Weekly Story: Planned Or Unplanned – You Decide
by Rabbi Sholom DovBer Avtzon
Someone forwarded this story to me, and although it was publicized, I wasn’t aware of it. So I thought that perhaps many of the readers of my weekly column would find it as interesting as I did.
As always, your feedback and comments are welcomed and appreciated.
And those that have interesting stories to share, please forward them to me. Thank you!
The Rebbe Brought Me Back
I was born in Jerusalem to a highly-esteemed family. My father was a great Torah scholar who continuously studied Torah and would always pray with great devotion; a person who never sought honor for his many accomplishments. We were not rich by any means, but our home was filled with joy and the spirit of Torah permeated our lives. My brothers and I studied in the Jerusalem Yeshiva Eitz Chaim, the same Yeshiva where my father learned when he was a youngster.
I was an excellent student, dedicating myself to my studies and, thank G-d, my teachers and my parents were very proud of me. When I reached the age of nineteen, a match was suggested for me with the daughter of a very respected rabbi in New York. My aunt, who lived in America, was the one who suggested this match and she begged my parents to send me to America because she insisted that this was an excellent match for me. At that time, it was difficult to obtain from the authorities a visa to travel outside of the country. Only after much effort, did I receive special permission to go.
I left by boat to meet my prospective bride on the week following Simchat Torah, 5710. After a difficult journey, I arrived to the shores of America. My aunt and uncle came to pick me up and later arranged for me to meet the young lady. Following our meeting and getting to know each other somewhat, an engagement took place during the holiday of Chanukah at the home of the bride. The wedding was scheduled for the end of the summer. The bride’s parents wanted us to live in New York and my parents preferred that we live in Jerusalem. It was decided that we, the young couple, should decide to choose the place we felt would suit us best. Man plans but G-d has his own plans.
It seems that this match was not the right one for us and before Passover, the shidduch (match) was annulled. I was very depressed and greatly saddened over this and understandably so were my parents, considering all the effort they made for me to come to New York for this sole purpose. My parents sent me a letter asking that I return to Israel immediately. However, for whatever reason, I decided not to return. Perhaps the embarrassment was too much for me to bear.
By this time, I had become friendly with a young man who was my age who was also from Jerusalem. He informed me that he was preparing to travel to Cleveland for work and invited me to come along. I decided to go with him. In the beginning, I continued my regular lifestyle and even my Jerusalem dress code. But slowly things began to change. First the long coat was replaced with a short jacket, the short haircut was replaced by a more modern hairstyle of the time, and my beard which had recently begun to grow, was easily removed by the barber so I could better fit in.
In the first few months, despite the outward changes, I continued to observe Torah and mitzvot, but slowly and surely, here, too, I began to be lax. As a result of the deleterious influence of my newfound friends, within a short time I gave up all semblance of my previous religious lifestyle.
Understandably, my parents were unaware of all of this, and in the letters I sent them, I only told them that I was now in Cleveland, learning and working. Thus, a full year passed. When I returned to New York and visited my aunt and uncle, they were shocked at my appearance. However, they assumed that I was still a religious young man in all other aspects, because I was careful to come to their home wearing a kipah (religious head covering). They asked me what my parents would say about the apparent change in my outward appearance, and I assured them that my parents were unaware of any of this. I told them that I would slowly find a way to inform them that I became more Americanized and I even asked my aunt and uncle to please help me explain to them that in America it’s not so terrible for a Jewish person to look like I presently did, even a religious person.
My aunt and uncle tried to speak to my heart and said, that if I was not planning to return to Israel, then it would be appropriate to find a proper shidduch here. I explained to them that because of what happened to me with the previous shidduch, I was not in a position at this time to even think about another match. And, in any case, I continued, here in America it’s not like in Jerusalem, a young man of twenty-one is still considered quite young.
During the week of my visit to New York, the holiday of Purim took place. Following the Purim seuda (meal) in the home of my aunt and uncle, I decided to go out for a walk and get some fresh air. This took place in the neighborhood of Crown Heights, where my aunt and uncle lived.
While I was walking, I suddenly noticed two Jewish people dressed in Chassidic garb, who looked like a father and son, walking very briskly. I called out to them, “What happened? Where are you running to?” The younger one said to me, “We are running to the farbrengen of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.” I asked again, “Where is it?” He pointed the way and told me where it was taking place. I do not quite know what piqued my interest, but I decided to go there.
I followed them to the Rebbe’s shul (synagogue). When I came in, I saw a congregation of about two hundred people, sitting or standing close together and listening intently and quietly to someone, whom I understood to be the Lubavitcher Rebbe. A few minutes after I entered, I decided to leave. But before I could make my exit, the Rebbe stopped speaking and the singing began. Chassidim were raising their cups to the Rebbe to say “L’Chayim” and the Rebbe responded, “L’Chaim U’livrachaa” (to life and blessing). Finding it extremely difficult to extricate myself from the tightly-pressed crowd, I decided to remain.
Suddenly, the crowd became totally quiet, and again the Rebbe began to speak. I listened and heard him speak about the words of our Sages that in the Time to Come, all the holidays will be nullified except for Purim. For some reason, I felt that it would be interesting to hear the explanation of this statement. I don’t remember all of what he said.
But what I do remember is that the Rebbe explained that Purim is a time of self-sacrifice, and on this day the soul of every Jew is revealed, even more so than on Yom Kippur. And, therefore, Purim can never be nullified.
Suddenly, I felt myself shivering and turning pale. It seemed to me that the Rebbe was speaking about me! He continued to explain that the evil inclination (within us) is an expert at its trade. In the beginning he comes to a young man and pulls him away from his Yeshiva studies for a ‘holy’ reason. Afterwards, he succeeds in influencing him, to go out into the wide world and look for work; afterwards, he tells him that America is different from all other countries, and it is proper to conform one’s garments and external appearance to look as thoroughly Americanized as possible. Then he influences him that “time is money” and in place of a complete prayer schedule, it is enough to put on Tefillin and that is it, until even this fades and all religious observance disappears.
The Rebbe continued in this vein, describing how the evil inclination goes on to influence the person to, G-d forbid, desecrate the Shabbat, eat non-kosher food, until he reaches so low a level that even Yom Kippur cannot awaken his soul and return him to the righteous path.
And then, the Rebbe said, comes Purim, a day of self-sacrifice, and the Jewish soul is awakened within him, so much so, that the person decides to be strong and not to ‘bow’ to all the temptations, and he returns to the good and proper path. Because on Purim there is a special strength which is not found in any other holiday. The Rebbe continued to speak and I felt as if everyone was looking at me. Then I caught myself and realized that I was simply imagining things.
First of all, no one here even knew about whom the Rebbe was speaking, and secondly, it seems that the Rebbe himself was not referring to me. It is true that all the details matched what transpired with me, but, I reasoned, the Rebbe does not know me and didn’t even see me. Here I am sandwiched among a few hundred people, and, in any case, there are others that look like me, and are clean shaven in the crowd. It’s probably just a coincidence that the examples the Rebbe gave fit me perfectly. No need to get so nervous. I calmed down a bit. But not for long!
Suddenly, I heard the Rebbe continue to say, “And especially when one comes from the Holy Land and from Jerusalem, the holy city, where Purim is celebrated on the fifteenth of Adar (elsewhere it is celebrated on the fourteenth of Adar). The law is that in order to celebrate Purim in Jerusalem, one must live close by and see it. Even if one thinks that he cannot be seen, it still applies! The only thing which calmed me at this point was that at least the assembled did not understand that he was specifically talking to me, since the Rebbe simply fit this all in as part of the talk he was giving about Purim. No one there could have imagined what was going on at this moment in the heart of a young man from Jerusalem who was now among them.
As I was pondering these thoughts, the Rebbe stopped speaking and again the singing began, louder and louder and filled with intense energy. People began to say “L’Chayim” to the Rebbe. Suddenly, I felt someone patting me on the shoulder. I raised my eyes and saw that everyone was looking at me. Just then I noticed that the Rebbe was looking directly at me and signaling for me to say “L’Chayim”. Someone handed me a small cup of whiskey and the Rebbe signaled him to give me a big cup. He filled the cup, as I tried to explain to him that I cannot drink this much. But he would not listen and shouted: “The Rebbe is waiting, say “L’Chayim!” I said “L’Chayim” and began to drink slowly. The Rebbe waited till I finished the whole cup and then said to me: “Again.” Once again, a full cup was poured for me and I said “L’Chayim” and was expected to finish the whole cup.
After this, I don’t remember a thing. All I know is that late the next morning, I woke up extremely thirsty and with a pounding headache.
I found myself on a bench with a number of other Chassidim who were sleeping on adjacent benches, and my fancy suit was fancy no more. When I returned to the home of my aunt and uncle, I told them that I had visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe and that the Chassidim gave me a large amount of whisky to drink. But the main part of the story, understandably, I did not relate to them. This remained a secret between me and the Rebbe.
That morning, I stood up to pray the Shacharit (morning) prayers, garbed in my Tefillin, and felt myself to be a changed person. I cried in my prayers as I have not cried before or since!
A few weeks later, by the celebration of the Passover seder, I was already back in Jerusalem with my parents and family. Even if they were saddened to see that my garments had changed, they were gratified to realize that my awe of Heaven and all my religious practices had not changed. And within a short time, I also reverted to my previous Jerusalem dress.
From then until now, thank G-d, I merited G-d’s blessings of children and grandchildren, all worthy sons and daughters of Israel. Only many years later, when I was in New York for a family simcha (joyous occasion) did I manage to go to the Ohel of the Rebbe to pray and affirm the gift the Rebbe gave me, returning me to my spiritual self.
I was finally able to say a heartfelt “THANK YOU!” to the Rebbe for what he did for me and the positive way my life turned out thanks to him!
Rabbi Avtzon is a veteran mechanech and the author of numerous books on the Rebbeim and their Chassidim. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Did you research the story by checking in Toras Menachem if the Rebbe actually said these things on Purim of that year?
The story would be much more meaningful if it is coroborrated by the farbrengen’s record!
Would I find this story corroborated in the sichos? Would it be in Toras Menachem, Purim 5710 or 5711 or 5712? I am looking but I haven’t found it yet!
It is noted that it happened one month after the Frierdiker Rebbe’s histalkus, so the entire farbrengen is not recorded.
I was sent an email that it was already written up in Hebrew in the book sippurei shel chag purim