebbe put his own personal preferences aside when he dealt with people. He thought of what was right for them. When I decided to make aliyah, I was unhappy that I had only a Yiddish and an English name. I wanted a Hebrew name and asked the Rebbe to help me.