Half-a-dozen years before the Previous Rebbe was exiled from Russia for the crime of teaching Torah, he had already established a yeshivah in Warsaw – Tomchei Temimim. As a young unmarried man, my father – Rabbi Yosef Avraham – studied there, and in 1933, he was appointed the yeshivah’s secretary. And when the Previous Rebbe moved from Riga, Latvia to Warsaw, my father became a frequent visitor in his home.
I recall him telling me when I was a boy that, even before the outbreak of World War Two, the Previous Rebbe foresaw that dark times were coming. Not long after Adolf Hitler became the chancellor of Germany, he asked my father to raise money for a rescue effort. He’d said to my father, “There’s a great problem approaching the Jewish community. But it has been decreed from Heaven that I not be able to speak about it.” In fact, after his tortures in Soviet prisons, the Rebbe had difficulty speaking clearly, and sometimes my father had to interpret his speech to others.
Another thing – a small thing – that I recall my father telling me was advice from the Previous Rebbe to always keep his things neat and tidy – to always make his bed and straighten his room before going out in the morning. This made an impression on me, and I took it upon myself from the age of eleven to do likewise; I have kept up this habit for most of my life.
The Previous Rebbe also told my father that if he should ever rent any place – an apartment, a hotel room, whatever – he should return it to the owner cleaner than he found it, especially if the owner is a non-Jew. My father took this advice very much to heart, and was very fussy whenever we traveled together. I used to say to him, “What are you cleaning for? We didn’t make it dirty – it was already that way!” But he cleaned the place as if he was cleaning for Pesach. “This is what the Rebbe told me to do,” he would say. (more…)