|Family ties, shared concerns, and daily contacts are the elements that make up human relationships. The loss of shared interests or a parting of ways usually results in the weakening and severance of human relationships. The relationship between the Rebbe and his Chassidim follows a different pattern altogether. The Chassidim love the Rebbe, even if they have never laid eyes on him. They are connected to him, even if they have never exchanged a single word. They follow his instructions to the letter, even if the task goes totally against their nature and inclinations, or looks like it has absolutely no chance of succeeding. They miss and yearn for the Rebbe, and are willing to go without food to save enough money to visit him. The Chassidim feel that the Rebbe knows and remembers every one of them, that he loves them and cares about their lives even if he has never seen them in person.
To an outside observer, all this may appear rather strange. This system of relationships has no parallel anywhere, and it is radically different from anything accepted in regular society. However, once within this framework, a person will never exchange it for any other.
Rav Mendel Futterfas resides in Kfar Chabad and teaches at a yeshiva. He devotes all his time to studying the Torah and performing good deeds. Looking at the noble, animated face of this venerable old man, it is hard to believe the indescribable suffering he has gone through: Rav Mendel spent fourteen years in Siberian labor camps, enduring the cold, the hunger, and the back -breaking work.
During the years after World War II, Rav Mendel Futterfas did the impossible: he organized the escape of several thousand Russian Jews to Poland, from where it was relatively easy to reach the free world. As the operation was nearing completion, he was arrested and sentenced to death. He spent several months in prison, in solitary confinement, waiting for the sentence to be carried out. At the last moment, the death penalty was commuted to many years of hard labor.
"Those were the happiest years of my life," he says, and we cannot believe our ears. "Yes, yes. Those were happy years. I knew that I was suffering for my devotion to the Jewish cause, to Judaism. There, in the Siberian labor camp, I did not violate Shabbat even once. I worked harder during the week, and met the weekly quota. Naturally, I abstained from eating treif. Even when I felt that I was on the brink of starving to death, I still refused to touch nonkosher food. Five years after my arrest, friends managed to send me a set of tefillin. This was sheer happiness! The gentile inmates helped me. They said that they envied me because I had spiritual resources that nobody could take away from me, even those who had put me behind barbed wire. They, on the other hand, had been stripped of everything that gave meaning to their lives - all of their joys, everything that was worth living for. Some of them even offered to work on Shabbat instead of me. Whenever the guards were too close for me to put on the tefillin, several of my gentile friends would form a circle around me in the forest, using their bodies to hide me from the watchful eyes of the guards. This enabled me to put on the tefillin and to pray, until one day, when the temperature was fifty degrees below zero, the tefillin strap just snapped from the cold, as if it were made of glass."
"How did you manage to endure all that?"
"I corresponded with the Rebbe," Rav Mendel replies, and his eyes, lit with an age-old Jewish wisdom, sparkle with laughter. "Well, not in the literal sense of writing letters," he adds with a smile. "I simply sent him mental messages, like telegrams. I would describe camp life, everything that was happening to me at the moment, and receive his replies, which penetrated straight into my mind. Incidentally, I found out later that the Rebbe had indeed received at least some of my mental messages."
"Oh yes! One incident left an especially deep mark in my memory. Once, in the late 1940's, when Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak was Rebbe, I was in solitary confinement, waiting to be led to my execution, feeling my physical and spiritual strength draining from me. According to the Jewish calendar I had constructed for myself, it was Lag Ba'Omer. I sent a mental telegram to the Rebbe. Years later, I was released and permitted to leave the Soviet Union. I rejoined my wife, who was in London. When we looked through the mail that had accumulated during all those years, I was amazed to find a letter from the Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, which had been sent on that same Lag Ba'Omer, containing a reply to my 'mental telegram' !"
The Rebbe knows and remembers each and every one of his numerous Chassidim, keeping track of them without the help of a computer. He is informed of each one's family status, and spiritual and financial situation - down to the smallest detail. Often the Rebbe recalls details that the Chassid himself had long forgotten. Some of the Chassidim submit reports to the Rebbe, describing every step in their lives. Others refrain from doing so, reluctant to bother the Rebbe with everyday trivia. Still, the Rebbe knows everything about them, reports or no reports. This makes the Chassid feel that he has a "father" whose concern follows him every step of the way.
Most importantly, the Chassidim carry out every task assigned by the Rebbe. Every Chassid, before embarking on an important undertaking, asks himself, "What will the Rebbe think when he finds out about this undertaking?"
Of course, when the Chassid does not know the answer to the question, he asks the Rebbe for advice. Often the Rebbe's reply sounds more like an order than advice. The Chassid will obey the Rebbe's order exactly and unhesitatingly. Even when the directive appears at first glance to go against logic or expert opinion, the Chassid will carry it out to the letter.
In the early 1990's, a terrible hurricane broke out in the Atlantic Ocean, threatening to destroy everything in its path. The hurricane was moving in the direction of Florida, and meteorologists predicted that it would strike Miami Beach. There were hourly weather forecasts, and with each hour the danger became more and more menacing. The authorities began to evacuate those parts of Miami Beach that were most endangered. The areas that were densely populated by Chabad Chassidim were inside the danger zone. Naturally, one of the Chassidim called the Rebbe's office in New York, asking for instructions. The Rebbe's reply came an hour later: "The dire predictions appear to be vastly exaggerated. There is no need to panic."
Nevertheless, panic continued to grip the city. Everyone fled, and only Chabad Chassidim remained in their homes. Several hours passed. The meteorological service issued a definitive warning that the hurricane was approaching fast and would reach Miami Beach within a short time. Once again, the Chassidim called the Rebbe' s secretary, who reluctantly - since this was the second time they were asking the same question - approached the Rebbe. The Rebbe's reply was the same: "Stay put."
The night came, with peals of thunder, flashes of lighting, pouring rain, and violent gusts of wind. Yet the anticipated hurricane never reached the city! Later the discomfited meteorologists announced that just before crossing into Florida, the hurricane suddenly changed direction, heading back to the ocean, where it eventually died out.
A childless young couple appealed to the Rebbe for a blessing. Several months later, the woman became pregnant. When she was in the advanced stages of pregnancy, a fire broke out in the house. The woman, who was alone at home, fainted from the lack of oxygen, and the firefighters carried her out of the burning house in a state of clinical death. The doctors had to work for hours before she was out of danger. Then the doctors unanimously decided that they had to perform an abortion. "The chances of the baby's survival are next to nil," they said. "However, even if the baby lives, it will be abnormal." The couple sent an urgent letter to the Rebbe, explaining the doctor's decision. The Rebbe replied as follows: "Do not agree to an abortion; get a second opinion." The couple followed his advice, but the other doctor was equally adamant: "The birth will endanger both the baby and the mother. An abortion must be performed immediately." The husband sent another letter; the Rebbe's answer remained the same: "No abortion under any circumstances. With G*d's help, everything will be fine." Eventually, the mother gave birth to a healthy baby girl, and later to another healthy child.
A prominent businessman never embarked on a business venture without receiving the Rebbe's advice first. Once he had an offer to set up a company in an African country, together with several partners, for processing and selling precious stones. The venture required a large investment, but it also promised a handsome return. Launching the company necessitated overcoming numerous legal hurdles. Finally everything was settled; all that remained was to fly to Africa and sign the contract. A day before his flight, the businessman asked the Rebbe for a blessing. The Rebbe told him, "In that country, only short-term deals are advisable. Do not invest any money." The businessman was shocked; he had been positive that the business would be a great success. Still, he did not hesitate. An hour before his flight, he told his partners that he was pulling out of the deal. The partners pleaded, insisted, threatened, and demanded - to no avail. Eventually they found another partner, and the business was launched. Three months later, there was a military coup in that African country. The tens of millions of dollars invested in the business were irretrievably lost.
Despite experienced doctors, meteorologists and scores of other experts, to a Chassid, the Rebbe is the one supreme and unquestionable authority. It is also true that in most cases the Rebbe gives his blessing and at the same time refers the person to a physician or other specialist. However, there are exceptions. A Chassid is confident that the Rebbe knows him better than any specialist, and that he knows exactly what is best for him. What is it? Prophetic vision? Or is it perhaps that by absorbing the Torah with his wonderful mind, and projecting its influence over all worldly phenomena, the Rebbe is always able to give proper and timely advice? This is not for us to decide.
The most important principle is love; love is at the core of everything. Love for the Jewish people bums in the Rebbe's heart; we sense this love in his books, hear it in his voice, and see its bright reflection in his eyes.
Thus it is no wonder that thousands of people yearn for the Rebbe with all their heart, even if they have never seen him. They know that the Rebbe is concerned about them for the simple reason that they are Jews, that he will do everything and anything to enable them to fulfill their mission, or simply to ease their burden in life. Anyone who has any connection with the Rebbe knows that the Rebbe loves him and cares about him as if he were the most important person in the world. Do not be surprised, therefore, to find the Rebbe's portrait in every room of a Lubavitcher Chassid's home, next to the pictures of parents and grandparents. You may hear your host mention the Rebbe's name in nearly every sentence. Later, you will encounter this same Chassid in the Rebbe's synagogue trying to inch his way through the dense crowd of congregants to catch a glimpse of the Rebbe, if only for an instant.
Many have attempted to explain the profound, hidden aspects of the special two-way connection between the Rebbe and his Chassidim, and to understand the role this system of relationships plays in Chassidism and the spiritual world. However, on the earthly level the Chassid behaves this way because that is what his heart tells him to do. His sincere and wholehearted connection to the Rebbe and his boundless love for this great Jew empower and inspire him, infusing him with a sense of self-confidence and well being.