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Wednesday
Nov212018

WHEN THE REBBE LEARNED TANYA WITH A STUDENT

Every year, the mashpia RMendel Futerfas would go to the Rebbe for the month of Tishrei. RMendels trip on the plane was unlike that of anyone else, for he spent the many hours putting tefillin on with Jewish passengers or in conversations of kiruv and strengthening of Judaism. It did not bother RMendel that his English (and Hebrew) was broken at best. He spoke in the language of the heart and the neshama and in speaking that way, he was able to bridge all chasms.

Rabbi Mendel FuterfasOne year, as usual, R’ Mendel boarded a plane to go to the Rebbe. Next to him sat a student. At the beginning of the flight, R’ Mendel asked him whether he is Jewish and he said he was.

R’ Mendel suggested that he put on tefillin and the student, who had a warm, Jewish heart, agreed and rolled up his sleeve.

After R’ Mendel finished putting tefillin on with some other Jews on the plane, he sat back down and began talking to the student. It turned out that the student was on good terms with the shliach in the city where he was studying. R’ Mendel expressed his pleasure at this and strengthened the student’s Jewish identity as much as his English allowed.

When they arrived at the airport in New York, they parted with a firm handshake. The student went to catch his connecting flight while R’ Mendel took a taxi to the source of his spiritual life, 770, Beis Chayeinu.

***

Every year, after spending Tishrei with the Rebbe, R’ Mendel would go to other countries to raise funds on behalf of Tomchei T’mimim. At the end of his rounds, he would return to 770 and have yechidus. That yechidus invariably took place at the end of Cheshvan or the beginning of Kislev. Only after that did he return to his job as mashpia in Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim in Kfar Chabad.

That year, upon his return to New York after fundraising, he prepared for yechidus. That night, R’ Mendel sat tensely, as Chassidim do, before seeing the Rebbe. While waiting for his turn, R’ Mendel was surprised to see the student who had been his seatmate on the plane. They were happy to see one another once again and R’ Mendel asked what brought him to 770.

The student said he had a tough question regarding faith which he had asked the shliach that he was in touch with. The shliach said he should ask the Rebbe and arranged an appointment for the student. “I came here tonight for my meeting with the Rebbe,” said the student.

“When is your turn?” asked R’ Mendel.

“I am last on the list,” he said.

R’ Mendel was second to last and he said, “I have an offer for you. I usually go in and intend on spending a few minutes with the Rebbe, but the Rebbe always keeps me there longer than I anticipate to discuss various topics. You shouldn’t have to be delayed because of me. How about if you go in first; that way, you’ll be able to leave earlier.” The student liked the idea and agreed.

When the time came, the student went in while R’ Mendel remained alone in Gan Eden HaTachton, nervously waiting for his turn.

A few minutes passed and the student was still inside. R’ Groner, in charge of yechidus arrangements that night, was surprised. He opened the Rebbe’s door and to his amazement, he saw the student sitting facing the Rebbe across the table and the Rebbe was learning Tanya with him! When R’ Leibel approached to get the young man out, he noticed that the Rebbe and the young man were learning Shaar Ha’Yichud V’Ha’Emuna.

The Rebbe raised his hand and motioned to R’ Leibel to leave them alone. R’ Leibel silently left the room with his back to the door and facing the Rebbe.

He excitedly motioned to R’ Mendel to come over and through a crack in the door that remained slightly ajar, R’ Mendel could also see the wondrous sight: the Nasi Yisroel sitting and learning Tanya together with the young man who was struggling with his faith and sought answers.

This special chavrusa learning lasted about an hour and a half and only then did the student leave, his face aglow.

***

R’ Mendel told this story to his friend, Rabbi Nachman Twersky of Crown Heights. R’ Mendel said that as Chassidim do, he pictures the Rebbe from time to time in order to strengthen his hiskashrus. What image of the Rebbe does he typically bring to mind? The Rebbe sitting at his desk with an open Tanya in front of him, facing a young man with questions in faith…

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