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Aug212017

THE KING GOES OUT TO THE “FIELD” OF CROWN HEIGHTS

There probably isnt a Lubavitcher Chassid who cant repeat the Alter Rebbes parable about the king in the field in the month of Elul, whenall who wish have permission to go out and welcome him, and he welcomes all graciously.” * Not many know that the minutes that the Rebbe spent on the city streets were special moments of kiruv and chesed for passersby.* In honor of the month of Elul, we present a compilation of stories about theking in the field,” when the Rebbe walked down the street and was gracious to all.

Those who have read diaries that describe the conduct of the Rebbe over the years, have certainly read many lines like, “The Rebbe entered his room,” “The Rebbe went to the library,” “The Rebbe went home from 770,” etc.

The Rebbe’s daily schedule was very exact. Every minute was accounted for. Most years of the nesius, this schedule was conducted between the hours he spent at his home on President Street and his office on the left on the first floor of 770. He occasionally went to the Ohel, and for the first fifteen years of his nesius, he visited his mother, Rebbetzin Chana a”h, at her home every day.

This is why most stories about the Rebbe have to do with either his office, his home, or the Ohel.

For many years, the Rebbe walked from his home to 770 and he often returned home on foot. He would leave 770 and walk the length of Eastern Parkway till Brooklyn Avenue where he walked two short blocks till President Street. His house is a few houses in from the far corner.

When he walked to his mother’s house, he left 770, turned right toward Kingston Avenue, walked two blocks until the apartment building on the corner of Kingston and President Street (known to all as 1414) where there was a side entrance that was the entrance to the Rebbetzin’s home. It wasn’t a long walk, about five minutes, but those were minutes that the Rebbe was “out in the field.” And there is a lot to learn from those moments as well.

During these few minutes, the Rebbe was available to every passerby, visible to all, and people would see the Rebbe and learn from his conduct, and so too, would the Rebbe see them and greet everyone.

“Whenever you see the Rebbe, it gives one new energy to learn on and on,” writes Rabbi Sholom Dovber Wolpo in his diary of 5726. “One can see the Rebbe six times every day, at Mincha and Maariv, and when he comes in the morning from his home and goes home in the evening, and then immediately returns to 770 and goes back home at night. The Rebbe walks alone on the street, without escorts, and whoever he sees, old and young, he greets graciously.”

Rebbetzin Miriam Brovender remembers the Rebbe walking down the street; it is a deeply etched childhood memory. As a girl, she lived in Brighton Beach. One day, in the summer of 1953, she was a guest of a friend in Crown Heights.

“We were strolling down the street when I suddenly noticed an impressive man. I had never seen such a majestic countenance before. I stopped walking. I pointed at him and asked my friend, ‘Who is that?’ She said, ‘The Lubavitcher Rebbe.’ He was walking alone and I felt in awe of him. I carry my impression of that encounter with the Rebbe until today.”

ATOM BOMB LESSON IN CROWN HEIGHTS

Another girl who remembers the Rebbe walking down the street was Nechama Cohen. She related her childhood memories decades afterward in a letter that she sent to Rabbi Simon Jacobson, after he published, Toward a Meaningful Life. This is what she wrote:

“As a Yiddishe maidele who was born into a traditional family in Crown Heights in 1940, and who had the great z’chus and mazal from Hashem to know the Rebbe as a beloved childhood friend – whose name was Mister, or so I thought then – the book brings tears to my eyes and overwhelming feelings both of joy and loss to my heart. Since I read Toward a Meaningful Life, I have been deluged with memories of events that I’d forgotten for approximately 45 years…

“My grandfather … introduced me to the Rebbe himself in June of 1946, when I was five years old. I remember the meeting very clearly and can share some memories with you.

“It was a beautiful sunny day. My mother, to 120 years, hurried to take her two children out of the house, for we had been housebound for days. My mother wheeled my two-year-old brother, Avrohom Mendel ben Yitzchok HaKohen, in his stroller while I, Nechama Teibe, walked alongside. We walked two and a half blocks from our house on S John’s Place between Utica and Schenectady Avenues, to Schenectady and Eastern Parkway, where we met my Grandpa. We sat on the benches on Eastern Parkway, directly across from the public library, just half a block from 770…

“Later that afternoon, I was playing with some friends on my dirt-covered knees at the base of a tree … when my Grandpa called me over. ‘Nattie,’ he said (my English name is Natalie), ‘I want you to meet the Rabbi.’ When Grandpa said, ‘Rabbi,’ I thought I would go through the sidewalk with shame and humiliation. About all I was capable of doing was choking out a strangled, horrified, ‘Rabbi?

“Well, the Rebbe – being who he was – understood immediately how I felt, shook his head slightly to Grandpa and said to me, ‘No, not Rabbi, Mister.’

“‘Your name is not Rabbi?’ I asked.

“‘Mister.’

“‘Your name is Mister?’

“‘Yes.’

“And so I called him Mister, for years, until I understood that Mister was a title, not a name.

“Now, in 1946 of course, he was not yet the Rebbe and was still working in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. In fact, he had just come home from work when he stopped to talk to Grandpa. Because he didn’t yet have the burdens he had in later years, he was light-hearted and walked freely around the neighborhood … I used to meet him all the time and we had many conversations until he became too busy to walk around the neighborhood. He always remembered my name, how he found out my name is a story in itself, and asked after Grandpa, Mom, Dad a”h, and my brother. He spoke to me in Yiddish and I in English to him.

“I had a conversation about atomic energy with him, as did the little girl in your book. But it was one of our sidewalk conversations, and happened around 1947 or ‘48. I learned to save up my questions for him, for he was the only adult I knew who took certain questions seriously and would answer a child with truth, not evasions or platitudes.

“He always asked me what I had learned in school. I told him we had been talking about the A-bomb, a recent invention then, and I, like many of my friends, was terrified that a bomb might be dropped on us. (We still had very clear memories of the war, and knew children who had survived Churban Europa.) I asked him if the A-bomb was as dangerous as my teacher had said. He replied by asking if we had a knife in our kitchen at home, and I said yes. But I was confused, and didn’t understand what he meant. ‘Is it dangerous?’ he asked.

“‘No,’ I said, picturing a butter knife. ‘It just spreads butter on bread.’

“‘Doesn’t it cut the bread?’

“‘No, it sometimes makes holes, but it doesn’t cut. It’s not sharp enough.’

“‘Don’t you have sharp knives too?’

“Well, we did of course, but I wasn’t allowed to use them. I was allowed to use the butter knives though, and told him so. So I said, ‘The sharp knives must be dangerous because otherwise my mommy would let me use them.’

“He smiled, and then asked if the sharp knife my parents used to cut our challah on Shabbos was dangerous. Because, he said, after all, cutting challah on Shabbos was a good thing.

“That caught me back. I was stumped for a minute or two, trying to figure out how something could be dangerous and good at the same time. I think I said that out loud – but how can something be dangerous and good at the same time? And he replied gently as he always did, ‘Think Nechama, think.’

“‘OK,’ I said … slowly, because I was talking and thinking at the same time. ‘But if a knife is dangerous, it’s only because it sticks or cuts us. But if it cuts bread, then it must also be good because it helps us.’

“‘So,’ the Rebbe said, smiling a big smile, which told me I was on the right track. ‘Is a sharp knife good or bad?’

“Well, after that, it was easy. ‘It all depends,’ I said, with a great deal of triumph, for I suddenly felt very grown up. ‘It depends on what it’s used for. If it’s used to stick someone, it’s bad, and if it’s used to cut bread on Shabbos, it’s good.’

“I grew up a lot that day. But that seemed to happen after nearly every conversation we had, for that was the way he taught. He asked questions and made his students think through the answers for ourselves. He encouraged me to use my seichel, and I took full credit for it. And that’s how I grew.”

THE OLD LADY GAVE THE REBBE A TIP

R’ Moshe Dickstein related what he heard in the 70’s from an old Chassid in 770:

“In the early years of the nesius, many Jews in the neighborhood did not know the Rebbe. Once when the Rebbe walked down the street, an older woman called out to him, ‘Yungerman, help me with the bags.’ The Rebbe helped her with her bags and then she gave the Rebbe a quarter as a tip.”

Another fascinating story of the naturalness of the Rebbe as “king in the field” was told by R’ Zalman Chanin, director of Kehos and the Vaad L’Hafatzos Sichos in the United States. He heard it from the person it happened to. The person said that he arrived in the USA in 5707/1947, after World War II, with his wife and two of his children that he was able to save from the Nazis’ clutches. When they came to New York, he began looking for a yeshiva for his sons but did not find a Chassidishe yeshiva other than Tomchei T’mimim Lubavitch, so his sons went to Tomchei T’mimim on Bedford and Dean. They learned there for two and a half years, until the Klausenberger Rebbe opened a yeshiva and they switched to that yeshiva.

He was living in Williamsburg at the time. Around the year 1951-1952, a member of his family became ill and she was in critical condition. He decided to go to Crown Heights, to ask the new, young Lubavitcher Rebbe for a bracha. Since his sons had previously learned in Tomchei T’mimim, he was sure they would let him in to see the Rebbe right away.

He took the bus to Crown Heights and got off at Eastern Parkway. Since he did not know exactly where 770 was, he went over to a young man that he saw walking on the corner. He asked him, “Where is the beis midrash of the Lubavitcher Rebbe?”

The young man asked him, “Where are you from?”

He said, “From Williamsburg.”

The young man asked, “What connection do you have with the Lubavitcher Rebbe?”

The man said that someone in his family was sick and he came to ask the Lubavitcher Rebbe for a bracha.

The young man said, “Don’t you have Admurim in Williamsburg? There is the Satmar Rebbe, the Klausenberger Rebbe, and other Rebbes. Why did you need to travel to Crown Heights for a bracha when you could get brachos from gutte Yidden in your own neighborhood?”

The man sharply answered, “Yungerman, your understanding of a Rebbe is like that of a cat of the moon!”

The young man did not reply. He just showed him the way to 770 and walked on his way.

The man went to 770 and asked where the office is. He met Rabbi Chadakov who explained that the Rebbe wasn’t receiving people at that time. If he needed a bracha, he should write the name of the sick person and her mother’s name and he would submit the note to the Rebbe.

To the man, it was obvious that you needed to get a bracha directly from the Rebbe, and not through a secretary. He did not want to take R’ Chadakov’s advice. He went into the beis midrash to talk with the bachurim and find out how he could finagle a bracha directly from the Rebbe. One of the bachurim advised him to wait for 3:15, when the Rebbe came in for Mincha, and after the davening, when the Rebbe went back to his office, he could go over and ask for a bracha.

The man liked the idea and he sat down near one of the tables, took a T’hillim, and began to recite it with a broken heart.

When it was time for Mincha, they prepared the beis midrash for the Rebbe and cleared away the tables that were near the door, where the Rebbe would sit. The man sat at a table behind the Rebbe’s table and he marveled that the Rebbe would sit at a regular table like everyone else, without a special tablecloth. He had not seen such simplicity by the Poilishe Admurim and he was greatly surprised.

Suddenly, he saw the Rebbe and identified him as the young man who had asked him why he had come, when there were Rebbes in Williamsburg.

The moment he remembered how he had sharply responded, he fainted. The bachurim roused him and brought him water and he finally got back to himself.

Right after the davening, before the Rebbe left the beis midrash, the Rebbe smiled broadly at him. He hurried over to the Rebbe and asked for a bracha for his relative. The Rebbe gave a bracha and she recovered and lived many more years.

ATTENTION GIVEN TO PASSERSBY

Wherever the Rebbe was, in the beis midrash and on the street, his eyes were open to what was going on around him. The following story happened on Erev Rosh HaShana 5716/1955.

The G family lived in Crown Heights between Brooklyn and New York Avenues. The Rebbe lived nearby. That day, when the Rebbe passed by this family’s house on his way home, he noticed a little girl, from the G family, run and fall. The girl cried and her mother, who was in an advanced stage of pregnancy, rushed to pick her up and calm her down.

That evening, which was Rosh HaShana, the father of the girl was standing near the steps opposite the Rebbe’s room. When the Rebbe returned to his room after the davening, he noticed the man and with a nod of his head indicated that the man should go into the Rebbe’s office.

Rabbi G was taken aback because he had no particular request to make of the Rebbe. But the Rebbe motioned to him, this time with his hand, to enter the room.

Rabbi G was shaken up and did not know what had happened and how he came to deserve to be invited into the Rebbe’s sanctum, on the first night of Rosh HaShana, no less!

He tremblingly stood facing the Rebbe who asked him, “How is your little girl who fell today?”

“Boruch Hashem, she’s fine,” said a bewildered Rabbi G.

“She feels well?” asked the Rebbe.

“Yes, boruch Hashem, she’s fine, nothing happened.”

“Then tell your wife,” said the Rebbe, “that in her condition, she should take care of herself and not run.”

THE REBBE SAVED HIS LIFE

Reb Kalman Mendelsohn a”h, of the famous Mendelsohn’s Pizza store in Boro Park, was the son of Rabbi Mayer Mendelsohn, a Gerrer Chassid from Israel. They moved to Crown Heights in the late 1950’s.

Growing up in Crown Heights near the Chabad community, R’ Kalman soon developed a strong connection to the Rebbe and the Lubavitch community.

He often told of an incident which happened when he was 5 years old, as he played on the corner of Kingston Avenue and President Street near Raskin’s fruit store. He recalled running into the street to retrieve a ball, directly into oncoming traffic. Suddenly, a hand grabbed his shirt, pulling him to safety. Looking up, he saw that it was the Lubavitcher Rebbe who had saved him (as reported on collive.com).

BUSINESS ADVICE

When Rebbetzin Chana first came to New York, the Rebbe would walk with her on Friday night. The neighborhood at that time was full of Hungarian Jews and they would bring their children over to get a bracha from the Rebbe. The Rebbe and his mother would sit on a bench in the garden of the house and talk.

Every day, weekdays and Shabbos, the Rebbe visited his mother, asked how she was, and poured her a cup of tea. In order not to bother her, he had a key to her door so she would not have to get up and open the door for him. Sometimes, the Rebbetzin went outside the house and met the Rebbe there. When she did, they would spend some time outside and then go inside together. It was a magnificent sight, seeing the Rebbe and his mother standing outside and talking.

The secretary, R’ Binyamin Klein a”h, related:

“The Rebbe went every day to visit his mother who lived on President Street, around six-seven in the evening. The Rebbe would walk alone on Kingston and sometimes, passersby did not know who he was. One time, for example, a little boy went over to him and asked for help in crossing the street. The Rebbe held his hand and crossed him.”

R’ Michel Raskin, owner of Raskin’s fruit and vegetable store on Kingston Ave (corner of President), which is opposite the building where Rebbetzin Chana lived, related:

“Every day, I would wait for when the Rebbe would pass by my store on his way to visit his mother, and would watch him. One time, the Rebbe said to me that it would be a good idea for me to put some of the choice fruits outside so their attractiveness would bring in customers. I did that and boruch Hashem, it worked out well. Sometimes, non-Jews try to steal some merchandise, but the idea was definitely worthwhile.”

“ALL WHO WISH HAVE PERMISSION TO GREET HIM”

[Eliot Lasky was born in a DP camp and was raised Orthodox and went to yeshivos. At 18, he left for California, was an actor, came back to attend college, and was involved with a famous rock band. He felt at a spiritual loss after a non-Jewish friend explained Zen Buddhism to him. He wondered, “How could Yiddishkait be right, and the whole world wrong?” and knowing Rabbi Nosson Gurary of Buffalo, called him.

R’ Gurary told him, there is one person who can help you, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He gave him the address, and told him to meet his brother-in-law, R’ Yossi Hendel, and said he could try to speak to the Rebbe upon his return from the Ohel. This encounter is what resulted.]

The unusual sight that Anash and the T’mimim saw on the pavement outside 770 that winter afternoon of January 5733/1973, won’t soon be forgotten. It was when the Rebbe returned from the Ohel and the car stopped on the service road outside 770. It was very late and the Rebbe quickly got out of the car to go daven Mincha. A young man, who was standing on the side, who drew attention because of his hair down to his shoulders, jeans, leather jacket and snakeskin boots, took a big step forward and stopped the Rebbe.

“Excuse me, are you the Lubavitcher Rebbe?” he asked in fluent Yiddish. The Chassidim standing by held their breath.

As Eliot Lasky tells his story, “Our eyes locked and for the next fifteen minutes, there was nothing else but our two eyes.”

The Rebbe did not respond to the question directly. He asked, “What is your name and where are you from?”

Lasky responded and then said, “I have a question.”

The Rebbe said, “Ask.”

Lasky said, “Where is G-d?”

The Rebbe answered, “Everywhere.”

Lasky said, “I know, but where?”

The Rebbe said again, “Everywhere, in everything, in a tree, in a stone.”

Lasky asked, “But where?”

And then Lasky said he heard something he had never heard in his yeshiva days, “In your heart, if this is what you ask.”

Lasky: “I had more questions, but I found that my Yiddish was deficient to express philosophical terms, so I asked whether I could speak in English. The Rebbe said yes.

“When we say Shma, whether you are a black man, an Indian, or a Jew, there is one G-d for all of us!”

The Rebbe said, “The essence of the black man is to be what he is, as a black man. And the essence of an Indian is to be what he is as an Indian. And the essence of a Jew is tied to Hashem Yisborach through Torah and mitzvos,” said the Rebbe.

“Those were very powerful words for me. For fifteen minutes, we were transported beyond the physical plane. I felt we were in another dimension. The Rebbe gave me two things to do, to learn the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch in English and put on t’fillin. I hadn’t put them on for six, seven years.

“Regarding t’fillin, I cried out, I can’t. The Rebbe said you can, you will, and gave me a blessing.

“I broke the eye contact. I will never forget that day for the rest of my life.

“Maybe 100, 130 people were standing around. I cried, but I understood that here is a man who knows the truth, who gave me hope. Maybe what I had dismissed years earlier … that had been a mistake.

“A week or two later I decided to give t’fillin a try. Since then, I have not missed. Then I started eliminating non-kosher foods. Bit by bit I started changing. I started growing, but the key is learning.

“From the day I met the Rebbe, there wasn’t a day I didn’t think of him, that I didn’t daven for him, that I didn’t feel connected.

“I have four children, all on the path of Torah.”

OTHER ENCOUNTERS

Since the Rebbe was approachable, by virtue of the fact that he was walking alone down the street, he would sometimes be approached by odd characters. As the Alter Rebbe states in his parable, “whoever wants to go out and greet him.” No limits.

There were those who stopped the Rebbe on the street for trivial matters. For example, R’ Manny Wolf wrote in his diary of 5 Tishrei 5725, that at 1:30 pm, the Rebbe left 770 and walked to his car in order to go to the Ohel. Suddenly, a young, irreligious person approached the car and began cursing. No one knew who he meant and what caused him to say what he said. He didn’t seem all that normal. The bachurim there ran over and wanted to push him away, but the Rebbe calmly said, “Let him speak …” And then he drove off.

In the early 60’s, and maybe earlier than that, a sort of “guard” was set up of two bachurim who escorted the Rebbe on his walk home from 770 and back. The bachurim would follow the Rebbe at some distance, to make sure all went well.

“When the Rebbe goes home late at night, at 4-5:00 in the morning after yechidus, two bachurim follow, since at night it’s dangerous …” wrote the bachur, Sholom Dovber Wolpo.

We’ll conclude with a story told by the shliach in Haifa, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Schildkraut. The Rebbe once returned from the Ohel in the month of Elul, and on the path in front of 770 stood R’ Binyamin Altheus. The Rebbe said something to him.

Afterward, they found out that the Rebbe said, “It is not apparent on you that the king is in the field.”

WHEN THE KING WAS IN THE “FIELD” OF 770

Rabbi Gershon Mendel Garelik, shliach in Italy, would go to 770 every year for Chaf Av, the yahrtzait of the Rebbe’s father. He would stay until the beginning or middle of Elul. In 5721, the first charter flight from Eretz Yisroel was coming for Tishrei. When R’ Garelik was about to return to Italy, he heard how the Chassidim were all talking about the charter that was coming, which was still quite a rarity. It affected him very much and he felt bad that while everyone was coming to the Rebbe, he had to leave.

He stood outside 770 and waited for a taxi to take him to the airport. The Rebbe’s secretary, R’ Rodstein, passed by, and when he saw the look on R’ Garelik’s face he asked him, “Why are you standing here, looking so despondent?”

R’ Gershon Mendel told him what was on his mind.

A few minutes later, R’ Rodstein came out from the Rebbe’s room and motioned to R’ Garelik to go in. R’ Garelik was taken aback but had no choice. He went back into the hall and saw that the door to the Rebbe’s room was open and the Rebbe was standing (or sitting) at his desk.

The Rebbe looked at him and said with a big smile, “It is the month of Elul and the king is in the field and he displays a gracious countenance to all.” The word “gracious” was emphasized and pronounced with a shin (shochakos meaning to grind down, i.e., to break down the person’s self-absorption), and he said this with a big smile.

When R’ Garelik went back to the entrance to 770 where his suitcases were, and where the taxi was waiting, he told his friends what happened in the Rebbe’s room. One of the Chassidim suddenly shouted at him, “Why are you standing there? The Rebbe is waiting!”

R’ Garelik turned around and saw the Rebbe standing in the doorway of 770 waiting to see him off. He immediately entered the taxi and set off on his trip. That is how he merited that the king actually came out to him in the field in the fullest sense of the term.

***

Rabbi Yaakov Herzog of Crown Heights relates:

When I came to the Rebbe in 5734, before my bar mitzva, I had yechidus. During the yechidus, the Rebbe tested me on the first Mishna in Meseches Shabbos. Then the Rebbe asked me whether we also learn Chassidus.

I said that we learn Likkutei Torah.

The Rebbe reacted in surprise, “Likkutei Torah before bar mitzva?”

Then the Rebbe asked, “Which maamer did you learn?”

I said that we learned the maamer, “Lecha Dodi.”

“Did you learn the mashal of the king in the field?”

I said yes.

The Rebbe asked, “Did you meet the King in the field?”

I remained silent. What could I answer?

The Rebbe went on to say, “Every time that you say Boruch Ata Hashem – a bracha, you meet the King in the field!”

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