Night was approaching as the carriage pulled up in front of the Alexander Hotel, one of Paris’s most luxurious establishments. Out of the carriage stepped the Rebbe Maharash, the fourth Chabad rebbe, followed by two attendants and two companions.

Walking into the hotel lobby with an air of confidence, he approached the reception desk and, in fluent French, asked for the best suite available on the casino floor. The clerk was taken aback; the suite was very expensive and usually reserved for nobility. But the Rebbe Maharash did not flinch at the exorbitant price, and was soon escorted to his rooms by a bellboy. He instructed his attendants, R. Leivik and R. Pinchas Leib, to stay with him in the hotel, while his two companions, R. Monye Monensohn and R. Yeshaya Berlin, both men of means, went to a cheaper hotel nearby.

The Rebbe Maharash settled in. The suite was spacious and elegantly outfitted, with fine furniture and valuable paintings. But the Rebbe was not there for the luxurious decor. He had come to Paris to find and save a lost soul, a young Jewish man who had fallen so far into the clutches of gambling and drinking that he had long forgotten his heritage.

After several hours, the Rebbe got up and left his room. He walked along the corridor until he reached the casino.

He scanned the room with his piercing eyes, until he spotted the young man at a table, where he was playing dice. He had a glass of wine in front of him, which he sipped from time to time.

The Rebbe Maharash walked towards him, ignoring the curious glances of the other gamblers. He reached his table, and placed his hand gently on his shoulder. The young man looked up at him with surprise and annoyance.

“Who are you?” he asked.

The Rebbe Maharash smiled warmly at him, and said: “Young man! One is not allowed to drink non-kosher wine!”

The young man blinked in confusion. He did not understand what the Rebbe Maharash meant.

“What are you talking about?” he asked.

“Such wine dulls the sensitivity of the mind and the heart. Be a Jew!” the Rebbe Maharash continued.

The young man felt a strange sensation in his chest, as if something was stirring inside him. He recognized the Rebbe’s words as coming from his own tradition, which he had abandoned long ago.

The Rebbe Maharash then bade the man good night and left the casino, his eyes blazing with passion and excitement.

Exhausted and exhilarated, the Rebbe sat down on a chair in the corridor, not realizing that it was a chair on which one would be carried from one floor to the next (there were no elevators in those days). Only after he was already being carried up to the next floor, did the Rebbe realize and inform the porters that his room was on the same floor as the casino and that he could be brought back down.

Some time later, the young man came looking for the Rebbe. The two remained closeted for many hours together.

What words they exchanged are not known, but the young man emerged from that meeting a new man.

The very next morning, the Rebbe left Paris. His mission had been accomplished.

And the young man? He embraced his Jewish identity, began living as a Jew, and became the father of the well-regarded Klein family of France, known for their Orthodoxy and piety.1

When re-telling this story, the Seventh Rebbe would point out that time was very precious to the Rebbe Maharash, to the point that even his Chassidic teachings are brief. Nevertheless, he freely spent lavish sums of money and traveled for days, all for the sake of a single lost soul.2