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Monday
Dec092013

ALL-EMBRACING MUTUALLY ASSURED RESPONSIBILITY

This story of mutual responsibility between the Rebbe’s shluchim throughout the world began in Salt Lake City, Utah, moving to Calabasas, California, and then to Toronto, Ontario, as the all-encompassing power of Divine Providence directed everything in a most amazing and exciting manner.

When Yehuda approached Yosef in an effort to save his youngest brother Binyomin, he spoke very harshly. He explained why he had devoted himself to Binyamin more than his other siblings: “For your servant assumed responsibility for the boy.” This expression of responsibility was also mentioned earlier, when Yehuda convinced Yaakov Avinu to send Binyomin with him: “I will guarantee him.”

The model of responsibility has existed among the entire Jewish People throughout the generations, as in the saying of our Sages, of blessed memory: “All Jews are responsible for one another.” Every Jew is responsible for his fellow, to the point of the highest level of responsibility – “until he literally stands in his place.” We specifically learn this concept from Yehuda, as this sense of responsibility is connected to his very essence.

This demonstration of mutual concern exists in these times as well, as there is also a Yehuda in our generation – the Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach – who raised the banner of mutual responsibility, turning it into a daily Jewish reality, primarily through the army of his shluchim spread throughout the globe.

The ability of the Rebbe’s emissaries in the areas of personal guidance and mutual responsibility continues to grow, and this includes a sense of responsibility among the shluchim themselves. Someone associated with a Chabad House who moves to another neighborhood, another city, or another country will always find a new shliach delighted to pick up the connection from where it left off.

Many such stories are heard on a daily basis, and we heard the following story from Rabbi Baruch Kaplan, teacher and instructor at ‘Ma’ayanot’ - a yeshiva for English speakers in Yerushalayim.

        ***

“The following story took place in Salt Lake City, the capital of the State of Utah,” recalled Rabbi Kaplan. “The city has a dynamic shliach, Rabbi Binyomin Zippel. In addition to his intensive activities with the local Jewish community, Rabbi Zippel works with Jewish youth located in dormitory programs far from the hubbub of the city.

“These restricted educational programs are designed for youngsters who have previously broken the law or got into trouble with the police. The rationale behind these dormitories is to give these children a normal school framework, as opposed to being behind bars.

“While most of these young people are Gentiles, it turns out that the schools also have a fair share of Jewish children, including those sent from nearby states such as California. Over the years, Rabbi Zippel has established contact with the administrators and principals of these schools. They have much appreciation for him and his activities, and he has received permission to visit these institutions on a regular basis and conduct spirited outreach programs for the Jewish youngsters.

“A young Jewish girl was once brought into one of these closed institutions, as a result of a crime she had committed. She was extremely rebellious, and she didn’t make life easy for the school administrators. Time after time, she complained to the authorities, and even tried periodically to escape from the facility. After one particular escape attempt, it took the police several days to locate her and return her to the institution.

“In an urgent staff meeting with administrators and counselors, it was decided that the school was no longer an appropriate place for this girl. They suggested sending her to the local prison, from where she could not escape and where the rules would be applied with far greater stringency. When the girl’s mother heard the administration’s decision, she was horrified. She appealed to them to change their verdict, but it was too late. While the mother was quite aware that her daughter was no angel, nevertheless, she also knew that if the girl were incarcerated, who knows where it would lead? Who would she meet up with there?

“Suddenly, she remembered that she had once heard her daughter speak about Rabbi Zippel, who conducted holiday activities with the students. With nowhere else to turn, she decided to contact him and ask for his help.

“She called Rabbi Zippel, and in a voice filled with anguish, she told him about everything that had happened to her daughter. ‘All of my efforts have failed; maybe you can succeed where I didn’t,’ she pleaded. Rabbi Zippel listened, empathized with her plight, and offered his assistance. However, he made a condition. ‘I am prepared to make the effort and plead your daughter’s case before the school administrators with whom I am well acquainted. But I have a request.’

“‘What is it?’ the mother asked with a renewed sense of hope. ‘If it’s a matter of money, I’m prepared to write you a check right now for whatever amount you ask.’

“‘Money is not the problem,’ Rabbi Zippel chuckled. ‘It’s not money I’m asking for. My request is that you accept upon yourself the fulfillment of a mitzvah, something that will surely assist me in my efforts to help your daughter.’

“‘What mitzvah?’ she inquired. Rabbi Zippel proposed that she begin lighting Shabbos candles.

“The woman listened, but she declined the proposal. ‘I have my principles,’ she said firmly. ‘I won’t do something that I don’t believe in. I wasn’t educated that way.’ Rabbi Zippel chose not to enter into an argument with her. It was Wednesday. Before concluding the conversation, he asked her to reconsider his suggestion. He said that he would call back in two days – on Friday.

“Meanwhile, he didn’t waste any valuable time and immediately came to the young girl’s aid. He had telephone conversations with the school administrators, and with a little persuasion and his personal charm, he succeeded in convincing them to let her stay in her current program and not transfer her to the local prison.

“On Erev Shabbos, Rabbi Zippel called back the girl’s mother. She immediately declared that after giving considerable thought to his suggestion, she had decided that she would begin lighting Shabbos candles. ‘You should know,’ the shliach informed her, ‘that you have succeeded in helping your daughter. The institution has agreed to give her another chance.’ The mother was overjoyed, and the shliach decided to strike while the iron was hot.

“‘Do you know how and when you are supposed to light the candles?’

“‘No,’ she replied. ‘I’d be happy if you could send me a brochure with the information. Next week,’ she promised, ‘I’ll light the candles.’

“‘Why not light today?’ the shliach asked.

“‘How can I?’ she queried. ‘It’s Friday afternoon. I don’t have any candles at home, and I’ve never fulfilled this mitzvah before.’

“The shliach asked for her address - Calabasas, California - and he promised to get back to her as soon as possible. He immediately called the shliach, Rabbi Moshe Bryski, who lives in nearby Agoura Hills, and asked him to contact this woman, make certain to give her Shabbos candles, and explain to her how to fulfill the mitzvah. Rabbi Bryski happily agreed and immediately called the woman. When she realized who was on the line, she was stunned. ‘You Lubavitchers are really stubborn. Why is it so important to you that I do something that brings you no reward?’

“Rabbi Bryski patiently explained that his reward is her reward, and it eventually will be the reward of the entire Jewish People. When he asked for her address, she replied, ‘I’m not at home right now. I went out shopping.’

“‘Where are you?’ Rabbi Bryski asked.

“‘Far from my house,’ she said. ‘I’m at a gas station in Agoura Hills. Does that help you?’

“‘At which station?’

“She gave the name of the station.

“‘On what street?’ She told him where it was located.

“Rabbi Bryski was astounded by the incredible Divine Providence. ‘I live right across the street. Turn to your right, I’ll be waiting for you there. You can’t miss me…’

“The shliach waited for her with the Shabbos candles. When she came across the street, he greeted her with a smile, and then proceeded to explain to her about the mitzvah of lighting Shabbos candles, its meaning in Jewish tradition, and the tremendous benefit it carries for her as an individual and the Jewish People as a whole.

“The woman was amazed by the self-sacrifice of the Chabad shluchim, and the unique chain of events that had led them to her. She promised Rabbi Bryski that she would light Shabbos candles each Friday evening.

  ***

This is the first part of the story. The second part took place two years ago.

“During a round of lectures I made in the United States,” recalled Rabbi Kaplan, “I came to the Chabad House at Boston University, run by Rabbi Shmuel Posner. Rabbi Posner had organized a farbrengen there for Yud-Tes Kislev, and I was featured as the guest speaker. Many students were sitting there, and among the things I told them was this story.

“The purpose of telling this story to the students was to illustrate the need for mutual responsibility. One Jew shows concern for another Jew, even though there has been no previous acquaintance between them. I made it clear to these young people that the fact that we are Jews - children of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, Sara, Rivka, Rochel, and Leah - establishes a firm and unbreakable connection between us.

“The farbrengen concluded, and I continued along my planned lecture tour.

“One day after the Chanukah holiday, my mobile phone suddenly rang. Speaking on the line was Rabbi Shmuel Posner. ‘I have more to tell you about that story of the woman lighting Shabbos candles,’ he said excitedly. ‘Our story now has a connection with candles of a different type - Chanukah candles.’

“It turns out that one of the students attending the farbrengen at Boston University had taken the subject quite seriously. He had a good friend who was very far from Torah and mitzvah observance, and he decided that he would make certain that this friend would light Chanukah candles. He called his friend and asked him where he was. The friend said that he was currently staying in a hotel in Toronto, Canada for the duration of the Chanukah holiday.

“‘And what about lighting the menorah?’ he asked his friend.

“‘Nothing will happen if one year I don’t light,’ the friend replied. When the BU student pressured his friend to fulfill the mitzvah, the young man said, ‘Even if I wanted to light the menorah, where could I get one with candles now, and how could I find out what the blessings are?’

“Inspired by the Shabbos candles story, the student quickly ran to Rabbi Posner and asked if there are shluchim in Toronto. Rabbi Posner replied in the affirmative, and then proceeded to locate the closest Chabad emissary. He called the shliach, gave him the hotel’s address, and brought the young man a menorah, candles, and an informational brochure on Chanukah.

“‘This was the best Chanukah I ever had,’ he later told his friend in Boston.”

Another story of mutual responsibility…

 

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