The Jewish community was in shock. It was the 1960s, and a large synagogue in Toronto, Canada, had been set ablaze. Not even the Torah scrolls survived unscathed. The police attributed the fire to anti-Semitism. The community, which included many Holocaust survivors, trembled at the thought that Jew hatred had shown up on their doorstep.

Chaim Kaplan was a young boy of about 13 at this time, and living in Toronto with his mother and younger brother, Shmuel. They were not particularly religious, but the news of the fire reached the young boy, and his heart ached.

In those days, a Chabad rabbi by the name of Avraham Yaakov Gluckowsky ran a special Shabbat prayer service for young people who would otherwise not attend. Together, he and the children would recite a shortened version of the morning prayers. Then he’d share the story of the weekly Torah reading with them, and make kiddush and distribute some treats. In time, the number of children who participated increased, and sometimes there were more than 70 children in attendance.

The Shabbat after the fire, two new boys showed up: Chaim Kaplan and his brother Shmuel. At the end of the prayers, Chaim approached the rabbi and asked: “How can it be that G‑d allowed anti-Semites to burn His Torah?”

Rabbi Gluckowsky was surprised by the question. He looked at Chaim and answered him with anguish in his voice, “I don’t know. There are things we can’t understand.”

Chaim was surprised to hear the rabbi admit that he didn’t know. It was this answer that won him over. From then on, he and his brother started to attend the Shabbat minyan regularly. In time, they began to keep other mitzvahs, until they ultimately decided that they wanted to transfer to a Jewish school. Their mother wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but she agreed to her children’s request.

Passover was approaching. The brothers knew that their mother wouldn’t be willing to do everything needed to make the house kosher for Passover, so they decided to spend the holiday with a family in New York, near the synagogue of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.

And so, Chaim sent a letter to the Rebbe, detailing with whom he and his brother would be celebrating, saying how happy he was that they would be spending the holiday near the Rebbe.

A short time later, he got the following reply from the Rebbe: “Celebrate Passover at home with your mother. If you have any questions, talk to Rabbi Gluckowsky and Rabbi Schochet, the rabbi of the Chabad community in Toronto.”

Chaim was surprised to get such an answer from the Rebbe, and he immediately called the two rabbis mentioned in the letter. They were also astonished, knowing what preparing for Passover entailed.

The two rabbis went to discuss the matter with the boys’ mother. They emphasized how important it was to the Lubavitcher Rebbe that the children remain with her over Passover, and that the family celebrate the festival together, not leaving her alone. They also reviewed with her the laws of making the house kosher for Passover.

The boys’ mother was deeply touched by the Rebbe’s concern, and she said she would do whatever she could to make certain the house was kosher for Passover. The rabbis helped her to prepare the kitchen and buy new kitchenware, and in the end the house met the highest standards of kosher.

The rabbis also arranged for the Kaplans to celebrate the Seders with families that lived in the area, so that they could observe Passover in a festive atmosphere.

Rabbi Gluckowsky and his family were going to his father in the Boro Park neighborhood of Brooklyn for the holiday, and therefore had a chance to meet the Rebbe the day before Passover, when the Rebbe would distribute small pieces of his matzah.

After the Rebbe had given them a piece of his matzah, Rabbi Gluckowsky asked for another piece for Chaim and Shmuel Kaplan. The Rebbe immediately asked, “Are they with their mother?” Rabbi Gluckowsky answered that, yes, the family was celebrating Passover together, and the boys would be going to two families in Toronto for the Seders. The Rebbe asked if their mother was also going, and Rabbi Gluckowsky said she that was.

The Rebbe’s face glowed with happiness. Reaching into his box, he pulled out an entire matzah and told Rabbi Gluckowsky, “This is for the Kaplan brothers!”

Forty years later, one of Rabbi Gluckowsky’s sons who had accompanied him to New York that Passover—now Rabbi Menachem Mendel Gluckowsky of Rechovot, Israel—flew to New York to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot in the Rebbe’s synagogue. Rabbi Gluckowsky was finishing his prayers in the synagogue in the small room that had served as the Rebbe’s study when he noticed Chaim Kaplan, today the proud grandfather of many beautiful grandchildren, who was also praying there.

After the prayers ended, he went over to say hello, and the two of them had a long conversation. Chaim asked the rabbi if he had heard how he became religious. The rabbi had heard the story from his father, but he was happy to hear the story again from the perspective of the person it happened with. Chaim told him the whole story, in great detail.

When he finished, Chaim said, “When I asked at the time how it could be that G‑d had allowed the anti-Semites to burn His Torah, your father didn’t know what to say. But now I know the answer. If it was not for that bitter event, my brother and I would never have discovered the world of Judaism!”

Translated and adapted from Sichat Hashavua, No. 1368.