# 336 (s5764-28/ 9 Nisan)

Travel - But Not Now

"The Lubavitcher Rebbe said to submit an exact itinerary: every location where you will be and your lodgings."



Travel - But Not Now

Tuvia Natkin

Reb Yitzchak Nemes of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, is a businessman-philatelist specializing in rare stamps. In the winter months his work takes him throughout Central America - Nicaragua, Honduras, Ecuador - where he maintains close connections with postal authorities as well as noted collectors.

A faithful chassid, he always sought the Rebbe's assent and blessing before embarking on trips. One year he made preparations to travel to Nicaragua in December. He called up his contacts there, made hotel reservations, and crammed his suitcases with canned kosher food; his exotic destinations were short on kosher restaurants.

As usual he wrote a short note about his trip and destinations and, a few days before traveling, went to the secretaries' office in "770" to deliver his note to the Rebbe.

The departure date approached as he made final preparations but, surprisingly, there was still no answer from the Rebbe. Reb Yitzchak called "770" to find out what was causing the delay. The secretary had no explanation: he had submitted the letter as usual immediately upon receiving it. The Rebbe had the letter and they were not accustomed to, as he put it, "pressure" him to answer correspondence.

* * *
The days came and went. It was now forty-eight hours before his departure and still no answer. Ill at ease, he asked to meet with Rabbi Hodakov, the Rebbe's personal secretary (and a close acquaintance of Reb Yitzchak). He explained his dilemma: he was scheduled to fly in two more days and had not yet received a response. Rabbi Hodakov promised to ask the Rebbe when he went to his office later. Reb Yitzchak waited anxiously.

"The Rebbe wants you to submit an exact itinerary," Rabbi Hodakov told him, "every location where you will spend time and your lodgings."

Reb Yitzchak sat down at once and wrote a detailed account. Thursday afternoon he was to arrive in Managua, Nicaragua's capital, reserve his centrally located hotel room, and remain until after Shabbos.

The Rebbe's answer came quickly. Four short words:

"Travel - but not now."

Reb Yitzchak was dazed. What could it mean? Now was the time he could acquire large stocks of stamps at reduced costs; his meetings with key figures in the stamp world had already been coordinated. This new turn of events would wreck his carefully drawn plans for the whole year. But most startling of all: the Rebbe had never before instructed him to postpone his travels.

Of course, as a loyal chassid, he immediately cancelled his flight, telephoned abroad to call off his appointments, and…updated his wife to add some more chicken for Shabbos: he would be staying home.

* * *
That Saturday night, Dec. 23, 1972, he turned on the radio to hear what was new. His heart froze. "An earthquake…enormous…lethal…has struck…Managua, capital of Nicaragua." Precisely on Shabbos evening when he was to have stayed in a hotel in the heart of the city. Entire sections of the city had been obliterated. Tens of thousands of dead and injured; hundreds of thousands left homeless. A nationwide state of emergency had been declared and rescue teams from around the globe were mobilizing.

Reb Yitzchak and his family were overwhelmed by their great miracle.

A short time later he decided to carry out the second part of the Rebbe's reply: "Travel - but not now."

When his family and friends learned of his intentions they did their best to dissuade him: "The destruction, the devastation are enormous; after-shocks are still pounding the area; looting is widespread, paramilitary forces are patrolling. Border Police are blocking people from entering the country without special permits. Reports are circulating that people's lives are in danger - especially tourists."

Reb Yitzchak was undaunted. From the Rebbe's answer it was plain that, after a time, he should travel - and that's what he was doing. He readied himself for the trip without, of course, any coordination with his Nicaraguan contacts; he had no clue if they were even alive. He submitted a note to the Rebbe informing him of his plans and asked for a blessing. The Rebbe's assent and blessing followed shortly.

The plane to Nicaragua was filled with relief workers and worried relatives with well-placed connections coming to inquire after their families' fate.

On arrival the passengers passed through thorough security checks. Thanks to the authorization he received earlier through contacts in the Nicaraguan Consulate in New York, Reb Yitzchak was soon on his way.

* * *
With difficulty he found a taxi to bring him to town. The views from his car window were terrifying and wrenching. Residential tracts were reduced to piles of rubble; buildings had collapsed. Boulevards and woodlands looked as though giant plows had torn through them. Worst of all was the stench of rotting corpses. Tragedy filled the air. The taxi jerked along makeshift roads that replaced the ravaged highways. Military checkpoints, police, and civil guard units were everywhere, adding their melancholy to the prevailing chaos and anarchy.

Reaching the city he gazed in disbelief at an alien landscape, though he had visited there often in the past. Refugees' tent cities surrounded by wire fences stood where there had once been thoroughfares and handsome buildings. Workers were still clearing debris and searching for bodies. The taxi reached the government complex. Reb Yitzchak got out and walked toward the gate where the Postal Ministry was supposed to be.

He couldn't believe his eyes. The Central Post Office stood facing him in all its glory, intact and nearly unscathed. His steps quickened; hurrying inside to the office of the Director of Philatelic Services, he opened the door. The director stood up, overcome with emotion, and hugged and kissed him. "Welcome! Welcome! What a surprise to see you here! I wasn't expecting this!"

* * *
Reb Yitzchak managed to extract himself from his friend's affections, and the director thanked him warmly, praising him for his visit in their darkest hour. When Reb Yitzchak attempted to steer the conversation toward business, the director stood: "Look, you see the catastrophe and the confusion here; it will take a long time before we can rebuild. Stamps are the last thing on our mind. As our dear faithful friend, allow me to invite you into the vaults: take whatever you wish from there, whatever fits into your briefcase. In return, you can make a small token payment."

When he realized the man was serious, he went at once and filled his suitcases with rare and precious items he had never been able to trade before.

"Never," Reb Yitzchak Nemes recollected, "had my business been so profitable as in that trip. 'Travel - but not now,' the Rebbe instructed."


[Translated by Tuvia Natkin for his soon-to-be-published Our Man in Dakar (based on the Hebrew original, VeRabim Heishiv MeiAvon by Aharon-Dov Halperin). Tuvia Natkin is a writer and translator who resides in Tsfat. This story is copyrighted material and may not be reproduced in either print or electronic form without permission of the publisher, Sifriyat Kfar Chabad.]

Biographical note:
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 preeminent 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 in the original Hebrew and Yiddish versions, as well as dozens of English renditions.


Yrachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He has hundreds of published stories to his credit.

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