Weekly Chasidic Story #698(s5771-32 / 6 Nisan 5771)

Sensitivity in the Wee Hours

They struck a deal: the case would be brought to the Lubavitcher Rebbe even though they did not count themselves among the Rebbe’s followers.


Connection: Seasonal – 109th anniversary of the birth of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.


Rabbi Z.M. Steinmetz (Hebrew poet “Zvi Yair” 1915-2005) told:

A family crisis had arisen in the home of my relatives, not-so-distant-cousins who lived in South America. Their daughter had met and fallen in love with a young man and the two wished to marry. But the woman’s parents were vehemently opposed to the match since the man came from a non-religious background and did not lead a Torah-observant life. Although the young man declared his willingness to begin to observe the laws and customs of Torah, the entire family, extended family, and circle of friends were united against the woman’s choice.

The young woman grew increasingly bitter over the fact that all those dear to her had closed ranks against her. She felt that her entire world had conspired to deprive her of her happiness. The situation continued to worsen, as both daughter and parents became more and more enraged over the other’s ‘betrayal.’ Finally, they struck a deal: the case would be brought to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, ztz”l. Although the family did not count themselves among the Rebbe’s chasidim, both the young woman and her parents held the Rebbe in high regard and felt they could trust him. Both parties agreed to do as he would advise. As the ‘Lubavitcher’ in the family, I was asked to accompany the young woman to her audience with the Rebbe.

In those years, the Rebbe would receive people three nights a week, beginning in the late evening and continuing through the night. Often, the final visitor would depart at dawn.

We entered the Rebbe’s room close to 3:00 a.m. First, the Rebbe and the young woman conducted a brief search for a common language: she had Spanish; the Rebbe tried Yiddish, Hebrew, English, Russian and French. They finally settled on German. As the young woman told her story, I could hear the frustration in her voice: “I don’t understand what they want of me,” she said. “My friend has promised to lead a Torah-true life. I know that he is sincere. Why is everyone so set against us?”

“He may be sincere,” said the Rebbe, “but of what value is his declaration if he does not know what he is committing himself to? You know, according to the law, a signed blank check is worthless, even if the holder fills it in for a single cent –one cannot legally obligate oneself without knowing what the obligation consists of. Living one’s life in accordance with the Torah’s precepts is a most demanding challenge for anyone, but it is even more difficult for someone who has not been raised that way.”

“But he is willing to learn,” said the young woman.

“Learning alone is not enough,” replied the Rebbe. “One may study and accept Torah with the best of intentions, but applying it to day-to-day life is quite another matter. This is what I suggest: let your friend live with a Torah-observant family for several months. Let him study, but let him also experience firsthand what such a commitment entails on a day in, day out basis, from the Modeh Ani prayer upon opening one’s eyes in the morning to the reading of the Shema before going to sleep. If he still declares his desire to lead a Torah-true life, I give my wholehearted blessing to your life together.”

The young woman left the Rebbe’s room with a lightened and joyful heart, and I remained to discuss several personal matters with the Rebbe. But the Rebbe immediately told me to call her back in, explaining: “I do not want her to think that we are discussing her behind her back.”

It was three o’clock in the morning, and the Rebbe had seen dozens of people in the course of the night. Yet he was sufficiently attuned to her feelings to discern her sense of alienation and abandonment and to pick up on her notion of a ‘conspiracy’ against her. So although the issue had been resolved to her satisfaction, and although she would not in any case understand the Yiddish in which we spoke, he refused to speak with me without her being present in the room.

[Source: Reprinted with slight changes from “Once Upon a Chassid” (Kehot) by Yanki Tauber – grandson of Zvi-Meir Steinmetz and clear inheritor of his writing talents.]

Connection: Seasonal – 109th anniversary of the birth of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Biographical note:
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe (11 Nissan 1902 – 3 Tammuz 1994), became the seventh Rebbe of the Chabad dynasty after his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, passed away in Brooklyn on 10 Shvat 1950. He is widely acknowledged as the greatest Jewish leader of the second half of the 20th century. Although a dominant scholar in both the revealed and hidden aspects of Torah and fluent in many languages and scientific subjects, the Rebbe is best known for his extraordinary love and concern for every Jew on the planet. His emissaries around the globe dedicated to strengthening Judaism number in the thousands. Hundreds of volumes of his teachings have been printed, as well as dozens of English renditions.


Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.