During the period of Elul, we are charged with the responsibility to reflect on our life as a preamble to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. After experiencing a dramatic year, which I encapsulated in the article ‘The Journey from Pain to Freedom’, I felt I needed an extra dose of introspection and that could only mean making a whirlwind trip to visit the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Ohel in Queens, New York. At the time, I did not connect the dots since the timing was driven by the Hebrew month of Elul, but after making the reservation for the “overnight” trip, I realized that the secular date was September 11 – a most fitting way to combine a spiritual and national “moment” in the most meaningful manner possible.
Why the Ohel and particularly why take what amounted to an 48 hour excursion trip leaving Motzei Shabbat, September 10 from Israel and spending two days at the Ohel and returning to Israel Monday night, September 12? For me, I had a burning desire to bring closure to a traumatic year in a place known as a spiritual oasis for those seeking an advocate for their pleas, as well as to be in the burial place of a tzaddik in whose merit Hashem could be moved to grant our prayers.
To describe the encounter in a way that truly reflects the holiness may not do justice – but I felt a pull which propelled me to arrive in Newark at 4AM and go directly to the Ohel and begin to connect with the “Rebbe” in thought, speech and action. The custom is to light a candle and to enter the Ohel and recite the book Maaneh Lashon, a compilation which includes the recitation of tehillim (psalms) and includes a section to present one’s heartfelt pleas in the form of what is known as a personal petition (Pidyon Nefesh) for requesting brachot from the Rebbe and those Pidyon prayers for any persons for whom you have included in your “appeal”.
I had consulted with Rabbi Chaim Farro of the Chabad on Dolev (Heichal Menachem) in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel on all the do’s and don’ts for the visit, and had gathered a number of requests from people who were willing to entrust me with their requests. But I was not prepared for the impact that the Ohel would have on me to the extent that on the two respective days I was at the Ohel I stood for 3 hours in the same place adjacent to the Rebbe’s kever each day citing the sefer and the individual pidyon requests. I felt that each person had appointed me as their shaliach representative and that fact infused the time with energy and full concentration.
Private Time Alone with The Rebbe
What was especially poignant was that usually the Ohel is crowded since it is a small area and fills up quickly – but by hashgaha pratit I shared the Ohel with only a few others on the first day and the second day for a few moments I had the Ohel completely to myself like what Rabbi Farro termed “a private yehidus with the Rebbe” – that was a moment I will treasure forever as a moment frozen in time.
Also poignant is the fact that the Rebbe’s mother and wife are buried in close proximity and the opportunity presented itself to recite tehillim at the graves and share private moments with each of these special personages.
A Farbrengen Message for All
During my second day, I made a plan to stay at the Ohel and the Visitor’s Center which is part of the complex from 9AM to 6:30PM. I wanted the time to derive all the benefits from the ambiance which includes a small shule and common area for people to have refreshments and write their request and a room for watching a video monitor of the Rebbe conducting a Farbrengen. What was so auspicious for me was that the subject of the Rebbe’s Farbrengen was on the occasion of his father’s yarzheit and one truly felt caught up in the spirit of the Rebbe’s sichot messages and the singing of the attendees. I sat in that area for hours spellbound by the Rebbe’s messages reinforcing for me the requirement that we as Jews have to remain positive and have lives full of simcha and conviction that everything is for the good that happens in our lives.
A Center and Magnet for All
It is also important to point out that the Ohel complex consists of the Ohel Kever and a Visitor Center, which is managed by Rabbi Abba Refson and Rabbi Sholom Refson – and a more helpful staff you will not find – they make you feel like you are the only person in the place and your questions and concerns are of vital importance. The information booth is also staffed by Kollel students who are extremely well versed and friendly.
Also of critical importance to mention is the Ohel is a magnet for so many types of Jews and non Jews – while I was there a busload of women arrived from Montreal and Crown Heights in Brooklyn and others just streamed into the place from all walks of life. Each individual knows that the Ohel is “an address” for their heartfelt prayers to be advocated in the most non- judgmental way so characteristic of who the Rebbe was during his years of service as The Rebbe.
A Prayer Instantly Answered
It is rare in life that one can immediately have one’s prayers answered, but upon return for the first time ever my 19 month grandson born under highly traumatic birth conditions (and hence a strong motivator for me to take the trip and pray for his good health and ability to walk and talk) pulled himself up “as if he had been doing it for a while” – the power of the Rebbe’s bracha was Clear.
My “Har Sinai”
How does one measure in their lifetime those moments that epitomize what is the essence of life – this was my own “Har Sinai” – I had the amazing good fortune to visit the Ohel and my life will never be the same again – it will be defined by “before the Ohel” and “after the Ohel” as I feel inspired to make each day count – to infuse each day with good deeds and to carry the holiness of the Ohel to others who I encounter in my years on this planet.
Epilogue Thank You
As a epilogue, I came back and got sick which I rarely do – and had the most powerful dream that I was transformed back to the Ohel to have another private prayer for “good health” as a present for having gone to the Ohel – it was if the Rebbe was saying “thank you” to me for coming!