Rebbe of the Hippies?

Friday, 7 February, 2020 - 10:38 am

It was Erev Yom Kippur 1979. Outside of 770 Eastern Parkway (Chabad HQ in Brooklyn) there was a long line of people waiting to receive a piece of honey cake and a blessing for a sweet year from the Rebbe. Joining the line was a fellow who affiliated with the Satmar group. The Satmar Rebbe had passed away that summer, and he wanted a blessing from a Tzaddik to start the new year. As he waited his turn to have his moment with the Rebbe, he glanced around to see who else was there. He noticed that the person just before him the line looked like a hippie. He started thinking to himself, “If the Lubavitcher Rebbe is this guy’s Rebbe, then how could he be my Rebbe. We occupy entirely different worlds.” He was contemplating leaving and going home. But he decided to stay to receive the blessing. When he approached the Rebbe, he received the cake and blessing and started to walk away. The Rebbe called him back and asked, “Do you have the writings of the Yismach Moshe? (Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum of Uhel, Hungary was an early Chassidic master and the forerunner of the Satmar dynasty.) He replied that he does. The Rebbe continued, “Certainly you recall the story he relates in the introduction to his commentary on Psalms?”

Let me break to tell the story. The Baal Shem Tov had a disciple named R’ Michel of Zolotchov. When his father, R’ Yitzchak of Dorovitch, passed away, the heavenly court instructed Rashi’s soul to go and welcome him to Gan Eden. When Rashi encountered R’ Yitzchak he asked why he merited to have such a welcoming committee? R’ Yitzchak said that it was in honor of his son’s accomplishments. Rashi asked, “What is your son’s greatness?” He replied, “He is a great Torah scholar and is intensely involved in the service of the heart in prayer.” Rashi replied, “There are many like that who don’t merit this greeting. There must be something else.” R’ Yitzchak replied citing a verse in Malachi, “He turned many from sin.” Rashi was satisfied.

The Rebbe continued addressing this Satmar chasid saying, “If it was good enough for Rashi, it should be good enough for you.” In other words, the Rebbe sensed his discomfort with the presence of the hippy and put him at ease with the story, thereby also giving the man insight to the Rebbe’s approach to how we view a fellow Jew, no matter what their external appearance might be.

Coming off of the celebration of 70 years of the Rebbe’s leadership this week, Chabad of Louisiana will be hosting a special event next Monday night. The screening of the film – The Time in Between – a documentary about three individuals who were involved in the hippie/counter-culture movement of the 60s and 70s, and how they got involved with the Rebbe and Chabad. Please join us at Chabad of Metairie at 7:15 pm on Monday, Feb 10. See below for more details.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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