When the Rebbe gave a girl a cigarette lighter

Friday, 10 September, 2021 - 6:31 am

Two weeks ago, I heard, for the first time, a story about a girl from a Chabad family who had found herself a way of life different from that of her parents. I was not told her name, because she has Chabadnik children and grandchildren, and they’d rather maintain their privacy.

It was some time in the 1960’s and her parents asked her to go and meet the Lubavitcher Rebbe one-on-one, in a meeting known as a yechidut. The girl refused. “What’s my connection with Rebbe?” she said. According to her, she no longer had any ties with him or with his way. But the parents pressured her to go, and she agreed, on condition that it be “on my own terms”.

A yechidut was always in the middle of the night. There was always a long line of people waiting, and every such night, many men and women would go in to see the Rebbe, usually only for a few minutes. 

The Rebbe would almost always ask those entering to sit down. Almost always they (certainly, the chassidim), would politely refuse. It was not customary to sit in his presence.

The girl went in, and when the Rebbe offered her a chair, she sat down. And then her moment came. She pulled out a cigarette and matches, and proceeded, supposedly nonchalantly, to light the cigarette. 

Only supposedly nonchalantly, because it did not come naturally for any person to take out a cigarette in the Rebbe’s room, certainly not for a girl who was some 40 years younger than him, and even more certainly not – a girl from a Chabad family. But she had come to make a statement, so she put the cigarette in her mouth and tried to light it, but it didn’t light. Her hands were shaking – that, at least, was a natural phenomenon. 

Confused and stressed, she raised her eyes to the Rebbe, and there he was, offering her a cigarette lighter. 

I told this story this week to a young, pure and holy boy, who came to me wondering: “How will Hashem forgive me on Yom Kippur if I don’t really deserve it?”

First, I told him how Chassidut views the connection and the relationship between a person and his Creator and only at the end did I tell him this story and ask him what he had learned from it.

He understood quite quickly that when you really love someone, and mainly, when you are familiar with the complexities of his heart and soul, you are not afraid of him, nor of the statement he may be making.

That is the way it is with Hashem on Yom Kippur. You repent, you regret your past, take upon yourself to behave better in the future, and Hashem sees into your heart – lovingly.

Shabbat Shalom and Gmar Chatima Tova!

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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