A number of years back, the Jewish Joint Organization arranged for a group of Jewish educators, principals and teachers from America to travel to Odessa, Ukraine. The purpose of the trip was for them to see firsthand the way of life of Jewish students there.When the organizers of the trip searched for a place where the group could have a Shabbat meal together, they reached out to the Shluchim of the Rebbe in Odessa. Unbeknownst to them, this special Shabbat was the day before Yud Alef Nissan, the birthday of the Rebbe.
Rabbi Benny Wolff*, the Shliach at whose table they were enjoying their Shabbat meal, invited the group to stay on to meet a group of students who would be coming over for a farbrengen. Rabbi Benny Wolff explained the essence and essential qualityof Yud Alef Nissan. During the conversation which ensued, he shared about the Yud Alef Nissan farbrengen which took place on the Rebbe’s 70th birthday in the year 1972 – 5732. This farbrengen remains a watershed event, which offers a glimpse into the Rebbe’s global change for the good for our world in general and the Jewish world in particular.
The Rebbe shared that a number of individuals who were concerned for his health, suggested to him, in a spirit of friendship, that he should consider taking a respite from the heavy workload on his shoulders due to his advancing age. In reaction to this, the Rebbe announced that 71 NEW INSTITUTIONS should be established, knowing full well that he would be involved in helping the Shluchim (Chabad emissaries) accomplish this goal. The Rebbe continued and said that the passport is not the arbitrator of age. It’s true that as one gets older, he/she may slow down somewhat and it’s ok to delegate some responsibilities to others. However, if one feels able to accomplish, then it is incumbent to continue being active especially for the benefit of others.
As the rabbi was sharing about the Rebbe’s farbrengen from the year 1972, one of the men in the group, stood up. He introduced himself as a principal in a Jewish school in Baltimore, Maryland. After making ‘l’Chaim’, he asked to say a few words. With great feeling and emotion, he began:
“I merited to be present at this very special farbrengen of the Rebbe which I will never forget!” Mr. Benjamin Feld continued, “Following this farbrengen, I was privy to a holy mission from the Rebbe which continues to mystify me till today.”
Due to the special atmosphere that Shabbat at the Wolff’s table, Mr. Feld felt comfortable to share his personal story, which he had never told before. Everyone sat listening in rapt attention as the story unfolded.
“My first connection with the Rebbe took place when I was still a young man. It was the years 1965. I was asked by a Jewish organization in New York to be a Judaic and Hebrew teacher in Phoenix, Arizona. At the time, Phoenix, which is located in a desert, was also desolate of Jewish spirituality. During these early years, the Jewish establishment had not yet embraced the importance of Jewish outreach and the concept was still foreign to most.
“Since I was one of the only Torah-observant Jew in Phoenix at the time (before Chabad emissaries arrived in Phoenix), I encountered many questions and doubts in my work. The Rebbe was known as the only Jewish leader who was involved in bringing all Jews closer to Judaism. I recognized that this was the person to whom I could address my concerns and questions. Though I am not a Chabad Chasid, I, nevertheless, found myself exchanging letters with the Rebbe which proved to alleviate my confusion and doubts in the many areas which I encountered from time to time.
“When I came to the point in my life where I was looking into a prospective life partner, I realized for the first time the Rebbe’s far-sighted ability as he gently guided me in the right direction. Only with hindsight do I more fully recognize how very accurate the Rebbe’s advice to me was, for which I am eternally grateful!
“Our first-born son was born three years after our marriage. We were thrilled and felt so very blessed! When it came time for my wife and son to be released from the hospital, we were informed for the first time, that due to some complications the medical staff at the hospital decided to keep our baby for a few more days for observation.
“We bombarded the doctors with many questions, but their answers were not satisfying at all. It seemed that they were hiding information which heightened our fear about our son’s condition even more. After a few days we were called in to see the chief doctor in the neo-natal hospital wing. With a serious face he explained to us that even though they were still not certain about the baby’s medical prognosis, nevertheless, all the signs indicated that he was suffering from a very difficult problem and would need to remain in the hospital for an extended time, G-d forbid. When we tried to ask questions, he cut our questions short, leaving useven more worriedthan before.
“We were a young couple without much experience in this area and felt totally lost. As we were leaving the office of the chief doctor, I remembered about the Rebbe and realized that we could ask the Rebbe for a blessing. As soon as we got home, I sat down and wrote a letter to the Rebbe and sent it by express mail. I described in detail the situation, our extreme worries, and the doctor’s fears. I finished the letter with a heartfelt request that our son should be released immediately from the hospital healthy in body and soul. Two or three days later, we received a call from the Rebbe’s secretary. The secretary asked me to take a pen and paper and write down what he was about to tell me.
“’So,’” he said, “’on the line where you described your worry and the doctor’s concern, the Rebbe circled these words and wrote: “THERE IS NO NEED FOR WORRY AT ALL”; “‘and where you wrote that you are asking that the baby be released from the hospital immediately, the Rebbe added: “VERY SOON – I WILL MENTION IT AT THE TZIYON (OHEL) OF THE PREVIOUS REBBE.”
“There are no words to describe how these few short words brought new life to our troubled souls. In a moment we were transformed into new people, calm and collected. Now we were capable of organizing our thoughts, and to bring order back to our lives. We were able to think and speak rationally – all of which we were unable to do before.
“Less than 48 hours after this, we all returned home together with our dear son, thank G- d. The very same doctor, head of the department, was there before we left the hospital. With a wry smile, he explained to us that they realized, without a shadow of a doubt, that the baby was completely healthy and whole. There is no reason to be worried at all. His words sounded as if he was parroting the exact words of the Rebbe!
“We felt an urgency to thank the Rebbe for his blessing. Even though the holiday of Pesach was coming shortly, we decided not to wait. Three weeks later, I flew to New York. That year, in 1972, the Shabbat before Pesach, known as Shabbat haGadol, came out on the 10th of Nissan (same as this year). For Shabbat, I stayed with some relatives in Brighton Beach (Brooklyn, New York). The next day, Sunday afternoon, I arrived at 770 (the Rebbe’s synagogue and office) to request an audience with the Rebbe.
“It was only now that I was informed that this day, the 11th of Nissan, is the birthday of the Rebbe. Excitement was felt in the air, as anticipation was high for the big farbrengen to take place that evening. I decided to remain and participate in the farbrengen. In the meantime, I approached the secretariat of the Rebbe and requested a private audience. In the beginning they didn’t want to hear of it, but when they learned that I had come all the way from Arizona just to say ‘thank you’ to the Rebbe, they agreed to my request. They made me promise that I did not have any other agenda to discuss with the Rebbe other than expressing thanks (due to the Rebbe’s super busy schedule so close to Pesach).
“That evening, I merited to participate in the most awesome and holy farbrengen. In spite of my earlier decision to return to my relatives home no later than 10:30 pm, I remained till the end of the farbrengen. The atmosphere was so exhilarating that I totally did not feel the passing of the time as the clock moved into the wee hours of the morning.
“The following evening, I returned to 770 and entered the Rebbe’s holy room with holy trepidation sometime after 2:00 am. I handed the Rebbe a written note where I had expressed my sincere and heartfelt thanks for the Rebbe’s blessing. I informed the Rebbe the good news that our son was home from the hospital and, thank G-d, was doing well. The Rebbe appeared very happy to hear the good news. He blessed me that I should continue to inform him of good news physically and spiritually.
“After this, the Rebbe inquired and asked me what was doing in Arizona? He wanted to know how the things which I had discussed with him in our exchange of letters were progressing. In this part of the talk, he seemed less enthusiastic about my work, feeling that much more could be done. I promised that I would do my best to improve the situation.
“As I was getting ready to leave the Rebbe’s holy room, he turned to me and asked when I was planning to return to Arizona? I answered that, G-d willing, I would be flying out tomorrow before noon.
“’Would you be able to accomplish and important shlichut for me on your way?”’ the Rebbe asked.
“My spontaneous answer was, “Of course!”
“The Rebbe smiled and said, “’If it is not too difficult for you, please go now to the office of Rabbi Chodakov (the Rebbe’s chief secretary, of blessed memory), and he will inform you the details of the Shlichut.'”
“I exited the room of the Rebbe, as I heard the Rebbe’s voice say, “‘Thank you. Have a kosher and joyous Pesach.’”
“I knocked on the door of the Rebbe’s secretary, Rabbi Chodakov, and he invited me to come in. Before I even uttered a word, he turned to me and said, “’Reb Binyamin!’” In the short time between my leaving the Rebbe’s private room and coming to his office, it seems he already knew who I was, and that the Rebbe had offered me the opportunity to accomplish a special mission. This mission was positively astonishing. Listen and I will tell you about it.
“Rabbi Chodakov was straightforward. He handed me a wrapped parcel and told me that this was a package of Shmura matzah (special hand-made matzot) that I was to give over in Tyler.
“What is Tyler?” I asked.
“A city in the state of Texas,” he answered.
“I explained to Rabbi Chodakov that my flight was a direct flight to Arizona and did not have any stopover in Texas. And in addition, I continued, I don’t even know where Tyler is. I’ve never been to a place called Tyler, and this is the first time I even hear about such a place.
“Rabbi Chodakov looked straight at me and asked, “’Do you want me to tell the Rebbe that you are unwilling to do the mission he asked of you?!’”
“I answered that, of course, I would accomplish this mission.
“I stood up to leave the room, when I realized that I was not told to whom to give the package in Tyler.
“I turned again to Rabbi Chodakov and asked him about this. But his facial expression left no doubt that I was asking unnecessary questions. It seemed as if he was saying, what difference does it make? Take the package and deliver it in Tyler! I did not wait for an answer and left the room carrying the package of matzot from the Rebbe.
“When I returned to my relative’s lodgings where I was staying it was already four in the morning. I decided not to think about this right now, and I retired for the night. When I awoke, I tried to figure things out, and realized that I did not have many options. It was already the 13th of Nissan, a day before erev Pesach and there would not be any time for me to drive to Texas from my home to find the city of Tyler. But I knew that I had accepted upon myself this mission and somehow, I must accomplish it.
“I decided to go immediately to the airport and discern there what are my possibilities. The first thing I found out was that there were no flights from New York to Tyler! The airport attendants themselves had a hard time figuring out where Tyler was. At least, I thought, I am not the only one who has never heard of this city. I tried to see if there were any connecting flights through Texas to Arizona, yet, though the flight would pass through Texas on its way to Arizona, there were no connecting flights. I realized that this whole situation was complicated.
“Without any other choices, I decided to fly directly to Arizona as in my original itinerary. In my heart, I hoped that somehow, something would work out and I would be able to accomplish the mission the Rebbe placed on me. If not… I thought, I will call the Rebbe’s secretary and tell him that I had tried my best but….
“I stepped into the plane with an uneasy feeling. I thought to myself, how privileged I was to have been given a mission by the Rebbe which should have been quite simple – to hand over a package. The Rebbe had stressed that this was an important mission. And here I am, not able to figure out a way to do this, I berated myself. But what was I to do??
“The flight to Arizona from New York takes three hours. I was quite exhausted from my late night and promptly fell asleep. About two hours into our flight, I suddenly awoke to the sound of the pilot speaking on the intercom system. Due to some technical problems, the flight would be stopping in a few minutes in Tyler, Texas. My whole body started to shake, and I had goosebumps.
“The pilot tried to calm everyone down and announced that this was not a serious problem. He was hopeful that the airport technicians would be able to fix it quickly. Our stay in Tyler would be brief, he said, and the flight would continue to its destination in Arizona.
“I rubbed my tired eyes, not believing what I was hearing. When I asked the stewardess for the third time, where are we landing, she answered impatiently, “Tyler – spelling it out for me – T-y-l-e-r!
“We landed in Tyler and deplaned to a relatively small waiting area. Understandably, I exited the plane holding on tightly to the package I received from Rabbi Chodakov. It turned out that Tyler is a small town, and at the time, it only had this one small airport. Most of the week the airport was inactive. Due to the necessity for our flight to land, the lights at the airport were turned on!
“I tried to walk around in the hope of meeting someone who could tell me if there were any Jews living in Tyler close by. However, in this small airport there were only technicians who could not give me any clear answer. As I was pondering what else I could do, a young Jewish couple appeared out of nowhere and approached me. They asked if I had a package for them from the Rebbe…
By this time, nothing surprised me already. On my head was a kipah and I sported a small beard, so it was not difficult for the young couple to recognize that I was Jewish. On the other hand, on the couple it was not so easy to identify that they were indeed Jewish, though the woman was dressed modestly.
“I handed the package of matzot to them, and they looked very pleased. They thanked me profusely. You can imagine that I had a list of questions in my mind I was thinking to ask them. However, to my utter dismay, before I even had a chance to say another word, they waved goodbye to me, and disappeared in the Tyler airport.
“Who was this couple? From where did they come? How did they know to appear at the airport at this very moment? These are the million-dollar questions which have no answers. I don’t think I will ever know. But what I do know is that – the ‘children’ of the Rebbe are like a prince in a palace. If there is a necessity to give them a package, a full planeload will stop in a small town by the name of Tyler!”
Translated from the Hebrew book, ‘ABBA’ first volume Chapter 21 by Ari Smith with permission from the author.