Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

27 Ellul 5760 - September 27, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Days of Awe -- With the Bobover Rebbe

by S. Rosengarten

This touching description of spending the Yomim Noraim together with the Bobover Rebbe is a description and analysis of how the Bobover Rebbe lived and how he promulgated avodas Hashem. It is doubly appropriate now just after his sheloshim and at the outset of the Yomim Noraim.

A Kvittle to the Rebbe

It is the week before the High Holy Days. Every evening, a crowd of chassidim congregates on the corner of Fourty-Eighth Street and Fifteenth Avenue in Brooklyn's Boro Park waiting for the Rebbe to enter his study and begin taking kvittlach.

There are old chassidim, grey and bent, some in stained, tattered cloaks, and young chassidim, meticulously dressed. Some chassidim, eager for their children to absorb holiness, carry infants in one arm and hold other children by the hand. There is a hush in the anteroom. With the Days of Awe approaching, a solemn spirit prevails.

My husband and I wait in line with the others. This is our first visit back to the States since moving to Israel twenty years ago. Praying with the Rebbe will be the highlight of the trip.

The gabbai motions for us to enter.

Though so many years have passed since I'd last seen the Rebbe, my memory of him always remained that of a regal figure, straight and proud. Now, on entering his private study, I'm shocked to find a bent old man standing at the side of his huge desk.

Although he still wears a bronze brocade robe, with mandarin collar, black slipper-type shoes and black velour hat, everything else about him is different. His beard has turned all white, he seems to be totally exhausted; breathing with difficulty, constantly sighing, almost gasping as though to get more breath. He seems so frail; his eyelids are almost transparent.

I suddenly understand why in the past, my husband would often refuse to consult with the Rebbe on matters that troubled us. "I don't want the rebbe to have aggravation," he would say. "The Rebbe is like a father to his chassidim. He takes their heartaches very seriously and very personally, and gets sick from all the problems that his chassidim bring him. A real chossid tries to spare his rebbe."

I would disagree with my husband, insisting that if a chossid didn't feel free to discuss his problems with his rebbe, what did he need a rebbe for, in the first place? But now, as I stood looking at the frail old saint, I suddenly realized what my husband had been trying to then tell me. Now, I too could understand.

All the burdens that all the chassidim had thrust on the Rebbe's shoulders, all the years, had finally taken their toll. I looked at the great holy man and was brokenhearted. How I wished that, just as he had helped so many people all the years, I could help him now. But how could I help him when I still needed him myself -- to listen, to advise, to bless and to be included in his prayers?

As the Rebbe reads the kvittle, he stands so close to my husband, he practically leans on him. When he finishes, he lifts his eyes upward, grasps my husband's hand and calls out in a weak hoarse voice: "May the New Year be full of blessings and joy. May it be a good year with health and nachas."

The gabbai, who stands outside the door, is already pushing in the next chossid. I am in panic; we haven't even told the Rebbe what is so urgent for him to hear.

"Meyer," I whisper to my husband as he heads for the door, "you didn't tell the Rebbe about Chummie, to ask for a special brocho . . . "

"Now is not the time to discuss private matters with the Rebbe," my husband whispers back, embarrassed to be holding up the line. "Can't you see the load of people waiting outside? Now, the Rebbe gives each one a general blessing for a good year. That goes fast, in and out. Those who want a private session come back another time."

My husband, unlike me, is a firm believer in following rules. As far as he's concerned, we've seen the Rebbe, received his blessing, and now we're supposed to leave and let the next one in.

But the Rebbe, wise soul that he is, senses that I'm not satisfied and, motioning for the gabbai to close the door again, he turns to my husband and asks what I want.

"Our daughter, Nechama. She's expecting around this time. The doctors anticipate problems . . . "

"Di Aibershter zul helfen az zee zul ariberkumen besholom ubeneikel." The Rebbe's voice is suddenly loud and clear. His arms reach up to heaven.

Again the door opens. The gabbai looks, first at the Rebbe, then at his wrist-watch. The Rebbe, sensing that I am still not finished, motions for him to close the door again.

"Meyer," I whisper again, as frantic as in an eleventh-hour appeal, "you didn't say a word about Esty. Please. We promised her that we'd ask the Rebbe to give her a special brocho."

The Rebbe stands waiting, a kind, patient smile on his deathly-white face. "Rebbe, our Esty. She's a little nervous. You know how it is with a housefull of children . . . "

"Zee zul zein gezint und shtark. Tell her, that G-d rests His spirit only on those who serve Him with joy."

I am ready to leave.

As we shuffle backwards to the door, eyes never leaving the holy man's form, I sadly realize that this frail old Rebbe needs our prayers as much as we need his.

"Please G-d, grant him good healthy years," I beg. "Please G- d, we need him."


The shul is a tremendous square. Three walls are covered with marble; the fourth is glass windows, each stained with a bibical or holiday scene and on which some chassidim have hung their shtreimlich or draped their coats. The room is simple and unadorned, and lined with tables and benches at which members of the congregation sit close together with little children squeezed in beside their fathers. The aisles are crowded with those who have no seats.

Chassidim have come from all over the world to pray together with the Rebbe on the yomim noraim. Most are dressed in the holiday garb of black-satin bekishe-frock, tied loosely round the waist with braided silk cord. Some wear long black trousers, others wear black knickers and white knee- high hose. Those who are married wear round sable shtreimlach. Those still single, usually students in the Rebbe's yeshiva, wear black velour hats.

A wide wooden plank projects across the eastern wall, on which young chassidim already sway in meditation. Some pull nervously at the hairs on their cheeks, others absentmindedly curl their payos. Though each one holds a prayer book in his hands, all eyes are riveted on the Rebbe.

The spirit of prayer is fierce and fervent; the rumble of ocean, thundering skies. Heads shake from side to side, arms reach out with fists closed tight. The shul is one black mass of swaying figures: bowing, bending, clapping hands, voices rise in song and chant, eyes shut tight look up to heaven.

At the end of the service, everyone forms an orderly line to pass before the Rebbe, where he stands up front.

The Rebbe nods his head to every man and child passing; blesses each one separately for the new year.

Leshono tova teichoseim veseichoseim, le'alter lechaim tovim aruchim vesholom!"

There are about a thousand people lined up to receive the Rebbe's Rosh Hashana blessing. With my husband and son at the end of the line, I figure that this is a good time to make some visits.

"Ah, Machatainista! You've come just in time." My daughter-in- law's mother greets me with pleasure and, throwing on a jacket and taking my hand, she pulls me after her back into the pleasant night.

"Where are we going?" I ask.

"To visit the Rebbetzin."

"But I already visited the Rebbetzin on Shabbos," I tell her.

"This is a special visit," she explains, with the excitement of a child. "After the Rebbe blesses all the men in shul, he goes home to bless the Rebbetzin. At that time, he'll also bless the others in her room. So all of their children and grandchildren make sure to be there then, as well as anyone else who feels close to the family. It's all very private; you have to be very special to be let in."

"So, where do I fit in?" I ask her uncomfortably. "I've never been a gatecrasher before."

"Sha!" she says, pulling me along after her. "You mustn't let such an opportunity slip by. If you're together with me, they'll let you in. Besides, guests from Israel are always granted special privileges."

The Rebbetzin's reception room is full of women and children. The Rebbe's immediate family, and a host of other people who, for whatever the reason, feel that they rightfully belong in the Rebbe's inner- circle. There is a hum of talk, a hush of excitement. After a while, we hear a commotion in the hall. The Rebbe, preceded by his sons, sons-in- law, grandsons and balabatim whose wives and children are already there, enters. At sight of all the women, the men go into another room and the Rebbe goes over to where the Rebbetzin sits.

"Leshono tovoh teichoseivee veseichoseim, le'alter lechaim tovim aruchim vesholom!"

He calls out to her in a voice full of feeling. "Di zulst zein gezint und shtark!" After greeting a thousand chassidim in shul, the Rebbe's voice is hoarse. He nevertheless goes from one person to the next in that crowded room, every woman, every child, enunciating each syllable of the blessing with feeling and spirit, looking directly at each one as he does.

"Leshono tovoh teichoseivee veseichoseim, le'alter lechaim tovim aruchim vesholom!"

As the Rebbe gets closer to where I stand, I am suddenly filled with misgivings. What was I doing there, what right did I have to be there? How could I have been so thoughtless to trespass on this family's privacy, to tire the Rebbe with yet another blessing when he could already hardly talk. Not even the longing to be touched by holiness could excuse such blatant lack of consideration, I admonish myself severely. I am suddenly so ashamed to be there, I just want to become invisible or run away. But the Rebbe is almost up to me now, there's no way for me to escape.

He stands across from me now; so pale, so tired, almost gasping as he blesses a granddaughter, afterwards bending down to the child, whose hand she holds, to bless her too.

He's turning to me now.

I close my eyes, not daring to look into the Rebbe's face as he says the words of blessing.

Afterwards, at the holiday meal with my son's family, I state rather loudly that the chassidim are killing the Rebbe away; that they must abolish the custom of the Rebbe greeting each chossid at the end of the prayers, that chassidim must stop intruding on his family's privacy.

"How can chassidim stand silently by and allow the Rebbe to be subjected to such torture?" I demand, all the more vehemently because of my own guilt in the matter.

My son is very quiet. When I press him for an explanation, he says: "Mommy, you have to realize that this is the Rebbe's whole life. This is what gives him the strength to carry on. Should we take this away from him, he'll become an old man."

"And what is he now? The man can hardly talk, can hardly breathe."

"Let's wait till after the holidays for you to pass judgment," my son suggests with a smile. "I'd like to hear what you have to say then."


From my place in the eastern corner of the women's balcony, I am able to look straight down into the Rebbe's upturned face as he stands before the omud, wrapped in his tallis. He enunciates every word of the prayers like a child who has just learned his letters. Often his voice is hoarse, or his breath comes in gasps or he prays in almost a whisper . . . but in the unbelievable silence, everyone hears and keeps up with him by pointing to the words on the page.

Sometimes the Rebbe sounds like different people; a frail old man . . . a sweet young singer. And when he breaks out in sobs and pleads for forgiveness, there's nowhere to hide from the impact of his pain.

As I watch the Rebbe praying,I get the awful feeling that I am eavesdropping on something very private; a holy man talking straight to G-d, with all his heart and with all his soul. And I suddenly realize that this frail old man is carrying the burdens of all those people on his shoulders. And he is sobbing because those people have chosen him to defend them in the Heavenly Court and he feels unworthy of the task . . . and frightened that he may not win their case.

Despite my reservations, I'm unable to take my eyes off the Rebbe and press harder against the mechitza-glass determined not to miss anything in this man's confrontation with his G-d. But, as I watch, I feel myself being sucked into a whirlpool of emotions that I am unable to control or even identify -- and all I can do is cry.

Suddenly the Rebbe is shouting. The words are strong, the cry is compelling. Where is that voice that now shatters mountains coming from, I wonder, certainly not from that figure below, spreading his arms beneath his tallis like an eagle, repeating again and again the chant for forgiveness and mercy. But why is he shouting, I ask. And then I understand. Of course the Rebbe must shout; he is praying for everyone there. Of course he must cry, burdened as he is with such an awesome responsibility. For not only does the Rebbe pray for himself and his family, for all those who come to him for help, he must also pray for the entire Jewish nation, and for peace and plenty for the rest of the world.

So he prays with all he has; with every surging bit of strength, even jumping up and down, holding on to the prayer- stand so that he shouldn't fall. The congregation of men repeat each stanza, in song and in chant, they hum the refrain; the traditional nusach that began on Sinai, and passed from generation to generation until this day.

The Rebbe's voice is choked and full of pain. There are tears and hoarse whispers, confessions of shame, and heartbreaking pleas for His Chosen People; the faithful wife that followed Him forty years in the desert, the beloved child.

Has He so soon forgotten His Holy Temple, the pride of His people that still lies in ruin? Your pity, Your love, Your glory, oh G-d, shine again on Your People to keep us alive.

The Rebbe pounds on the shtender with tightened fists, screams the words of entreaty, then holds his head and sobs.

I am in another world. I cannot, I dare not take my eyes off the holy man. He is my connection to holiness.

And again he is shouting, again he is weeping. So many people are waiting and watching and depending on his prayers.

All Cohanim are summoned up front. They each stand before the Ark and bless the congregation together:

"Yivorechicho Hashem Veyishmerecho . . .

The prayers are at an end.

"Yisgadal Veyiskadash Shmei Raboh!" All voices lift up, then melt together.

The Rebbe's face is a ball of light, his voice vibrates with holiday joy. His eyes are filled with the vision of the future, when the L-rd will be One at the "End of Days."


Boro Park's Sixteenth Avenue is so jammed with cars and people, that it is impossible to get through. Motorists are honking their horns.

It's the day before Succos and the crowds of pre-holiday shoppers are tying up all traffic. Not only are all the stores packed with customers, a brisk business is also going on out on the sidewalk. Wherever you look, caftanned rabbis, meticulously dressed moderns, bearded and side-locked chassidim, are standing shoulder to shoulder seriously, patiently, inspecting the esrogim displayed on tables in the street and, after finally making a choice, spending as much time bargaining with the shopkeeper over the price.

Yeshiva boys are carrying off prefabricated succas for those too busy or unable to build their own. Succo decorations dangle on strings that loop from lamppost to lamppost and the passing crowds, many of them bareheaded Israelis speaking Hebrew nonstop, have a hard time deciding which of the colorful selection to buy. Baby carriages and children of every age fill the streets. A carnival spirit prevails.

Whenever I wake during the night on Succos, I see that my husband's bed is still empty. As dawn pushes through the blinds, I hear his key in the door. "Where were you so long?" I ask with relief. "It's already after five."

"But why did you worry? You knew that I was at the Rebbe's tish!"

"But it's after five! What took so long?"

"Ah! Until you've seen the Rebbe at Simchas Bais Hashoeva you haven't seen real joy!" he says with stars in his eyes. "There were some real old chassidim playing old Bobover niggunim on their violins. The Rebbe sat facing them, singing along. Oh, just to see the look of pure joy on the Rebbe's face! It was unbelievably beautiful."

"Will you take me along tomorrow night?" I ask.

"I wish I could, but there's no place for women in the Succa."

On sensing my disappointment, though, he quickly adds, "Anyhow, tomorrow we can try to figure something out. Right now I'd better get to sleep or I'll be late for the Rebbe's minyan at eight."

"So, it's settled," I let my husband know, rolling over to go back to sleep. "Tomorrow night you're taking me along to Simchas Bais Hashoeva in the Rebbe's succa."

The next night, I'm in the Rebbe's succa. Well, maybe not exactly inside his succa, but standing on a shaky table beneath an open window in the yard from where I'm able to both observe and hear everything going on inside. The Rebbe, in streimel and gray brocade mandarin robe is inviting the ancient forefathers into his succa.

"Boruch haboh," he calls out in a voice full of happiness, spreading his arms in welcome. Ten old fiddlers are standing up front. They are Bobover chassidim from way back who, after being resurrected from the Valley of Dead Bones, swore never to touch their instruments again -- except to play for the Rebbe in his succa on the Festival of Joy. The Rebbe sits at the head of the succa table, chair turned sideways to face the musicians.

With a nod from him, they start playing. Their expressions are so serious. They're replaying tunes that filled the courtyard of Bobov when the Rebbe's father and grandfather reigned. The niggunim hint of past glory, the niggunim scream of irreplaceable loss.

The Rebbe sings softly along in a voice that conveys intense feeling and you can see him reliving memories as the strains of violins tear at the night; memories of great people, of darling children, of a dynamic Jewish world that was silenced forever. And then the Rebbe's voice rises and takes the lead, and the tune becomes a soul begging to be cleansed, a spirit yearning to be lifted, a mortal aching to be drawn into holiness.

"Ha neshomo loch, vehaguf sheloch; Asei lema'an shemecho!"

All you can hear is the tinny sound of bows on old strings as the violins accompany the Rebbe. All else is silent. The chassidim don't make a sound. They just sway to the tune, to the chant, to the niggun that awakens and speaks to the soul.

This is not music, I suddenly realize, but a different kind of prayer in which the Rebbe is clutching at G-d's garment of mercy, pleading for everyone there.

And then, suddenly, the Rebbe's voice is smiling and you can hear his joy. Now, when he sings of the past, it is with happy memories.

The chassidim join him in the song, voices high and loud and clear, clapping hands and tapping feet as the Rebbe pounds his fist in music.

The Rebbe is once again a vibrant young man in his father's courtyard in Bobov. He makes a slight movement, everything stops and, leaning back in his armchair he smiles and sighs and starts talking about his Zaidas; the Sanzer, the Roshitzer, the Lubliner luminaries; about a world that was filled with servants of G-d who knew how to serve Him with joy. The Rebbe's voice is full of expression; like that of a child, telling you all about wonderful things, and everyone smiles as the Rebbe chuckles at the memory of a funny thing.

And then, suddenly the Rebbe's voice breaks, goes off in a wail. He is silent a long time. Then he spreads his arms, thrusts back his head, and eyes closed tight chants:

"Oi. Oi. Oi. Ma. ma. ma."

The chant turns to singsong, the whisper turns to sob. "Oi, oi, oi, ma, ma, ma," he keeps repeating.

Slowly, full of feeling, again and again. The chassidim are silent, bent forward like one man, wondering what holy sparks the Rebbe releases as he sways back and forth, groaning and whispering: "Oi, oi, oi . . . ma, ma, ma."

Now the Rebbe expounds on a Scripture, explaining in plain simple language, high, lofty thoughts. And in a loving voice and with fatherly concern he pleads with all those who hear him to become better people, to become better Jews, to preserve the Image of G-d in which they'd been created, so that He might find in them a permanent dwelling place for His homeless Shechina.

The chassidim stand at attention, all eyes fastened to the Rebbe's form. No one dares to take his eyes off the Rebbe for even one instant lest he miss something, some nuance, some movement, some word, some inflection of voice, that will later be interpreted on many different levels.

The violins again accompany the Rebbe's lone voice: "Odcho . . . Ono ono ono Hashem . . .hoshi'o, hoshi'o, hoshi'o."

The Rebbe is standing alone before his Creator, a simple servant, without an ego. He is the shepherd of a flock, wont to stray but for the magic flute that he plays. And like the shepherd of old, all his prayers are for him to keep his sheep together and show them the way.

Every night of the holiday, the chassidim have been up till the wee hours of morn. Sensing their exhaustion, the Rebbe motions to the musicians to play a jolly tune. The chassidim respond like quicksilver, again and again, faster and faster, clapping, stamping, singing aloud, beginning each new stanza on a different scale, to a yet livelier beat:

"Vehar'einu bevinyono, vesamcheinu besikuno."

Again and again, faster and faster

"Vehosheiv Kohanim la'avodosom, uleviyim leshirom ulezimrom."

Full of spirit, full of joy,

"Veshom na'aleh veneiro'eh venishtachaveh lefonecho."

Full of the image of redemption when G-d will return us all to Zion and to His Service in the Temple.

On and on the song continues -- it seems as though it will never end -- and the Rebbe is sparking it all; full of life, full of spirit, full of holiday joy. I watch from my shaky table under the window in the yard, hypnotized, mesmerized, full of wonder and disbelief. Is it possible that this giant of spirit and physical endurance, so youthful and vibrant, so regal and kingly, is the same frail rabbi to whom my husband and I had gone with our kvittle before Rosh Hashana? I keep asking myself. When had that failing, fading shadow been transformed into this young, forceful figure who walks at a pace that defies his age, who lives by a schedule that few can keep up with, who stimulates and electrifies each chossid as though he were under some magic spell.

I suddenly understood what my son had tried to tell me when I'd demanded that the chassidim start taking care of their old, frail rabbi and not allow him to do those things that were way beyond his physical strength. He was trying to explain that the interaction of the Tzaddik with his chassidim not only elevated the people to new heights of spirit, but also revived and regenerated the Tzaddik himself.

To the east a new day was dawning. I looked at my watch and couldn't believe that it was already after five.

Hoshanna Rabba

The Rebbe is circling the bimah, going round it again and again. He holds the lulav tightly in both hands, points and shakes it in all directions. East, west, north, south; G-d's glory fills the whole universe. He shakes the lulav to the ground, falls to his knees, jumps up without assistance. His prayer is sharp, his call is clear. The chassidim's response is vibrant. Children' voices continue to ring out long after the adults' are silent.

The shul is an ocean of white talleisim, bending, bowing, as each one shakes his lulav. And they are all humming a heartbreaking tune, handed down from tradition.

The Rebbe weeps softly as he bends the lulav each way. His voice becomes a whisper as he drops to the ground. His prayer sounds like an echo in a valley, a hush of waterfall on mountainside. He is crying, sobbing, then shouting out, "Hoshanna, Hoshanna."

There is the blast of the shofar followed by a roar of prayer. Again the Rebbe is shouting at the top of his voice, pleading, begging: Help us G- d, Hoshanna. And this time all you can hear are the shuffling footfalls of everyone in shul following the Rebbe as he circles the bimah. All the chassidim are wrapped in their talleisim, holding their esrog and lulav in one hand,and their prayer book in the other. Little boys in peaked black velvet caps and curled sidelocks stand on all the benches and on top of wooden railings transfixed with the sight of everyone following the weeping Rebbe and calling out after him: "Hoshanna!"

Round and round the Rebbe goes, slowly, faltering, head bent beneath his tallis. His form is hard to find in the press of people. His voice is muffled, as though coming from far away. "Hoshanna!" he cries again and again, the voice of a lost child pleading with his father to come to rescue him.

"Hoshanna!" he cries again and again. This time it is the heartbreaking cry of G-d, Himself, begging His children to redeem Him from His exile in a G-dless world.

The Rebbe's voice is getting weaker and weaker. In the unbelievable silence of the tremendous shul, it's no more than a breathless whisper. But everyone can hear.

" Forgive us all our sins. Help us, save us, redeem us, our Salvation!"

And then, with the prophesy of redemption, the Rebbe comes alive again: "Kol mevaseir, mevaseir ve'omer!" he calls out with an unbelievable strength.

"Kol mevaseir, mevaseir ve'omer!" the chassidim answer in a thunderous roar.

"Yisgadal Veyiskadash Shmei Raboh!" The Rebbe is concluding the Holiday Service. His voice is alive with hope and joy. When the congregation joins him in chorus, he lifts his hand up to stop them, and rushes on alone. He is hurrying ahead, determined to finish . . . determined to finish . . . while he still has the strength.

Simchas Torah

It is the night of Simchas Torah.

The shul has been cleared of all tables and chairs and set up with bleachers. The only empty spot in the room that is already jammed with people of every description who have come to experience Simchas Torah with the Rebbe, is a large clearing in the middle where the Rebbe will dance.

Oldsters and youngsters push and jostle in their determination to find the best spot from where to watch. Men and boys of all ages and stature perch precariously on the bleachers. Some chassidim are curling their payos as they try to concentrate on a sefer in their hand; others converse or are deep in thought. The holiday of joy is nearly over. Simchas Torah marks its end.

Despite the crowding and pushing, some chassidim, determined that their children absorb holiness, carry very small children in their arms. Other little boys have been hoisted to fathers' shoulders to better see. This is a night that nobody wants to miss. Everybody wants to see the Rebbe dance with the Torah.

From where I stand on the balcony reserved for women, the shul looks like one dark swaying mass: the white of chassidims' shirt-cuffs and collars shimmering like fire- flies in the blackness.

Suddenly the clear sweet voice of the Rebbe's son fills the shul. "Shema Yisroel, Hear oh Israel, Our L-rd is One".

The Rebbe, clutching his small Torah scroll, enters the circle. The chassidim burst out in song: "Vechayei Olom nota besocheinu (Eternal Life He has planted in our midst)."

They are clapping and singing, jumping up and down in their places on the bleachers. All eyes are fastened to the Rebbe's face. It seems as though the whole shul is capitulating towards his form, in a gravitation towards the Rebbe borne of love and adulation. For to each chossid, the Rebbe is a father, a teacher, a rabbi, a king.

The children of yichus are privileged to remain on the floor and are sitting on their haunches in the outer rim of the circle, radiant as they clap and sing.

Velvet yarmulkes cover their shaven heads and their curled payos bob up and down. Their large, sparkling eyes devour all the sights, and their sweet, high-pitched voices ring out high above the others. Everyone else is pushed together on the bleachers, clapping in rhythm to the Rebbe's dancing step. And when the Rebbe stops to clap too, the chassidim's song rises to almost a roar.

Now and then, the Rebbe spreads his arms beneath his tallis and, resembling an eagle in flight, he turns ro und and round. When that happens, the chassidim sing even louder, clapping wildly to his step. The Rebbe is dancing back and forth, in and out, turning and stomping, with Scroll pressed to his heart. He is wrapped in a tallis that covers him completely, vibrant, alive, with love of the Torah. As the Rebbe turns to the swell of escalating song, I notice a chossid at the side of the crowding circle. He is hidden in the shadows, eyes glued to the Rebbe's form and at the slightest sign of the Rebbe's hesitation, is quick to appear at the Rebbe's side to guide him out of the circle and back to his chair. Sometimes the Rebbe does follow, sometimes he turns decisively away. And when he does, the chassidim's joy knows no bounds and the singing and clapping intensifies to a storming crescendo.

In the middle of his dancing, the Rebbe will suddenly stop and walk slowly around, seriously study the faces of all those chassidim, granted special permission to remain on the floor. He'll call out one name and, with a flourishing bow, hand him his small Torah Scroll. Immediately reentering the circle to continue dancing back and forth, round and round, this time, clutching his tallis with both hands. Albeit crushed together, and periodically shoved back by a team of chossid "heavyweights" whose job is to see that the Rebbe's dance area not dwindle in size, the dream of each chossid is to be of those privileged few.

Afterwards, rows of long benches and tables are again set up and the chassidim push together for the tish.

The Rebbe makes Kiddush in a silver cup, washes his hands and breaks the Holiday bread. While sending slices of challah around for everyone to partake of; the Rebbe will often call out the name of a chossid to come and personally receive his portion from the Rebbe himself, usually it is a chossid who lives in a foreign land, in whose home the Rebbe has enjoyed hospitality. The Rebbe nibbles at the food placed before him on silver trays, pushes the rest away to pass on to the chassidim as "shirayim." The Rebbe calls out a name and tells the chossid what to sing. The chosen one begins, the niggun swells as the chassidim join in. Till the wee hours of morning, the Rebbe is full of song and prayer, full of life and spirit. And the next morning, promptly at eight, he can be seen making his way to shul in a brisk, regal gait . . . . and a humility that screams of greatness.

Ne'ilas Chag

The intersection of Fifteenth Avenue and Forty-eighth street is jammed. Everyone is waiting to see the Rebbe being escorted home at the close of the happy holiday. Everyone is certain that his prayers have been heard, have found favor in G-d's eyes and will be answered and fulfilled. The Rebbe accompanied by a gabbai on each side, and a handful of VIPs close behind, leaves the shul and walks briskly towards Fifteenth Avenue. His gabboim rush him through the side door of his house. A few minutes later the Rebbe appears on the first-floor balcony. There is a hush as everyone waits to hear what he will say.

"Mir zulen hubn ales gitz oisgebeiten; a good year, for all of you, and for all Jews wherever they may be. May you all be blessed with strength and good health and salvation in all your needs. For those who desire children, for those who seek a mate, for those who struggle for their daily sustenance . . . may G-d grant you your every wish for good. May it be a year of great diligence and perseverance for those who study G-d's word, a year of success in the struggle to attain Torah and fear of Heaven. May it be His will, that this year be the one when we'll finally go forward, all together to greet our righteous Moshiach."

The silent street is suddenly transformed into a mass of clapping, dancing chassidim that breaks out in spirited song: "Kol Rina Viyeshu'a, Be'oholei tzaddikim."

Children are running all over the blocked off intersection. Mothers are having a hard time keeping all their little ones together as they attempt to maneuver their baby carriages through the press of jubilant crowd. People are calling to one another, greeting each other, shaking hands, hugging and kissing and wishing each other a blessed year. Everyone is radiant, certain that the Rebbe's prayers have been accepted. The crowd disperses and everyone rushes home. In a few minutes the streets are empty. The police barriers are pushed aside and traffic on Fifteenth Avenue returns to its normal pace.


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