In many ways, a roving rabbi is like a travelling salesman, going door to door peddling his wares—tefillin, Shabbat candles, a mezuzah, or Jewish books. At times, people will open their doors and invite us into their lives, but it’s also common for our knocks to go unanswered, or even rejected. Nevertheless, like any good salesman, we are eternally optimistic. With G‑d's help, success can be just around the corner.

It was a beautiful Sunday in the quiet town of Midland, Michigan. Since noon we had been knocking on doors, working off a list given to us by a nearby Chabad rabbi. Most of the people were not home, and the others were not interested in what we had to offer. Still, we persevered. It was 8:00p.m. and we had finally reached our last house for the day. A man opened the door, and greeted us with a distinctly Russian accent.

“Hi, we are rabbinical students, and we spend our summer visiting Jewish people. Is this a Jewish home by any chance?”

“Yes, we are Jewish,” came the terse reply.

We started chatting, hoping that he would invite us inside. Not likely, we quickly realized. He seemed to be planted firmly in the doorway. During the course of the conversation, we discovered that his name was Alex, and that he had three sons, ages 21, 13, and 7.

“Did your son have a bar mitzvah this year?”

“No, we never got along with the local reform temple, and the other temple is 45 minutes away.”

“Well, you know the main part of a bar mitzvah is the tefillin. If you’d like, we can make your son a Bar Mitzvah right here.”

Alex seemed ambivalent. “Let me ask my wife,” he said finally, and closed the door.

While we were waiting, a car pulled up, and a couple with two little children piled out and entered the home.

This didn’t bode well for our case—with company over, the chances of anybody putting on tefillin was even less likely.

After a few moments, Alex came out with his wife and teenaged son. “Okay, my wife wants you to do it.”

We started talking about a bar mitzvah, G‑d, and tefillin. At this point, the entire family and their company had joined us on the porch. The bar mitzvah boy, Marc, seemed thrilled with all the attention, while his younger brother wanted to know if he would get to put on tefillin too. We explained that he could when he turned 13, and handed them both kippahs, which they wore proudly. We helped Marc wrap the tefillin around his arm and head and say the blessings. Alex went into the house, and in true Russian tradition, emerged with a bottle of vodka. He poured some for all of us, and we made a L’chaim—a toast, to the bar mitzvah boy. “Wow, this must be the luckiest day of my life!” Alex exclaimed, quite a contrast from his earlier wary demeanor.

We were getting ready to wrap things up when Alex pointed at his guest, Arkady, and informed us that he is Jewish as well. “Did you ever have a bar mitzvah?” we asked. He hadn’t, and immediately agreed to. The families watched proudly, and Alex poured some more vodka to mark the occasion.

Dusk was falling when we finally bade them farewell. Alex was beaming from ear to ear. He bequeathed us a full bottle of vodka and thanked us profusely. And with the gift of hindsight, the rest of the day fell into place. All those prior disappointments were in fact Divine Providence, so that we could be there for Marc and Arkady to celebrate their bar mitzvahs at last.