Baruch Hashem

Please print these Stories before Shabbos, so you can read them on Shabbos!

How to Land an Interview

Gershon Ber Jacobson was a well known journalist, according to some he was the journalist's journalist.  He wrote for several major newspapers around the world, was fluent in many languages including French, English, Yiddish, Russian, Georgian and Hebrew, had a fluent, often stirring style, an eye for often uncomfortable detail and an unquenchable drive for often life-threatening scoops.

But in addition to all this, or perhaps we should say foremost, he was a totally observant Jew and a devoted Chassid (follower) of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, perhaps the greatest, most erudite Jewish leader in history who teaches his followers to do everything possible to improve mankind.

And it saved his life at least once.

The scene was immediately after the Six-Day war. Israel had decimated the combined armies of Egypt, Syria and the other Arab nations surrounding them and the idea popped into the mind of Gershon Ber, who at the time was the chief correspondent in New York for the Israeli newspaper 'Yediot Achronot' the biggest daily in Israel, to get a really hot story.

He decided that the scoop of scoops would be to get into Egypt and get an interview with none other than the Prime Minister himself; Abdul Nasser!  

He began to go about getting the necessary papers, when he got a phone call from another important personage from the 'other side' of the coin; 'Isar HarAil' the head of the Israeli Secret Service the 'Mosad'. "Jacobson are you insane?" he screamed, "Listen, we have information that if you go through with this you'll never come back. Why, they'll arrest you as a spy and you'll never get out of jail! And we won't be in a position to help you! Do you understand? Don't go! And if you do we will take no responsibility!"

Jacobson thanked HarAil, hung up the phone and called the headquarters of the Lubabvither Rebbe.  It wasn't long before he got a reply.

The Rebbe said he definitely should go but he should do the following things 1) Take several pairs of new Tefillin 2) Take a new 'sh'chita' knife for slaughtering birds 3) check into the best room in the most expensive hotel 4) before leaving write short letters to all his friends and important acquaintances telling them he is in Egypt and mail them as soon as you arrive 5) as soon as he enters the hotel call all the foreign ambassadors living in Egypt and 5) at the first opportunity visit the Jewish community there.

Gershon Ber did exactly what the Rebbe told him and a week or two landed in Cairo. He told the driver to take him to the finest hotel and on the way he stopped at the post office and mailed the letters he had written.

Then he checked in to his room and immediately set about calling all the foreign representatives in Egypt as the Rebbe said.

And the response was fantastic! In fact one of the ambassadors was so impressed (he claimed that in the fifteen years he was in Egypt no one had ever called him) he insisted on coming to see him and when he arrived insisted on being Jacobson's personal driver!

"Very well!" he answered. "Then let's go visit the Jewish community here." With the ambassador (I heard it was the representative from Canada) as his driver they pulled up at the home of the head of the Jewish community.  Jacobson brought greetings from the Rebbe and began asking journalist questions; how was life in Egypt, Was there anti-Semitism, was anything affected by the Six Day War? etc. etc.

The community leader answered that although there was not overt anti-Semitism it was nevertheless very difficult for them to get around and impossible for them to contact the outside world. For instance what they really needed were a few pairs of tefillin (phylacteries) because several had become disqualified for use and a sh'chita knife for slaughtering chickens because the one they had somehow broke and was irreparable. But they couldn't get out of Egypt to get these things replaced.

You can imagine his joy and amazement when he produced exactly these items and told him how the Lubavitcher Rebbe somehow sensed their need.

Jacobson got the interview with Nasser and when he arrived safely back in New York he got another call from …. Issur HarAil. "Listen Jacobson. We know for SURE that they were planning to arrest you for spying. But when you got there and made such a storm with those letters and phone calls they didn't want to arouse adverse public opinion. Tell me, where did you get the idea to do those letters and phone calls?"

My Purpose In Life

This story occurred some twenty years ago in New York as Mr. Fogel (fictitious name) a middle-aged Chabad Chassid was listening to a tape of one of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's speeches while driving home late one evening from work. He had heard this one particular one tens of times but for some reason he liked it.

But suddenly one sentence really struck him. It was as though the Rebbe was speaking directly to him. :

"As is know, the Baal Shem Tov said that a soul can come into this world for seventy, eighty years just to do a favor for someone, especially a fellow Jew."

Suddenly Mr. Fogel became lost in thought. 'Could it be that I could live my entire life and never fulfill my purpose! Could such a thing really happen? After all who knows the secret ways of G‑d if not the Baal Shem Tov?'

He became serious. His eyes even began to fill with tears and he began to pray. 'Please, HaShem, guide me to do what I'm supposed to do, I don't want to miss my purpose!'

Deep in thought he began to imagine the hundreds (today there are thousands) of Chassidim all over the world going 'out of their ways' to wake up Jews. Nothing is more important. nothing! But what about him?!

When he came out of his reverie he realized that he was in a strange place and it took him a few seconds to figure out what happened. He had passed his turn-off, gotten off the expressway several stops too late and now was in a different district of Brooklyn. 

He was looking for a place to make a U-turn when something caught his eye. To his right, at the side of the road was an older man standing before the open hood of a stalled car.

The street was unusually empty so Mr. Fogel slowed down, opened his right side window and had a better look.  The fellow looked up at him and signaled. It didn't look suspicious so he pulled over and asked what was wrong.

"Ahh! What rotten luck! I can't figure it out." The fellow yelled out. "The thing just died on me! Now I'm really stuck!! A tow truck stopped about ten minutes ago but they wanted six hundred dollars to tow me home! Six hundred! And I only live fifteen minutes away!"

Mr. Fogel pulled his car even closer and the fellow continued.

"And I'm stalled in a no parking zone. Look at this! Even if I caught a
taxi. if I leave the car here . they'll tow it away."

"Fogel pointed to a spot about fifty yards ahead and said."Just don't worry. G‑d will help. Here, look over there! About a hundred feet away is a place you can park. See! I'll push you. Get in your car and I'll push you. Then you can take a taxi home."

"Thanks!" he yelled back as he walked to open the door to his car. "But I've been waiting here for a long time and not one taxi has passed. look!The road is deserted. But I guess you're right. Worrying doesn't help."

Mr. Fogel was totally convinced that this fellow was telling the truth. So after pushing him to the parking place and the fellow locked his car up, he offered to take him home. After all it was only a fifteen minute ride.

The old fellow couldn't stop thanking him. He got into Fogel's car and kept talking. "Wow! Thanks a million! I really appreciate this!! Now all we have to do, my wife and I that is, is order a cab." He looked at his watch, "Whew! It's really late! I hope we don't miss our plane. We're flying to Florida to visit our daughter and the plane is leaving in an hour."

"Listen" said Mr. Fogel "It's no problem. You know what. I'll take you to the airport, after all it's only a half hour drive and my wife won't worry.
Just don't ask questions. As soon as we get to your house get your wife and suitcases and let's go! You have no time to waste."

The old fellow tried weakly to protest but realized that this Chassid was right, so in no time he and his wife were in the car and before they knew it were at the airport.

"I can't thank you enough" said the old man as he pulled his suitcase from the trunk. "Listen, you got to let me pay you! Here, do me a favor.. take a hundred dollars." He pulled a bill from his wallet. "Nu! It's the least I can do. Just take it!

But Fogel would have no part of it. "Sorry, my friend! First of all thank G‑d I don't need the money. Second, it was a favor so I don't want the  money. And third it was no big deal; the whole thing took less than an hour and I enjoyed it, so I don't even deserve the money."

But the old man insisted, even took another hundred out and kept pushing it at Fogel saying "Just take it. Nu! Don't argue. Just take it."

Until finally Mr. Fogel said. " Excuse me but you're Jewish, right?" the fellow shook his head yes. "So, listen, if you really want to repay me then, you know what? Put on Tefillin. Do you put on Tefillin? Do it every morning  for a month."

The man shook his head no. In fact it was exactly what he did not want to  hear. Tefillin?! No way!! I'm not doing no mitzvos! No MITVOS! Not me!"

"Alright, so then don't put on Tefillin." Fogel replied. "You were the one that wanted to pay. As far as I'm concerned you don't owe me anything but if  you want to pay, this is what I want. Nu?  What do you say?  Just buy  yourself a pair of Tefillin and put them on when you can. Okay?"

The old fellow looked at Fogel with foggy eyes for a second, shook his head reluctantly and said ."All right. I'll do it!"

Then he half-heartedly shook Fogel's hand, looked at his watch and ran to  get a luggage cart.

As soon as he was far enough away, his wife approached Fogel with tears in  her eyes, dabbed them with a small kerchief and said. "Thank you! G‑d just  sent you!"

She spoke in a low voice, keeping an eye on her husband to make sure he was  involved with the cart but, although she tried to hide it, she was obviously  very emotional, her eyes were red from crying. 

"You don't know what you just did. It was a miracle! We are holocaust  survivors. We met after the war, got married, moved here to New York and  agreed that we wouldn't do anything Jewish. Nothing. We were mad at G‑d, you know." She started crying again.

"But as we got older I began to yearn for the things from my mother's
house.. you know, like lighting candles before Shabbat. But each time I mentioned it my husband said 'NO MITZVOT!! Our children got married, we are alone in the house but he still says 'No Mitzvos'!!'

"So, yesterday I felt so bad . that .. I did something I haven't done since the war.. I prayed.

"I begged G‑d to send some miracle to change my husband's mind.  And now you came .. You are a miracle!! 

"I'm sure that this Shabbat we will have Candles."

Seriously

It was a day like any other. I was standing outside the synagogue of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, enjoying a break from my Talmud studies. I had chosen a good time, for just at that moment the Rebbe had emerged from his office and was now making his way to his car. His path, however, was obstructed by a young man who looked out of place in the crowd of Chassidim.

The young man was tall, not older than twenty-five. A small kipah sat awkwardly on his curly hair, which extended several inches longer than the short hair of the chasidic young men congregating on the sidewalk.

The young man seemed to hesitate at first but then said a few words to the Rebbe. I heard neither the question nor the Rebbe's response, but I saw the Rebbe point to the sky and make a circle with his finger in the air. The young man seemed dissatisfied and spoke another few words to the Rebbe. This time the Rebbe smiled and pointed to the young man's heart as he responded. With that the conversation ended. The young man stood motionless and watched as the Rebbe got in to his car and was driven off down Eastern Parkway.

After a few dazed moments, the young man turned and entered the synagogue. I followed him. He sat down on one of the wooden benches, put his head in his hands and began to weep. This went on for about ten minutes, after which he composed himself, read a few psalms from a prayer book, then walked up to the Ark and kissed the curtain.

As he left the building, I found myself following him out into the street and down the stairs into the subway station. As we paid for our fares I said to him, 'So where're you going?' He said he didn't know. I said, 'Good, so we're going to the same place.'

We sat quietly at first. The train rumbled on past Nostrand Avenue station. As we neared Flatbush Avenue, I finally said it.

So what happened there?

There?

Yes. What did you say, and what did he answer?

Oh, you mean the Rebbe?

Yes.

He paused for a moment then said: I asked the Rebbe where G‑d was. And he said everywhere.

Then what did you say?

I said, 'I'm serious.'

You said, 'I'm serious'?

Well, I didn't really say it. It kind of blurted out of me. Even with my minimal contact with Chasidic Rebbes, I was pretty sure I had said the wrong thing. I was surprised when he smiled. I think he liked my response. The sincerity, perhaps. That's when he said, 'G‑d is inside you, right there.' And he pointed to my heart.

It dawned on me that we had not introduced ourselves. I guess it had just dawned on him as well, since he put out a shaky hand and said: I'm Danny. Danny Cohen.

I'm Israel. Israel Lipkind. So you're a Kohen, I guess.

Yes. A descendant of Aaron the High Priest, who loved peace and pursued it. I'm from Long Beach.

Ah, on the Island.

No, Long Beach, California.

Oh. A California boy.

Yes. And I'm engaged.

Mazal Tov!

Hold the congratulations. She's not Jewish.

I held the congratulations. And my breath. I guess you could say I lived a pretty sheltered life back then. It wasn't everyday that I bumped into Jews engaged to a non-Jew.

We sat quietly again as the Yuppie crowd joined us at Grand Army Plaza. An older couple entered the train, gave us a curious once-over and sat down at a safe distance.

The Kohen resumed his tale and I listened in silence.

At first it meant nothing to me — the fact that she was not a Jew. Judaism did not play a major role in my parents' home. We had the Passover seder with the Manischewitz wine and the Maxwell House Haggadah, my sister had a book by Martin Buber, we read The Chosen and there was a lithograph in our living room with three rabbis engaged in Talmudic debate who hovered over us as we sat on the vinyl black couch and watched Ponch and Jon chase bad guys down the 101.

I was surprised that my parents cared. My mother cried for days. My father wouldn't speak to me. Their reaction gave me pause, but I intended to go ahead despite them.

A few months ago, Lisa — that's my fiancé — took me to the church where we're supposed to get married. That's when something clicked. I tried to tell myself, 'It's just a building. What's the big deal if this guy's wearing a long robe and his necklace is not exactly a Star of David?'

As we left the church, my heart felt empty. I said nothing and we went home.

The next day, Lisa and I were out shopping. Across the street was a Jewish bookstore and I suggested we go in. A man with a long beard approached me with what looked like two black boxes with black straps attached to them. 'Shalom,' he said, 'would you like to put on tefilin?' I wasn't sure what that meant but how could I refuse this saintly man? I said, 'Sure', and waited for instructions. There were none. He simply rolled up my left sleeve and began tying the straps around them. He told me to say the Shema — which I knew from a Jewish day camp I attended one summer — and to speak to G‑d.

That threw me. Though I had been to a synagogue a number of times, I had never considered actually talking to G‑d. It felt silly. I wasn't sure why. Perhaps I didn't think He would listen or that He existed at all.

The man started taking off the straps from my arm and head. He turned to Lisa and said, 'So are you two married?' I said, 'No, soon'. He said, 'Mazal Tov' and I didn't bother to tell him.

That night I couldn't sleep. In the morning I went back to the bookstore. The man was there saying the Shema with another customer. I waited. Then it was my turn and I put on the tefilin again. And when he was taking them off I asked him questions and he gave me some answers and I asked more questions and he gave me more answers and we began to study together and I learned more about Judaism in one day than I had learned my entire life.

It still wasn't enough. My brain got it but it was not translating. The information was stalled at the intellectual level. When I mentioned that I would be going to New York for a week, the man told me I must visit the Rebbe in Brooklyn. And so I did.

The older couple left us at Bowling Green, not without a side-long glance on their way out.

I straightened the kipah on the Kohen's head and he resumed:

When I came here today, I saw the Rebbe. It was my first time seeing him but I knew it was him. I had the sense that this was my chance to ask. That if I didn't ask now I never would. And so I asked. I asked him where G‑d was and he said everywhere. But that didn't satisfy me. I said, 'I'm serious.' I really need to know. This is personal. I'm not doing a research paper here on where G‑d might be. I need to know. I'm serious.

And he smiled, as if he were expecting, hoping I would say that. And that's when he pointed at my heart and said: Right there. G‑d is inside you.

Simple words. Anyone could have said it. But the Rebbe believed it. And because he believed it I believed it. I thought to myself, So this is what it's like to look into the eyes of a Moses and to catch a glimpse of your higher self in the reflection. I felt like a small flame dancing up and joining the larger fire.

At that moment the gap was bridged. My head and heart were one and I made my decision.

I returned to the yeshivah and sat down opposite my study partner. Where were you? he said.

Oh, just talking, I said, talking to a Kohen...

 
 
The Tightrope

Rabbi Mendel Futerfass spent several years of his life in a Soviet labor camp. He later related that one of the ways that he kept his sanity was to constantly engage his mind in the Chassidic practice, set forth by Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, that "From everything that a person sees or hears, he should derive a lesson in his service of G‑d." Some very profound insights came from some very unusual teachers.

For instance, one of the prisoners claimed to be a tightrope walker.

Reb Mendel didn't believe him because he couldn't imagine why a person would waste his time walking on a rope and risk falling on his head, when he could just walk on the ground like everyone else. But when the evil Stalin died and the government eased up the pressure on the camps, some of the inmates decided to make a celebration and the tightrope walker saw his chance to prove himself.

He found a long thick rope somewhere in the camp, attached it to the side of a building about ten feet above the ground, stretched it to another building about fifteen yards away and attached it there at the same height. For a long time he was up on a ladder pulling, testing and fastening until everything was finally ready.

A crowd gathered around. The man removed his shoes and gingerly but unceremoniously climbed up the ladder onto the rope.

Reb Mendel was one of the first to get interested, and he explained what happened:

"First he climbed up onto the rope, took a few steps, lost his balance and fell. But he knew how to fall, like a cat. He waited a few seconds and climbed up again and fell again the same way. But eventually he started walking, and then dancing from one foot to the other to the rhythm of the clapping onlookers.

"Then he got to the end, turned around, danced back to where he started, and climbed down amidst the applause and cheering of the crowd.

"After shaking everyone's hand he walked over to me and said with a satisfied smile on his face. 'Well Rabbi, what do you think now?'

"I told him I was impressed, but I couldn't help wondering how he did it. How could he walk on such a thin rope without falling off? After much prompting he finally revealed his secret. 'I fix my eye on where I'm going,' he said, 'and never even think about falling'.

"He waited a few seconds for me to digest the answer, and then said: 'Do you know what was the hardest part? Turning around! When you turn around you lose sight of the goal for a second. It takes a long time to learn to turn around!'"

 
The Blessing of Water
 
The Talmud in tractate Taanit (23b) relates that it so happened that one year there was a draught in Israel. Rain hadn't fallen for almost a year, all the fasts and public prayers hadn't helped, the wells were dryingup, food was running out and things looked bleak.

There was no lack of holy, devoted Jews in Israel but for some reason their supplications were not answered and no one could imagine where salvation would come from.

There was one Jew that was a bit different than the others. His name was Rabbi Yona.  The Talmud tells us no more than he was so exceedingly humble that even his wife and family had no idea of his spiritual achievements.

Rabbi Yona couldn't stand the suffering of his brothers. He waited and
waited for rain and when it became obvious that rain was not coming he took an empty sack and the remaining money in the house and told his wife he was going to the town to see if he could buy some grain to replenish their food supply.

His wife blessed him with good luck and he made his way toward the market.

When he was sure he wasn't noticed he turned to the outskirts of the city then walked even farther to a desolate rocky spot far into the hills where he was certain that no one had ever been.

He found a place to lower himself in the cleft of some rocks, wrapped
himself in his prayer shawl and began to pour his heart out to G‑d.

After several minutes the clear blue sky turned grey, then ominously dark. Soon thunder and bolts of lightning announced the end of the heavenly decree and rain began  to first drizzle and finally fall in torrents.

Rabbi Yona climbed out of his hiding place put his prayer shawl back in the sack and headed home. 

On the way people were dancing in the streets, faces to heaven weeping in gratitude and soaked with blessed rain. 

When he arrived home his wife too was dancing for joy at the rain.  She showed him into the house, gave him a dry set of clothes and asked if he had managed to make it to the market and get some grain.

"No" he answered "Before I got to there it began to rain and I reasoned that soon there will be plenty of food for everyone at lower prices.  So I came home." 
 

Another story is about a Tzadik (Holy Righteous) called Pinchas Ben Yair.

In a certain town was a kind Jew who, in his spare time, dug wells, cisterns and irrigation ditches for those traveling or passing through the area so water would be easily accessible and travelers would never suffer from thirst.

This kind Jew had a daughter who reached the age of marriage. He found a proper match for her and the date of the wedding was set.

But then tragedy struck. The girl was crossing a river on the way to make preparations for the wedding and somehow slipped and fell into the rapids and drowned.

In fact the waters were so turbulent, deep and murky that her body was never found.

When the people in the area heard the heartbreaking story they went to the man's home to comfort him but to no avail. The poor fellow was so beside himself with bitterness, grief and pain that he refused all consolation.

When Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair happened to pass by and see the crowd of people entering and leaving, he understood that they were comforting a mourner and he too entered. But the mourner refused him as well.

"What type of a Jew is this?" Rabbi Pinchas asked one of those present. "Is he the first person to ever be bereaved? I agree that death is awful but why is he different from every other mourner? Why is he so bitter?"

"Rabbi," the reply was soon in coming "This man used to dig wells and
provide everyone with water and now his daughter drowned in water!!"

Answered Rabbi Pinchas "What? Can it be that he honored his Creator with water and he now suffers because of water?!"

Just moments later cries of jubilation came from the city.  "The girl
returned!"

Some say that she grabbed onto a pole that suddenly appeared in the water, others say that an angel with the form and face of Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair saved her. (Yerushalmi D'mai 1:1)