Menachem Ziegelbaum, Beis Moshiach
He was a gvir (rich) and generous. He was a Chassid and he was a major disseminator of the Rebbe’s teachings. Rabbi Meir Zajac (pronounced Zionce) passed away on erev Shabbos parshas Bamidbar, 3 Sivan, at the age of 89.
He was born in 5692/1932 in Poland. His parents were Rabbi and Mrs. Simcha Yitzchok and Chava Necha Zajac. His family moved to Brazil when Meir was young as advised by the Rebbe Rayatz who was in Poland at the time. The Rebbe said to his father, “Simcha, there is no future for Jews in Poland.” He advised going to Brazil and starting up a shechita system and strengthening Judaism.
At the age of fifteen, Meir and his brother Mordechai went from S. Paulo to New York to learn in Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim. He had yechidus several times with the Rebbe Rayatz and with the Rebbe. He merited astonishing kiruvim from the Rebbe who often spoke with him, concerned himself with his learning and was involved in his shidduch search.
“From my youth, I had the great and intense zechus to cleave to the tree of life, to recline in his shadow and to receive detailed, personal guidance from him. I don’t know why I merited this but the fact is that the Rebbe told me that I could come in to see him whenever I wanted,” he wrote in his memoirs.
R’ Meir married Zissel Brawer in 5714, a family that was very close with the Satmar Rebbe, the “Va’yoel Moshe.”
Once, while in yechidus, the Rebbe asked him what he planned on doing in life. R’ Meir said he wanted to live in the United States. The Rebbe told him, “You need to return to Brazil and your place is in Brazil.” Three months after he married, he returned to live near his father in Brazil. He began doing business and was very successful.
Even after he returned to South America, whenever he had a question concerning business, he would send it to the Rebbe who guided him at every step. Thanks to this, he enjoyed great blessing in his business.
“I consider it a great zechus that I was at the Rebbe so many times. Starting from the beginning, after I married, whenever I had a question I would get on a plane and go to the Rebbe.
“The Rebbe on his end received me with affection and even once received me in yechidus saying, ‘Meir’ke, shalom aleichem!’ But from my part, although I was used to going into the Rebbe, my entering was always with awe. I often trembled as I stood facing the Rebbe in yechidus. My legs literally shook. The very sense that you are standing facing the Rebbe, knowing that the Rebbe sees through you and knows what is happening with you, inspires awe and fear.”
THE REBBE’S BUSINESS ADVICE
In R’ Meir’s memoir, Chaim shel Bracha, he wrote that at first he helped his father in various business ventures. After a while, his wife advised him to undertake his own business.
“I asked the Rebbe whether I should start my own business and the Rebbe gave me his bracha. That is how I opened my factory.
“In general, I asked the Rebbe about every question that arose and the Rebbe always gave me his blessings. Once I started my own business, I never lacked credit. Wherever I went, all doors opened for me. The truth is that this does not surprise me at all. After receiving so many brachos from the Rebbe for success in my business, it was clear to me that that is how it would be.
“At first, we tried to launch a line of shirts that my wife designed in the basement of our home but it wasn’t successful. Then my wife suggested that we start manufacturing women’s clothing, something she understood and I agreed.
“I rented a garage across the street from where we lived and bought many sewing machines from the Pan-Americano company and began manufacturing clothing.
“At first, the garage space was small which is why every day we manufactured clothes we had to take them out that same night so that the next day there would be room to continue sewing. What did I do? I got on a plane and flew to Rio since the clothing business was very successful in Rio. I went to the shopping center Alfandega which was in the Avenida Passos neighborhood and rented a store and began selling my merchandise. I put them in the shop windows and began selling a lot of merchandise. Boruch Hashem, we began seeing very great success. Whatever we manufactured during the day, we sent at night to sell in Rio.
“One day in 5718, someone I knew who worked for the Brazilian government made me an enticing offer. He said: I have an empty lot in the industrial area of Alves Guimaraes. I see that your business is growing very quickly. I am willing to build for you a spacious building which will contain your business if you commit to renting the building from me. I said: It’s a done deal. We discussed the details and construction began.
“The area of the hall that I rented from him was 200 square meters (2153 feet) and I began working on a much larger scale there. In the new space I was able to set up many more machines and so, boruch Hashem, matters continued improving and were more successful.”
DON’T START UP WITH SHABBOS
In 5738, I wanted to start manufacturing fabric with nylon threads but it was hard for me to obtain these nylon threads. I would sometimes travel on business to the industrial city Fortaleza in north-eastern Brazil. My rep there, Mr. Jacques Morales was a very good man. He was very friendly with the local governor, literally a member of the household, and was also a good friend of the governor’s brother-in-law who was the president of the Brazilian Congress.
“He once offered to introduce me to them. I agreed and we went together to visit the governor in his home. After some time, the governor invited me for a meeting and said, ‘I have a good business for you.’ He said that since it was hard to obtain nylon thread in Brazil, what if, together, we made a factory to manufacture nylon thread? He suggested that I set up a factory for nylon thread which would be run by three partners, me, the governor and his brother-in-law. The governor promised that he would get a loan from the government for me for thirty million dollars as the initial investment and suggested that each of us would get ten million.
“I said I would look into it. I immediately began preparing the paperwork and worked on formulating the plans and when everything was ready, I said to the governor and his brother-in-law, ‘Listen, friends. Before I close a deal with you, I must consult with my rabbi.’ They were surprised and said: How does your rabbi have any knowledge in this field? I told them: The Rebbe understands all fields. I explained that I don’t make any significant decision in life, certainly not big business deals, without him.
“On motzoei Shabbos, I wrote a long letter to the Rebbe, ten pages long, in which I enumerated every detail of the new plan which looked very promising. I wrote that it was all legal, all according to dinei Torah, and that the partners were sincere and serious and I didn’t see any problem with the deal.
“On Sunday, I flew to New York and gave the letter to the secretary, R’ Leibel Groner for him to give to the Rebbe. I asked him to let me see the Rebbe that same night. That was a yechidus night. R’ Leibel said I could go in.
“I went in to the Rebbe late at night and the Rebbe began asking me all sorts of questions about what was going on in Brazil and did not say a word about what I had written in the letter. At the end, the Rebbe extended a number of good wishes to me and blessed me with a good trip and good news. I remained standing there, stunned. The Rebbe said, ‘Meir, I already gave you a bracha. What else do you want?’
“I said: Rebbe, I wrote a long letter with all the details of a big business offer in partnership with two very prominent businessmen and the Rebbe did not mention this at all!
“The Rebbe said, ‘Meir, it’s not for you.’
“I was taken aback and I asked, ‘Perhaps the Rebbe can explain why it is not worth it for me to set up this factory when I can get a loan for ten million dollars from the government as participation in my investment?’
“The Rebbe responded briefly, ‘Meir, you wrote that the factory will operate on Shabbosos.’
“The truth is that I had written that the factory must work twenty-fours a day, seven days a week, and could not stop for a moment because when manufacturing nylon threads you can never stop the machines. But I thought that the partnership with goyim provided a halachic reason to operate the factory on Shabbos. I told the Rebbe that I had looked into the matter with rabbanim and was told it was kosher according to halacha as explained in Shulchan Aruch Admor HaZakein Hilchos Shabbos.
“But the Rebbe said again, ‘Meir, it’s not for you,’ and blessed me again.
“I stood there, thunderstruck, and the Rebbe said a third time, ‘Meir, don’t start up with Shabbos.’
“Hearing this, I said: fine.
“When I returned to Brazil I went to Fortaleza to meet with the governor and the president of Congress. I told them: Forgive me but my rabbi does not allow me to set up this factory because of religious reasons, Shabbos desecration.
“They were sorry to hear my decision but since they liked me a lot, they accepted what I said and told me: If it is forbidden for religious reasons, we won’t pressure you.
“And that is how it ended.”
“MEIR, DON’T WORRY”
I would often write to the Rebbe about the stiff competition I had with competing companies and the Rebbe would bless me that I should have great success. The Rebbe once said to me, “Meir, don’t worry. You will have greater success than them and in the end, they will close their business.” The Rebbe’s blessing came true in an amazing way because the Italians sold me the threads at a cheaper price and I was able to manufacture cheaply and sell at a lower price.
Once they announced that there would be a tough audit crackdown by the Brazilian tax authorities and I knew they would come to me too. I was very afraid. When I went to the Rebbe for Rosh Hashana, I went over to him at the farbrengen and asked for a bracha for this.
The Rebbe said, “Go to Rabbi Chodakov, give him tzedaka, as much as he asks for, and it will all be fine.”
I went to R’ Chodakov and he did not ask me for a lot, just $5000. I gave him the donation and everything worked out just fine. They checked every business without exception and I was the only one to whom they miraculously did not come.
The Rebbe once wrote to me a regarding a request for a bracha for success in my business:
The pidyon nefesh was received and with blessings for success in your business. And this is a quote from the sefer Levushei Srad, siman 103: Every person must strengthen the midda of tzedaka and should have a special wallet for tzedaka … and when he encounters someone who needs tzedaka, he will then give from this wallet … I will mention it at the tziyun.
I was once at the Rebbe in yechidus and asked for a bracha for success in my business. This was when the business had started to expand. As the Rebbe spoke, he took out of his drawer ten hundred-dollar-bills, ten fifty-dollar-bills, ten twenty-dollar-bills, and ten ten-dollar bills.
The Rebbe said to me, “Take all these bills, change them into Brazilian currency, put these amounts into the business account and you will be successful.”
Boruch Hashem, the Rebbe’s brachos for success in my business were fully realized.
When he was a bachur in 770 in the fifties, he would go and review maamarim and sichos in various shuls in New York.
“From that time, I began to sense the intensity of the impact of the sichos on the broader public.”
In those days, the Rebbe’s sichos were printed in weekly booklets. This was before the volumes of Likutei Sichos. The first volume of Likutei Sichos appeared for 11 Nissan 5722/1962, for the Rebbe’s sixtieth birthday. Then another three volumes were published.
“Already back then, I developed a great fondness for the sichos of the Rebbe that illuminate every detail in our lives and provide encouragement and amazing empowerment for inspiration and strengthening avodas Hashem both in the avoda of working with the public and in the personal avoda of every one of us,” said R’ Zajac.
He later became a patron of the Likutei Sichos project, the 39 volumes that took center-stage in the world of Torah literature. This is how it happened:
One day in the summer of of 5727, Rabbi Benzion Shemtov had a request for him. Until then, the Rebbe’s Likutei Sichos were printed on stencils. R’ Shemtov wanted to buy special printing machines for Likutei Sichos.
“How could it be that the holy sichos of the Rebbe, which need to reach every corner of the world, are printed on plain stencils? Whoever heard of such a thing?!”
He asked the wealthy Chassid to donate printing machines that would belong to the Vaad L’Hafotzas Sichos and to undertake the full cost of printing the weekly booklets that would be printed, from then on, in a nice format.
“R’ Shemtov even offered me a ‘deal’ – a commitment from me to finance the printing of the entire lot of the weekly Likutei Sichos, 2000 copies at that time, and the commitment from the Vaad would be that on the booklet submitted to the Rebbe, in his room, it would have a dedication with my name and the names of my family members.
“After inquiring about the costs for the project, I said I was willing and asked him to inform me what the Rebbe said about the agreement. A short while later, R’ Shemtov said he had given the suggested agreement to the Rebbe and the Rebbe was pleased with it.
“At a later point, when I was at the Rebbe, the Rebbe asked me whether I wanted a copy of the agreement. I told the Rebbe that obviously I had full trust in him and it wasn’t necessary. Afterward, I regretted this and thought I should have asked for a copy of this special, rare agreement.”
The new project got underway. R’ Shemtov immediately returned to New York, bought a new printing machine and the first sicha that was printed on it appeared for Chof Av 5727, the yartzeit of the Rebbe’s father. The Chassidim in New York said that the Rebbe seemed very happy about the printing on the new machine.
Rabbi Zalman Chanin, director of Vaas L’Hafotzas Sichos, remembers the first time:
“For Chof Av I printed several hundred copies of the pamphlet of the Likutei Sichos. We bachurim did the folding and binding by hand. Then we gave the secretaries one copy of the sicha to be given to the Rebbe for the Rebbe to edit the sample cover page. The Rebbe sent us back the booklet without delay with a question: Why isn’t the Kehot emblem on the front page? The Rebbe even made an indication in his own handwriting where exactly the Kehot emblem ought to be and said to print a new front page, with the special design designated for the published works of the Rebbe.
“We were delighted. The Rebbe had approved the reprinting of the Likutei Sichos booklets as an official publication of Kehot. More than any of us, the joy of R’ Benzion was above and beyond and reached to the seventh heaven. He interpreted the Rebbe’s answer as the Rebbe accepting his suggestion that Chassidim must learn Likutei Sichos every week and began making a huge publicity campaign that every Chassid needs to learn the Rebbe’s edited teachings each week. From that point on, the seder was established in 770 that Chassidim learn the weekly Likutei Sichos every erev Shabbos before Kabbolas Shabbos.”
This zechus remained R’ Zajac’s for many years. Even after other people joined in paying part of the costs to print the sichos, all the sichos were printed with his dedication and he retained the right that every week, when they gave the Rebbe three copies of the weekly printed sicha, all three copies were always given with the dedication of R’ Zajac.
R’ Zajac added:
“My brother Mottel davened with the Rebbe on Rosh Hashana 5728. On motzoei Yom Tov he called me and said, ‘Meir, you have no idea what a zechus you have! Throughout the tefillos on Rosh Hashana, the Likutei Sichos with the dedications of your family were in the Rebbe’s hands and I saw how he turned over the pamphlet and looked at all your names, one by one …’ Naturally, I was thrilled by this great zechus.
“At first, when my dedication appeared with all the names, some asked why I need to print the dedication with my name and with the names of all my family members. When I went to the Rebbe I told him this and the Rebbe said: Print the dedication this way, with the names of you, your wife and all the children because it is a mitzva to publicize those who do a mitzva.
“The money I donated toward Likutei Sichos I gave to R’ Shemtov who worked to raise money to publish the sichos. The Rebbe once told me in yechidus that I needed to give the donations for Likutei Sichos to R’ Zalman Chanin, who was the director of the Vaad L’Hafotzas Sichos and did all the actual work to publish all of the Rebbe’ sichos.”
R’ Zajac not only paid for the printing but kept track of the work throughout.
“I would go to 770 several times a year to speak with the bachurim about the work of writing up the Likutei Sichos, to encourage them and spur them on in the holy work.
“After R’ Shemtov bought a new printing machine with my donation, they began printing a sicha on the parsha each week from the first four volumes of Likutei Sichos that had already been printed in the sixties.
“At that time, I traveled to New York and when I saw the Rebbe, he gave me a big bracha regarding my donation for the printing of Likutei Sichos.
“I went to the Rebbe for Rosh Hashana 5728. Erev Rosh Hashana I gave a pidyon nefesh as all Chassidim do and on motzoei Rosh Hashana I received kos shel bracha. During the Aseres Yemei Teshuva I had yechidus. In the note that I gave the Rebbe, I mentioned that my oldest son, Yisroel Efraim Menashe would become bar mitzva on 15 Elul and I asked for a bracha for him. The Rebbe suggested that I print an additional number of copies of the weekly Likutei Sichos with a special dedication for my son and write in the dedication that it was his bar mitzva year.
“So the Likutei Sichos of 5728 had two dedications, one for me and my family and another one for my son. Likewise, in that yechidus, the Rebbe gave me a very big bracha in connection with my donation for printing the Likutei Sichos.
“I went to the Rebbe for For Rosh Hashana 5731. While giving the panim on erev Rosh Hashana, as I passed by the Rebbe and gave him an envelope with the p’n, the Rebbe asked me: Is the contract with Likutei Sichos here? I immediately said yes and the Rebbe looked very pleased that I had included the contract with my p’n.
“Since then, when I gave my p’n to the Rebbe on erev Rosh Hashana, I would include the contract regarding my donation toward printing the weekly Likutei Sichos for the coming year and I would specify the amount that I committed to giving toward printing the sichos.”
Those years when he could not go, he would send his p’n and the contract with his friend, R’ Chanin.
Here is another incident that shows the importance the Rebbe accorded to supporting spreading the Likutei Sichos as told by R’ Meir:
“One year in the seventies, I gave the Rebbe a p’n erev Rosh Hashana and when I handed over the envelope as I did every year, the Rebbe asked me whether the contract with Likutei Sichos was included and I said yes. The Rebbe asked: According to my hasagos? What could I answer … I smiled. But the Rebbe did not smile but said: Go into the Beis Medrash and rewrite the contract and come back from the side [so he would not have to stand on line again] and I will take the p’n with the contract from you!
“I was stunned, shaken and totally overwrought. It was erev Rosh Hashana, a very serious day for the Rebbe and while thousands of people were giving a p’n to the Rebbe, the Rebbe turned his attention to our agreement about Likutei Sichos as though he had nothing else to do but print the Likutei Sichos the following year!
“I went to the Beis Medrash together with R’ Chanin, rewrote the agreement – adding a nice sum to the best of my understanding, and then gave the p’n to the Rebbe with the renewed agreement. When the Rebbe saw it, he smiled and asked, ‘Is everything in order?’ I said yes and that I had added to the amount. The Rebbe wished me a good, sweet year.
“On Tzom Gedalia morning, R’ Groner told me that he had an answer from the Rebbe about the contract I had given him on erev Rosh Hashana. It said: This is not the stone that he lifts weights with. (The Medrash says that the way to check a person’s strength is by how heavy a weight he can lift and the Rebbe wrote that according to my strength I should have lifted a heavier rock, i.e. given a bigger donation).
“After recovering from the surprise that right after Rosh Hashana the Rebbe once again bothered to deal with our contract, I wrote to the Rebbe that if my businesses flourished even more this year, with Hashem’s help, I would donate a larger amount.
“The Rebbe responded the same day with: The reasoning is the opposite, first give more and then you will see that your businesses will flourish even more.
“Needless to say, that is exactly what happened and in a miraculous fashion.
“In one of the following years, the Rebbe answered me regarding our annual agreement: May you always have good news to relate, all the days and may the merit of tzedaka stand by and help you, etc.
“The following year, the Rebbe wrote: Received and many thanks. May his mind be at rest that he caused nachas ruach and even beyond that.
“I feel I must note and emphasize that I have no doubt that all the unusual kiruvim and big brachos of the Rebbe that have accompanied me all my life were connected with the great zechus I had to pay for the printing of Likutei Sichos.”
SUPPORTING TORAH AND CHESSED
In addition to R’ Zajac’s extensive business dealings he was also an askan when it came to anything having to do with strengthening Judaism in S. Paulo. He was one of the founders of the Beis Yaakov for girls and for fifty years he was president of the school, by instruction of the Rebbe and under the Rebbe’s guidance.
Aside from his many donations to spread the Rebbe’s teachings, he also gave toward mosdos Torah around the world and from a variety of backgrounds, Chassidishe, Litvish and Chabad.
“I had the merit over many decades to be an active supporter in a long list of institutions of Torah and chessed, in our country Brazil, in Eretz Yisrael, in the United States, and in a number of other places around the world. This was in addition to administering the important institution Beis Yaakov as a mission from the Rebbe. I played an important role in establishing and supporting institutions of Torah and Chassidus in our city and in many other places.
“My goal in my memoirs is not to boast and hold myself high, G-d forbid, by the achievements I attained throughout my life. My only goal is to show how when a Chassid goes on the road the Rebbe paved for him and tries to remain true to the instructions and guidance he receives from the Rebbe, then he and his family merit to be blessed with all good, body and soul.”
NOT TO BE AFRAID OF MOSHIACH
Although this is only a general sketch of his life story, it would be fitting to conclude with the following anecdote that R’ Meir himself recounted:
“Here in S. Paolo, there was a Jew named Reuven Zwerner, an extremely wealthy man. I was very friendly with him. One time when I returned from the Rebbe, he met me and asked: Nu Meir, what does your Rebbe say? I answered him: The Rebbe says that Moshiach is about to come very soon. In response, he said to me: Please pick up the telephone to your Rebbe and ask him if he can arrange that Moshiach delay for another little while. Our business dealings here are going very well; who knows what will happen if we move to another country?
“It was only a short time later that the Rebbe said a sicha, in which he explained that businessmen who live in the Diaspora have nothing to worry about the coming of Moshiach, because all of their businesses will be transported in their entirety to Eretz HaKodesh.”
Thanks to R’ Shneur Zalman Chanin for his help with this article.
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