One morning, Reb Dovber, who would become the Mitteler Rebbe, woke up startled at the dream which he had just experienced. Shortly afterwards, he encountered his father, the Alter Rebbe. “Tell me your dream,” his father directed him.

Reb Dovber began to relate how he had seen a tall man who limped on his left side, standing on a raft and navigating it through calm, gently flowing waters. Then he had seen his father on another raft, struggling to steer it through turbulent and agitated currents.

“The tall man was my Rebbe, the Maggid,” the Alter Rebbe told his son. “His mission was to show tzaddikim (righteous people) how to pilot a course in life. Navigating such a passage is a challenge, but a tranquil one. My mission is to direct baalei-teshuvah, those who must return to their Jewish core. This is a far more irregular and tumultuous path.”

The Alter Rebbe transmitted this mission to his successors. Thus it is no wonder that it was the Rebbe’s initiative that sparked the teshuvah movement in America and throughout the world. In the 50s, when Rabbis throughout the States were lamenting the inroads that assimilation had made throughout traditional Jewry, Charles Ratner, a secular Jewish historian, asked the Rebbe what place an American Jew who had studied science and has the doors of American society open for him could have within the Jewish tradition. The Rebbe answered that American Jews possessed genuine sincerity, and that this quality would ultimately lead them back to their Jewish heritage.

In the 60s, the Rebbe instructed his chassidim to view the upheaval experienced by American youth, not as a rebellion against authority which should be held in check, but a sincere search for meaning and purpose that should be encouraged. It was in that era that he founded the first yeshivos for baalei teshuvah and established Chabad Houses on university campuses. Not only did the Rebbe encourage others through this endeavor, but as illustrated in the few examples that follow, he played a personal role in guiding many on the path to teshuvah.


In the early 1970s, a young man from California decided to return to his Jewish roots. He left the university in which he was studying and enrolled in the Tiferes Bachurim program for late beginners in Jewish studies in Morristown, N.J.

His parents were less than enthusiastic, considering the decision to be an irresponsible act. After a month in the yeshivah, the young man returned home and attempted to smooth things out, but was unsuccessful. His parents remained outspoken in their opposition, declaring that their son was simply trying to avoid taking responsibility for his life. When he saw that nothing he could say would influence them, the young man returned to yeshivah.

Now while he had been home, the young man had received a speeding ticket in the family car. For various reasons, he hadn’t paid it, and so a copy was sent to his parents’ home.

The unpaid ticket provided his parents with added ammunition. “This shows that we are right; see how irresponsible you are,” they wrote him. “You break the law, and leave us to pay your fines. Is there anyone in your beloved yeshivah who will pay your traffic ticket?!”

The young man, emotionally drained, wrote to the Rebbe asking him for advice. To enable the Rebbe to understand his parents’ perspective, he enclosed their letter. A few weeks later, he received a letter from the Rebbe full of support and encouragement, advising him on how to relate to his parents.

Clipped to the letter was a $30 check the amount required to pay the ticket.


From time to time, Rabbi Chatzkel Kornfeld, one of the shluchim in Seattle, would visit Alaska to kindle sparks of Jewish interest there. Over the course of these visits, he met a Jew who had married out of the faith, but still had warm feelings for his Jewish roots.

Rabbi Kornfeld was able to stir this person to heighten his Jewish practice, and he began a gradual but steady growth. As he progressed, he and his wife began to grow apart. Ultimately, they divorced, and the man moved to Seattle to begin a new life.

Rabbi Kornfeld told him that after making such changes, it would be beneficial to write to the Rebbe and ask for his blessings for spiritual and material success.

The ex-Alaskan wrote the Rebbe, describing his personal history, and asking for a blessing. He signed the letter with his name and then added: “a renegade Jew.”

When responding to the letter, the Rebbe circled these words and commented in Hebrew: “Immersion is required, as is necessary for an apostate.”

When Rabbi Kornfeld saw the response, he asked his friend to own up: had he ever undergone a conversion out of the faith? His friend explained that he had once been baptized. He had never mentioned it, for it had long since ceased to be a factor in his life.

Rabbi Kornfeld explained that Jewish law requires that when a Jew who accepted another faith desires to return to Jewish practice, he must immerse himself in a mikveh to wash away all connection to his false beliefs.

The Alaskan performed this immersion, and afterwards continued to progress in Jewish practice. Soon he was ready to build a home according to the chassidic tradition. He met a girl who was studying at Machon Chanah, the Lubavitch school for women who had returned to Jewish practice, and they decided to marry.

The date set for the wedding was two days before Sukkos, because many members of Seattle’s Lubavitch community would visit Crown Heights at that time. As is the usual practice in the Lubavitch community, the Rebbe was also sent an invitation.

The day before the wedding, Rabbi Kornfeld received a call at his in-law’s home in Crown Heights; the Rebbe’s secretary was urgently looking for him. Although that night was not one on which farbrengens were usually held, the Rebbe had decided to hold such a gathering. Nevertheless, since the wedding was being held in Crown Heights, the Rebbe was asking permission of the bride and groom. Would they object to the Rebbe holding a farbrengen that night?

Rabbi Kornfeld contacted the couple, who readily consented to the farbrengen. When Rabbi Kornfeld relayed the message to the Rebbe’s secretary, he was told that the Rebbe invited the couple to come to the farbrengen after the celebration and recite the shevah berachos (the seven wedding blessings).

And so it was that towards the end of the farbrengen, the spirits of the participants were uplifted by a happy group from Seattle.


Rabbi Zalman Serebryanski, dean of the Lubavitch Rabbinical College in Melbourne, Australia, once brought a girl to Rabbi Chaim Gutnick. “Please, help this girl convert,” he asked.

Rabbi Gutnick listened to the girl’s story. She lived in Balaclava, and from her youth had felt a strong attraction to Judaism. Whenever she heard stories of the Holocaust, she was deeply touched. She had been reading and studying about Judaism for a long time, and now wanted to convert.

Rabbi Gutnick was touched by her sincerity. Nevertheless, he did not want to perform the ceremony. The girl was still living at home with her non-Jewish parents. Would she be able to practice Judaism in her parents’ home? Would her interest continue as she matured into adulthood? Since he could not answer these questions, he decided to let time take its course. If the girl was still interested when she was older, she could convert then.

Rabbi Gutnick’s refusal plunged the girl into deep depression and she had to be confined to a hospital. Reb Zalman, stirred by the depth of her feelings, continued to visit her from time to time.

After several weeks, he called Rabbi Gutnick, telling him of the girl’s condition and asking him whether perhaps he would change his mind because of the strength of her feelings.

Rabbi Gutnick answered that the reasons which had dissuaded him from performing the conversion were still valid. Nevertheless, he promised to write to the Rebbe describing the situation. If the Rebbe advised him to facilitate her conversion, he would happily comply.

Reb Zalman told the girl that the Rebbe was being consulted, and her condition improved immediately.

Rabbi Gutnick did not receive an immediate reply to his letter. Afterwards, at the end of a reply to another issue, the Rebbe added: “What’s happening with the Jewish girl from Balaclava?”

Rabbi Gutnick was surprised. The girl and Reb Zalman had both made it clear that her family was Anglican!

He and Reb Zalman went to confront the girl’s mother. At first, she continued to insist that she was Anglican, but as the sincerity of the two rabbis impressed her, she broke down and told her story. She had been raised in an Orthodox Jewish home in England. As a young girl, she had rebelled against her parents and abandoned Jewish life entirely, marrying a gentile and moving to Australia. She had not given Judaism a thought since. She loved her daughter, however, and would not oppose her if she wished to live a Jewish life.

Once the girl’s Judaism was established, Rabbis Serebryanski and Gutnick helped her feel at home in Melbourne’s Lubavitch community. She continued to make progress in her Jewish commitment, and today is a teacher in a Lubavitch school.

But Rabbi Gutnick still had a question: How did the Rebbe know she was Jewish? At his next yechidus, he mustered the chutzpah to ask.

The Rebbe replied that, at Reb Zalman’s urging, the girl had also written him a letter. “Such a letter,” the Rebbe declared, “could only have been written by a Jewish girl!”


Leibl Shifrin is an American baal-teshuvah who first came close to Lubavitch in Springfield, MA. But though he felt inspired by chassidic thought, he found study difficult. Discouraged, he wrote the Rebbe for a blessing and advice for success in study.

“Learn about your roots,” the Rebbe told him.

(Leibl’s grandfather was Reb David Shifrin, one of the chassidim who helped the Previous Rebbe introduce Lubavitch to North America, and his family were Lubavitcher chassidim dating back to the Alter Rebbe.)

“When you know where you come from, your studies will proceed with far greater ease,” explained the Rebbe.

Prompted by this advice, Leibl began researching his family’s past. As his awareness of his origins increased, he began to feel more at home with Jewish knowledge, and was able to grasp Torah concepts more rapidly.