It has been our great blessing and privilege to be personally acquainted with the Amshinover Rebbe, Rabbi Yaacov Milikovsky, who is a grandchild of the previous Amshinover Rebbe, Reb Yerachmiel Kalish and is also a descendant of great Masters of Chassidic dynasties. His every movement, every word and every silence awes us by the power, the intensity of devotion, the utmost humility and commitment that is shining through.
The Rebbe is so much in demand that only those with burning problems can be personally received by him. His own home has been like a river with a constant stream of activity and visitors at all hours of the day and night. His two-and-a-half bedroom apartment is sparsely furnished though it has been the home of his many children. Now that his sons and daughters are marrying, they bring their own children with them on visits, continuing with the same humble manner in which they were raised, filled with reverence and love for the holy teachings of the Torah. No matter how busy or crowded the home is, it is permeated with peace. The visitors speak in whispers as the children play quietly at their feet.
When the Rebbe is praying and calling out blessings, we know that he is truly facing the Master of the Universe. His piercing, heart rendering voice shakes the listeners to their innermost depths. The Rebbe resonates with our own hidden cries and the deepest yearnings of our souls, with our own sufferings, our hopes and dreams, our yearning to draw closer to the Presence of the Creator. His voice is like the cry of a child that reminds us of the longing we have hidden even from ourselves. We find ourselves joining in his plea with the Creator of heaven and earth. Being in his company reconnects us with our innermost being, with what we are here for, with what is truly important and meaningful in our lives. Standing in his presence brings us into another dimension.
Because the Rebbe knows and treasures the precious, divine spark in every soul, he stands before each individual with deep respect and high regard. He stands by the door of his living room, humbly greeting every new visitor with the reverence of a servant facing a king. His demeanor is so exceedingly humble and endearing that anyone who meets him for the first time is taken aback by it.
The Rebbe does not say a word off-handedly or absent-mindedly. Since our prayers are filled with heavenly words connected to infinite depths, the Rebbe spends about two hours pronouncing the words of “Birkat Hamazon”, the blessings to say after meals. He completes the early morning prayers only in the afternoon. Somehow the Sabbath gets prolonged until Sunday. Wedding celebrations are extended to the next day or two as well. The parameters of time became irrelevant. The Rebbe sleeps a maximum of two hours a day, following in the pattern of his holy grandfather.
Once we were privileged to be invited to one of the Sheva Berachot (seven days of blessing following a Jewish wedding) of the Rebbe’s daughter. This celebration was held in a remote synagogue in Beitar. I will never forget the experience: The Rebbe and his son-in-law were dancing, holding each other with devotion, humility, reverence and prayer. They were swiftly, gently and lightly dancing, stepping between two lines of Chassidim who were singing and clapping. Back and forth, back and forth from one end of the room to the other they were moving, absorbed and focused in blessings and profound intent. The atmosphere was vibrant and enthusiastic, an expression of the many aspects of joyfulness, enveloping all those who stood there. My heart-felt comforted and filled with a sense of faith, strength and wonder.
Now I knew why lines of people spend hours patiently waiting to see the Rebbe. It is like a secret, unspoken understanding. People just wait, for they have experienced the changes and blessings that occur within their lives, after seeing the Rebbe.
Like his revered grandfather and great grandfather, the Rebbe doesn’t need to speak about miracles. Around him, miraculous Divine interventions look like natural occurrences which simply unfold in a harmonious way.
Great Masters have taught us that the ultimate purpose of our life here is to choose to love God – not because we need miracles, or want retribution, but because we love God from the depths of our heart, unconditionally. This is the highest form of love we can express.
While seeking to collect stories about Reb. Yaacov, I noticed a similar reaction in his Chassidim, when asked to speak about their own experiences. They were reticent in relating the turns of events that followed his blessings, not wanting to brag, and they always had a far away look, as if their minds had trailed to another place and time where they felt cherished. A smile would play on their face as if remembering a pleasant moment in their childhood when they felt loved.
In general interactions with others, Reb. Yaakov Milikovsky, like his grandfather Reb. Yerachmiel Kalish, hardly ever mentions other people, or their circumstances, scrupulously careful not to mislabel others. His Chassidim have followed this ancient path of only speaking kindly of others, careful not to cause any misunderstandings or inaccurate judgments in the slightest manner.
Reb. Yaacov’s grateful supporters and friends help him maintain a yeshiva, a cheder-school, and many other charities.
On the few occasions when Joshua and I would be privileged to have a personal encounter with him and enter his small study room, he would be standing at the door to receive us, nodding, speaking in a hushed voice. As we sat down he would listen, head bent forward, with the utmost attention, until Joshua stopped talking. Then there was a long silence of prayerful meditative quiet, as he would nod and consider all the angles of what was said. Straightening, he would fire a startling question with a loud, intense, assertive tone! Then, depending on the answer, there was another long silence as he considered all the aspects at our situation, then more questions showing his passionate involvement in the problem presented to him and about our life.
Soon some form of resolution would emerge and we would talk about it. A gentle smile would shine on his face, words filled with supportive trust and inner certitude and as he looked into our eyes, we felt the inner reassurance, blessings and clarity we needed.
The Gabbai had already very gently tapped on the door a few times, signaling that there were other people waiting for their turn. Reluctantly we would say our farewells and would walk out, feeling elated and confident, with deeper love and commitment to God’s service and to our family.
At one point, one of our family members was going through an extremely complicated situation in court. Within a week after our interview with Reb Yaacov, the difficulty was resolved in totally unexpected ways.
I recently met a woman, Tierza, who met Rabbi Ya’acov twenty-eight years ago. She is the descendent from a long line of great Sages, from Buchariah. Being very sensitive and spiritual, she didn’t have an easy childhood. She was raised among eleven competitive, and ambitious, siblings who were scornful of her sensitive, gullible and vulnerable self. This meeting initiated a total change in her self- identity that lasted ever since, even though she cannot remember what was said.
In her words: “I hated the fact that I was sensitive. I thought it was deserving of the ridicule they heaped on me. I wanted to be tough like my brothers and failing to do so, I was very unhappy. This meeting with the Amshinover Rebbe left a transforming imprint on me. I discovered he was even more sensitive and vulnerable than I was! At one point, as I was telling a painful part of my story, he actually began to shiver, and I noticed that a lump was going up and down in his throat! His response was quite visible and he was not ashamed to show his vulnerability. From then on I knew I could show mine as well. I could trust in the way I naturally am.
Purim is the only day of the year that the Rebbe accepts gifts. On the table, and stacked throughout the apartment and overflowing on the balcony were “Mishloach Manos” gifts, magnificently arrayed long trays of pastries and chocolates, fruits and cookies. These gifts were waiting to be distributed to many other Chassidim and poor families. I noticed one of his youngest boys, a gentle 3 ½ year old, being handed a tray of chocolate sweets.
“Can I have one, mommy?” he eagerly asked
“Not before you offer them to all the people here,” was the firm answer. And the boy did as instructed.
The Rebbe himself was undisturbed by the constant coming and going engrossed in his prayers. We watched him from the kitchen corner for half an hour, as he bent over five large brown envelopes that contained charitable funds for distribution. His personal attendants were also watching, waiting to deliver them to many poor families. The Rebbe was praying that this monetary assistance would bring along with it the highest blessings on all levels.
A few months ago, we were most honored with the presence of The Amshinover Rebbe at the celebration of the brit milah (circumcision) of our latest grandson, Porat Yosef. He was standing with us in the synagogue in absolute concentration for more than two hours, gently swaying in prayer. I could tell he was blessing the lives and the yearnings of all present.
Fortunately for us, there are some exceptional soul giants who commune with the infinite Creator, drawing down a Peace which encompasses eternities. The power gathered from that sustained attention is radiating forth from them.
Our world desperately needs healing and protection. How could the world survive without the constant, intense, fiery devotion and commitment of such holy souls connected on High coming to live with us to keep us more aware and awake?