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You Never Know

You Never Know


I make no apologies for my devotion to Chasidism, particularly to the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, with its tireless outreach and nonjudgmental welcome to Jews of all callings and backgrounds. Moreover, it asks nothing in return.

Do I agree with every point of the movement's theology and lifestyle? No, but enough to make me an adherent. In fact, we often joke about how a rabbi so seemingly atypical, in a decidedly un-Chabad town like Greenville, is so devoted to the work of Chabad. Hence my title, "Closet Lubavitcher"!

Their most recent, now deceased, Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, is understood by all Lubavitchers as irreplaceable. Do they consider him a miracle-worker? Perhaps, or at least a great cosmic influence.

Two years before his death, the Rebbe became my "savior." In a scant 30 seconds, he stroked my arm and offered me guidance at the most dismal time of my life. Those few words, I now realize, marked the beginning of my emotional and spiritual restoration and intervened in my imminent suicide.

A trip to the Ohel

That was then. Now, let me tell you about my recent transcendent experience — or spooky experience, depending how you look at it — with the Rebbe: A few months ago, I spent a week in New York working on a project. By serendipity, my driver to the airport was a young Lubavitcher. At the sight of my yarmulke, he asked whether I had ever visited the Ohel (Rebbe's tomb). I told him I had not, but if we had time, I would certainly like to pay my respects. Knowing that people flock to the Ohel to ask for the Rebbe's intercession, and remembering his life-saving advice for me 13 years earlier, it was the least I could do.

Arriving at the Ohel, my driver recommended that I write a pan, an acronym for pidyon nefesh, a "redemption of the soul," to place on the Rebbe's tomb. What could it hurt, I thought. So, I prayed for universal peace and for the safety of my family.

One extra request

Then, I asked for something out of the ordinary: Three years earlier, I had departed my congregation in Greenville under acrimonious circumstances. Many congregants were left angry and estranged. Little by little, some had forgiven me, and our relationships had slowly resumed. For others, the anger still burned.

But, the Goldbergs (name changed), with whom we were particularly close and whose friendship we cherished, stopped talking to us and refused all pleas of forgiveness — would not even answer calls, notes, e-mails, coming to the door or responding to mediators.

So, I prayed that there would be reconciliation with congregants who were still estranged and particularly for forgiveness from the Goldbergs. I dropped the shredded pan, as is the custom, on the Rebbe's tomb and noted that it was 6:00, time to leave for the airport. Shortly thereafter, I called Linda to tell her that the plane was departing on time.

"You'll never guess who called," Linda announced. "The Goldbergs."

Astonished, I asked her if there had been any particular reason.

"No. An incredible surprise. They just wanted to say hello."

"And do you remember about what time they called?"

"It must have been around 6:05."

We never know

Please understand my purpose. My personal feelings aside, relating this wonder-story is not to convince anyone to believe in miracles, nor to believe that the Rebbe is the Messiah, nor that I was at all worthy of Divine intercession.

I have only one purpose: It is to tell people smug or doubting that we never know. We expect, and we never know. We are so often thwarted. Life wearies us, and we never know. The sun may yet shine from the abyss.

A serendipitous ride to the Ohel? I think not.

Marc Howard Wilson is a rabbi, syndicated columnist and community relations and organizational design consultant.
This column first appeared in the Charlotte, NC Observer.
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Anonymous NW January 17, 2011

I've been going through a lot of personal garbage and you've helped me and inspired me. Thanks! Reply

Kenneth Wetcher Edwards, CO United States June 14, 2007

the Rebbe or G-d? If you chose to feel this happenned through the intercession of the Rebbe, that's fine. My wife and I have had numerous such experiences, some small and others major and at times so complicated that no mathematical probability of coincidence could account for them. We merely believe that this is G-d's preferred method of communicating with us in modern times. No burnong bush or split sea, just opportunities to help or reconcile. However, you do need to be open to these messages from G-d to rcieve them and to recognize them. Reply

Rochel Roth Chicagoland, Ill June 14, 2007

Thank You I will be writing my first "pan" to be place on the Rebbe's tomb. I have been a bit nervous about what it was I actually should be writing or asking for , but after reading your story I feel much better about what it is I should write. The Chabad-Lubavitch movement is an movement that I am proud to say that I am becoming more involved in each day, each hour of my life. They judge no one, and they welcome all, from all walks of life. I can't tell you what a blessing they have been to my husband and I in the past year. They have asked for nothing from us, only given over and over again. Thank you for sharing your story.
It has given me so much inspiration in what to write in a "pan". I hope and pray to one day be fortunate enough to make a trip to the Ohel with my husband and son. Blessings to you again for sharing your story. Reply

ros reines Sydney, Australia June 14, 2007

Rebbe please tell us about your first encounter with the Rebbe? It would be good to feel further inspired .. Reply

Shelly Scottsdale, az June 13, 2007

As they say..."in the blink of an eye"... Reply

Zipora Elisheva Springer, OK June 28, 2006

Rabbi Wilson So good to hear from Rabbi Wilson! His kindhearted, warm wisdom helped lead me to conversion. PARTICULARLY happy to hear that reconciliation is taking place! I was deeply saddened by all the pain that was being held on to over the years. I love my "family" in Greenville - am so happy these old scars are healing! Reply

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