May 30, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

A ‘Random’ Meeting That I Will Never Forget

“I don’t even know your name! You just appeared out of nowhere! You look like a nice guy, but why did you come here?”

Something strange happened to me last week. It was strange but amazing. I felt like I was part of a movie; like something was happening, but it was much greater than I.

It happened on Wednesday at 1:50 p.m. I was driving back from a meeting, and my next (Zoom) meeting was scheduled for 2 p.m.

What do I do with the extra 10 minutes?

For a while, I wanted to record a short story and upload it to social media. It was a beautiful story that happened not long ago, and I figured people would enjoy it.

I was driving right next to a shopping center, the weather was beautiful, and the large parking area seemed an ideal place to record my video. Not so, I quickly discovered as I turned into the shopping center and realized the parking area was filled almost to capacity. I kept on driving in this huge parking lot, looking for a quiet place, and finally, I found it—at the edge of the parking lot, with very few cars parked nearby.

I parked and jumped out of the car with my phone in hand. As I exited my car, I noticed them: two guys, working on a broken-down vehicle.

My Chabadnik instinct kicked into high gear, and I approached them.

“Hello, good afternoon! Are any of you Jewish by any chance?”

One responded, “No.”

The other also said, “No. But one of my parents is Jewish.”

My heart started beating faster.

“Mother or father?”

“My mom.”

“Wow. Just for you to know, you are 100% Jewish.”

“Really?” he was shocked to hear.

“Absolutely.”

I looked at my hands. Usually, I like to take my tefillin with me. This time, all I thought about was myself and my social media video. My tefillin were in the car.

“Would you like to do a mitzvah together? It’s called tefillin. Have you ever heard of tefillin?”

We started chatting, and when I suggested to him to put on tefillin, I could tell that his soul was on fire. No, he didn’t agree at first, but he was amazed by the conversation.

His talk was filled with expletives, but I could tell that he wasn’t aggravated at all. He was amazed and surprised.

“Man, I don’t even know you! You seem like a nice guy! If more people were like you, the world would be a better place! But you came out of nowhere! And I don’t know; what are the tefillin you’re talking about?”

I ran to the car to bring the tefillin and showed it to him. Now, usually, when I offer someone to do the mitzvah of tefillin and they refuse, I won’t insist.

This felt different.

What are the chances that I would decide to stop in this random parking lot? And find myself right next to this fellow, who was there only because his car broke down and he couldn’t leave? Why am I here? Was that my choice to be here, or why is the invisible hand of Hashem bringing me here?

All of this felt so surreal to me.

And his response was unique.

When I offer people the opportunity to wrap tefillin, some say yes, others say no. But he was so passionate, so emotional, so excited.

“My father is Catholic! I grew up like a Catholic! I can’t do this!”

I explained to him that tefillin is a commandment from the Bible, and I am sure his father would be happy to hear that he followed a Biblical commandment…

He agreed.

We said the Shema, and he repeated every word loudly, slowly, and with so much emotion and intensity.

We said goodbye, and this person, who wouldn’t even give me his first name (“We just met, I don’t know you, why should I tell you my name?”) said something that I wholeheartedly agreed with.

“Even if I didn’t believe in miracles until today, I am starting to believe in miracles. What happened today was nothing short of a miracle.”

When I got back to the car, I cried because I was overwhelmed with emotions.

You see, please save me from emails such as, “Rabbi, you are so great,” because I cannot take any credit for this. The only reason why I approached this stranger was because I have the greatest privilege to learn from the Rebbe.

The Rebbe taught us the immense value of each individual.

The Rebbe taught us the immense value of each connection.

And the Rebbe taught us the immense value of each mitzvah.

In last week’s parsha, we read about the sin of the golden calf. One of the most surprising elements in the story is how Moshe, who was the main target of this sin—the golden calf was meant to replace him!—risked his entire legacy when he begged God to forgive the Jewish people. When God suggested getting rid of the Jewish people and starting anew with Moshe’s family, he responded, “If you don’t forgive them, just erase my name from your book!”

Now, think of that. Moshe was a holy man, a man of God, who cared deeply about doing the right thing. And those were sinners of the lowest kind, willing to worship idols merely a few weeks after hearing God’s voice on Mount Sinai!

None of that mattered to Moshe. He was the leader of the Jewish people; he cared and deeply loved each one of them; and he was willing to do everything in his power to defend them.

This is also the message of the Rebbe. He believed passionately in the power and importance of each individual soul. He loved and cared deeply for each one, and asked us to love and care deeply, too. For the Rebbe, ahavat Yisrael was something that permeated every moment of his life.

On the 11th of Nissan this year, we will commemorate the Rebbe’s 120th birthday. Now is the perfect time to redouble our efforts in ahavat Yisrael: to love and to care, to seek out those who need our help, both physically and spiritually.

When we do, amazing things happen.


Together with his wife and children, Rabbi Mendy serves as the Rebbe’s shaliach to Hackensack, New Jersey. He welcomes your comments at [email protected]

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