My name is Yonasan Wiener. I was born and bred in Melbourne, Australia, lived for a time in New York, and now I’m living and teaching in Jerusalem (at Yeshiva Ohr Someyach).
In the 1960s, my father won a Fulbright Scholarship to do cancer research at Columbia University in New York. So we packed up and temporarily moved to Flushing, New York, where my father’s sister lived. While we were in New York, my father decided to visit the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and he took me and my mother along.
Our appointment was for the 24th of July, 1962, for 10 p.m. My father, being extremely punctual, had us arrive 45 minutes early. We had a long wait because the Mayor of Jerusalem, Mordechai Ish-Shalom, pre-empted us and after him, came the Israeli Minister of Religion, Rabbi Yosef Borg.
We finally went in at 1 a.m.
I remember the Rebbe’s office like it was yesterday. The walls were wood-paneled, and on the Rebbe’s table – about the level of my nose – there was a big clock. It was late, and I was watching that clock.
The Rebbe spoke to my father about his cancer research at Columbia. He took a big interest in what my father was doing and, not only that, he knew exactly what my father was talking about. It was like a conversation between two scientists.
The Rebbe also took a keen interest in my mother’s activities – she was the president of the Women’s Auxiliary in Melbourne and, while in New York, she attended the conference of the Chabad organization for women and girls. The Rebbe wanted to hear firsthand from my mother about what exactly went on at that conference.
After he finished speaking with both my parents, the Rebbe turned to me. And my father nudged me. “Nu, maybe you have something that you would like to ask the Rebbe?”
I was nine years old, but I was not shy. I said, “Yeah, I have a question for the Rebbe.”
The question I asked had to do with the song we sing at the start of the Shabbat evening meal, Shalom Aleichem. This song has four stanzas and in each stanza we refer to malachei shalom, “angels of peace,” except for the first stanza, in which we refer to malachei hashereis, “ministering angels.”
So I asked the Rebbe, “How come? Why are we not consistent and call them ‘angels of peace’ each time?”
The Rebbe looked at me intently. And I must say that by this time the Rebbe had been up the whole night seeing many people – some of them very important people – but when he spoke to me, I felt like I was the only person who existed in the world. And that he had all the time in the world for me, as if nothing and nobody else mattered.
The Rebbe said, “If you notice, the first two stanzas seem to be redundant. The first one says, ‘Peace unto you, ministering angels,’ and the second one says, ‘May your coming be in peace, angels of peace.’ It seems that both are greetings of welcome, so why do we need to welcome them twice?”
He went on, “I’ll tell you the reason. There are two types of angels – weekday angels and Shabbos angels. The ‘ministering angels’ are the weekday angels of servitude, and we are not welcoming them, but saying good-bye to them. In Hebrew, hello and good-bye are the same word, Shalom, so in the first stanza we are really sending off these weekday angels because Shabbos has begun. After that, we are greeting the Shabbos angels, the ‘angels of peace.’ So none of this is redundant or superfluous.”
With that, the Rebbe smiled at me and asked, “Do you understand?” And I nodded.
That happened in 1962 when I was nine years old – so this is going back 52 years. But I feel as if it was yesterday. I feel that the Rebbe is standing in front of my eyes now and speaking to me. That’s the kind of strong impression he left on my mind.
Source: Excerpted by Yerachmiel Tilles from a mailing of "JEM - Here's My Story” (//JEmedia.org) , as part of their extraordinary “My Encounter with the Rebbe” project, documenting the life of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of righteous memory. This story, in one of the thousand plus videotaped interviews conducted to date with seniors who knew the Rebbe in the early years, even in the 30’s and 40’s before he became the Rebbe.