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Gathering More And More Talmidim To Greet Moshiach
By Shalom Dov Ber Cohen

Eight years have passed since the Rebbe MH”M said that the great spiritual revolution in France (Sichos VaYishlach-VaYeishev 5752), a country that used to be a symbol of heresy and is now a Torah center, reached a state of completion in our generation. The Rebbe indicated that this alludes to the refinement of the world in general. Rabbi Pinchas Gedalya Pashtar, menahel of Hadar Torah in Paris, tells of his role in this revolution, and about the dozens of baalei teshuva who are still making their way towards Yiddishkeit.

I chased after Rabbi Pashtar for weeks, wanting to hear about the history of his work and its projected future. I gave up trying to reach the busy man by telephone, and determined to meet him in person. On my first attempt in the offices of Yeshiva Hadar Torah, they told me that he hadn’t yet returned from Belgium. He had gone there with a group of talmidim for them to experience Shabbos in religious Antwerp.

My second attempt at meeting him did indeed result in seeing him, but only for a moment. “I’m sorry,” he said, peering at me over the glasses perched on the end of his nose, “I must finish writing the weekly bulletin.” He smiled apologetically and went back to the sfarim and papers spread out over his desk.

On my third attempt, his assistant, Dovid Barda, told me that he was in Belgium giving a class for Jewish students in Brussels. “Don’t worry,” said Dovid, “he only went for a few hours.”

The fourth time, I was determined to speak to him no matter what! Although I arrived just as he was to deliver a lecture to thirty people (topic: the Rebbe’s view of the situation in Eretz Yisroel), I knew patience would be a virtue.

While waiting, a distinguished older fellow approached me and whispered, “Can I get the back issues that discuss evolution?” Seeing my look of surprise, he pulled out a folded paper in French entitled “Le Courier De La Geula.” He opened it and showed me an article about Torah vs. the theory of evolution. “It’s fantastic,” he whispered. “It’s written on a high academic level, yet it’s so clear. Thanks to reading this, I have become an ardent believer in the Rebbe’s prophecies.”

The lecture was over. There were another twenty minutes of questions and answers. The man who had approached me sat down to listen. Then he spoke at length with the lecturer. Finally, he went to the office, got the issues he was missing, and left. Now it was my turn.

“Thanks for coming,” said Rabbi Pinchas Pashtar while shaking my hand warmly. We clarified the misunderstanding that occurred during my first attempt to meet him. I had identified myself from Beis Moshiach, but he thought I was from the Parisian organization called Beis Moshiach. This is the center directing all the Moshiach activities in France and distributing material on inyanei Moshiach and Geula, material he would want to include in his newspaper. They also publish a pamphlet by that name. He didn’t realize I had wanted to interview him for the international Beis Moshiach magazine.

“Ah, you mean the Shofar Ha’olami,” referring to the magazine you now hold in your hands. “You want to write an article about our paper?” Now I had to use all my persuasive abilities to convince him that I was not merely interested in the paper, but that I really wanted to interview him; he doubted that anybody would find it interesting!

I reminded him that the Rebbe said that the refinement of France, particularly the spiritual revolution that has taken place there, alludes to the refinement of the entire world. We wanted to hear about someone actively involved in hafatza who had joined Lubavitch in the early years of Chabad’s work in France.

Apparently I succeeded in convincing him. For Rabbi Pashtar added, “Especially, the most important work, the work of actually greeting Moshiach Tzidkeinu!”


Tell us about your childhood. Were you born in France?

I was born in Paris, a year after the outbreak of World War II. I grew up in Paris with my parents, as well as my brother and sister, both born during the war years.

Were you forced to go into hiding?

Maybe we should have hid, but my parents were so naive that they didn’t realize how dangerous the situation was. When they finally caught on, they had no idea how to flee or where to go. Throughout the war we remained in the same apartment, and my father, R’ Shimon Pashtar, a’h, continued his religious way of life. He continued going to shul and doing all of his regular activities.

What about kosher food?

My mother, Duba Bina, a’h, took care of that. She was a wise woman, who did all she could to bring food to her family, while raising three little ones in such terrible times. She was from a very illustrious family. Her grandfather, R’ Moshe Reuven Goldberg, was the dayan of Grodna. He raised his orphaned nephew, who later became famous as the Beis HaLevi of Brisk.

Do you remember the war years?

Generally. I was just a little boy, but you would be surprised – I remember certain incidents in detail. I remember being with my mother before going down to the metro of Paris on our way back from the market with kosher food. Naturally, it was the black market. Suddenly we were stopped by policemen who noticed the merchandise in our bags.

We were taken to the police station for questioning. I remember sitting in the long corridor, near an “aunt” who volunteered to watch me until my mother would come out and take me home. Later, my mother told me that she had written our address on a scrap of paper and had asked the gentile cleaning lady to take me home, in case (G-d forbid) she wouldn’t be released.

She was released without any problems?

It was really miraculous. My mother said that the officer accused her of wanting to buy even more “incriminating” goods than the ones found on us, i.e., meat. My mother told him quite innocently that she would not buy non-kosher meat for all the money in the world, since she was Jewish.

The officer was amazed. He asked her to sit down and began questioning her on the laws of kashrus. Finally, he pointed at the door and ordered, “Go home and don’t tell anyone that you were arrested and released.”

And after the war?

Life went on and we grew up. I finished my religious studies at the Yavne School, continuing at the yeshiva of R’ Eliyahu Munk, z’l, and received my smicha for rabbanus from the Beis Din of Paris. I had independently finished my secular studies too, in science, philosophy, languages, etc.

And then?

That’s when my life changed. In 5720 (1960), a Lubavitcher Chassid came to the neighborhood shul to serve as shaliach tzibur. I had previously known nothing about Chabad, except that my mother always praised Lubavitchers as being “fine people.” In shul I first began to get acquainted with this Chassid, and was invited to his home for Shabbos. It opened up a new world for me.

The Chassid was R’ Tzvi Leib Levin, a’h. He had been the Rebbe’s shaliach in Morocco, and when he had to leave that post due to pressure from the Moroccan government, he and his family moved to France to continue his shlichus.

R’ Leib Levin was a Chassidishe man. His good heart and shining countenance captivated everyone. He became the central Jewish figure in the area. He explained and guided, encouraged and strengthened. He was an outstanding educator, who personally instructed young children, and his students were admired by all. His daughter is the wife of Rabbi Yaakov Blum, one of the directors of Beis Moshiach in Paris.

I was one of his first mekuravim in his new location, and through him I came to know the wondrous world of Chabad. R’ Leib saw that I was attracted to the intellectual aspects of Chassidus Chabad. I loved to learn and delve into the sfarim he gave me. He asked me to accompany him to Aubervilliers, a suburb of Paris, where over ten Lubavitcher families, who had emigrated from Russia, lived (e.g., Eidelman, Belinow, Horowitz, Levin, Kalmanson, etc.).

As a guest from the big city, I was greeted with exceptional warmth. Even emotionally, not my strong point at that time, I felt a change. I experienced Chassidishe farbrengens, learned how to daven, and learned what is real ahavas Yisroel and what is true simcha. Of course, I also learned about Yud-Tes Kislev, Purim, and Simchas Torah, when the Chassidim of Aubervilliers went all out in their celebration.

I progressed in learning, mostly influenced by R’ Aryeh Leib Eidelman, a’h. He was an example of an elder Chassid from the remnants of the talmidim of Tomchei Tmimim in Lubavitch. The image of him standing and davening is engraved in my mind. I learned for ten years with him, studying the basic works of Chabad Chassidus. I rented an apartment in Brunoy near the yeshiva for the summer months, so that I could listen to the shiurim of the famous mashpia, R’ Nissan Nemenov, a’h.

I learned from these teachers and mashpiim that I could not remain satisfied with my own avoda. If I knew and understood something, I had a duty to share my knowledge with others. Thus, in 5724, I organized a new series of Chassidus classes in the old shul in Paris, which was named after its address, Rue de Jacque #5.

My father, father-in-law, grandfather, and before the war, my grandfather’s father, davened in this shul. The latter gave shiurim there when he came to France. The shul was active even during the reign of the Nazis, and at least two minyanim davened there. I remember how my father took me there on Friday nights. We davened quietly in the basement. The gentile neighbors knew about this, but, thank G-d, nobody informed on us.

You opened your center for the study of Chassidus in this very shul?

Yes, indeed. As a result of this work, a large group of baalei teshuva and mekuravim formed. After some time, I discovered that R’ Shmuel Azimov (R’ Mulleh, may he have a complete and speedy recovery), who was a bachur at that time, had been doing similar work in Brunoy and Paris. Naturally we joined forces. That is how a branch of Tzeirei Agudas Chabad of Paris was founded.

Then what?

After a while I had a strong desire to see the Rebbe. I was married, and traveling in those days was not what it is today. But I decided that nothing would stand in the way of seeing the Rebbe. I was determined to go.

I had written the Rebbe a few times, but had never received a response. The interesting thing is that the very day I was ready to leave for New York, I found a letter from the Rebbe in the mailbox, my first letter from the Rebbe. The Rebbe wrote that he had read about my work in the de Jacque Shul, which had caused him nachas ruach.

My emotions during this trip, as well as my first meeting with the Rebbe, participating in the farbrengens, and the yechidus, are hard to describe. However, it all contributed to increasing my efforts in my work when I returned to Paris.

At that time, I organized a new group in Orly, near the airport in Paris. I continued giving classes for adults, and set up Talmud Torahs in a number of places for younger people, where they studied twice a week.

Were you associated with any mosad?

At first I was not, and I didn’t see anything wrong with that. The Chassidim and mashpiim who were mekarev me, did so as a matter of course, simply because they were Lubavitcher Chassidim. However, after a number of years of successful work, some people felt I was trespassing on territory that did not belong to me. I was extremely affronted. Was I supposed to stop giving shiurim? I decided to ask the Rebbe.

In 5731 (1971) I received the Rebbe’s response, which he had handwritten at the end of a personal letter: “With blessings for success in disseminating Yiddishkeit and the wellsprings in particular (certainly you will continue doing so – the question is surprising), especially the new classes you mentioned.” The Rebbe puts vowels under the word yamshich (continue), perhaps so that I would not err by pronouncing the word differently to mean I should stop what I was doing. However, the story wasn’t over yet...

Why, weren’t you satisfied with this clear answer?

(Smiling) I was certainly satisfied, which is why I expanded my classes, etc., but maybe it led to additional disagreements.

I was unsure of myself again. Perhaps I was supposed to continue my shiurim but under another person’s authority? On the other hand, the Rebbe hadn’t said so. All he had said was that I should continue my work. After giving it a lot of thought, I decided I had to hear the Rebbe’s answer from the Rebbe himself. I flew to New York at the beginning of Elul 5732.

The Rebbe had heard the details of what was going on from R’ Binyamin Gorodetzky, a’h, the one in charge of the “Bureau” in Paris, and who was well acquainted with my work. When I entered the Rebbe’s room for yechidus, the Rebbe’s face glowed. This is what he said: “There are enough Jewish souls in Paris for him, for you, and for others! You must open your own mosad, and report about your activities. If the shul is too small, move to larger quarters!”

I remember being very surprised by the Rebbe’s sharp directives, and I mustered the courage to say, “They won’t believe me in Paris.” The Rebbe responded decisively: “You will get it in writing!”

Indeed, before leaving for home, I received a long letter from the Rebbe wherein he explained that my work had to be independent. A copy of this letter was sent to R’ Binyamin Gorodetzky as well, and I used to consult with him when questions about my autonomy would come up. The Rebbe also mentioned this in one of his letters to me in 5743: “In all matters, as I answered then, speak with R’ Binyamin Gorodetzky shlita.”

If you want, I can show you the letter…

You want to publicize it? What are you talking about! I was embarrassed to show it to the people in Paris. [Author: In the end, I managed to get a copy of the letter.]

What activities can you tell us about after this yechidus?

After a few months, I was able to write to the Rebbe about the opening of a new mosad called Hadar Torah (similar to Hadar Hatorah in New York), and about the new students, who were doing well. With the help of these students and mekuravim, other important projects were initiated, such as the first mivtza tank of Paris, the first mobile succa, Mivtza Chanuka in public places, etc.

Shortly afterwards, I arrived in New York with the first group of talmidim, and after that I brought many other groups from France, each consisting of fifty-sixty people.

How did the Rebbe relate to these groups?

The Rebbe gave them special attention. On the day we would leave, the Rebbe would stand at the doorway of 770 to bless the group, and encourage their singing and dancing before boarding the bus. We had the Rebbe’s warm attention during farbrengens, when the Rebbe would give us a bottle of wine, a full plate of mezonos, etc.

In those years, 5732-5740, the Rebbe would look for me between sichos in order for me to say l’chaim with the talmidim, calling out: “Ha’kohen ha’gadol mei’echav” (“the kohen that is greater than his brethren,” a verse referring to the Kohen Gadol). Occasionally he told us to start singing “HaAderes v’ha’Emuna” to the tune of the French national anthem.

This kind of special attention everybody saw, but there is a private aspect as well. I have a letter from R’ Binyamin Gorodetzky, dated the 26th of Adar 5734, in which he writes:

“Make a list of those going to the Rebbe for Purim, and those who learn at Hadar Torah will have half of their expenses paid for by the Rebbe. Those who don’t come to learn, if there are people like that among your travelers, will receive 36 sh’kalim each. Make a list and give it to R’ Levin at the lishka, and he will give you the money. I wrote to him about this.”

The same letter also says, “Regarding the letterhead of the mosad Hadar Torah, write in a way that makes it clear that it is Lubavitch, so that nobody can say that the mosad has no connection to the Rebbe, because it will say Lubavitch explicitly. That is what the Rebbe shlita told me, which means you have permission to use the name Lubavitch.”

In the Sichos Kodesh, it says that there was a rav from France, and the Rebbe was surprised that he hesitated to sing “HaAderes v’ha’Emuna.” Was that you?

[From the farbrengen of the eve of Yud-Beis Sivan 5740, Vol. 3, p. 1770: At the end of the farbrengen, the Rebbe asked one of the rabbanim from France to sing “HaAderes V’ha’Emuna” to the tune of the French national anthem. When some time passed and he had not yet appeared, the Rebbe said: “He should hurry up and sing; Moshiach is already prepared to come and there is no time!” Finally, when the rav arrived and began to sing, the Rebbe encouraged the singing with both his hands and clapped vigorously.]

How did you know? Listen to what happened. At the end of the farbrengen, the Rebbe said that since a large group of guests from France would be leaving, they should sing their niggun. Then the Rebbe called out, “Pashtar, where are you?”

I was in the building next door to 770 at that time, translating the Rebbe’s Yiddish into French. That way, all members of the group, as well as other people, could hear the farbrengen translated simultaneously through a small transistor with an earphone. It was part of a whole operation of producing a multilingual simulcast of the Rebbe’s address. I had been chosen at that time to translate into French.

So there I was, sitting and participating in the farbrengen by watching it on a video screen and listening through special headphones, and the Rebbe was looking for me! I quickly removed the headset, but it got caught in my beard and I was trapped. I tried unsuccessfully to extricate myself from the tangle, while I still heard and saw the Rebbe looking for me.

“Where is he?” the Rebbe asked my group in French, and then he smiled, “Birchas Kohanim is not done at night!” The talmidim told the Rebbe that I was translating, and the Rebbe, with a smile, asked again, “Here, or in Paris?” There was an entire dialogue in French, including “Moshiach is already prepared to come and there is no time!”

Finally I tore myself loose, and surprised even myself by how fast I dashed down the dark spiral staircase of that building. I arrived at the hall and somehow managed to make my way through the crowd to the Rebbe’s bima, where the Rebbe was still waiting. A full cup of mashke awaited me, and I burst into song.

What else can you tell us about yechiduyos you had with the Rebbe?

At my yechiduyos I was able to receive answers to my personal questions, as well as advice, explanations and words of encouragement. For example, in 5736 I remember that the Rebbe said, “Lubavitch is not afraid of competition. On the contrary, Lubavitch is interested in competition, that others should also do mivtzaim, etc. That’s the whole point, that even Jews of other groups should do mivtzaim. You will see,” said the Rebbe, “that other rabbis in Paris will do as you do. Rabbi___ and Rabbi___ and Rabbi___ will also do mivtzaim.”

On another occasion, the Rebbe told me in yechidus to visit Machon Chana in Crown Heights, where baalos teshuva study. The Rebbe said he was interested in having a similar institution in Paris, and he wanted me to see how one operates.

Some of the directives I received from the Rebbe were in writing. For example, in 5735 I wrote to the Rebbe that I had the opportunity to work with varied segments of the population, e.g., students, older men, etc. I asked whether I should customize my activities to each group, despite the fact that other people concentrated on only one type of person. The Rebbe answered: “Naturally the nature of the publicity and the work in each country and place is according to the conditions of the place and the people, who are not like one another.”

With the Rebbe’s encouragement, I began writing and editing articles in French, which were printed and widely disseminated. Many issues of “Thought of the Week” were published, which the Rebbe greatly encouraged. There were also separate pamphlets that explained the ten mivtza campaigns, Shabbos and other special mitzvos.

I should point out that I received a lot of help from my students in this work, who are today distinguished members of Anash, and continue to be active in Paris. Some of them live in Eretz Yisroel, where they work with French speaking people. I will mention R’ Dovid Bukobuza who is a shochet in Kfar Chabad, R’ Chai Berkatz who runs Or Gavriel in Yerushalayim, R’ Yehoshua Taib, a sofer in Teveria, and R’ Moshe Lokshinsky.

Any special answers or encounters with the Rebbe?

Every directive and answer from the Rebbe is special, but from my personal perspective there are some that stand out. I attribute my role and work in Paris today to two answers I received from the Rebbe ten years ago, when I had various offers to work elsewhere. The first offer in 5748 involved work outside of France, about which the Rebbe said: “Regarding settling down, etc., since you are in France and have been all your life, etc., obviously you should make efforts regarding France, and by consulting with knowledgeable friends in France.”

Later on in 5750, I was offered the position of principal of a school in Marseille in southern France. I asked the Rebbe about it, and that same day the secretary called me and said, “If by doing so, his influence will not decrease in Paris. He should consult with knowledgeable friends.” For ten months I worked in Marseille, and flew back to Paris in order to give my regular classes.

What does your work focus on today?

Starting in 5751, when we heard the Rebbe’s amazing sichos about the uniqueness of this most recent time, the work focuses on disseminating the Rebbe’s prophecies, what the Rebbe said about Moshiach’s imminent arrival, and the fact that he is Moshiach. After Chaf-Zayin Adar I 5752, when we urgently needed to strengthen our emuna and bitachon, we published a series of booklets on this topic. Over the past four years, we have been publishing a weekly called “The Letter of Geula,” which is very attractive and enjoys great success.

The articles are all in French, but we are greatly aided by articles printed by others in Hebrew. R’ Shalom Dov Ber Volpe’s books are excellent, as is the terrific material printed in your Beis Moshiach magazine, and the weekly publications produced by R’ Zimroni Tzik’s organization.

I went to the Rebbe for Shavuos 5753, and received his blessing to buy a beautiful venue for Hadar Torah. We offer evening classes, lectures, and kinusim. Starting in 5755, as a result of the excitement that began in Eretz Yisroel, we started arranging mass gatherings for Moshiach and Geula. We get a huge number of people, and you can really see how the Jewish heart is awake to hear about the besuras ha’Geula. We fully cooperate with the important work being done by Beis Moshiach here in Paris, which is directed by the dedicated shluchim, R’ Yaakov Blum and R’ Reuven Matusof.

As much as possible, we help with lectures and material, written for shluchim in other districts of Paris. We also have strong ties with those working in neighboring French-speaking countries, like Matteh Moshiach of Antwerp and Brussels in Belgium.

We still organize group trips to 770, for the Moshiach Congress, etc. The work doesn’t stop there either, because we translate the speeches into French, and we learn and farbreng.

In conclusion?

Twenty years ago, I traveled with a group of mekuravim for Shavuos 5740. We passed by the Rebbe for kos shel bracha, and I was last. I heard the Rebbe express this promise: “You will go to greet Moshiach Tzidkeinu, with your wife and your children and your students.” All I have to do is gather more and more talmidim!



“Back then” in the Tzach center in Paris:
a farbrengen with members of the group. Rabbi Pinchas Pashtar is sitting in the center. (On his left are R’ Mulleh Azimov, R’ Avrohom Chaviv, R’ Menachem Lubaky; on his right are R’ Yeshaya Velika and R’ Binyamin Margi).

He opened it and showed me an article about Torah vs. the theory of evolution. “It’s fantastic,” he whispered. “It’s written on a high academic level, yet it’s so clear. Thanks to reading this, I have become an ardent believer in the Rebbe’s prophecies.”


So there I was, sitting and participating in the farbrengen by watching it on a video screen and listening through special headphones, and the Rebbe was looking for me! I quickly removed the headset, but it got caught in my beard and I was trapped...

At a Moshiach and Geula gathering:
Rabbi Pashtar answers questions from the audience. Rabbi Shemarya Matusof is standing at his side.

Rabbi Pashtar with a group from France in front of 770, Gimmel Tammuz, 5757




After a number of years of successful work, some people felt I was trespassing on territory that did not belong to me. I was extremely affronted. Was I supposed to stop giving shiurim? I decided to ask the Rebbe.




“There are enough Jewish souls in Paris for him, for you, and for others! You must open your own mosad, and report about your activities. If the shul is too small, move to larger quarters!”




“Lubavitch is not afraid of competition. On the contrary, Lubavitch is interested in competition, that others should also do mivtzaim, etc. That’s the whole point, that even Jews of other groups should do mivtzaim.”


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