Chapter 9: A Dollar For Tzedakah
- Fountain of Blessing
It was the Rebbe’s birthday, Sunday, the
11th of Nissan, 5746. As the chassidim were finishing their morning
prayers, word spread through the shul: “The Rebbe is giving
out dollars for tzedakah at the door of his study!” And within
moments a line of hundreds formed. One by one, they filed past the
Rebbe and each received a brief blessing and a dollar to be given
Two weeks later, after the Pesach holiday, the
scene replayed itself, and on the following Sunday weeks later,
the chassidim were no longer surprised.
This marked the beginning of an institution that
was to give tens of thousands of people from all over the world
an opportunity to establish a connection with the Rebbe. From that
first Sunday until Sunday, the 26th of Adar, 5752 (the day before
the Rebbe suffered the stroke from which he is presently recovering),
week after week, the Rebbe would stand in the entrance hall of “770”
for hours on end, receiving people from all walks of life and giving
them dollars to distribute for charity.
Every week thousands would come. Some came asking
for blessings at a turning-point in their lives, others came because
of a problem, and still others in search of spiritual inspiration.
There were probably as many reasons as there were people on the
The people represented a true cross-section of
the international Jewish community: venerable sages, young children,
communal leaders, visitors from every country in the world, the
observant and the not-yet-observant, political figures from the
U.S. and Israel, and amcha Yidden, the Jewish man-in-the-street,
in his thousands.
A friend from Israel once visited “770”
for Shavuos. That year, the holiday was celebrated on Sunday and
Monday, and so the Rebbe did not distribute dollars that Sunday
morning. “One of the most striking experiences of my trip,”
my friend recalls, “was to see Jews who came to “770”
with the intent of receiving dollars that Sunday. These people who
obviously were not aware of the holiday celebrating the Giving of
the Torah were eager to receive the Rebbe’s blessing.”
“Pardon me,” said the visitor to the
man standing in front of him. They were both waiting on line to
receive a dollar from the Rebbe on a spring Sunday.
The man in front of him turned around. “How
can I help you?” he asked pleasantly.
“This is the first time I’ve come and
I’m not quite sure how to approach the Rebbe,” the newcomer
continued. “You see, I’m having severe difficulty with
my youngest son. He is going through an extremely rebellious period.
I would like to request the Rebbe’s blessing on this matter.
“Would you be able to assist me in the proper
wording. I understand one must be short and precise and I would
not like to take too much precious time from the Rebbe.”
The man thought for a moment and then said to the
visitor. “You seem to understand the need to keep the line
moving. Imagine how many more hours the Rebbe would have to stand
here if every person would speak to him, even briefly. So, the Rebbe’s
blessing of Brochah v’hatzlachah (‘blessing and success’)
to each person as he hands him the dollar includes all his needs.”
The newcomer understood and decided not to mention
anything to the Rebbe. As the Rebbe handed him the dollar, he listened
wholeheartedly to the anticipated Brochah v’hatzlachah. He
felt the blessing empower him with faith and strength. As he moved
on, he suddenly realized that the Rebbe had not turned to the person
behind him, but instead was beckoning him to wait.
The Rebbe handed him an additional dollar, saying:
“For your son.”
“I didn’t know the Lubavitcher Rebbe
knew you!” exclaimed Mrs. Berkowitz to her husband. She was
waving two dollars in her hand. Rabbi Berkowitz, a prominent lecturer
(maggid shiur) in a Brooklyn yeshivah looked at his wife quizzically.
“I went to receive a blessing from the Rebbe.
The Rebbe handed me an additional dollar. ‘This is for your
husband,’ he said. ‘Tell him that I asked about him
and that I send him my regards.’ ”
Mrs. Berkowitz handed her husband the dollar bill,
but he wasn’t paying attention. With a distant look in his
eyes, he mumbled, “The Rebbe remembered… thirty years
ago… that’s amazing….”
Rabbi Berkowitz seemed very intent as he related
an incident which had taken place three decades earlier. “It
was during the summer month of Tammuz,” he recalled. “I
was walking down President Street towards Brooklyn Ave. A bearded
man who just turned the corner caught my attention. He had very
dignified features, his appearance was most impressive, and he was
walking briskly. I stopped to have a chat with him. We exchanged
some Torah thoughts and opinions about current events.
“As our conversation ended, the gentleman
invited me to attend a chassidic farbrengen which was to be held
by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in a couple of days. Although I knew very
little about the Rebbe in those days, I decided to attend.
“You can imagine how I felt when I entered
the shul at “770” Eastern Parkway. The man with whom
I had conversed was none other than the Rebbe himself.
“I regretted having wasted the Rebbe’s
precious time. Afterwards, I asked him to forgive me. The Rebbe
assured me that I needn’t worry. He welcomed me to come back
more often. ‘I will yet ask about you,’ were the Rebbe’s
“I never returned,” said Rabbi Berkowitz
softly. “Today was the first time in thirty years that anyone
in our family has gone to see the Rebbe.”
“I was sure the Rebbe had not heard correctly,”
related Y. Shifrin, a visitor to New York from Bnei Brak, Israel.
“It was Sunday; I had joined the line at “770”
to request a blessing from the Rebbe for a book I was about to publish.
In response, the Rebbe gave me an additional dollar and said: ‘Give
tzedakah for her merit, and may she have a quick recovery.’
“I was mystified. Before I could collect
my thoughts, the line had proceeded further. I was convinced that
the Rebbe had not heard my request properly. I traveled back to
my hosts’ home in Boro Park, only to be greeted with an urgent
message. ‘Your wife called from Israel. She wants you to contact
“Anxiously, I placed the call. One of my
daughters answered the phone, explaining that my wife was not home.
‘She is at the hospital,’ she said. My heart skipped
a beat as the events unfolded. My youngest daughter who was in an
advanced stage of pregnancy had lost consciousness and collapsed.
The doctors described her condition as critical.
“With a jolt, the Rebbe’s words flashed
through my mind. A deep sense of calm settled within me. I told
my daughter of the encounter which had occurred only a short while
earlier and tried to reassure her. ‘I’m sure everything
will be fine.’
“I immediately gave tzedakah in my daughter’s
merit. That evening, my wife called again. ‘The doctors have
no explanation, but, thank G-d, the crisis has passed.’ ”
Two of the taxi passengers en route from Ben Gurion
airport to Jerusalem struck up a casual conversation. Following
the friendly “Jewish geography” exchange in which one
of the travelers introduced himself as a Jew from Antwerp, his new
acquaintance, a Jerusalemite, continued with the common question,
“What brings you here?”
The man from Antwerp hesitated for a moment. His
European nature was not as open and uninhibited as the Israeli’s.
But somehow, his fellow passenger put him at ease.
“I’ll tell you the truth,” began
the visitor. “This past summer on a trip to New York, I traveled
to Brooklyn to ask the Lubavitcher Rebbe for a blessing for my handicapped
son. We have had great difficulty finding a suitable match for him.
As I passed by the Rebbe, he handed me a dollar saying b’suros
tovos good tidings. Then he gave me an additional dollar and said:
‘For tzedakah in the Holy Land.’
“I was sure that the Rebbe had mistakenly
thought I was a visitor from Israel. I didn’t understand how
this response applied to me, and I returned to Antwerp. Weeks passed
and the holidays arrived. One day, during Chol Hamoed Sukkos, my
wife and I were discussing our family affairs. We were both very
concerned about the future of our son, who was not getting any younger.
During the course of our conversation, my encounter with the Rebbe
“My wife became thoughtful. ‘Perhaps
we should have taken the Rebbe’s words more seriously,’
she suggested. ‘Let’s follow his directive. Take a few
days off after the holiday and travel to Israel to give tzedakah
in the Holy Land, just as the Rebbe had said.’
“This is the reason for my journey,”
The visitor from Antwerp had been casting his eyes
on the scenery as he told his story. It was only now that he noticed
a strange mixture of awe and nervousness on the Jerusalemite’s
“I wonder,” the man was mumbling, unable
to hide his excitement. Responding to the visitor’s puzzled
look, the man from Jerusalem struggled to regain his composure and
related: “I am returning from a trip to New York, where I
spent the holidays. I took the opportunity to ask the Rebbe for
a blessing for my daughter. We would very much like to see her happily
married. The Rebbe gave me a slice of lekach (honey cake) for my
daughter saying: ‘May she find a good shiduch (match) in the
The man from Jerusalem took a deep breath. “Perhaps
we should both pursue the issue. You see, my daughter also has a
The engagement party was held shortly thereafter.
“It was a pleasant Sunday morning in July,
1988. I should have felt as content and relaxed as any other mother
of a six-week-old beautiful baby girl. The baby still had the precious
delicacy of a newborn, and yet had begun to develop a schedule which
allowed the new mother more rest and renewed strength.
“Yet, I was tense and worried. The results
of my post-partum examination had shattered my hopes and plans for
my family of four lovely children. “A cancerous illness,”
the doctors said. As I sat there with numbing fear, I could hear
them say something about an urgent operation because of the critical
stage of the illness. I couldn’t believe they were talking
“That sunny Sunday morning appeared to me
as a ray of hope. Before consulting the doctor again, I decided
to pay a visit to “770” and speak to the Rebbe as he
distributes dollars to be given to charity.
“I asked a neighbor to accompany me. ‘I’m
nervous, I feel weak, and I don’t even speak Yiddish,’
I told her. She readily agreed to come.
“As we approached the Rebbe, my neighbor
related my desperate condition: ‘The doctors say they have
“ ‘So they will lose it!’ the
Rebbe responded, his face breaking into a broad smile.
“We were stunned. The Rebbe’s matter-of-fact
answer had caught us both off guard and in our confusion, we thought
we had not heard correctly.
“ ‘What?’ we both burst out.
“The Rebbe was still smiling. ‘You
told me what they found. Nu, so whatever they found, they will lose.’
“By this time, I had grasped the Rebbe’s
words and I was overcome with emotion. “I have a six-week-old
baby,” I blurted tearfully in English.
“The Rebbe looked at me warmly and said:
“You will merit to raise her to Torah, chuppah (marriage),
and good deeds.”
Shortly afterwards, the doctors indeed told the
woman about a loss one about which she and her family were very
relieved to hear.
One hot Sunday afternoon in the summer of 1991,
an elderly lady was patiently waiting her turn in the long line
of Jewish women and girls from all walks of life, each one anticipating
the moment of receiving the Rebbe’s blessing and the dollar
bill to be given to tzedakah.
When her turn finally arrived, this lady blurted
out in her simple Yiddish, “Rebbe! I’ve been standing
here for only an hour and I’m already exhausted. You have
been standing here for hours and hours, and just look….!”
The Rebbe smiled gently and said, “When you
are counting diamonds, you don’t get tired.”