Rabbi Berel Junik, of blessed memory
September 26, 2019
Beis Moshiach in #1184, Chabad History, Obituary

By Menachem Gitlin  •

There was a special connection between Rabbi Berel Junik, of blessed memory, and the recently concluded month of Iyar.

His first yechidus with the Rebbe MH”M, even before Yud Shvat 5711, took place (as we will discuss later in this article) during Iyar 5710. He passed away in Iyar 5765, and a most thrilling and unusual event in his life took place with the passing of the Rebbe’s younger brother – R’ Yisroel Aryeh Leib a”h on the thirteenth of Iyar 5712. Then, there was also a most unique farbrengen filled with revelations, during which he was privileged to receive expressions of closeness from the Rebbe. When did this take place? When else? – Shabbos Mevorchim Iyar.

The warmth and kinship the Rebbe showed towards R’ Berel were very special indeed. He began to serve as “mashbak” (meshamesh ba’kodesh – one who serves in holiness) and as a faithful servant in the Rebbe’s household at a very young age. The Rebbe totally relied upon him and praised him most effusively. He regularly received assistance from both the Rebbe MH”M and the Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka a”h, and even from the Rebbe’s righteous mother, the Rebbetzin Chana a”h, standing by their side on a variety of sensitive and personal issues with absolute devotion and fierce loyalty.

His marvelous obedience was quite exemplary. Yet, despite all the expressions of closeness he received from the Rebbe, R’ Berel remained the symbol of a chassid – dedication, bittul, and connected to the Rebbe with every fiber of his soul. He was in a state of constant readiness, similar to a soldier prepared for action, requiring no more than a slight hint or a gentle motion of the Rebbe’s hand to carry out his mission in the best possible way.

There is also the amazing fact that R’ Berel Junik was privileged to be among a group of bachurim who went in for yechidus with the Rebbe Rayatz on the fourth of Shvat 5710, and was also among the first to have a yechidus with the Rebbe MH”M.

This symbolized a transition from one generation to another, a turning point from the sixth generation to the seventh generation of the Chabad Chassidic dynasty, receiving a double dose of strength from the fact that the Rebbe edited the report on the yechidus with Rabbi Junik in his own handwriting. Among other things, the Rebbe emphasized the absolute necessity in our generation for “dealing with others”, thinking about the spiritual state of our fellow Jews, not just becoming absorbed in our own avoda, which can make a person downhearted… The Rebbe also noted the fact that the avoda with others eventually leads to personal growth within the “mashpia” himself.

Rabbi Junik was a symbol of one who put his overall mission and responsibilities ahead of his own personal achievements. He always stood ready to fulfill whatever instructions or command he received from the Rebbe. With his great sensitivity, he made certain to deal with all issues pertaining to the Rebbe, the Rebbetzin, their household, or any other technical matters even before he was asked to do so.

R’ Berel related with the utmost seriousness down to the smallest detail of his life in 770 and the Rebbe’s court, and he faithfully recorded everything in his diaries.

A sizable portion of what we bring in the following article about R’ Berel Junik and his personal connection with the Rebbe over the years have become known due to his entries in these diaries.

A PASSAGEWAY FROM THE SIXTH GENERATION TO THE SEVENTH GENERATION

Rabbi Berel (Dovber) Junik was born in the Ukrainian city of Pryluky on the sixth of Menachem Av 5687, to his parents Rabbi Naftali and Mrs. Golda Ita Junik. At a young age, he moved with his family to Moscow, and later because of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, the family settled in Samarkand.

In the summer of 5706, the family participated in the well-known escape from the U.S.S.R., during which forged passports were issued for thousands of chassidim with Soviet citizenship to help them escape over the border past the Iron Curtain.

One of the ways that helped this massive passport-forging project operate effectively and appear less “transparent” in the eyes of the Communist authorities was combining a large number of people as one family. In this manner, numerous children passed through as the offspring of adults to whom they had no family connection.

Divine Providence dictated that young Berel would leave the territory of the Soviet Union on a forged passport listing him as the son of Rebbetzin Chana, of blessed memory – the Rebbe’s mother. They had to go through the entire journey together, and thus began the special association between young Berel and the family of the Rebbe, leader of our generation.

The story goes that the Rebbetzin Chana once asked her son, the Rebbe, “How is your younger brother?”, referring to R’ Berel, who as we said according to all the forged documents was the Rebbetzin Chana’s son and as a result, the Rebbe’s brother.

After passing the Soviet border, the refugees settled in a camp in Pocking, West Germany. R’ Berel started learning with the mashpia, R’ Nissan Nemenov, in a temporary yeshiva established in Pocking. Later, he moved together with the other students to the yeshiva in Brunoy. For her part, after spending several months in France, Rebbetzin Chana continued on to the United States accompanied by her son, the Rebbe.

At the Rebbe Rayatz’s instructions, young Berel began studying the Laws of Shechita while he was still in Pocking. For a certain period of time, he even served as a shochet in Dublin, Ireland.

On Rosh Chodesh Shvat 5710, just nine days before the histalkus of the Rebbe Rayatz, R’ Berel together with three other tmimim from Brunoy arrived on American soil. On the fourth of Shvat, the four bachurim went in for yechidus [see text printed in Sefer HaSichos 5710, pg. 387].

During this private audience, the Rebbe Rayatz looked at him very intensely, and when the secretary told the Rebbe his name, the Rebbe indicated that he knew who he was.

At the very start of the yechidus, the Rebbe blessed the tmimim, and afterwards he asked them about their learning schedule. When they replied that they kept the same schedule they had observed in Brunoy, the Rebbe’s holy face shone with deep satisfaction.

As the yechidus concluded, the Rebbe Rayatz said: “From time to time, each one of you may come in separately – and we’ll talk.”

Six days later came the histalkus on Yud Shvat…

On the seventh of Iyar 5710, Berel Junik knocked on the door of the Rebbe MH”M’s room – and asked if he could come in.

The Rebbe asked him what he wanted, and R’ Berel replied that the Rebbe Rayatz had told him in yechidus that he could come in to talk. “All right,” said R’ Berel, “I would like to talk now.”

During this time, the Rebbe still hadn’t officially accepted people for yechidus, although he would offer advice to bachurim and instructed them what to do.

When he heard Berel Junik’s appeal, the Rebbe stood up, closed the blinds to his office, sat down again at his table, and burst into sobs.

Eventually, the Rebbe acceded to his request, and he began to respond to his questions and later even edited R’ Berel’s notes on their meeting. Among other things, the Rebbe told R’ Berel that “you have the matter that the Rebbe has borne you upon his shoulders.”

In editing the text of the yechidus, the Rebbe added in his handwriting after the words written by R’ Berel, “Eich haht der Rebbe genumen oif zeine pleitzes” [= the Rebbe has taken you upon his shoulders], the following clarification: “Ahber m’darf tahn, tahn alein.” In other words, despite being instilled with strength from the Rebbe Rayatz, we must act with our own strengths.

A CHASSIDIC BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION LASTING FOR DECADES

The spiritual influence from that unique yechidus Rabbi Junik was privileged to have at the dawn of a new era continued throughout the years of the Rebbe’s leadership, and specifically with G-d’s help. Here is what transpired:

On the seventh of Iyar 5720, exactly ten years after the first yechidus, Rabbi Junik was again privileged to have a private audience with the Rebbe together with his family. During this yechidus, Rabbi Junik told the Rebbe that the day marked ten years since his first yechidus. In response, the Rebbe instructed him to make an appointment with the mazkirus for another yechidus in another ten years. Naturally, this request was not warmly received by Rabbi Chadakov a”h, who was extremely organized and failed to understand how he could set an appointment for a yechidus that would take place in another ten years…

The Junik family fulfilled the Rebbe’s instructions, and ten years later, on the seventh of Iyar 5730, they went in again for yechidus. This time, the Rebbe read the “tzetl” that R’ Berel gave him, and then instructed him to observe the customs for celebrating a birthday, despite the fact that Rabbi Junik’s actual birthday was in Menachem Av and he hadn’t even mentioned anything about his birthday in his letter. Nevertheless, the Rebbe on his own made reference to this date, when R’ Berel went in for his first yechidus, as his birthday. On this occasion as well, the Rebbe instructed him to come in for yechidus in another ten years.

Thus, on the seventh of Iyar 5740, the Junik family had another private audience with the Rebbe. As the seventh of Iyar 5750 approached, R’ Berel asked the Rebbe if he would be able to go in for yechidus again, but the Rebbe replied that yechidus nowadays takes place during dollars distribution. And so it was that the entire family passed by the Rebbe for dollars, and each of them received a special bracha.

Thus, the first yechidus was spread over a period of forty years!

FATHERLY AFFECTION

Rabbi Junik’s “career” as “mashbak” actually began immediately after the histalkus of the Rebbe Rayatz. R’ Berel made certain to arrange the place for the Rebbe’s farbrengen, organizing the tables accordingly. Shortly before Pesach 5711, the Rebbe asked Rabbi Junik – who was still a bachur – if he would be prepared to help in serving the meals and arranging the “seder” in the Rebbe Rayatz’s home. R’ Berel agreed, and from that moment on, he became a “meshamesh ba’kodesh”, assisting during the preparation of the Pesach sedarim until his wedding in Sivan 5714.

During the early years, one of his responsibilities was to pour wine for the Rebbe during the distribution of “kos shel bracha”, a task called by chassidim “sar ha’mashkim.” Later, he was replaced by Rabbi Mordechai Mentlik, however, after the latter’s passing in Tishrei 5748, he reassumed this task.

During Pesach 5712, the Rebbe made a farbrengen after the second seder. He asked R’ Berel to find someone to escort Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka and Rebbetzin Chana home after the seder due to the lateness of the hour. R’ Berel immediately replied that he would do this himself. For his part, the Rebbe admonished him with affection: “Do you have to do everything yourself?”

On another occasion, when Rabbi Junik hastened to volunteer his assistance, the Rebbe told him: “You’re taking another mitzvah? You want to do everything yourself? Why don’t you leave something for others as well?”

Before the Rebbe’s farbrengen, R’ Berel would enter the Rebbe’s room to bring the wine and the Rebbe’s becher, and in later years, he also brought the “mashke” left from previous farbrengens (which the Rebbe would combine to the “mashke” of the current farbrengen, making all the farbrengens one continuous process).

These marked only a part of the tasks that R’ Berel willingly fulfilled with complete devotion, and he thereby merited to serve as a loyal member of the Rebbe’s appointed household staff.

Due to his previous acquaintance with the Rebbetzin Chana, R’ Berel would pay regular visits to her home and assist her in whatever she required. These frequent visits also led to a similar acquaintance with the Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, and as a result, he began coming to the home of the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin to provide similar help when needed. For his part, the Rebbe would tell the Rebbetzin that “R’ Berel can be relied upon.”

Once the Rebbe gave him words of guidance on how a mashbak must conduct himself, as Rabbi Junik described in his diary: “The Rebbe Rashab had a secretary named R’ Mendel. Whenever the secretary would leave the Rebbe’s room, the chassidim would ask him what was the Rebbe doing at that moment, and he would always give the same reply: ‘I don’t know…’” The Rebbe instructed R’ Berel to conduct himself in a similar fashion: “If someone asks you something about your work, you should reply that you don’t know, etc. If you are able to forget completely everything that had been done – that would be even better…”

Thus, R’ Berel, who in any case was by his very nature a quiet and introverted person, customarily did everything in absolute silence. No one knew exactly what he was doing, how often he visited the Rebbe’s house, and how much the Rebbe had shown him up close.

On numerous occasions, when he visited the Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka a”h, she would honor him with something to eat. Once R’ Berel entered the Rebbe and Rebbetzin’s home when the Rebbe was there. Recognizing R’ Berel’s deep reverence and bittul, the Rebbe told the Rebbetzin that he would move to another room since if R’ Berel would feel that he was there, he would refrain from eating anything…However, R’ Berel managed to hear this…

In general, the impression was that the Rebbe felt he could speak with R’ Berel “openly” and reveal important matters to him.

According to what he writes in his diary, R’ Berel once got involved in a sensitive matter in the Rebbe’s household that apparently was not in his area of responsibility, and therefore, he should not have interfered… The Rebbe called him into his room and said: “R’ Berel, come over to the table.” As he approached, the Rebbe told him: Why do you have to listen to lashon ha’ra? The Gemara says that this causes harm to the speaker, the listener, and the subject of the evil talk… You came to yeshiva to learn. The Rebbe Rayatz brought you here to grow in the study of Nigleh and Chassidus, and in the avoda of tefilla and Ahavas Yisroel. So why do you put all this on the side and get involved in things to which you have no connection?

The Rebbe continued by giving R’ Berel a “tikkun” and some advice on how to distance himself from such incidental matters, instructing him to attach himself to “the Tree of Life” and be happy that he is in a place illuminated by “the light of Torah.”

Thus, the Rebbe constantly showed R’ Berel special individual attention, even when he was a bachur. Before Shavuos 5712, the Rebbe asked him if he had already bought a suit for Yomtov. When R’ Berel said that he hadn’t, the Rebbe took out one hundred dollars and gave it to R’ Berel to buy a new suit and other holiday items. Afterwards, when he entered the Rebbe’s room dressed in a new suit, the Rebbe instructed him to turn around and then remarked that he thought that the suit looked a little tight on him…

On the twenty-seventh of Elul 5712, the Rebbe called him into his holy chamber, where he pointed to a box containing white handkerchiefs. “Someone sent this to me,” the Rebbe said, “but since I don’t accept gifts, use it in good health. May it be for a good beginning. You’re supposed to wear a black tie to a wedding. Possibly, but white handkerchiefs? Only if there’s nothing else …so use this in good health and happiness.” Contained in the box were eight handkerchiefs, and over the years, he had eight children…

During R’ Berel’s search for a shidduch, the Rebbe took a serious interest in the matter, and at his wedding, the Rebbe himself honored him by conducting the chuppah ceremony as mesader kiddushin.

THE MOST CONCEALED FAMILY SECRETS

As we have already mentioned, the Rebbe relied a great deal upon R’ Berel, showing him personal kinship and genuine warmth. Surely, one of the most thrilling cases where the Rebbe demonstrated how much he relies upon R’ Berel and his ability to handle things successfully – despite the fact that he was then still a young bachur – took place following the passing of the Rebbe’s brother, the chassid R’ Yisroel Aryeh Leib Schneerson a”h.

The Rebbe made every effort to keep his mother from hearing the tragic news in order not to cause her any emotional anguish. For this purpose, the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin enlisted R’ Berel and clandestinely brought him into the picture.

Since R’ Berel often visited the Rebbetzin Chana, the Rebbe instructed him to make a copy of her mailbox key and bring him all letters that had arrived before giving them to his mother. In this manner, he could check to see if anything contained a notification of her son’s passing.

During this time, R’ Berel would shine the Rebbe’s non-leather shoes to make them appear like normal shoes – all this to prevent Rebbetzin Chana from noticing any signs of mourning.

Whenever the Rebbe visited his mother’s house during the shiva, R’ Berel would call the Rebbetzin’s house and speak with her. As a result, the Rebbe could shorten his visit with the wish “Rehd gezunterheit” [= have a nice chat], thereby reducing the chance that his beloved mother would suspect anything unusual.

In various letters that arrived from his sister-in-law in London, the Rebbe made certain to copy the handwriting style of his brother at the close of each correspondence in order not to arouse his mother’s suspicions. R’ Berel’s job was to remove the letter from the envelope, and after some minor alterations and additions, to reseal the letter without anyone noticing. This continued for a period of twelve years!

The Rebbe clearly placed tremendous confidence in R’ Berel, telling him all the most guarded family secrets.

Eventually, the Rebbe told R’ Berel concerning these tasks: “Since you have been entrusted with the fulfillment of matters that are not the most appropriate according to Shulchan Aruch, may it be G-d’s Will that this will exempt you from any further obligation!”

There can be no doubt that the relationship between Rabbi Junik and Rebbetzin Chana was excellent. She greatly enjoyed his visits to her home and constantly urged him to come back. For her part, Rebbetzin Chana participated in R’ Berel’s vort and wedding. At the wedding, she asked the photographer to take her picture with the kallah. The famous photograph of the Rebbetzin Chana was taken at this event.

In 5739, leading up to the Rebbe and Rebbetzin’s fiftieth wedding anniversary, R’ Berel framed a picture of the reading of the kesuba with the Rebbe under the chuppah at his wedding, and he brought it to Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka. The Rebbetzin placed the picture on the cabinet in the library on the second floor, and this was the only photograph of the Rebbe himself in their house (save for two pictures in the Rebbetzin’s bedroom of the Rebbe Rayatz).

It wasn’t for naught that the Rebbe gave him the authority to fulfill certain delicate tasks even after the passing of his mother, Rebbetzin Chana, and his wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, of blessed memory.

R’ Berel, who was privileged to be a member of the Rebbe and Rebbetzin’s household, spoke with the Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka on numerous occasions. Once he recalled that he was always amazed to discover that the Rebbetzin’s opinions were totally identical to those of the Rebbe. She was filled with great satisfaction and pleasure when they told her about progress on a certain matter of great concern to the Rebbe or the activities of shluchim throughout the world, etc. Her only desire and purpose in life was for the Rebbe’s inyanim.

A MOST TRUSTWORTHY AND FAITHFUL PERSON

Thus, we have before us the image and portrait of a true chassid, and despite receiving numerous expressions of affection from the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin, similar to parents towards their child, and his knowledge of the most private matters pertaining to the royal household, he remained a completely devoted chassid with true bittul to the Rebbe.

Over the years, the Rebbe instructed R’ Berel to teach the Laws of Shechita to the bachurim in 770. Despite his crowded daily schedule, which included traveling to Manhattan for his work as a diamond polisher, R’ Berel didn’t hesitate. When he completed his work in the evening hours, he would come to 770 and for two hours, he would give over shiurim in Hilchos Shechita. Only then would he make his way home.

R’ Berel’s entire character was one of complete devotion and readiness to take action. The bachur who was privileged to be among the first to go in for yechidus, among the first to dedicate himself completely to the Rebbe, the bachur privileged to have the Rebbe edit the notes on their discussion, instructing him “m’darf tahn alein” – did just that, time and time again. He exemplified the image of a Chassidic “man of action”, whose total devotion made him into an authority figure, someone the Rebbe could always rely upon to take responsibility for his actions and try with all his strength to fulfill his shlichus.

Rabbi Berel Junik passed away in Iyar 5765, the month when his spiritual birthday takes place. May his memory be for a blessing.

THE REBBE HELD R’ BEREL’S BEARD THROUGHOUT THE SICHA

The farbrengen of Shabbos Parshas Shmini – Shabbos Mevorchim Iyar 5712 is remembered well by chassidim and well-known as a farbrengen when the Rebbe was in a state of great revelation. The Rebbe made several “l’chaims” and displayed very special attention for many of those present, speaking with them in a most unusual style – “above and beyond all measure.” Chassidim eventually called this Shabbos by the name “Shabbos HaGadol.”

As the farbrengen drew to a close, the Rebbe wanted to see a section of Gemara inside the sefer, and he asked those present to bring him a copy of Tractate Berachos. For some reason, this wasn’t done right away, and when Berel Junik noticed that no one was bringing the Gemara, he quickly got up and did this himself. When he completed the task, the Rebbe grabbed R’ Berel’s beard and said: “Avreichim like this will bring the Moshiach,” and he continued to give over a sicha while holding R’ Berel’s beard the entire time.

During the farbrengen, the Rebbe turned to R’ Berel and spoke to him as well, as it appears in R’ Berel’s diary:

“When will we do something so that Berel Junik will break through his limitations? With him, everything is with comprehension and understanding! Everything he does – he does with intellect!… He thinks everything, with intellect, with understanding. How is it possible to arrange everything, that everything will work out?… He shouldn’t think about himself, when you think about yourself – even in matters of holiness, about the ultimate fulfillment – this is the ultimate yeishus! When someone thinks disparate thoughts about himself, this is not good, but one day he will get a hold of himself and do teshuva…

“Break through the limitations of holiness!…

“This is not your concern [to help] my mother-in-law, my mother, my wife… For this, I am grateful to him. However, the Essence and Being of the Blessed Ein Sof says: ‘You, Berel Junik, your shlichus is to fulfill the purpose of the Essence and Being of the Blessed Ein Sof.’

“Get out of your personal inyanim, and be a bachur like all the bachurim!…”

At this point, the Rebbe turned to the yeshiva’s mashpia, R’ Y.D., and said: “You are to blame for this, you should have had an influence upon him. You are busy with other matters, and therefore, [you] leave him here…

“Berel Junik says that I’m above limitations. When can we do something already that Berel Junik will once get drunk, forget about himself, forget about me… He wants everything to be with intellect and understanding. He has to do what he’s told! Whether we understand or don’t understand. There’s no need to understand. I didn’t come here to give a sermon.

“Berel Junik says everything is ‘mein Dovid’, my Dovid [in reference to R’ Dovid Raskin]. For Dovid, G-d helped him to conduct himself without cheshbonos. He thinks that this is self-sacrifice on his part, everything by measure and limitation…”

Afterwards, at “kos shel bracha” after Havdalah, the Rebbe told R’ Berel: “G-d will help that your father will have parnassa…nachas… from your brother-in-law and your sister. And also your brother [Meir] should come out of Russia, and he should have nachas from him here as well, and this depends upon your standing above [all] measure and limitation.”

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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