A desperate lawyer. A daughter at death’s door. When crisis knocked, the Rebbe answered. The Avner Institute presents an excerpt from the diary of Berel Junik, who as a student over 60 years ago saw firsthand the Rebbe’s Divine help, with the stern lesson that the price of miracles is not measured in dollars, but mitzvoth.
November 1950:From the diary of Rabbi Berel Junik.
It was Maariv, Motzei Shabbos. The holiday season over, it was business as usual at 770 when the Sabbath Queen was being ushered out. Students and congregants alike looked forward to a week of study or the latest news.
In the middle of the service an elegant, well-dressed gentleman walked in. “Good evening,” he announced. “I’d like to see the Rebbe.”
He sounded like someone accustomed to giving orders and having them obeyed.
The yeshiva boys eyed him. “The Rebbe can’t see anyone right now,” one of them explained. “He’s in the middle of davening.”
The man suddenly wilted. “Oh please,” he cried, “can’t he see me? My daughter is very sick.”
Waving his hand, he promised $10,000 to whoever would heal his daughter.
“I’ve been to every Jewish leader in New York,” he continued, on the verge of tears. “They could do nothing. The Rebbe is my last hope.”
Softening with pity, the students steered him toward the Rebbe’s secretary, Rabbi Chodokov.
“You may see the Rebbe in his office after ma’ariv,” the Rabbi Chodokov said, “but I must ask his permission first.”
The service concluded, the Rebbe strode into his work place, where he was to devote many hours. Deferentially, the secretary approached him and explained the visitor’s predicament.
“I will receive him tomorrow morning,” the Rebbe replied.
Hearing this, the visitor cried, “Rebbe, please! My daughter’s condition is critical! Who knows what tomorrow might bring?”
Gently Rabbi Chodokov answered, “I’m sorry, but once the Rebbe says something, it is impossible to change his mind.”
The man was taken aback. As a prominent attorney, he was used to a world where money talked, backed by persuasion and guile. Yet not even $10,000 could sway the Rebbe. He was firm: it must wait till tomorrow.
The next morning the lawyer reappeared at 770.
“It was amazing,” he explained to the Rebbe. “I was told by the doctors that in a case like my daughter’s there could be two things: either she’d pull out of it or she’d deteriorate further. By now I thought she’d be in a coma.
“Yet, it was strange. Starting from the night before, her condition had not changed at all.”
The Rebbe replied, “You see that from heaven they are waiting for you, and it all depends on you. If you commit to three areas of Torah and mitzvoth like Shabbos observance, your daughter will recover.”
The man, who was not observant, tried to offer money instead, but the Rebbe remained silent.
“How about $20,000?” the man offered.
The Rebbe smiled. “I am just a shaliach, a messenger of G-d who is here to tell you how things really are. There is nothing to discuss since it does not depend on me.”
When the man stormed out, the Rebbe summoned his secretary. “Please leave word to all our schools and agencies that not one penny should be accepted by this gentleman. He should not think he could buy someone off.”
When word—and enough rejection—was brought to the gentleman, he humbly returned to the Rebbe.
“All right,” he said. “You win. What should I do?”
When he slowly took on observances, he received word that his daughter's life was no longer in danger. Soon a seed was planted.
As the man grew more involved in Jewish life, he began learning how to daven. It was slow and awkward, but the Rebbe, following his progress, told his students not to pressure him.
“Don’t do the entire service with him,” he explained to one of them, Berel Junik. “Don't rip the cord. And then to have him say the entire Tehillim as well? Way too much!”
A few weeks later, the Rebbe told Berel Junik, “You exhausted him today with the davening. Don't make it hard for him.”
When Berel explained that the man wanted to donate a Kiddush at 770 on Shabbos Mevorchim Teves (because he knew that Farbrengens took place only on Shabbos Mevorchim), the Rebbe commanded, “Don't let him. He’ll probably want to come with his family and friends, and it will be hard for them to come on foot. A shul near his home, maybe, he can make a Farbrengen there whenever he wants. The most convenient time is the Shabbos before 10 Kislev, which is close to 19 Kislev [holiday commemorating the release of the first Lubavitcher Rebbe from Russian prison]. Some yeshiva students should attend and use the opportunity to speak about Chassidus, our Rebbes, and Jewish education. Make sure there is a shul near his house or he will have the same problem.”
The Rebbe concluded, “He thinks that by making a Kiddush he fulfills his obligation, that all of Judaism rests on this.”
In the end, however, the Rebbe did allow the lawyer to donate a Kiddush at 770 and during the weekly Torah portion of Vayigash the Rebbe farbrenged.
Before a mass of followers the Rebbe discussed the difference between a son and a daughter in the service of G-d. “A son represents intellect and a daughter acceptance of mitzvoth.”
Turning to the lawyer, the Rebbe concluded, “Since G-d did a miracle and saved your daughter’s life, you need to serve Him unconditionally, with no calculations.”