In The Rebbe's Chambers - Saving a Jewish Life
We share a wondrous account sent in by Rabbi Moses Hayyim Greenvald, translated from the Yiddish.
My father, Rabbi Abraham Zvi Greenvald, was born in Lodz,
Poland, and was orphaned from his father at the age of 8. His
mother was left with seven little orphans, and she worried much
about the education of her eldest boy, whom she sent to live
with a cousin, the exalted scholar Rabbi Menachem Zemba,
may G-d avenge his blood.
It was he who raised my father with great self-sacrifice.
Understandably, he was concerned about my father's studies and even
tutored him personally.
My father was almost 17 years old when there took place in
Warsaw "The Great Wedding" -- the nuptials of the daughter
of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph Isaac
(Schneersohn) with Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who
would later become the seventh Rebbe.
My father used to tell about this wedding almost as a spiritual
exercise -- both regarding the wedding itself, in which
participated the cream of Polish Hasidic leaders, and also that
my father was able to meet personally with the young bridegroom.
This meeting, my father would later realize, would portend much
in the future.
A youth of about 17, my father arrived at the wedding
together with his relative and teacher, Rabbi Menachem Zemba.
On the morning after, Rabbi Zemba told him he was going to visit
the bridegroom in the hotel, and if my father wished, he could
accompany him. Understandably, my father agreed.
My father could not remember and repeat all that the two spoke about,
but he did remember well the end of the conversation, before these two
personalities parted ways.
The Rebbe turned to my father and said,"In another few days, it will
Do you know why many small synagogues hold festivals on the fifth day
of Chanukah?" My father did not know what to answer, and he
recalled that Rabbi Zemba just looked at the Rebbe waiting for
Then the Rebbe, turned to my father and said,"The fifth Hanukkah
candle signifies great darkness because this day cannot fall on
the Holy Sabbath. And through the Hanukkah candles, the greatest
(spiritual) darkness of the world is illuminated. And for this
reason, the potential of Hanukkah comes to fruition specifically
through the fifth candle, which signifies the darkness. And this
is the function of every Jew, in every place -- in Warsaw or
London -- to illuminate the darkest place."
As mentioned earlier, my father did not remember what the
Rebbe and Rabbi Zemba spoke about during their long
conversation. But he said he would never forget that all the
tractates of the Babylonian Talmud flew around the room. When
they left the hotel, my father recalls, Rabbi Zemba was
extremely excited and didn't stop speaking about the meeting
to everyone with whom he conversed for several days.
After that meeting, nearly 10 years passed.
My father survived the Holocaust, first in the Ghetto, and afterwards in
the Extermination Camps. His first wife and their five little
children were slaughtered in front of his eyes. When the war
ended, and he was left alive by the grace of G-d, he experienced
a mental and physical breakdown. For two years, he moved from
displaced persons camp to displaced persons camp, trying to
learn if there were relatives -- close or distant -- who
survived. In the end, it became clear that all his brothers
and sisters -- each one of them -- was liquidated by the
oppressor, may its name be blotted out.
In the year 5708 (ca. 1948), he traveled to the United
States, to Philadelphia. There lived his uncle, Rabbi Moshe
Hayyim Greenvald of the Amshinov Hasidim, who he had never met
because the uncle immigrated to America before he was born.
But the uncle arranged my fathers travel to the U. S. and received
him with great love, and did everything to make it easier for
him and to comfort him after the portion of awesome suffering
he underwent . . . Under pressure from his uncle, with the
intervention of the Amshinov Rebbe,my father decided to put his
life back together, married a second wife (my mother, of blessed
She was a child of Karkov, daughter of Rabbi Zushya
Sinkowitz, may G-d avenge his blood, of the elders of the
Alexander Hasidim. Together with his sister, he succeeded in
fleeing immediately at the beginning of the war, running from
country to country until they set sail for Canada. There, they
raised in the house another cousin, the great leader, Mr. Kuppel
Shwartz, one of Toronto's leading Jews.
Before my parents were wed, Mr. Shwartz took my father to
New York for an audience with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi
Joseph Isaac (Schneersohn) to obtain his blessing.
My father told me that he trembled to see the change that had overtaken
the Previous Rebbe, how age had crept up on him since the
Warsaw wedding. (It was very difficult to understand the Rebbe's
speech; one of the Hasidic elders who stood in the room
explained what the Rebbe was saying). Mr. Shwartz told the
Previous Rebbe that my father had been saved, but lost his
family in the Holocaust.
Then, from the holy eyes of the Previous Rebbe there began to
fall streams of pure tears. The Rebbe blessed my father and
wished him a long and good life. Before he left, my father told
the Rebbe that he had been fortunate to be at the wedding of his
son-in-law, the Rebbe, in Warsaw. Then, my father tells, the
Previous Rebbe's eyes brightened and he said that since his son-
in-law lived here, and he was at the wedding, he should
certainly visit him to pay his respects.
Mr. Shwartz and my father left the Rebbe's chambers, and
after they were shown where to find the chambers of the Ramash,
as he was known then, they knocked and entered, saying they came
at the instructions of the Previous Rebbe.
My father was elated that the Ramash remembered him immediately.
His first question was that my father should tell about last days
of Rabbi Zemba because he heard he was killed in the Warsaw Ghetto
but did not know any details.
After my father told all he knew, the Ramash said,
"since the Rebbe told you to visit me, I am obligated to
say to you words of Torah. And since the month of Kislev is
close to Hanukkah, it is known the custom of many Hasidim,"
followers of the Baal Shem Tov, to celebrate the fifth day of
Hanukkah. What is the reason? Since the fifth day can never fall
on the Sabbath, if so, then it implies strong (spiritual)
darkness. This is the potential of the Hanukkah candle -- to
illuminate the greatest darkness. This is the mission of every
Jew in every place he may be -- New York or London -- to
illuminate the darkest place.
Needless to say, my father was startled as he had all but forgotten
the very same thing that the Ramash had told him nearly 20 years earlier.
And now, his memory was jarred, and he realized that the Ramash had repeated,
almost word-for-word, what he told him then, in the hotel in Warsaw.
After his wedding, my father served as a rabbi and teacher
for Congregation Adath Israel in Washington Heights. There we
were born, my sister and I. My father remained there some five
years, and, with the help of Mr. Shwartz in Canada, moved to
Toronto and worked there as a rabbi and teacher in the Haredi
Over the course of years, in Toronto, my father became close to
the Satmar Hasidim in the city, since he ministered in his rabbinical
work to these Hasidim.
Though he never sent us to the Satmar schools, he sent us to educational
institutions that were spiritually similar. Me and my brother
were sent to the well known Nytra Yeshivah. Though my father's
outlook was philosophically close to Satmar, he never spoke
against the Lubavitcher Rebbe. On the contrary, he always spoke
of him in with praise and in especially respectful terms, as did
In the winter of 5729 (ca. 1969), I was married. My father
told me that even though I wasn't a Lubavitcher Hasid, he feels
the need to go with me to visit the Lubavitcher Rebbe to receive
his blessing for my wedding -- just as he had done, even though
he had not seen the Rebbe for some 20 years. I agreed with a
But then, I learned it's not so simple to visit the Rebbe.
Only after negotiations with the Rebbe's secretary -- and
only after my father explained to him that we could not wait
several months to reserve a place in the queue for audiences --
did he agreed to place us in line, but only after we promised we
would only ask for a benediction and would not detain the Rebbe.
My father promised and we left Toronto on the appointed day. I
don't remember the exact hour we entered the Rebbe's chambers,
but it was closer to morning than night, if not dawn itself.
I saw the Rebbe's face for the first time in person. His
face, especially his eyes, made a great impression on me. My
father gave the Rebbe the customary epistle on which were
inscribed the names of myself, my bride-to-be and my father's
request for a benediction. The Rebbe took the epistle from my
father's hands. Before he opened it, he looked at my father with
a broad smile and said, "Not more than 20 years ago the time had
arrived, especially as the Previous Rebbe sent you to me." My
father stood, scared and trembling, and couldn't find the energy
to open his mouth.
Meanwhile, the sexton banged on the door, but the Rebbe waved
his hand as to negate the knocking, like someone who was saying,
don't pay attention.
In the midst of all this, the Rebbe opened the epistle, glanced at it,
and immediately began to give us his blessing, blessed my father with
a long life and good years, and said, roughly, "Just as you rejoiced
at my nuptials, may the Lord give you nachas and strength to dance at
your grandchild's wedding."
Tears poured from my father's eyes, and I was also
elated. My father had been physically broken from all he had
endured in the camps, and this benediction of the Rebbe's was
Before we left, my father got together the strength to ask
the Rebbe that since he had promised the secretary we would
enter solely to request a blessing, and he has a pressing
question, would the Rebbe permit him to ask it. The Rebbe smiled
and laughed, and said (roughly): "Since the Rebbe the
father-in-law sent you to me, I am obligated to answer all
questions. And as before, we heard loud banging on the door,
and the Rebbe signaled we should ignore it.
My father turned to the Rebbe and said that for different
reasons, we had lived among the Satmar Hasidim and their fellow
travellers for many years. There, we frequently hear complaints
about the views of Lubavitch. "Even though I do not accept all
the gossip that I hear, they have nonetheless succeeded in
raising within me a great doubt about the Lubavitch view in
connection with working together with the "wicked people."
The verses are well known, such as "And those that thou hatest
the Lord shall hate." "How is it that Lubavitch can
openly work together with those who battle against G-d and his
My father told the Rebbe that he requests forgiveness
for the question, and did not mean to offend. Quite to the
contrary, he really wants to understand the Rebbe's view so he
can answer others as well as himself.
The Rebbe then turned to my father with a question. "What
would your neighbors do if a neighbor's daughter began to keep
bad company? Would they attempt to return her to the way of
Torah and the Commandments, or would they say, 'And those that
thou hatest the Lord shall hate and it is forbidden to involve
oneself with the wicked; therefore, we should distance
ourselves from her and not bring her closer?'"
The Rebbe did not even wait for an answer, and promptly added:
"This zealous one would answer that with a daughter, the injunction
of 'From thy flesh do not conceal thyself would apply.'"
And then the Rebbe's eyes became serious, and he knocked on the table,
and said: "By the Al-mighty, every Jew is as precious as an only child.
With the Rebbe, the father-in-law, every Jew was 'From thy flesh, do
not conceal thyself.'"
Then the Rebbe looked at me, and at my father with a
constant gaze, and said: "One concludes with a blessing. As it is
known, it is customary among Hasidim to celebrate the fifth day
of Hanukkah with festivities. What is the reason? Since the
fifth day cannot ever fall on the Sabbath, this signifies that
it is the height of darkness. With the light of the Hanukkah
candle, it is possible to illuminate the darkest thing. This is
the mission of each Jew, to illuminate even the darkest places.
It does not matter where he lives -- Toronto or London. Every
Jew is veritably a part of G-d above, the only child of the Holy
One, Blessed be He. And when one lights his soul with the candle
of holiness, even the distant Jew is stirred in the darkest
My father was startled in the most shocking way. He didn't even
hear the last words of the Rebbe's blessing, nor how we left the
All the way back to Toronto he was silent. Only two words:
"wonder of wonders. Wonder of wonders."
Since then, about 10 years passed.
In the year 5739 (ca. 1979), my youngest brother was married in the
city of London. The whole family, my father, my mother, my sister,
my brother-in-law, and I flew to the wedding in an airplane.
On the way to London, I saw my father was preoccupied.
Something was bothering him. I asked him what
was wrong and he didn't want to say. Only after I asked several
times, he told me.
"A few minutes after I left the house in Toronto, the neighbor
-- one of the dignitaries of our congregation -- came to see me,
rivers of tears pouring from his eyes. He said he would tell
me a story that he would not otherwise tell to anybody
willingly, but that maybe I could help.
It turned out that the daughter of this community leader wavered
very much in her ritual observance. In the beginning, the parents
didn't really know about it, because she hid it from them. But two weeks
earlier, the great catastrophe became known to them: she eloped
with a Gentile to London. Since then, the atmosphere at home
was one of crying and mourning, the 9th of Av.
All the efforts of relatives in London came to naught.
Therefore, he asked my father, since he was travelling to
London, maybe he would look into the matter, and G-d would be
merciful. Maybe he could find the daughter and prevent her from
descending into the depths of iniquity? My father was a close
friend of this neighbor, and was affected greatly by the story.
I also took it to heart and thought about what I could do in
The nuptials were held at a good and auspicious hour. On the
first night of the Seven Benedictions, my father turned to the
bride's father and told him the story about the neighbor's
Perhaps he had some advice, who, where? Maybe he could
look into the matter and do something? The bride's father, as
soon as he heard the story, said to my father that he had no
understanding of such matters, but did have a friend who was a
Lubavitcher Hasid, who the Lubavitcher Rebbe had always charged
with all types of errands.
The man's name was Rabbi Abraham Isaac Glick, and if there's somebody
who can help, it is this man, who had already managed to save from
the streets of Europe many confused souls.
That night, the bride's father telephoned Rabbi Glick, told him the
story and explained how pressing the matter was.
Rabbi Glick asked for the telephone number of the girl's parents
in Toronto -- perhaps they knew some details that
would help, like addresses, telephone numbers. Perhaps they
would give him some clue where to start searching. Rabbi Glick
promised to do what he could.
I don't know where Rabbi Glick searched, where he went, nor
with whom he consulted. But one night, about 10 days later -- my
father and my mother decided to stay in London until after
Hanukkah -- Rabbi Glick called the bride's father and told him
to come immediately. "I have a very good surprise," he said.
The bride's father and my father hurried to Rabbi Glick's
house. As they entered, they saw a girl sitting, crying. At
the entrance of the salon, a Hanukkah candelabrum was lit.
Suddenly, as my father looked at the menorah, he saw five
candles lit, and he almost fainted and fell to the ground.
He remembered the strange sentence the Rebbe had told him
some 50 years earlier, then 30 years earlier and then 10.
"The fifth Hanukkah candle signifies the power of the Hanukkah
menorah, and the mission of every Jew is to illuminate even"
the darkest place -- Warsaw or London, New York or London, or
Toronto or London . . ."
"What will that zealous one do when his daughter wavers ...
with the Holy One, Blessed be He, every Jew is an only
child ... With the Previous Rebbe, every Jew is 'From thy flesh,
do not conceal thyself.'" There's no need to mention that the
girl completely repented and became on observant Jew.
There's also no need to mention that the zealous one
shut his mouth and ceased speaking against Lubavitch.
When my father returned to Canada, he made every effort to
obtain an audience with the Rebbe. He felt a need, a spiritual
duty after what had happened, to see the Rebbe. But in those
years, it had become very difficult to obtain a private
But the following month of Tishrei, the year 5740 (ca. 1980), my
father succeeded seeing the Rebbe on the night that a group of
holiday visitors had a group audience. My father said that from
all the emotions that were coursing through him, he could not
utter anything during the audience. When he tried to tell the
story, he would break into tears. The Rebbe heard just a few
sentences, turned to my father and said, "The father-in-law has
a very distant vision."
Every time my father would tell this story, he would say
that the real wonder was the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Even more than
his vision of events to come from 50 years beforehand, was his
heavenly humility of, that he said, "The father-in-law has a
very distant vision."
The chain of wonders has not stopped. On 14 Kislev 5748
(ca. 1989), exactly when the Seven Benedictions for
my firstborn child ended, on the day which represented the
passage of 60 years from the Rebbe's wedding in Warsaw, my
father passed away -- all just as the Rebbe had blessed my
father, that he should rejoice at the wedding of his
We should be happy that this man, Holy to G-d dwelt amongst
us. Since it is known that "The righteous are greater in their
death than in their lives," certainly the Rebbe will cause a
flow of blessings, salvation and comfort from On High, to each
and all, until we merit to the promise of the verse, "And a
Redeemer shall come unto Zion," in accord with the holy will
of the Rebbe, soon and in our time. Amen.
-- Rabbi Moshe Hayyim Greenvald
Adapted from the Hebrew weekly, Shav'uon Kfar Chabad
Translation provided courtesy of Friends of Lubavitch of Florida (Est. 1960)
Rabbi Abraham Korf, Lubavitch Regional Director-Florida