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Soul Meetings





The Rebbe
changed my life

Testimony by Elie Wiesel

I remember - I will always remember my first visit to Lubavitch. It happened some thirty years ago. Though a hasid of Wizhinitz, I had heard of Habad and its renowned leader. A foreign correspondent for Israel's evening-paper "Yedioth Ahronoth", I had thought of doing a story about the way Lubavitcher hasidim celebrate the liberation of the first-or the "Alter'-Rebbe, reb Shneur Zalman of Ladi from Czarist prison. When I left in the early morning hours, I still belonged to Wizhnitz, but I was already caught by something or someone one finds only in Lubavitch.

I remember: in a "shul" that seems both huge and intimate, thousands and thousands of hasidim, young and old, from all over the world, are dancing vertically, as if not moving from their place, yet forcing their rhythm onto me entire universe.

Their eyes closed, they sing as only hasidim can. Ten times, fifty times, they repeat the same words, the same tune. and the song bursts their chests and lights a thousand flames in their eyes before rising higher and higher- up to the seventh heaven, if not higher, to the "Heikhal hanegina," source and sanctuary of all songs.

The center is the Rebbe. The hasid in me looks at him with wonder. There is something melancholy and profoundly moving about his personality. Disturbing and reassuring at the same time. He feels what everyone here feels, he helps all attain the unattainable. In his presence, one feels more Jewish, more authentically Jewish. Seen by him, one comes in closer contact with one's own inner Jewish center.

I am unable to take my eyes off him. His gaze encompasses everyone and everything. I have rarely witnessed such control of and concern over such a large assembly. Thousands of eyes follow his most imperceptible movements. When he talks, everybody listens breathlessly, absorbing every word, every sigh. When he sings, the whole world sings with him and us.

I remember: hours long I stood there, at 770 Eastern Parkway, as in a dream, looking at the Rebbe who was looking at his followers. At times he smiled and night vanished from their lives. There were moments when he seemed serious and somber. And, between song and song, his fervent listeners trembled between fear and hope.

Suddenly I saw myself as a child again. Spending a Shabbat at the court of the Wizhnitzer Rebbe. There, too, the sounds became strings and played ancient melodies.

Yet here in Lubavitch it is different. The world is different. Countless invisible cemeteries separated the past from the present. In Lubavitch I think even about Wizhinitz in a different manner. What the Rebbe of Lubaivitch is doing, what he is accomplishing here can be felt beyond Lubavitch.

This I came to understand much later. As I began traveling around the country, I discovered the Rebbe's emissaries in the most forsaken places. Were it not for them and their devotion, were it not for the mission entrusted onto them by the Rebbe, in me forty years of his leadership, who knows how many Jewish souls would have been lost to our people.

It is part of the Rebbe's greatness that he knows whom to send where and when. Not all their accomplishments have been made public. Some must remain secret. When they will be revealed -- soon, I hope -- they will surely increase the already existing admiration for the Rebbe's vision in the field of education.
Thus the Jewish people owe the Rebbe a great debt of recognition and gratitude.

I do, too. I have learned much from Lubavitch in Lubavitch. The late-night conversations I had with the Rebbe, in the 60's, remain with me.

Had I not participated in the "Hag Hageulah" of Chabad some thirty years ago, I wonder whether I would be who I am now.

  photo: GGFilms

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