By Baila Brikman, Beis Moshiach
“Everyone must exit the plane!” the pilot’s voice crackled through the loudspeaker.
Rabbi Yossi Denberg looked around in confusion. “What’s going on?”
“Mechanical issues,” a nearby steward explained. “We’ll have a bit of a delay.”
Rabbi Denberg sighed and gathered his things. There were no direct flights from Florida to Ohio, so he had chosen a flight with a short stopover in Nashville, planning to remain on the plane while passengers got off and on.
He joined the crowd heading toward the terminal and settled in a chair. It must be hashgacha pratis that I’m here, he thought, removing a thick folder from his bag. I’ll read a story of the Rebbeim to elevate my surroundings. He rifled through the stories he had prepared for his flight and picked one to read:
In a conversation with Reb Zalman Posner, the Frierdiker Rebbe pointed upward. “In Shomayim, it is warm and full of the light of Torah.” He pointed downward. “Down here, it is cold and dark.”
Reb Zalman understood. “Rebbe,” he asked. “Which place should I make warm and bright?”
“Nashville,” the Frierdiker Rebbe replied.
“Nashville?!” Rabbi Denberg stood up abruptly. “That’s exactly where I am! I must have a shlichus here!”
He paced the floor excitedly. What could he do to make Nashville warm and bright? He had only a short time until his flight!
Suddenly, an idea popped into his head. It was time to daven maariv! He donned his gartel, checked which direction was mizrach, and ran to the center of the quiet terminal. In his loudest voice possible, Rabbi Denberg shouted, “Who knows the way to Jerusalem?”
Everyone stopped what they were doing and stared at him. “That way!” someone shouted. “No, that way!” another chimed in. I’ll bet that those who are avoiding my gaze are Jewish, Rabbi Denberg thought.
“Who knows why I need to know the way to Jerusalem?” Rabbi Denberg called out. He gestured to everyone to come closer and told them about davening to Hashem. “Who wants to pray?” he asked the crowd. A few people raised their hands. “Fantastic! We’ll say six words in Hebrew and six in English.”
Rabbi Denberg said Shema with them and continued to daven maariv on his own. Fully aware of his shlichus to make Nashville warm and bright, he davened with a lot of kavanah.
After davening, Rabbi Denberg once again stood in the center of the terminal. Nothing else was happening, so he had everyone’s full attention. “Who wants to know why Jerusalem is called Jerusalem?” He asked, launching into a shiur in Chassidus.
As he spoke, Rabbi Denberg scanned the crowd. Jews and non-Jews alike listened in fascination, but one very Jewish-looking man stood off to the side. When their eyes met, the man looked away.
When he finished his spontaneous shiur, Rabbi Denberg approached him. “What’s the matter, Reb Yid?”
“Oh, it’s nothing,” the man replied, clearly uncomfortable. “It’s just that… you remind me of my rabbi in Ohio.”
He must be talking about the shliach who’s picking me up at the airport, Rabbi Denberg realized. “You’re in luck!” He grinned. “Your rabbi will be there to greet us when we land!”
The man slowly shook his head. “Not a chance, Rabbi. I haven’t seen him in years.”
Sure enough, when they landed in Ohio a few hours later, the shliach was waiting to pick up Rabbi Denberg. When he spotted this man, he immediately ran over to greet him.
The man was shocked. Rabbi Denberg’s words had come true! After a meaningful conversation with the shliach, he resolved to do more mitzvos and stay in touch. “You know, Rabbi,” he said thoughtfully. “I’m not sure why I ever stopped going to shul. I’ll come this week!”
With a bounce in his step, Rabbi Denberg left the airport. Indeed, with the passion of a true Chassid, he had made Nashville warm and bright. The Frierdiker Rebbe’s shlichus was fulfilled for the second time.
When Rabbi Denberg’s time in Ohio was over, he once again found himself in the airport. It was barely morning, and his eyelids kept closing. All he wanted was some rest.
Rabbi Denberg paced the terminal, fighting his urge to settle in the chairs around him. Stay awake, he commanded himself. Stay awake, or you’ll miss your flight!
After what seemed like forever, Rabbi Denberg boarded his flight. He made himself comfortable in his seat and was about to drift off…
“A Rabbi, huh?”
Rabbi Denberg’s eyes flew open. He nodded briefly to the passenger near him and closed them again.
The man did not get the hint.
“So Rabbi, do you believe in idols?”
Seriously? I had to sit near a priest? I’m too tired for this! “No.” Rabbi Denberg said shortly. He laid his head back down, making it obvious that he wanted to sleep.
It was no use. The priest peppered him with questions, leaving Rabbi Denberg no choice but to stifle his yawns and respond. After a while, when Rabbi Denberg had reached his limit, a thought popped into his head. Hashem must have made him sit next to me for a reason.
His eyes opened wide. “Hey, I’ll bet you’re Jewish!”
“Nah,” said the priest. “But my grandmother was!”
“Let me guess. Your mother’s mother, right?”
“How did you—”
Rabbi Denberg smiled widely and burst into song. “Heveinu shalom aleichem!” he sang loudly, becoming the center of attention once again. “You’re as Jewish as I am! Let’s put on tefillin!”
Although he was stunned, the priest held his ground. “Na, Rabbi, those things are not for me.”
Unsuccessfully, Rabbi Denberg tried convincing the priest to put on tefillin. “Put on the teflon!” other passengers called out, but to no avail. He simply wouldn’t hear of it.
After a while, Rabbi Denberg held up his hands in defeat. “Would you say just six words with me?” He asked the priest wearily. The priest agreed, and Rabbi Denberg recited Shema with him.
Moments later, the plane began its descent. The priest packed his bags, ready to escape as fast as he could. When the priest hastily made his exit, Rabbi Denberg couldn’t help but feel like a failure. After all his efforts, the Jewish priest hadn’t put on tefillin! What a waste of time!
“Excuse me,” a voice jolted him from his thoughts. A middle-aged man stood before him. “I heard everything you said before, and I would like to put on tefillin.”
Rabbi Denberg could have danced for joy. “I haven’t put on tefillin since my bar mitzva,” the man continued. “Your words really inspired me.” He rolled up his sleeve and allowed Rabbi Denberg to wrap the tefillin around his arm. He repeated the words of Shema after Rabbi Denberg and started to cry. “Thank you,” he said simply.
My message wasn’t for the priest, Rabbi Denberg realized. Hashem wanted the Jewish man behind me to hear it!
Rabbi Denberg returned to his home in Florida, the sight of the man’s tears etched permanently in his mind.
To this day, whenever he attends a Bar Mitzvah, Rabbi Denberg shares this story. “May it be Hashem’s will that you put on tefillin like the man on the plane,” he benches the bar mitzvah boy. “May you do mitzvos with a passion that will shake the heavens and bring Moshiach now!”
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