No Windows on the East Side

The founder of the Chabad movement once sent one of his Chassidim (followers/students) on an important mission to deliver a large sum of money to a distant location.

The Rebbe blessed him with a safe trip but mysteriously warned him not to enter any house that has no windows on the east side. Early the next morning the Chassid set off happily on his journey. The first few hours went smoothly although snow was falling heavily but after a few more hours, ominous storm clouds darkened the sky and created an impression of impending nightfall. The wind grew stronger and colder from minute to minute and was becoming unbearable. He tried to speed up the horses hoping to reach some sort of an inn but agonizing hours passed and still nothing.

He was numb and freezing, it was much colder than usual and the snow was falling so densely that he couldn’t really see where he was going. He prayed to G‑d for some sort of miracle. 

Suddenly through the white ocean of swirling snow he saw what looked like the outline of a house just off the road. With his last energy he forced the horses in the direction, and sure enough it was a house! It even had a Mezuza on the door! He thanked G‑d for the good fortune as he jumped from his wagon onto the front porch and knocked on the door.

An elderly woman opened the door and let him in to the warm house. Come in you must be freezing,” she said. “Come have a cup of tea, sit here by the stove. In just a minute my sons will return, they will put your horse in the barn, please sit down.” Just as he sat and began thawing out he remembered that it was almost night and he hadn’t yet prayed Mincha (afternoon prayer). So he asked the woman which direction was Jerusalem (all prayers face Jerusalem) and prayed, thanking G‑d for his good fortune.

As he finished, and was taking the three steps backward, he noticed that something was wrong; one wall had no windows … the east wall!

Without hesitation he put on his coat and walked to the door saying apologetically, “I’ll be right back” but the door was locked. He went to a window but it too was locked. “I forgot something in the wagon,” he said to the old woman “Could you please open the door?” Suddenly a key opened the door from the outside, and four healthy young men entered the house from the freezing storm. As soon as they saw their visitor they immediately grabbed him, emptied his pockets, tied him up, laid him on the ground in a corner, and sat down to eat while their mother examined the booty.

“Ho HO! She exclaimed. “Look what we have here!!” As she held up the pack of money she found in his wallet. “Looks like we caught a nice fish this time!!” One of the sons examined the money, went to the cupboard, took out a large bottle of vodka and put it on the table with a bang. “Brothers, lets celebrate!! G‑d has been good to us! We have enough money here to be happy for a long, long time! But first, let’s take care of our guest!!” He pulled a large knife from somewhere under his coat while one of his brothers was pouring him a drink. He took a cup of vodka in his free hand, raised it high and said, “To long life, except for you!” as he looked at the bound Chassid.

One of the brothers, surprised by the joke, laughed so hard that the vodka came spraying out of his mouth on the others, and they all began to laugh, and then someone began a song and another toast, then another. Then the door opened again and it was their father. “Ah HAA!” He shouted as he looked at the money on the table and the bound victim on the floor,

“Good work boys! Excellent! We’ll have to kill him though … I’m glad you left him for me. You know what? In the morning I’ll take care of him. Now let’s drink to our good fortune!!” And before long they were all drunk as Lot and forgot completely about our unfortunate hero.

Late that night, when they were all sleeping soundly, the father woke, looked around to make sure that no one else was awake, tiptoed over to our Chassid, motioned him to be silent, cut his ropes and motioned for him to follow. Quietly he tiptoed to the door opened it and whispered in the Chassid’s ear as he gave him his coat, “Here is most of the money back” he pushed a wad of the stolen money into the Chassid’s coat pocket. “And here, tell your Rebbe to pray for me” he pressed a gold coin in the Chassid’s hand.

“See, I’m giving charity! Tell him to pray for me. Now go! Get out of here! Go back as fast as you can … run for your life” he whispered aloud as the Chassid was leaving the house. The dawn was beginning to light the horizon, the storm had stopped, and our grateful hero was on the road back home.

When he finally arrived and entered the Rebbe’s room, the Rebbe looked up at him and said, “I know what happened, you don’t have to tell me. You should know that the entire night I had to stay awake because of you.”

The Chassid then produced the golden coin and told of the father’s request. The Rebbe took the coin and wedged it in a crack in the wooden wall next to his desk and said no more.

Fifteen years passed and the Chassid, who was now married with a family, became one of the assistants of the Rebbe. One day he answered the door to a beggar and told him to wait. When he entered the Rebbe’s room and informed him that there was a beggar at the door the Rebbe pulled the gold coin from the crack where it had been for the last fifteen years and told the Chassid that this man was the ‘father’ that had and miraculously released him years ago.

It seems that when his wife and sons awoke and realized what he had done they beat him and drove him from the house just some hours before the police made a surprise raid and took the mother and boys off to jail.

The father, who had been a murderer and thief all his life, began a life of wandering and repentance and now the Rebbe, in addition to saving him and causing him to repent, was repaying him for the favor of saving his Chassid.

A Typical day For The Holtzberg's 

 

 

Holtzberg.jpg 
Rabbi Gabi and Rivki Holtzberg of blessed memory
on their wedding day in 2002

Mumbai India: Recently, on the day before Passover, R' Gabi Holtzberg  was going around town giving out fliers for their communal seder, which was to take place that night. When he finally  got back home, it was getting close to the holiday. His wife Rivka asked him if he had gone to a certain inn where there are some Jews. R' Gabi said he had not, but there are not always that many Jews there anyway, and it's a bit far, and it's getting close to the holiday... At the end, he decided he'll go and he quickly ran off to the inn.

When R' Gabi got to the inn, he asked the receptionist for the list of names, to see if any of them sounded Jewish. He found one Jewish-sounding name and he went to the room. He knocked on the door once, twice, and there was no response. It was getting close to the holiday, so R' Gabi knocked one more time. When he still heard no response, he put a flier under the door, and quickly started going down the stairs. Suddenly he heard someone say "Hello?" R' Gabi went back upstairs and saw that the Jewish man in the room had opened the door for him.  "Who sent you here," the man asked. In his usual, playful manner, R' Gabi said " Ribono Shel Olam." (The Master of the World [G‑d] has sent me here.) Suddenly the man turned white. He told R' Gabi the following story:
 
"I grew up in Israel on a kibbutz and I was extremely secular. I did not observe anything religious at all. I came to India a few days ago to do some touring. After I had just arrived, someone pick-pocketed my wallet, which had everything; my money, passport, credit cards... I was completely miserable and helpless. I was now alone in India with no money at all and nowhere to go.  I sat at a bench and started crying. Someone came over to me and asked me what was bothering me and I told him what happened. He pulled out his wallet and gave me some money. He told me to go this run-down inn, because it was the cheapest one in town. In the meantime, he said, I could ask my parents to send me money. The money he gave me would be enough to stay there for 2 nights, until I would receive the money my parents would send me. I thanked him very much and we parted. I checked in to the inn .

" Today, I was sitting in the room, and I realized that it was the day before Pesach. Although I did not observe anything, at least in Israel, you could feel the spirit of the holiday. Here, in India, there's nothing at all. No Jews, no seder.... I felt very sad.  I turned to G‑d and said "G‑d, if You really exist and You really care for me, please, send me a sign." Then I dozed off on my bed for about 2 hours.
 
"When I heard the first knock, I though it was part of my dream. After the second knock, I started getting up. After the third knock I opened the door, called you back  and asked who sent you here. When you answered "Ribono Shel Olam," (G‑d), that was it. There was the sign."
 
The man came to the seder that night and during the weeks that followed, he came to the Chabad House often and developed a good connection with R' Gabi. Today, he is a fully observant Jew and living in Israel.

 

 G‑d's Precious Stone

Among the disciples of Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch were many who argued that the sanctity of esoteric teachings revealed by their master must be safeguarded and shared only with a select few. Others, chief amongst them Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, were of the opinion that they must be circulated as widely as possible. They transcribed Rabbi DovBer's teachings, made many copies, and actively distributed them to the wider Jewish community.

One day, one of these transcriptions was discovered languishing in a mound of garbage. The sight of this caused great pain to all Rabbi DovBer's disciples, and renewed the critique of those who cheapened their master's holy words with their indiscriminate distribution. Rabbi Schneur Zalman responded with a parable:

Once upon a time, he began his tale, there was a mighty king who had an only son. Wishing his son to grow in wisdom and might, he sent him off to explore faraway lands and far-flung islands. There the prince was to learn the nature of foreign plants and animals and brave dangerous terrain to capture exotic beasts and birds.

"One day, the news reached the king that his son, who was then on a faraway island, had fallen gravely ill, and that the doctors were unable to find a cure for his illness. A call was issued throughout the land, offering great reward. But all the great doctors, all the famed scholars, were silenced; for they knew no remedy or cure for the illness of the prince.

"Then there arrived a man who knew of a proven remedy for the illness of the prince. He described a certain precious stone which, if one would grind it to the finest of powders, mix it with a superb wine, and give it to the prince to drink—he would be cured.

"This gem, however, was extremely rare, and could not be obtained anywhere in the kingdom and beyond. The only specimen in existence was the centerpiece of the royal crown of the king. Removing this gem would mean destroying the crown—the king's most precious possession and the ultimate symbol of his sovereignty.

"At first, the king's ministers were overjoyed to discover the gem. But as soon as they realized that by removing the stone from the crown—the very crown with which their king was crowned— its entire glory would fade, they were extremely distressed. Nonetheless, they were forced to inform the king that the gem had been found.

"The king was overjoyed. He commanded that the gem be extracted, ground to a fine powder, and that the potion for his son be quickly prepared.

"But at that moment, terrible news reached the royal palace: the prince's condition had so deteriorated that his lips were sealed. So ill was the prince that he could take nothing, not even liquids, into his mouth.  The experts and scholars assembled at the palace were certain that, under the circumstances, the king would surely direct that the stone not be ground so that the splendor of the royal crown could be preserved.

"How astounded they were to hear the king instructing them to hurry and crush the gem and to prepare the potion as swiftly as possible, and pour it into the mouth of the prince. 'Grind, pour, squander the entire gemstone,' said the king. 'Who knows? Perhaps a single drop will enter the mouth of my son and he will be healed!'"

Finding G‑d in Bangkok Thailand
 
Two years ago a young Israeli in his early twenties entered Rabbi Wilhelm's Chabad House and stood before the massive bookcase filled with Torah books with a bewildered look on his face. Rabbi Wilhelm asked him if he needed help and he replied that he was looking for a book on Judaism.         

When the Rabbi suggested that perhaps they learn something on the book of Bereshis (Genesis) the fellow asked if that was a Jewish book and when he heard it was, agreed to sit and learn.            

The young man (we will call him Erez) grew up on an atheistic Israeli Kibbutz where religion (especially the Jewish religion) was branded as no more than a crutch for the crippled. So it was no wonder that he knew virtually nothing about Judaism.          

Erez told the Rabbi that a few months ago he and his girlfriend, from another Kibbutz, decided to ditch Israel for a few months (at least) and set off for an unforgettable tour of the Far East together …. like tens of thousands of other Israelis.           

They traveled from one exotic country to another, met the people, ate the food, camped out in jungles, climbed mountains … but were careful to call home regularly to let their family know they were still alive.       

Several months into their journey in one of his calls home Erez's parents made an interesting proposition. His sister was coming in to visit them from Canada for two weeks. They suggested that they would pay his way, round trip, and they would love to have him for a family reunion.          

He talked it over with his girlfriend, she agreed and a day later he was back in Israel with his family. There was a wonderful warm feeling of love and unity that he never felt before. They ate together, spoke, sang, laughed, reminisced and took walks together every day and after two weeks his sister flew back to Canada, he kissed his parents good bye and returned to his girlfriend in Thailand.          

When his plane landed he called to tell his parents that he arrived safely but his mother, fighting back the tears gave him some terrible news. Just minutes after his plane took off his father suffered a heart attack and …. passed away.  The burial was to take place in a few moments. Erez was stunned.           

Not being religious he didn't even consider a period of mourning but it was a shock to his entire being; especially the wonderful irony of the family reunion.          

Its coinciding exactly with the last two weeks of his father's life could not have been an accident; some infinitely kind, omniscient and unfathomable power or being was involved here.          

Could that be 'G‑d'?         

But every time he brought it up to his girlfriend she just fell silent; she wanted to just enjoy the trip and concentrate on happy, non-religious things.        

And that's what Erez did. The weeks passed, the trip went on and they were enjoying every moment of it together.  But once in a while, sometimes in the middle of the afternoon as they were walking in the street, sometimes before he went to sleep, the mystery of it all suddenly welled up in his heart like a mysterious ocean until he took his mind off it.          

Then his girlfriend came up with a fantastic idea; she heard of that a very special yoga master in India was beginning an unforgettable ten-day silence and meditation seminar and she wanted that they should go.          

But for the first time Erez disagreed. How could it be that she didn't want to speak about Jewish things but she did want to go to an ashram?  He respected her desire for the seminar, but he wanted something different.          

So they talked it over and decided that they wouldn't be able to be together in the meditation seminar. They would part ways for ten days and he would go to learn about Judaism.            

In fact, he didn't really have much of a plan but he had been briefly in the Chabad House in Bangkok (his girlfriend stood outside and didn't even want to enter while he looked around) which was the only religious Jewish place he had been to in his life and figured that maybe they would teach him.
      
Rabbi Wilhelm was more than happy to arrange a full day of teachers for Erez and even take time every day to personally teach him. But when he suggested that he should first of all put on Tefillin for a minute or so, Erez flatly refused; he hated religion, he came only to learn.     

But at learning he was fantastic. He took to the books like a fish to water. He asked tens of questions on each detail and enjoyed the answers but at every opportunity he was careful to declare that it would never bring him to change his lifestyle.          

Then, two days later, he suddenly approached Rabbi Wilhelm and said he wanted to put on Tefillin. Rabbi Wilhelm didn't ask questions. Before Erez could change his mind he took out his Tefillin as quickly as possible and showed Erez how to put them on ….. for the first time in his life.             

"You're probably wondering why I suddenly changed my mind and put on Tefillin." Erez asked when he finished. Rabbi Wilhelm nodded 'yes'.          

"Well, last night when I called home and told my mother that I decided to learn in the Chabad House she began to cry.   She said that she would never have even thought of telling me, but now that I mention Chabad, she has a secret about my father to reveal.         

She told me that over fifty years ago Chabad helped him to get out of Russia and he got to know them. He didn't like religion, not at all. But the Chabad people made a good impression and, well ,,,,,,, he used to put on Tefillin every day.
            
"He didn't want anyone to know. Especially the people in the Kibbutz, so he used to put them in the bathroom where no one would see. But he did it every single morning till the day he died. He was proud to be a Jew. And that is why I decided to put on today."           

After her seminar Erez's girlfriend returned to Bangkok to resume their trip but she was in for a surprise; Erez wanted one more week and he wanted her to join him!          

It wasn't an ultimatum. He made it clear that he would do what she decided.  So they talked it over. She agreed to the week but there was no way she would even set foot in the Chabad House. But on the other hand she knew that Erez was no fool. He was a clever young man, and had been as big an atheist as herself, maybe bigger. She didn't want to be closed minded.            

So they came to an agreement; he could have one more week and she would participate from 'outside'. Every morning Erez would enter the Chabad House with a list of questions she had prepared the night before and after each class he would go outside, meet her, they would discuss the answers and he would enter with more questions.          

The week ended, Erez announced that he was continuing his trip, said goodbye and Rabbi Wilhelm returned to the hundreds of visitors that pass through the Chabad House every day.  

A year later Rabbi Wilhelm, was invited to speak at several institutions in Israel the last of which was the Yeshiva (Torah Academy) in Tzfat where four hundred-plus students learn.     

As he entered the building and the Rabbis there greeted him and shook his hand, someone from behind him yelled "Hey, Rabbi!!" and as he turned to see who it was one of the bearded young men ran up, hugged him warmly, gave him a kiss on the cheek and stepped back saying "Don't you recognize me?"           

Rabbi Wilhelm was baffled.          

"It's me! It's Erez! Remember? A year ago? Remember? how my father passed away?"       

The Rabbi could not believe his eyes. "Wow!" He exclaimed" Of course I remember! It's a miracle! But what about your girlfriend? What happened? How is she?"
 
"Listen Rabbi" Erez moved closer and spoke in a low voice, "You better watch out! There are a lot of people that I think are after your life!  A lot!"          

"My life?" he replied "Are you serious? Why? Who? What has that got to do with your girlfriend? Why are you smiling?"          

"Who?" Erez answered "All the people in my kibbutz… and in my girlfriend's as well!!  That's right, she is now learning around the corner in M'chone Alte, the Chabad College for girls. And the people in our Kibbutzim are blazing mad! They're going out of their minds!"       

A few months later Rabbi Wilhelm got an invitation to their wedding and just recently he heard they were hired by a Chabad House to do what the Rebbe sent him to do… wake up Jews.
 
Is Anybody Home?
In 1798, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi was imprisoned on charges, put forth by the opponents of Chassidism, that his teachings undermined the imperial authority of the czar. For 52 days he was held in the Peter-Paul Fortress in Petersburg.

Among the Rebbe's interrogators was a government minister who possessed broad knowledge of the Bible and Jewish studies. On one occasion, he asked the Rebbe to explain the verse (Genesis 3:9): "And G‑d called out to the man and said to him: 'Where are you?'" Did G‑d not know where Adam was?

Rabbi Schneur Zalman presented the explanation offered by several of the commentaries: the question "Where are you?" was merely a "conversation opener" on the part of G‑d, who did not wish to unnerve Adam by immediately confronting him with his wrongdoing.

"What Rashi says, I know," said the minister. "I wish to hear how the Rebbe understands the verse."

"Do you believe that the Torah is eternal?" asked the Rebbe. "Do you believe that its every word applies to every individual, under all conditions, at all times?"

"Yes," replied the minister.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman was extremely gratified to hear this. The Czar's minister had affirmed a principle which lies at the basis of the teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov—the very teachings and ideology for which he was standing trial!

" 'Where are you?' " explained the Rebbe, "is G‑d's perpetual call to every man. Where are you in the world? What have you accomplished? You have been allotted a certain number of days, hours, and minutes in which to fulfill your mission in life. You have lived so many years and so many days (Rabbi Schneur Zalman amazingly spelled out the exact age of the minister) Where are you? What have you achieved?"

Told by the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Kislev 19, 5718 (December 12, 1957), on the occasion of the 159th anniversary of Rabbi Schneur Zalman's release from prison.

Most Dangerous Criminal

No wonder Rabbi Dov Ber Chein was considered a dangerous criminal in Communist Russia. Reb Berkeh's lively gait belied his advanced years; his well-worn leather satchel swung rhythmically from the cane slung over his shoulder, and most important, his sparkling eyes exuded his deep faith and chassidic soul, inspiring the generations of youngsters whom he educated.

This unique determination, matched with his skill in educating children, had classified Reb Berkeh as a prime target for the KGB. He had avoided arrest for many years, but only because of Divine Providence, ingenuity, and adeptness.

He was eventually captured by his pursuers as he attempted to slip through the Iron Curtain. After being tried and sentenced to death for counter-revolutionary activities, his death penalty was commuted to imprisonment in a desolate area.

Even after his release, one could hardly consider Reb Berkeh's lifestyle as that of a free man. He was constantly followed and spied upon by secret agents, who were only too eager to apprehend him for a 'crime' of teaching children the Torah or of arranging for the observance of Jewish law.

Hoping to distract the KGB, Reb Berkeh moved to a distant town, but its ever-present arm shadowed him even there. He went into hiding, never showing his face in daylight. Even his wife and daughter did not dare visit him by day.

Some time earlier, during his prison term, Reb Berkeh's father-in-law and two sons had managed to leave Russia for Israel. Now his father-in-law wrote, imploring them to request an exit visa for his wife and daughter. "At least they will be spared," wrote the desperate grandfather.

Reb Berkeh's wife would not hear of it. "I will not leave my husband," she wrote her father. Knowing that he could not expect to get a visa for any place other than Siberia, Reb Berkeh's father-in-law kept begging his daughter to try and save herself and the little girl.

Finally, after an extended exchange of coded letters, it was agreed that Reb Berkeh's son, who had been sent to study at "770", would ask the Rebbe if Mrs. Chein should apply for an exit visa. The Rebbe's surprising answer was that Reb Berkeh himself should make the application for the entire family, including himself. He concluded with a blessing: "May G‑d help you."

Surprised, but trusting the Rebbe, his son continued asking, "Should my father present his true papers or try to obtain false ones?" The Rebbe responded with a broad smile and casual wave of the hand: "They won't realize that it's Reb Berkeh."

Reb Berkeh received word of the Rebbe's reply, and braced himself for the lengthy and nerve-racking visa application, which precisely detailed the applicant's life. Truthful responses to "Were you ever arrested?", "Imprisoned?", "For which crime?", would surely betray his identity.

To magnify the danger of his identity being discovered, he was required to submit thirty photographs together with the application. These were to be circulated among various different government offices together with the application, to check if any false information had been submitted.

The warning at the top of the application stared boldly at Reb Berkeh: For every false answer - three years' imprisonment. "That makes over eighty years," thought Reb Berkeh grimly, as the only truthful information which he proffered was the names of his family members and their present address.

The next fearful year and a half ended with a brief notice that the application was accepted. Reb Berkeh approached the visa office with trepidation. Was this a trap? True, he had filled out the application, but Mrs. Chein had delivered it and dealt with the bureaucracy. Had they used the exit visa and passport to lure him into the open? Despite these worries, the Rebbe's promise gave him confidence: "They will not realize...."

And they didn't. They handed Reb Berkeh and his family their visas and passports with bureaucratic indifference. Four hours later, the Chein family, visas in hand, was already on a plane headed for Moscow.

From Moscow, they boarded a flight to Vienna. This time the clerk was less indifferent. "Your papers are false!" he shouted. Ignoring Reb Berkeh's protests, he checked with the manager, hurling a violent curse upon 'those wretched Jews'. Soon, however, he returned with the papers. "You're lucky this time, you miserable Jews," he sneered. "The government seal is authentic."

Reb Berkeh heaved a sigh of relief and the family rushed out to the runway where the plane was preparing for takeoff. The Rebbe's blessing still resounded in his ears, "They will not realize that it's him."