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Tuesday
Jun052018

EIGHT CHABAD HOUSE STORIES

One of the solutions to bypass the “animal soul” that Chassidim use is the Chassidishe farbrengen. Jews sit together, say l’chaim, and tell Chassidishe stories and life events. Hearts open and a ray of G-dly light pierces the darkness of the “self.” * True stories which occurred at the Chabad House in Kasol, India that moved me.

By Rabbi Dani Winderbaum  

STORY #1
BIZARRE PARADE

One day, at the start of our shlichus in Kasol, we decided to do something to draw the attention of young backpackers. We wanted to get even those who don’t cast a glance when they pass by a Chabad House to give us a thought. We made a 25-meter banner with “Shma Yisroel” on it for the fence surrounding the Chabad House. To do this, I went to a nearby town to buy white canvas and paint. A young female tourist named Meital, who is gifted when it comes to graphics and painting, made it for us.

For an entire week, the canvas was on the cement floor of our living room. The work was done carefully and the outlining of the letters itself took three days. The results of this great effort showed: various shades of red radiated out from the letters that symbolized the inner Jewish fire that lies within the verse. As we lifted the banner off the floor, we saw that the color had gone through the material onto the floor. We weren’t concerned; we figured a little turpentine would remove the damage. But then we saw it wasn’t so simple, the reason being that Meital had copied the verse from a book and instead of using the letter hei for Hashem’s name, she had written out Hashem’s name in full, and that was now emblazoned on the floor too.

This was a serious halachic problem. We did not yet have a rav moreh halacha in Kasol, but from the little that we knew, this was a problem, because you cannot erase G-d’s name. And of course, you cannot either degrade it by walking on it. And here we had, on the Chabad House floor, an area of two square meters which could not be stepped on, at least not until we asked a rav what to do.

The rav paskened that despite the difficulty involved, we had to remove G-d’s name from the floor without erasing it. That would leave us with a cement block with G-d’s name on it, which would have to be hidden away somewhere. Since we were not allowed to dig such a big hole in the yard (it seems they were afraid of the evil eye), we had to choose a different option and hide G-d’s name in the river, 300 meters away.

In order to understand the situation, you need to remember that India is a continent steeped in idol worship. There is an idol in nearly every place of business, to which the Indians burn incense in a ceremony every morning. Once a week, on average, a parade passes through the main street on its way to an event in some temple. Leading the way, on people’s shoulders, is an idol. Now and then, I would laugh at local Indians with whom I’m in touch, about how their idols need to be protected from thieves or how the idols are bored, which is why they need to be taken out occasionally for a walk.

Considering the rav’s answer, now we would also, l’havdil, look the same, as we went on our little “parade” with an object on our shoulders. Oh well, I thought, the verse says that Hashem made “this corresponding to that.”

I had a team of local workers with heavy weight hammers and chisels break up the floor and prepare the pieces for burial. With their primitive tools, they needed two full days of work to get the job done. In order to hurry things along, I hired additional workers, so we had 12 workers to drag the cement block (which was six and a half feet in length and six inches thick). Then we paraded before the astonished eyes of dozens of tourists who were curious about what we were doing and tried to figure out what was going on.

The Baal Shem Tov says that whatever a Jew sees or hears is meant to teach him a lesson in the service of G-d. At the conclusion of this saga, I stopped to think what could be learned from this. I thought, what honor we give to Hashem according to halacha. When we see a page torn from a siddur, we rush to pick it up from the floor and kiss it before putting it somewhere respectable. And what about a Jew? Every Jew contains a portion of G-d. Do I respect every Jew at least to the same extent? After all, on the floor of the Chabad House in Kasol it was only G-d’s name that was written, while within a Jew, it’s G-d Himself. Do I respect every Jew properly?

STORY #2
LOOKING FOR A MISSING JEW

Among the interesting aspects of the Chabad House are the meals on Shabbos, with 100-300 people in attendance. It’s a great opportunity to say something to capture the hearts of the tourists.

One of the visiting shluchim at the Chabad House in Kasol was a young bachur by the name of Shneur Pogatch. He is extraordinarily gifted when it comes to speaking to a crowd and holding their attention.

One time, Shneur told his audience the following story:

When he was a young yeshiva bachur, he tried hitching a ride from the Chabad yeshiva in Tzfas to the center of the country. After a long wait, a truck driver stopped for him. Among hitchhikers and drivers there is an unspoken agreement – the driver’s job is to drive and the hitchhiker’s job is to ensure that his benefactor remains alert at the wheel. There is nothing like a d’var Torah to accomplish the latter.

This story took place during the week when we read about the golden calf, in which the Jewish people’s grave sin of worshiping the calf right after Hashem spoke to them at Sinai is described. Shneur asked the driver – how was it possible that right after Hashem spoke to the Jewish people directly, and told them, “I am G-d your G-d,” they sinned so grievously with idol worship?

The driver stopped him. “Don’t tell me. I’ll tell you. Do you know why they sinned? Because we are a terrible nation!”

Shneur stopped his story and skipped to another incident that happened shortly before at the Chabad House. One of the Israeli tourists left a guest house for a hike and did not return. After a while, his friends noticed his absence and suspected something bad may have happened. They informed us and his family in Eretz Yisroel about his disappearance and their fears.

The insurance company, which works quickly, spent two months searching for him with professional teams accompanied by dozens of Israeli tourists.

One of the local Indians who owns a rescue company that helped with the search, said to us, “I’ve been involved with searches for many years. I’ve looked for hundreds of people that disappeared in the area, but I’ve never seen a group of Germans looking for a German tourist or an Italian group or a British group. How come, when something happens with you Jews, you all come to help?”

Everyone sees what he wants to see. Why is it so hard for us to see the simple truth that “you are chosen from all the nations”? Is it really that difficult to see that we have something special?

STORY #3
HOW TO DEAL WITH OVERWEIGHT LUGGAGE

The first time we went on shlichus we were four people: my wife and I and two young shluchim whose job it was to help us in our work. Since this was the first time we were going, we brought a lot of stuff with us: s’farim, canned foods and Jewish ritual items. We had 12 huge duffel bags packed with goodies.

My father-in-law came to help us with a big truck into which we loaded our luggage. We happily left to open a Chabad House in India.

On our way to the airport, my father-in-law asked me how we planned on getting all our stuff on to the plane, considering we were just four people with items that would last us for forty years. Our answer, that we are the Rebbe’s shluchim and it will all work out, did not convince him. Since he anticipated our being humiliated at the ticket counter, he did not go in with us; he waited in the parking lot in case we would need him.

There were three of us who approached the ticket counter: me, my father and the father of one of the young shluchim. We put our luggage on the scale and it weighed 480 kilograms (1058 pounds). When they asked to see our passports, they were surprised to see we were only four passengers, not twenty. The stunned ticket clerk called her manager and explained the situation to him.

After he realized that it was not a hoax, the manager tried to explain that it wasn’t possible to put that enormous amount on the plane without paying. I told him we are shluchim of the Rebbe who are about to open a Chabad House. That didn’t make much of an impression on him, but for some reason, we were relaxed and knew it would work out and all the luggage we brought would go on the plane.

The clock continued to move and most of the passengers had completed check-in. We sat near the counters waiting for a miracle and spoke with employees of the airline every now and then. In the meantime, the father of one of the shluchim approached the manager and began talking to him. He explained that he has a senior position at the Health Ministry and the manager said he was interested in opening a restaurant at the terminal but was having a hard time obtaining the health certification he needed. Nothing more was needed; the two men arranged a deal in the spirit of “one hand washes the other,” the luggage in exchange for permits.

Wait, that’s not all. It turned out that the duffels I packed were too heavy, about 40 kilograms a pack, and they could not go on board. The manager went to his office and came back out with ten company duffel bags, which he gave us as a gift, so we could distribute the weight.

Like in the Book of Esther, the supernatural miracle was clothed in nature and we all felt Hashem’s guiding hand. The lesson is: when you believe in something and go with it till the end, the right doors will open for you.

STORY #4
WHEN THE DEMAND EXCEEDS THE SUPPLY

It was three in the morning when we arrived in Kasol. It was pitch black outside and forget about street lights. We didn’t know exactly where we were, especially since this was our first visit to Kasol.

We were able to make out someone walking on the side of the road and we stopped him to ask about rooms to rent for the night. It turned out, he was the owner of a guest house. We rented a room and decided to get up early in the morning to look for a permanent place for a Chabad House.

After going around Kasol for two hours we saw that the most suitable place for a Chabad House was the guest house we were in.

Thursday, eleven o’clock in the morning, we signed a contract with the owners of the guest house and began getting the place ready for Shabbos. Boruch Hashem, all went well, even though we began cooking late Friday afternoon. At our first Shabbos in Kasol we had about 150 Israeli tourists.

Rosh Hashana was approaching and we figured – if we get 150 people for a Shabbos, we would have at least 250 for Rosh Hashana. We planned accordingly and rented the biggest place we could find in Kasol.

Erev Rosh Hashana afternoon we warmly welcomed all the people who came to daven the first tefilla of the new year. It was a small shul, packed with people mostly wearing white, a short tefilla at the end of which people blessed each other, “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.” But when I went outside I was shocked. Outside stood hundreds of people who seemed hungry. I was new at things and hadn’t yet developed the ability to estimate the number of guests standing there, but I immediately realized that it was far more than we could have anticipated.

I calmly invited the masses to come in and sit down at the tables. After a few minutes, the hall was full while another 200 or so people waited outside. I was in trouble. On the one hand, this is what we wanted, as many people as possible. On the other hand, we were not prepared for so many people. I didn’t know what to do. I walked off to the side and began talking to G-d: “Why am I here if not for You? Guide me – what should I do?”

As I spoke with the Creator, two bachurim with knitted kippot came and I thought, they’ve also come to tell me there’s no more room, but I was pleasantly surprised. They had already arranged a solution; they had contacted one of the big restaurants in the area and got permission to hold another Rosh Hashana meal there. The owner of yet another restaurant had agreed to provide his chairs and tables and all that was needed was my approval.

I immediately recovered. This is what I had “planned” to begin with, wasn’t it? I encouraged them to get to work and continued welcoming tourists to the new event that was being run by one of the bachurim. Fortunately, my wife had prepared a tremendous amount of food.

It all ended more successfully than I had imagined. I couldn’t help but see another miracle in a series of miracles having to do with going on the Rebbe’s shlichus. I also thought about the fellows who solved the unexpected problem and thanked them for their resourcefulness. It’s easy to point out a problem (or complain about it); more important is to offer a solution and carry it out.

STORY #5
THE WANDERINGS OF A MILITARY SIDDUR

One day, a 28-year-old man came to Kasol by the name of Yotam. We called him Rambo since he was a former deputy commander in Golani. Although he was in Kasol, the largest center for cannabis users in northern India, Rambo did not forgo his morning run. To our delight, Yotam was released from the army feeling a hunger for spirituality and within a short time he began learning Chassidus with us and put tefillin on every day.

Then, I think it was a Friday, I went into the shul and was surprised to see Yotam in tefillin, crying like a child. I was very afraid something bad had happened; maybe he had gotten bad news from home, but when I asked him what was going on, he said an amazing miracle had happened to him

When he was in the army and 18 years old, he began a teshuva process. He put on tefillin and even kept Shabbos. Yotam came from a home that lacked basic knowledge of Judaism, so he asked a friend in his unit to guide him in how to pray. The friend took a military-issued siddur and marked where to sit and stand, daven quietly or out loud.

His inspiration didn’t last and after a year, it was all over. It was hard for him not to go out with friends when he went home once in three weeks. The years passed and Yotam moved up the ladder, but it was only when he was released and went to India that his heart opened again.

“Yesterday, I was sitting in the guest house and I said to G-d, ‘You know that I really want to observe Torah and mitzvos, but it’s hard for me. I need some kind of sign because I don’t have the strength for this battle.’”

That day, he came to the Chabad House to put on tefillin and when he opened one of the siddurim, he got the chills. It was marked with “here you stand,” “this is said only on Mondays and Thursdays,” “this is said only with a minyan.” It was his siddur from the army that had somehow ended up in our Chabad House, a siddur he hadn’t seen in ten years! After davening and asking Hashem for a sign that He is interested in his teshuva, he got the sign, and how!

I was moved when I heard this story, for the miracle and for the chesed from Hashem. Hashem had sent a siddur from Eretz Yisroel the night before or had anticipated it all and sent the siddur with one of the tourists.

STORY #6
DIFFICULT IS RELATIVE

One of the mekuravim to the Chabad House was a young man named Tom. He took things seriously and within a short time of meeting us he began learning with us every day, davening three times a day, and fully keeping Shabbos. He progressed swiftly, maybe too quickly, and at a certain point I began to worry that it was too good to be true.

After about a month and a half, as we sat on the porch after a shiur and before breakfast, it suddenly happened. “Who says Judaism is true, anyway?” Tom began to complain. He said it was very hard for him.

The truth is that at that moment I relaxed. I was actually happy to hear him complain. It allayed my concerns that something wasn’t right.

While I considered how to respond, one of the tourists who came often to learn got up and yelled at him, “You think it’s hard for you? My father isn’t Jewish! The one who brought me into the world, who raised me, is from the three impure klipos written about in Tanya …”

This completely shut up Tom and made quite clear: the truth is the truth, but each person has his difficulties, his movie script, and complaining about it leads you nowhere.

STORY #7
MIRACLE FOLLOWS MIRACLE

When we built the mikva in Kasol, the mikva in Dharamsala was being built at the same time. Rabbi Boaz Lerner a”h supervised the construction of both mikvaos, and he came to India for the purpose of ensuring that the complicated projects would conform to halachic requirements.

Rabbi Lerner came armed with dollars that he received from the Rebbe. Aside from overseeing the construction of the mikvaos, he devoted his time to learning with tourists, to farbrenging with them, and he managed to convince several of them to learn chapters of Tanya by heart in exchange for a dollar from the Rebbe. Many wanted a dollar from the Rebbe but when they got down to work, they saw that it was very hard to learn by heart and most of them did not do more than a few lines.

A clever girl, named Mali, went to R’ Lerner with a winning argument. “Since you maintain that the Rebbe is also my Rebbe, I deserve a dollar from the Rebbe no matter whether I learned Tanya by heart or not.” This convinced him to give her a dollar, but still, he attempted to convince her to try and complete learning one chapter of Tanya by heart as soon as possible.

The opportunity arose when Mali finished her trip and went shopping in Delhi before returning home. Free time and boredom before her flight enabled her to concentrate and quickly learn a chapter of Tanya by heart. As someone who stands by her word, she went to be tested at the Chabad House in Delhi.

On one of her shopping trips, as she walked down a narrow, busy street, someone grabbed her pocketbook and ran. She tried to shout but she didn’t stand a chance and the person disappeared among the masses. The pocketbook had her passport, all her cash and the dollar she got from R’ Lerner. Mali went back to the Chabad House to get sympathy and advice.

After calling her mother and asking her to send money via Western Union, she went to a store to accept the wired funds and then planned on continuing to the Israeli consulate to get a new passport. While she stood on line, a person was standing in front of her and counting dollar bills.

Many dollars from the Rebbe have a date because it was customary for the person receiving it to mark the date it was received. She suddenly noticed, over the man’s shoulder, a bill with a handwritten date on it and she realized it was her dollar!

She made a commotion and accused the person in front of her of stealing her wallet. It turned out afterward that the person had done a favor to the Indian who stole it from her, who was waiting outside, and had exchanged the bills for him. In India, the police operate a bit differently than in other places. When a thief is caught, he is first beaten, what is referred to in India as a “bamboo massage,” and only then does the investigation ensue. The thief realized that it was better to return what he stole and not get beaten. Mali accepted the money and the dollar from the Rebbe, but still needed her passport which the thief had thrown into a mailbox since he didn’t want it.

Mali, having recognized this as a miracle and divine providence, went to the main post office of Delhi to look for her passport and make her flight, the flight she thought she would not be able to make. Just so you understand the magnitude of the miracle, Delhi has at least 15 million people and the central post office for the entire city is the size of what would be a normal small town post office in the civilized world.

With confident steps, Mali went to one of the clerks and asked whether a lost passport had been located. The clerk had no idea. As they continued to talk, for longer than was usual and in louder tones than usual, another clerk came over to find out what was going on. The first clerk explained to his colleague that the crazy tourist thought there was a chance of finding her lost passport.

“Guess what, a foreign passport came to my department.”

Mali made her flight to Eretz Yisroel with her dollar from the Rebbe. She began learning at Midrashiyat Chabad, and she had her wedding invitation printed to look like the dollar that she received from the Rebbe and she wrote the entire story in brief on the cover.

STORY #8
SITTING ON THE BALCONY

One of the popular spots at the Chabad House in Kasol is the porch that overlooks the main street on one side and the mind-blowing view of the Himalayan Mountains on the other side. One day, as we were sitting out there and driving the tourists crazy, we noticed an Israeli angrily leaving the restaurant across from the Chabad House, followed by another agitated Israeli who shouted, “Enough Yossi, calm down!” Yossi responded in the heat of his anger, “Me? Me? Who am I? Nothing and nobody! But honor demands that I take him apart.”

Everything we hear is a lesson in avodas Hashem. Let us not fool ourselves and simply mouth platitudes, “I am nothing.” If only this was said sincerely, that we were truly battul to Hashem!

ABOUT THE BOOK AND THE AUTHOR

It is fifteen years now that Dani and Rivka Hila Winderbaum are preparing Kasol to welcome Moshiach. Under difficult conditions, with four daughters, they welcome every guest and tourist graciously and spread the word of G-d.

Along with daily meals and Shabbos meals in which they host numerous guests, R’ Winderbaum devotes hours every day to learning with tourists one-on-one. He teaches Tanya, Chassidus, and anything he feels might touch their souls. Many have committed to a full life of Torah and mitzvos, thanks to these shiurim.

R’ Dani has recently published a book called Elokim v’Adam (Man and G-d). The book is meant to connect man and his Creator and draw people close to Judaism. It is written in easy Hebrew and based on true events during his 15 years on shlichus in Kasol. These are stories depicting situations in which he was able to expose Jews-Israelis, who were in various extreme states, to their Judaism and the wonderful world of Chassidus.

The book addresses an array of fascinating topics. The common denominator among them are those issues which plague the young tourists who go to the Far East to “find themselves.” Topics include: Who is man, what is his purpose, universal order, good and evil in the world, breakthroughs, meditation, where to begin, roadblocks in the service of Hashem, and more.

When did you decide to write a book?

The foundation for writing this book was laid many years ago. I was a young man and I looked around me and saw an ordinary world, superficial and empty, a display of lack of purpose and meaning. What is the goal in life? Why did we come here? I felt that somewhere, there had to be a true answer to the big questions of existence.

What does a young man do after his army service, who wants to air out a bit and fill the empty pit in his soul that knows no rest? Of course. He goes to India.

I searched within Judaism and also other religions that offer meaning to creation, but I didn’t find answers. Something in their worldview was missing and the vacuum did not fill up.

At a certain point on my trip I came across a Chabad House where I met a young rabbi. He was a nice guy and he invited me to learn Chassidus. I already knew that if truth existed in the world, it was certainly to be found within Judaism. But what did a young rabbi have to offer that I hadn’t heard about yet?

To my great surprise, at the end of the first class, an inner voice whispered, “Stop. What you have sought is to be found right here. There is absolute truth in the world.” Chassidus won my heart and I knew that nothing would go back to the way it was.

We continued touring in India, me and the uninvited guest that I found on the way, i.e., the other soul within me.

On one of my next visits, I heard from that Chabad shliach with a gift for exposition that there is a Rebbe in the world and he is Moshiach; he is the Rosh B’nei Yisroel and all Jews derive their life force from him. I heard it but did not absorb it; I couldn’t understand how an old rabbi in Brooklyn could be my spiritual energy source, me being at that time a young man bursting with energy.

The shliach brought me to view a short video of the Rebbe, shown at a chassidishe farbrengen, with thousands of dancing Chassidim. All doubts were allayed. Many things occurred but the path from distant India to the Chabad yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel was short. I married, and we went on shlichus to Kasol.

And your book?

After opening the Chabad House, we went back to Eretz Yisroel to visit. I sat down to learn in the central shul in Nachalat Har Chabad in Kiryat Malachi and noticed a short book whose title appealed to me, HaAdam v’ha’Beriah (Man and Creation), by Rabbi Meir Blizinsky a”h. I began reading it and was surprised to discover a structured presentation based on maamarim of the Rebbeim. The clear explanations about the underlying principles of creation and man’s place within it (especially a Jew’s) spoke to me.

Although the ideas in the book and the approach appealed to me, the booklet itself was structured and presented in an old-fashioned way that isn’t suitable for our times. Since I avidly read the book, and it caused me to feel in a deep way the unity of the Creator and my role as a Jew, I decided that one day, I would publish the book in a modern edition in the language of our time. My new book is the result.

What was your goal in writing the book?

There are those who try again and again to prove the existence of G-d and invest their energy and time into it. They marshal scientific proofs, statistical probabilities, and archaeological findings. This approach is fundamentally wrong, because any topic or argument that is open for discussion and requires proof, is by definition open to refutation.

My book wasn’t written to prove the existence of G-d in the world, but to enable anyone to understand, know and experience it as a simple and internal experience inside his consciousness, by contemplating the creation around us and particularly ourselves, as Iyov said, “from my flesh I see G-d.” To come to a more concrete awareness of the existence of the Creator and knowledge of our purpose on earth.

This is an awareness that the creation of the world has a purpose and goal and every Jew has a mandate. By fulfilling his mission, a Jew achieves perfection. This enables a person to start living a true life, filled with self-actualization and G-dly delight. If man, G-d forbid, betrays his mission, he will cause pain and disappointment to himself and those around him.

I see that you devoted a full chapter to the topic of depression. Do you see a lot of that in your work with tourists?

The main argument of the book is that depression is something that goes along with not fulfilling one’s mission. If a person does not carry out the purpose for which Hashem created him, he will perforce be in a state that is the opposite of joy; namely, sadness.

This happens a lot with people who are busy “finding themselves,” instead of being busy actually working on themselves. To the extent that man will learn about and understand his purpose, and most importantly, carry it out, he will start to live (in relative terms for our state of exile) a life of pleasure and joy.

This idea is one of the central ideas that appears throughout the book.

Depression, to which I devoted a chapter of the book, is the sadness described in Tanya, which is primarily from the animal soul and has no real reason (from a spiritual/G-dly perspective), even though to us it seems quite real. It is necessary to discover the information needed to expel it or at least to find the truth within it which leads to regret and doing teshuva.

Since Rabbi Blizinsky wrote his book, many decades have passed and the world has progressed more and more, spiritually and materially. Does this come across in your book?

Definitely. I added some chapters that draw connections between the ideas in the book to the special time we are living in, which the Rebbe calls, “the first generation of Geula.” This is a time when “not only is there the existence of Moshiach but also the revelation of Moshiach and now we only need to welcome Moshiach.” There are also additional chapters, which are a selection of ideas taken from classes on Tanya and the Rebbe’s s’farim that I gave to tourists in India, whose content is sort of a “guide for those doing teshuva.”

How is the topic of Geula viewed by people who visit the Chabad House?

I’ll be blunt about it. The Besuras Ha’Geula and the Goel (and this applies to any topic in Judaism) are accepted according to the state of the one conveying it.

To young people, most of whom are ignorant of Judaism, the topic is accepted like any other topic in Judaism, meaning at the very least they will show respect for your view, and most times it’s accepted as a Torah truth like any other mitzva.

When I wrote the book, I was very conscious of the idea that if the book won’t be completely connected to the Besuras Ha’Geula and express the belief and knowledge of Chassidim in the Rebbe as Moshiach, then there is no point in it. I imagine there are Chassidim who don’t agree with me, those who think that spreading the wellsprings is important in itself, but I hold the categorically opposite view based on the clear message in the last sicha that was said to us shluchim.

When this is the starting point of a Chassid, he won’t encounter opposition to anything having to do with the Besuras Ha’Geula and the Goel. Even if there is some mild opposition, it has no real power, since the current generation (and I include religious Jews) is lacking knowledge when it comes to Geula and, most importantly, it wants clear answers.

When people get the necessary information about Geula, they relate to the Rebbe’s message of Geula as a clear issue, and oftentimes it leads to the complete agreement of the listener.

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