"We Didn’t Know How The Rebbe Would React"
By Menachem Ziegelboim
It was a young bachur in 770 who decided that there had to be a change in the big menora that was lit on Chanuka. * He was afraid to ask, but he quietly confided in a friend. On Thursday night of Chanuka 5743, they set up the new menora on the Rebbe’s bima... * The story of one of the most famous menoros in the world, which is in Beis Moshiach - 770

For many years there was a large wooden menora in the Rebbe’s beis midrash in 770, whose eight branches bent upwards at right angles. Every Chanuka, this menora was lit. The menora could have been used for many years to come except that on Rosh Chodesh Elul 5742 (1982), the Rebbe pointed out that the menora in the Beis HaMikdash is mistakenly drawn as a semicircle. The Rebbe spoke negatively and very emphatically about this, and said that according to halacha, the menora in the Beis HaMikdash actually had straight branches which extended upwards diagonally from the middle.

"I was a bachur in 770 at the time," recalls Rabbi Chaim Niselevitz, mashpia in Toras Emes in Yerushalayim. "After Tishrei 5743, I began thinking about Chanuka, which was just around the corner. Something needed to be done about the big menora.

"I remembered that two months earlier, on Shabbos Parshas Mattos-Massei 5742 (the middle of the summer!) the Rebbe referred to the menora that was lit in 770 during Chanuka. The Rebbe said, ‘There are those who depict the menora with the six branches in a semicircle, with the middle branch resting on a horizontal metal surface, not on the vertical stem (as depicted on Israeli currency - and it would be good if this picture did not enter the yeshivos as the [rounded] luchos did). As a result, there are Chanuka menoros that are made in the shape of a semicircle, and even the menora in 770 is a semicircle!’

"This motivated me to do something to change the situation. The fact that the Rebbe mentioned the menora in 770 in the middle of summer made me think the Rebbe was giving us time to replace it.

"After giving it a lot of thought, I went to Rabbi Herschel Chitrik, who had donated the previous menora, to ask whether he would be willing to have a new menora made according to the Rebbe’s specifications. I didn’t want to insult him or the menora that had been used for so many years, but I knew something had to be done. When he answered me in the negative, I felt I had to do something to prepare a menora for Chanuka, which was fast approaching.

"I was also afraid that if others found out about our plan, someone would complain to the Rebbe and the whole thing would fall apart, because the Rebbe would prefer shalom to a proper menora. So I began working on it very discreetly.

"I discussed it with my good friend, Zalman Scharf. We deliberated whether to get involved, and wondered what would happen if word got out. We decided to get to work, and whatever would be, would be.

"Before beginning to work on it, I studied the topic from the Rambam’s commentary on Mishnayos. I had questions about the cups and knobs - were they spread out all along the branch or were they placed closer to the lamps? I also had other questions, but I was afraid to ask the Rebbe. And I didn’t want to ask other people because I didn’t want word of this project to get out. I presented my questions in the pamphlets, He’aros HaT’mimim, which appeared at the time.

"After Zalman and I knew exactly what we wanted, we went to Herschel Pekkar, a craftsman from England who lives in Crown Heights, and asked him his opinion. He said a large menora with all the details described in the Torah - cups and knobs, and of course, straight branches - could be made."

R’ Herschel Pekkar relates: "Two bachurim approached me, Niselevitz and Scharf, and they asked me to make a large menora. It was four days before Chanuka and I sarcastically said, ‘What a pity you didn’t come a day before Chanuka.’ It was a large and complicated project, and I didn’t have much time, but I took it on and began building the menora.

"I worked on it for nearly ten days in a row, and another two long nights. It was one-of-a-kind work, which was undertaken with unusual enthusiasm."

Rabbi Niselevitz: "The menora cost $3,000, a hefty sum today and even more significant then. We turned to R’ Mordechai Nagel, who gladly donated the money.

"The work was not easy. The knobs and cups on each branch had to be identical, as similar as possible to the menora in the Beis HaMikdash. When the first night of Chanuka arrived and the menora wasn’t ready, we were really upset. We took some bachurim and began working at night in Pekkar’s workshop to help expedite the work.

"I remember how sad we were on the first night of Chanuka when they placed the regular menora on the Rebbe’s bima, because I knew the Rebbe wanted a different menora, one with straight diagonal arms. I consoled myself, thinking about the new menora that would be available in just a few days."

Finally, by the sixth night of Chanuka, the menora was ready. It was gold-plated, big and beautiful - really impressive! Since the project was kept secret until the last minute, the new menora was placed on the Rebbe’s bima only a few minutes before the Rebbe entered for Mincha.

Erev Rosh Chodesh Teives 5743, the sixth night of Chanuka. The Rebbe went to the Ohel that day as he did on Erev Rosh Chodesh, and as was usual at the time, Mincha was delayed until the Rebbe’s return, even if it was late in the evening.

In the meantime, Chaim Niselevitz and Zalman Scharf brought the menora to 770 and set it up a few minutes before the Rebbe entered. Hundreds of people stood around and watched in amazement. "The tension was enormous," recalls Niselevitz. "We didn’t know how the Rebbe would react. Positively? Negatively? Would he have nachas from it, or would he want to put back the original one out of respect to the donor?

"When the Rebbe entered the large zal, he noticed the new menora immediately, and while he was going up to the bima he looked at it. When he got to his place, he looked into his siddur, a sign for the davening to begin. We didn’t know how to interpret the Rebbe’s reaction. Suddenly the Rebbe turned around and looked the menora up and down and down and up, repeatedly. Then we saw an amazing thing - throughout the davening, whenever possible, the Rebbe turned around and looked!

"After Maariv the menora was lit, and then the Rebbe went up to his room.

"When we asked one of the secretaries what the Rebbe’s reaction was, he said that the Rebbe looked very pleased. This was the best news we could possibly hear - to have given the Rebbe nachas ruach!"

R’ Herschel Pekkar: "I remember that after the lighting, the Rebbe said the shamash should be taken down and placed on the table. Afterwards, I asked why the Rebbe had done that, and I was told that since this was the first night the menora was lit, and it looked like the menora in the Beis HaMikdash - six lights plus the shamash made seven - it shouldn’t look like the seven-branched menora in the Mikdash. The following year, however, when they lit the menora from the first night and on, this wasn’t an issue.

"On Friday night after the davening, the Rebbe walked over to the steps. I was standing among hundreds of other chassidim. Suddenly the Rebbe turned to me, and with an usually shining face he wished me, ‘Good Shabbos,’ and I felt that this was how the Rebbe was thanking me for my work."

* * *

R’ Niselevitz learned a few lessons from this episode. He understood that when the Rebbe says something should be done, there’s no room for lots of questions. It should be done immediately. This is true for the menora and for publicity about Moshiach. "If we would have questioned the whole thing from the beginning, it’s very probable that it never would have happened. The same is true for Moshiach. The Rebbe responded negatively to those who questioned and were mefalpel. We did what the Rebbe wanted, and the Rebbe was so pleased. So too, with Moshiach - we must please the Rebbe!" he stressed.

Another point: Correcting the branches so that they are diagonal - similar to the menora that was in the Beis HaMikdash, which the Rebbe spoke about in many sichos - is part of "l’chazek bidka." This means that Moshiach will correct the mistakes in various customs which appeared over the years of Galus. This is the sign that the Rambam mentions in connection with Moshiach: "l’hachazir atara l’yoshna."

We will conclude with a quote from the Rebbe (Mattos-Massei 5742): "May it be G-d’s will that by speaking about the menora, we will soon merit to see the menora of the third Beis HaMikdash, and how Aharon the Kohen lights it." Halevai, b’karov mamash!





We didn’t know how to interpret the Rebbe’s reaction. Suddenly the Rebbe turned around and looked the menora up and down and down and up, repeatedly. Then we saw an amazing thing - throughout the davening, whenever possible, the Rebbe turned around and looked!


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