Let there be a new beginning
By: Rabbi Zushe Greenberg | CJN 7/7/16


“Rabbi Greenberg – I found it enjoyable to listen to you – Chasidism with humor. I loved it!”

This was the opening of the keynote speech of Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Laureate, when he spoke on Oct. 17, 2004 at a benefit dinner in honor of the grand opening of the Solon Chabad campus.

In front of 700 guests at the Intercontinental Hotel, Wiesel described his relationship with the Lubavitcher Rebbe and his admiration for the Chabad movement.

This Saturday, July 9 is the yahrtzeit of the Rebbe, and I would like to share some of Elie Wiesel’s words about the Rebbe from that memorable evening.

“Tonight I wish to speak – not about the sad stories I told but the joyous stories I retold. In fact, I wrote much more about Chasidism than I wrote about the suffering of our people.

“At one point in my life I thought that the Jewish people will never be capable of rejoicing again. And in Chabad, I found that joy.

“I met with the Lubavitcher Rebbe many times,” he related.

“Once I came to the Rebbe at Simchat Torah. It was raining and I came with a raincoat and a beret – I don’t like hats. I stood at the door, there he was, at his place at the table, with hundreds, thousands of Chassidim singing and singing and singing. I made myself very small. I looked like James Bond. The Rebbe recognized me and called me. Reb Eliezer! I felt even smaller.

“The Chassidim picked me up, literally off the ground and carried me over their shoulders and placed me in front of the Rebbe.

“‘Reb Eliezer, this is what you do? You don’t even come to say L’chaim?”

“They gave me a big glass of vodka, The Rebbe said, ‘L’chaim’ with me and I emptied it even though I don’t usually drink. Then the Rebbe gave me another L’chaim and then said, ‘What blessing would you like from me?’ I answered, ‘The Rebbe knows.’

“Then the Rebbe gave me a blessing, he said, ‘Let it be a new beginning.’

“So clever. Simchat Torah is my birthday so that could be a new beginning. It also meant much more than that. The Rebbe referenced our conversations. I had with the Rebbe many conversations. Long conversations. Painful conversations. Conversation about painful subjects. What he meant, I think, is that it’s time to begin again.

“The Rebbe was very special to me. He had beauty on his face. When he looked at you his eyes penetrated you but without hurting, without wounding. They literally entered your own eyes, and deeper than that, into your soul.

“I miss the Rebbe. I miss these long conversations with him.

“I used to go and see the Farbrengen and how he used to conduct the thousands of singers. And the thought of King David entered my mind. As long as King David was composing Psalms and singing to God and for God, death had no power over him. And I felt often that the Rebbe when he was singing, death had no power over him. But then it stopped, but we, continue the song.

“You, my good friends here, I can tell you how touched I am that you are building a new synagogue. I love beginnings! Really, when they asked me why I came today, I didn’t tell them but here’s the truth. I love beginnings. Beginning of schools, centers, synagogues, all beginnings. May you continue the joy of the beginnings and it will be a great blessing to all of you, because we are just in the beginning.”

I don’t think it’s by chance that Elie Wiesel passed away exactly a week before the Rebbe’s yahrtzeit. May these words be a commemoration to the Rebbe’s joy of Judaism and the song that we all continue to sing.