In the presence of a Holy Man

Growing up in Bnei Brak, Israel, in the 1970s, I recall a new immigrant from Russia that was a member of our congregation. He was a quiet doctor who didn’t mingle much with the crowd.

One Shabbat afternoon, he joined a “Farbrengen” (a Chasidic celebration) and listened as others were sharing their life experiences. One of the regulars turned to him and said, “Dr. Kublanov, perhaps you can share with us an inspiring experience.”

The doctor rose and began speaking. He described his humble beginnings in Israel, how he had trouble finding work and getting acclimated. He was disappointed that none of the people who claimed to help Russian immigrants were there for him. Finally, when he got settled, he decided it was time to fulfill his dream to travel to the United States to visit the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

To his dismay, he discovered that it was impossible for him to obtain an entrance visa to the United States. In those years, many Russian immigrants used to enter the U.S. on a tourist visa, and ended up staying. Therefore the U.S. embassy made it very difficult to get one. He asked some Chabad activists for help in this matter, but they did not come forward.

When he finally made it to New York, he planned that when he met the Rebbe he would pour out all of his frustrations and tattle on the ones who were not there for him when he was in need. As he was ushered into the Rebbe’s study for a private audience, the Rebbe gazed at him and gave a warm smile. At that moment it dawned on him that every Jew is dear to the Rebbe, as if he or she were his own child. How could he start tattling on them? In one moment, his frustration disappeared.

What really happened to this doctor when he entered into the Rebbe’s chambers?

A holy man is much more than a great rabbi and a brilliant scholar. He is someone with a connection to the Divine. While he discusses ordinary matters, one can feel that he is connected with something higher. He is constantly thinking, feeling and experiencing a connection beyond our ordinary comprehension. Anyone in his presence feels reenergized and inspired.

Kublanov, standing in the Rebbe’s presence, was elevated and uplifted, and all his resentments and grudges simply vanished.

I thank G‑d for giving me the great merit to be in the Rebbe’s presence every day for six years. As we approach the 21st yahrtzeit of the Rebbe, on Saturday, June 20, I recall this amazing experience that continues to inspire me to this day.