Weekly Chasidic Story #1076 (s5778-45/ 4 Menachem Av 5778)

Hundreds of Mezuzahs

Every fundraiser needed some kind of gimmick." Theirs would be a compilation of video clips of the locals who had appeared before the Rebbe for "dollars."

Connection: Weekly Reading -- "And you shall write them on the doorposts of your homes." (6:8)

Hundreds of Mezuzahs

Two brothers, Rabbis Shmuel and Sholom Gurevitz, both Chabad emissaries in Lyons, France, made a lavish fundraising dinner for the local institutions they had established in their area.

Of course, every fundraising affair needs some kind of "gimmick." Theirs would be a compilation of video clips of the local participants who had some time or another appeared before the Lubavitcher Rebbe for "dollars." Who on earth could watch himself standing before the holy leader and remain indifferent?

As expected, the audience gazed appreciatively as they recognized their friends and neighbors -and themselves! -- among the visitors at 770. One person who was particularly touched was Alain Saban, one of the community's largest donors, whom the Rebbe blessed to establish a school. At the sight of his image on the screen he motioned to the two rabbis and asked to go up to the podium.

Here is his story.

We were a happy family and still are - myself, my wife, and my daughter. We had whatever we wanted. But then one day, my wife fell gravely ill. In desperation I traveled to the Rebbe, and when my turn came for "dollars," I asked him for a blessing for my wife.

The Rebbe gave me a dollar. Then another. "For the school you will establish," he said.

The Friday beforehand, my friend, Rabbi Sholom Gurevitz, had informed the Rebbe's secretary, Rabbi Leibel Groner, that I was building a large hotel in Nice which could also serve as a school for hotel management. It was 5748 (1988), which the Rebbe had declared to be "the Year of Construction." In the spirit of that special year I had decided to build a huge building.

Afterwards, the secretary told us that the Rebbe was delighted at the news. So accordingly, the Rebbe gave me that fateful day a blessing for the new hotel. As I was about to step away from his presence, he added, "When you open the hotel, make sure to place mezuzot on every doorway."

With this blessing, I immediately began preparations for the hotel management school, together with the magnificent hotel. It was no small job, and it took years of work, long after 5748, before it was completed.

For the opening ceremony, I invited all the distinguished personalities of Nice. The tables were laden with delicacies, and everyone crowded around in anticipation of the official opening. I myself waited patiently for my two special guests before the ceremony would begin.

At last two people walked in: chasidim with beards, long black coats, and black hats - the whole look. The guests, all bedecked in Western glamor and finery, stared at them in bewilderment, as if these two men had just walked in off a Hollywood movie set. To their further surprise, I walked over to the two men and greeted them with a warm hug and handshake.

I spun around and announced, "The guests have arrived! Now we can begin."

I continued, "I didn't open my school and hotel without the blessing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He told me to affix mezuzot in every room, on every doorpost. These two brothers are his shluchim, his representatives in Lyons. I asked them to come to the grand opening specially to place mezuzot on the main entranceways."

And that's how the hotel opened - with mezuzot on every doorpost.

Years passed. The hotel, unfortunately, was not the success I envisioned. Eventually it sank deep into debt and I had to declare bankruptcy. Losses racked up in the millions, much of which had not belonged to me but were funds borrowed from various banks and businessmen. Knowing at the time that after the bankruptcy these creditors would never see their money again hurt me more than anything else.

I am an honest person, not a cheat. Nevertheless, government authorities blamed the bankruptcy on fraud. A special auditor was appointed to ascertain whether the business had legitimately failed due to human error and bad luck, or to embezzlement.

The assessment was highly unpleasant. Although I knew I hadn't stolen a single franc, I was extremely nervous, for who knew whether this little man would be convinced of my integrity?

Sadly, my fears proved justified. I was called to various meetings at the auditor's office and asked to answer questions hinting at the direction the auditor was leading. He produced a report that based on his findings, I had embezzled.

To say the least, things got really unpleasant. I had to prove that I hadn't stolen any money. My family stood by my side and offered whatever help they could. They all prayed for my health and for a successful resolution.

But things got even worse. My house was confiscated and sold. My parents quickly bought it back to keep me out of a bottomless depression, as the doctors warned would happen.

The day of the auditor's decision arrived. I sat in my office and awaited the worst.

The little man walked in. I saw him stand and gaze upon the mezuzah in the doorway. He then glanced around the office, which was adorned with pictures of myself with senior officials, including the president of France. The walls were lined were credentials -- certificates of appreciation and professional diplomas attesting to my reputation in the hotel business. And in the center, dominating, was a huge picture of me receiving a dollar from the Rebbe.

The auditor gazed at this particular photo for some time. At last he sat down in the chair facing me and took out a stack of papers. I sat and trembled, knowing with near certainty that I would be officially informed of my enormous lost investment and financial mismanagement.

To my surprise, the auditor began defending me. "It has come to my attention," he began, "that there were a number of odd mistakes made by an inexperienced hotel owner, which had led to a further chain of mishaps."

He droned on and on, reading through the documents, with me nearly falling asleep. Finally, he ended the tedium with his remarks: "There is still a chance to save the business."

I perked up. "Are you serious?"

He nodded. "I will ask that government funds be sent to start the ball rolling again."

I was flabbergasted. Panting with relief, I notified my wife and friends. I could only thank G-d for this miracle.

As the auditor packed up his papers, I asked him, "Tell me, please. Since everyone within my radius was expecting the vilest report - what made you change your mind?

The auditor looked up from his briefcase. "This morning, before coming here to give you my decision, I walked to the different floors of the hotel and noticed something interesting. There was a mezuzah on every door."

He began his own tale.

"I too am Jewish. I'm from Austria originally - my wife and I both lived there. In 1938, by the skin of our teeth we managed to flee the anti-Semitism and the tragedy to follow. We somehow made it through the war and arrived in France. We decided to change our way of life so that no one would know who we once were. We tried to hide our Jewish identity as much as we could.

"When I saw the mezuzot, I recognized them at once. However, growing up unobservant, I had had very little to do with them - I thought you put up one on the front door or maybe a big room, and that was it. Yet here I was, seeing a mezuzah on every single doorpost in the hundreds of rooms. And I knew full well that this wasn't your personal home.

"I figured that a person so meticulous couldn't possibly be a thief and a liar.

"I came to your main office and again noticed a mezuzah in every doorway. I also saw the picture of that rabbi, whom I could see was a holy man. I knew only one thing - I had to return to my Jewish roots."

Tears in his eyes, Mr. Saban finished his own speech. "From that point on, the path to complete teshuva was short. I merited two miracles.

"First, the Rebbe saw the future, advising me to place a mezuzah on every door of my hotel. Second, the Rebbe saved a Jewish couple from assimilation and brought them back to Judaism.

"But another miracle happened. Since then, I have established a chain of hotels all over Europe - thanks to the blessings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of course!"

Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from an email of the Avner Institute (Rebbebook @ gmail.com).

Connection: Weekly Reading -- "And you shall write them on the doorposts of your homes." (6:8)

Biographical note:
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe n''d: [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.

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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