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Two Gunshots, One Miracle
by Rabbi Baruch Kahana
The following story took place in 1989, when I was a student in the Central Lubavitch Yeshivah in Brooklyn. For a lengthy period of time, a fellow student and I would go out on mitzvah campaign activities on Pitkin Avenue in Brooklyn, not far from Eastern Parkway. While this was largely a black neighborhood, we would go to a street where the majority of stores were under Jewish ownership. There were several businesses owned by Israelis, and other jewelry stores owned by Jews who had recently emigrated from Iran. We would regularly visit the proprietors, offer them an opportunity to lay tefillin, and give them a weekly Torah thought.

The atmosphere in the street was not positive. At the time, crime was rampant throughout the streets of New York City, and particularly in Brooklyn. Local residents were afraid to walk through certain high-crime neighborhoods. The street we used to visit was unique because of its prominent contrasts: the Jewish storeowners, the black shoppers and residents. There was a lot of tension present at the time, which thank G-d has diminished in recent years.


One Friday, we were delayed in setting out on our usual route, as the morning prayers took longer than usual. When we finally reached the block where we usually operated, we saw that the police were closing off the entire area. We inquired about the reason for this unusual event, and discovered that a foiled robbery had just taken place. The police officers did not offer much information and we were forced to leave the area and get our facts from other sources.


It turned out than an armed robber had entered one of the jewelry stores where we regularly visited and had demanded a large quantity of the shop’s merchandise. When the store worker took his time in fulfilling these demands, the robber took his gun, fired several shots in the direction of the store’s employees, and quickly fled the scene. The worker was struck by most of the bullets and died instantly. The Jewish owner, an immigrant from Iran with whom we were well acquainted, had been critically wounded and was rushed to a nearby hospital.


We followed him to the hospital, where we inquired about his condition. We first heard that apparently he had succumbed to his wounds and had died in the hospital.


I was in a state of dejection that entire Shabbat. The man’s plight had deeply touched my soul.


On Sunday, when I spoke with one of the local businessmen who also knew this Jewish merchant, he told me that the rumors were untrue and our friend was still live, although in critical condition. He then provided more detailed information:


“He’s lying in the hospital unconscious and in a comatose state, sedated and breathing on a respirator after sustaining two gunshot wounds: one in his neck and one in his lung.”


When I heard that my friend was still alive, I resolved that despite the fact that we yeshivah students generally did not go to the Rebbe on Sundays when he would distribute dollars for charity and blessings, I would go this week. My friend’s life hung in the balance, and I wanted to ask for a blessing on his behalf.


The date was the 5th of the Hebrew month of Menachem Av. My friends advised me not to just give my friend’s name; I should also mention to the Rebbe that he had been shot.


I was embarrassed to do this. How could I possibly speak at length to the Rebbe, hold up the line and make the Rebbe stand for longer? I decided I would only mention my friend’s name and ask the Rebbe for his blessing that he should have a complete recovery. During the hours I stood in line, I practiced saying the man’s Persian name.


When my turn finally came and I was standing before the Rebbe, I was filled with a feeling of tremendous awe and dread. I managed only with great difficulty to say the sick man’s name, and the Rebbe said Amen, without even hearing the whole name. I was surprised, as the Rebbe usually waits to hear the whole name before giving his blessing.


Just then, I decided I would do as my friends had suggested and tell the Rebbe that the man had been critically wounded in a shooting. The Rebbe listened, then leaned towards me and said in Yiddish, “Vahs?” What?


I repeated that the man had been shot and again mentioned his name. The Rebbe’s secretary, Rabbi Laibel Groner, asked me for the man’s Hebrew name, but I said I did not know it. The Rebbe listened and said that when I found out the Hebrew name, I should let his office know.


As soon as I left 770, I called several people and found out the man’s name: Yitzchok ben Malka. Determined not to waste any precious time, I quickly wrote out his name with the whole story of what had happened and submitted it to the Rebbe. Shortly thereafter the Rebbe answered, “I’ll mention it at the gravesite [of my father-in-law],” a standard blessing.


The merchant’s condition began to improve rapidly, although complete recovery was still a way off. Throughout this period, I stayed in touch with his family who remained at his bedside. They said that although he was getting better, his condition was still quite serious, and he needed a miracle to recover completely.


I wrote all this to the Rebbe and gave in the letter to his office. The Rebbe’s answer came the next day: “Check the tefillin and mezuzot.” I quickly informed the family of the Rebbe’s answer, and they arranged to have them checked. Within a few months, the businessman was standing erect on his own feet, despite the doctor’s prognosis to the contrary. I later found out that another friend of ours had placed a dollar of the Rebbe under his pillow, which accompanied him throughout his slow but steady journey to recovery.
 

 


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