"AND YOU DON'T HAVE A BIRTHDAY?"
by Rabbi Michoel Gourarie
There are so many important lessons that can be learned from the Rebbe's life and leadership. One of them is about care and concern for an individual. The Rebbe was a leader who spoke about and was involved in major global issues such as the security of Israel, the fall of communism in the former Soviet Union and the establishment of thousands of Torah centres across the globe. Yet despite this global vision he focused on the physical and spiritual welfare of every single individual with incredible care and concern.
Let me share with you a personal story. Every Sunday the Rebbe would stand for many hours distributing dollar bills to thousands of people, for them to then give to a charity of their choice. With each dollar the Rebbe would briefly bless each person and occasionally have a brief conversation on an issue of importance.
In 1990 my wife Dina was in New York. When she passed by the Rebbe with our two oldest children she quickly mentioned to the Rebbe that our son's birthday was that week and requested a special blessing for him. The Rebbe looked at her and said: "And you don't have a birthday?". Confused by this strange question she hesitated while the Rebbe repeated the question, to which she answered that it had already taken place (it was just a few weeks before). The Rebbe smiled, gave them a blessing and she moved on.
Dina immediately called me in Sydney and shared with me her strange encounter. At first I too was perplexed by the seemingly odd question that the Rebbe had asked: "And you don't have a birthday?" But after I put down the phone and thought for a moment it all fell into place.
From the time that we moved to Sydney I decided that before every birthday in our family I would fax a brief letter to the Rebbe and request a blessing. I almost never received a reply, but was always completely confident that it was received and that the Rebbe would give his blessing in whichever way he wanted.
That year I forgot to write the letter before Dina's birthday. When the Rebbe asked her a few weeks later about her birthday, he was obviously expressing his surprise at not receiving the yearly fax.
Thousands of people filed passed the Rebbe each Sunday. Every day he received thousands of letters and faxes with important and urgent issues to address. Yet he cared about the birthday of one single individual living in Australia. The question - "And you don't have a birthday?" was his way of saying that you are important to me, I look forward to your yearly fax about your birthday, and I noticed when it didn't arrive this year.
The lesson for all of us is clear: We are all very busy. Some of us may even have global issues on our shoulders, or think we do. But nothing should override the attention, care and concern that we show to another single individual.