When Rabbi Gabriel Benayon took his family on a shopping trip in Manhattan on Nov. 9., he never imagined that it would become a viral sensation. Benayon purchased a new pair of sneakers, and as he rode the No. 4 train back to the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., he locked eyes with a man opposite him. The fellow, clearly down on his luck, was riding barefoot. The rabbi took off his own shoes, rose from his seat and handed them to the barefoot stranger. The subway car broke out in applause. And the shoes even fit.

Benayon, who serves as a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Panama City, Panama, with his wife, Nechama, was visiting New York earlier this month for the International Conference of Chabad Emissaries (Kinus Hashluchim). “When I saw this man, I asked myself, ‘Why do I have two pairs of shoes and he has none?’ ” Benayon told Chabad.org. “If I am seeing this, G‑d wants me to do something about it.”

The rabbi invoked the teaching of the founder of the Chassidic movement, Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov: “He taught that everything a Jew sees and hears is for a reason, to teach us a lesson. Nothing is by chance.”

Benayon is no stranger to struggle, chronicling his experiences with anxiety in his book, From My Anxiety to Your Happiness, where the rabbi shares how he overcame his own mental-health challenges. That experience was a springboard for him to become a certified CBT therapist. He’s been helping people in that role for 15 years, in addition to his primary occupation as an educator in Panama City.

Benayon’s selfless act— unbeknown to him recorded by his daughter at the time—has garnered worldwide attention. He’s since had interviews with several Israeli television channels, and when speaking with Chabad.org had just wrapped up a lengthy interview with Telemundo, the American Spanish-language broadcaster. “This is how one single act of kindness affects the world and changes everything, bringing Moshiach.”

Rabbi Benayon and family
Rabbi Benayon and family
Benayon is no stranger to struggle, chronicling his experiences with anxiety in his book, From My Anxiety to Your Happiness, where the rabbi shares how he overcame his own mental-health challenges.
Benayon is no stranger to struggle, chronicling his experiences with anxiety in his book, From My Anxiety to Your Happiness, where the rabbi shares how he overcame his own mental-health challenges.