|The 3:00 am Audience
From: Once Upon A Chasid, Parshat Matos (As told by Rabbi Zvi Meir Steinmetz to Yanki Tauber)
A family crisis had arisen in the home of one of my relatives, a not-so-distant cousin who lived in South America. Their daughter had met and fallen in love with a young man and the two wished to marry. But the young woman's parents were vehemently opposed to the match since the young man came from a non-religious background and did not lead a Torah-observant life. Although the young man declared his willingness to begin to observe the laws and customs of Torah, the entire family, extended family, and circle of friends were united against the young woman's choice.
The young woman grew increasingly bitter over the fact that all those dear to her had closed ranks against her. She felt that her entire world had conspired to deprive her of her happiness. The situation continued to worsen, as both daughter and parents became more and more enraged over their perceived betrayal by the other. Finally, they struck a deal: the case would be brought to the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Although the family did not count themselves among the Rebbe's Chassidim, both the young woman and her parents held the Rebbe in high regard and felt they could trust him. Both parties agreed to do as he advised. As the "Lubavitcher" in the family, I was asked to accompany the young woman to her audience with the Rebbe.
In those years, the Rebbe would receive people three nights a week, beginning in the late evening and continuing through the night. Often, the final visitor would depart at dawn.
We entered the Rebbe's room close to 3:00 am. First, the Rebbe and the young woman conducted a brief search for a common language: they tried Yiddish, Hebrew, English, and French, and finally settled on German (which the woman had picked up while studying in Switzerland). As the young woman told her story, I could hear the frustration in her voice: "I don't understand what they want of me," she complained. "My friend has promised to lead a Torah-true life. I know that he is sincere. Why is everyone so set against us?"
"He may be sincere," said the Rebbe, "but of what value is his declaration if he does not know what he is committing himself to? You know, legally, a signed blank check is worthless, even if the holder fills it in for a single cent - a person cannot obligate oneself without knowing what the obligation consists of. Living one's life in accordance with the Torah's precepts is a most demanding challenge for anyone, but it is even more difficult for someone who has not been raised this way."
"But he is willing to learn," said the young woman.
"Learning alone is not enough," replied the Rebbe. "One may study and accept Torah with the best of intentions, but applying it to day-to-day life is quite another matter. This is what I suggest: let your friend live with a Torah-observant family for several months. Let him study, but let him also experience firsthand what such a commitment entails on a day in, day out basis, from the Modeh Ani prayer upon opening one's eyes in the morning to the reading of the Shemah before going to sleep. If he still declares his desire to lead a Torah-true life, I give my wholehearted blessing to your life together."
The young woman left the Rebbe's room with a lightened and joyful heart, and I remained to discuss several personal matters with the Rebbe. But the Rebbe immediately told me to call her back in, explaining: "I do not want her to think that we are discussing her behind her back."
It was three o'clock in the morning, and the Rebbe had seen dozens of people in the course of the night. Yet he was sufficiently attuned to her feelings to discern her sense of alienation and abandonment and to pick up on her notion of a "conspiracy" against her. So although the issue had been resolved to her satisfaction, and although she would not, in any case, understand the Yiddish in which we spoke, he refused to talk to me without her being present in the room.
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