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 necessary preparations.

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 room.

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 [50] dollars and a kankan yash [container of liquor]. May it be G-d's will that everything should be a great success."

Rabbi 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 -- miracle."

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)

Biographical notes:
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.

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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