For two years after my marriage, I attended a post-rabbinical college for Torah study, known as a Kollel. About three months into my studies, I was summoned by Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Aizik Hodakov, the Rebbe’s personal secretary and also the director of the Kollel.
Rabbi Hodakov told me that he had a special mission for me, one that should take precedence over everything else I was doing. He instructed me to take as much time off from my studies as necessary.
What was this important mission, which justified my absence from the Kollel? There was a young girl, seventeen years old, who was going through some serious emotional difficulties: teenage angst, rebelliousness, religious confusion, family issues—the typical teenage issues but unusually severe. The Rebbe had taken an extraordinary personal interest in helping this girl through this stage in her life.
And so, I was summoned to be the one to do whatever necessary to guide her through her difficulties. For about three months, I spent half of my time working on this issue. I didn’t do a single thing without consultation with Rabbi Hodakov. He would often consult with the Rebbe and relay the Rebbe’s instructions on how to deal with each particular situation.
This young girl regularly wrote letters to the Rebbe with various questions. The Rebbe would respond to each of her letters within a couple hours, or, at the latest, the next day, and instructed me to discuss his responses with her.
At one point, she had written a letter of several pages to the Rebbe, in which she described her inner turmoil and anguish. The Rebbe responded to her letter and wrote, among other things, that he feels her pain.
So, she wrote back a letter and said, “Rebbe, I don’t believe you. How can you feel my pain? You’re not going through what I’m going through. What do you mean that you feel my pain?”
Within two hours the Rebbe answered, and this was the gist of the response:
“When you will merit to grow up and marry, and G‑d willing, you will have a child, the nature of things are that during the child’s first year, he or she will begins to teethe. The teething is painful and the child cries. And a mother feels that pain as if it were her own.” He then concluded the letter with these words: “This is how I feel your pain.”
This had a very strong impact on her. We discussed it and she began to realize that the Rebbe was indeed feeling what she was going through and that the Rebbe was trying to help her. Slowly she began to respond to it. She made progress, she matured, and things turned out well for her.
I feel very privileged to have experienced firsthand the Rebbe’s intervention in the fate of a child. I was struck by how he put himself into it with such intensity—answering her letters back and forth, again and again, over weeks and months. It was hard to imagine how a scholar and world leader of the Rebbe’s magnitude would take such a personal interest, make the time, and pour out his heart to ensure the wellbeing of a single teenager.
As told to Jewish Educational Media’s oral history project, My Encounter with the Rebbe.
Postscript: Rabbi Kaplan shared: This girl went on to get married and establish a fully observant Jewish life with a beautiful family of her own. She resides in Brooklyn, New York.