by Rabbi Sholom DovBer Avtzon
During the past few weeks, at various farbrengens many stories were said about the Rebbe, and I chose this one as I heard it from a former student, a close friend to the person that it happened to, whom we will call Yisroel. Being that Yisroel informed his friend that the people in his home town don’t know the story, (as he never informed them of what he was thinking of for a period of time), I must omit certain details to protect his privacy.
Yisroel related, “It was nine years ago, (in Tishrei of 5769/2008) when I was greeted by a member of the Chabad community, and he offered to help me do a mitzvah. I was touched by his concern for another Jew and his warmth and understanding, and in a short time I became a regular at the Chabad Shul.
While every time I began fulfilling another mitzvah, I felt wonderful, however, I can’t say it was easy. At that point I was already married and had some children, however, my wife and children did not join me for this uplifting experience.
My wife respected my wishes and didn’t request that I take her shopping on the Sabbath, but she didn’t observe it. She knew I wanted a special meal and would prepare food for me, but couldn’t understand why I won’t eat the freshly cooked food she specifically prepared for me on Sabbath day for the Sabbath meal. I would only eat the cold stuff from yesterday.
Our children continued to play with their friends and neighbors in the neighborhood, and didn’t accept the change that certain foods can no longer be eaten.
To put it mildly, although I was still respected as the head of the house and being a decent provider, my family and associates thought I just lost it.
For seven years, I was becoming stronger in my observance; I was putting on tefillin every weekday, studying some Torah thoughts almost every day. However, my lifelong friends were concerned that I went over the deep end.
Then two years ago, I was going through a difficult situation and I would silently pray to Hashem; “You know what I am enduring with, but I have continued fulfilling Your mitzvos. Please show me a sign that You appreciate my sacrifices. It is so difficult when one is on their own, without the support of their loved ones. Please give me a sigh that You are with me, and are supporting me.”
However, I was disappointed. No sign from Above and then doubt began creeping in. Maybe my family and friends are correct? Maybe I am taking it too far? Maybe being kind and respectful to others is sufficient? Why do you have to be different?
It came to a point that I said to myself, they are correct. I will stop this. I will go back to my old way of life. Without mentioning it to anyone, even my dear wife, being that I made that decision, I got into my vehicle to go to the upscale restaurant that I hadn’t patronized in these last seven years.
At that moment the Chabad Shliach called me. Now you have to realize, this is the first time he called me in all those seven years. Not that he wasn’t warm to me. To the contrary he was extremely understanding and would speak to me quite often in the shul, or when he met me at a function. But perhaps he didn’t want to stress out my family, so no calls when I was at home.
My first thought was, isn’t this the sign from Above that I was looking for, and I should stop this madness. But as the conversation ended, I said to myself, no, it just happened that he called to see if I know someone etc., and I began driving.
Ten minutes later, one of the men that daven with me at the Chabad Shul called. Once again, I had the question, is this the sign which I prayed for, but at the end of the conversation, I dismissed it.
Then as I pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant, I received one more phone call. This time it was from the person that gave me the initial inspiration to come closer to the ways of the Torah and mitzvos. He created the connection I have with the Rebbe. but as the conversation ended, I got out of my car, entered the restaurant and ordered a delicious steak.
As everyone knows, it takes some time for the steak to be prepared, so I ordered a salad that would be ready in five minutes and began sipping from the glass of water.
A minute later, a young man ran into the restaurant and seeing me he asked “Are you Jewish?” I wasn’t wearing my kippa, and didn’t know why of all people sitting there he asked me, but hearing the frantic sound in his voice, I replied “Yes.”
He then said, there is an elderly gentleman down the block, lying on the sidewalk, and speaking gibberish. I believe he is Jewish and saying something in the language of the Jews. Please help that man.
I immediately got up, as my steak won’t be ready for some twenty minutes anyways and followed him to the elderly gentleman. The other man was correct, the elderly gentleman was speaking in Hebrew and saying, his foot is hurting him.
I asked him if I could help him, if he lives nearby and he replied, he tripped and needs help to walk to his car a block away. Helping him up to his feet, we saw that it wasn’t broken and I thanked the other person and assisted this elderly gentleman to his vehicle.
As he sat down in his car, he turned to me and asked, “Are you a Lubavitcher?”
My mind was in turmoil, what am I supposed to say, as I am about to eat that non-kosher steak. But I replied, “Yes.”
The man said, I really can’t express how thankful I am to you, for what you have done for me just now. I would like to show you my appreciation, but I don’t know how a man of simple means as myself, can give something meaningful. However, since you are a Lubavitcher, I have something special for you.
Many years ago I took a trip to New York. My friends convinced me that on Sunday I should go to the grand Rabbi and receive his blessing. The Rebbe blessed me and gave me a dollar. I carried that dollar in my wallet for all these years. I know you, as one of the Rabbi’s followers would appreciate it. So please accept it as my expression of appreciation.
Yisroel concluded his narrative and said, “You understand, at that point I went to my car and sat there for a few minutes. I was overcome with emotions. I realized that Hashem sent me three messages, but I ignored them. So Hashem sent me a message directly from the Rebbe himself, there was no mistake about it, my sacrifices are appreciated, and my observance since then is much stronger.”
Avremy, thank you for sharing this phenomenal story with me. Once again I request from the readers to please continue sharing your stories, in order to benefit the community at large.
This week’s story is dedicated l’zecher nishmas of my great nephew habochur hatomim Chaim Schneur Zalman ben YBD”L Reb Betzalel HaKohen Borenstein, who was niftar this week on the 21st of Tammuz. From now on may it be ach (numerical value of 21) tov l’yisroel.
Rabbi Avtzon is a veteran mecahnech and the author of numerous books on the Rebbeim and their chassidim. He is available to speak or farbreng in your community and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org