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August 29, 2014 / 3 Elul, 5774
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I Will Hold Your Empty Hand

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It flashed through my mind, then, that searing image. Young couple, straight from their chuppah. Seventeen year old Zeesel. It was years since then, and she was still a beautiful woman. And Simche, the chosson.

The Rebbe heard, and the Rebbe listened. The Rebbe saw, and the Rebbe understood.

The Rebbe looked back to the kvittel, and he continued reading.

When he finished, he began to speak.

I stared at the Rebbe. It took a while for his words to register in my brain properly; it was so much the opposite of what I had expected. But then my mind got it.

The Rebbe was talking about adoption.

“…. In a way, a goyishe kint is better, because then there is never any concern about siblings marrying each other…”

Nachum looked more helpless then I had ever seen him.

My father, respected elder and soft-spoken diplomat, spoke up on his behalf. “Rebbe,” Father said respectfully, “we know that. But we didn’t come here for that. We didn’t come to hear about adoption. We came here that they should have their own children.”

The Rebbe’s response was a rending implosion inside my gut. He picked up his hands and raised them in the air. It was the gesture not of futility, but of heartrending desperation. His face was in agony. It said, I have been there, and I have done all I can, and I have exhausted my strength, and the goal is yet beyond me. “What can I do?” he cried. “I can’t do anything else….”

His eyes burned in pain, almost dropping tears.

A rending inside me, of the tremendously deep pain of this holy man. An implosion inside me, as this hope for Nachum dashed on the rocks. And again, the pain of the Rebbe, so deep that it surely meant there was no hope….

We didn’t speak one word to each other on the way home. All along that drive from Williamsburg to Boro Park, we sat in silence. Father, on my side, quiet. Nachum, in the back, silent. I, driving, thankful for the motion to distract me, mirroring their silence. But every foot of pavement rolling under the wheels carried with it waves of pain, flooding and crashing from behind me into the driver’s seat. Quieter ripples of grief, shimmering from the seat beside me. A whirlpool of sadness and muted torment crashing inside me, sucking them in to meld us together.

We drove in silence. I reached Nachum’s apartment and slowed to a stop. I heard the door open, a presence leave, and the shutting of the door. I lifted my foot from the break, and we continued on. We reached our home. The car slowed once more and stopped. And the doors opened, and we got out. The numbness held us, silencing all words.

Nachum never had children.

***

I felt a heaviness inside me, the sadness of the finality of Nachum’s plight. Now he was a very old man. I had known before that he had never had children. But somehow, going back to that day long ago, I felt a new sort of sadness; the sadness of the old man in that young man, doomed to his childless fate.

And yet…

The sadness could not keep down the wondrous awe rising inside me.

“Zeida, that’s just incredible,” I said. “How… how on earth-“

Zeida is a chassid, and this is his life, but I knew I could ask. “How could the Rebbe know such a thing? How?”

“Ahh,” Zeida said, and I could hear the richness in his voice, joy of secure faith softly sweetening his sadness. “Ahh, I’ll tell you another story…”

That was a true Zeida answer.

***

You know that when I came to America, I went to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

His son in law, Reb Menachem Mendel, who would become the next Rebbe, was childless.

The Rebbe was a great man, and those in need of yeshuos or simply his wise counsel, would form long lines daily, waiting to see him. One day, Reb Menachem Mendel, the future rebbe, stood and waited on the long line. He, too, sought the Rebbe’s bracha – a bracha for children.

The line moved slowly. Many of the people looked sad, withdrawn, or anxious. The man on line behind Reb Menachem Mendel looked particularly nervous. His jerky movements and anxious face did not abate throughout the long wait. The process itself was wrenching enough; the tension disturbing. Finally, Reb Menachem Mendel turned and kindly asked the man what was disturbing him so.

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