Continued letter from Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchok Homnick, z”l, to his kallah at the time, describing his impression from a visit with Lubavitch at 770 shortly after the Rebbe accepted the leadership of Chabad.
“Some of the students here daven with immense concentration; you can see their full hearts go out with every word of prayer. Someone explains to me that they are still mourning. They are mourning the passing of the [previous] Rebbe, the father-in-law of the current Rebbe.
“The late Rebbe who passed away about a year ago was a great activist. He built the Lubavitcher yeshiva in America and had a great influence on the other yeshivos. In addition to that, he was a wise man and a Torah scholar. (I am currently reading some of his maamarim and I see how he was a person who literally fought for the ideals he believed in.) Standing here in the shul, I thought to myself what a pity it is that I never saw the elder Rebbe.
“When the davening was over – their nusach is a little different than Ashkenaz or Sefard (their first Rebbe established to daven with the nusach of the Arizal, the great Kabbalist Reb Yitzchak Luria. It’s a very meticulous nusach based on the secrets of the Kabbalah) – all the chassidim started running towards the other half of the room where the Rebbe was, because he was going to speak and everyone wanted to be closer to him. Everyone wanted to hear his holy words, without missing even one word.
“A few minutes later, the Rebbe started talking. The Rebbe speaks in a low voice. His words flow like a forceful spring of water; he never stops to find the right word. He speaks with a distinct accent. The Chabad chassidim speak with a very distinct Yiddish. They speak like the Lithuanian Jews, but their “reish” is like that of the Hungarians. Also, the words are a little different. While they speak, some words of Hebrew will get mixed in, as well as some concepts from Chabad teachings.
“The Rebbe speaks quickly and with a singsong. The chassidim stand around the table with closed eyes, trying to concentrate and hear every word. He speaks of the secrets of the Torah. I felt like I was in a new world; a world where the only interest is in living a wholesome Jewish life. A world that is still interested in avodas Hashem and the secrets of the Torah.
“The Rebbe speaks for a while and then takes a break, and the chassidim sing a niggun. Even the niggunim of Chabad chassidim are different from those of other chassidim. They are very deep and heartrending niggunim. In the teachings of Chabad there is a full section about niggunim – how to listen to niggunim and how to really be impacted by them. They sing the niggun higher and higher, and then they stop.
“Then I observed a beautiful thing: Each one of the chassidim raises a cup of mashke, and the Rebbe wishes each and every chossid “l’chaim!” and they respond “l’chaim.” Each and every one is blessed with a personal l’chaim from the Rebbe, thereby fostering a personal connection with each chossid. Then the Rebbe starts speaking again, this time talking about simpler concepts that everyone can understand.
“Then he takes another break, and there’s another niggun. Then this repeats itself a third time. The Rebbe connects everything with what he spoke about earlier, and a beautiful tapestry emerges, bringing together the secrets of the Torah with the revealed parts of Torah. I glance at the clock. It’s already after 2:00, and most of them only tasted a little kiddush, some cake, and a little mashke. But the day is not yet over. The Rebbe gets up to leave. Everyone stands up and sings “Ki V’simcha…” and they all go to daven Mincha. After Mincha, some people finally go home. But the real chassidim stay longer and review the Rebbe’s words.
“One person tries to repeat everything the Rebbe said exactly; if he errs, the others will correct him. In this manner, they maintain exactly what the Rebbe said. On Motzei Shabbos, the Rebbe’s maamar will be written down and printed. There’s no word that comes out of the Rebbe’s mouth that will not eventually be printed. After this chazzara, they daven Maariv, and then they go to one chossid’s house for melava malka. They spent their entire day immersed in Torah and avodas Hashem. This is how they prepare themselves for the new month.
“When I left the Lubavticher court, I felt so elated. I felt like over there you can find the true spirit of Shabbos and the true spirit of kedusha. I don’t know what the future holds for Lubavitch, but I know that they have a very rich past, and an interesting present. Lubavitch and Chabad hold a special place in the story of our people.”