Who was the Rebbetzin? | The Rebbe Writes
by Rabbi Yosef Kolodny
Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, the wife of the Rebbe, shlita, was born on the 25th of Adar I, 5661 (1901) to the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn and his wife, Rebbetzin Nechama Dina. Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka was born in Babinovitch, near the town of Lubavitch.
In November 1915 as the World War I front approached their area, the family left Lubavitch for the Southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. In the spring of 1920, her grandfather--the Rebbe Rashab--passed away and her father assumed the leadership of Chabad.
In 1924 the Rebbetzin became engaged to a distant cousin, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson (later to become the present Rebbe, shlita). But because of the oppressive conditions that prevailed then, the marriage did not take place until the 14th of Kislev, 1928.
When the Previous Rebbe was arrested by the Communist government in 1927, the Rebbetzin's quick thinking in alerting her fiance to the presence of "Honored Guests" as she called them--actually N.K.V.D. agents--in their home, proved to be very instrumental in uncovering to which prison the Previous Rebbe was taken. She also played a key rule in the efforts to have his death sentence commuted.
When the Previous Rebbe was exiled to Kostroma, it was his daughter, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, whom he chose to accompany him there.
The wedding of the Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka to the Rebbe was an occasion of extraordinary joy for the Previous Rebbe. After the wedding, the Rebbe chose to live in Berlin. They lived there until the winter of 1933 when the Nazis came into power, and the Rebbe, shlita and the Rebbetzin moved to Paris. In Paris, the Rebbe and Rebbetzin lived in a one-room apartment. In this tiny apartment, the Rebbetzin herself baked matzot for Passover, to be certain that the Rebbe's requirements would be satisfied. There was only one butcher store in Paris that the Rebbe used; he trusted it only after the Rebbetzin watched the kashering of the meat and it met with her personal approval.
The Rebbe and Rebbetzin stayed in France until 1941, when they were rescued from the Nazis after months of perilous wandering and came to New York on the 28th of Sivan.
On the 10th of Shevat, 5710 (1950), the Previous Rebbe passed away. At first, the Rebbe, shlita was firmly determined not to accept the mantle of leadership. It was the Rebbetzin who prevailed upon him to accept it, pointing out that it was unthinkable to let her father's accomplishments of 30 years deteriorate for lack of continuity. In later years, when the Rebbe frequently came home at 3 or 4 a.m., she was always patiently and uncomplainingly awake, waiting for him.
Despite the fact that she was the one who prevailed upon the Rebbe to accept the leadership and she was the one who sacrificed the most from her personal life for this gift to the Jewish people in general and Chasidim in particular, nevertheless, until her last day, she remained determinedly and absolutely in the background, totally shunning any and all publicity.
The Rebbetzin, probably more than anybody else, was concerned and cared for the Rebbe's health. One could think that this meant that she attempted to influence him not to stand too many hours praying at the Previous Rebbe's grave, that he shouldn't speak for so long at the public gatherings, that he should fast less, etc. However, as those who were close to her testify, this never occurred. Not because she thought that the Rebbe wouldn't listen to her, but because in her wisdom, she understood that allowing the Rebbe to do what he wanted would benefit and not G-d forbid, undermine, the Rebbe's health.
On the other hand, whenever she didn't feel well and the Rebbe suggested that she should see a doctor, she always agreed on the condition that the doctor should also examine the Rebbe. Of course, the Rebbe always agreed.
On the night before the Rebbetzin passed away, Rabbi Zalman Gourary visited her and asked about her health. Although she was in great pain, she attempted to conceal her condition from him. She also didn't tell him that the doctor, who had visited her before, felt she should be rushed to the hospital. The next morning, Rabbi Gourary found out the true situation from the doctor. He immediately spoke to the Rebbetzin and also expressed wonder that she didn't tell him about her situation the previous night. The Rebbetzin's answer amazed him: "I know that you study Talmud early in the morning, and I was afraid that if you were worried about me, it would affect your studies."
Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter.
To commemorate the fifth yartzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, daughter of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, of blessed memory, and wife of the Rebbe, shlita, we bring you letters written by the Rebbe to comfort mourners.
I must reiterate again what was said when you were here in regard to bitachon--faith--in G-d that all that He does is for the good. It is not easy to accept the passing of a near and dear one, but since our Torah, which is called Torat Chesed (the Torah of Kindness) and Torat Chayim (The Torah of Life), our guide in life, sets limits to the mourning period, it is clear that when the period ends it is not good to extend it, not only because it disturbs the life that must go on here on earth, but also because it does not please the soul that is in the World of Truth.
A further point which, I believe, I mentioned during our conversation, but apparently from your letter not emphatically enough, is this: It would be contrary to plain common sense to assume that a sickness, or accident, and the like, could affect the soul, for such physical things can affect only the physical body and its union with the soul, but certainly not the soul itself. It is also self-evident that the relationship between people, especially between parents and children, is in essence and content a spiritual one, transcending time and space--of qualities that are not subject to the influence of bodily accident, diseases, etc.
It follows that when a close person passes on, by the will of G-d, those left here can no longer see him with their eyes or hear him with their ears; but the soul, in the World of Truth, can see and hear. And when the soul sees that its relatives are overly disturbed by its physical absence, it is saddened. Conversely, when it sees that after the mourning period prescribed by the Torah a normal and fully productive life is resumed, it can happily rest in peace.
Needless to say, in order that the above be accepted not only intellectually, but actually implemented in everyday life, it is necessary to be occupied, preferably involved in matters of "personal" interest and gratification. As I also mentioned in our conversation, every Jew has a most gratifying and edifying task of spreading light in the world through promoting Judaism. This is true particularly in your case, where you can be of so much help and inspiration to your children and grandchildren, who look up to you and your husband for encouragement, wisdom, etc.
Here is also the answer to your question of what you can do for the soul of the loved one. Spreading Judaism to those around you, displaying simple Jewish faith in G-d and in His benevolent Providence, doing all the good work that has to be done, with confidence and peace of mind--this is what truly gratifies the soul in Olam HaEmet [the World of Truth], in addition to fulfilling you personal and most lofty mission in life as a daughter of our Mothers Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, and thereby also serving as an inspiring example for others to emulate.
It is possible to enlarge upon the above, but knowing your family background and tradition, I trust the above will suffice. I might add, however, that one must beware of the yetzer hara [the inclination toward evil] who is very crafty and knows that certain people cannot be approached openly and without disguise. Instead, he tries to trick them by disguising himself in a mantle of piety and emotionalism, saying: "You know, G-d has prescribed a period of mourning, which shows that it is the right thing to do; so why not do more than that and extend the period?" In this way the yetzer hara may have a chance to succeed in distracting the person from the fact that at the end of the designated period, the Torah requires the Jew to serve G-d with joy. The yetzer hara will even encourage a person to give tzedaka, learn Torah and do mitzvot in memory of the soul, but in each case, associate those acts with sadness and pain. As indicated, this is exactly contrary to the objective, which is to cause pleasure and gratification to the soul.
In connection with your cousin's going home for Passover, I am sending this letter with him, in reply to your question which he conveyed to me some time ago.
As I recall, it referred to an incident during the week of shiva [the seven-day mourning period], when the oil-lamp for the soul of the departed burnt out, but then suddenly the flame shot up again, and was repeated three times. It frightened you at the time, and you asked what might be the significance of this occurrence.
In general I am not keen to interpret unusual phenomena, nor do I think it wise to dwell on such things, when there are so many clear instructions and matters which our Torah, called Torah Ohr (because it is the true light and illuminates all matters as they truly are), demands every Jew to give his fullest attention.
However, since I am told that the incident still bothers you, and it is a Jew's duty to help another, I will tell you what I make of it.
It seems to me that it meant to convey to you the following:
Shiva is, of course, a period of sorrow and mourning for the soul of a near and dear one which returned to the World of Truth. A Jewish soul is described in the Torah as "the lamp of G-d," since its purpose on this earth is to spread the light of G-dliness. Its departure from this earth is a cause for mourning, as prescribed by our Torah, called Torat Chayim [the Torah of Life], because it is our guide to true life. Yet, together with this, one must not forget that the soul is eternal. Nor must it be forgotten that even such a painful event comes from G-d, and therefore there can be no doubt that there is a good purpose in it. But the essential purpose of shiva is, "HaChai Yiten El Libo"--the living should reflect in his heart," which means that those left behind should search their hearts in self appraisal with a view to bettering themselves in matters which are real and eternal in daily life, namely, in matters of goodness and holiness, Torah and mitzvot. Indeed, since the soul that ascended to Heaven has left a gap of discontinued good deeds here on heart, the immediate relatives and friends should make compensation for it through additional efforts on their part. For the purpose of Ner Hashem Nishmat Adam [G-d's light is a person's soul] is to spread the light of Ner mitzva v'Torah Ohr--the mitzva is a lamp and Torah is light; so much so that, as our Sages expressed it, G-d says, "My lamp is in your hand and your lamp is in My hand; you keep My lamp burning, and I will keep yours."
But the darkness of the world is often difficult to dispel, and one must not be discouraged by obstacles, but try again and again. "Three times" is a "chazaka," giving it the force of permanence, in the face of which all obstacles must give way. And if "a little light dispels a lot of darkness," how much more so does a lot of light.
May G-d grant that you and all the members of the family go from strength to strength in the said direction, and should know no more sorrow.
The following letter was written by the Rebbe to one of the renowned generals of the Six Day War:
was deeply distressed to hear of your great loss--the tragic death of your son, may he rest in peace.
It is not given to us to know the ways of the Creator. During the war, during the time of danger, it was His will that all be saved. Indeed, you, sir, were one of those who achieved victory for our people of Israel against our enemies, when the many were delivered into the hands of the few. Yet, at home, and during a time of peace, this terrible tragedy happened. But how can a mortal understand the ways of the Creator? There is no comparing our minds and His. We do not wonder that a small child does not understand the ways and conduct of an old and wise man, though the difference between them is only relative.
This is no attempt to minimize the extent of your pain and grief, and I, too, share in your sorrow, though I am so far from you.
Even in such a great tragedy as this, solace can be found in the words of our traditional expression of consolation to mourners--an expression which has become hallowed by the law and tradition of many generations of our people. "May the Alm-ghty comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem." We may ask, why mention those who mourn for "Zion and Jerusalem" when comforting an individual on his personal loss? A deeper analysis will, however, reveal that the mourner will find comfort precisely in this comparison of his loss with the Destruction and exile of Zion, for several reasons.
First, the mourning over the Destruction of Zion and Jerusalem is shared by Jews the world over. It is true that those who live in Jerusalem and actually see the Western Wall and our Holy Temple in ruins feel the anguish more deeply, but even those who live far away feel sorrow. Similarly, the grief-stricken individual or family will find solace in the thought that "all the children of Israel are as one complete whole," and that their sorrow is shared by all our people.
Second, we have perfect confidence that G-d will rebuild the ruins of Zion and Jerusalem; He will gather the dispersed remnants of Israel from the ends of the earth through our righteous Moshiach, and bring them in gladness to witness the joy of Zion and Jerusalem. We are equally confident that G-d will fulfill His promise that "...the dwellers of the dust (the dead) shall awake and give praise." Great indeed will be the happiness and rejoicing then, when all will meet together after the Revival of the Dead.
Third, the Babylonians and the Romans were able to destroy only the Holy Temple of wood and stone, of gold and silver, but they could not harm the inner "Holy Temple" in the heart of every Jew, for it is eternal. In the same way, death can touch only the body, but the soul is eternal; it has simply ascended to the World of Truth. Every good deed we do in accordance with the will of G-d, the giver of life, adds to the merit of the departed soul, as well as to its spiritual welfare.
May it be G-d's will that you and your family know no more pain or distress. May you find true comfort and solace in your communal endeavors, defending the Holy Land, the land "over which G-d your L-rd watches from the beginning of the year until the end of the year," as well as in those endeavors of your private life--observing the mitzva of tefilin, one mitzva bringing another, and another, in its train.
I was grieved to hear of the passing of your wife... peace unto her.
I extend to you, and to all the bereaved family, my sincere condolences, and the traditional blessing:
"May G-d comfort you and all the members of your family, in the midst of all the other mourners for Zion and Jerusalem."
The text of this "Blessing to the Mourner," hallowed by tradition of many generations, is significant and meaningful. At first glance, the relevance of personal mourning to that of national mourning is somewhat incongruous, since the former is fresh and vivid, while the latter, though unforgettable, is nearly 2,000 years old.
However, precisely in the coupling of the two together lies the inner aspect of the comfort. For just as the loss of the ancient glory of Jerusalem and the Beit Hamikdash [Holy Temple] is shared by all Jews, so a personal loss is shared by all Jews, inasmuch as the Jewish people is like one family, indeed like one organism, as our Sages expressed it.
Furthermore, just as the consolation for the national bereavement is sure to come with the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the Holy City, and of the Beit Hamikdash, as has been faithfully promised by G-d through His sacred Prophets, so assuredly will G-d fulfill His promise of the resurrection and the awakening of the Sleepers in the Dust, to rise and sing G-d's praises.
There is another point shared by both the personal bereavement and national bereavement: Just as in the case of Zion and Jerusalem, it was only their material aspects, the wood, stone, gold and silver, that were consumed, while the real Sanctuary "The Beit Hamikdash" that abides in the heart of each and every Jew remains intact, for it is indestructible--so in the case of the personal loss of a near and dear one, only the physical body is mortal; while the soul is eternal, merely departing for higher world, the World of Truth. Consequently, every mitzva and good deed performed here on earth by those left behind, which accords with the Will of the Giver of Life, is also a source of gratification for the departed soul; indeed a credit and merit to the soul...
I have also had occasion to mention that even during the soul's sojourn in this life when clothed in a physical body, the real bond between people and members of a family is not a physical one but a spiritual one, for what makes the real person is not his flesh and bones, but his character, that is, his spiritual qualities. Hence, this bond remains, and all those who loved the person dearly should try all the more to bring gratification to his eternal soul and continuous spiritual elevation through greater adherence to the Torah, the Torah of Truth, in general, and particularly in the realm directly related to the soul's passing one should observe what is prescribed for the period of shiva, but not extend it, and similarly in regard to the fulfillment of His mitzvot such service should be--with joy and gladness of heart.
Let me add one more brief point: You should bear in mind that you and all your family are privileged to be in a position of leadership and influence. Your exemplary conduct and every additional enhancement of the mitzvot is reflected and multiplied in all those who observe you and are inspired by you. Therefore, even if it entails a special effort, it is surely of no consequence in relation to the benefits that accrue to all those around you. Not to mention how careful one has to be not to give a wrong impression, especially being that you are in the field of education, and your conduct is bound to have an impact.
I trust you will accept all the above in the spirit that it has been given. The important thing is to go about daily life in accordance with the Torah, which is the Torah of Life and the Torah of Truth. And G-d will surely recompense you for all the grief, though at this time it is still incomprehensible how this will be accomplished.