The Rebbe, the Israeli President, the Yeshivah Gedolah Shluchim, and the Moon

Rabbi Ceitlin.jpg

Rabbi Aaron Eliezer Ceitlin was a member of the fourth Kevutzah (group) of Shluchim to spend two years as the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s emissaries to the Yeshivah Gedolah in Melbourne. Today, he serves as a Shliach in Tzfat (Safed - Israel), and is the director of several Chabad-Lubavitch institutions. Rabbi Ceitlin is a highly regarded and inspirational speaker. He recently recounted an event which began unfolding when he embarked on his Shlichus to Melbourne:

Farewell Yechidus

It was just after Pesach of 5733 (1973), and our Kevutzah of six was finalizing our preparations in anticipation of our imminent departure to Melbourne. We were advised that we would merit to attend a Yechidus (audience) with the Rebbe on the 28th of Nissan (April 30). We were to attend together with the third Kevutzah who had just returned from their two year stint at the Yeshivah Gedolah of Melbourne.

When we entered Yechidus, Rabbi Hodakov (the Rebbe’s personal secretary) arranged us so that the new Shluchim stood at the right, and the previous Shluchim at the left. The Rebbe turned to Rabbi Hodakov and asked, “Where are the previous Shluchim?” Rabbi Hodakov pointed to the Shluchim standing at the left. The Rebbe repeated his question in a tone of astonishment. Rabbi Hodakov, not understanding the Rebbe’s intention, pointed to each group of Shluchim, saying, "these are the new Shluchim and these are the .previous Shluchim." The Rebbe asked, “Where the even earlier Shluchim? Why was it not arranged that they enter as well.” Rabbi Hodakov asked whether he should call them in, and the Rebbe said that it should be done if it would not take too long. Rabbi Hodakov left the Rebbe’s room; the Rebbe sat quietly, and we waited with bated breath. Soon enough, the previous Shluchim started to arrive bit by bit, and presently, the Rebbe began the recitation of the Ma’amar (Chassidic discourse) on the topic “One should not part from his friend but from within a matter of Halacha” (Brochos 31a).

After the conclusion of the Ma’amar, the Rebbe noted that our itineraries would be taking us through England, as well as through Israel, where our main tasks would be Tefillah (prayer) and Tzedakah (charity). The Rebbe handed each of us ten British Pounds for the (Chabad) institutions in England, ten dollars for the (Chabad) institutions in Israel and another ten dollars for charity, and finally, ten Australian dollars for the (Chabad) institutions in Australia and another one Australian dollar for charity. The Rebbe also gave each of us a copy of the Sicha (talk) that he had delivered to the previous group of Shluchim two years prior, a copy of two general letters addressed to the worldwide Jewish community, and a Tanya.

The Rebbe instructed us to visit the Rabbonim at each of our stopovers, and to pass on his personal regards to "all good friends" in the places that we would visit, and especially to those in Australia. The Rebbe added that we should convey his special regards to “our friend Shneur Zalman the son of Sarah”.

Our visit with President Shazar

When we exited the Yechidus, we wondered who the Rebbe meant when he referred to “our friend Shneur Zalman the son of Sarah”. After some inquiries, we realized that the Rebbe was referring to Mr Shazar, who served as the third President of Israel, from 21 May 1963 until 24 May 1973. Mr Shazar shared an extremely warm relationship with the Rebbe, and had visited 770 on two occasions in his capacity as president.

During our stay in Israel, several Chabad activists in Israel accompanied us on our audience with President Shazar. Towards the end of our meeting, we broke out into a Chassidic dance. We explained to President Shazar that we were singing the new song which had been composed several weeks earlier, in honour of the Rebbe’s birthday. The words of the song were drawn from the chapter of Tehillim (Psalms Chapter 72) which corresponded to the Rebbe’s age: “In his days may the righteous flourish, with much peace so long as the Moon endures; may he rule from sea to sea, and from the river until the ends of the earth”. Apollo 11 silicon disk

President Shazar became visibly excited at hearing the Hebrew words “ Ad Bli Yare’ach” (“so long as the Moon endures”, or literally, “until the Moon is no more”). He told us that several years earlier, the President of the United States solicited statements from the leaders of 73 countries around the world, in honour of the historic Apollo 11 space mission to the moon. These statements were etched onto a silicon disc about the size of a 50-cent piece, with the words "From Planet Earth — July 1969” wrapped around its rim. The Apollo 11 astronauts deposited the disc at the moon's Sea of Tranquility.

President Shazar shared with us his initial uncertainty regarding what to write, and that he finally settled on the following: "From the President of Israel in Jerusalem with hope for 'abundance of peace so long as the Moon endureth'." President Shazar concluded with great excitement, “And these very words are now the Rebbe’s song!”

The meeting ended with photographs together with the President. Just as we thought that we were done, President Shazar told us that he wanted to take another picture with us, together with the Megillah that the Rebbe had presented him on a previous visit to 770, on Purim 5731 (1971). [Click here and here to view footage of that event.]

Our meeting ended on a high note. We continued on our journey to Australia, and President Shazar concluded his second term as president on 24 May – less than one month after our visit.

A reception for Mr Shazar in Texas

At the beginning of July 1973, Rabbi Shimon Lazaroff, the Rebbe’s emissary in Texas, received a telephone call from one of the local community leaders. He explained that Mr Shazar was enroute from Mexico to Israel, and that his itinerary included a brief stopover in Texas on Gimmel Tammuz (July 3). A reception for Mr Shazar had been arranged to take place at the airport, and Rabbi Lazaroff was invited to attend. Rabbi Lazaroff immediately contacted Rabbi Hodakov to ask whether he should attend this reception. As he spoke to Rabbi Hodakov, he could hear the Rebbe in the background, quietly telling Rabbi Hodakov what to answer. The Rebbe asked whether Rabbi Lazaroff knew the significance of Gimmel Tammuz.

Rabbi Lazaroff replied that he remembered a Sicha (talk) in which the Rebbe explained the difference between Gimmel-Tammuz, and Yud-Beis-Tammuz. The Rebbe had explained that Gimmel-Tammuz represents the love of a Chossid to his Rebbe, and that Yud-Beis Tammuz represents the love of a Rebbe to his Chossid.

A bit of historical background is in order: In 1927, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn; 1880-1950) was arrested by agents of the Soviet secret police for his work in encouraging Torah observance throughout the Soviet Union. He was held in the notorious Spalerno prison in Leningrad, and was repeatedly interrogated and beaten. After an initial death sentence, international pressure compelled the Soviet regime to first commute the sentence to ten years of hard labour in Siberia, and then to a three-year term of exile in Kostrama. On Gimmel-Tammuz, 18 days after his arrest, he was released from prison and sent into exile. Only nine days later, on Yud-Beis-Tammuz, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak was informed that he was free to return home.

In his talk, the Rebbe explained that the events of Gimmel-Tammuz did not make much of a tangible difference to the Chassidim, for they were just as cut off from their Rebbe as ever. Yet, they still celebrated his salvation; this represents the love of a Chossid to his Rebbe. The events of Yud-Beis-Tammuz did not signify a marked difference for the Rebbe, for his life had already been spared. Yet, he still celebrated his imminent reunion with his Chassidim; this represents the love of a Rebbe to his Chossid.

Upon hearing Rabbi Lazaroff’s response, the Rebbe instructed him to go to the reception, and to bring along a bottle of Mashke (spirits). He was to convey the above-mentioned explanation of Gimmel-Tammuz to Mr Shazar, and to share a L’Chaim with him.

The Israeli President and the Lubavitcher Texan

Mr Shazar arrived at the reception, and took a seat. Not long afterwards, Rabbi Lazaroff arrived. As soon as Mr. Shazar saw him enter the room, he immediately put on his hat and stood up. Rabbi Lazaroff realized that Mr Shazar was waiting for him, so he immediately walked over to Mr Shazar - who greeted him with a big hug, even though he had never seen Rabbi Lazaroff before! Mr Shazar immediately asked in Yiddish, “Vos Macht der Rebbe” (“How is the Rebbe”). Rabbi Lazaroff answered the question, gave him regards from the Rebbe, and added that he had some words to share about the significance of Gimmel-Tammuz. Mr Shazar interrupted him, “You mean Yud-Beis Tammuz!” [Mr Shazar was aware that Yud-Beis Tammuz was a day of celebration in Chabad, but he was not yet familiar with Gimmel-Tammuz.] Rabbi Lazaroff responded, “No, I meant Gimmel-Tammuz, but my words also relate to Yud-Beis-Tammuz.” Rabbi Lazaroff proceeded to convey the Rebbe’s teaching regarding the significance of these two dates. Mr Shazar listened intently, and tears began forming in his eyes. Such was his love for the Rebbe!

As Rabbi Lazaroff concluded, he poured a L’Chaim from the small bottle of Mashke that he had brought with him, as per the Rebbe’s instructions. Mr Shazar promptly made a blessing, and added – before drinking – “L’Chaim, Der Rebbe Zol Zein Gezunt!” (“L’Chaim, the Rebbe should be healthy!”) Mr Shazar then introduced Rabbi Lazaroff to everyone at the reception, and said, “Lubavitch is everywhere, even “Ad Bli Yare’ach” (which can be loosely translated as “everywhere but the moon”). The thought crossed Rabbi Lazaroff’s mind that this was an unusual way of describing the proliferation of Chabad, but did not pay further attention to it.

As the reception ended, Mr Shazar mentioned to Rabbi Lazaroff that he would be spending some time in New York on his way back to Israel, and he asked whether Rabbi Lazaroff could arrange a Yechidus with the Rebbe.

Mr Shazar’s Yechidus with the Rebbe

Immediately after the reception, Rabbi Lazaroff called New York and spoke to Rabbi Hodakov. He relayed all the events that had occurred and Mr Shazar’s request for a Yechidus. Rabbi Hodakov listened silently, and merely responded, “I hear.”

Two days before Yud-Beis-Tammuz, Rabbi Lazaroff received a telephone call from Rabbi Hodakov, who asked whether Rabbi Lazaroff was planning to fly in to New York to celebrate Yud-Beis-Tammuz. Rabbi Lazaroff had in fact not been planning to do so, but with a question like that, he immediately responded in the affirmative. Upon Rabbi Lazaroff’s arrival in New York, Rabbi Hodakov informed him that he was invited to attend a special Yechidus which had been arranged between the Rebbe and Mr Shazar, which was scheduled for Yud-Beis-Tammuz.

Mr Shazar arrived at 770 on Yud-Beis-Tammuz, and spend more than 12 hours with the Rebbe, first at Yechidus, and then at the public Farbrengen. [Click here for an account of this event; click here for footage of this Farbrengen where the Rebbe's song is sung, and click here for footage of the Yechidus.]

During the Yechidus, the Rebbe pointed out Rabbi Lazaroff and said to Mr. Shazar, “This is the yungerman who told me you were coming to me. His name is Shimon Lazaroff, named after his grandfather who was the Rav in Leningrad. Rabbi Lazaroff is now in Houston, from where they travel to the moon. Houston can therefore rightfully be called "shaar hashamayim” (the gate of heaven).

Transcribed by Rabbi Shmuel Lesches
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