By Rabbi Yosef Ehrentrau as told to Nosson Avrohom
When I was a student in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, I would devote my Wednesdays to the Rebbe’s Mitzva campaigns. I spent the morning in Manhattan with the Mitzvah Tank and in the afternoon I would visit Jewish businessmen in their offices to encourage them to put on Tefilin.
It was the spring of 1989. On a Tuesday night, I had an incredible dream. I saw the Rebbe turning to me and telling me in Yiddish, “To have greater success in spreading Chasidic teachings you have to wear a tie.”
I woke up. It was four o’clock in the morning. My first thought was, “Dreams are meaningless.” I tried to go back to sleep, but I remained wide awake. Eventually the sun rose and I made my way to 770 Eastern Parkway for the morning prayers. My thoughts kept coming back to the strange dream.
The Rebbe entered the synagogue. On the way to his regular place, the Rebbe stopped and looked toward me. As he was looking towards me, I noticed that the Rebbe straightened his tie. A few moments later, after the Rebbe had already reached his place, he turned around toward the congregation. The Rebbe appeared to be looking for something, and when his eyes reached me, he again straightened his tie. Only then did he turn back toward his prayerbook and the cantor started the prayers.
After the conclusion of the morning services, the congregation began to sing. The Rebbe encouraged the singing and then looked in my direction as he straightened his tie a third time.
I left 770 and boarded the Mitzva Tank. Rabbi Levi Baumgarten, the director of the Mitzva Tank, was the first person to hear about the unusual dream I had the previous night. I didn’t mention anything to him about the Rebbe adjusting his tie. He didn’t seem to attach much importance to my dream. Without much more discussion, we started our drive into Manhattan.
As soon as we reached our destination, I got out of the Mitzvah Tank and started encouraging Jewish men to put on Tefilin. A middle-aged gentleman approached me. “Are you Jewish?” I asked him. Instead of answering my question, he asked me if I wanted to buy something from him. The man held an attache case, and he opened it up to show me a large selection of ties.
“A Jew must look nice,” he told me, “and in order to look nice, you have to wear a tie.” At first I told him that I wasn’t interested, however, he was determined to sell me one, and I eventually agreed. I found a black tie to my liking. I asked him how much it cost and he told me a ridiculous price. When I explained to him that I don’t have that much money, he said that he would be willing to sell it to me for less. I took the two dollars out of my pocket that I had for the subway ride back and said, ‘This is all I have. If you want to sell it to me for this amount – I’ll buy it.”
During our entire back and forth, he kept repeating over and over again, “A Jew must look nice, and in order to look nice, you have to wear a tie.”
The gentleman helped me tie the tie properly. Then he left and I resumed my work of putting Tefilin on Jewish men. I was so preoccupied with what I was doing that I actually didn’t make the connection between my dream, the Rebbe adjusting his tie, and the Jewish salesman’s unconventional stubbornness in getting me to buy a tie.
After a few more hours with the Mitzvah Tank, I started my regular visits to the nearby office buildings. One office belonged to a young successful Israeli businessman. Each week his secretary would tell me that the boss doesn’t give permission for me to come in. I would leave some brochures on Judaism and move on. On this occasion, to my great surprise, the secretary informed me that her boss wanted me to come into his office. I asked if he would like to put on Tefillin. At first he hesitated. Eventually he explained that he didn’t know how to do it.
Naturally, I offered to help him. As he recited the Shema, tears started streaming down his cheeks. When he finished, he asked. “I’ve seen you for months through my camera. Today, you’ve never looked so sharp – and with a tie yet. What happened?”
Suddenly, everything made sense. I smiled. He said he wanted to share an amazing story that had occurred that night, one that led him to bring me into his office and agree to put on Tefilin. The man said that his father had passed away many years ago. During the past year he had been dreaming about him. His father told him that he had no rest, and if the son wanted to provide that rest, he had to put on Tefillin. Though he disregarded the dreams, they continued. Night after night, his father would come to him in a dream and ask him why he still isn’t putting on Tefillin.
The previous night, his father had asked the same question: Why aren’t you putting on Tefilin? Unlike the other occasions, this time he answered that he wants to put on Tefilin with the young man who regularly comes to his office. However, he is too embarrassed because the young man does not look well-groomed, and he does not feel comfortable speaking with him.
As his father listened, another Jew, an impressive looking rabbi, suddenly entered the conversation. “If he will come tomorrow wearing a tie, will you put on Tefilin?” the rabbi asked.
“Yes, I would,” the businessman said. The discussion ended, and his father and the rabbi disappeared.
As it turned out, I came that day wearing a tie. As soon as he had finished his story, I showed him a picture of the Rebbe, and I asked him if this was the rabbi he had seen in his dream. The man looked at the picture and nearly fainted. “Yes, this is the rabbi!” he whispered.
Now, it came my turn to tell him the entire chain of events that led me to buy the tie. Later, he told me that this was the first time in his life that he had ever put on Tefilin. We made a Bar Mitzvah celebration for him right then and there his office with his Jewish employees.
The amazing conclusion to this story came when the Rebbe spoke that night and afterward gave out dollars for people to give to charity. When I passed by, the Rebbe smiled, straightened his tie slightly, and said to me in Yiddish, “S’iz gel-oint (it was worth it)…”