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Moments With The Rebbe Marking 60 Years
by The Avner Institute

This year, 10 Shevat 5770, marks sixty years to the Rebbe assuming leadership of the Chabad movement, in honor of which the Avner Institute and the Rebbe Archive are pleased to present a fascinating diary, from the monumental ceremony completing Moshiach’s Sefer Torah that took place January 1970.

"In the year 1941, as millions of Jews were being murdered under the Nazi regime, the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, assured a troubled nation: “When the hardest of times fall upon the Jews and things are as dark as they can possibly be, there is a great light and salvation that follows.” The Rebbe emphasized that all the pain and suffering had to take place before Moshiach’s arrival (Chevlei Moshiach), and that redemption was closer than ever.

The Previous Rebbe instructed that a Torah scroll be written that would be called “Moshiach’s Sefer Torah.” With this idea, the Previous Rebbe took his words of hope and put them into action. “Holding this Torah,” he said, “we will march forth with the coming of Moshiach.”

Twenty-eight years later, two weeks before the 20th anniversary of the Previous Rebbe’s passing, the Rebbe notified his followers through a respected elder Chassid, “Because of the special times we are about to enter, I would like to finish the Sefer Torah.”
As word spread rapidly throughout Chabad circles, Chassidim everywhere made plans to travel to New York to be present at this much anticipated event. Some students later recounted what it had felt like, leading up to those days.

A yeshiva student in Montreal at the time recalled that a couple of weeks before Yud Shevat, the anniversary of the Previous Rebbe’s passion, a rumor had circulated that Rabbi Eliyahu Yechiel Simpson, coming out of yechidus with the Rebbe, looked enthralled. The students tried all of the tricks and methods available to them but could not extract any information from Rabbi Simpson as to the content of his private meeting.

However, the secret did not last for long: a few days later the Chassidim learned that the Rebbe had told Rabbi Simpson to gather a team of soferim, scribes specially trained to write holy scrolls. That year being the twentieth of the Rebbe’s leadership, Chassidim had already witnessed unusual events; now, the news that the Rebbe desired to complete Moshiach’s Sefer Torah was especially exhilarating.

All the preparations for Sefer Torah done, a distinct air of Moshiach was felt everywhere. That student from Montreal, having a question one night on a passage in the discourse he was studying, asked Rabbi Greenglass, the teacher of Chassidus in his yeshiva, for an explanation. Glancing into the book, Rabbi Greenglass avoided a direct answer, instead replying that with Moshiach’s arrival the coming week, the question would dissolve as we attained a deeper understanding of Chassidus. R’ Greenglass’s conviction could not help but convince the student that, indeed, in just one more week Moshiach would be here. And he was by no means alone in this belief; it was shared by many.

The event was planned for Friday afternoon. By Thursday night the shul swelled with people arriving from all parts of the world and expecting to be part of a tremendous experience, its precise details yet unknown.

Friday afternoon at 2:30 was the time designated for the ceremony to begin, and 770 was so jam-packed it was hard to imagine anyone else fitting in: old men sitting on benches, squeezed into stiff positions; young men climbing on the support poles, hoping to catch a glimpse of the goings-on; women peering over the large crowd, pointing out people they recognized. The Rebbe, entering the room from the rear, carried an unidentified small box, and behind him was Rabbi Simpson, clutching the Sefer Torah close to his heart. Together they made their way to the podium.

The Sefer Torah, not yet completed, was to receive the finishing touches before being placed into the aron (ark). When the writing was done, the Rebbe reached into the small box and withdrew from it a crown for the Sefer Torah. The audience, spellbound, watched as the Rebbe placed it atop the Sefer Torah and proceeded with the Scroll to the aron.

The feelings of awe continued throughout that Shabbos; after Shabbos the atmosphere finally lightened. Some were disappointed, not having merited to see Moshiach, and could be found, after Shabbos, weeping bitterly and wondering what had gone wrong.

It was not till several weeks later that all the guests finally dispersed. One of those cold snowy days, the Rebbe, entering 770, noticed one of the guests, Rabbi Zushe Wilimovsky, standing with a bottle of vodka in his hand. The Rebbe wondered aloud, after all of the celebration, how any vodka could be left, as the Chassidic custom has always been to share one’s happiness with a toast to a friend.

Another source described his acquaintance with the man who had written the Scroll.

“I had the honor and merit to learn the art of being a scribe from Rabbi Shmaya Pakter; he was the scribe who completed Moshiach’s Sefer Torah. He was a tremendous yarei shamayim (G-d fearing person).

“He was a regular at my father’s shul for many years. Because I had very nice handwriting, my father asked him, in the early 1960s, if he could teach me to become a sofer. When the Rebbe asked him to finish Moshiach’s Sefer Torah, I asked Rabbi Pakter why the Rebbe had chosen him in particular to finish it.

“Rabbi Pakter answered: ‘When the Previous Rebbe initiated the writing of Moshiach’s Sefer Torah in 1941, he asked to see written material from many different scribes. When he saw my writing he approved very much and asked me to write the Sefer Torah.

“`At that time I was not yet a Chassid, and it was very hard for me to accept upon myself the responsibility of writing the entire Sefer Torah. I told the Previous Rebbe that I would do only a portion of it. Eventually I became a Chassid of the Previous Rebbe and wrote the entire Sefer Torah, as requested.”

 

 


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