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Rebbe I want marry a non-Jew

Rebbe I want marry a non-Jew

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How the Rebbe helped a young man contemplating an intermarriage. Read the Rebbe's first response

“The Greatest Heights”

 

A young man torn between his faith and his personal life comes to the Rebbe for help. Can the Rebbe save him from himself?

The Avner Institute presents an emotionally charged encounter, as told by Rabbi Shabtai Slavaticki, emissary to Antwerp, whose poetic advice to a fledgling congregant led to a rare glimpse of the Rebbe’s compassion toward a Jew’s private affliction, as well as his belief in the ability to overcome challenges.

 

“The Only Way Up”

 

Rabbi Slavaticki Relates:

I first met Daniel at the Chabad House when someone brought him over for a visit. A tall young man, with a refined and intelligent face, he worked in computer operations for the European Common Market.

Sometimes it can take weeks, months, or even years until two people make a connection. Other times the connection is made instantly. It might have something to do with past lives or the celestial source of souls.

Whatever the case, we hit it off at once. Daniel loved to learn and expressed interest in the deepest concepts in Chassidism. With his quick mind and unusual sensitivity he absorbed everything; he could bring the highest, most abstract concepts down into the practical and relate them to the world and people around him.

Most importantly, however, was the way Chassidism changed him. A new world had suddenly opened up. Daniel began to understand himself better and find answers to his questions. Within a short time he was laying tefillin, keeping kosher, and observing Shabbos.

Unmasked

Every few weeks Daniel would make a trip to Italy, especially on his time off. Whenever I asked him why, he answered, “To meet friends.” I always found something strange about this, or more accurately, I always read something between the lines. He never looked me in the face when he said it; rather he seemed to toss it in at the end of our conversation, as if wishing to relieve himself of a burden.

Once we were at the Chabad House until the middle of the night. A long farbrengen had just ended. Still under the spell of the melodies and the magic of the Chassidic stories, we found it difficult to get back to “real life.” It was then that Daniel approached me and opened up.

“I think I'm a little tipsy,” he began sheepishly.

“It's not the drink, it's the farbrengen,” I explained. “A Chasidic gathering is like a fiery furnace. It brings the inner Jew to a ‘boil’ so that all the externals evaporate and the inwardness becomes more concentrated. After a farbrengen, we are more ‘real.’ Some people know what is required of them, but they're not sure ‘where they're holding.’ Others, however, have the merit to know both what they must do and where they're holding.”

I could see that Daniel took the hint. He gave me a weak smile. “You already know,” he began, “that it's been a while since I started becoming more observant, although everything is relative. Over the last few months I've severed all my ties to the past with the exception of one.”

He trembled and lowered his voice. “I just can't do it. If I take this step, it will tear me apart. Nothing of me will remain.”

I didn't ask him what the tie was; I knew it was something I shouldn't ask, something he had to tell me himself. Daniel was obviously uncomfortable. It seemed as if he was staring in the mirror for the first time and suddenly seeing himself as he really was, all the masks removed.

Daniel averted his eyes, and I was reminded of his trips to Italy. It suddenly occurred to me that this might be the one tie that still bound him.

“I have a girlfriend,” he finally mumbled, “but she isn't . . . one of us.”

He lapsed for a moment into silence. “Some of my friends have suggested she convert, but I don't think it would be right. Conversion is too holy to profane simply for the sake of my conscience; it would be defiled if there were ulterior motives. If someone converts to Judaism just to get married, it isn't a real conversion. So I've never even mentioned it to her.

“I went to a few different rabbis – specifically not Chabad – for help, and each one told me what a terrible sin it is to intermarry. Some of them even described the punishment in Hell that awaits someone like me, but nothing they said convinced me to break it off. I'm not sure I can do it.”

Daniel was trembling; I could sense the battle royal raging inside him. The look he gave me almost broke my heart. “Help me!” he pleaded wordlessly. “Save me from myself!”

The Source

“Your problem,” I slowly replied, “is universal, something we all face. It all goes back to the strangest match in the world: the ‘marriage’ between the body and the soul.

“The body and soul are essentially different, completely dissimilar in their likes, dislikes and loyalties. Yet not only do they have to live with one another, each one has to complete the other and make it whole. The funniest thing is, it works -- the greatest proof being that after 120 years, neither wants to be parted from the other. You are being pulled between the desires of the body and the desires of the soul.”

“What should I do?” Daniel cried. “Where can I get the power to free myself?”

“If a well runs dry,” I answered, “building a beautiful house over it won't help. The only solution is to dig deeper, all the way down to the water's source. You too must dig deeper until you reach your roots. There you will find the strength you need, as well as the answer to your questions.”

Daniel was puzzled. “What do you mean?”

“I mean it's time to go to the Rebbe!” By now I had his full attention. He was no longer tense and desperate; rather, he waited, listening intently. “Go to the Rebbe. There you'll find your answers and the strength you need.”

Exposed and Transparent

Sunday at 770. Hundreds of people form a patient line, lasting hours.

Daniel is also solemn as he recites Psalms and practices (for the umpteenth time) the words he is planning to say.

The line crawls as Daniel inches closer. Up the stairs, turning the corner, finally he has reached the “Lower Heaven.” And then, Daniel finds himself face to face with the Rebbe.

“At first,” he told me afterward, “the only thing I could see was the Rebbe's holy eyes. The Rebbe looked deep inside of me. All the words I'd prepared flew right out of my head. In the Rebbe's presence, my mind stopped working. I felt completely exposed and transparent.

“I could not utter a sound. The Rebbe held out a dollar, but when I tried to take it he would not let go. For a long moment we stood there like that, both of us holding opposite ends of the dollar bill. The whole time the Rebbe kept gazing at me, a look filled with kindness and love. I could feel myself calming down.”

Daniel described what followed.

“I have a problem,” he blurted.

The Rebbe tilted his head slightly.

“I've started to become more observant,” Daniel explained, “but I have a girlfriend who isn't Jewish and I'm planning on marrying her.”

Daniel fell silent; what else could he say? Mere words could not express the turbulence of his emotions, yet he sensed that the Rebbe understood exactly what he meant, what was going on inside.

Daniel braced himself for a rebuke. He expected to be reprimanded, to be told by the Rebbe how grave a transgression it was to intermarry. Surely, the Rebbe would say something about Heaven and Hell, as did the non-Chabad rabbis.

But the Rebbe said nothing. His holy face was serious, yet there was an imperceptible smile on his lips.

“I envy you,” he finally said.

At first, Daniel could not quite grasp the meaning. All kinds of thoughts ran through his head: The Rebbe is holy of holies; I am small and insignificant. The Rebbe, who is on the highest spiritual plane, is envious of me—someone on the lowest?

“I can't remember the Rebbe's exact words," Daniel told me, “but their meaning was indelibly marked on my soul.”

His Own Ladder

“He said, ‘There are many ladders in life; the ladder is the individual's free will. The Holy One, Blessed Be He, gives every person free will, which is a ladder reaching all the way to heaven.

“‘The test you are facing is a challenge. It will elevate you to the greatest heights.’”

“The Rebbe continued, ‘I personally have never been presented with this test. So if G‑d gives you a challenge, it means He believes you can overcome it. He is giving you the strength to withstand the test and to succeed.’

“Only then did the Rebbe relinquish the dollar bill and allow me to take it.

“I'm not sure what happened next, but a few seconds later I found myself in a corner of 770 crying like a baby. I could feel the tears cleansing me, washing away all the dirt.

“Someone came over and gently asked me if I wanted a drink. Without waiting for a reply he handed me small bottle of water. I took a sip and felt better.

“I returned to Belgium and became another person entirely. My encounter with the Rebbe totally transformed my life.”

Daniel had taken the challenge. He ascended the ladder. Today, he lives as a full-fledged Jew in Israel, where is he raising a fine Chasidic family. And the analogy is understood.

Daniel was made to understand that life's difficulties are ladders leading upward, that trials and tribulations are merely challenges. There is no other way to ascend. Even if the ladder appears crooked or shaky, it is still the only way up.

 

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