Weekly Chasidic Story #674 (s5771-08 / 17 Mar-Cheshvan 5771)
A Mission in Guyana
“There will be hair growing on my palm before you find another Jew living in this country!”
Connections (2): Weekly Reading — the dedication with which Eliezer, the servant of Abraham, journeyed from Israel to Syria to find a wife for his master’s son, Isaac. Seasonal — It is almost always during this week that thousands of the “shluchim” (emissaries. delegates) of the Lubavitcher Rebbe from all over the globe convene in Brooklyn for their annual conference.
The following story of a mission fulfilled with unwavering dedication was told by Mr. Shmuel Shachne, a diamond dealer, to his friend, Rabbi Shabti Slavaticki, the Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Antwerp Belgium, who in turn passed it along to the Avner Institute.
* * * *
At the time I was working in the country of Guyana, on the northeast coast of South America. Officially, I was head of the nation’s diamond industry. (How I came to occupy that position is a story for another day!) One day while at work I happened to glance up at the security monitor and saw a religious Jew “in full regalia” standing in the doorway. I rubbed my eyes to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, since I had yet to meet another Jew since arriving in Guyana.
I buzzed him in and met Rabbi Yitzchok Nemes of blessed memory for the first time in my life. In truth, you could write a whole book about him, as Reb Yitzchok was the kind of Jew who, although his feet touched the ground, the “real” him was always a step above, thinking about mitzvot and the various campaigns of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Reb Yitzchok had come to Guyana on business, in connection to issuing postage stamps for the Guyanese government.
Of course, a chasid like Reb Yitzchok wouldn’t do anything without first consulting with the Rebbe. Before embarking on the trip, the Rebbe had given Reb Yitzchok a dollar bill. He had then handed him another, adding cryptically, “Surely you will find yourself in the capital [Georgetown], where you will meet a Jewish soul who was born there and never left even once. Please give this dollar bill to that Jew.”
Although Reb Yitzchok’s original reason for travel was purely business-related, the whole nature of the trip changed once the Rebbe entrusted him with this mission. The multi-million dollar deal with the Guyanese government was now almost irrelevant to what he knew to be his real purpose: to bring G-dliness to that particular geographical location, to a Jew he had never met and whose name he didn’t know.
Reb Yitzchok began his search as soon as he arrived, even before attending his previously-scheduled business meetings. It soon became clear, however, that finding a Jew in Guyana was no easy task. Flipping through the local phone book for Jewish-sounding names yielded nothing, as did every other method of inquiry. Virtually everyone he asked responded with the same shrug of the shoulders. “Jews? There aren’t any Jews in Guyana.”
After several days of fruitless investigation Reb Yitzchok was overjoyed to learn that there was, after all, at least one Jew in the vicinity, a diamond dealer from Antwerp, Belgium, which is how Reb Yitzchok found his way to me. When he asked me if I knew of the existence of any local Jews I answered truthfully, “I’ve been in this country for five years and I’ve never bumped into even one, and not because I haven’t tried to locate any. You’re wasting your time. There are no Jews in Guyana.”
I did my best to convince him, but Reb Yitzchok was adamant. “If the Rebbe told me to give that dollar to a Jew, I have no doubt that he’s here.”
In response, I showed Reb Yitzchok the palm of my hand, smooth and hair-free. “That’s what you think,” I said. “There’ll be hair growing on my palm before you find your Jew.”
* * * *
In the end, however, the Divine Architect set in motion a series of events that culminated in someone’s telling Reb Yitzchok about a certain Jewish man in Guyana by the name of Mr. Solomon. Reb Yitzchok hurried to the address he was given but was dumbfounded upon entering the premises. The man’s house was literally filled, floor to ceiling, with various forms of avodah zarah. Over sixty idols of all shapes and sizes were on display, adorning the walls, floor and shelves. He later learned that most of the statues belonged to Mr. Solomon’s Indian wife.
As Reb Yitzchok was very uncomfortable in such surroundings, after a few minutes of chitchat he invited Mr. Solomon back to his hotel room, where he solemnly told him about the special mission with which the Rebbe had entrusted him. After explaining the significance of the dollar, he withdrew the bill from his wallet and gave it to his guest. The two of them then sat and talked for hours. As anyone who knew him knows, Reb Yitzchok Nemes was a fountain of genuine kindness and warmth. He exuded sincerity, faith and innocence. Over the next few days, in the course of several long discussions, a meaningful and profound bond was forged between the two men.
The ability to influence others is unique in each individual. Some people are keen and perceptive; others have a natural charisma that enables their words to penetrate the listener’s heart. Still others have a gift for language and can phrase their arguments artfully and convincingly.
Reb Yitzchok Nemes was not a professional speaker. He was not a man of words nor was he particularly polished. His main strength was his truthfulness. When you spoke to Reb Yitzchok you could tell that he really believed what he was saying, one hundred percent. More than once he gave away his own expensive tefillin to a Jew who was willing to take on the mitzvah but couldn’t afford a pair. Reb Yitzchok was the kind of person who wouldn’t think twice about it. Today, there are many pairs of these tefillin in circulation that have transformed whole families and generations, but that’s yet another story for another day.
That week, Reb Yitzchok invited Mr. Solomon to join him for the Shabbos meals. For the first time in his life he heardKiddush, made a blessing over two challahs and ate gefilte fish. The two men sat and talked into the wee hours of the morning.
Slowly but surely, Mr. Solomon’s inner Jewish soul-spark was ignited. It wasn’t long until he proudly informed Reb Yitzchok that he had gotten rid of all the statues and it was “safe” to enter his house.
Reb Yitzchok was overjoyed and gave Mr. Solomon a hug. He then presented him with a photograph of the Rebbe, explaining that he had waited for an appropriate moment. Mr. Solomon began to davven, to put on tefillin and to keep Shabbat. He even kashered his kitchen.
Whoever knew Reb Yitzchok even casually knows that his soul burned with a fiery flame for the Rebbe. No matter where he went he spoke about the Rebbe’s campaigns and more recently, his expectations of Mashiach’s imminent arrival. So Reb Yitzchok spoke passionately to Mr Solomon too about Mashiach and the Final Redemption, and how all the major rabbinic sages of our generation agree that we are living in the era just prior to Mashiach’s coming.
Mr. Solomon, who accepted the concepts wholeheartedly, in the manner of “Words that come from the heart, enter the heart.” This Jewish soul that had only recently been awakened received this information with the same earnestness and acceptance as all other aspects of Judaism.
During this particular period, I was not in Guyana. Three months later when I returned to my office I found a letter from Reb Yitzchok asking that I contact him immediately.
I picked up the phone to call, and within minutes he was at my door. Till today I can see Reb Yitzchok in my mind’s eye, dancing happily around the room. It took me a few minutes to catch on that he had actually found the lost Jewish soul he was searching for!
I was stunned by this open demonstration of the Rebbe’s prophetic inspiration. I couldn’t believe how a single dollar bill, combined with the heartfelt words of a true chasid, had succeeded in igniting a holy fire in such a remote location. Over time, Mr. Solomon became increasingly observant. For Passover, Reb Yitzchok sent him a supply of shmurah matzah, the type that the most religious Jews are careful to eat.
* * * *
A few months later I went to Mr. Solomon’s house, hoping to find him at home. He wasn’t in, but his wife told me something very disturbing. The next time I saw Reb Yitzchok I took him aside and filled him in on the details.
“I don’t know how to tell you this,” I said, “but I’m not too impressed by your lost Jewish soul. In fact, I’m downright disappointed. Do you know what his wife confided in me? ‘You people,’ she said, ‘think my husband is a righteous and honorable man but the whole thing is a sham. He’s only making believe. Do you know what I found under his bed? A suitcase stuffed with a brand new suit, new shirts, a passport and a supply of American currency. When I asked him what was going on he was very evasive, but eventually I figured it out,’ she said. ‘Apparently, he has found another woman in the United States and is planning on leaving me. Please, I’m begging you, try to convince him not to break up our family!'”
Reb Yitzchok lost no time at all and immediately went to Mr. Solomon’s house. He asked him to please step outside and after a few niceties brought up the subject of the mysterious suitcase.
To his surprise Mr. Solomon became very upset. “But you yourself told me that the Rebbe said that Mashiach can come at any moment!” he cried. “You told me that a Jew is supposed to live with Mashiach in his daily life, and that the great Chofetz Chaim had a special set of clothes set aside in which to greet him. Doesn’t this mean that I should also be ready to leave at a moment’s notice?”
Reb Yitzchok eventually returned to New York, but over the next few years he sent Mr. Solomon numerous books and materials on Jewish subjects and remained in touch.
One day Reb Yitzchok received a phone call informing him that Mr. Solomon had passed away. In his will, he had stipulated that he be buried according to Rabbi Nemes’s instructions. His family wanted him to be buried locally but when Reb Yitzchok learned that the closest Jewish cemetery was in Venezuela, he made arrangements for the body to be accompanied and buried there in full accordance with Jewish law. Mr. Solomon’s headstone was engraved with the following inscription: ‘The forgotten Jew who was not forgotten.’”
(Adds the teller of the story, Mr. Shmuel Shachne, “You should know, I still get goose bumps whenever I remind myself of this story.”)
Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from an email received from the Avner Institute <Rebbebook@Gmail.com>.
Connections (2): Weekly Reading — the dedication with which Eliezer, the servant of Abraham, journeyed from Israel to Syria to find a wife for his master’s son, Isaac. It is the first and primary example in the Torah of a delegated mission.
Seasonal — Therefore, it is almost always during this week that thousands of the “shluchim” (emissaries. delegates) of the Lubavitcher Rebbe from all over the globe convene in Brooklyn for their annual conference. May the Al-mighty bless all that attend and all those that are unable to with continued and increased success in their struggles on behalf of the Jewish people. Moshiach now!
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe (11 Nissan 1902 – 3 Tammuz 1994), became the seventh Rebbe of the Chabad dynasty after his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, passed away in Brooklyn on 10 Shvat 1950. He is widely acknowledged as the greatest Jewish leader of the second half of the 20th century. Although a dominant scholar in both the revealed and hidden aspects of Torah and fluent in many languages and scientific subjects, the Rebbe is best known for his extraordinary love and concern for every Jew on the planet. His emissaries around the globe dedicated to strengthening Judaism number in the thousands. Hundreds of volumes of his teachings have been printed, as well as dozens of English renditions.
Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.