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Out of the Depths

The Midrechov pedestrian mall on Ben Yehuda street in Jerusalem, Israel, is a bustling place, with many colorful stands selling jewelry, clothing, souvenirs, Judaica items and antiques. What you can also find  in the Midrechov is the Moshiach Center, directed by Rabbi Doron Oren. Rabbi Oren's mission is to ensure that every shopper or visitor to the Midrechov is exposed to the Rebbe's message about the imminent Redemption.

At a certain point Rabbi Oren fell into financial difficulties and was considering a fund-raising trip abroad. He decided to ask the Rebbe's advice whether to take this trip. How does a chassid consult with the Rebbe these days? By inserting a letter at random into a volume of Igrot Kodesh, the Rebbe's published letters.

Rabbi Oren composed his letter and opened the book to find a letter that the Rebbe had written to someone who was weighing whether to go to on a fundraising trip to London. In the Rebbe's response, he wrote this story that had once happened to Rabbi Shmuel, the Rebbe Maharash, the 4th Rebbe of Lubavitch, close to 150 years ago:

The Rebbe Maharash used to undertake various trips throughout Europe, on missions to improve the lot of the Jewish people in Russia and worldwide. On one trip to France, the Rebbe approached the most exclusive hotel in the city and booked the most expensive room. His attendants were quite surprised as this was an unusual step for the Rebbe. While they were pondering, the Rebbe Maharash strode briskly and confidently into the hotel's lounge, which, naturally, did not serve kosher food. He eyed the assembled people and then strode up to one of the patrons, looked him straight in the eye and said, “Young man! Non-kosher wine  plugs up the heart and mind!”

With that, the Rebbe turned on his heels and left the hotel. The young man, who was, indeed, Jewish, was left profoundly shaken by the message the Rebbe had delivered. In time, he made a complete teshuvah, a return to his Jewish roots.

The Rebbe concluded his letter by telling his correspondent that he, too, would accomplish great things during his trip, without necessarily being aware of how or why.

Rabbi Oren interpreted this letter as a go-ahead to travel to London on a fundraising mission. The trip was a great success, though not necessarily from a fundraising standpoint. Rabbi Oren spend most of his time in the Hendon neighborhood, which boasts an active Chabad center for Israelis. The first time that Rabbi Oren came to the Chabad House, he met Eli, an Israeli with a long ponytail. “I'm sure you came to the Chabad House to put on tefillin,” Rabbi Oren offered.

“Definitely not,” Eli refused.

The second time that Rabbi Oren met Eli was Friday night, at a Shabbat meal in the Chabad House. Apparently he felt welcome and comfortable in the Chabad House but didn't feel like making any sort of religious commitment. All of Rabbi Oren's efforts to engage him in conversation came up empty.

The next day, Rabbi Oren got into a conversation with another Israeli, Yonatan. Yonatan kept Shabbat and kosher and planned to have his Shabbat meal alone in his apartment. Rabbi Oren suggested that he join him in the Chabad House, and Yonatan agreed. On the way, Yonatan stopped and knocked at a certain window, as a signal for his friend to join them. This friend happened to be Eli, the Israeli with the long ponytail.

However, upon seeing Rabbi Oren, Eli refused to join them in the Chabad House. “Do you know why he's staying away from you?” explained Yonatan. “He is married to a non-Jewish woman, but apparently he is not completely comfortable with this. That's why he keeps coming back to the Chabad House...”

Several days later, Yonatan accompanied Rabbi Oren to a large casino in town. The owner was a wealthy Jewish man and Yonatan had convinced Rabbi Oren that he would give a handsome donation. At first Rabbi Oren would not even think of approaching such a place. However, he remembered the story of the Rebbe Maharash and decided he would give it a try. But in his heart, he felt troubled.

The owner of the casino wasn't there, but there was an Israeli bartender, who was also a friend of Yonatan. “Call Eli,” the bartender said, "and let him join us."

In this place, so removed from anything Jewish, Eli finally agreed to sit down with Rabbi Oren, who engaged the three Israelis in a lengthy conversation on a range of topics. During this meeting he told the story of the Rebbe Maharash in the hotel lounge.

When he concluded, he saw that Eli was moved by the story. “Tell me,” asked Eli, “Is it only non-kosher wine that plugs up the mind and heart, or other things as well?”

Rabbi Oren understood the meaning of his question very well, but did not let on. “Definitely! Anything that is against the Torah can have the same effect.”

Not long afterwards, Rabbi Oren returned to Israel. He later found out that Eli had separated from his non-Jewish wife and shortly thereafter he returned to Israel, where he now lives a completely Torah-observant lifestyle.


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