Exactly 32 years ago this week on the 7th of Cheshvan 5750 (Sunday, November 5, 1989), I traveled from my residence (at the time) in West Hartford, Connecticut to Crown Heights to participate in the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Sunday Dollars initiative. I must admit I stood in line with a particular request, and left completely confused as to what had transpired other than the fact that the Lubavitcher Rebbe z”l called me back and gave me two dollars (instead of the customary one dollar) and the positive reinforcement given to me by the Chabad shalucha who accompanied me (Rebbetzin Miriam Gopin of Chabad of Hartford) – who said I received a very good bracha.
My Own Lech Lecha
It took me years of reflection to connect the Torah portion of the week of the Sunday dollars visit which is this week’s Torah portion of Lech Lecha and to realize that the Rebbe had in fact given to me a bracha for our Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael, which was not even a thought at the time!
Only after actually making Aliyah was I finally able to connect the dots and appreciate the incredible vision of the Rebbe’s in terms of the parallel events of the Torah’s description of Hashem’s commandment to Avraham and Sarah to leave their birthplace and come to Eretz Yisrael and my own journey to Eretz Yisrael which followed after the Sunday encounter.
The Introduction to the Ohel
Fast forward to 19th of Cheshvan, 5776 (Sunday, November 1, 2015). On that fateful night, I attended a Chabad sponsored Tanya lecture, the subject of which was the Rebbe’s perspectives on the Akedat Yitzhak. Little did I realize that at the end of the evening I would experience a serious fall in departing from the class and be treated for a severe fractured and dislocated left shoulder and be in the emergency room of Hadassah Ein Kerem and take a year of recovery. I wrote about the fall in a prior blog entitled The Journey from Pain to Freedom.
My Private Yehidus (Audience) Moments with the Rebbe
The injury actually served as the catalyst for me to start making annual overnight trips from Eretz Yisrael to the Ohel, the resting place of the Lubavitcher Rebbe z”l. In fact something extraordinary happened at that first encounter in the Ohel with the Rebbe on Elul 8, 2016. By hashgacha pratit, for a few moments I had the extremely rare privilege of having the Ohel completely to myself in a manner what Rabbi Chaim Farro termed “a private yehidus with the Rebbe”.
And from this one private yehidus, Elul 8 became my “reserved date” for my Ohel visits. For three consecutive years, I experienced moments where once again I had Private Yehidus time with the Rebbe. The Elul 8 date was even perpetuated over the course of the last two years even when I could not make the actual physical journey due to Corona and umbilical hernia surgery which occurred this year.
The Rebbe is Always With Me
Missing out physically with the trip to the Ohel the last two years was devastating. Therefore, I felt that I had to use my respective Hebrew and English birthdays for visits to the burial sites of famous rabbinic personages here in Eretz Yisrael. What I could not have anticipated is the power of the bracha of the Rebbe which culminated in my experiencing Private Yehidus moments with the following rabbinical personages and occasions which I wrote about at length in yesterday’s blog:
Hebrew Birthday Tishri 18
I had Private Yehidus moments at the burial places of Rabbi Akiva; Rachel – wife of Rabbi Akiva; and for the first time ever – the chassidic master Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Horodok (or of Vitebsk) – all of whom are buried in Tiberias.
English birthday October 11
I had Private Yehidus moments with Amuka’s Rabbi Yonasan Ben Uziel z”l and Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai
Why the Private Yehidus matters?
Having a private yehidus whether at the Ohel or at the various burial sites is the most spiritually elevating and cherished experience and one which provides clarity and empowerment for those initiatives important to me to embrace in Eretz Yisrael – namely the promotion of marriage education under the auspices of my non profit Together in Happiness/B’Yachad B’Osher.
Another advantage is that the private space allows for presenting not only my personal “pan” items, but to also verbalize the names of other individuals who entrusted me with their brachot requests.
My desire for the perpetuation of a Private Yehidus at the various burial places in Eretz Yisrael is a direct result of what the Ohel’s Yehidus represents. The fact that I had Private time at 5 of the 6 burial sites for a private exchange is extraordinary and shows the significance of the bridge from the Ohel to the respective burial sites.
Connecting the Dots – Three other Rebbe related Items
In addition to the other burial sites mentioned above, three additional Rebbe related items are essential to mention:
Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess z”l visit – The last “kever visit” to complete the circle was to that of Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess z”l. I am aware that the Lubavitcher Rebbe would often encourage people to give charity to Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess z”l. Although the visit was not private, it was a way of connecting to this miracle worker so closely associated with the Rebbe’s values.
The Rebbe Showing the Way – My commemoration of my English birthday was an overnight trip from Beit Shemesh to the grave sites exclusively and back. Through a series of what could only be described as extraordinary hashgacha pratis, we had to continually improvise the routes we took starting off with a major delay of one hour from the unusual closing of the Central Highway 1 (due to the visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel). Each time we thought we were “lost,” there would be a billboard appearing with the picture of the Rebbe – it happened at least 10 times – the appearance was so reassuring like a beacon of light that said – you are on the right road and continue!
Hashgacha Pratit meeting with Rabbi Shimon Rosenberg in the Beit Ma’asim Tovim –Beit Rivki and Gabi Afula Chabad – the greatest hashgacha pratit moment unfolded when we made an audible call to avoid possible ramifications of the first drops of rain on the slippery Route 90 and turned on a completely alternate route to Afula. This decision led us straight to the 770 replica of Chabad named Beit Ma’asim Tovim” (house of good deeds), in memory of Gabi and Rivka Holzberg H.Y.D and Beit Rivki and Gabi and the privilege of meeting Rabbi Shimon Rosenberg, father of Rivka. I am a long devotee of the Holtzberg family as I described in a prior blog Two Heroines Named Rivka and this encounter enabled me to share with the Rabbi that I have been studying Tanya in memory of Rivka and Gavriel Holtzberg since their tragic murder. It is worth the trip to see this beautiful Chabad which also houses two special rooms – as a recreation room for special needs children and a room with gowns for weddings at the cost of the cleaning.
Looking forward to the Next Private Moment – at the Ohel
Not only was this encounter in Afula totally unscheduled, it put the seal of the Rebbe in completing a memorable cycle going back to the Sunday Dollars and this week’s Torah portion and the two birthday celebrations connected with the Ohel and the burial places in Eretz Yisrael.
If you have not had the opportunity to visit the Ohel, it is an extraordinary experience as I describe in a prior blog Once in a Lifetime’s Trip to the Rebbe’s Ohel.
Likewise, I highly encourage a visit to the grave sites in Eretz Yisrael for moments of reverence and reflection – the connection it gives to our history and the selflessness of our rabbinical ancestors is a lesson in courage and devotion. For me it is a spiritual high and I already have my paid trip for next Elul 8 at the Ohel B”H and my next birthday celebrations to be spent with my northern burial sites. We each can have Lech Lecha moments in our lives some more or less dramatic – but it is what we do with these encounters that shape our destiny.