Weekly Chasidic Story #987b (424 revised) (s5777-05
/ 29 Tishrei 5777)
A Miracle for Safed
Featuring: Rabbi Aharon Eliezer Zeitlin, of blessed memory
Connection: Seasonal - first yahrzeit on the 2nd of Mar-Cheshvan
(2016: Nov. 3)
A Miracle for Safed
In the winter of 1980, Rabbi Aharon-Eliezer Ceitlin of Tsfat
(Safed) flew to the United States, charged with arranging a gala fund-raising
dinner on behalf of the Chabad institutions in his city. He arrived in New York
about two months before the scheduled date in order to take care of all the
He had never organized such an event before. There was a myriad of technical
details: renting a hall, printing and mailing invitations, advertisements, speakers,
entertainment, etc. Whenever he had a problem, he asked for the Lubavitcher
Rebbe's advice, which he duly received and implemented. On his own initiative,
the Rebbe even donated the first $40.
It was the seventh of the Jewish month of Tevet and the night of the affair
was fast approaching, when the telephone in Rabbi Ceitlin's temporary office
rang. Rabbi Leibel Groner, the Rebbe's secretary, was on the line with an urgent
message: I have something for you from the Rebbe!
On his way, Rabbi Ceitlin's mind raced furiously, but he could not imagine what
the Rebbe might want to give him
Breathless, he entered the secretary's
Rabbi Groner pulled a large package from his drawer. In it was a bottle of vodka,
fifty $1 bills, and a note in the Rebbe's handwriting which read, "Enclosed
is my participation in the Melave Malka: nun  dollars and
a kankan yash [container of liquor]. May it be G-d's will that everything
should be a great success."
Ceitlin was flabbergasted. The Rebbe had already "participated" with
his donation of $40. Why the additional fifty $1 bills? Why the vodka, so many
days is advance? Why did he refer to the bottle as a "kankan"?
That he specified the amount of his donation was also uncommon. And why in such
an unusual way: "nun", not "fifty" or "50"?
The Rebbe's secretary could not offer an interpretation.
Rabbi Ceitlin left the office puzzled, but full of joy at the special interest
the Rebbe had shown him. That evening, he still could not get over what had
happened. He paced back and forth in the living room, unable to calm down. Something
made him return to the office to continue working. He took the package with
him, tucked securely in the inner pocket of his overcoat. The time was 9 p.m.
As he walked, a car drew up alongside him. It was Naftali Greenwald, his brother-in-law
who lived in the neighborhood. Naftali rolled down his window, and Ceitlin leaned
over to talk with him. Suddenly, they heard a terrifying voice: "Your money
or you're dead."
Rabbi Ceitlin's blood froze in his veins. He slowly turned. Although 6'4"
tall himself, he had to look up to see the threatening, icy eyes that stared
down at him. It was a mountainous black man, and he was pointing a gun right
at Ceitlin's forehead.
Rabbi Ceitlin quickly glanced down the street. It was deserted. Instinctively,
he put his hand in his coat pocket. His fingers touched the bottle of vodka
and the packet with the Rebbe's dollars, but they refused to come out. Something
told him that the man was only interested in those dollar bills, and with them
he refused to part. Yet, he did not think the man would be satisfied with money
from his other pockets. What to do?
Suddenly, the roar of the car engine shattered the silence. Naftali had stepped
on the gas with the car in neutral, hoping the noise would scare the thief away.
Instead, the black man became enraged. He aimed his gun at the driver and pulled
the trigger. The same moment the bullet struck the metal door, the car shot
forward. Rabbi Ceitlin, who was now alone with the gunman, began yelling with
all his might, at the same time trying to back away.
The mugger again raised his gun and aimed it at Ceitlin. Holding it with both
hands, he shot from point blank range!
Rabbi Ceitlin kept shouting and backing away. Astonished, the gunman turned
and fled. Twice he looked back to see if Ceitlin was really still there.
Rabbi Ceitlin was in a state of shock. He knew he had been shot at, but he did
not feel any pain. He pinched himself. He ran his hand over his body, searching
for wounds. He could not smell any blood. He began to think he dreamt it all.
A few minutes later, his brother-in-law arrived with three police cars, to find
Rabbi Ceitlin still clutching the Rebbe's package in his pocket. Suddenly they
realized a double miracle had occurred. The first bullet had passed through
the flesh of Rabbi Greenwald's hand, without hitting a bone or a nerve. The
greater miracle: Rabbi Ceitlin was not injured at all!
News of what had happened spread like wildfire. The attack publicized the dinner
that was to be held only a few days later better than any advertisement. Everyone
would come to the dinner organized by the "hero" of the day.
Those who attended where surprised to see Rabbi Groner sitting at the dais.
After Rabbi Ceitlin told his story to the rapt audience, Rabbi Groner was invited
to speak. He began:
"It is written in the Gemara (Berachot 57a) that one who sees Huna in a
dream will have a miracle happen to him. If he sees Chanina, Chananya, Yochanan,
or Nisi, many miracles will occur. However, this applies only if he sees these
names in writing. Why in writing rather than their faces? Rashi explains that
all these names contain the letter nun, the first letter of the word
Rabbi Groner went on to suggest an explanation of the Rebbe's unusual note.
"The Rebbe specified the number of dollar bills in order to use the letter
nun. He also referred to the bottle of vodka as a kankan, rather
than the usual word for bottle, bakbuk, because kankan contains
two nuns, representing the double miracle that would take place."
In the end, the dinner was a tremendous success, and so the second part of the
Rebbe's note was fulfilled as well: "May it be G-d's will that everything
should be a great success."
Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from Wonders and Miracles Vol. 2, published
in Ascent Quarterly #25, and supplemented with details from his neighbor, Rabbi
A.E. Ceitlin of the story. (Photos courtesy of COL.org.il)
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe (11 Nissan 1902
- 3 Tammuz 1994), became the seventh Rebbe of the Chabad dynasty after his father-in-law,
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, passed away in Brooklyn 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.
Rabbi Aharon-Eliezer Ceitlin [8 Tishrei 5714 - 2 Mar-Cheshvan 5776 (Sept.
17, 1953 - Oct. 15, 2015 C.E.)] was a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Tzefat, Israel
for 40 years, who dedicated his life to Jewish education. A large man with a
flowing beard and a booming voice, equally at home in Yiddish, English and Hebrew,
he was often invited to address Chassidic gatherings across the globe, where
he would speak passionately about Torah, Judaism and chasidut.
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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