[Passover is coming, and so is 11 Nissan -Sun., March 24, the
100th anniversary of the birth of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.]
LONG DUTCH DRIVE
Some 30 years ago, Rabbi Yitschok Vorst,*
was just beginning his assignment as a Chabad representative in Amstelveen,
Holland. Shortly before Passover, he received a phone call from Lubavitch
Headquarters in Brooklyn. Rabbi Hadokov, the Rebbe's personal secretary,
informed him that the Rebbe want him to go to a certain small town
and give shmura matza, the special matza hand-made from flour
that was guarded against moisture, to the Jew that lived in that town.
The young rabbi asked for the name of this Jew, whereupon he was informed
that the Rebbe did not mention any names. Rabbi Hadokov assured him,
though, that he would be able to locate him once he got to the town.
Rabbi Vorst attempted to explain that the town was many hours' drive
from Amsterdam, that he was busy making preparations for his first
communal seder in Holland and distributing matzas, and besides, he
did not believe there were any Jews located in that town anyway. Rabbi
Hadokov was adamant. The Rebbe said that he should leave tomorrow
for this town. There was no choice.
The next morning Rabbi Vorst packed a lunch and spent the day driving
to this secluded town. Once there he spent hours searching and inquiring
for any Jews in the town, to no avail. He finally decided that the
expedition was a total waste of time and went to fill his car with
petrol for the return trip. The gas station attendant asked the rabbi
what had brought him to town. Upon hearing his story the attendant
replied that he believed that a worker at the local butcher shop was
With nothing to lose, Rabbi Vorst made his way to the shop. When
he walked in, the man behind the counter took one look at him and
fainted. When he revived he told Rabbi Vorst the following story:
His mother and he were the only survivors in his family of the Nazi
horrors. They moved to this secluded part of Holland to avoid further
persecution. On her deathbed, his mother made him swear never to marry
a non-Jewish girl and always be true to his faith. That had been five
years prior. For the last several months the local priest had frequented
his shop and began proselytizing him. They would enter into long discussions,
but for this man, conversion was out of the question.
Eventually, though, the priest began to make headway. One of his
arguments G-d had abandoned the young man, as proved by the fact that
he was the only Jew in the area. Therefore he should convert and become
part of a community.
After several months of being worn down, the young Jew agreed to
be baptized. But, he insisted, first he wanted three days to think
it over further.
He felt confused and depressed. He was indeed all alone. But how
could he abandon his faith? How could he renege on the vow he made
to his mother? He cried bitterly.
Finally he called out to the Almighty, "I will wait for you,
dear G-d, to show me a sign that you are still watching over me. If
I do not see anything from you by 6:00 PM on the third day, I will
And so the man cried. For three days he became more morose. He found
work impossible. The third day had arrived and still no sign. The
man spent the day looking at the clock. At lunch time he took a break
and again beseeched the Almighty. There was less than six hours before
he would agree to convert.
During his 3:00 break the man again turned and prayed. Now there
was less than three hours. If he did not see some sign indicating
that the G-d of the Jews still cared for him, he would be baptized.
As the minute hand passed the 5:00 mark, the man was besides himself.
Perhaps the priest was right after all. Maybe it would be better for
him to convert. The minutes ticked on. Each one felt like an entire
hour. At 5:45, he began closing the store. At 5:55 PM Rabbi Yitschok
Vorst, armed with his matza from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, walked into
this man's store.
After hearing this story, Rabbi Vorst begged the man to come back
with him to Amsterdam and spend Passover. The man agreed. Every step
of the way was a new beginning for this man. He had never been exposed
to Judaism as his mother wanted to hide him from it. After Passover,
he thanked the Rabbi and left.
Twenty-five years later, Rabbi Vorst traveled to Jerusalem for the
wedding of a relative. He was praying devoutly at the Western Wall,
deep in concentration, when he heard his name being called and felt
a hearty slap across his back. He turned and saw a large, burly man.
The man asked him in Dutch, "Rabbi, don't you recognize me, I
am so and so from the town of
. I spent Pesach in your house
one year. Now I live in Jerusalem with my family. I owe everything
Sometimes, it is possible to make a deal with the Almighty.
[Adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from the rendition of Rabbi Herschel
Finman in his weekly email "The Torah e-Parsha" firstname.lastname@example.org.]
* Editors note:
Many people -Chabad Chassidim!-claim this story is not true. Just
before publication, we heard from the Vorst family that the story
is indeed true (although perhaps not all the details of this version);
however, the Lubavitcher was not Rabbi Vorst but an emissary from
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (11
Nissan 1902 - 3 Tammuz 1994), became the seventh Rebbe of the Chabad
dynasty on 10 Shvat 1950. 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.
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