Imagine arriving in a country where you don’t speak the language, have friends, or know your way around. You’ve made the long trip alone—or so you think—but it turns out you’ve got an unwanted companion: the latest strain of Covid.

Who do you turn to for help?

My trip to Paris was supposed to be the highlight of my summer. I had studied for months to prepare for two weeks of seminars and day trips devoted to studying France during the World Wars. I had arrived a day early to adjust to the time zone so I could give my best in class. Instead, I was confined to a small, dark hotel room, unsure who I could trust to guide me through an unfamiliar healthcare system. I was lucky in one respect: the trip’s leader, my old friend Dr. Allan Levy, had also arrived early and was nearby. “You’ve got to take Paxlovid within the next three days,” he said. “It reduces the chances of hospitalization or worse by 90%.”

I feared that if I asked the hotel for help they might force me to move, perhaps to some grim government facility. It didn’t help that I had spent months reading about how France had treated its Jews during the German occupation. Not knowing my rights and responsibilities, I decided to call the U.S. Embassy. Because my positive test occurred on Sunday, I counted down the hours until morning.

But early Monday my heart sank when a recording stated the embassy was closed for Juneteenth and would reopen Tuesday. The mighty Federal government was not available–and the clock was ticking.

As a former stock market investor, I next placed my hope in capitalism. I often tell my daughters that for any problem they encounter there is an entrepreneur whose livelihood depends on solving it. Why not follow my own wisdom? A Google search produced an online, Europe-wide telemedicine group. I made an appointment for that afternoon … and struck out.

The online doctor, with whom I had a four-minute consult, told me that only hospitals dispensed Paxlovid in France. She prescribed something else. My friend Dr. Levy said her script was worthless. “You’ve got two days to get Paxlovid. After that the benefits vanish and your risks jump.”

It was time, I realized, to call in an army—the Rebbe’s army. I needed a Chabad rabbi.

Growing up it would never have occurred to me to seek this kind of help from a rabbi. The rabbis I had known since childhood were all good people, kind and helpful, but rarely involved with the non-ceremonial parts of life.

My understanding of what a rabbi is changed when I met Rabbis Yossi Deren and Menachem Feldman of Chabad of Greenwich, Connecticut, in the early 2000’s. I saw how hard they worked to knit the community into a congregation and how devoted they were to any Jew who walked in their shul, especially one who needed help. And because they, like their peers, are required to finance and manage their own operations, I began to see Chabad rabbis as savvy entrepreneurs, whose counsel reflected a unique blend of Torah learning and practical wisdom.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t bother someone working as hard as a Chabad rabbi. But I was ill and needed Paxlovid. I also needed a guide to lead me through the healthcare system. So I called Rabbi Mendy Danow of Chabad of Paris early Tuesday morning. I reached him in his car, as he was taking his children to school. We had never talked before, and I told my story in a scratchy voice that probably made me hard to hear.

But Rabbi Danow heard my cry for help. He promised to get me Paxlovid. The chessed with which he spoke was itself a powerful drug, and I date the start of my recovery to that moment. Knowing that someone in Paris cared raised my spirits powerfully.

Why would a busy rabbi I had never met help? I am no chassid, and neither look nor live like one.

Every Chabad rabbi sees himself as a soldier in the Rebbe’s army, and the Rebbe insisted that his soldiers love every Jew, and help any person, Jew or Gentile, in need. Even though I was a tourist passing through, I was certain Rabbi Danow, a loyal soldier in that army of kindness, wouldn’t shirk his duty.

He didn’t. When I told Dr. Levy the good news, he added to it. “Look, I brought Paxlovid along as a precaution. Now that you’re getting your own soon, I don’t want you to wait another minute.” And he sent me his Paxlovid, for me to replace when I received mine.

And so one mitzvah gave rise to another. As it turned out, Dr. Levy was unexpectedly able to replace the meds he gave me faster than I could get them from Rabbi Danow. So I told Rabbi Danow to keep the Paxlovid he had gotten for another traveler or congregant, and gave him a donation for his next Kiddush. What had started as misfortune had triggered a chain reaction of mitzvot.

Later, after I got home and continued to recover, I began to wonder: what would I have done had I been assigned Rabbi Danow’s role in the story? What if I were busily engaged in my routine and a scratchy-voiced stranger appeared, asking for help? The rabbi, I realized, hadn’t just helped – he had set an example. His kindness had been uplifting. Shouldn’t I be ready to do the same for others?

I understand that the Rebbe wanted everyone to be a “shliach,” an agent of goodness, spreading Torah values everywhere. I don’t wear the “uniform” of the Rebbe’s army, but that doesn’t mean I can’t stand with his soldiers, doing my part to advance his vision. I have heard that the Rebbe once called a distinguished non-Lubavitch rabbi about to go on an important trip to help others a “Chasid in camouflage.” Imagine the discipline, focus, and commitment to others required to merit that compliment. A Chasid in camouflage–now that is something worth aspiring to.