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Rains of Blessing
Recife, Brazil is not as famous as its better-known sister cities, S. Paolo and Rio de Janeiro. Recife is a port city that extended its kindness to Jews in their time of distress. This was during the era when the Inquisition instilled fear throughout Spain with its uninhibited war against Judaism. The Jews were forced into exile from their native land, and many of these refugees found safe haven in the South American nation of Brazil. Some eventually settled in the port city of Recife.

Later, the long arm of the Inquisition reached the shores of Recife as well. The longstanding Jewish community disbanded, and the local Jews wandered to other locations. When the emissaries of the Rebbe, Rabbi and Mrs. Shalom Yaakov Chazan, arrived in the city in 5743, the Jewish community there only numbered about 300 families. There was no mikvah in the city, but Brazil’s longest serving emissary, Rabbi Shabsi Alperin, had promised to help them in its construction. Thus, upon receiving the Rebbe’s blessing, the Chazans set out on their mission to Recife.

As soon as they arrived in the city, activities began with the local Jewish community while they inquired about a suitable location to build the mikvah. With G-d’s help, they managed to acquire such a location, owned by the local Jewish community center. They found a donor from S. Paolo, who agreed to cover the cost of the mikvah construction, while a local Jewish engineer consented to do the work on a volunteer basis. He traveled to S. Paolo to see how a mikvah should be built, and in March 1984, shortly before Purim, the mikvah plans were finally ready and the construction began.

The Purim holiday was celebrated in the Recife Chabad house with great happiness and joy. Shortly afterward, Rabbi Chazan traveled to New York for a family wedding. That week, he submitted a report to the Rebbe, providing details on Chabad house activities in Recife during Purim. At the conclusion of the report, he also informed the Rebbe of the start of the mikvah construction: “A few weeks ago we began constructing the mikvah. The engineer, Mr. Tzvi [Ernesto] Kopman, took the matter quite seriously, and he is building at a rapid pace without payment. We hope that the mikvah will be ready within two months. The matter has left a very powerful impression in the city that Judaism in Recife has, thank G-d, begun to blossom.”

The mikvah construction was progressing, and everything appeared to be going smoothly. There was a donor, an engineer had volunteered his time, space had been allocated, but one important thing was missing. Recife had been enduring drought conditions for five years, and there hadn’t been a drop of rain. However, this did not trouble Rabbi Chazan. First let’s finish the construction, and then we’ll see what we’ll do, he thought to himself. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it…

Three days later, on the 20th of Adar, the Rebbe held a Chassidic gathering, and Rabbi Chazan was present. Suddenly, the Rebbe began to speak about a well-known story of the sage, Choni HaM’agel. The Talmud (Tractate of Taanit) relates that the greater part of the month of Adar had gone by and no rain had fallen. The people of Israel sent a message to Choni, “Pray that rain may fall.”

Choni drew a circle, stood within it, and said, “Master of the universe…I will not move from this place until You have pity on your children.”

Rain began falling drop by drop. His students said to him: “…We believe that these rains have only come to release you from your vow.”

He said, “Master of the universe, not for such rain have I prayed, but for rain that will fill the cisterns, pits, and caverns.”

The rain then began to come down with great force, every drop being as big as the opening of a barrel…

His students said to him: “We believe that these rains came down to destroy the whole world…”

Choni then said, “Master of the universe, not for such rain have I prayed, but for rain of benevolence, blessing and bounty.”

After relating this story, the Rebbe concluded: We learn from Choni HaM’agel how a Jew should stand and pray and ask G-d for all his needs. Not all of us have the boldness and confidence of Choni, to stand in a circle and refuse to budge from there until our prayer is granted. However, we can learn from him to present ourselves to G-d as “a son who imposes himself on his father.” This is something that is applicable to all of us, since we are all children of G-d.

Choni turned to G-d forcefully, once, twice, three times, until his request had been fulfilled to his satisfaction. Particularly since Choni opened and paved the way, it is now easier for the average Jew to conduct himself in a similar manner.

Rabbi Chazan listened to the Rebbe’s words with unrestrained excitement. He felt as if the Rebbe was speaking directly to him. The Rebbe was simply providing the cure before the illness – like a loving father concerned for his only son – his emissary building a mikvah in Recife, Brazil, and in need of rain. Naturally, Rabbi Chazan was not all that surprised when a few days after the gathering, he received a telephone call informing him that, after five years of drought, rain had suddenly begun to fall in Recife…
The building of a beautiful mikvah was completed in Recife, to the great joy of the community.


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