Tanya describes the unity of the Jewish people by means of the classic analogy with the functioning of the human body. Although the body is comprised of organs of diverse structure and function, all these components operate together as a single living organism. By the same token, though the Jewish people is made up of numerous individuals, each with his own distinctive nature, it functions as a single, vibrant unit.
Which organ contributes this sense of oneness? - The brain. The life-energy of all the organs is centered in the brain, each of whose components is connected to one of the organs. Similarly, among the Jewish people, there are comprehensive souls whose possessors serve as nerve centers. These singular individuals live their lives in consciousness of others, and endeavor to tighten the connection between them. Indeed, there are some such individuals whose self-sacrifice for all those unnamed others is so great, that while living in one corner of the world they can provide direction and assistance in the remotest places.
The depth and breadth of the chassidic lifestyle has lent itself to a colorful variation of approaches. Each approach expresses a different path of serving G-d. Although this should bring about a productive symbiosis, a lack of open-mindedness sometimes leads to unnecessary antipathy.
Thus, a certain Belzer chassid developed strong views about Lubavitch and would occasionally make uncomplimentary comments about the Rebbe.
Eventually, this chassid met with tremendous disappointment. His son lost interest in Jewish practice and began to forsake his family traditions. Despite his family's efforts to dissuade him, Jewish practice no longer appealed to him.
This continued for several years. Once, this young man passed through a busy bus terminal. He was approached by a Lubavitcher chassid who invited him to put on tefillin. The young man shrugged. He had no desire to resume this daily practice which he had long forsaken. But the Lubavitcher chassid did not have many "clients" that day, and evidently felt the need to satisfy his sense of mission.
"Perhaps you'll reconsider," he coaxed the young man gently. "If you don't feel like doing it for yourself, then please do it as a favor for me."
The man's earnestness struck a chord in the young man's heart. "O.K." he agreed. "I'll do you a favor." The Lubavitcher was pleased. Much more important than his own sense of satisfaction was the fact that a fellow Jew had taken off a moment from his worldly concerns to develop a connection with his spiritual core.
Before he could assist the young fellow in putting on the tefillin, the young man had donned them himself. His lips were already murmuring the appropriate prayers. "He looks like he knows what he's doing," the Lubavitcher thought to himself. He was not unaccustomed to meet people in the street whose outer appearance did not reflect their knowledge of Jewish practice.
Curious, he spoke a little more to the young man who was now more relaxed and ready to talk. This encounter ultimately resulted in the young man's renewed commitment to Jewish practice.
His father was overjoyed with the turn of events, for he felt that the young man's commitment was now stronger and more motivated than before. He also felt indebted to the Lubavitchers who had befriended his estranged son. Therefore, although he had been openly critical of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in the past, he now decided to visit him and express his gratitude.
Upon meeting the Rebbe, the Belzer chassid related the events which led to his visit. The Rebbe listened, and replied: "You have experienced both the pain of a father whose son has gone astray and the great joy of his return. I feel similar pain for every Jew who is estranged from Judaism, and I experience similar feelings of happiness when he rediscovers his roots."
No wonder Rabbi Dov Ber Chein was considered a dangerous criminal in Communist Russia. Reb Berkeh's lively gait belied his advanced years; his well-worn leather satchel swung rhythmically from the cane slung over his shoulder, and most important, his sparkling eyes exuded his deep faith and chassidic soul, inspiring the generations of youngsters whom he educated.
This unique determination, matched with his skill in educating children, had classified Reb Berkeh as a prime target for the KGB. He had avoided arrest for many years, but only because of Divine Providence, ingenuity, and adeptness.
He was eventually captured by his pursuers as he attempted to slip through the Iron Curtain. After being tried and sentenced to death for counter-revolutionary activities, his death penalty was commuted to imprisonment in a desolate area.
Even after his release, one could hardly consider Reb Berkeh's lifestyle as that of a free man. He was constantly followed and spied upon by secret agents, who were only too eager to apprehend him for a 'crime' of teaching children the Torah or of arranging for the observance of Jewish law.
Hoping to distract the KGB, Reb Berkeh moved to a distant town, but its ever-present arm shadowed him even there. He went into hiding, never showing his face in daylight. Even his wife and daughter did not dare visit him by day.
Some time earlier, during his prison term, Reb Berkeh's father-in-law and two sons had managed to leave Russia for Israel. Now his father-in-law wrote, imploring them to request an exit visa for his wife and daughter. "At least they will be spared," wrote the desperate grandfather.
Reb Berkeh's wife would not hear of it. "I will not leave my husband," she wrote her father. Knowing that he could not expect to get a visa for any place other than Siberia, Reb Berkeh's father-in-law kept begging his daughter to try and save herself and the little girl.
Finally, after an extended exchange of coded letters, it was agreed that Reb Berkeh's son, who had been sent to study at "770", would ask the Rebbe if Mrs. Chein should apply for an exit visa. The Rebbe's surprising answer was that Reb Berkeh himself should make the application for the entire family, including himself. He concluded with a blessing: "May G-d help you."
Surprised, but trusting the Rebbe, his son continued asking, "Should my father present his true papers or try to obtain false ones?" The Rebbe responded with a broad smile and casual wave of the hand: "They won't realize that it's Reb Berkeh."
Reb Berkeh received word of the Rebbe's reply, and braced himself for the lengthy and nerve-racking visa application, which precisely detailed the applicant's life. Truthful responses to "Were you ever arrested?", "Imprisoned?", "For which crime?", would surely betray his identity.
To magnify the danger of his identity being discovered, he was required to submit thirty photographs together with the application. These were to be circulated among various different government offices together with the application, to check if any false information had been submitted.
The warning at the top of the application stared boldly at Reb Berkeh: For every false answer - three years' imprisonment. "That makes over eighty years," thought Reb Berkeh grimly, as the only truthful information which he proffered was the names of his family members and their present address.
The next fearful year and a half ended with a brief notice that the application was accepted. Reb Berkeh approached the visa office with trepidation. Was this a trap? True, he had filled out the application, but Mrs. Chein had delivered it and dealt with the bureaucracy. Had they used the exit visa and passport to lure him into the open? Despite these worries, the Rebbe's promise gave him confidence: "They will not realize...."
And they didn't. They handed Reb Berkeh and his family their visas and passports with bureaucratic indifference. Four hours later, the Chein family, visas in hand, was already on a plane headed for Moscow.
From Moscow, they boarded a flight to Vienna. This time the clerk was less indifferent. "Your papers are false!" he shouted. Ignoring Reb Berkeh's protests, he checked with the manager, hurling a violent curse upon 'those wretched Jews'. Soon, however, he returned with the papers. "You're lucky this time, you miserable Jews," he sneered. "The government seal is authentic."
Reb Berkeh heaved a sigh of relief and the family rushed out to the runway where the plane was preparing for takeoff. The Rebbe's blessing still resounded in his ears, "They will not realize that it's him."
"I deeply appreciated everything which the shaliach, Rabbi Yehudah Friedman, has done here in Canarsie, Brooklyn," relates Hertzel Borochov. "After the morning minyan in the Chabad House began to be well attended and a daily schedule of study classes proved successful, my wife, Chagit, and I resolved to obtain a Torah scroll for the Chabad House.
"Shortly afterwards, we visited Crown Heights on Sunday to mention this to the Rebbe. The Rebbe gave me his blessing and an extra dollar to put in the tzedakah box at the Chabad House in Canarsie. A while later, I spotted my wife Chagit, who had also spoken with the Rebbe. She looked baffled. 'Well, what did the Rebbe say?' I asked.
" 'I don't understand,' she blurted. 'The Rebbe handed me an extra dollar to be given to tzedakah in... Los Angeles!'
" 'Los Angeles?!' I repeated in wonder. My wife nodded.
"We were familiar enough with the Rebbe to understand that this was not a mistake. Then and there, we decided that my wife would make a trip to the West Coast. We had gone to the Rebbe in January, when the price of air travel is relatively high. So we waited a couple of weeks until the prices fell, and purchased a ticket.
"There was, however, one problem. We have no family or friends in Los Angeles, and we wondered whom we could contact to host my wife. As we were thinking, it occurred to me that on her last visit, my mother-in-law mentioned that one of her friends, Bila Allon, Chagit's kindergarten teacher from long ago, was living in Los Angeles and was involved in Chabad activities.
"We could not find the woman's phone number. Chagit did not want to delay the trip any longer. She was confident that I would find a place for her and promised to call me from the airport in Los Angeles.
"While my wife was on the way to her destination, I worked diligently until I located Bila's telephone number. I called, and luckily she was home.
After I introduced myself, she told me stories about my wife as a little girl, and we both spoke about our families. As our conversation continued, my wife's teacher confided in me, 'Eleven years ago, my two-year-old drowned in our swimming pool. At that time, I resolved that in the year that he would have had his bar mitzvah, I would have a Torah Scroll written and donated in his memory.' "
Stirred by the Divine Providence of these events, I told Bila about Chagit's encounter with the Rebbe and how she was now on her way to Los Angeles. Bila was also moved.
Some time later, a Torah scroll was donated to the Chabad House in Canarsie. The dedication ceremony included a guest from Los Angeles.
The telephone rang in Rabbi Ephraim Wolf's office one wintry December morning in 1969. "My boss, Israeli Minister of Immigration Mr. Lova Eliav, would like to see you," the secretary said. Rabbi Wolf, head of the Lubavitcher yeshivah network in Eretz Yisrael, gladly arranged an appointment.
"I've been considering an innovative idea," began Mr. Eliav. "Large numbers of Georgian Jews are now arriving in Eretz Yisrael, and more are expected. I have heard that Lubavitch has had connections with this community for decades. We are planning to build 300 new apartments in Kiryat Malachi. Perhaps some Lubavitchers would be willing to settle in this community together with the new immigrants."
Rabbi Wolf responded eagerly, and the new community was planned.
Later, it became apparent that Mr. Eliav's idea was not so original.
A few months earlier, in September, Reb Avraham Tauber of Ashkelon had asked the Rebbe about his future. He had considering moving from Ashkelon, because the town only had a small religiously observant community.
The Rebbe had replied to him: "Stay in Ashkelon for now. An observant community will be established close to Ashkelon soon."
"Whenever I would go to New York," related Rabbi Yaakov Chazan, who served as a shaliach in Recife, Brazil, "people would ask me to deliver letters to the Rebbe for them. One year, I went for the High Holidays, and arrived just before Rosh HaShanah with a large package of letters which I gave to the Rebbe's secretary.
"The Rebbe is always very busy before the High Holy Days, and I expected to have to wait for answers. Nevertheless, just two hours after I arrived, the Rebbe's secretary contacted me.
" 'The Rebbe answered one of the letters you delivered," he said. It was for a Mrs. Muchnik who had been scheduled for an operation for a severe spinal problem. She had asked the Rebbe for a blessing.
"The Rebbe granted his blessing and added the following directives, 'Take meticulous care about the kashrus of your food and drink. Consult a doctor who is a friend.'
Conscious of how unusual it was to receive an answer from the Rebbe at this time, I hurried to relay the message to her. However, since I knew how difficult it was to keep a kosher home in Recife, I considered the possibility of her keeping kosher to be an even greater miracle than her hope for a full recovery.
"Evidently I had underestimated Mrs. Muchnik's willingness and determination. Within a relatively short time, she began to observe kashrus, after which her ailment also disappeared.
"Two months later, before Chanukah, I received a phone call from Mrs. Muchnik. 'I heard that you were planning a menorah lighting celebration,' she told me. 'My family has personal relations with the Mr. Marco Maseil, Minister of the House. If you are interested, I can arrange for him to attend.'
"Of course I was interested! Besides the President, Mr. Maseil was the most influential political figure in Brazil. No other Jewish organization had ever hosted a dignitary of such rank at any event. His participation at our menorah lighting would certainly be a tremendous boost to Lubavitch in Brazil.
"Well, Mrs. Muchnik did indeed arrange for Mr. Maseil to attend, and he showed a strong interest in Lubavitch activity. He was particularly impressed by the Rebbe's message to spread the awareness of the Seven Universal Laws commanded to Noah and his descendants. A few months later, Mr. Maseil prevailed upon the President of Brazil to send a letter of blessing to the Rebbe in connection with his birthday on 11 Nissan.
Mr. Maseil continued his connection with Lubavitch and several years later on a visit to New York, came to see the Rebbe on a Sunday afternoon. At that time, the Rebbe asked him to deliver a speech in the Brazilian Senate regarding these Seven Universal Laws, which Mr. Maseil eagerly did.
"During the first years that I lived in Sydney, Australia," related Rabbi Chaim Gutnick, "I was contacted by the Jewish community in Adelaide. The high holidays were approaching, and their shul had no Rabbi. The Chief Rabbi of Sydney sent them to me, but I could not see leaving my wife and four young children alone for the holidays.
"The Shul committee asked the Chief Rabbi what to do. "Listen," he told them, "Rabbi Gutnick is a Lubavitcher. Write a letter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe stating that you need a Rabbi for the High Holidays. If the Rebbe tells Rabbi Gutnick to go, he will."
"I soon received a special delivery letter from the Rebbe, expressing surprise that I did not consent, and advising me to spend the High Holidays in Adelaide. At the bottom of the letter, the Rebbe added, 'While in Adelaide, concern yourself with the needs of Egyptian Jews living there.'
"I arrived in Adelaide the day before Rosh HaShanah and went to the shul. As I was surveying the sanctuary, a woman entered and asked me, 'Where is the most sacred part of the synagogue?' I was surprised by her question. I pointed to the Aron HaKodesh.
"Before I could say another word, she rushed out, led a blind teenage girl straight to the Aron HaKodesh, and then departed. The girl kissed the curtains of the ark and burst out in tears. She remained there for several minutes; after which the woman came back and escorted her out.
"I described the entire baffling scene to the shul secretary. 'Don't give it another thought,' the secretary said. She's one of the Egyptians. They don't get along with our community. Her parents don't even come to shul on Rosh HaShanah, so she probably decided to visit before the holiday.'
"I tried to ignore the secretary's degrading tone. All I could think of was the Rebbe's words 'concern yourself with the Egyptian Jews.' I rushed out to find the girl, but she had disappeared.
"On Rosh HaShanah, I felt the gulf between the local community and the Egyptian Jews. I tried to befriend some Egyptian Jews, and asked about the blind girl.
After the holiday, she too tried to contact me. The phone in my room rang. 'Hello, I'm Betty, the blind girl.' But an abrupt click assured me that someone was determined to keep her from speaking to me.
"On the night before Yom Kippur, I was finally able to obtain her address and phone number. My calls were fruitless, for as soon as I identified myself, the line went dead. I would not give up. Despite the late hour, I took a taxi to her home. Her family was reluctant to allow me in. 'Please,' I said, 'I have traveled a great distance, and I would like to speak with you.'
"The door opened, and I was invited to enter. Slowly, I developed their trust. After a while, the rest of the family left, and I gently asked Betty to tell me what was troubling her. In an emotional tone, she told her story:
" 'My family arrived in Australia last year. They sent me to the only school in this city for the blind, a Catholic school. The people in the school are very nice, and my parents were pleased, because I had been given a full scholarship. After five months, the local priest began lecturing me about Christianity. I ignored him until he told me bluntly that I must convert. At the same time, my parents received a letter from the school: Due to lack of space in our school, we are forced to turn away prospective students of our own faith. We will agree to provide free schooling for your daughter only if she converts to Christianity.
" 'One day, I overheard my agitated parents discuss the issue. They had reconciled themselves to the harsh reality that I must convert.
" 'Although I know very little about our religion, I know that I am Jewish. I know that there is a G-d and I decided to pray to Him for guidance. I also knew that the Jewish holy days were approaching. On the day before Rosh HaShanah, I told my mother that I did not feel well and could not go to school. When I was alone in the house, I knocked on the door of my Gentile neighbor.
" 'Tomorrow is the Jewish New Year,' I told her. 'My parents do not attend the synagogue so I would like to ask you a favor. Please take me to the synagogue today so I can pray. I will only stay for a few minutes.' My neighbor agreed. In the synagogue, I cried and prayed to G-d to give me a sign. I returned home and waited.
" 'Guests joined us for the holiday dinner. One of them laughed at me: 'Betty! What have you been up to lately? A Rabbi from Sydney came to Adelaide and he is asking about you. How do you know him?'
I knew this was a G-d-given sign to me. I tried to call you, but my mother didn't allow it. She was afraid that you would convince me not to convert and that I would have to leave school. But somehow, I knew that you would help me.'
"The girl's parents then came in and tearfully and told me, 'We really don't want her to convert, but we have no choice. We are concerned about her welfare.' I promised to do my best to help them.
"The Rebbe's words echoed in my ears as I pondered what to do. I phoned the secretary of the Jewish community, told him the story, and asked him to come immediately.
"He was obviously startled by my request. "Have you gone mad?" he gasped. "It's half past midnight!"
"If you want a Rabbi for Yom Kippur, come here now," I told him. "Come in your pajamas if you must, but come."
"He arrived in twenty minutes. I told him that the community must accept the responsibility for the girl's tuition so that she would not be forced to convert. Without enthusiasm, yet with sincerity, he made the financial commitment.
"The girl continued writing to me over the years. She graduated high school with honors, went on to study in Jerusa-
lem, married, and now leads an exemplary religious life in Eretz Yisrael."
"In the winter of 1975, we moved from the United States to Europe. My wife had booked a flight from New York via Montreal, because this ticket offered a substantial saving. I was to join her along the same route three weeks later, when my job would end and our lift would be shipped.
"Before departing, we went for yechidus. My note to the Rebbe listed many questions about our future, including my wife's travel plans. After responding, the Rebbe added that the stopover in Montreal meant an added take-off and landing, so he suggested that we ask a doctor whether my pregnant wife should take a direct flight to Europe instead.
"Our friend, Dr. Yitzchok Diamond, a Crown Heights gynecologist, said, 'I don't see any real problem flying via Montreal. However, since the Rebbe advised you to ask a doctor's opinion, I would strongly suggest that your wife fly directly to Europe.'
"I was impressed by the doctor's implicit trust in the Rebbe, even though he was not a Lubavitcher chassid. With no further thought, my wife changed her ticket.
"Three weeks later, I boarded a plane to Montreal, where I was to meet a connecting flight to Europe. Montreal was blanketed by a severe snowstorm, and all flights to Europe were canceled.
"After waiting several hours in the airport, stranded passengers were taken by bus to a hotel in the city, where we were delayed for more than a day until the storm subsided. There was no kosher food in the hotel, and it was impossible to go out and purchase any. I had to ration my small bag of snacks.
"When we finally checked in for the connecting flight, I asked the agent at the desk, 'Are ordeals like this frequent in Montreal?'
"The agent apologized for the discomfort, and explained that delays of this nature were rare, but not totally uncommon. Then he added, 'Bad as it was, this storm is mild compared to the one we had three weeks ago! The blizzard blocked all the roads to the airport. We couldn't even get the stranded passengers to a hotel. Passengers were stretched out on the floor for two nights until the storm subsided!'
" 'Three weeks ago,' I thought to myself with curiosity. 'Do you remember the exact date,' I asked the agent.
"It was exactly the day my wife was to have landed in Montreal to make her connecting flight to Europe."
The young bearded man in the dark suit hardly resembled the regular customers of the large clothing store in a New York inner city neighborhood. But Tony, the black security guard, was not surprised to see this "regular." Every week, he would come to visit Tony's boss, the owner of the store.
"We talk about our religion," the boss had told Tony when he asked about the visitor. "He also tells me all kinds of miracle stories about this holy Rabbi of his who lives in Brooklyn and helps sick people. He has a lot of admirers, this Rabbi. I heard that even the President sends him a card on his birthday. Impressive, eh?"
But Tony wasn't thinking about the president. He thought about his own four-year-old little son, Michael, who was suffering from a developmental disorder. He did not talk, walk, or feed himself, and the doctors had been unable to help.
"It's a far out idea," Tony thought hesitantly. "But maybe...." Still, he could never bring himself to approach the bearded man.
One hot summer afternoon, Tony was standing listlessly at his post when the young man walked through the door. Maybe the intense heat gave Tony a sense of urgency. "It's now or never! I've got to ask the man to get his Rabbi to bless my son."
After waiting nervously for the man to end his meeting with the boss, Tony called out, "Hey sir, got a minute?"
The young man turned to the guard. "What can I do for you?" he answered politely.
With a what-do-I-have-to-lose shrug, Tony blurted out his request. He could see the man listening attentively and thinking as he spoke, and then he offered to help. "But there's one small condition," the young man said. Tony instinctively reached for his wallet.
"No, no," the young man said, waving his hand. "That's not what I meant." Tony was surprised. Now it was his turn to listen. The man told him about the Rebbe's campaign to begin each day with a moment of silence, meditating upon the Creator of the World and His expectations of man. He explained the Seven Universal Laws commanded to Noah and his descendants which all Gentiles are obligated to observe.
"I'll write the letter about Michael to the Rebbe," the young man concluded, "but I'd like to tell him that you're trying to earn the blessing. Do the things that we spoke about for a week, and then we'll see."
"It's a deal," responded Tony enthusiastically. "I'll do my thing and you do yours. I'll think about G-d every morning and try to act right. I swear my wife will be in on this too. Next week, we write this letter to the Rabbi and you give it to him, O.K.?"
The next time they met, Tony vowed that he had kept his part of the deal. "It ain't bad, thinking about G-d and all that every morning..."
The letter was written, but Tony's boss left for vacation, and it was several months before the two saw each other again. When they met again, Tony greeted the young man with a flashing smile. "Unbelievable! The kid suddenly started living! He's walkin' and talkin' and he's gonna go to school this September! Listen, would you help me write a thank-you card to the Rabbi?"
Tony promised to tell all his friends about the miracle. He tried to convince them to start their day with a moment of silence and to keep those seven laws.
On the tenth of Teves, 5749, (Dec. 18, 1988), Rabbi Ephraim Shteinmetz of Caracas, Venezuela stood among the many others on line to receive a dollar from the Rebbe. The Rebbe handed him an extra dollar, instructing him to give it to tzedakah when he returned back to his home. "And may the country be at peace," the Rebbe added.
Rabbi Shteinmetz was very surprised at the Rebbe's comment. Venezuela had been a stable, peaceful democracy for many years. What could the Rebbe have referred to? The Rebbe's comment remained a mystery to all those who heard of it.
But not for long. Six weeks later, elections were held in Venezuela. The newly elected president enacted various unpopular reforms. Large scale demonstrations threatened the peace of the country. Now, the Rebbe's words became clear. Many anxious citizens eagerly awaited the fulfillment of the Rebbe's blessing. Shortly thereafter, the situation became more calm, and stability returned to the country.
Mr. Max Cohen from Manchester received a call from a business associate in Bangladesh. "Mr. Cohen, we've prepared a large shipment of merchandise for you. We are eagerly awaiting your arrival, so we can close the deal." Mr. Cohen was equally keen on the deal. For years, he had benefited from his association with the textile industry in that country. And yet he had mixed feelings.
He was familiar with the country. Its people suffered millions of casualties caused by civil uprisings and natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes.
Only a year earlier, he had fled the country without concluding his business, after violent fighting had broken out in the streets. Some months later, en route from Hong Kong, he canceled a stop-over in Bangladesh because a full-force cyclone had ripped through the country.
His associates tried repeatedly to calm his fears. "Things are quiet now, Max," they reassured him. "The streets are calm and the worst is over. There's nothing to worry about."
Mr. Cohen was still not convinced. After considerable deliberation, he proceeded with the arrangements for the trip, but faxed the details of his plans to the Rebbe.
His flight was scheduled for the following Sunday. Throughout the entire week, Mr. Cohen remained in contact with "770", inquiring whether or not he had received a reply, but to no avail. Sunday morning, Mr. Cohen called the Rebbe's secretary at his home. "Is there anything you can do for me? I need an answer urgently."
"It's difficult to ask the Rebbe such matters on Sunday, because he devotes many hours to distributing dollars," the secretary said. In the evening Mr. Cohen drove to the airport. There was still time before the 10:30 PM departure. "If an answer comes, I'll be ready to go," he thought as he checked in.
While other passengers relaxed in the departure lobby, Mr. Cohen nervously called "770" several times. Friends in Crown Heights also tried to verify if there was an answer for him. In his dilemma, he called his brother-in-law, David Jaffe, for advice. After he hung up the phone, David had an idea. He hurried over to the dollar line and asked the Rebbe for a reply for his brother-in-law.
The 9 PM news reported that another cyclone had hit Bangladesh. That, and the fact that by 10 PM he had not received an answer from the Rebbe, were enough to cause Mr. Cohen to cancel his flight.
As his baggage was being removed from the plane, he placed a final call to his father-in-law, Abraham Jaffe in Manchester. "I'll have to stay overnight in London," he said. "I'll return to Manchester tomorrow." As they conversed, Mr. Cohen began to unwind and relax from the tense hours he had gone through. The men continued talking casually for a while when Mr. Jaffe heard a beep on his line. "Excuse me, Max, I have another call. I'll put you on hold for just a moment."
On the other line was his son David from Crown Heights. "I have news for Max," he said excitedly, "But I don't know how to reach him." With a quick press on the button, the elder Mr. Jaffe connected Max with a conference call. The two men listened in anticipation as David related his story.
"When I reached the Rebbe it was 5:00 PM, and already 10:00 PM in London. I described Max's situation to the Rebbe explaining that he was at the airport waiting for the Rebbe's blessing. 'It's tumultuous there,' the Rebbe replied. I ventured to tell the Rebbe that things had become calmer. The Rebbe then handed me a dollar for Max and gave him his blessing for a successful journey.
"I turned to go, but the Rebbe's attendant called me back. The Rebbe gave me another dollar and said: 'This is for the shaliach in Bangladesh.' I stood transfixed in amazement. 'Jews in Bangladesh?' I wondered. 'And a Lubavitch shaliach at that?!' The Rebbe surely noticed my absolute astonishment, for he added: 'There is a Jew in that country who is involved with Lubavitch.'
"Listen I'm going to forward the dollars by special delivery to Max's hotel in Bangladesh. I won't keep you another moment."
There was no time to lose. Laden with his suitcases that had already been deplaned, and the Rebbe's blessing, Mr. Cohen boarded in the nick of time. The long flight gave him ample time to recollect his thoughts and muse at the unbelievable chain of events. 'If David hadn't had that idea; if I hadn't called my father-in-law; if we hadn't prolonged our conversation; if David's call would have come a minute later... 'What Divine Providence.'
But what was mostly on his mind was the mysterious mission from the Rebbe to deliver a dollar to 'a Jew who is involved in Lubavitch activity.' He had traveled to Bangladesh many times. His business associates were all Moslems, and so was almost everyone else he had ever met there. A Jew in Bangladesh? A Lubavitch activist? Even if so how was he supposed to locate him in a population of 114 million...?
Upon arriving in the city of Chaitong in Eastern Bangladesh, Mr. Cohen checked into his hotel and set out to find the person for whom the Rebbe had sent the dollar.
After a two days of searching, Mr. Cohen returned to his hotel weary and frustrated. Just then he noticed a man hurrying towards the elevator before its doors closed. There was something striking in the man's face. A thought flashed through his mind. He retraced his steps towards the elevator.
"Excuse me, sir, are you Jewish?"
The man turned around and stared at Mr. Cohen. The elevator doors closed, but the man remained standing.
Minutes later, the two men were already deep in conversation in Mr. Cohen's hotel room. Two Jews, two worlds of business, personal concerns, and interesting experiences came together in a meeting of chance in distant Bangladesh.
Or was it chance? As they conversed, Mr. Cohen sensed that this indeed was the man he was looking for.
"The Lubavitcher Rebbe asked me to deliver a dollar to a Jew who is involved in Lubavitch activity in Bangladesh."
The man, who had introduced himself as Walter from North Carolina, was visibly moved. "Yes, I know the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and from time to time I am involved in Lubavitch activities," he said slowly. "I suppose this is the Rebbe's way of expressing his concern and encouragement to a simple Jew halfway around the globe."
And Walter began to tell his story: "My import-export business takes me to many places throughout the world, but I have spent most of my recent years in Bangladesh. Come what may, however, I always go back to North Carolina at least twice a year, for Pesach and for the High Holidays.
"Before my business brought me to Bangladesh, I was an active member of the Jewish community in Charlotte, North Carolina. We have a large community with many members, but like other communities in the States, many do not go to shul or observe mitzvos. Intermarriage is on the rise and our youth lack direction. So I wholeheartedly welcomed the young Lubavitch couple who arrived in North Carolina in 1980, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak and Mrs. Mariasha Groner.
"I did my best to help them acclimate themselves into our community and get started with their shlichus. I maintain a steady relationship with them even though seven years have passed since I moved here.
"While phoning Rabbi Groner some years ago, I discussed an issue which had been on my mind. Over the years, I had met a number of Jewish families who spend extended periods of time here in Bangladesh on business. They and their children had very little, if any, connection with Jewish values and observance.
"Rabbi Groner helped me organize a Jewish education program for the children. Since then, he has been sending me educational material from North Carolina.
"Once, about three years ago, Rabbi Groner mentioned that he had included a report of my Bangladesh activities in his periodic reports of his own activities to the Rebbe."
Walter continued slowly and his next words were emotionally charged: "Don't ask me too many questions about our providential meeting here. I honestly have no rational answer, except that the Rebbe saw fit to encourage me, a distant Jew whom he heard about three years ago.
"I and all the families with whom I am involved, live in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. My business affairs have always been located in the same area. I never traveled to other parts of this country until this Monday morning, when I felt a sudden urge to see some of the tourist attractions.
"This is how I happened to be here in Chaitong. I plan to return to Dhaka tomorrow morning."
The young newly-wed couple, Rabbi Zvi Greenblatt and his wife, Shternah, listened attentively and appreciatively to the Rebbe's many blessings for success before they left for shlichus in Argentina. As he concluded, the Rebbe wished them "a good journey. May I hear good tidings." As he made these statements, he paused in thought, and then continued with emphasis. The couple wondered.
Soon thereafter, in the summer of 1978, Rabbi Greenblatt and his wife began their journey. Their flight was scheduled for a brief stopover in Chile. The passengers who were to continue to Argentina, including the Greenblatts, remained on board. Suddenly, the young couple heard their names over the plane's public address system. A port official asked them to leave the plane. Soon other travelers were also deplaned.
The couple was annoyed and reluctant to interrupt their journey; after all, their tickets and reservations were all approved. The authorities ignored their protests. When the Greenblatts expressed concern for their luggage, the authorities assured them that it would continue on the plane and would be waiting for them in Buenos Aires. Having no alternative, the Greenblatts waited for the next flight which was scheduled to leave two hours later.
As they sat in the waiting room, Rabbi Greenblatt, a native Argentinean, explained to his bewildered young wife that the flight procedures in South America can be flexible. A bribe in an official's hand can easily "adjust" the list of passengers on a plane, bumping certain passengers, and providing "available" seats on a fully booked flight.
As they were talking, the young couple heard a commotion and saw flashing red lights everywhere. Soon, they learned of the disaster they had just miraculously averted. A mechanical fault had caused a fire in the plane. Directly after take off, the plane had crashed. Many passengers were hurt and the plane was severely damaged.
Above the din and commotion, the Greenblatts could almost hear those parting words of the Rebbe - "A good journey..." In response to the Rebbe's words, "May I hear good tidings," Rabbi Greenblatt wrote the Rebbe, describing what had happened.
The Rebbe responded with a Chassidic adage, "After a fire, one becomes rich." Indeed, the insurance premium the Greenblatt's received for their luggage was sufficient to provide a down-payment on a home.
"I had taken a brief summer vacation in 1992 to visit my son and his family in Crown Heights," relates Reb Isser Kirszenberg, an employee at the Israeli embassy in Argentina. On Sunday, I joined the line at 'dollars.' As I passed by the Rebbe, I told him I would soon be returning to Argentina. The Rebbe gave me two dollars, wishing me "Blessing and success," and a safe trip.
"As I turned to leave, I told the Rebbe that I would celebrate my birthday in two weeks. The Rebbe called me back, gave me a third dollar, and blessed me with a long life."
Mr. Kirszenberg was shocked. He did not consider himself to be an old man, and saw no reason for the Rebbe to offer such a blessing. Needless to say, despite his surprise, he appreciated the blessing.
"A month later, on a Tuesday afternoon in March, the Rebbe's blessing 'for a long life' took on a very immediate meaning. What had started out as a routine busy day at the Israeli embassy turned into tragedy when a terrorist bomb blew up the building. One wall of Mr. Kirszenberg's office collapsed entirely, and he was engulfed in clouds of smoke and gas. A photograph clearly shows the gaping hole in his office
"It is clearly nothing short of a miracle that I emerged from the shattered building without as much as a scratch," related Mr. Kirszenberg.
During the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Reb Ephraim Mol, a Lubavitcher chassid, was in an Israeli army unit that had reached the Egyptian side of the Suez Canal. Tension was high, and there was a rumor that the Egyptians would employ chemical weapons against the Israelis. Together with the rumor came an order from the Israeli High Command that the soldiers shave their beards so that their gas masks would remain airtight in the event of a chemical attack.
Reb Ephraim was reluctant to shave his beard. "It's only a rumor," he thought. He went to discuss the matter with the unit's commander. The officer respected his soldier's commitment to halachic issues, but he also knew that an order is an order. He allowed him several hours respite, and took the question to a higher authority. After debating, the officers agreed that Ephraim should pose the question to the Rebbe, and promised to abide by the Rebbe's advice.
From the front, Reb Ephraim contacted friends in Jerusalem, who forwarded his question to the Rebbe's office. The answer he received was direct: "The Egyptians will not use chemical weapons and there is no need to touch your beard. However, 'one must not rely on miracles,' so keep a pair of scissors in your pocket, just in case."
The Rebbe also added a historical precedent. In World War II, the British had conscripted many Sikhs into their army. The Sikhs also do not shave for religious reasons. Despite the threat of chemical warfare, the British Army did not require the Sikhs to touch their beards.
In the following days, Reb Ephraim was constantly surrounded by other soldiers asking what the Rebbe had said. And indeed, chemical warfare was not employed on the Egyptian front during the Yom Kippur War.
"I first met the Rebbe Shlita during the lifetime of the Previous Rebbe," related Rabbi Avrohom Mordechai Hershberg, the past Chief Rabbi of Mexico. "I asked the Previous Rebbe about a Rabbinic position I was offered in Chicago. He told me to consult his son-in-law.
"I spent nearly an entire night with the Rebbe Shlita. Our discussion covered tractate after tractate of the Talmud, and the scope of the Rebbe's knowledge and his genius totally amazed me. From that night onward, I maintained a relationship with the Rebbe, and I have consulted with him regarding numerous personal and public matters."
In 1980, during the Iranian occupation of the American embassy, Rabbi Hershberg was scheduled to travel to Iran for a public service project. Because of the tense atmosphere at the time, many tried to persuade him to postpone his trip. The Rebbe, by contrast, encouraged him: "Go with blessing," he answered. "You are certain to light the Chanukah menorah in Iran."
Rabbi Hershberg was puzzled by the Rebbe's closing words. He was not necessarily planning to stay in Iran for Chanukah. But if he would, there was no question that he would light a menorah. He did not understand the Rebbe's reference, nor the emphatic tone in his words.
Afterwards, it became clear. His mission in Iran took longer than expected, during which time he developed a relationship with some Iranian officials. He knew that there were six Jews among the hostages in the American embassy and he asked permission to light the menorah with them. "Just as we have granted permission for a priest to meet with the Christian hostages on their holiday," the Iranians replied, "we will allow you entry as well."
And so it was in the barricaded American embassy in Iran that Rabbi Hershberg lit the Chanukah menorah that year.
- (Back to text) Ch. 2. See also the Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9:4; Likkutei Torah of the AriZal, Parshas Kedoshim, Taamei HaMitzvos; Likkutei Torah, Parshas Nitzavim.
- (Back to text) An Israeli city near Ashkelon.
- (Back to text) These seven laws include the prohibition against the worship of false divinities, blasphemy, murder, incest and adultery, theft, and eating flesh from living animals [and by extension other expressions of cruelty], and the obligation to establish laws and courts of justice. They are discussed by Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim, chs. 9 and 10).
- (Back to text) See note on p. 166.
- (Back to text) Pesachim 64b.