In 1962, I had the great fortune to travel from the Holy Land to the Rebbe for the High Holidays and have a private audience with him. I had exchanged several letters with the Rebbe since coming close to Chabad as a young man, but this was the first time in my life that I would be meeting him in person.
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Before leaving, my teacher and mentor Rabbi Moshe Weber asked that I tell the Rebbe about a certain yeshivah student from Jerusalem who had gone to study in 770 and who, despite years having passed, had not yet managed to marry. The assumption was that the Rebbe was unaware of this situation, so I was asked to solicit the Rebbe’s blessings and assistance on his behalf.
When I mentioned the name I had been given, the Rebbe immediately responded: “When it comes to finding a match, one has to look at what is important, and not at trivial matters. This fellow, however, is looking at the most trifling of trivialities; what’s the surprise that he hasn’t found anyone?”
Now, the yeshivah student in question had been unaware of our intervention, and when I met him afterwards, I asked why, despite his relatively advanced age, he was still single. As he had it, it was because the matchmakers were suggesting to set him up with some girls of Sephardic descent, and he thought they wouldn’t be right for him. This, apparently, was what the Rebbe meant by “trivialities.”
Later, this fellow married an American, a woman who had come from a family that was not religious. Unfortunately, they were ill suited for each other, and the marriage was short lived. But about a year later, he met and married another woman – from a Sephardic family – with whom he set up a Jewish home and enjoyed many long, happy years together.
Before making this trip, I had gotten sick, so I requested a blessing from the Rebbe, adding that my condition was worrying my wife: Some eight years earlier, right after our wedding, I had fallen into a serious illness, and was bedridden for almost half a year.
“She has seen G-d’s kindness in the past, towards her and her husband,” replied the Rebbe in answer to my request, “and she will see it again in the future.”
In this, I believe he was alluding to something else from our past; besides my illness and recovery at around the time of our wedding, G-d had paid us another great kindness, a few years after that.
It was 1958, and we had been married for four years without having been blessed with children. One day, my wife received a letter from the Rebbe. It wasn’t in response to anything she had written, but I had recently mentioned in a letter to the Rebbe that her birthday was coming up and I described how downhearted she felt about not having any children yet.
In that 1958 letter, the Rebbe encouraged my wife to strengthen her trust in G-d. “After even a moment’s reflection,” he wrote, “you will perceive Hashem’s kindness towards you and your husband in the past. Certainly, that kindness will persist in the future.” He concluded the letter with the hope that G-d would grant our hearts’ desires that year, and indeed our eldest son was born just nine months after that.
Interestingly, he would use this same turn of phrase again years later – after that 1958 letter, after my 1962 trip – in 1973, when my wife and I came to spend the month of Tishrei with the Rebbe. By then we had five children, and we brought them all along as well.
How that visit came to pass is a story unto itself. The previous year, I had told the Rebbe of my hope that I would one day be able to bring my wife and children to visit him. To this, he had replied, referencing the once-in-seven-years national gathering of the Jewish people that would take place in the Temple times, “Since next year is a ‘Hakhel’ year, it would be good if they all come then, and they will be able to take in the atmosphere, each in their own way.”
At first, I was taken aback: bringing the family in for Hakhel has become more common nowadays, but back then, traveling to America from Israel was no simple matter. I was never a wealthy man, but after receiving a directive as clear as that one, I made sure to come with the whole family the next year, for the holidays of the month of Tishrei.
At a public gathering during that time, the Rebbe delivered a scholarly talk, analyzing who the commandment of Hakhel applied to. In the biblical description of the commandment, the Jewish king is to read the Torah before an assembly of the Jewish people. This raises the question of whether it is incumbent on the leader to assemble the people, or whether it is up to the people to assemble themselves.
Subsequently, at our family yechidus, the Rebbe brought up this topic. “As we discussed, the obligation to gather together might be incumbent on the individual whom the others are coming to visit,” he said. “And so, I would like to participate in the costs of your trip.” He directed us to his secretariat, and they indeed gave us money to cover almost all the travel expenses.
Over the past sixty years, Rabbi Tuvia Blau has held many senior positions in Chabad organizations in Israel as an educator, author and community leader. He was interviewed in August of 2011 and in May of 2017.