At the turn of the century, Reb Shmuel Gourary was a successful businessman whose enterprises brought him into contact with many chassidim from Poland and Galicia. Once after a contract was negotiated, he and a group of several chassidim, each following a different Rebbe, sat down to talk. Each told a story of a miracle his Rebbe had performed.
The other chassidim had impressive stories, relating how their Rebbeim had helped heal the sick, bless the childless with offspring, and bring about financial success. When Reb Shmuel's turn came, he told about an investment he had made in the forests of Russia. He had hesitated to make the investment, for a substantial sum was required and there was a great risk that the onset of the Russian winter would delay the timber from ever reaching its destination downstream. On the other hand, he stood to make a hefty profit. He consulted the Rebbe Rashab who told him to go ahead and invest.
From the beginning, problems began to arise: the cost of labor rose, and the quality of timber was not as high as expected. On several occasions Reb Shmuel asked the Rebbe if perhaps he should pull out, accept whatever losses he had suffered, but still save something. Each time, the Rebbe told him to persevere. Finally, as they were preparing to ship the logs downriver, a cold spell hit and the river froze. That was the end; by the spring, the timber would be almost useless.
"So what's the miracle?" Reb Shmuel's listeners asked. "The miracle is," he replied, "that I remained a chassid. I trust the Rebbe and know that this was for my own good. Had this happened to any one of you, you would probably have gone looking for a new Rebbe."
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In Chabad, the connection with a Rebbe is an all-encompassing one. It does not depend on "what the Rebbe has done for me," but is rather a deep, inner bond, based on the realization that the Rebbe can guide every facet of a person's spiritual development. On the other hand, the tangible benefits that often result from a connection with the Rebbe cannot be ignored.
Mr. Jeffrey Kimball, a lawyer and an active member of the Lubavitch community in Springfield, Mass., weighed the offer. Although it was no small investment, the profits seemed so secure that the banks had offered to lend him the 15 million dollars required without guarantors. Nevertheless, Mr. Kimball valued the Rebbe's advice. Before signing the contract, he asked for a blessing.
The Rebbe's reply consisted of two lengthy pages discussing the importance of adhering to a Torah lifestyle. "A Jew who fulfills G-d's commandments," the Rebbe wrote, will merit Divine blessings for success in all his endeavors. At the bottom of the letter, after his signature, the Rebbe added a postscript: "Regarding the business offer - it is not advisable."
Mr. Kimball had his answer. Now it was his associates' turn to ponder. How could he possibly turn down such a sound enterprise? Despite their insistence, Mr. Kimball trusted the Rebbe and did not make the investment.
Two years later, the soundness of the Rebbe's reply became openly apparent. Mr. Kimball had been asked to make a long-term investment in Nicaragua. Despite the country's previous stability, its government had been overthrown by Communist rebels and many foreign investments were nationalized.
"Sounds like a decent offer," mused Mr. Aharonson as he reached for the phone. A carpenter had advertised his workshop in the "For Sale" section of a local paper.
Shortly after an initial conversation, the two men met to discuss the details. The potential buyer and the seller were both eager to cut a deal, and they soon felt ready to draw up a contract.
"I've made an appointment with the lawyer for tomorrow at 10 o'clock," said the carpenter as he stood up.
He extended his hand to Mr. Aharonson, who shook it warmly, but added: "No, tomorrow is too soon. Although I'm very interested, I want to handle one more detail. You see, I always ask the Lubavitcher Rebbe for his consent and blessing before confirming any business transaction."
Although such an approach is common among the Rebbe's followers, it was strange to the carpenter. He agreed, but with some hesitation. "I respect your faith," he answered, "but please do not delay too long. After all, I do have other prospective buyers."
A few days later, the carpenter received a phone call. "I'm sorry," said Mr. Aharonson. "I am canceling my offer. The Rebbe implied that the deal is not for me."
The next day, a fire destroyed the carpentry. However, the financial loss was not as bad as it might have been had the transaction actually taken place.
The carpentry had been insured by its original owner. Thus, he suffered no major loss. As a matter of fact, he received more money from the insurance than he would have received from the sale. Mr. Aharonson, on the other hand, would not have been covered by this policy.
The Rebbe's advice thus proved beneficial to both the buyer and the seller - in a transaction that never took place.
"I cannot understand why I still have not received the Rebbe's blessing for this trip," Rabbi Nemes mused to himself nervously. Rabbi Nemes is a stamp dealer who often trades bring him into contact with postal authorities and private collectors in Central America. He would regularly visit Nicaragua in the winter and had already scheduled his appointments for this year's trip. As always, before finalizing his journey, he wrote to the Rebbe for a blessing. But instead of receiving an immediate answer, this time he had to wait for a reply.
As the date of his departure came near, Rabbi Nemes asked one of the Rebbe's secretaries to help him. After speaking with the Rebbe, the secretary asked Rabbi Nemes for a detailed itinerary of the trip. When Rabbi Nemes forwarded the information to the Rebbe, the Rebbe responded: "Make the trip - but not at present."
Rabbi Nemes found it difficult to comprehend the Rebbe's advice. 'This is the most profitable season for purchasing stamps,' he thought. 'Moreover, I have already arranged meetings with prominent dealers. And postponing this trip will complicate the other journeys I had planned. I cannot understand this; the Rebbe has never suggested a change in my plans before.'
Nevertheless, the Rebbe's followers are not deterred simply because they don't comprehend his advice. Rabbi Nemes postponed his trip and canceled his appointments.
One need not be a devout believer in Divine Providence to appreciate the immense sense of relief felt by Rabbi Nemes and his family when they heard the shocking news that weekend. A severe earthquake had struck Managua, Nicaragua's capital, causing thousands of casualties and tremendous damage. "And I had been booked in a downtown hotel there," Rabbi Nemes thought with a shudder.
As time passed and the airport at Managua opened again to commercial traffic, Rabbi Nemes considered making his journey. His family was apprehensive. "The city is still plagued with widespread theft and plundering," they argued. But Rabbi Nemes felt optimistic. "The Rebbe did not disapprove of the trip entirely," he told them. "He merely suggested that I postpone it." Rabbi Nemes was further encouraged by the Rebbe's prompt blessing to reschedule the trip.
Rabbi Nemes was not prepared for the vast destruction in the streets of Managua. Collapsed buildings and mounds of rubble littered the city. Countless homeless wandered aimlessly, making its familiar districts seem foreign even to a frequent visitor.
With great difficulty and anxiety, Rabbi Nemes made his way to the Central Post Office. In contrast to his somber expectations, he was astounded to find the huge building standing erect, almost untouched by the earthquake. Quickening his step, he proceeded to the room of an official with whom he often did business.
As he opened the door, the official jumped up with a start. "Goodness! What a surprise!" he exclaimed with delight. "I hadn't expected any stamp dealer to come here now!"
After a friendly exchange, Rabbi Nemes began to talk business. However, the local man stopped him. "As you see, the city is in a state of upheaval. It will be some time until it is rebuilt. The stamp business is obviously not an immediate priority. You are a trustworthy dealer and we've always worked well together. Help yourself to any stamps you require. We'll be in touch about the price and payment schedule at a future date."
"That trip to Nicaragua was the most profitable I have ever made," concluded Rabbi Nemes.
"Let me tell you of a personal experience I had," began the young man from Antwerp. "I had been studying at Yeshivas Kol Torah in Jerusalem when my father fell ill. The ever-rising medical bills and prolonged absence from work drained our family's resources. I was compelled to leave my studies and go into business to help shoulder the burden.
"An acquaintance suggested that I write to the Lubavitcher Rebbe and request his blessing. I was only too happy to do so, green as I was in the business world. In his response, the Rebbe advised me to buy as many shares of a particular stock as possible the following Sunday.
"I followed the Rebbe's advice, although that particular stock did not seem to have any particular promise. Two days later, the price of these stocks unexpectedly soared. I immediately sold my shares, netting a very handsome profit."
A chassid of the Sadigora Rebbe joined the line to receive a dollar from the Rebbe one Sunday. He had been given an attractive offer to purchase a bakery, but was not sure what to do. He had difficulty contacting his own Rebbe and the owner of the bakery was pressing for an answer. When the chassid asked the Rebbe about the proposition, the Rebbe replied: "Why ask me? Ask a Rabbi from Cleveland."
The Sadigora chassid was bewildered at this strange reply, and left "770" puzzled and unsure of the course of action he should take. As it happened, he met an elderly couple on the way to his car and offered to give them a lift. In the course of conversation, the man introduced himself as a Rabbi from Cleveland.
The chassid immediately asked their advice regarding the purchase of the bakery. If this unusual turn of events seemed incredible, the chassid was further shocked to learn that the couple was related to the owners of the bakery.
"Since you asked," said the Rabbi's wife, "I'll tell you. The owner of the bakery is a decent fellow, but his business faltered because the workers are not trustworthy."
The Sadigora chassid had his answer. The contract of sale had included a clause requiring the purchaser to continue to employ the present staff. Needless to say, he did not purchase the bakery.