January 23, 2018
Avremele Rainitz in #1103, Chabad History, Yud Shvat

To mark the great day of Yud Shvat, Avrohom Rainitz presents the memories of the Rebbes personal secretary, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Groner, that were shared in a rare interview. They covered the period from the histalkus of the Rebbe Rayatz until the Chassidim merited the Rebbes acceptance of the Chabad leadership on 11 Shvat 5711.

Last year I wrote part one of RGroners memories of the passing of the Rebbe Rayatz. The following covers the year after the Rebbe Rayatzs passing. 67 years have passed since then and RGroner, who witnessed these events as the Rebbes secretary, shares stories about the Rebbes conduct following the histalkus until 11 Shvat 5711, the day the Rebbe formally accepted the nesius by saying a maamer Chassidus.

Note: The Rebbe Rayatz will be referred to as such, and the Rebbe MH”M will be referred to as the Rebbe.


During the Shiva, davening took place in the Rebbe Rayatz’s yechidus room. The Rebbe would go up from his room while wearing tallis and Rashi tefillin. His other tefillin: Rabbeinu Tam, Raavad, and Shimusha Raba, were in bags which he put on the desk. After davening, the Rebbe removed the tefillin shel rosh, put on the Shimusha Raba, then put on Rabbeinu Tam, and then Raavad.

We saw how the Rebbe wound the tefillin and noticed two differences from what we were used to: 1) With the tefillin shel yad – we would wind the straps on only one side. We noticed that the Rebbe wound them on both sides.

R’ Feivel Rimler, who was a young bachur at the time, asked the Rebbe to explain this. The Rebbe said: The shver [the Rebbe Rayatz] told me they should be like dove’s wings on the shel yad and the shel rosh.

2) With the tefillin shel rosh, we were used to putting the knot on the side, while the Rebbe placed the knot in the middle of the back crosspiece.

The Rebbe was particular about not starting chazaras ha’shatz until there were ten responders. After the Rebbe finished Shmoneh Esrei, he turned to me to check whether he could begin. I knew that the Rebbe did not suffice with nine responders, and I would nod only after there were ten.

On Monday morning, while saying the section before the “Shir shel Yom,” when the Rebbe reached the words, “ha’pach nishbar, v’anachnu nimlatnu” (the snare broke, and we escaped), he sobbed. The Rebbe repeated those words and could not go on.

The Rebbe wanted people to learn in the Rebbe Rayatz’s room all day, making shifts, during the Shiva. R’ Mordechai Mentlick, the rosh yeshiva, asked the Rebbe whether there was anything particular they should learn. The Rebbe said: Nigleh and Chassidus. They learned Mishnayos and the maamer that had been published for 13 Shvat.

On Wednesday, after the davening, the Rebbe said that in accordance with the statement of the Sages that “three days are for crying and seven for eulogizing,” stories ought to be related about the Rebbe [Rayatz], and he told a few stories (that were later edited by the Rebbe and printed in Likkutei Sichos).


During the Shiva, the Rebbe Rayatz’s oldest daughter called for me and my brother, Moshe. She said: I will show you something that almost nobody saw and knows about. She opened a drawer and from the edge of the drawer she took out tefillin with very tall battim (boxes). The tefillin were very large, nearly twice the usual size, and very heavy.

She said: These were my grandfather’s tefillin, the Rebbe Rashab. My father put them on only on Erev Yom Kippur. He said he was afraid to wear them the rest of the year.


During the Shiva, the Rebbe told me to prepare the continuation of the maamer Basi L’Gani. As is known, the first two parts of the hemshech were published by the Rebbe Rayatz for 10-13 Shvat, and the next two parts, which were ready to print but had no beginnings and endings, were published for Purim and Beis Nissan.


The day after the funeral, the Rebbe told me: From now on, it will be an entirely different mode of conduct.

There were Chassidim who, already during the Shiva, accepted the Rebbe’s nesius and treated him as the Rebbe in every respect. One of them, R’ Moshe Dubinsky, whenever he addressed the Rebbe during the Shiva, said, “the Rebbe.” The Rebbe tried to stop him but he continued.

As the days passed, the number of Chassidim who accepted the Rebbe’s nesius grew and they wanted to have yechidus. At first, there was no orderly system in place and whoever wanted to, would show up at the Rebbe’s room, knock on the door, and when there was a positive response would go in and ask his questions.

After a few weeks, the Rebbe called for R’ Chadakov and said things couldn’t go on in this way because it did not enable him to work. Therefore, said the Rebbe, there had to be a schedule of yechidus three times a week, on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday. Whoever wanted to enter had to register first with the secretaries who would give him a day and time.


My family lived a half hour’s walk from 770, but despite the distance, my father would go and sometimes, he would walk it multiple times in one day. For example, on holidays, he would walk to 770 at night, then in the morning, and then go back after the meal to attend the farbrengen.

On Shvii shel Pesach 5708 or 5709, the Rebbe Rayatz did not feel well and did not come out for the meal. My father, who had gone especially for the farbrengen, was disappointed. After Mincha, the Rebbe went over to my father and said: So that your walk should not have been for nothing, I will tell you stories.

The Rebbe stood with him in the zal and told him stories for an hour and a half. He mainly told him about the preparations for his wedding in 5689. He said that the Rebbe Rayatz told him that starting from the week before the wedding he should not remain in his apartment alone and should not go from room to room alone. Whenever he needed to go from one room to another, someone should accompany him and hold his hand.

The day after the chuppa, he asked the Rebbe Rayatz whether he needed to say the SheHechiyanu blessing on his tallis. The Rebbe Rayatz said: By us, only in the women’s section do they say SheHechiyanu, on a fur coat. In light of this answer, the Rebbe did not say the SheHechiyanu blessing on his tallis.

As I said, the Rebbe told my father all this on Shvii shel Pesach 5708 or 5709. Now, going back to 5710 – a few days after the Shiva was over, R’ Gershon Chanowitz became engaged. He asked me whether I had heard anything from the Rebbe about saying SheHechiyanu on a tallis.

I told him: The Rebbe will be coming in for Shacharis soon and you can ask him directly. He asked the Rebbe who said: Since you asked, say the bracha and have me in mind too.

I heard this and wondered: From 5689 until 5710, the Rebbe wanted to say a bracha on his tallis but since, from the Rebbe Rayatz’s response, it was understood that he should not say it, he did not say it. However, he still looked for a way to fulfill saying the bracha, and now, when R’ Gershon asked, the Rebbe told him to say the bracha out loud and to have in mind to discharge his obligation as well.


The Rebbe’s proficiency and depth of knowledge in all parts of Torah: Nigleh, Chassidus, and Kabbala, were known even while the Rebbe Rayatz was alive, for when he was asked questions, he responded, and with the greatest depth. Also from the Rebbe’s farbrengens on Simchas Beis HaShoeiva, Shmini Atzeres, and every Shabbos Mevarchim, one could be amazed by his tremendous knowledge and deep familiarity with all parts of Torah.

We all saw the Rebbe Rayatz’s special regard for the Rebbe. But when it came to his personal conduct in matters of holiness, the Rebbe tried to conceal it and only occasionally did we find something out.

For example, the Rebbe’s practice to fast every Monday and Thursday was something he did many years before he accepted the nesius, but he tried to conceal it. Every Monday and Thursday, after Maariv, he would go up to the Rebbe Rayatz’s apartment on the second floor, to break his fast.

We had no idea why the Rebbe went up to the second floor every Monday and Thursday until one time, after Maariv, when the Rebbe was on his way to the second floor, some bachurim approached him to ask him something difficult. What the question was I don’t recall; I just remember that the Rebbe stood there and drew the earth and the sun etc. In order to answer their question, the Rebbe tarried there a few minutes after the end of davening when suddenly, the door opened on the second floor and Rebbetzin Nechama Dina a”h came out and yelled at the bachurim: Why don’t you let a young man end his fast? That is how we found out the secret.


During the shloshim, the Rebbe wore his sirtuk, but the day after the shloshim, we were surprised to see the Rebbe arrive wearing a regular suit. The Rebbe stopped wearing his gray hat which he wore until the histalkus, and wore a black hat, but was still with a short jacket.

Confused and shocked, the bachurim turned to R’ Shmuel Levitin and said: We thought the Rebbe would continue the chain, but now …

R’ Shmuel said: Nu, and a Rebbe with a suit is impossible?

During the year, the Rebbe accepted people for yechidus and I also had yechidus, for my birthday. In this yechidus, the Rebbe was wearing a suit.

When R’ Mentlick had yechidus, the Rebbe said to him: You go in for yechidus with someone who wears a suit?

R’ Mentlick immediately responded: The clothes don’t matter; the main thing is what’s in the clothing …

The Rebbe seemed to accept that answer.


One day in Elul, a regular day, I saw the Rebbe arrive wearing a sirtuk. I was very taken aback, and went over to R’ Chadakov to ask him about this change. He smiled and said: If you can keep a secret, I’ll tell you.

R’ Chadakov told me: A few days ago, the Rebbe gave me a list of Litvishe rabbanim and asked me to contact them and invite them to come for a meeting with the Rebbe. I asked: If they ask who is inviting them, what should I say?

The Rebbe smiled and did not respond. When I called the first rabbi, the Rebbe was on the line and I said: The Lubavitcher Rebbe asks that you come to a meeting … And that’s what I said to all of them.

“Tonight,” said R’ Chadakov, “the meeting will take place and that is why the Rebbe is wearing a sirtuk.”

By the way, recently I saw a letter from 5710 that R’ Chadakov signed “in the name of Ramash shlita.” That reminded me that when we sent in the first notes from the Rebbe’s farbrengen, we wrote, “from the sicha of K’vod K’dushas Admur shlita.” The Rebbe said to remove the word “Admur,” but the “K”K” (K’vod K’dushas) remained.


That year, we saw miracles by the Rebbe. For example, there was a special story with the wife of R’ Yochanan Gordon. Even before Yud Shvat she was already very sick and after the histalkus her condition worsened.

(R’ Yochanan was afraid it was the result of an ayin hara, that in the tahara of the Rebbe Rayatz, he had merited “His head is as the finest gold.” As is known, after the Alter Rebbe merited to perform the tahara upon the head of the Maggid of Mezritch, he was very apprehensive about an ayin hara.)

Shortly after Yud Shvat, the Rebbe asked R’ Yochanan how his wife was feeling and R’ Yochanan said it was critical. The Rebbe asked him: Did you ask the Rebbe Rayatz what to do?

R’ Yochanan wondered: How can I ask?

The Rebbe said: You need to go to the Ohel, to ask the Rebbe, and the Rebbe will already find a way to respond.

R’ Yochanan, together with his son R’ Sholom Dovber, traveled to the tziyun and asked for advice and a blessing.

The next day they had yechidus and the Rebbe told them what to do and gave his bracha. She lived several more years.

(This reminds me of another story that I heard about R’ Shlomo Aharon Kazarnovsky. A few weeks after the passing of the Rebbe Rashab, a shidduch was suggested. He asked the Rebbe Rayatz about it.

The Rebbe Rayatz said he did not answer questions like that and he should go ask the Rebbe Rashab at the tziyun. He went to the tziyun and asked the Rebbe Rashab to tell his son, the Rebbe Rayatz, to answer him.

Two hours after he returned from the tziyun, the Rebbe Rayatz opened the door to his room and asked: Where is Shlomo Aharon?

When he came, the Rebbe Rayatz said: My father appeared to me and told me to answer you: It’s a good shidduch!).


During that year, the Rebbe continued to farbreng as he did before he accepted the nesius. He acted as though the Rebbe Rayatz was present at the farbrengen, and at the Yom Tov meals he said to set the Rebbe Rayatz’s place with a cup for kiddush, challos, and even a plate and spoon (no fork).

The Rebbe spoke a lot about the Rebbe Rayatz being with us. In particular, he spoke about this at the farbrengen on Acharon shel Pesach.

At the end of that farbrengen, the Rebbe said someone else should lead the birkas ha’mazon and told him to say, “b’r’shus Adoneinu Moreinu v’Rabbeinu.” When elder Chassidim wondered about this, the Rebbe looked at them in surprise and said: Don’t you believe that the Rebbe [Rayatz] is here?


Throughout the year, there were meetings in which Chassidim discussed crowning the Rebbe as Nasi of the seventh generation of Chabad. An important meeting took place the night of 24 Teves 5711, about two weeks before the first yahrtzait.

One of the main speakers at this meeting was R’ Shmuel Levitin, and they decided to put an ad in the papers that Chabad Chassidim accept the Rebbe as the successor to the Rebbe Rayatz, in continuation of the chain of Chabad. The ad said that on 24 Teves, the Chassidim gave the Rebbe a writ of hiskashrus, and that the official acceptance of the nesius would take place on Yud Shvat.

The editor of Der Morgan Journal sent the Rebbe this ad and the Rebbe immediately told R’ Chadakov to call and cancel it. The Rebbe sharply said: When did I accept the nesius?!

R’ Chadakov was taken aback and frightened. He immediately spoke with senior Chassidim, R’ Shmuel Levitin, R’ Yisroel Jacobson, and R’ Shlomo Aharon Kazarnovsky, and told them what the Rebbe said. He asked them to do something to cancel the decree.

The senior Chassidim quickly went in for yechidus and pleaded with the Rebbe to cancel his instruction. R’ Kazarnovsky said in tears, “What is the Rebbe shlita doing to us …” R’ Levitin maintained that the ad did not say that the Rebbe accepted the nesius; just that the Chassidim had accepted the Rebbe’s nesius, and it’s not a lie; it’s the truth!

R’ Kazarnovsky continued to plead with the Rebbe, saying that even if he did not agree to accept the nesius, at least he should not issue a denial to the newspapers. In the end, the Rebbe acceded to their request.


On Yud Shvat 5711, the Rebbe spent a long time at the Ohel. He returned to Beis Chayeinu 25 minutes after sunset. Davening commenced in the Rebbe Rayatz’s room, on the second floor of 770, and there was a large crowd. I stood next to the Rebbe in order to tell the Rebbe if there were ten responders. After the Rebbe finished Shmoneh Esrei, he asked me: Can we say already [chazaras ha’shatz]?

I understood that the Rebbe was asking whether there were ten responders, but on the other side stood Rabbi Moshe Chaim Yehoshua Schneerson-Twersky, a descendant of the Mitteler Rebbe, who thought the Rebbe was asking whether it was still possible to daven, considering the lateness of the hour, and he cleverly responded, “Ven men davent duh, iz di tzait” (when the davening takes place here, that is the time)!

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (
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