Written by Rabbi Dovid Morris, Boulder, CO
I took my young daughter Rochel with me on Chanuka to receive a dollar from the Rebbe. It was a special occasion, and the Rebbe was standing in the main shul of “770”, downstairs, in front of the Aron Kodesh, and everybody passed by there, and then exited up the stairs and through the side exit out to Kingston Avenue (which still existed in those days). As they passed the Rebbe, everybody received a little square plastic packet from his holy hand containing 2 things – a folded up dollar bill, and a commemorative coin minted for the occasion.
As usual, there were many thousands of people on line. Each person passed by the Rebbe for just one second, receiving his packet as his eyes met the Rebbe’s for a fleeting, but powerful moment, and then quickly moved on as the next in line was already experiencing his “one second”.
Hardly anybody had the nerve to take up any more of the Rebbe’s time (he already would be standing there for many hours) by asking or saying anything. And, even if you tried, the secretaries who were concerned for the Rebbe, would hurry you along – sometimes in a somewhat forceful way. However, on very rare occasions, the Rebbe himself would initiate an extension to the normal split-second pass for various reasons.
I was holding Rochel in my left arm so she would approach the Rebbe first and so I could take my packet a second later with my right hand. When our turn came, the Rebbe gave Rochel a packet which she took in her little hand. But then, instead of turning immediately to me and giving me mine, he extended a second packet towards her while still looking at her with a very warm smile. He began playing a sort of game with her, moving the packet back and forth in front of her with a sort of fun mysterious expression as if to bate her to reach and take it from him. I was watching with great interest wondering why she was receiving this special attention from the Rebbe, but joyful in the obvious nachas the Rebbe had from her. Rochel for her part was just staring back at the Rebbe, but not moving. She didn’t take the extra packet and just seemed mesmerized by the Rebbe’s actions.
This went on for about another two seconds – an eternity – and then Rabbi Groner, the Rebbe’s secretary, gave me a firm push and said: “Nu, what are you waiting for”? “Why are you making the Rebbe wait”? “What do you think”? “That is your packet, take it already and move on.”
Until then, I was positive that this was a case of the Rebbe giving an extra “dose” to somebody (in this case, my daughter) for whatever reason.
He was still looking at Rochel the whole time. The Rebbe always gave a minimum of one quick look, albeit like an x-ray, deep into everyone’s soul through his eyes. If he hadn’t turned to me yet for, at least, that one moment’s look, and if he wasn’t offering the packet directly to me, how could this be my turn and my packet? It must be a second one for Rochel. But, since rabbi Groner was so upset (knowing that the Rebbe was standing and giving for hours on end, he always tried to keep the line moving without any extra delay), I hesitated in doubt. But since he insisted so strongly, my concern over the possibilities then hit me:
Maybe I was indeed holding up the Rebbe? Maybe that packet was indeed intended for me? And the explanation of why the Rebbe wasn’t looking at me (or, therefore, directing the packet towards me) was perhaps simply because my spiritual state, which was impossible to hide from him, made me a distant second choice as compared to my little cute “chevel sh’ein bo chet” (one devoid of sin). And, I certainly don’t want to continue holding up the Rebbe and everybody else. Oh yes, that must be it, and I reached all the way across and took that packet right out from the Rebbe’s hand as he was still interacting with Rochel.
Well, of course, the Rebbe turned to me immediately with a surprised and disappointed expression. I think he shut his lips a bit together and slightly rocked his head in dissatisfaction. It was enough to make your heart drop to the floor. Now I knew that I had originally been correct, and that rabbi Groner, despite his good intentions, had it all wrong. Of course, the Rebbe was giving Rochela a second packet as he sometimes would do, and my turn had not yet come. But too late, by now I was already pushed two people/turns past the Rebbe.
What had I done?! Not only had I interfered with the will of the Rebbe MH”M, not only had I grabbed something out of his hand as if in total disrespect, G-d forbid, but I had actually ruined his intention and altered the outcome. Even worse than my guilt was the concern over what damage I had done. Frankly, I wouldn’t bother to come to the Rebbe at all, and he wouldn’t be a true Rebbe, if I didn’t believe that G-d Almighty gave him the vision to see the underlying truth. He was surely aware of the truth of the inner dynamics. Of course, he knew that my intentions were pure, and that there was simply a mix up. But, why did my daughter need an extra dose from the Rebbe? What would be now that she had not received it? What was the status of the packet I held in my hand? Was it mine? Or, more likely, was it Rochel’s, since the Rebbe had evidently intended it for her, and did it need to be given to her now? But, in the end he didn’t get to give it to her. But he didn’t give it to me either – I took it, “unauthorized”. Everything was messed up. It seemed that I didn’t really get one – upsetting but tolerable. But much worse, Rochel was robbed of one that the Rebbe wanted to give her, and that she maybe really needed. What should I do? I felt about as badly as I ever had before in my whole life. I can’t describe the sick feeling of deep concern and helplessness that I suffered over the next thirty seconds as I made my way out to the much quieter Kingston Avenue.
What happened next astonishes me to this day. Immediately after we exited the building, each one holding a packet, I hadn’t taken more than two steps onto the sidewalk when I heard a clinking sound at my feet. I looked down and saw a folded dollar and a coin right at my feet on the sidewalk (without a packet). Nobody was within thirty feet of us on either side, and the next people after us in line were just exiting the building behind us. So, obviously, I reasoned, these two items (one set) must have fallen out of one of our packets. I immediately looked at Rochel’s packet as I asked her if her items had fallen out – she was probably too young to hold it carefully upright the whole time, I figured. But sure enough, her packet was still full. So, I quickly looked at mine, as the only other possibility. But mine was also intact! It must be someone else’s I thought. But how could this be? This only took a couple of seconds. The people who had exited after us had turned to the opposite direction behind us, not in front where the items were. Only now did people already on the street start to come close to us from the front side. I asked them as they approached if perhaps, they had dropped theirs. They immediately checked with concern but acknowledged that they indeed had theirs. How ridiculous. It could not have been theirs; they were just now coming near this spot. But it is human nature to first stretch the possibilities of what is within the general realm of your understanding (natural), even if somewhat absurd, before you begin to accept that which is completely above your understanding.
This was undeniable, and thankfully so. The additional set had simply materialized before our eyes – “fallen from heaven”. I was overcome with relief and joy as I turned to Rochel and handed her the 2 items, telling her confidently that they were from the Rebbe to her. A tzadik’s will is so completely nullified to G-d’s, that it is like one and the same. The Torah states: “The tzadik decrees, and the Holy One Blessed Be He fulfills”. The second one the Rebbe had intended to give her, somehow got to her within about thirty seconds!
I still wasn’t sure if the one I held in my hand was really mine since the Rebbe hadn’t actually given it to me, but that was less important. At least Rochel’s second one was no longer missing or in doubt.
Now, as amazing as that is, it is still not the end of the story. The final shock came sometime later. I took Rochel’s packet, which now contained a double portion (2 dollars and 2 coins), together with “my” packet with its single portion, put them into a special large envelope containing many such precious things, and put it into a special locked drawer for safe keeping. Till today, it still contains all the other Rebbe dollars and letters, for example, received from him starting from forty-two years ago. But, those packets from that Chanuka were unique among the treasures.
After some time (I don’t recall exactly how long), I told over this miracle again to Rochel and reminded her of the whole phenomenon. She remembered somewhat and had a desire to see and touch her miracle again. So, I agreed, and we went together to my special locked drawer and opened the special envelope to reminisce. There was little Rochel’s packet with the two dollars and two coins inside. But, to both of our shock, although “my” packet was also there, it was empty! The contents had just disappeared into thin air. I regret having missed my turn on that Chanuka, but was finally at peace, accepting wholeheartedly the ruling of the Heavenly Court, and thankful for the help in returning what didn’t belong to me.