Weekly Chasidic Story #1035 (s5778-04/ 18 Tishrei 5778)

The Rebbe and the Black Belt

"I have never been in a synagogue, and I have no wish to see one," said the Israeli guard, "not even on Simchat Torah. You go inside and I'll look for a place to get something to eat."


The Rebbe and the Black Belt


In the early 1970's, the body-guard of the Israeli consul in New York, was an expert in everything concerning judo, jiu-jitsu, karate, krav maga and every other aspect of self-defense and martial arts. He was also the official staff driver.

Once he was called to drive staff members of the consulate to 770 Eastern Parkway, the synagogue of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, in Brooklyn. That night it was Simchat Torah. The staff all enjoyed going there in order to participate in the farbrengen gathering and the hakafot dancing. They received special seats, and the Rebbe always paid them particular attention.
When they reached 770, the staff members told the driver to come inside instead of waiting outside in the car. "You will certainly enjoy it," they said.

"I have never been in a synagogue," he answered, "and I have no wish to see one. You do whatever you want, and in the meantime I'll go and have something to eat."
His friends left him in the car and went inside.

The driver started to circle around in Crown Heights to find a place to eat, but of course no Jewish restaurants were open on Simchat Torah. The only place he found open was frequented by people with whom he had no wish to spend his time.

Disappointed and hungry, he returned to 770. After a long wait he became bored.

"Perhaps they are serving light refreshments in the synagogue?" he said to himself. I'll have a look inside."

When he opened the entrance door, he was surprised. He saw a forest of legs, and when getting in a little further, he was stunned. He had the picture of Simchat Torah in his mind that a few old men with white beards were walking around with a Torah scroll - but here a completely different spectacle met his eyes.

The huge room was packed wall-to-wall. Thousands of people were present, many of them young men, all of them radiating a joy of such intensity that it permeated his mind.
"As long as I am here", he said to himself, "I want to see this Rebbe about whom I have heard my friends talking so much."

He started to push his way through the crowd. The very moment his eyes fell on the Rebbe, the Rebbe looked into his eyes. His heart jumped. Then the Rebbe lifted up his hand and waved for him to approach!

The driver became confused. What did the Rebbe want of him?

He decided to leave. He slowly moved backwards in order to slip through the rear door and escape. However, people had noticed that the Rebbe had called him and started to push him forward. He tried to get out, but instead the Chasidim opened up a narrow path and pushed him forward. He had no wish to fight with the people in the synagogue, so soon he found himself close to the Rebbe's table, all red in the face.

The Rebbe gestured for him to say "l'chaim". Immediately someone passed him a cup with a bit of vodka and helped him say the blessing.

Before getting down, he had a look at his friends from the consulate who were all sitting there with big smiles on their faces.

He figured that somebody had "told tales" about him to the Rebbe and he became furious. He left the place in anger and waited outside in the car.

After several hours when they all came out, he started to scream at them:
"Is this the way to treat an old friend? You all know that I do not like to go to these places. You told the Rebbe to call me up to him in order to make fun of me!"

All their attempts to convince him that he had misunderstood the situation were of no avail, and they all felt quite uncomfortable about it.

The tension became worse every passing day. Finally, he refused to speak to them.
In order to resolve the matter, they thought of an idea: "If you could see the Rebbe and ask him personally - would you believe him?" they asked.

"Yes. Absolutely", he answered.

In those days the Rebbe received people in private audience, and after some time he was allowed to see the Rebbe in person.

Usually somebody meeting the Rebbe has some important request - to ask for a blessing for somebody or to find a solution to a personal problem. In this case, though, the driver had just single simple question to ask the Rebbe: "Why did you ask me to say "l'chaim" on Simchat Torah?"

The Rebbe replied: "My custom is to say "l'chaim" with all the people who come. I saw you standing by the door, and in order to honor you as a guest in my synagogue, I asked you to come and say "l'chaim."

The driver was convinced.

And now - imagine the situation. This driver, who had no previous knowledge of Torah observance was standing in the Rebbe's room. Certainly this would prove a good opportunity to bring him closer to Judaism by persuading him to take upon himself to keep a mitzvah.

What happened, however, was something completely different. The Rebbe did not speak one word to him about Judaism. All they spoke about was the main interest of the driver -judo, karate, self-defense etc. He remained in the room for twenty minutes.

The driver was astounded by the vast knowledge of the Rebbe in these matters. Here he saw in front of him an old rabbi with a white beard sitting among a pile of ancient books - and he proved to have an expert knowledge of the martial arts, far surpassing any one he had met up to now!

The Rebbe taught him various exercises, what kind of food to eat, which books to read and what tactics to use. The driver enjoyed every single minute of the meeting. When he left the room, he was full of admiration for the Rebbe.

He returned to the consulate. The staff members were all waiting there, hoping for the best. The first thing he did was to excuse his behavior, saying that he had made a mistake in his suspicions.

Everybody felt at ease, and that the matter was settled.

But it didn't stop there.

One day one of his friends stepped into the driver's room in order to call him. After a few seconds his friend left the room in a hurry and told the others:
"I hardly believe my own eyes. I went to call the driver - and he is standing there praying with tallit and tefilin! Unbelievable!"

After a few more days, his friends asked him to come with them for a trip to some nice place. When he refused and they asked him why, he retorted:
"Today is Shabbat, and I do not travel on Shabbat anymore."

When they wanted to take him to a fancy restaurant in New York, he refused to come:
"That place is not kosher."

And thus he began living a full Jewish life as a result of his meeting with the Rebbe. After a while, he refused to let any Jewish man into the consulate until he agreed to put on tefilin.
Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from "Chassidic Gems 2", by Tuvia Litzman, who heard it from a friend of the driver, who was then back in Israel working as a security guard in Kiryat Malachi.

Biographical note:
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe ?''?: [11 Nissan 5662 - 3 Tammuz 5754 (April 1902 - June 1994 C.E.)], became the seventh Rebbe of the Chabad dynasty after his father-in-law's passing on 10 Shvat 5710 (1950 C.E.). He is widely acknowledged as the greatest Jewish leader of the second half of the 20th century. Although a dominant scholar in both the revealed and hidden aspects of Torah and fluent in many languages and scientific subjects, the Rebbe is best known for his extraordinary love and concern for every Jew on the planet. His emissaries around the globe dedicated to strengthening Judaism number in the thousands. Hundreds of volumes of his teachings have been printed, as well as dozens of English renditions.
Connection: Simchat Torah


Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.

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