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He Guides the Steps of Man
The following event took place in the famed synagogue, “770.” Not the Lubavitch Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway, but a replica of it built in Kfar Chabad, Israel, according to the directive of the Rebbe. Dozens of Chassidim had gathered for a Chassidic farbrengen, gathering. The speaker for this occasion was the esteemed elderly Chassid, Rabbi Zalman Sudakevitz, one of the founders of the village of Kfar Chabad.

For hours, Rabbi Sudakevitz held his audience spell-bound with stories of the heroism of Chassidim in Russia during the difficult years of communist oppression, which he himself had experienced. He also told over the history of the founding of Kfar Chabad—a period during which he received a number of directives of the Rebbe regarding his communal activities.

 Among his other stories, Rabbi Sudakevitz related an incident that happened in between these two periods of his life. This event took place in Paris, France, to where he had escaped from the Soviet Union in 1946, on his way to Israel.

“This happened few short months after I was fortunate to escape from the U.S.S.R. with a forged Polish passport. We were a sizable group of Chabad Chassidim who lived according to the directives that we received from New York, from the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph I. Schneerson.

 “One of the unusual instructions that we received was to walk along the streets of the French metropolis. Where or why, we were not told. However, we followed the Rebbe’s instructions to the letter. I accompanied two Chassidim older than myself, Rabbi Yehudah Chein and Rabbi Chaim Schreiber, of blessed memory.

 “We wandered the streets, to wherever our feet would carry us. Finally, while walking along a small side street, we were stopped suddenly by a woman’s voice: ‘Rabbis, will you please wait a moment for me?’

We lifted our heads to locate the source of the voice. We saw that it was coming from an open window on the fifth floor of one of the buildings. A mature woman stood by the widow and literally begged us to wait for her to come down. We waited. 

“When the woman appeared, she spoke to us emotionally and told us that she is a Jewish woman, and her grandson would soon reach the age of Bar Mitzvah. ‘I want very badly that he should learn a little about Judaism. I want him to know what tefillin are, and to know how to don them. I want,’ and her voice rose, ‘I want him to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah properly, like a Jew should. I have no idea how to arrange all of this in Paris.’ 

“The three of us,” related Rabbi Sudakevitz, “Rabbi Chein, Rabbi Schreiber and me, looked at each other in surprise. It was clear to all of us that this was the mission we were sent for by the Rebbe. We directed her to a synagogue near her apartment, where we knew that the Rav would teach the boy all that he needed to know and would arrange for him a respectable Bar Mitzvah.

“If not for the directive of the Rebbe—to wander the streets of France, without knowing our final destination—who know if this young boy would ever have celebrated his Bar Mitzvah,” Rabbi Sudakevitz concluded. 

However, the story had only just begun. One of the attendees at the farbrengen, Rabbi David Leselbaum, suddenly jumped up and turned to Rabbi Sudakevitz: “Do you remember the name of the street where you met the woman, and the name of the synagogue you sent her to?” 

Rabbi Sudakevitz squeezed his eyelids together, trying to recall. “It has been many years,” he apologized, “but if I’m not mistaken, it was in the 9th Quarter of Paris, the fourth or fifth block. The name of the synagogue was Rashi’s shul.” 

 “I don’t believe it!” Rabbi Leselbaum cried out. “That woman you met was none other than my grandmother of blessed memory, and the Bar Mitzvah boy was—me!”

Rabbi Leselbaum picked up the thread: “In 1946, I turned Bar Mitzvah. In my parents’ home, I did not receive a Jewish education. However, my grandmother exerted all her influence and convinced my parents to give me a bit of Jewish education for my Bar Mitzvah. My grandmother arranged lessons for me in the Rashi Shul—apparently as a result of her meeting with Rabbis Sudakevitz, Chein and Schreiber.” 

Rabbi David Leselbaum today is a respected member of the Kfar Chabad community. He is especially active in the Israeli-French community, teaching Torah and Judaism. The Rebbe’s mysterious directive, to wander the streets of Paris, had born fruit.

 

 


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