A personal diary recorded by R’ Saadia Maatuf, describing his year on k’vutza, from Nissan 5733-Iyar 5734. In his emotionally charged diary, he provides a unique perspective of a child of Yemenite immigrants to Eretz Yisroel coming to the Rebbe for the first time. * Part 1 – the first encounter with the Rebbe, the Rebbe’s visit on Seder night to the Seder held by the bachurim, kos shel bracha in the place of matzos for the residents of Bareket, the drama surrounding the yechidus for the shluchim to Australia and other observations from Nissan 5733 with the Rebbe. By Rav Saadia Maatuf
BROKEN EYE CONTACT
1 Nissan 5733:
In his diary, R’ Saadia describes the flight from Lud to New York via London, during which the T’mimim traveling to k’vutza engaged in mivtza t’fillin, held prayer services and danced and sang Chassidic melodies.
“We want to reach the place where we have yearned to be for years, and about which we dreamed such rosy dreams. Boruch Hashem, the dream is coming to fruition… Every moment seems like a year to us, but we are trying to arm ourselves with patience. If we waited for years, we can wait a few more hours.”
The few hours passed, and the jet landed peacefully. After making their way through the bureaucratic procedures of customs and immigration, the T’mimim exited the terminal and met their friends who came to greet them:
“We exited the arrivals terminal, where our friends were already waiting for us. They helped us board a rented bus and we set off for 770. We arrived at the exact time that the Rebbe was outside to draw mayim sh’lanu (water that sat out overnight - for baking matza). This was the first time that I was seeing the Rebbe. I could not see the Rebbe’s face, but I made the SheHechiyanu blessing. After the mayim sh’lanu, the Rebbe entered his room and we went to the ‘small zal’ where we waited for Maariv. In the meantime, we met friends and acquaintances, and suddenly shh…shh. Everyone was pushing and squeezing, and the Rebbe entered with a very serious face. We stood opposite the door, and the Rebbe practically did not look at us at all.
“I will tell the truth and not deny that when I saw the Rebbe for the first time I did not see anything extraordinary. The Rebbe davened like everybody else and I spent the entire service looking at the Rebbe. During the final Kaddish, the Rebbe gave a half glance around and automatically I broke eye contact and could not look at the Rebbe. Only when the Rebbe stopped looking in my direction was I able to look at him.
“We finished davening Maariv. Everyone was pushing to see the Rebbe while he was going to his room. Rabbi Chadakov immediately closed the door to Gan Eden HaTachton (the hallway outside the Rebbe’s room) behind the Rebbe.
“On Thursday, 3 Nissan, we all made the HaGomel blessing. The Rebbe looked at each one of us. The feeling was very emotional. Each one of us knew that he is standing before a great man, a Rebbe, and that the Rebbe, through a glance, can read your thoughts and you are before him like an open book. I was very emotionally overwrought; I looked for the blessing in the siddur and began to stammer. With difficulty, I found the blessing and said it very quickly and quietly. I was terrified that I would just collapse on the spot, and the feeling continued with me throughout the day. When I recall that moment I am once again filled with fright. Apparently, that is the power of a glance from the Rebbe.”
STANDING PACKED AT THE YUD-ALEPH NISSAN FARBRENGEN
Thursday evening, 11 Nissan:
The farbrengen with the Rebbe began at 9:30 PM. The truth of the matter is that I did not plan on standing in a fixed spot. I said to myself that I would see how things go, and I actually stood in the place of someone else who stood not far from me and told me that it was his regular place, but since he meanwhile had a better place he would yield to me for now. However, those that stood on the same row pushed me slowly but surely until they pushed me out completely. The entire time I held on to the table in front of me, but as soon as I let go of the table due to the pushing, I knew that I had lost my place. Still, in the end, I could see the Rebbe between people’s heads. Although it was not a comfortable spot, I managed to stand and try to listen to the Rebbe.
When the Rebbe entered, a path immediately opened in the sea of people. They squeezed me and I was afraid of getting crushed, but boruch Hashem I came out of it healthy and whole. The Rebbe immediately went to his seat and sat down. Meanwhile, the crowd had begun to sing “Yifrach B’Yamav Tzaddik.” Suddenly, shh… silence. The Rebbe began to speak. I will not deny that I did not understand the Rebbe all that well, but I can’t say that I did not understand anything, because I did understand a bit. The Rebbe made a siyum on Tractate K’subos and connected it to his chapter of T’hillim, Psalm 72. The Rebbe spoke about “who is a Jew” and the role of the Rabbanut, and about drafting yeshiva students etc. He also said a maamer “Ki Yishalcha Bincha.”
Between each talk the Rebbe said l’chaim to whoever raised a cup.
At the end of one of the sichos, before the maamer, someone not from Anash approached the Rebbe and shook his hand, and spoke with the Rebbe for a long time.
Meanwhile, the crowd sang a number of songs until the Rebbe finished talking to him. Suddenly it was silent as the Rebbe began another sicha, and when he ended, he seemed to want to start the niggun [normally sung before a maamer] but R’ Yoel [who usually began the niggunim] did not begin and everybody was silent. The Rebbe took out a handkerchief and with closed eyes said the maamer as everyone stood, as is the custom at a maamer [except for the Rebbe].
When the Rebbe finished delivering the maamer, he said another two sichos. At the end he made an after blessing and began to sing “U’faratzta” as the entire crowd danced in place. The Rebbe made a motion with his hand and everybody began to jump even more and it was very joyous. Immediately, the Rebbe exited by way of the path that he had entered, and went back to his room.
Later, we all waited outside of Gan Eden HaTachton and we began to sing U’faratzta. The Rebbe left his room and made an encouraging motion with his hand, and exited [the building of 770] and went into the car. Outside, everybody was singing as the Rebbe conducted with his hand. The Rebbe drove away with a police escort leading the way. The farbrengen ended at 1:50 AM, and the entire street outside of 770 was packed with people.
SENDING MATZOS TO LOS ANGELES
Friday, 11 Nissan:
The Rebbe traveled to the Ohel and everyone thought that he would return late as usual, but that is not what happened; the Rebbe actually returned early and there were barely twenty people around. The Rebbe davened Mincha and after the davening called for the shluchim visiting from Los Angeles. Each one was called separately by the Rebbe, and he gave each one a medium sized package of matzos.
The bachurim who were there stood opposite Gan Eden HaTachton and sang U’faratzta and Yifrach B’Yamav Tzaddik, but when the Rebbe exited he passed by without reacting and went home.
THE EVENTS OF SHABBOS HAGADOL
Shabbos Parshas Metzora:
Today I davened where there was a lot of pushing, unlike last Shabbos when I stood on the platform. This time I davened below and I got pushed around with everybody else. The Rebbe entered by way of a path that was formed and approached his place.
During the t’filla, the Rebbe stood the entire time. I stood opposite the Rebbe during the reading of the Haftora and I heard every word. The Rebbe returned to his place, and I noticed that when the shliach tzibbur reached the “priestly blessings,” the Rebbe would turn to look at the shliach tzibbur and Rashag stepped back so as not to impede the Rebbe’s line of sight. During K’dusha of Musaf, the Rebbe gave a bang of encouragement on his lectern with his hand and they all began to sing “Hu Elokeinu.” That is not what happened the previous Shabbos when the Rebbe did not bang on the lectern and they actually did not sing.
At the conclusion of the davening, they made an announcement about Mivtza T’fillin and Melaveh Malka, and the Rebbe left immediately. This was the sign that there would be a farbrengen that day [because they did not announce the time for Mincha].
The farbrengen began at 1:30 PM, and the Rebbe spoke about the idea of Shabbos HaGadol. He also asked a number of questions on Rashi on the verse “Vechipeir al habayis,” and answered them. Following that, the Rebbe called up people traveling to other countries, such as Eretz Yisroel and Italy, and gave each one a bottle of mashke. Then he continued the sicha and spoke about “Mihu Yehudi,” the honor of the Rabbanut, R’ Goren etc. At the end, he said that they should farbreng on the yahrtzait of the Tzemach Tzedek [13 Nissan] (and actually R’ Dovid Raskin farbrenged that night until 3 in the morning).
After the farbrengen, we davened Mincha and the Rebbe received the third aliya. After Mincha, he went to his room and everybody ran outside and lined up in two facing rows, and began to sing Yifrach B’yamav Tzaddik. The Rebbe walked between the two rows, and we all followed along to accompany the Rebbe to his house. Obviously, we kept our distance so that the Rebbe would not sense our presence, but when the Rebbe turned to cross the street he saw us and did not say anything. We accompanied him until we got to President Street where the Rebbe lives and everybody stopped and watched the Rebbe until he entered his house.
It was 5:30 in the afternoon when we went to eat our Shabbos meal, and on Motzaei Shabbos there was a review [of the farbrengen] with R’ Yoel Kahn.
THE BIG NIGHT
Monday, 14 Nissan, Erev Pesach:
[Morning]: We waited for the Rebbe to come out and burn the chametz. The Rebbe came out at about 10:45, and obviously there was a lot of pushing as the Rebbe entered the elevator and went down to the boiler [that heats the building where he burned the chametz. After he finished, he came up and] together with him were the secretaries, R’ Binyomin Klein and R’ Leibel Groner. When he walked back to his room from the elevator, there was a lot of pushing again, but I was close enough that I heard the Rebbe say to R’ Binyomin Klein, “Yasher ko’ach.” The Rebbe went into his room and then went in [to the small zal] for the reading of the Torah, and received the third aliya. After that he returned to his room.
After the davening, I went to purchase stamps in order to send to my parents the matza that I would receive from the Rebbe for them. I hope to also receive matza for Anash of Bareket.
[After receiving the matzos]:
I just returned from 770 after I received the matzos for myself and the family, but for the Talmud Torah and Anash of Bareket, I could not get up the nerve to ask. That is because I had such a feeling as I stood before the Rebbe that cannot be recorded in words. The line was very long and wound out to the street and then the length of the street.
Even before I reached the Rebbe, as soon as I entered Gan Eden HaTachton, I got a very strange feeling. And then I was standing opposite the Rebbe, and the Rebbe looked at me and said to me in Yiddish, obviously, “A kosher and happy Pesach.” Even before he gave me, I said to the Rebbe that I was also requesting on behalf of the family. The Rebbe first gave me my matzos, and then I mentioned the family again, and the Rebbe gave me two pieces of matzo. As mentioned, I did not work up the nerve to ask for Anash of Bareket. I immediately wrapped up my matzos first and put them in my pocket, and the matzos that I received for my family I wrapped in a paper that I had prepared in advance and I sent them home via express mail. I then took my matzos and put them into my package of matzos, which I had already stored in the “Farband” hall on Kingston [which served as the dining hall of the T’mimim for Pesach], where we will be carrying out the Seder.
When the Rebbe finished distributing the matzos, at around 6:30, he went home. When he returned, they davened the holiday Maariv and finished at about 7:30. After the davening, he continued to distribute matzos to those who had not yet received, and we [the T’mimim] went to set up the Seder plate in the Farband on Kingston, because the Rebbe is scheduled to come and see how the bachurim prepare for the Seder.
The Rebbe came at about 9:15, with the secretaries and a few members of Anash. The Rebbe entered and all of the bachurim stood, each next to his own Seder plate. As soon as he entered, he looked at the Seder plates and then went into Mrs. Moussia [the cook]. I didn’t hear what he said to her, because as I mentioned each one stood at his place and did not have the nerve to budge. Afterward, he stood and blessed the bachurim that may it be [G-d’s] Will that it be fulfilled the promise of “And His honor shall fill the entire earth, amen v’amen” [from Psalm 72, the Rebbe’s chapter that year] and next year in Yerushalayim.
After the Rebbe left, we continued to conduct our Seder as usual, and each one had his own Seder plate.
Eve of the 7th day of Pesach:
I bought grape juice for the four cups of Seudas Moshiach, and I also purchased a small bottle in order to put into it the kos shel bracha that I will receive for the family in order to send it to them. Afterward, I thought about why should I not get wine also for the Talmud Torah in Bareket?! At least “wine of blessing” if not matzos, because simply put, matzos you have to ask directly of the Rebbe [and that is a concern due to the tremendous awe], but kos shel bracha, you just have to extend to the Rebbe the amount of cups that you want and the Rebbe pours.
7th day of Pesach:
We davened the holiday Maariv, and after the prayers we went to eat the holiday meal. We returned to 770 as is the custom to study Torah on the night of the 7th day of Pesach. At 1:30 AM, the farbrengen with R’ Dovid Raskin began and continued until 4:30 in the morning, when we rushed off to get some sleep, because at ten we had to be at davening with the Rebbe.
After Shacharis, they announced the Tahalucha that would take place at 5:30. We went to eat and then rested a bit in order to have some strength to walk, because it is a distance of an hour’s walk to Williamsburg. The day was a bit nice, the morning was clear, but at about five o’clock the skies became cloudy and it began to rain. Meanwhile, we went to daven Mincha and at the conclusion of the prayers we ran in the pouring rain to get our coats.
The Tahalucha march set out with an escort of police cars and motorcycles. During the walk, the rain continued to pour down but we paid it no mind and we sang Chassidic songs. At times there were breaks in the singing. When we reached Williamsburg, we danced in the street and the police closed it off. The Satmar Chassidim stood off to the side and looked at us as if the whole thing had nothing to do with them. From there we dispersed and divided into groups that went to different shuls. I went to one of the shuls where we danced after Maariv, and from there we went to the shul of the Belzer Chassidim where we made kiddush and danced again. One of Anash who came with us read the letter of the Rebbe written in honor of Yud-Aleph Nissan.
On the way back, it was raining at first but then it stopped. We were soaked to the bone and many hats were beyond salvage.
In general, there were no problems on the Tahalucha except for the fact that some Satmar Chassidim threw some papers with derogatory statements against Chabad.
IT IS LITERALLY A JOY TO SEE THE REBBE SMILE
Farbrengen of Acharon shel Pesach:
The Rebbe began the farbrengen at 6:30. Among the topics he spoke about was the “sh’chuna” [lit. neighborhood, i.e., Crown Heights], and he said that whoever went on Tahalucha should say l’chaim. The farbrengen was very joyous. I stood on the edge of a crate and with difficulty heard what little I heard. The farbrengen concluded at 1:20 after midnight. There was a Jewish police officer who came in to the farbrengen and the Rebbe motioned to him that he should say l’chaim. The Rebbe even saluted him and smiled a captivating smile. It is literally a joy to see the Rebbe smile, because usually the Rebbe is very serious and only on rare occasions does he smile.
After the farbrengen we davened Maariv. I have no sense of how I managed to daven, because the pushing was terrible.
The Rebbe made Havdala and began to distribute “kos shel bracha.” Anash stood in several rows, and meanwhile they began to sing and the Rebbe made motions with his hands, and the joy was up to the heavens. There were those to whom the Rebbe gave a bottle to distribute in their shuls or places that they were traveling to, and among them was Motti Lipsker who received a bottle for the city of Lud. At a quarter to three in the morning, I received kos shel bracha for the family and also for Anash of Bareket, which as mentioned was in place of the matzos.
The distribution of kos shel bracha by the Rebbe ended at four in the morning.
Wednesday, 23 Nissan:
The Rebbe received people for yechidus the entire night, and we [the T’mimim] waited until the end of yechidus. At 4:11 in the morning, we davened Maariv with the Rebbe.
Thursday, 24 Nissan:
The Rebbe received people for yechidus until 8 in the morning.
THE SHLUCHIM TO AUSTRALIA
Shabbos, 26 Nissan, Parshas Acharei:
The farbrengen began at 1:30 PM. I stood in a place that was comfortable to stand in, however I could not see the Rebbe except between the heads of people and because of that I did not understand much of what was said. The Rebbe gave wine to a few of Anash to distribute in their places, including R’ Dovid Raskin who got for Lubavitch Youth Organization. The Rebbe said a maamer in the tune of a sicha. The farbrengen ended at 5:10.
Sunday, 27 Nissan:
This evening there was a “farewell” gathering for the T’mimim shluchim to Australia, who are going there for two years. R’ Dovid Raskin chaired the event. R’ Mentlick and R’ Chadakov spoke about the importance of the matter, and each of the fathers of the shluchim and the shluchim themselves also spoke. Parts of the sichos that the Rebbe said the previous Shabbos were reviewed. The event concluded with dancing.
Monday, 28 Nissan:
After Mincha, at about 3:30 PM, the shluchim traveling to Australia along with those that returned from Australia, went in for yechidus with the Rebbe. After they entered, R’ Groner suddenly came out and announced that all of the groups that had previously been to Australia should be called immediately. Those who were in 770 at the time, immediately put on gartels and entered, and others had to be called and they came post haste. A number of them are already married, as there have been four groups to date, each one for two years. After they came, the Rebbe began (some entered in the middle of the yechidus), and some were so frantic that they entered without putting on gartels.
The yechidus lasted between twenty minutes and half an hour. When they exited, they said that the Rebbe said a brief maamer for them, “Al yipater adam mei’chavero elah mitoch d’var halacha.” Then the Rebbe said some words of blessing and gave each one a pocket-sized Tanya and ten dollars. For the actual shluchim, he gave additional money for tz’daka. The Rebbe instructed them to spend about a week in Eretz Yisroel, and gave them more money to give to tz’daka to the institutions in Eretz Yisroel and Australia.
We went back to our learning, and at about 6 PM we returned to 770 (in those days the k’vutza learned in Chovevei Torah), and we waited for the Rebbe to come out to send off the shluchim. The Rebbe came out and stood in the doorway of 770. He looked at the bus and was only murmuring with his mouth. When the bus with the shluchim began to move, the Rebbe looked after it until it could no longer be seen and then he went to his home.
HOLDING THE DOOR FOR THE REBBE
[There were some bachurim who traveled with the shluchim to the airport, however] I remained in 770. Meanwhile, I spoke with Yisroel Glitzenstein, and he told me that the Rebbe would be arriving at any moment and that I should wait near the door [of the main entrance to 770]. When the Rebbe would arrive from his house, I would open the door for him and hide behind the door until the Rebbe passed. [The two of them went to the main door] and suddenly the Rebbe came and I opened the door and hid behind the door. When I saw through the crack of the door that the Rebbe had passed, I closed it. That is how I merited to open the door for the Rebbe. When the Rebbe passed near me, I was literally trembling. I held strongly onto the handle because I was afraid that the door would close due to my great excitement, before the Rebbe could pass. Boruch Hashem everything went fine.
29 Nissan, Erev Rosh Chodesh Iyar:
The Rebbe went to the Ohel and we davened Mincha very late. The Rebbe entered for Maariv holding a small pocket siddur besides for his siddur. The entire time, even during Shmoneh Esrei, the Rebbe held the siddur in his hand. After the davening the Rebbe went towards his room, but before he entered Gan Eden HaTachton a woman approached who was apparently not from Chabad, and spoke with the Rebbe for about five minutes. The Rebbe stood in Gan Eden HaTachton the whole time and did not enter his room. The secretary, R’ Groner, closed the door but left it open a drop, and we saw the Rebbe give her the siddur and she left with her face aglow.