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A precious moment of my life

Friday, 3 February, 2012 - 12:30 am

This week I mark 20 years since one of the greatest times of my life, which I hope and believe I'll never forget. 

It was just two months before my Bar Mitzvah, when my father told me that I would be joining him to Brooklyn, New York, to get the blessing of our beloved Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, OBM, and be inspired in his presence before this milestone in my life.

The Rebbe was a leader of the Jewish world, who influenced my life growing up, more than any other spiritual leader in the past or present. My parents renewed the Chabad community in Tzfat by his direct mission, consulted with him and were inspired by his teachings with every step in their lives. He showed us the way to serve our creator and inspired us to follow the mitzvot and to bring the light and warmth of Judaism anywhere we can reach.

The thought of going to see the Rebbe brought a special energy that is difficult to describe. I remember having a hard time falling asleep many nights before our trip.

Every moment with the Rebbe was special, but there is one memory that I'd like to share with you, a moment that made a deep impression on me as a child, and which I hope will guide me for the rest of my life.

A long line of thousands of men and women wove around tables in the great synagogue and outside to the famous Eastern Parkway waiting to see the Rebbe. The Rebbe, who was just about to turn 90, would stand every Sunday morning next to his office to see every person who wanted to get his blessing or advice, and would give them a dollar to give to charity. He would go for 6-7 hours or more with no break. The young men and women who stood in the long line, as well as the secretaries who stood beside him, would get tired and anxious, but the Rebbe accepted each person with a grace and a smile, giving them the time they needed and making them feel like there was nothing greater than seeing them.

After these long hours, when it seemed like the line had finally ended, you would see some people running in through the doorway to catch the last moments before it would be too late... Finally, when it seemed like there were no more people, I remember very vividly the following scene:

While his staff were packing up and ready to finally go, hoping to give the Rebbe - who hadn’t eaten anything since the morning - a few moments of rest, before someone else would jump in, the Rebbe didn’t seem rushed at all; he turned his head time and again to the doorway leading to his room to see if perhaps there was somebody else there—maybe someone would still come in. This head-turning after standing for many hours, searching for yet another person, was shocking to me. After all this time, the line was over, why couldn't he just get on his way? But this was the Rebbe; there was nothing that was more precious to him than seeing another Jewish man or woman who was seeking his blessing and advice.

At that visit, I had the great honour of attending a special meeting for all Bar-Mitzvah boys and Bat Mitzvah girls with the Rebbe, getting his blessing for our great day. That day, twenty years ago from this week, was the last time the gathering took place. One month later, the Rebbe suffered a stroke, and two years later - in June of 1994 - he left his Chassidim orphans and the Jewish world mourning with his sad passing.

 Last month my brother gave me a special gift. He found a picture from that gathering where you can see the Rebbe speaking to us. On the left you can see me at one of the most precious moments of my life. 

the rebbe and me - with circle.jpg

Comments on: A precious moment of my life

Fiona Prince wrote...

Thank you for sharing. Now, when I'm at Kinus in a couple of weeks, I will imagine you there, walking the streets, a young man preparing to step up to the gentle, insightful and inspiring teacher and leader you are today.

Shabbat Shalom,
Morah Faiga

Elisabeth Gelb wrote...

Shabbat Shalom Rabbi,
Thank you for sharing this most inspiring event in your life. All the more poignant as it was an event that following Bat and Bar Mitzvah kinder did not have the privilege to experience.

Bayla wrote...

Dear Rabbi M Kaplan,
Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful event in your life. How wonderful that your brother somehow found or preserved this picture for you, for twenty years. For those of us who never met the Rebbe, the Kapplan family continues to inspire us. Through your activities, we enjoy insights into his vision.
Shabbat Shalom.

Eric Griffiths wrote...

I was there as well. The Rebbe gave me 7 dollar bills...I wend to the subway and immediately gave 5 of them to poor people. Everyone thought I was crazy to give them away,,,but thatis what the Rebbe told me to do - that by doing as he wished, I would shre in a mitzpa with hi. Being human, I kept two- still have them.. I loved that man very life would never be the same again, You hadto experience the total lovable aura that the Rebbe was to understand. I have the tape and the pictures, as well as a page from the siddur that I found on the floor by him....I was there with Rabbi Mendal Altein and got to go to the shule every morning for a week..also had dinner at Rabbi Altein's father's beautiful home. Truly an unforgetable high point in my life!

Henya wrote...

Dear Rabbi Kaplan,

I am just coming from New York, having gone there to spend less than one hour at the Ohel in honor of Yud Shevat (driving 6 hours there and six hours back!). Every time I go I cannot help but wonder what difference there would be had I met the Rebbe, if I could conjure up memories. But, as I wrote in my book, I am a child of the Rebbe and he was and is watching out for me. Thank you for sharing your memory.

Rotem Oren wrote...

Dear Rabbi Kaplan,

Thank you for sharing what seems like an emotional and pivotal experience in your life.
You wrote: " there was nothing that was more precious to him than seeing another Jewish man or woman who was seeking his blessing and advice" and I was immediately struck by how closely you follow in his footsteps; welcoming others into your home when they are in need of advice, even at the end of a long, tiring, day.
Thank you

Gerry Stanford wrote...

Thank you Rav Meir, That's a wonderful memory to have, and now to have the photo as well is truly a blessing.
It seems to me something was transmitted by the Rebbe that day, which has made you his continuation directly for us; and so you are indeed Special.
Toda rabah.