When you think about the Chabad Lubavitch Ohel the literal sense of the word ohel transforms.
What Is an Ohel
Ohel is a Hebrew word, literally, tent; yes, the kind you may construct and sleep in while camping outdoors. However, as a sign of prominence of the deceased, an ohel also refers to a resting place of a Tzaddik, a righteous person in Judaism, typically a small masonry building structure built around a Jewish grave that may include room for visitors to pray, meditate, and light candles in honor of the deceased.
“The Ohel” of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe, has a greater significance.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson known to be the most recent Rebbe of the Jewish Orthodox Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch dynasty. Chabad is one of the world’s best-known Hasidic movements, particularly for its worldwide outreach activities, and is one of the largest Hasidic groups and Jewish religious organizations in the world.
The Ohel, located at the cemetery in Cambria Heights, New York, is where Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, a Russian-Empire-born American Orthodox rabbi, was laid to rest, on the 3rd of Tammuz 5754 (June 12, 1994), next to his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson
The Rebbe is considered to be one of the most influential Jewish leaders of the 20th century. He was a Biblical, Talmudic and Kabbalistic study gifted scholar, an authority on Kabbalah and Jewish law and a religious spiritual leader.
Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who could be called a genius, studied mechanical engineering at the French engineering school and grande école, … ecole Spéciale des Travaux Publics, du bâtiment et de l’industrie, located in Paris from where he graduated in July 1937 with an engineering degree. He also audited classes at the Sorbonne and studied mathematics until World War II broke out in 1939.
Menachem Mendel Schneerson was wise and vastly knowledgeable on many aspects of life and subjects; he had political foresight that brought many world politicians and leaders to meet with him and he showed prophetic sagacity.
It has become well know that anyone who had the good fortune to meet the Rebbe during his lifetime can attest to the unmatched attention and love he offered each individual, regardless of background, situation or degree of religious involvement.
When men and women from all walks of life came to ask for a blessing, advice, or encouragement, they found comfort in the Rebbe’s kind words and radiant appearance. Anyone who stood in his presence, even for a moment, left being deeply affected, if not somewhat changed by the encounter, an extraordinary experience that people carry with them their entire life.
The Kvitlach Custom
The Rebbe is known to have frequented, several times a week, the gravesite of Rabbi Joseph Isaac (Yosef Yitzchak) Schneersohn, his father-in-law and the sixth Rebbe. The Rebbe brought to the holy resting place thousands of letters he received, containing people’s troubles, joys and prayer-requests of all sorts, and he would stand for hours, meticulously reading every one of them.
Nowadays, the Rebbe’s reading of the letters he received became the Kvitlach custom, a practice developed by Hasidic Judaism in which a Hasid, the follower of Hasidic Judaism, writes a note with a petitionary prayer and gives it to a Rebbe in order to receive the latter’s blessing.
This prayer may be a general request for health, livelihood, or success, or a specific request such as recovery from illness, the ability to bear children, a wedding match, etc.
At the Ohel, visitors follow a tradition of writing the Kvitlach – prayers written on a small pieces of paper – to the Rebbe beforehand, each visitor then reads the prayer note quietly beside the graves, then rips it up and leaves it on the gravesite.
Modern technology has taken the Kvitlach custom a step further. In the Ohel’s visitor’s center, a fax machine and a computer receive hundreds of faxes and e-mails of Kvitlach daily. These kvitlach are all printed and then taken to the gravesite, where they are torn up and tossed onto the gravesite as if the sender was present.
When the pile of torn Kvitlach grows too high, the shredded notes are burned, just as the case of the Western Wall, in Jerusalem, where people leave prayer notes in the wall’s crevices. When those crevices are overloaded, the notes are removed and are burned.
My Visit to the Ohel on June 14, 2021
In many cases, Jewish righteous persons become greater after their passing, more than during their lifetime. The constant stream of visitors, from every sector of the Jewish nation and even non-Jews, to the Rebbe’s resting place, The Ohel, testifies to his powerful influence during his life time and to the truth of his words.
The Ohel has become a spiritual center, the place where thousands visit annually to pray, seek and receive inspiration and ask for blessing and guidance from the Rebbe.
The Rebbe’s yahrzeit, meaning memorial anniversary, this year fell on Sunday, June 13, 2021, 3rd day in the month of Tammuz, 5781, in the Hebrew calendar.
When Rabbi, Avraham Meyer Zajac of Chabad-Lubavitch of South La Cienega (SOLA), the shul (synagogue) I customarily attend, suggested that the members of the shul should organize to travel together to New York, on the Rebbe’s memorial anniversary date and put a Kvitlach on the Rebbe’s grave, my reaction was, what a good idea.
My gut feeling was it was a good opportunity to put a meaningful prayer note on the Rebbe’s gravesite. My intended prayer was in my head and heart for weeks. Seeing the United States falling apart under the un-Americanism Democrat Party leadership and the state of Israel following the US with un-Zionistic and rather dangerous and questionable new government leadership was good enough reason for me to travel to the Ohel.
My belief is that now more than ever a prayer is needed for a very confused, misguided and misdirected humanity.
The cost of airline tickets, like all other marketable items and services have gone sky high since the Biden administration began un-administrating the United Sates’ economy, beginning early 2021. Traveling to New York was out of my financial reach. But I struck good luck when a member of the shul offered to sponsor two airline tickets to the Ohel. My hand rose up fast and I won the trip.
I traveled to the Ohel, my first time ever, on June, 14, 2021, a day after The Rebbe’s yahrzeit-memorial anniversary.
Sometimes when all seems to be going so wrong, best is to put trust in the Almighty and His disciples.
A Comforting Presence
Arriving from Los Angeles to the Ohel, in New York, where I met up with my shul’s rabbi and several peers was most comforting. Going through the entire custom of writing a prayer wish note ahead, arriving at the gravesite and praying, reading my personal wish note at the site and then tearing it up, with that deep sense of hope it will be answered, was spiritually elating. It has left me with that triggering sense of repeating this custom again and again; and may this wish come true.
As during his lifetime, even now being in the Rebbe’s presence is not only a helpful, liberating effect, but also inspires one to continue strengthening one’s thoughts, speech and actions of goodness and kindness. Before going to the Ohel a person may even commit to do a new good deed, hoping for the Rebbe to be the ‘conduit’ through which God’s blessings can flow.
I traveled to the Rebbe’s Ohel not only to pray for myself and my family’s wellbeing but also for the nation of Israel and every Jew, while experiencing the spiritual elevating moment the Rebbe’s presence offered in his lifetime and now even from the Heaven above.
I can only hope that now my hopeful wishes prayer comes true. To that I say, Amen!