• Hard Hat Miracles

    31 years ago, the Rebbe announced 5749 as Shnas HaBinyan — “the year of building.” Beis Moshiach went out to the construction sites of 1989 to hear about the $100 checks from the Rebbe, Crown Heights’s new neighborhood, the Rebbe’s check that bounced, and the mechanic who began to walk after drinking a bottle of the Rebbe’s Mashke… • By Beis Moshiach Magazine • Full Article

    Avraham Rainitz, Beis Moshiach

    When R’ Menachem Shagalov came across the kuntrus published last year with the sichos of parashas Noach 5749, he was excited when he read the following paragraph:

    “This is also connected with what was said lately, that now is the time to build, and for efforts in building new houses, that everyone should try to build houses. If this is said regarding optional construction (private homes of individuals), who do so with extra effort and much energy, all the more so with building holy things, battei Torah, battei tefilla and battei tzedaka u’gemilus chassadim, as well as building new Jewish neighborhoods and even cities. I have received the good news and joyous tidings that they started building a new neighborhood here in the neighborhood of Nasi Doreinu. Fortunate is the lot of the builders and surely they will do so with even greater speed. May they continue to build another neighborhood and many neighborhoods until they become a big city. Many people should observe them and do likewise, so that this will extend to every single place, around the entire world and even to distant places.”

    As though decades hadn’t passed since that farbrengen, the Rebbe’s words echoed in his ears and he was reminded how happy he was to give the Rebbe nachas and how excited he was when, at the end of the sicha, he went over to the Rebbe and received a bottle of mashke for the building of a new neighborhood.

    USING THE LAST DAYS OF 5748

    The inspiration for building new homes began at the end of 5748. The Rebbe began talking about it on Shabbos parashas Shoftim and suggested that “by way of preparing for the new year, they should start everywhere (or at least make the decision) to build new buildings, houses of Torah, houses of prayer, houses of acts of kindness, or all of them or all of them together.” Toward the end of the farbrengen, the Rebbe repeated this and asked that those who were planning to hold events in connection with building new buildings and Battei Chabad, should come up and announce it.
    Then days later, on 17 Elul 5748, there was the cornerstone-laying ceremony to expand 770, which served as the opening of the Shnas Ha’Binyan. Two days later, on Thursday, 19 Elul, the Rebbe delivered special sichos in the course of which he announced the new campaign to build homes:

    “It would be extremely proper to become involved in building new homes through fully utilizing everything that is possible to build and that needs to be built; because Hashem gives the ability to build, that itself is a sign and proof that we need to build.”

    The Rebbe wanted to spur on the Chassidim and said they needed to “grab” the auspicious time of 5748 and make good resolutions and start building before the year ended. Likewise, the Rebbe said he did not mean only public service buildings; rather, the chiddush was about “building private homes, buildings that were optional.”

    The Rebbe said the same in a sicha after the ceremony, which he edited. In the sicha, the Rebbe emphasized that laying the cornerstone for 770 served as an opening of a path and empowerment for all Jews everywhere, to build new buildings. The Rebbe stressed that he meant to buy and build new buildings and not just renovate existing ones. To those who did not have the financial wherewithal to build on his own, the Rebbe suggested they partner with others and build. The Rebbe said he also referred to women who have more binah as far as construction and arranging rooms. He concluded that all this was to prepare for the complete Geula and the third Beis Ha’Mikdash.

    MIRACLES AND WONDERS IN BUILDING

    Anash and shluchim the world over were inspired and many informed the Rebbe of their commitment to start building homes and mosdos. The Rebbe showered brachos on those who built and there were many stories among Anash and the shluchim about miracles they experienced while they built.

    For example, in Netanya, they began building the central Chabad House there. It was a very large building by the standards of that time and the high cost placed them in financial difficulties. When the shliach there, Rabbi Menachem Volpe, asked the Rebbe for brachos, he was answered, “Surely they heard what was said lately about construction; I will mention it at the tziyun.” Within a short time, the situation stabilized and the construction continued at a rapid pace.

    Half a year later, on 14 Adar I 5749, when the representative of Agudath Israel in the Netanya municipality, R’ Shimon Sher, went to the Rebbe for dollars, he told the Rebbe about the help they were giving in building the Chabad House. The Rebbe asked, “When will the building be finished?”

    R’ Sher said with a smile, “We hope after the chagim.”

    The Rebbe said, “I see that you are smiling and that means you are pleased. Tell them that if they want me to be pleased, they should finish construction and hold the chanukas ha’bayis before 15 Av!” And he gave a dollar for the Chabad House in Netanya to be successful in this.

    Upon returning home, he relayed to R’ Volpe what the Rebbe said. Although it seemed impossible, for at that time, there was only the skeleton of the building, and of course, the money problem, since the Rebbe had said what he said, all of Anash organized and helped the workers as a second shift of construction until they finished the building. The chanukas ha’bayis took place on 14 Av. Shortly before the opening ceremony, they received a long, special bracha from the Rebbe: “May all the matters be in a good and successful time and in all details and in all matters, always all of the days.”

    THE REBBE ANNOUNCED SHNAS HA’BINYAN

    The official announcement of 5749 as Shnas Ha’Binyan occurred on 8 Tishrei 5749. In a yechidus for a group of friends of Lubavitch, the Rebbe addressed these wealthy men and said, “At every start of the year we look for direction and a new goal, since at the start of the year we receive new kochos and there is energy and excitement to start doing new things.

    “Therefore, I allow myself, as an old friend, who has met with you many times, to suggest a special plan for work for this year in the hopes that you will carry it out with complete perfection. And then you will prove that I am not an ‘old friend’ but a ‘young friend’ with young ideas and suggestions (especially as I am not as old as it says in my passport).

    “The suggestion is that this year be called Shnas Ha’Binyan, a year in which the best of energy and strength will be devoted to acquiring new buildings and especially acquiring buildings for Jewish matters, spreading Judaism and spreading the wellsprings outward, houses of Torah, avoda, and gemilus chassadim, Chabad Houses, etc.

    “Furthermore, the building that is bought (or built) needs to be larger than the current need, even though rooms will remain empty because by doing this, when a successful businessman enters and sees they are not in use, he will look for ways to add in the work, so that even these rooms will used.

    “This does not mean to build new buildings for that takes a long time and it is possible to buy existing buildings. And for those who have buildings but they are rented, they should buy them because then people will relate with more respect and more seriousness to their activities.”

    THE REBBE: YOU WILL EARN MORE THAN YOU THINK

    R’ Menachem Shagalov was a young man who had started working in real estate the year before when he brokered a land deal at the edge of Crown Heights (at that time), near the police station. One Sunday, he went for dollars with the contractor who wanted to buy the property, R’ Asher Scharf, and he asked for the Rebbe’s bracha. The Rebbe seemed to know the contractor and with a big smile he said: Since you have a big reputation, build expansively!

    A short time before the closing on the contract to buy the property, on Simchas Torah 5748, which was a Friday, there was a big drop in the American stock market, later called “Black Friday.” At that point, this deal hit a dead end and was delayed for another year. In the meantime, thanks to the contractor’s visit with the Rebbe, the members of the Vaad Hakahal found out that Shagalov was in real estate. They informed him that there was a property for sale on the corner of Lefferts and Troy. They asked him to get involved in order to help build up Crown Heights.

    “I spoke to R’ Asher Scharf,” said R’ Shagalov, “and he said to me that if I got five contracts with people who committed to buying the apartments, he was willing to invest in it. When I told my friend R’ Shabsi Gordon, he suggested that we buy the place and invest in it together. We asked the Rebbe for a bracha at dollars and the Rebbe said with a big smile, ‘You will be successful in this, far more than you think.’

    “Before we entered into the deal we prepared a business plan for the bank and wrote the projected earnings. After we finished the project, the bank collapsed and we were able to negotiate a settlement that left us with a far greater profit than we had planned on getting. Until today, I remember the letter that I wrote to the Rebbe at that time, in which I asked for the Rebbe’s bracha that I succeed in negotiating a deal with the bank for a certain sum which was very low. In the end, the agreement was signed for precisely the amount I had asked of the Rebbe!” R’ Shagalov concluded with astonishment.

    On 18 Elul 5748, just one day after the cornerstone ceremony to expand 770, there was a groundbreaking ceremony for the housing development on the corner of Lefferts and Troy. These were 27 apartments and the Rebbe was very pleased to hear about the construction and he mentioned it on Shabbos parashas Noach when he said, “that there arrived the good news and the gladdening tidings that they have begun to build a new neighborhood here in the shechuna of Nasi Doreinu.”

    THE REBBE VISITED THE CONSTRUCTION SITE ON HIS WAY TO THE OHEL

    When I spoke with R’ Menachem, he told me about miracles and wonders that he saw in the course of the construction:

    “Since the Rebbe spoke so strongly about building, I wanted to give the Rebbe nachas and every time there was progress in the construction, I brought one of the people involved for dollars, with the good news for the Rebbe. I once brought the contractor and another time I brought the architect. I also brought the electrician and the plumber…

    “When I brought the contractor, the Rebbe said to him that he should build as quickly as possible. When he said, ‘If Hashem helps,’ the Rebbe said with a smile, ‘Hashem already helped you; you just need to actualize it.’ Indeed, the construction progressed miraculously. We began on 18 Elul and a year later, 18 Elul 5749, it was all ready! When you build, there can be many delays starting with the weather and ending with the supervisors who decide to stop the construction for a thorough inspection. Boruch Hashem, throughout that year there wasn’t even one day in which the weather interfered with the work. And I also saw outstanding divine providence in that every time the supervisors came, I was there, and it all worked out well.

    “Toward the end of the construction, I went to the Rebbe with the contractor again and he invited the Rebbe to visit and see the buildings that were proceeding under construction, with his own eyes. The Rebbe was pleased with the invitation and told the contractor to give the secretary the exact address. That same day, after dollars, the Rebbe went to the Ohel and on his way there, he asked to travel past some building sites in Crown Heights. First, the Rebbe drove down Brooklyn Avenue to Lefferts, where they had begun building the (then) new Beis Rifka building. From there, the Rebbe went to the corner of Lefferts and Troy and looked for a while at the buildings that I built there. Then, the Rebbe went to see the building of the Lubavitcher Yeshiva on the corner of Albany and Crown Street and then he again passed my building project, going from there to the Ohel.”

    Following the project on the corner of Lefferts and Troy, R’ Menachem bought another building on Kingston Avenue, past the bank. But in those days, the streets on the other side of Eastern Parkway were considered beyond the border of the neighborhood and some older Chassidim yelled at him for investing his money outside the community.

    100 DOLLARS FROM THE NASI HADOR

    As the Shnas Ha’Binyan was drawing to a close, in the month of Tammuz 5749, the Rebbe once again a roused an unusual storm regarding the topic of building. This was when he announced on Shabbos Parashas Korach that “as participation of Nasi Doreinu in this, the amount of 100 dollars (and in other countries the equivalent of this amount) would be given, with Hashem’s help, to whoever informs of his activities in the construction of buildings of Torah and chinuch institutions and the like. And also about the construction of buildings that are seemingly private (or the adding of a room and the like), on condition that in this new place (house or room) it will be noticeable in actual practice that this is a place of Torah, tefilla and tzedaka.”

    The Rebbe added that “for the sake of order, it would be worthwhile that they inform about this on a separate note (not to mix it with other matters even the most positive), and to write on the note the word ‘binyan’ or the letter ‘beis,’ in order to know that it is connected with this matter.” He also said that they should “give part of the 100 dollars to tzedaka and the rest as a participation in the building.”

    This extraordinary financial participation also brought in its wake many miracle stories. During that period, R’ Menachem Shagalov was involved in four different construction projects, and therefore received four checks of 100 dollars each. At the time, he had two special bank accounts for the first two projects, but since he wanted the blessing of the Rebbe to be present in each project separately, he opened another two separate accounts and deposited one check in each account. He later saw the special blessing in the new accounts that he had opened, when the bank crashed and each account was awarded large amounts in the settlement.

    The elder rabbi and mekubal of the Tunisian community who lives in Yerushalayim, Rav Don Mordechai Cohen, shared a fascinating story related to this:

    For many years, we dreamed of living in Yerushalayim, but it was only in 5747 after we married off our children that we merited to realize the dream of our lives. We moved into a rental apartment in one of the neighborhoods of Yerushalayim, but the high rent ate up all of our savings and we did not know what to do. When we heard about the announcement of the Rebbe in connection with Shnas Ha’Binyan and his special bracha for the purchase of homes, we decided to jump into the water, and take the step that we never dared to do. With the kindnesses of Hashem and open miracles, we merited to purchase an apartment in Yerushalayim.

    Obviously, we informed the Rebbe about this, and to our surprise we received two checks of 100 dollars instead of one. That year, my daughter traveled to the Rebbe, and we asked her to go into the secretariat of the Rebbe and return the second check that was sent in error. She met with R’ Binyamin Klein, who refused to take the check back, saying: With the Rebbe, there are no mistakes!

    And so it was that not long afterward the Ministry of Housing announced that the area was eligible for renovations as part of the project of “neighborhood renewal.” Without any planning on our part, the city government renovated our home for us, and even expanded the apartment for us. Only then did we understand why the Rebbe had sent two checks!

    $100 DOLLARS TO EVERY DONOR!

    Aside from the distribution of $100 checks, there was one mosad which was privileged to receive special and extremely rare treatment; that was the Sinai school in Paris. This is what Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Pevsner, dean, told Beis Moshiach:

    “In the Shnas Ha’Binyan, when the Rebbe encouraged building Chabad Houses and private homes, it was decided in our mosdos to build a spacious campus that would include all our schools in which thousands of children are educated. We quickly began with the plans and a small model was given to the Rebbe. This model, and the models of the two campuses that were eventually built, are prominently on display in the Rebbe’s library.

    “The Rebbe’s response to the building of the campus was extraordinary. We received instructions and blessings all the way through and more than that, the Rebbe participated with a large sum toward the cost of the construction. In Shnas Ha’Binyan, the Rebbe announced that whoever built a private or public building would get $100 from the Machne Israel fund. In Tammuz, I was in New York and I got a message from the secretary, Rabbi Groner, that the Rebbe would give $100 to whoever donated toward the building in Paris!

    “In a followup communication the Rebbe set the guidelines that only someone who would donate up until Rosh Hashana would get $100. We set a minimum initial donation of $5000 and the donations came in nonstop. Erev Rosh Hashana, the last day for donations, there was a line at my father’s door since he was the one who gave out the checks for $100 that the Rebbe sent.

    “The Rebbe’s special donation made its impact and to our great surprise we were able to raise huge sums that covered 80% of the costs of construction. The rest we got through bank loans.

    “In Elul, I went to the Rebbe to give a report about the tremendous fundraising success and to announce the start of the new school year. At dollars, my brother Avrohom Boruch went by shortly before I did and he gave a sefer to the Rebbe. When it was my turn, the Rebbe asked his secretary R’ Groner, ‘This is also a son of R’ Hillel?’ R’ Groner said yes and the Rebbe raised his hands and said, ‘He is building Sinai there.’

    “I told the Rebbe that I had come to tell him that we were starting the new school year and would soon have a hachnosas Sefer Torah. The Rebbe said in surprise, ‘Debts still remain …’ I was at a complete loss. Taking a loan with easy payment terms to cover 20% of the costs of building is not considered serious debt but the Rebbe said so and I remained silent.

    “The Rebbe said, ‘I am giving you another dollar for the debts.’ Actually, at that time, there weren’t big debts but in the end, the debts piled up and the Rebbe’s dollar brought astounding brachos.”
    We will conclude this sampling of stories with the poignant story of Rabbi Yosef Yashar, chief rabbi of Akko:

    On Shavuos 5749, he and the secretary of the religious council of Akko visited the Rebbe. At “kos shel bracha,” when Yom Tov was over, the Rebbe gave them a bottle of mashke and said, “This is for Shnas Ha’Binyan.” Indeed, a short while after they returned to Eretz Yisrael, they had the opportunity of buying a plot of land in partnership and they built their homes on it, as per the Rebbe’s bracha for Shnas Ha’Binyan.

    When R’ Yashar moved, he took some of his smaller possessions in a car, including the bottle. The mashke that he got from the Rebbe he had reserved for a chanukas ha’bayis. On the road, a problem developed with the car and it was taken to a mechanic. After a few days, when he went to get his car, he saw that the mechanic, who had recently been suffering from some paralysis in his leg, was walking just fine.

    When R’ Yashar got home and took out the bottle of mashke, he saw that only a few drops were left. He immediately connected this with the sudden recovery of the mechanic. He called the man and asked whether he had touched his bottle and when he had done so. The mechanic said he saw the bottle of mashke in the car and drank from it. A day afterward, he recovered and since then, he has been walking like nothing was ever wrong with his leg.

    *

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