When the Rebbe Invited the Hippie

Friday, 27 June, 2014 - 3:33 pm

Every heard the one about the Hippie, the Chabadnik and the Satmar Chassid waiting in line for Honey Cake?  -- No joke!  

Rabbi Levi Bukiet, Chabad Shaliach to Chicago was waiting in line, to together with hundreds of others, to receive Lekach –traditional Honey-Cake accompanied by a Shana Tova wish –from the Lubavicher Rebbe in the early 80’s. Waiting on line in front of Rabbi Bukiet was a hippie – confirmed by his bushy beard, long hair and overalls.  Behind Rabbi Bukiet, stood a distinguished Satmar Scholar.  

The Rebbe turned to the Hippie, gave the honey cake with the felicitation for ‘Gut Gebetch Yohr’ and asked the fellow what his plans were for the evening.

“Nothing”, replied the Hippie.

 “It would be my great honor and privilege,” the Rebbe replied, “if you would attend hakofos [the festive dancing with the Torah] tonight with me in the synagogue.”

The fellow thanked the Rebbe for his invitation, but remained noncommittal. “I’ll think about it,” he said, and walked away.

Rabbi Bukiet received the cake and the blessing, and then he stopped to listen to the conversation that ensued between the Rebbe and the Satmar Scholar.

The Rebbe started the conversation by saying, “I see that you’re wondering why I’m pleading with this fellow to come to hakofos tonight. What connection do I have with him?”

The Rebbe explained with a story – a story that he quoted in the name of the ‘Tehila L’moshe” – a book written by a Rebbe who was the ancestor of the Satmar Rebbe.  

The story, as quoted by the Rebbe and transcribed by Rabbi Bukiet goes like this:

Reb Itzikel of Drobitch, father of the famed Rabbi Michel of Zlotchev, the renowned disciple of the Baal Shem Tov and the Magid of Mezritch — once encountered the soul of Rashi, the renowned commentator on the Torah, in heaven. Rashi, had a question for Reb Itzikel.

 Rashi : Why is there such a commotion On High about the greatness of your son, Reb Michel?

Reb Itzikel: My son studies Torah purely for the sake of Heaven.

Rashi: But aren’t there many who do the same?

Reb Itzikel: “My son fasts and deprives his body of worldly pleasures.

Rashi: But aren’t there many who do the same?

Reb Itzikel: My son gives away huge sums of money to the poor.

Rashi:  ‘Aren’t there many who do the same?’

Reb Itzikel: ‘My son has made many baalei teshuvah [those who have returned to G-d] across the world. He returned many from the path of sin to their Father in Heaven.

When Rashi heard this response, he was finally satisfied; he understood clearly why the heavenly angels are so excited about the greatness of Reb Michel.

 The Satmar Chassid, understanding the Rebbe’s response, replied “Ich hob Git Farshtanen” --  I understand.

This Tuesday marks the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s 20th Yarzeit. Three biographies have recently been published telling the story of the life of the Rebbe. One book, The Rebbe by Josef Telushkin has catapulted to the top of Amazon, New York Times’ best sellers lists, among others.

Thousands have been inspired to ask and learn, as Rashi did of Reb Michel of Zlochev – What’s the hullabaloo about the Rebbe all about?

That the Rebbe was an historic scholar and thinker – CERTAINLY!
That the Rebbe was a saintly man – ABSOLUTELY!
That the Rebbe was a person who was a paradigm of leadership – WITHOUT QUESTION!

But what made the Rebbe unique? What made him perhaps most impactful leader in recent Jewish History?

It is the fact that the Rebbe was focused on each and every individual – warmly embracing them, and inspiring them to restore and maintain a strong link to their Judaism. While traditionally and historically, Chassidic movement are maintained with an insular gravitational pull towards the Rebbe’s court – the Rebbe turned it around, creating an outward centrifugal force of goodness, progressively widening the circle of good – one Mitzva at a time.

As we approach the 20th Yartzeit, let us respond by adding one more mitzvah and dedicate it to honor the Rebbe’s legacy. As the Rebbe’s life was dedicated to inspiring us – in our inspiration the Rebbe lives on.

Just ask Rashi.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yisroel Hecht

To learn more about the life and legacy of the Rebbe visit

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