Chapter 3: Borrowed Resources
In selecting the stories for this book, we had
to define what is a story about the Rebbe and what is a story about
one of his chassidim. Often the Rebbe gives a single directive or
a blessing, and everything else in the narrative was accomplished
by a chassid.
Why then do we consider this a story about the
Rebbe? Because the chassid will tell you that he would not have
been able to achieve what he accomplished on his own power; he relied
the Rebbe’s influence.
The nature of this dynamic of empowerment requires
explanation. Often we see one or two Lubavitch shluchim begin activities
in a city and, despite limited human and financial resources, within
a short time, they bring about a heightening of Jewish consciousness.
If you ask the young emissary how he was able to accomplish what
he did, he will tell you in homely Yiddish, “Mit der Rebbe’s
kochos” (“With the Rebbe’s power”).
What does he mean? When we look up to someone
with well-earned respect and feel that he genuinely knows us and
believes in us, it is natural to want to live up to his expectations.
With a pride that goes much deeper than self, we apply ourselves
to the tasks before us with the intent of giving shape and form
to the ideal we share. And we achieve far more than we ever might
have dreamed of.
There is a Yiddish adage which says, “When
G-d wants, even a broom can shoot.” When a person thinks of
himself as no more than a broom, and while not shirking responsibility,
does not rely on his own unaided power, he opens himself up to a
greater force. He becomes aware that something much larger than
himself is working through him. And this is what the shluchim mean
when they attribute their success to the Rebbe.
This dynamic of empowerment is not restricted
to any exclusive group. On several occasions the Rebbe Shlita has
explained that everyone is a shaliach in his home, in his workplace,
and in his environment to use whatever potentials he has to spread
the awareness and the observance of Jewish values.
Rabbi Dov Ber Levy, founder of O.K. Kashrus Laboratories,
traveled throughout the world to help the international food industries
maintain the laws of kashrus. During the course of these travels,
he was charged by the Rebbe with various missions.
Rabbi Levy was invited to Russia during the pre-perestroika
era to arrange kosher supervision for certain products the Russians
desired to export. While involved in these activities, he also devoted
himself to providing “soul food” for Russian Jewry.
The underground Lubavitch activity in Russia had
produced a large number of Russian chassidim who felt close to the
Rebbe, despite the fact that they were 6,000 miles away and had
never met him in person. Rabbi Levy took a video camera with him
and filmed these Russian Jews in what could be described as a private
yechidus with the Rebbe. The Russian Jews would each face the camera
and address the Rebbe as if they were speaking to him in person.
On his return to New York, Rabbi Levy would play back the video
recording for the Rebbe.1
On other travels, Rabbi Levy carried out various
missions for the Rebbe. While some of the goals were explicit, Rabbi
Levy sometimes felt that he was serving as a catalyst to fulfill
an unspecified purpose.
Once, he had scheduled a trip to the Philippines
to inspect a factory which produced food products for the international
market. After planning his itinerary, he told the Rebbe about his
upcoming trip and asked for a blessing.
The Rebbe replied with blessings for success, supplementing
his good wishes with several dollars for shaliach mitzvah gelt.
[It is customary to give a traveler some money
to give to charity in the course of his journey. This designates
him as a shaliach (“emissary”) charged with a mitzvah.
Our Sages declare:2 “A person who is on a mission to perform
a mitzvah will not be harmed.” Thus, even if he encounters
a dangerous situation on the journey, the person will merit protection.]
This time, the Rebbe added an instruction to the
money which he included with his blessing to visit and address the
Philippine Jewish community, and to give them a donation of one
hundred and eighty dollars on his behalf.
As it turned out, the owner of the plant which
Rabbi Levy had to inspect was Jewish, and his uncle was the president
of the local Jewish community. When he told them of the Rebbe’s
instructions, they were happy to arrange for him to speak at the
shul. His delight at the convenient outcome of events turned to
dismay, however, as he entered the shul. The shul’s balcony
was not used, and the men and the women sat together downstairs
without a mechitzah to separate between the men’s and women’s
sections of the shul.
Rabbi Levy would not join them in their service.
After the prayers were concluded, he addressed the congregants and
explained to them that a synagogue is G-d’s house of prayer
and should be designed in the manner which He Himself desires. “My
fellow Jews,” he concluded, “The Lubavitcher Rebbe has
sent a contribution to your shul. Why not use it to erect a mechitzah.”
The community leaders told Rabbi Levy that they
were considering constructing a new shul in a different neighborhood.
Rabbi Levy convinced them to erect a mechitzah and also to build
a mikveh in the shul. He had the plans for the mikveh prepared and
sent a Rabbi to supervise the construction.
Some time later, Rabbi Levy received a letter from
the Jewish community in the Philippines. “Enclosed,”
it read, “is a picture of our new shul.” The women’s
section was attractive and the mikveh was both halachically acceptable
and architecturally pleasing. “We thought you’d like
to know,” the letter continued, “that we wrote to the
Rebbe before beginning the construction of the new shul and the
mikveh, and his words of encouragement were an inspiration.”
This was not the only result of Rabbi Levy’s
trip. A Jewish student was attending medical school in the Philippines.
Although he came from a religious home, he had strayed from Jewish
practice and had entered into a relationship with a Philippine woman.
He had not attended the synagogue in the Philippines for years,
but he was attracted by the news of a lecture from a visiting Rabbi
from New York.
The Jewish student waited for Rabbi Levy after
the lecture, and they spent an hour talking as they walked back
to his hotel. Rabbi Levy could not convince him to give up the Philippine
woman immediately, but he maintained contact, and several months
later the youth terminated his relationship with the woman.
On another occasion, before Rabbi Levy journeyed
to Copenhagen, the Rebbe added a specific directive to his blessings:
to check whether the local mikveh was halachically acceptable.
As it turned out, Rabbi Levy was able to stay in
Copenhagen for only one day, and did not have the opportunity to
check the mikveh. A year later, before a second trip to Copenhagen,
he again sought the Rebbe’s blessing for this journey and
received exactly the same reply. This time he altered his schedule
to make sure that he would be able to check the mikveh. With much
difficulty, he gained access to the mikveh and indeed discovered
a halachic flaw.
He asked which Rabbinic authority had certified
the mikveh, and was directed to a leading specialist on mikvaos,
Rabbi Posen of London.
Rabbi Posen told Rabbi Levy, “I remember
the problem with the mikveh in Copenhagen. I noticed that flaw and
gave them precise instructions how to correct it.”
Rabbi Posen promised to deal with the matter promptly.
Before concluding their conversation, Rabbi Levy had, however, one
more question, “Pardon me for asking, Rabbi Posen. I just
wanted to know if you had ever mentioned this matter to the Lubavitcher
“No,” he answered, surprised why Rabbi
Levy had thought that he might have done so.
“I could never have undertaken such a responsibility
myself,” related Rabbi J. J. Hecht. “As soon as I received
the information I notified the Rebbe.”
What did Rabbi Hecht mean? A few days before Pesach
1987, his son, Rabbi Sholom Ber Hecht of Forest Hills, New York,
consulted him about a message that a congregant had received from
The nephew and three hundred other Jews had fled
from Iran and were temporarily staying in Karachi, Pakistan, where
there was no Jewish community. Caught between Iran and Afghanistan,
and involved with their own religious disputes with India, the Pakistanis
showed no tolerance of other faiths. The man had asked his uncle
to send Passover provisions to the refugees, or at least matzos
for the Seder night.
Rabbi Hecht had deep ties with the Iranian community.
Thousands of Iranian teenagers had left the country on student visas
under his guidance shortly after the Khomeini Revolution. He had
made many previous commitments in time, money, and soul. But in
this instance, something more was involved; any person spreading
Jewish observance in Pakistan was risking his life.
The Rebbe instructed Rabbi Hecht to find somebody
who was familiar with Iranian customs and who would agree to travel
to Pakistan. The Rebbe added that he would sponsor the trip, purchase
the entire amount of matzos needed, and offer a blessing to the
The last particular was more important to Rabbi
Hecht than the financial help. It meant that the shaliach would
Soon Rabbi Hecht found a yeshivah student, Zalman
Gerber, who was willing to undertake the journey. Senator Al D’amato
of New York helped him bring the matter to the immediate attention
of high-ranking officials in the Pakistani Consulate. However, those
officials refused to issue a student visa, clarifying that only
those with clear business reasons for journeying to Pakistan could
obtain a visa.
This requirement did not dissuade Rabbi Hecht.
His associates in the Persian community helped him find a rug dealer,
who supplied a letter explaining that Mr. Gerber was journeying
to Karachi for two weeks in order to purchase Oriental carpets.
The letter worked, and the Pakistanis issued the visa, emphasizing,
however, that they could take no responsibility for the traveler’s
Arriving in Karachi, Zalman encountered a series
of hazards and providential means of overcoming them. The packages
of matzah which he brought were checked carefully by a customs official,
who could not understand what a rug dealer was doing with so many
of these strange crackers.
Checking in at the hotel where he had made reservations,
he discovered to his dismay that his room was on the eighth floor.
Fearful that the hotel staff might grow suspicious after possibly
seeing him walk up and down eight flights of stairs on the holiday,
he asked to be given a room on a lower floor. Fortunately, this
request was allowed, and he moved to an unoccupied second-floor
In order to avoid the watchful eyes of Moslem extremists
while contacting refugees, the Jews had taken shelter in a deteriorating
neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. After they had been located,
it was no small feat to transport the boxes of matzah without attracting
additional attention. Nevertheless, just before commemorating our
people’s exodus from Egypt, Zalman was able to bring Pesach
supplies to this community in the midst of their own journey to
“Once,” relates Rabbi Yitzchak Mishan,
the Rabbi of the large Mount Sinai Sephardi community in S. Paulo,
Brazil, “a young member of my community asked me to convert
his non-Jewish fiancee. I explained that even if the woman would
undergo conversion and I would assist only if she sincerely desired
to adopt Judaism, not merely so that she could marry a Jew he would
still be forbidden from marrying her, because he is a kohen. The
young man was adamant. They had been engaged for five years, and
he had no intention of leaving her now.
“I could not convince the man to change his
mind. As with other challenges which arise during the course of
my activities, I asked for the Rebbe’s blessing for success
in guiding the young man properly. In matters like this, I don’t
expect more than a short blessing. I am satisfied with the knowledge
that I have brought the issue to the Rebbe’s attention.
“To my surprise, shortly after sending this
letter, I received a phone call from the office at “770”.
The Rebbe had given me instructions to continue speaking to the
young man. ‘You are to explain,’ the Rebbe directed,
‘that a kohen is empowered to bless others even great people.
A person who is not a kohen although he may be a great sage is not
equally empowered. But if, heaven forbid, a kohen desecrates his
status, he forfeits this great potential.’
“I immediately contacted the young man and
invited him for a discussion. I patiently explained the Rebbe’s
message, but to no avail. The young man had made up his mind and
would not budge from his position.
“I could not accept the idea that the Rebbe’s
answer would be fruitless. Pondering the matter, I read and re-read
the Rebbe’s words: ‘You are to explain…’
Perhaps, I thought, this explanation could be addressed to the non-Jewish
woman. Maybe this message would have an impact on her…
“I lost no time and invited her to my office.
She expressed her deep love for him, stating that she would be willing
to undergo whatever is required of her. “I will do anything
for this man,” she repeated time and again.
“I read aloud from a translated version of
the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (the Code of Jewish Law), the prohibition
against the marriage of a kohen to a convert. I then told her the
Rebbe’s words, explaining the tremendous loss the man would
“The woman was moved. ‘If he will lose
so much because of me, I will not marry him. I love him too much.”
She was very sincere. Her resolve remained steadfast, and in the
next few days, she broke off their relationship.
“Incidentally,” Rabbi Mishan concluded,
“the young man has since married a fine Jewish woman.”
The shaliach in Vancouver, Rabbi Yitzchak Wineberg,
was considering the most appropriate location to build the Chabad
House. He asked the Rebbe whether to choose a location near the
university, or in the residential area of the city. With his question,
he included a map of the city, showing the main areas of population,
the shuls, the university, and the main Jewish residential area.
The Rebbe underlined the words “residential area” and
circled a point on the map in its center, at Oak St. and 41st Ave.
Over the next five years, Rabbi Wineberg looked
into purchasing several buildings. Nevertheless, the Rebbe always
had reason to reject the acquisitions.
One day, Rabbi Wineberg was informed of a large
parking lot that was up for sale. The location seemed attractive,
but unfortunately the price was not. The owners were asking half
a million dollars for the land. Rabbi Wineberg knew that the subsequent
construction would cost even more.
Rabbi Wineberg favored seeking further alternatives.
At that time, most other Chabad Houses in North America had taken
over existing structures, rather than undertake the burden of building
their own. And the Rebbe himself had advised Rabbi Wineberg to be
conservative when it came to the cost of a building. Once when Rabbi
Wineberg had proposed purchasing an existing building that would
require a mortgage of
2000 a month, the Rebbe had told him that the people in Vancouver
might consider this too great an expense. Nevertheless, he consulted
the Rebbe about pursuing the parking lot option and the Rebbe answered
in the affirmative.
Together with one of his supporters, a Vancouver
businessman named Jack Diamond, Rabbi Wineberg made a trip of several
hours to the city of Calgary to visit the company which owned the
parking lot. Devout Christians, the owners were impressed by Rabbi
Wineberg’s cause and reconsidered their offer, lowering the
375,000. Rabbi Wineberg told them he would consider the matter and
returned to Vancouver.
For Rabbi Wineberg,
375,000 was also a steep price and moreover, the owners wanted the
entire sum to be paid immediately. Unsure of how to proceed, he
again consulted the Rebbe who gave an encouraging answer. “Continue
in this direction. We are now in the month of Adar when we intensify
our joy. Plant with joy; sow with joy, build with joy. Success and
After writing to Calgary to express his interest,
but explaining his desire to negotiate regarding the terms, Rabbi
Wineberg received a modified proposal from the parking lot owners
which certainly must have made him joyous.
The owners agreed to deduct seven thousand dollars
from the price. In addition, they asked for a down payment of only
75,000, of which they promised to return
50,000 to the Chabad House as a donation, and they agreed to receive
the remainder over an extended period of time at a low rate of interest.
Moreover, they promised to return the interest as a donation to
the Chabad House, on the condition that it continue to function
as a charitable organization.
The down payment was made with the help of local
Lubavitch supporters, plans were quickly prepared for the building,
and construction began shortly afterwards. It was completed in the
month of Adar, the month of joy, and the first public function in
the Chabad House was a Purim celebration.
Once, while going through his papers, Rabbi Wineberg
happened to notice the original map of the city which he had sent
the Rebbe. Until this time, he had assumed that by making a mark,
the Rebbe Shlita was indicating the general area where the Chabad
House should be located. Now, standing in the building of the Chabad
House, he saw that it had been constructed on the precise point
of the map which the Rebbe had marked.
“As our activities expanded,” Rabbi
Wineberg concluded, “we realized that we could not have hoped
for a more central and convenient location.”
Rabbi Yonah Fradkin of San Diego, California, had
not deliberately set out to challenge the calendar. But the final
decision to establish a local day school was made three weeks before
the opening of the school year. As he worked around the clock to
raise funds and enroll students, he was told about a seemingly insurmountable
hurdle: “It will take at least three months before you can
obtain a building permit.”
At that point, he consulted with the Rebbe. “May
your efforts be crowned with abundant success,” replied the
Rebbe in blessing. Encouraged, Rabbi Fradkin labored strenuously
to reach his goal. As he continued, he indeed found success in every
dimension of the undertaking. Funds were raised, a site was located,
and students were enrolled, but that one hurdle seemed to be indeed
“It’s simply unrealistic to expect
the permit to materialize so quickly,” he was told. “There
are hundreds of buildings waiting for inspection before their permits
are issued. Your application has no chance of receiving priority
over all the others.”
One evening, there was a knock on the Fradkin door.
“Hello. I am the city hall representative in charge of granting
building permits. May I have a chat with you?” asked the gentleman
at the door.
The man told Rabbi Fradkin that he was experiencing
a very trying family problem. “I am in need of Divine assistance
and I am eager to do a good deed so that I may merit it. Yesterday,
someone told me that the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s shaliach in the
city is trying to build a school and has applied for a building
permit. I would like to help.”
“At the very beginning of our shlichus in
Vienna, Austria,” relates Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Biederman,
“we reported to the Rebbe about our first activities in the
city. The Rebbe responded favorably and wished us success in our
efforts. At the end of his letter he added, ‘specifically
in the sacred work of education, in kindergartens.’
“We were greatly encouraged by the Rebbe’s
blessings and the regard he showed for our work by adding a handwritten
message. However, we had no kindergarten.
“Several days later, we were approached by
some parents. ‘We know you are new in our city,’ they
said, ‘but we’ve heard about the worldwide Lubavitch
educational network. Here in Vienna, many Jewish children are not
receiving any Jewish education at all. Perhaps you would consider
opening a kindergarten?’ ”
When Rabbi Avrohom Yitzchok Glick from London,
the future initiator of a Lubavitch presence in many countries in
Europe, entered the Rebbe’s study for yechidus in the early
‘seventies, the Rebbe asked what business he was in.
Rabbi Glick replied that he manufactured light
bulbs and traveled throughout Europe to sell his products and to
purchase raw materials. He had recently traveled to Malaga in Southern
Spain for supplies.
“A person in the lighting business,”
the Rebbe replied, “knows that a bulb must be lit. Every Jew
is like a light bulb, and we should help him glow. When you return
to Malaga, please add to your agenda an inquiry about the spiritual
needs of the Jews living there.”
During a later yechidus, the Rebbe asked Rabbi
Glick if there was a mikveh in Malaga. Despite his doubts about
how much use this mikveh would receive, Rabbi Glick resolved to
have a kosher mikveh constructed there.
On his next trip to Spain, Rabbi Glick heard about
a Jewish businessman who was interested in building a strictly kosher
hotel in Malaga and who was seeking a Rabbinic authority to guide
him through the project. Rabbi Glick realized the opportunity and
asked the Rebbe whether to pursue the matter. “Go immediately,
even today,” replied the Rebbe.
The businessman was happy to meet Rabbi Glick,
who explained that the hotel would have to employ a resident mashgiach
who would supervise the kashrus of the food prepared at the hotel.
“Obviously,” continued Rabbi Glick, “the relocation
of a mashgiach and his family to Malaga means that you would have
to construct a kosher mikveh.”
The businessman readily agreed to Rabbi Glick’s
condition, and Rabbi Glick agreed to find a Lubavitch family who
would couple the supervision of the hotel’s kitchen with shlichus.
This initiated Lubavitch activity in Spain, and represented a significant
step in the Jewish return to that country, half a millennium after
the Expulsion of 1492.
1. At times the eve of December 25th was chosen for the showing,
for this is a night when it is customary not to study Torah. See
Sefer Minhagim (English translation, Kehot, N.Y., 1991), p. 162.
2. Pesachim 8a.