The Rebbe and the Forty-Nine Hipsters

Last week, I told you how the Biala Rebbe was coming to our house. And I’ve gotten a bunch of emails/Facebooks/twittery questions back, asking the question that should be self-evident: What did he say?

First, let me tell you what I think. I think the Rebbe sees things that the rest of us don’t see. I don’t know if he’s hooked up to any otherworldly powers or has a direct line to G*d that the rest of us don’t. But I do think that he’s a professional at this sort of thing. The same way that, more than a normal person, a psychologist is going to watch me chewing on my cuticle and know that it probably relates to the fact that I’m always hungry — I mean, of course they will, it’s their job — the Rebbe also picks up on stuff. Maybe it’s tiny physical movements. Maybe it’s our auras. I don’t know.

My wife and I sat down with the Rebbe. Immediately, before he asked our names (he always asks our names), he turned to her and said: “You’re loved from above, and you’re loved below. Why are you always stressing out?”

Case in point. It’s not like other people aren’t stressed. It’s not like 98% of the people there weren’t stressed. But, in her case — this week, and the certain circumstances in our lives and what was going on — yeah, it was pretty freaking relevant. If I would’ve had to pick a single topic to talk about, it would be the amount of stress that we (and, specifically, she) are under.

So, go fig.

It was a really weird night. Awesome, but weird. I’d kind of figured that it would be a party of sorts, since the Rebbe sees people one at a time and a bunch of us were waiting — but it wasn’t that kind of atmosphere at all. We sat around. We made small talk. It wasn’t fun small talk, though; it was the kind of small talk that you make while you’re waiting for the results of a particularly invasive exam. Everyone was half in that room and half in their own heads, thinking about what they wanted to say. When a random man with whom you have no straight connection flies from Israel, and you can talk to him about anything, it’s a horrible kind of freedom. What’s the most important thing in your life? How do you sum that up? What do you ask for a blessing for — your kids, your job, your books? Everything?

In cases, like ours, you don’t even decide. The Rebbe just starts talking. He spoke Hebrew, which I mostly understood, but it helped to have it repeated back in English (by Rabbi Davide, my old teacher at yeshiva) a second time. He asks the questions, and you fill in the blanks. He asked why I spread myself so thin — to which I could only say, yes. I told him about my new movie and I asked what I should be writing now — another screenplay, a teen novel, a real novel, or what. He said, it doesn’t matter. Just pick something, and go on it 100%. Don’t divide myself up.

I think we got lucky — or unlucky, depending on your vantage point. We were the second people to speak to the Rebbe, so I had the entire rest of the night to chew on what he said. Meanwhile, people in the living room were looking at me for answers, like I’d gotten out of there successfully, so what do they do? The people on their way out didn’t look at me like that. They had their own mental stuff going on.

Two Israeli girls who went in there came out satisfied, like they’d gotten the exact thing they asked for. My one stodgy, rationalist friend came out a little shaken, like the Rebbe’d pulled one of his Jedi mind-reading tricks. The person who was the most excited to go in came out crying. It sounds like a collection of riddles, or stories whose answers I’ll never know, but in the moment, it was amazing — like watching one of those grainy family videos that you shouldn’t have a right to see, but you do. It really wasn’t about fortunetelling. It was about what you boil your life down to, when you’ve only got one thing to say.

Halfway through our session, the doors to the room slid open. Rabbi Davide stood up, ready to intercept whoever was interrupting. Then my two-year-old daughter, who’d gone to sleep hours ago and who never woke up, ran in through the crack. She wasn’t crying or afraid or uneasy. She just ran up, held her arms out, and demanded, “Up.” I scooped her up, plopped her on my lap, and introduced her to the Rebbe, and introduced the Rebbe to her right back. Sometimes you don’t even need a Hasidic sage to tell you what the most important parts of your life are. Sometimes you just need a conduit.

photos by Dan Sieradski

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