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Thursday
Sep192019

The Mystery Aide on the Canceled Trip

In 5694 (1934), the Rebbe Rayatz planned a second trip to Eretz Yisrael. The question arose as to who would accompany the Rebbe on this trip? Recently discovered documents reveal that a chassid by the name of Rabbi Chaim Eliezer Heber was considered

The Jerusalem of Gold auction house sold an old letter written by the Rebbe Rayatz’s secretary, Rabbi Yechezkel Feigin. This letter was sent from Otvotzk to Yerushalayim and it said that the Lubavitcher Rebbe planned a trip to the Holy Land.

Among the details in the letter that I noticed was that the one who would accompany the Rebbe would be the Chassid, Rabbi Chaim Eliezer Heber.

Those familiar with the history of the Rebbe Rayatz would surely be surprised by this unexpected name, for he was not within the inner circle of the Rebbe. Why was this Chassid given this honored role (which ultimately did not work out)? And who was this man, anyway, that was selected for the position?

LOVE WITHOUT BORDERS

R’ Heber was a Lubavitcher Chassid, mekushar to our Rebbeim. He was born in Kalish, Poland to a family of Alexander Chassidim. His family traced its ancestry to the author of the Magen Avrohom, one of the great Acharonim who lived in Kalish starting from the year 5420/1660.

R’ Chaim Eliezer became a Lubavitcher Chassid because of his brother, R’ Yaakov. His brother was a respected merchant in Kalish and a distinguished Alexander Chassid, an outstanding talmid chacham and generous person. With the outbreak of World War I at the end of the summer of 1914, he escaped with his wife Shaina Sarah and their children into Russia.

As Rosh Hashana approached, he knew he would be unable to travel to his Rebbe to be with him on Rosh Hashana, as he did every year. He looked for a different tzaddik in whose aura to bask and draw reserves of holiness for the upcoming year. He began making inquiries about a Chassidic Rebbe and the Jews in the area advised him to go to Lubavitch, to the Rebbe Rashab. R’ Yaakov followed their advice and went to Lubavitch for Rosh Hashana 5675. His first encounter with Chabad Chassidus ignited his passions and he quickly attached himself to the Rebbe Rashab, became a Chabad Chassid, and decided to settle with his family in Lubavitch albeit temporarily.

The Rebbe Rashab responded in kind and drew him close, even making sure to provide special teachers to teach his two sons, Yehuda Leibish and Shlomo Dovid. Along with the Rebbe’s nephew, Yisrael Dovber, the boys learned Nigleh from the famous Chassid, R’ Moshe Rosenblum. They heard shiurim in Chassidus from the mashpia, R’ Shlomo Zalman Havlin who, until those days of war, had served as rosh yeshiva of Toras Emes in Chevron.

Thanks to their learning together, his son Leibish became friends with Yisrael Ber, the Rebbe’s nephew and Leibish became a regular in the Rebbe’s home.

The Heber family and the Rebbe Rashab became so close that in the summer of 1915, they joined the Rebbe’s family in the resort city of Orsha. The two families lived near one another. During the vacation, the family members received unusual displays of closeness from the Rebbe. The Rebbe tested Leibish in his learning. His daughter Necha became friends with the daughters of the Rebbe Rayatz.

During the war, the Rebbe Rashab uprooted from Lubavitch and settled in Rostov. R’ Heber, in his love for the Rebbe, followed him and settled with his family in Rostov.

During the Rebbe Rashab’s final illness, the tamim Dovber Rivkin served him with unusual devotion.  This degree of devotion made a positive impression on R’ Heber, who took him as his son-in-law for his daughter Necha.

After the passing of the Rebbe Rashab, R’ Yaakov Heber connected himself with strong bonds of love to the Rebbe Rayatz with whom he had been friendly since he arrived in Lubavitch.

In the period that followed, the Heber family returned to Poland, as Lubavitcher Chassidim. Upon arriving in Poland, R’ Yaakov began being mekarev his younger brother to Chabad. At the time, his brother was a young married man living in Lodz.

SAVED WITH THE POWER OF THE REBBE

R’ Chaim Eliezer later spoke about his amazement by the chiddush of Chabad:

“A child first learns alef-beis and then Chumash and Mishna and finally Gemara. However, in matters of avodas Hashem, I saw that some jumped into ‘Gemara’ first, i.e. to lofty levels without first learning and internalizing the basics. For me it was a chiddush when I got to know Chabad Chassidus, that despite achieving a wondrous depth there, they start with the most simple, fundamental things.”

Years later, when the Rebbe Rayatz left Russia for Warsaw, R’ Chaim Eliezer traveled to the Rebbe’s court. Before he left, he went to his Rebbe, the Admor of Alexander, to get his bracha. After the appropriate preparations, he got into an automobile with other Chassidim who were each going to their Rebbe.

On the way, an accident occurred and it wasn’t clear whether they could continue. R’ Chaim Eliezer, who was determined to get to the Rebbe Rayatz, insisted on continuing. One of the passengers explained to him that he had to cross the forest to get to the train that went to Warsaw.

Despite the danger involved, he began walking in the forest and soon lost his way. He did not how to extricate himself. While deliberating about what to do, he suddenly saw a young gentile walking toward him. The goy, in exchange for a small sum, walked with him to the train station.

R’ Chaim Eliezer happily boarded the train and spent Rosh Hashana with the Rebbe Rayatz. In hindsight, he concluded that the problems he had on the way were because of a k’peida (annoyance) of the Alexander Rebbe who did not like his Chassid having left him and it was only because of the power of the Rebbe Rayatz that he was saved.

On this visit, he was greatly impressed by the Rebbe Rayatz and his leadership and he became a Chabad Chassid. His son, R’ Yisrael Tzvi:

“My father saw the Rebbe Rayatz several times. One year, he traveled to the Rebbe for Rosh Hashana in Warsaw. The first night, the Rebbe spent a long time davening. My father and my uncle Yaakov watched him. When the Rebbe finished davening, my uncle and father stood where the Rebbe would be going out. When the Rebbe passed by, he looked at my uncle and said, ‘Fortunate are you for meriting to see my father [the Rebbe Rashab].’”

SURPRISE ATTENDANT

At a certain point, R’ Chaim Eliezer wanted to make aliya alone. His plan was that after he would arrange a place to live and a livelihood, he would bring the rest of his family. He received the Rebbe Rayatz’s bracha for this. Not only that, but from the letter put up for sale at the auction house it turns out that the Rebbe’s secretary as well as the hanhala of Yeshivas Toras Emes who were involved in acquiring British “certificates,” did all they could to help him realize his plans.

At that time, the Rebbe Rayatz wanted to visit Eretz Yisrael in order to expand the base of his activities to extricate the Chassidim from Soviet Russia to Eretz Yisrael. In the aforementioned letter, there are details that shed light on the problems and challenges during the planning of this trip. R’ Feigin wrote the letter to R’ Hendel Havlin (who was in Eretz Yisrael at the time and helped his father run Yeshivas Toras Emes).

Here is a quote from the letter:

“19 Menachem Av 5694. […] I am hereby coming to urge regarding the matter of the visa for R’ Chaim Eliezer Heber (I have the money for the visa because he was here today and gave it to me, and I repeated again about the pledge for the yeshiva [apparently referring to a donation to the yeshiva for the work done in acquiring the visa] and he said that there was nothing to consider as he would give what he said). The urgency in this matter is due to what I am now writing to you, since there is still a doubt as to whether the sons-in-law of kevod kedushaso [the Rebbe Rayatz] will travel. And in general, even if they do travel, it is only our tight [financial] situation that leads to having nobody to travel with kevod kedushaso [referring to the inability to cover the costs of an additional person to serve as an aide/secretary]. […] Therefore, when there is an opportunity that there is one of ours who can travel at his own expense [R’ Heber, who was planning to move to the Holy Land], we should certainly make the effort that his trip be together with kevod kedushaso, so in general it is obvious that we need to know [that R’ Heber has a visa and can travel] some time in advance [of the Rebbe’s trip]. Therefore, I am requesting of you the urgency, both in acquiring the visa and immediately sending the information here […].”

In this letter, the legendary and devoted secretary adds that the Rebbe’s visas were already received. Likewise, he mentions the necessity to find an appropriate apartment to host the Rebbe. He says that until Rosh Chodesh Elul, matters would not be clear regarding the date of the trip.

In the coming months, the plans for the trip went through various changes until finally the trip was canceled. Only Rashag, the Rebbe’s son-in-law, went to Eretz Yisrael and worked both secretively and openly on behalf of Chassidim in Russia.

GUIDANCE FROM THE REBBEIM

The letter was sent in the summer of 5694. In the following months, R’ Chaim Eliezer put his eleven year old son Yisrael Tzvi in Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim in Lodz. Then, as planned, he went to Eretz Yisrael and after a while, his family followed him.

The family settled in Petach Tikva. They maintained their connection with the Rebbe via letters in which they received instructions and guidance regarding material and spiritual things. For example, for the bar mitzva of Yisrael Tzvi, his father received a letter from the Rebbe Rayatz with blessings for him and the bar mitzva boy [see photo]. A year later, he received another letter filled with warm blessings on the occasion of the start of construction on his new home.

After the histalkus of the Rebbe Rayatz, R’ Chaim Eliezer became mekushar to the Rebbe MH”M and maintained a regular correspondence with the Rebbe, receiving a number of interesting answers on a variety of topics such as: 1) How to relate to those who oppose his giving public classes in Chassidus (“not to be embarrassed before those who mock”); 2) How to guide Jews seeking blessings for parnassa from the Rebbe (give tzedaka, a bit more than a tenth); 3)  About wearing techeiles in tzitzis nowadays (the Rebbe Rashab refused to accept it and said that it would only return when Moshiach comes).

After close to fifty years of learning and teaching Chassidus in Petach Tikva and later Tel Aviv, where he lived his last years, he passed away in the month of Nissan, 5742/1982. The descendants of the Heber family are spread across the globe today, continuing the family tradition of Torah and Chassidus.

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