A soldier of mine must be happy!

Friday, 6 November, 2015 - 7:13 am


Dear Friends,


It is the 19th of Kislev, 5712 (1951), the height of Stalin’s rule. The place is Riga, Latvia. A small group of Chassidim gathers for a clandestine Hitva’adut. Most of their friends are in jail and they, too, are doing something that might cause them to be arrested and sent to Siberia. But the 19th of Kislev is Chabad’s major holiday, and Stalin cannot do anything to stop them. The curtains in the home of R. Shmuel Pruss z”l are drawn and they are sitting together, talking to each other, giving each other moral support as they try to keep the flame of Silent Jewry going.

Suddenly, they hear voices speaking Hebrew. Zusha, R. Shmuel’s young son, has been playing with the radio and has somehow come upon Kol Yisrael, just as it is broadcasting the celebration of the 19th of Kislev from Kfar Chabad, from faraway Eretz Yisrael, the Holy Land.

What they hear on the radio astonishes them. It turns out that their beloved Rebbe, the great fighter, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, has passed away… they can’t avoid crying. “Oy, Rebbe!” they cry out quietly. The pain is terrible. Their tears are flowing, and as they continue listening they find out that there is a successor to the Rebbe: his son-in-law, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson has been crowned; Lubavitch has a new Rebbe. “Oy, Rebbe,” they say, but this time they sing it. The tears are still flowing, but from joy. Burning tears of pain and mourning have instantly turned into tears of joy and happiness. Mourning and joy mingle – they cry and then they start dancing from true inner joy. “Mir haben a rebben – we have a Rebbe”.

What will we tell the new Rebbe when we meet him, G-d willing? They ask each other – they have not the slightest doubt that they will indeed get to meet him. How will we greet him? They ask, with their eyes wet with tears of joy and pain. And then one of the finest of them, Reb Notke Barkahan z”l gets up and says, after a generous dose of a L’chaim: “What’s the question? I will go in, salute and say: Rebbe, I have come to continue my service in your army.”

5729 (1969). Reb Notke has not forgotten that Hitva’adut, and when he enters the Rebbe’s presence for the first time in his life, he stands and says, “Rebbe, I am your soldier!”

And the Rebbe replies: “You say you’re my soldier? A soldier of mine must be happy!”

Summer, 5757 (1997). Reb Notke has been living in Riga for over ten years already. He is serving as the Rebbe’s Shaliach and as Chief Rabbi of Latvia. He returns to his city, returns to the front. He is a soldier, and a soldier of the Rebbe remains a soldier even when he’s 70 years old. Reb Notke’s grandchildren, Harav Zelig and his wife Chana Ashkenazi, go out as Shluchim of the Rebbe to Yekaterinburg, on the border between Europe and Asia, and their fax machine prints out a letter from Grandfather. In rich Yiddish, he tells them the story of that Hitva’adut, and asks and even demands: “Be happy, because a soldier of the Rebbe must be happy!”

Thousands of Shluchim are gathering right now in New York, in honor of the International Conference of Chabad Emissaries. They are all loyal soldiers, who devote their lives to the goal that their Rebbe has set for them: to reach every Jew and Jewess, to touch them, to light up and warm every corner on earth with the light of Torah and mitzvahs, and thereby prepare the world for the full and complete Redemption by the Mashiach. And I call to you from here, my brothers and friends, tiere Shluchim (dear Shluchim) – remember what the Rebbe said to Reb Notke: “A soldier of mine must be happy!”

R. Notke Barkahan is my wife’s grandfather, our children’s great-grandfather. This coming Shabbat, the 25th of Cheshvan, is his yahrzeit. May these thoughts be l’ilui nishmato – may they serve to elevate his soul.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski


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