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A Belated Payback

Rabbi Aryeh Kaltmann is an emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Columbus, Ohio, the director of the Chabad House at Ohio State University. Like most Shluchim (emissaries), a significant part of his time is devoted to fundraising, a necessary task but not his most cherished activity.

Rabbi Kaltmann was fortunate in that one of his sponsors covered 80% of his budget with a very generous contribution. After a period of time in which the shliach only had to raise 20% of his expenses, the wealthy man became sick and passed away. Before the man died, he told his children to continue to help the shliach as he had done.

The children did not quite follow in their father’s footsteps. After he died they gave the shliach a sum of money but with that, their connection ended. Rabbi Kaltmann now had to raise his entire operating budget on his own.

Just when all seemed bleak, his secretary drew his attention to an envelope which had come in the mail. In the envelope was a letter from a woman in California whom Rabbi Kaltmann did not know, and a bank check for $10,000!

The woman wrote that her grandson was attending university in Columbus and the shliach had given him a Jewish calendar. When she went to visit her daughter, she saw the calendar in her house and asked where it came from. She found the address of the shliach and that is how she came to send him the check.

The story was odd but the check was real. He cashed the check and sent a warm thank you letter.

That Chanukah, Rabbi Kaltmann gave out menorahs to the members of his community as well as to students. He decided to send a menorah to his new donor in California. He included a nice letter about Chanukah.

A few days later he received an envelope with a letter thanking him for the menorah and … a bank check for $10,000! Rabbi Kaltmann thanked G-d for the money and “reminded” Him that he was still lacking a large portion of the amount he used to receive from his former patron.

Purim was coming up. Rabbi Kaltmann packed some hamentashen and along with warm wishes he sent them to his donor in California. When he received the third envelope it was with that same large amount of money, completely out of proportion to the item he had sent her.

He figured out that whenever he sent her a holiday gift, she sent him $10,000 in return. The budget slowly worked its way up.

Before Pesach, he sent her matzah, and before Shavuos, he sent her a flower arrangement. He was not at all surprised each time to receive a warm thank you and another $10,000. His curiosity had reached fever pitch.

Shortly after receiving the latest check, Rabbi Kaltmann had to be in California. He arranged a meeting with the woman, during the course of which, he broached the subject and said, “I understand that you appreciate the Chabad house calendar as well as the other gifts that I send you from time to time. However, I must know the secret for why you decided to become our benefactress.”

The woman replied:

When I was a little girl, my sister was very sick and the doctors did not see a way of curing her. My parents went to the best doctors but none of them had a cure. My parents began going to rabbis. Back then, there was a young and new rabbi who was beginning to become famous. He lived in Crown Heights and my family went to see him.

I don’t know precisely what happened but after they visited him in his office, my sister recovered. He gave her life when others despaired. My family went back to living a happy, normal life again. For some reason they did not remember that they owed a debt of gratitude to the Rebbe who had saved their daughter. Perhaps they did not want to think about that miserable time.

In any case, the debt remained although it wasn’t written down anywhere, perhaps not even in their hearts.

Decades went by. We grew up and married and raised families and our children married. My grandson went away to university and he came home on vacation with that calendar. His mother, my daughter, hung it upon the wall of the kitchen in a prominent place.

I visited her to see my grandson and when I went into the kitchen I saw the Rebbe’s face, the Rebbe who had saved my sister decades before! He looked just as he did in the picture with a black beard and those eyes.

I was reminded of that terrible time, of the tension and fear we experienced every day, the despair at finding a cure and the turnabout after the visit to the young Rebbe in Crown Heights. The memories were so vivid. Then I tried to remember whether the family had ever thanked the Rebbe. I did not think so. I felt ashamed. Someone saved my sister’s life and we did not repay the kindness? We didn’t go back and tell him of the miracle or express our gratitude in any way?

How could we thank the Rebbe now? I wracked my brains and couldn’t come up with anything. But when my grandson told me about the Chabad rabbi’s activities on campus, I realized this was the answer. I couldn’t personally pay the Rebbe back but I could repay the debt to one of his emissaries. The only shliach I had any connection to– thanks to the calendar – was you, and that is how the old family debt came to be repaid to the Rebbe.

 

 


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