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Friday
Jun212019

Why Didn’t it Rain in Zagreb, Croatia?

By Mendy Dickstein •

Our story begins a little over one year ago, on Erev Pesach 5778.  Rabbi Pinchas (Pini) Zaklas and his wife, shluchim of the Rebbe to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, were in a huge bind.  They were overjoyed that after much effort, financial and emotional, they managed to complete the massive project that they had undertaken with the building of a five story Jewish Center, which now stood proudly in the city of their shlichus.  The building housed all of the institutions needed to maintain an active Jewish community: a shul, preschool, offices, a modern well-equipped kitchen to provide all the food needs of visiting tourists and local residents, and even a cafe for those wishing to sit and relax over a hot beverage.  The one thing that marred the celebration was the fact that the mikva, which was the main breakthrough aspect of the entire building, remained empty.

The shluchim had placed great hopes on this mikva, which is the first ever built in the entire country since the end of World War II.  Every last mikva in the country that had stood before the war had been destroyed and were completely out of commission.  The shluchim themselves had been forced to travel for hours to a nearby country in order to use the mikva there.  Over time, more and more young couples joined the community and took on the level of observance needed to maintain the sanctity of the Jewish home, and they were forced to travel as well. The newly built mikva would enable the locals to observe the laws of purity without added layers of burdensome exertions.

Although the season during which the building was inaugurated was early spring, the shluchim were confident, since Croatia is a country where rain is plentiful even in spring and summer.  However, something truly strange took place. Despite plentiful rainfall throughout the entire country, the clouds skipped over the capital city and left it high and dry for an unusually long period of time 

The matter pained the shluchim greatly, as they hoped for the rain that would fill the otzar (reservoir) pit and bring the project to its completion.  Days turned into weeks, which turned into months, and no rain fell inside the city limits.

Spring passed and autumn arrived.  The disappointed shluchim were certain that the cold season would bring the anticipated salvation, but the summer dry spell continued into the fall, which was considered most strange and even bizarre.  Local media began to comment in amazement about the bizarre phenomenon of the rain, and even snow, which had begun to fall in many parts of the country, skipping over Zagreb which continued to remain dry.

One night, RPini Zaklas was awakened by a suspicious noise.  A quick check revealed that it was actually rain falling from the sky!  His joy knew no bounds, and as soon as the rain stopped he hurried to check the reservoir pit of the mikva to see if enough water had accumulated to render the mikva operational.

As great as was the previous joy, the disappointment that followed was all the greater. The pit had filled with a minimal amount of water which was insufficient to make the mikva kosher, and now had to be completely dried out before awaiting for it to be filled by the next rainfall.

This scene played itself over a number of times, to the point that RZaklas began to feel really badly about the whole story.

One evening, the Zaklas couple were sitting and talking, with the topic of the mikva taking center stage.  During the conversation, Mrs. Zaklas told her husband that she had recently read a number of stories about mikvas that were unable to begin operations due to inexplicable turns of events, and when the people involved consulted the Rebbe, he instructed them to check if the mikva was kosher from a halachic perspective.  In each story, only after the mikva was checked and fixed, did everything work out fine.  As she suggested, “It is possible that we, too, have a problem that we are are unaware of, and that is what is preventing the mikva from filling up properly.”

Winter was already well underway, the cold was fierce and the winds were stormy, but rain in sufficient amounts was nonexistent. RZaklas realized that there was something to what his wife was suggesting, and he decided to recheck the kosher status of the mikva. Although he had been in regular contact with highly experienced experts in mikva construction throughout the entire building process, perhaps some detail had escaped their attention and this was preventing the rain from filling the reservoir.

He decided to solicit another opinion from an expert in the field of mikva construction, to see if he could discover the reason why the mikva wasnt being allowed to fill properly.  RZaklas contacted Rabbi Shmuel Levin, an expert of international renown.  RLevin was already acquainted with every detail of the site, as he had paid a personal visit during the construction, so he was familiar with the reservoir and the immersion pit.

RLevin heard the great distress that the shliach found himself in, and gladly agreed to look into the matter and try to resolve the problem. He asked RZaklas to photograph the entire mikva from every corner and angle, and RZaklas did just that.

When RLevin received the pictures, he immediately identified the problem that seemed to be the heavenly cause for holding up the works.  The gentile contractor innocently had thought of a certain addition to the reservoir that would make it easier to access.  However, that little addition rendered the entire mikva not kosher and unfit for use until that unsuitableimprovementwould be corrected.  In fact, if the reservoir had filled as expected, besides for any immersion in the mikva being invalid, the problem would never have been discovered once covered by water.

By a stroke of amazing divine providence, on the very day that the problem was identified, a world renowned expert in the field of mikva supervision, Rabbi Mintzberg, arrived in Croatia.  He had been invited by the Rabbinical Centre of Europe to conduct a round of visits among the shluchim in Europe and to check the kashrus and level of standards of the mikvas in each place.

Upon hearing from RZaklas the story of the extended rain delay and the problem that was uncovered that very day, RMintzberg immediately got involved and saw to it that it was fixed that very day.

What was truly amazing (or not?) was that on the very next day, the residents of Zagreb were informed of a major winter storm system heading towards the city with great force.  Two days later, the powerful storm hit the city and dropped huge amounts of precipitation on the city, easily filling the reservoir to satisfactory levels.  The mikva that had stood forlorn for many long months was inaugurated with a great celebration and the participation of the local residents, the donors and many visiting dignitaries.

***

Despite the happy ending to the story and the impressive launch celebration, the entire episode left RZaklas with a bad feeling. Why did he have to endure the tremendous aggravation? Why did there have to be this hitch that caused the mikva to remain deserted for close to an entire year, causing so much heartache?

He decided to write to the Rebbe, then and there, and ask for a special sign that the entire building, and especially the mikva, is pleasing to the Rebbe and that the delay should not be seen as a sign of some lack or flaw in the shlichus.

***

Very shortly after, RZaklas received a phone call from a relative of his by the name of Yosef Yitzchok Lipsker, who had recently become engaged, with a news flash for him.  In his search for rare letters to include in ateshura” (lit. gift, in this case a memento pamphlet) for his wedding, he discovered something that heretofore was entirely unknown.  It turns out that many years earlier a letter of the Rebbbe was translated into the Croatian language.  This was no short letter of a few lines, but a long and detailed letter three pages long!

RZaklas could not believe his ears.  He was sure that his relative was making a mistake and misunderstanding what was written there. To make certain, he asked him to send the letter posthaste.  It was only when he got the letter that he realized that even after fourteen years of shlichus to that country, there were always surprises, and that he was in fact holding a rare letter that the Rebbe had written in the language of his country of shlichus.

After he recovered somewhat from the shock, he set to actually reading the contents of the letter.  The letter seemed as if it was written to him and his community at this very point in time!

The Rebbe begins the letter by explaining the legal ruling in the Rambam by which it is possible to identify the Moshiach.  Following that, the Rebbe explains that the only way to leave the exile is through being particular in the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvos.

RZaklasexcitement knew no bounds, especially upon receiving it on the very same day of the opening of the mikva, and following the letter that he had written himself.  It was such an amazing feeling that despite all of the hardships and upheavals they had been through, they had the privilege of receiving a letter from the Rebbe.

The general attitude in the Jewish community of Croatia was guided by the assumption that Judaism is purely a cultural matter, associated with the folklore of an ancient people with interesting traditions and history, but certainly not something that came with obligations or a coherent belief system meant to guide a person through every step of life.

Obviously, the shliach battled long and hard through pleasant means against this approach.  Many times over the years, he was involved in deep discussions about this very matter, and now here was a letter from the Rebbe written in the local tongue clearly delineating the significance of Judaism, and how the way to actualize it is specifically through the study of Torah and actual mitzva performance.

***

The mikva that was named for Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, actually opened its doors for use on the anniversary day of her passing 22 Shevat.  The immersion pool was filled on the day before, and the first actual use after such a long wait took place the very next day.

In the months that have followed since the opening of the mikva, the fact of its existence has resonated far and wide within the local community and throughout the country. Demand for the mikva has come from places that the shluchim never dreamed about back when they started the building project.  Even Israeli medical students studying in Croatia who heard about the mikva, have decided to take advantage of the opportunity and put it to use.  Even more surprising has been the interest on the part of local families that seemed far removed from the whole concept, some of whom have even requested to pay a visit.

Clearly, this mikva that experienced divine intervention in guaranteeing its kosher status to the highest standards, serves as an important milestone in the increase of purity among the Jewish people.

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