One of the first disciples of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi was known as “the lovable Reb Gavriel.” Reb Gavriel lived with his wife Chana Rivkah in the town of Vitebsk, and, despite stern opposition from his family, he remained connected to his beloved Rebbe with every fiber of his being. His family did everything they could to deter him from this path – even attempting to derail his income – but to no avail.
In addition to their financial woes, the couple had another source of heartache: after 25 years of marriage, they had not been blessed with children.
Reb Gavriel and Chana Rivkah knew that the Almighty was in control; they would ultimately be blessed with children, health and a livelihood.
Please read on for the story of how this triple blessing came to be:
Rabbi Schneur Zalman, who was the first Chabad Rebbe and is often referred to as Der Alter Rebbe (Yiddish, “The Old Rebbe”), was once collecting tzedakah (charity) to ransom a fellow Yid who had been taken captive.
The Alter Rebbe instructed Reb Gavriel to contribute a large sum to this urgent cause and, despite his limited means, Reb Gavriel agreed wholeheartedly.
Returning home, he told his wife how much the Alter Rebbe had requested. She sensed his uneasiness.
“Haven’t you told me over and over again,” began Chana Rivkah, “that our Rebbe constantly reminds us that we must trust in the Almighty and always remain happy? Why should you be disturbed? G-d will certainly help us to contribute the requested sum to a cause like this!”
Springing to action, she sold her pearls and other jewelry, returning home with a bag of gold coins.
“Here’s the money!” she proudly proclaimed.
Yet before bringing the money to the Alter Rebbe, Chana Rivkah polished each coin with love. She prayed that their mazel should also begin to shine. She wrapped up the coins, and handed them to her husband, who brought them to the Alter Rebbe.
When Reb Gavriel arrived in Liozna, he placed the bundle of coins on the table in front of the Alter Rebbe. Opening the package, they saw the glimmering coins.
Immersed in deep thought for a few moments, the Alter Rebbe then said, “Of all the precious metals which were contributed to theMishkan (the portable Temple which the Jews built in the desert after leaving Egypt, and which we read about in this week’s Torah portion) – gold, silver and copper – only one item was shiny: the Washbasin, which was made from the copper mirrors that the women contributed joyously and selflessly.
“Tell me,” continued the Alter Rebbe, “where did you get these coins?!”
“Rebbe, you know that I’m not exactly the wealthiest man in town. So when I told my wife Chana Rivkah bas Baila of the amount you had requested that we give to tzedakah, she went and sold her jewelry. Returning home with the money, she polished each coin before handing them to me to bring to you!”
The Alter Rebbe rested his head on his hands for what seemed like forever. Raising his head, he blessed Reb Gavriel and Chana Rivkah that they should have children, long lives, wealth, and that they should be loved by all. He then instructed Reb Gavriel to start selling precious gems and pearls in his hometown of Vitebsk.
Returning home, he could hardly contain his excitement while telling his wife about the blessing from their Rebbe. And indeed, the Rebbe’s blessing was fulfilled. Reb Gavriel became known as “the Lovable Reb Gavriel;” he and Chana Rivkah became wealthy; they were blessed with sons and daughters; and he lived to the age of 110, while she outlived him by two years.
While there are many points to this story, the one I would like to highlight is that not only did Chana Rivkah give in a selfless way, but she also gave with simcha. When we invest ourselves in everything we do with joy and selflessness, the results shine so much more.