The Avner Institute presents an extraordinary encounter with Rabbi Rabinowitz, formerly of the Jewish Center of Highbridge, who describes meeting the Previous Rebbe under somewhat unusual circumstances.
Special thanks to Rabbi Michoel Vishetzky for sharing this encounter. To learn more about the Rebbe visit: www.portraitofaleader.org
Rabbi Vishetzky relates:
I went to visit a Rabbi Rabinowitz at his synagogue in the Bronx, New York. To my surprise, the elderly rabbi was sitting at a corner of the table rather than the head.
“No one sits in that place,” he explained. Noticing my reaction, he began the following story.
“When I came to America, I was privileged to meet with the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe. I told him everything that had happened to me in Europe and asked him what I should do with my life. The Rebbe said, ‘Since you are a Torah scholar, you should look for a position as a community rabbi.’
“Soon after that, I was recommended for a position in this shul [synagogue], here in the Bronx. When I asked the Rebbe if I should accept it, the Rebbe answered, ‘A shul is a shul, and so it’s very suitable. But I don’t like the caretaker of that shul.’
“Why did the Rebbe mention the caretaker. I wondered. The Rebbe saw that I was confused and repeated, ‘A shul is a shul, but I don’t like the caretaker. ‘
“Time passed. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until I found out that the caretaker was not pleased with me. After the passing of the shul’s previous rabbi the caretaker had assumed many responsibilities and had become the unofficial rabbi. He felt that I had pushed him aside and he began to cause trouble for me.
“Eventually the situation became unbearable. I went to see the present Rebbe, who had assumed the leadership after the passing of the Previous Rebbe on 10 Shevat, 1950. Before I even had a chance to open my mouth, the Rebbe said, ‘My father-in-law said that a shul is a shul and he did not like the caretaker. Continue to serve as rabbi in the Bronx. As for the antics of this caretaker, he will soon need to worry about how long he will keep his job.’
“I was amazed by the present Rebbe’s words. When I had spoken with the Previous Rebbe, no one else had been in the room, and I had never discussed the matter with the present Rebbe.
“A few nights later I couldn’t sleep. At daybreak I decided to go to shul a little earlier than usual. On my way, I was surprised to meet the president and manager also walking toward the shul.
“The manager pointed to a light in the shul windows. Suspiciously we opened the door and walked in. We found the caretaker holding the charity boxes and emptying the money into his pockets. Needless to say, we fired him.
“The next few years passed peacefully. Then something even more incredible happened.
“The shul shared an adjoining wall with a butcher’s shop. When his business expanded, he found a much larger shop and sold the older one to the shul, which needed more space. After some friendly negotiations, a deal was struck. The whole transaction was conducted verbally, without a contract.
“A few years later the butcher began to look for a storeroom. When none was available, he remembered that there was no official contract with the shul. Without any scruples, he went to the shul management and asked them to give him his shop back. He hired a lawyer, positive that the court would decide in his favor as there had been no written sale.
“After a short court case, the shul board received a court order forcing them to vacate the premises by a certain date. As the date drew near, I went to the present Rebbe for a blessing.
“When I described the situation, the Rebbe said, ‘My father-in-law told you clearly that a shul is a shul. Everything will turn out the way it should.’
“The night before the critical date, I had a dream which I will never forget. In the dream I went to the shul and I saw the Previous Rebbe sitting in the chair at the head of the table—the very same chair which I never let anyone sit in. Standing next to him was the present Rebbe, who said, ‘Don’t worry. G-d will let everything turn out for the best.’ He then looked toward the Previous Rebbe. ‘The Rebbe told you that a shul is a shul. What do you have to worry about?’
“I stood there in astonishment. The Previous Rebbe was right there, even though he had passed away ten years ago. I was still marveling at this sight when I woke up.
“I ran to shul as fast as I could. Outside, a crowd had gathered and people were arguing with the policemen who had blocked the entrance and started to remove the furniture. Then something dramatic happened.
“On a nearby street, in the butcher’s large shop, a light fixture fell suddenly from the ceiling. The butcher was knocked unconscious. When he came to, his first words were, ‘Please, stop emptying the shul.’ When the police arrived, the butcher admitted that he had made false accusations against the shul and that he had, indeed, received payment for the old shop.
“Now you understand why I don’t let anyone sit in that chair. The image of the Previous Rebbe sitting there will be in front of my eyes forever,” Rabbi Rabinowitz said as he finished telling his story.