community was in shock. It was the 1960s, and a large synagogue in Toronto,
Canada, had been set ablaze. Not even the Torah scrolls survived unscathed. The
police attributed the fire to anti-Semitism. The community, which included many
Holocaust survivors, trembled at the thought that Jew hatred had shown up on
was a young boy of about 13 at this time, and living in Toronto with his mother
and younger brother, Shmuel. They were not particularly religious, but the news
of the fire reached the young boy, and his heart ached.
days, a Chabad rabbi by the name of Avraham Yaakov Gluckowsky ran a special
Shabbat prayer servicefor young
people who would otherwise not attend. Together, he and the children would recite
a shortened version of the morning prayers. Then he’d share the story of the
weekly Torah reading with them, and make kiddush
and distribute some treats. In time, the number of children who
participated increased, and sometimes there were more than 70 children in
after the fire, two new boys showed up: Chaim Kaplan and his brother Shmuel. At
the end of the prayers, Chaim approached the rabbi and asked: “How can it be
that G‑d allowed anti-Semites to burn His Torah?”
was surprised by the question. He looked at Chaim and answered him with anguish
in his voice, “I don’t know. There are things we can’t understand.”
surprised to hear the rabbi admit that he didn’t know. It was this answer that
won him over. From then on, he and his brother started to attend the Shabbat minyan regularly. In time, they began to
keep other mitzvahs, until they ultimately decided that they wanted to transfer
to a Jewish school. Their mother wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but she agreed
to her children’s request.
approaching. The brothers knew that their mother wouldn’t be willing to do
everything needed to make the house kosher for Passover, so they decided to
spend the holiday with a family in New York, near the synagogue of the
Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.
Chaim sent a letter to the Rebbe, detailing with whom he and his brother would
be celebrating, saying how happy he was that they would be spending the holiday
near the Rebbe.
A short time
later, he got the following reply from the Rebbe: “Celebrate Passover at home
with your mother. If you have any questions, talk to Rabbi Gluckowsky and Rabbi
Schochet, the rabbi of the Chabad community in Toronto.”
Chaim was surprised
to get such an answer from the Rebbe, and he immediately called the two rabbis
mentioned in the letter. They were also astonished, knowing what preparing for
rabbis went to discuss the matter with the boys’ mother. They emphasized how
important it was to the Lubavitcher Rebbe that the children remain with her
over Passover, and that the family celebrate the festival together, not leaving
her alone. They also reviewed with her the laws of making the house kosher for
mother was deeply touched by the Rebbe’s concern, and she said she would do
whatever she could to make certain the house was kosher for Passover. The
rabbis helped her to prepare the kitchen and buy new kitchenware, and in the
end the house met the highest standards of kosher.
also arranged for the Kaplans to celebrate theSeders with families that lived in the area, so that they could
observe Passover in a festive atmosphere.
Gluckowsky and his family were going to his father in the Boro Park
neighborhood of Brooklyn for the holiday, and therefore had a chance to meet
the Rebbe the day before Passover, when the Rebbe would distribute small pieces
of his matzah.
Rebbe had given them a piece of his matzah, Rabbi Gluckowsky asked for another
piece for Chaim and Shmuel Kaplan. The Rebbe immediately asked, “Are they with
their mother?” Rabbi Gluckowsky answered that, yes, the family was celebrating
Passover together, and the boys would be going to two families in Toronto for
the Seders. The Rebbe asked if their mother was also going, and Rabbi Gluckowsky said she that was.
face glowed with happiness. Reaching into his box, he pulled out an entire
matzah and told Rabbi Gluckowsky, “The is for the Kaplan brothers!”
later, one of Rabbi Gluckowsky’s sons who had accompanied him to New York that
Passover—now Rabbi Menachem Mendel Gluckowsky of Rechovot, Israel—flew to New
York to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot in the Rebbe’s synagogue. Rabbi Gluckowsky was finishing his
prayers in the synagogue in the small room that had served as the Rebbe’s study
when he noticed Chaim Kaplan, today the proud grandfather of many beautiful
grandchildren, who was also praying there.
prayers ended, he went over to say hello, and the two of them had a long
conversation. Chaim asked the rabbi if he had heard how he became religious.
The rabbi had heard the story from his father, but he was happy to hear the
story again from the perspective of the person it happened with. Chaim told him
the whole story, in great detail.
finished, Chaim said, “When I asked at the time how it could be that G‑d had
allowed the anti-Semites to burn His Torah, your father didn’t know what to
say. But now I know the answer. If it was not for that bitter event, my brother
and I would never have discovered the world of Judaism!”
Translated and adapted from Sichat Hashavua vol. 1368.