Weekly Chasidic Story #832 (s5774-10 / 1 Kislev 5774)
Although not Chabad, he received nearly 100 letters from the Lubavitcher Rebbe! – the envy of many Chabad chasidim.
Connection: Weekly reading–wedding expenses (see Midrash Rabba on Gen 29:22, for how the clause order in the verse indicates that Laban forced the guests to pay, and how he went about it.)
Rabbi Avraham Rottenberg is a Gerrer chasid who currently lives in Bnei Brak. Quite poor, he was often faced with economic difficulties that nearly every other Israeli would try to assuage – at best temporarily – through obtaining a loan. But not Rottenberg: “No loans – they are not for me” was his habitual refrain.
Once, an acquaintance of his, who was a man of means, and aware of Rottenberg’s desperate situation at the time, offered him an interest-free loan. It was refused.
The friend continued to urge him. “If it is the procedures that make you hesitant, you needn’t worry; I’ll take care of everything. I’ll even arrange the three guarantors to sign for you.”
Again the answer was “No.” The man persisted, and from the goodness of his heat continued, “I’m in no hurry to get the money back. You can take all the time you want.”
“Thank you, but no thank you,” responded Rottenberg gently. “It is not that I am concerned about my ability to pay back the money. It is simply that this is a guiding principle in my life.”
In order to understand from where came this principle and how it came to be so firmly implanted in Rabbi Avraham Rottenberg, we have to go all the way back to the 1950’s. Rottenberg was a young married man then, whom circumstances had brought to be living in the Crown Heights district of Brooklyn, N.Y., the neighborhood of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Although Rottenberg was, as we already mentioned, a chasid of Gur, not Chabad, like many others he was curious about the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who seemed so different in style than the other Chasidic rebbes, so he often attended the Rebbe’s public gatherings (farbrengens), and other events in 770 Eastern Parkway, World Lubavitch Headquarters.
Captivated by the Rebbe’s wisdom and charisma, and the Rebbe’s obvious holiness, he began to turn to him for advice, through correspondence, a pattern that he maintained for nearly 40 years, until the Rebbe’s final illness. Over that time, Rabbi Rottenberg received nearly 100 letters from the Rebbe! – the envy of many Lubavitcher Chasidim.
In one of the farbrengens of the Rebbe, during a break between the Rebbe’s successive discourses (sichos), the listeners as usual were raising their voices in song and lifting their small cups of wine or vodka to toast “L’chaim” – “for life.” At that moment Rabbi Rottenberg noticed that one of the Chabad Chasidim had approached the Rebbe with a personal request. Situated close to the front, he was able to overhear their exchange of words. The man was requesting a blessing for his friend whose financial situation was desperate. Surprisingly the Rebbe was not quick with his blessing. Instead, he asked the petitioner, “For what does he need money?”
The chasid was confused by the unexpected response. Stammering, he repeated the question, “For what does he need…?”
The Rebbe paused in thought. After a few moments he stated decisively, “For what he needs, he has. The problem is that he has become used to borrowing money and not returning it.”
The Rebbe paused a few more moments, then added, “When he accepts upon himself the obligation to return all that he owes, and makes a firm commitment to not take any more loans, then [and only then] he will be able to receive from the Al-mighty, directly.”
Rabbi Rottenberg found himself deeply affected by the exchange he had overheard, even though the words had not been directed to him personally, or even to the public in general, but rather to a specific individual in his own unique situation. He felt he had been privileged to hear the Rebbe confirm one of his own principles – that whoever believes that the Al-mighty concerns Himself with all of our needs, removes from himself the need to ever have to borrow money.
Right then, seated at the farbrengen, Rabbi Rottenberg vowed silently to himself that, whatever would happen, he would never take a loan. It was up to him to trust absolutely that G-d would provide for him whatever he needed.
Decades later, Rabbi Rottenberg faced a difficult test of his resolve. In 1980 he was blessed to make a wedding for one of his grown children, and the burden of all the expenses, direct and indirect, was more-so much more!-then he could bear. To take a loan seemed the only logical and practical means to relieve the unyielding pressure, and he was hanging on by the skin of his teeth to his resolve not to do so.
Nevertheless, it seemed he would have to give in. On the morning of the wedding day, he was without even a dollar to give to the caterer, the owner of the wedding hall, the photographer, or the band. He didn’t even have enough cash in his pocket for the taxi to take his family from his house to the hall.
Rabbi Rottenberg remained stubborn despite all this, and refused to consider taking a loan. But how was he supposed to get his family to the wedding hall?
Although already dressed in his wedding clothes, he decided to duck into a nearby shul to pray again for Divine aid. While he was praying, a man entered the shul whose appearance stamped him as a Chabad chasid. This turned out to be Rabbi Moshe Yeraslovsky [of blessed memory, father of the current head of the Chabad Rabbinical court in Israel-ed.]. He glanced around at those present in the room, until his eyes settled upon Rabbi Rottenberg. Approaching him he said, “Based upon the way you are dressed, I suspect this is a day of celebration for you.”
“That’s correct. It is my son’s wedding day, may it be a good and auspicious time.”
“Ah,” said Rabbi Moshe Yeraslovsky “And how much money are you short?”
“Why are you asking?” wondered Rabbi Rottenberg, not understanding at all where Rabbi Moshe Yeraslovsky was heading. And why did he phrase it “How much” as if he knew for sure about his lack, rather than “do you have enough”?
“Let me explain,” smiled Rabbi Moshe Yeraslovsky. “I just arrived back in Israel this morning, only a few hours ago I was in Brooklyn, visiting the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the community.
“Last night I merited to have a private audience with the Rebbe, face-to-face, just the two of us! As we were finishing, the Rebbe opened the drawer of his desk and took out a thick wad of dollars. He then extended the money to me, saying, ‘You are leaving now to Eretz Yisrael. Sometimes one meets there a Jew who is making a wedding and needs cash desperately. You can give this money to him.’
From the time I landed this morning, I’ve been seeking to fulfill my mission from the Rebbe. You are the first one to ‘plead guilty’ to making a wedding. Therefore I am positive that you are the one for whom the Rebbe intended this gift, according to his words.”
So thanks to the Rebbe, Rabbi Rottenberg was able to maintain his commitment to not accept loans, and in a most respectable, pleasant manner!
Source: Translated and supplemented by Yerachmiel Tilles from Geula #635.
Connection: Weekly reading-expenses (see Rashi on Gen 29:22)
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe [11 Nissan 5662 – 3 Tammuz 5754 (April 1902 – June 1994 C.E.)], became the seventh Rebbe of the Chabad dynasty after his father-in-law’s passing on 10 Shvat 5710 (1950 C.E.). 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.
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