“Rabbi, Why An Empty Chair?“

Thursday, 14 April, 2011 - 7:22 pm

A couple of years ago, at the end of our community Seder at the Luzern Bahnhof, one of the participants, a business man who was in Luzern for business purposes, came up to me and pulled me aside to ask a question. With a serious face he asks, how come there was an empty seat at his table? Was it on purpose?

I was a bit taken aback by the seriousness that he was taking the issue, and answered him simply, that there was someone who was supposed to come, but for whatever reason couldn’t make it, and there was nothing to worry about.

The man goes on to say: “I’ll be honest with you, young Rabbi (5 years ago I was still considered thatJ), I was a bit surprised to see this, since you are a Chabad Rabbi…”

At first, I didn’t quite understand what he wanted from me. He then told me the following amazing, meaningful story, which I would like to use the blog to share it with you:

For many years following the holocaust, there was a custom in many Jewish homes, to leave an empty chair at the Seder table.

Not for Eliyahu Ha’navi, and not for Aunt Yentel who might decide to join last minute.

The reason for this custom was to remember our brothers and sisters who perished in the holocaust, as well as to identify with the Jews of the (former) Soviet Union, who were unable to celebrate the Seder and to experience Pessach the real way.

In the early seventies, the Jewish Federation of North America decided to go out with a campaign to the entire Jewish world and establish this custom in every Jewish home. Every family should realize the importance of the idea and add an empty chair to their Seder table. This way it will increase awareness that if not for the holocaust, where we lost 6 million Jews, there would have been another Jew sitting there.

Recognizing the power of the Chabad movement worldwide, the leaders of the federation came to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe ob”m  in Brooklyn with a request. They asked him to please have the Chabad representatives around the world spread the idea of the empty chair, so that this custom will really be established the world over.

The man telling me the story goes on to say that the Rebbe’s answer stunned the leaders of the federation.

The Rebbe answered the following: “Your idea of adding a chair is very important, and I’m ready to join the call,


There is one condition…

The extra chair should not be empty, but filled.

Hence, the goal of the Nazis was that less and less Jews should celebrate their Jewishness…

To turn this over, you should tell Jewish people today to add a chair to their table and to fill it with a Jew, who if not for this invitation, would not have celebrated the Seder night”.

Says the Rebbe: “This is the real answer to the holocaust.”


Back to our Community Seder at the Luzern train station – The man finishes his story and tells me: “It is important that the young generation knows how the Lubavitcher Rebbe changed the face of the Jewish world today.”

The man wished me Chag Sameach and returned to his hotel. I haven’t seen him again since, but at that Pessach Seder about 5 years ago, I learned something very important.

This week’s blog is dedicated to the memory of the Lubavitcher Rebbe ob”m, the founder of Chabad in Switzerland, as well as many countries worldwide, whose 109th birthday we mark today.

Looking forward to seeing many of you at the Pessach Seder next week Monday,

Rivky and the children join me in wishing you a Shabbat Shalom, Happy and Kosher Passover,

Rabbi Chaim


Comments on: “Rabbi, Why An Empty Chair?“

Rachel B. wrote...

what an inspiring message from the Rebbe, how true!
As usual I enjoyed reading your blog. It is always nice to hear about the interesting encounters you have and especially how you make it meaningful for yourself and then share it with us.
Thank you and Happy Pessach to you all!

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