Baruch Hashem

Shabbos Stories for Vayakehl & Pekuday
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The Rebbe Sent Me

The RebbeMrs. Raizel Astulin came out of the Rebbe's office with tears of excitement. It was more than a dream come true.

Just a few years ago she was behind the iron curtain with no avenue of escape other than prayer. Russia was closed… forever! Or so it seemed. Every year she applied anew for a visa to move to Israel to her family. But every year she, like millions of others, was rejected.

But what pained her most of all was that she would never see more than just a picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

But miraculously it happened! One day she looked in her mailbox to see a letter from the government. It was permission to leave to Israel!

It was truly a miracle! And to make it complete, shortly after she got settled in Israel her family bought her a plane ticket to the Rebbe.

When she entered the Rebbe's office he asked about her family, about her health, about the situation in Russia asked how she was acclimating to Israel, and then told her that when she returns there she should devote time to teach Jewish women and girls to light Shabbat Candles. (For thousands of years Jewish women have been lighting Candles before the commencement of Sabbath night).

But Mrs. Astulin feebly protested that she didn't really even know how to speak Hebrew to which the Rebbe answered. "You do what you have to and if any one makes trouble tell them that you are doing it at my request."

Mrs. Astulin, a true Chassid of the Rebbe, wasted no time. The first Friday after her return to Israel she took a bus to the nearest hospital and bravely entered with the plan of going from room to room distributing candles together with a folder explaining why, how and when to light them.

She was full of optimism but there definitely was more than a trace of anxiety. After all, she really couldn’t speak the language properly and had never really approached total strangers before to ask them to do commandments.

And sure enough, the first room she entered …. War!

It was a sixty year old woman who, as soon as Mrs. Astulin entered the room with a smile and outreached candles, opened fire: "What are you doing here?! What? Candles for Shabbat? Commandments? GET OUT!! All you religious people are parasites! Do you hear me? Parasites! OUT OF MY ROOM!!"

Mrs. Astulin flinched and wanted to just apologize and leave but suddenly she remembered what the Rebbe said and blurted out.

"Listen, I'm a follower of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and…. " but her limited Hebrew and the shouts of the woman still ringing in her ears tied her tongue.

Then something happened. The woman calmed down! "Ehh? You said the Rebbe of Lubavitch sent you?"

"Yes." Mrs. Astulin answered and asked incredulously, "Do you know the Rebbe?"

The woman's eyes filled with tears and she answered in Russian. First apologizing for yelling and then she explained.

"When I was young my parents passed away leaving me and my brother to fend for ourselves. He went to Medical School and graduated with high honors while I turned to other interests. But we were very close because all we had in the world was each other.

"But things weren't good in Russia and after a while we decided to leave. My brother, although he was head of a department in a large hospital, was making almost no money and for me Russia was only bad memories.

"To our joy we got permission to leave but, for the first time, we parted ways. I moved to Israel to settle down but my brother wanted New York where he could make the money he deserved. But, of course, we agreed to write regularly and eventually rejoin.

"But things didn't work out as we thought. I managed to get a job and a place to live but my brother couldn't get work. It seems that he overestimated the value of his Russian degrees. For months he went from hospital to hospital with the same results; they all told him he needed at least another year of medical school! But he had almost no money; the little he brought went for the first month's rent and now the landlord was hounding him for the two following months that he owed.

"I got one last terrible letter from him and then they stopped coming. He wrote that he was totally depressed and trapped. He had no money, no job, no hope and no energy. He couldn't even return to Russia or come to Israel… he had nothing and his debts were piling up.

"I was really worried. I had no way of contacting him and so it went for over a month. NOTHING.

But then I got a letter. It was the happiest day in my life! He said he was fine and optimistic. And he told the following story.

"After he wrote the previous letter he decided that he would (G‑d forbid) end his own life.

"He stayed up the entire night thinking about it and became more and more depressed until the sun rose. It was a cool Friday morning when he walked out of his apartment onto the sidewalk. He walked in a daze for several hours until he found himself walking to a local bridge. He had nothing to live for anymore. No one cared. He had no future. Everything was black all around him. He decided he would (G‑d forbid) jump off into oblivion.

"But then someone called out to him' Excuse me sir, are you Jewish?' He tried to just ignore it but such a question coming from nowhere almost made him laugh. Jewish? Where did that come from? He stopped for a moment and that was enough. The young man began to hound him saying 'Nu, if you're Jewish come put on Tefillin.'

"My brother had never put on Tefillin in his life. We were atheists from Communist Russia where only freaks put on Tefillin. But the fellow got my brother talking until he convinced him to do it. He put on Tefillin and then told him what he about to do and the young man almost fainted.

"'What?" he said "Why do such a crazy thing? You're a human being! And you’re a Jew! It's forbidden to give up."

"Anyway he convinced my brother to put on Tefillin and to come with him to Shabbat in Crown Heights and then somehow arranged him a meeting with the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

"Well, I don't know what the Rebbe said there to my brother but he came out of the Rebbe's room a different man. Maybe they even gave him some money or found him a job or something but my brother didn't tell me that. He just said that he spoke to the Lubavitcher Rebbe and everything will be all right.

"And he ended the letter saying 'My dear sister, if you have a living brother today it is only in the merit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe'"

The woman turned to Mrs. Astulin with tears in her eyes and said. "Now please tell me more about these Shabbat Candles."

California Community Loses Hundreds
of Pounds in Combined Effort

Rabbi Chaim Mentz of Chabad-Lubavitch of Bel Air in California teaches a weight-loss class about how the body and soul work in tandem, according to Chabad philosophy. (Photo: Joshua Barash)
Rabbi Chaim Mentz of Chabad-Lubavitch of Bel Air in California teaches a weight-loss class about how the body and soul work in tandem, according to Chabad philosophy. (Photo: Joshua Barash)

Dozens of people in the Los Angeles suburban communities of Beverly Hills and Bel Air lost a combined 620 pounds during a six-week weight-loss campaign sponsored by the local Chabad House.

The first ever Project Lose-It, a combined effort between Chabad-Lubavitch of Bel Air, the Rochelle & Richard Maize Foundation and the Luxe Hotel, finished last week shy of its 1,000 pound goal. But Rabbi Chaim Mentz stressed that what was more important was that the community members who participated emerged from the experience a little bit more healthy from when they started.

"They engaged in activities like community walks, personalized nutritional counseling, yoga and pilates classes and health seminars," said the co-director of the Chabad community center, which plans on offering the program again next January. "This program brought people together to work on meeting their personal goals. [Many] are motivated to continue exercising."

It "has been a terrific opportunity for me to take the time to [focus on] myself and my health and well-being," said participant Ginny Kahn. "Along the way, there have been numerous other benefits like enjoying walks with my husband and daughter."

Mentz mentored the participants in understanding how the body and soul work together based on the teachings of the first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi.

"Understanding addiction according to Chabad philosophy has opened new channels in the community," said the rabbi.

Mentz added that the program has gotten more people interested in the center's offerings.

"It has exposed many of them to Judaism," he said of the weight-loss drive.

Instructors in the program included fitness author LaReine Chabut, dietician Robyn L. Goldberg and pilates expert Michelle Cerandos. Mentz provided a spiritual focus for the six-week course.

"Our health is the greatest gift of all," said participant Estela Mejia, "and without it everything else doesn't really matter."

The Tie & Tefillin
He has a good friend who we will call Chiam, that learned in the 770 Eastern Parkway Yeshiva and used to do 'Mivtzoim' every Friday with a group of his friends.

'Mivtzoim' means leaving the four walls of one's home, store, yeshiva etc. and going out to encourage 'unaffiliated' Jews to do a commandment. (The Lubavitcher Rebbe enumerated ten of them for starters; Tefillin, Lighting Shabbat and Holiday candles, Giving Charity, Torah Education and more). 

The driving force behind this dynamic, pro-active type of Judaism is the Baal Shem Tov's teaching that every Jew is essentially very close to G‑d and wants to do all of His commandments.  It's just that they have to be reminded, awakened and sometimes even defrosted in order to realize it.    

Chaim used to take the subway with four of his friends to the sky-scrapers in the heart of Manhattan and go visiting offices one after the other looking for Jews that perhaps wanted to put on Tefillin.

Generally they got positive responses and a few Jews even put Tefillin on for themselves.  But one Law Firm was like an impenetrable iceberg.

The non-Jewish lawyers were friendly and good humored but the Jewish ones had no time. And those that might have been interested were quickly discouraged by the head of the firm. 

He was a no-nonsense every-moment-is-precious hard as nails Attorney that was worth several hundred dollars per hour.  When he was anywhere in the office, even in his room, there was no chance that our heroes could even pass the front desk. And if he chanced to come out of his office he would have them evicted; he'd mumble something to the receptionist on the way to his room and in a few minutes she would politely ask them to leave.

This went on for about a half a year, they made zero headway but they didn't give up.  In any case it was only one of the offices on their route and some Jews have to be asked a thousand times before they agree. At least they would get in the first few hundred. 

One Friday they arrived just as their subway was pulling out and were waiting for the next to come when one of the vendors there, a Mexican fellow who set up a table and sold pens and other small items, approached them, pointed to Chaim, held up a black tie and said, "You need a tie."

"No thanks." Chaim said politely. "But thanks anyway."

"No, NO!" The Mexican insisted "You NEED a tie. You are an important person with a white shirt.  Such a person need a tie. Here I sell you the tie for less. I give you a reduction. Five dollars instead of seven. Good? Take it!"

"Nope! Sorry. I don't want a tie!" Chaim protested calmly. "But thanks
anyway. Okay? But sorry. I don't want it!!"

But the fellow wouldn't take no for an answer. For the next five minutes he kept it up. "This tie is just for you! If you wear it you will look good! I know what I am saying. You need it."  etc etc.

Chiam tried to protest more assertively, "Hey! I don't have
money for a tie, okay? But to no avail. The Mexican was not giving up. Finally the fellows decided the only way to get rid of him was to simply buy the tie.

Each put in a dollar, gave him five and Chaim took the tie happy to finally have a little peace and quiet. "Okay?" one of the fellows said "Now are you happy we bought the tie. Okay?"

"No, NO!!" The salesman said. "I'm not happy! You must WEAR the tie! What, you think I sold for me the tie? No! it's for you! You MUST wear it. It will make you look good. See?" As he grabbed for the tie.
"Look," Said Chaim exasperatedly, "It's my tie now and I'll do what I want with it. If I want I don't have to wear it. Okay! Plus I am not good in making a tie."

"Oh! No problem!" he answered "I show you how to tie it. Here, look. Give me the tie, bend over a bit ... I put you collar up like this. Seel'  And before Chaim knew it the fellow had done it! Chaim was wearing a tie! (thinking to himself that as soon as he gets on the train he'll take it

But the Mexican knew his business. "Ahh! It is beautiful!!" he stepped back and said admiring his own work. "Now you must promise me that you won't take it off."

"What? You mean I can't have to wear it the rest of my life?!" They all laughed including the salesman. Chaim was wondering why the Subway was taking so long.

"No no!" he answered. "Just promise me you will wear it today. So you give it a chance. Good? Promise? You see it looks so beautiful! You must

"Listen" Chaim said "Who are you anyway? Did my mother send you or something?"  But for some reason he suddenly  blurted out "Okay! Okay! I'll leave it on today."

At that moment the subway came roaring in, they all got on and twenty minutes later they were in Manhattan involved in putting Tefillin on Jews and forgot the Mexican and the episode with the tie.  

Finally came the turn of the 'ice berg' law firm. 

They got out of the elevator on the fifteenth floor, entered the large
marble-floored reception room and smiled at the receptionist.  A few of the gentile lawyers passed them by and said hello as they rushed from room to room.

Then appeared .... the boss!

"Who are they?" he said to the receptionist. Then, not waiting for an answer turned to them and said sternly, "Who are you? What do you want here?"

"We're from the Lubavitcher Rebbe and we came to see if there are Jews here that want to put on Tefillin," one of them answered, preparing to get evicted as usual.

He looked at them silently for a second or two like a wolf about to pounce on his prey, pointed at Chaim and said. "YOU! I want you to follow me!"

It didn't look good. After all, this guy knew all the laws. He was the head of the firm! It could be that somehow they were trespassing. Maybe he would call the police. But Chaim, without thinking too much, followed him down a wide, highly polished corridor into his plush office.

The lawyer closed the door behind them, turned to Chaim and said. "I want to put on Tefillin."

After a few years of Mivtzoim nothing really surprised Chaim anymore and after five minutes he had finished the 'Mitzva'.

"You probably want to know why I put on Tefillin, right?" The attorney asked. "Well, I'll tell you."

"I might look like a successful man but the fact is I'm having several big crisis in life. Our firm is loosing several very big cases and suffering other financial setbacks. Not only that but I'm having some personal problems as well. I'm not used to being on the helpless side but I needed help. I didn't know to whom to turn, I mean, someone who really cared. As lawyers, we live a pretty cold life sometimes.   

"Then, yesterday I happened to see one of the cards you fellows left here with the Lubavitcher Rebbe's picture on it and it struck a note. I began to wonder if perhaps he could do something. After all, I did put on Tefillin after my Bar Mitzva for a while. Anyway, maybe you won't believe this but last night I had a dream.

"I dreamt that I saw the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He smiled and I asked him if he could help me.  He answered, 'But I send you a group of young men every Friday with Tefillin!'  To which I replied. 'What, those ragamuffins? They look terrible, like a bunch of bums! Why none of them even wears a tie!!' 

"Then the Rebbe looked at me and said 'You want a tie? Okay, I'll send someone with a tie!' And I woke up."

"So when I saw you with a tie I knew that it wasn't only a dream." 

The attorney began putting on Tefillin regularly and a close friendship developed between him and the fellows.  As far as anyone knows his problems were alleviated.
What Is Divine Providence
Although the Baal Shem Tov lived long after the terrors of the Spanish Inquisition, there were still Marranos in his day, and the punishment for their observance of mitzvot (commandments) remained death.

One Jew of Marrano descent, who succeeded in concealing his Torah observance for many years, was nevertheless discovered and brought to trial. Neither his high government position and connections nor the king's favor were able to free him from the deathly clutches of the Church. He was sentenced to public burning, the infamous auto-da-fe.

Many people, including the king himself, flocked to witness the execution. They crowded around the platform upon which the cruel sentence was about to be carried out.

Suddenly, a loud rumble drowned the voice reading the sentence, and the earth began to tremble. Chaos spread as an unsuspected earthquake sent the people fleeing for their lives. The accused man also fled, and the commotion that followed was great enough to allow him to elude his pursuers until, finally, he was able to cross the Spanish border.

He took up residence in another country and began to practice Torah and mitzvot openly, unafraid. The great miracle that saved his life, however, was a constant source of wonder and contemplation for the man.

"What is the nature of Divine Providence?" he asked many scholars. Had he earthquake been scheduled from the time of creation to occur precisely at that moment to allow for my escape? Or, was the earthquake a natural phenomenon - and the miracle, that my execution was scheduled at precisely that time?"

Unsatisfied with the responses he received, the man sought out the Baal Shem Tov's opinion on the matter. He traveled to Mezibush and arrived at the tzadik's home just as he was preparing to leave for his morning prayers.

"Come, and we'll go to shul together," the Baal Shem Tov offered. As they walked, they came across a villager leading a wagon of hay toward the marketplace. Shortly afterward, they noticed a man trudging down the road, moaning and groaning about a toothache.

As the man passed them, he neared the hay wagon and eagerly thrust his hand into the stack. Grabbing a straw, he quickly put it into his mouth and picked at the painful tooth. Almost immediately, he expressed relief.

The Baal Shem Tov turned to the man accompanying him, "Now here is an act of Divine Providence! There is a particular straw-like herb called root which is a natural remedy for toothaches. As the man thrust his hand into the straw, he 'chanced' precisely upon that herb.

"It is not that the villager happened to be on the way to the market this day, and today the Alm-ghty planted the root among the hay to benefit the man in pain. Actually, from the beginning of Creation, He foresaw the events to come and planned all the details to coincide with each other.

"In your case as well, from the very beginning of creation, the Alm ghty designated the earthquake to occur in precisely that place and hour, to save your life."

A Pound of Candles

In his youth, the famed Maggid of Zlotchov, Rabbi Yechiel Michel, lived in a certain town, where he would sit all day in the local Beit Midrash (study hall and synagogue) and pursue his studies.

In that town there lived a simple Jew who earned his livelihood by transporting travelers and merchandise in his wagon. One day, the wagon driver came to the local rabbi in a state of great distress. "Help me, Rebbe!" he wept. "I have committed a terrible sin. I have desecrated the holy Shabbat. How can I atone for my transgression?"

"How did this come to pass?" asked the Rabbi.

"Last Friday," the man explained, "I was returning from the marketplace with a wagonload of merchandise when I lost my way in the forest. By the time I found my way to the outskirts of the city, the sun had already set. So preoccupied was I with my worry over the merchandise, that I failed to realize that the Shabbat had arrived until it was too late..."

Seeing how broken-hearted the man was, the rabbi comforted him and said: "My son, the gates of repentance are never closed. Donate a pound of candles to the synagogue and your transgression will be forgiven."

The young prodigy, Rabbi Michel, overheard this exchange, and was displeased by the rabbi's approach. "A pound of candles to atone for violating the Shabbat?" he thought to himself. "The Shabbat is one of the most important mitzvot of the Torah. Why is the rabbi treating the matter so lightly?"

That Friday afternoon, the wagon driver brought the candles to the synagogue. As Rabbi Michel watched disapprovingly from his table against the back wall, he placed them on the lectern for the synagogue beadle to light in honor of the Shabbat. But this was not to be. Before the beadle arrived, a stray dog carried off the candles and ate them.

The distraught penitent ran to report the incident to the rabbi. "Woe is me!" he wept. "My repentance has been rejected in Heaven! What shall I do?!"

"You're making too much of the matter," the rabbi reassured him. "These things happen — there's no reason to deduce that G‑d is rejecting your repentance. Bring another pound of candles to the synagogue next week, and everything will be alright.".

But when the beadle lit the candles on the following Friday afternoon, they inexplicably melted down, so that by the time Shabbat commenced, nothing was left of them. And upon his third attempt on the week after that, a strong wind suddenly blow out the candles just when Shabbat began and it was not possible to relight them.

The rabbi, too, realized, that something was amiss, and advised the wagon driver to seek the counsel of the great Chassidic master, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov.

"Hmm..." said the Baal Shem Tov, upon hearing the man's story. "It seems that a certain young scholar in your town finds fault with the path to repentance that the rabbi has prescribed for you. Never mind. Next week, donate another pound of candles to the synagogue. This time, I promise you that everything will be alright. And tell Rabbi Michel that I would be honored if he could trouble himself to come visit me."

Rabbi Michel wasted no time in abiding by the Baal Shem Tov's request. But no sooner had he and his coachman set out that all sorts of troubles beset their journey. First, the wagon tumbled into a ditch. Then, an axle broke many miles from the nearest town. After which they lost their way altogether. When they finally found the road to Mezhibuzh it was late Friday afternoon and the sun was about to set. They were forced to abandon the wagon and continue on foot.

Rabbi Michel arrived at the Baal Shem Tov's door an hour into Shabbat, weary and traumatized by his near-violation of the holy day. "Good Shabbat, Reb Michel," Rabbi Israel greeted him, "come in and warm yourself by the fire. You, Reb Michel, have never tasted sin, so you did not comprehend the remorse a Jew feels at having transgressed the will of his Father in Heaven. I trust that you now understand something of the agony that our friend experienced. Believe me, his remorse alone more than atoned for his unwitting transgression..."

The Dance that Saved the People of Israel
The story takes place in the Ukraine some 300 years ago.

In a few hours it would be Passover. Jews throughout the world were
joyously preparing for the 'Holiday of Freedom' but the Baal Shem Tov (Rabbi
Yisroel Baal Shem, called the Besh't for short) was horrified.  And that
meant disaster for the Jews.

The Baal Shem Tov was the Moses of his generation. So if he was worried,
it was not a good sign.

The night before Pesach he ordered his Chassidim to say Psalms non-stop
while he closed himself in his room. At midnight his personal attendant
entered to find the Besh't lying almost lifeless on the floor of his room,
pale as a sheet, eyes wide open staring at something beyond the ceiling as
though his soul was totally in another place.

The crying and wailing of the Chassidim broke the still night and could be
heard a mile away; something awful was happening.  

At sunrise the Besh't ordered his pupils to assist him to the Mikva as he
was too weak to walk himself and to also prepare themselves for the baking
of Matzot and for the Morning Prayer. 

But instead of the usual joyous song and joy that accompanied the morning
and afternoon prayers and the elated holiness ordinarily felt during the
Matza baking, the Besh't was somber and looked as though he was about to
burst out weeping. He even ordered his Chassidim to think about the prayers
and spiritual unities of Rosh HaShanna and Yom Kippur. the days of Judgment!

But then, after the baking the Besh't gathered his pupils and gave them a
lecture on 'Bi'ta'chon'; complete trust and reliance on G‑d. He stressed
that even when it seems that all is lost, Bitachon itself can transform the
situation to joy and salvation.

But then he became despondent again.

And so it was in the Seder Night.  For most of the evening he was very
serious, once in a while he even winced as though receiving terrible news,
but occasionally he shook his head in agreement and smiled.

Then, suddenly his eyes widened in pleasure, a warm smile covered his face
and he burst out in laughter!

He stood, opened his arms and raised his eyes thankfully and declared,

"Mazal Tov!! Mazal Tov! Thank G‑d! Blessed is the G‑d of Israel who chose
Moses and Israel so that even the simplest of Israel can do things that even
this 'Israel' (i.e. Israel Baal Shem) can't do!!!"

None of the Chassidim had any idea what was going on but they knew it was
good so they all began singing joyously until eventually they were dancing
more and more wildly until they were out of breath and had to sit down to

When all was calm again the Besh't explained what happened.

"Yesterday I saw in the spiritual worlds that trouble was descending.  It
was decreed that a community of some four hundred Jewish families was going
to be attacked and wiped out by gentile gangs on the first night of

"I tried to pray, to request mercy. But nothing worked. I reminded G‑d of
how He forgave the Jews for the sin of the Golden Calf, how they are His
people, how they have suffered so much. but nothing worked.  So I told you
to say Psalms while I prayed in my room, I actually tried to give my soul
for theirs.. but to no avail.

That is when I gave you the lecture about trusting in G‑d when all else
fails, because I saw that the decree was out of my hands.

But then, when we began the Seder night I heard something.  An old Jew
called Lipa and his wife got into a conversation almost an argument as they
ate the Matzos and drank the wine and, to my amazement; it had huge
repercussions in the heavens as though what they said would tip the heavenly

"It began when they got to the part in the Hagadda about how Pharaoh ordered
his soldiers to drown all the Jewish male babies in the Nile river.

"'Feh!' said the woman. How could a father do that to his children. I mean,
G‑d is the father of the Jews, right? So why didn't He step in?

"'Her husband sat silently for a few minutes and finally answered. 'Listen,
I think we shouldn't mix into G‑d's business. I mean, whatever He does is
fine with me.

"But his wife replied, 'He can do what He wants but I don't understand the
suffering. What's the point? Why doesn't He just take us out of exile like
He did back then? Sounds cruel to me!!'

"So he replied, 'G‑d has His time and I'm sure He'll keep all His promises."

"Finally", Said the Besh't "After each of them had drunk their fourth cup of
wine and were a bit drunk. The man's wife finally stood up and declared,
'well, I don't know what has been till now but I agree that it's time for
G‑d to keep His promise and save the Jews!!' at which point Lipa and his
wife stood up and danced.

"So," Concluded the Besh't, "It was that dance that saved the Jews. I tried
and tried to change the evil decree with no success. And that simple Jew did
something that even I couldn't do!!"