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When There’s a Will There’s a Way

"What is it, Shlomo, you need $200,000?" asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe to Rabbi Shlomo Cunin.

Rabbi Cunin is one of the most prominent of the Rebbe's Shluchim, emissaries. Over 40 years ago, the Rebbe sent him to California, and over the years he built an empire of dozens of Chabad centers across the state, drawing in thousands of Jews with an array of exciting and educational programs.

This story took place in 1973. Rabbi Cunin was then in financially dire straits. In that year, the Rebbe had celebrated his 70th birthday. To mark this milestone, Rabbi Cunin decided to open 12 new Chabad centers, some in areas that were then remote from Jewish life. One, for example, was in Long Beach, which at the time did not have even a single Shabbat-observant family. Today over 500 families pray in the central Chabad synagogue in Long Beach.

Rabbi Cunin was so enthusiastic about expanding the Chabad centers that he allowed himself to go into heavy debt. Thus, he found himself with a deficit of over $200,000.

Rabbi Cunin sent the Rebbe a letter detailing his woes, and requested a blessing that he should find enough donors to cover his expenses.

The Rebbe opened a desk drawer and withdrew a stack of $100 bills. "Here are 10 one-hundred dollar bills. Sell each one for $20,000, and you'll have your $200,000."

The problem was solved. Rabbi Cunin easily sold off all the bills that had been blessed by the Rebbe. He promised all the buyers that these bills were the key to great blessings, and within a few days all the dollars were sold, for $20,000 each! The Rebbe, naturally, "covered" all the blessings that Rabbi Cunin had promised in exchange for the money, and all the blessings were fulfilled.

A year went by, during which Rabbi Cunin expanded his activities even more... and once again fell into deep debt. This time his deficit was greater--$250,000. But Rabbi Cunin did not despair. I will go to the Rebbe again, he thought to himself, and surely the Rebbe will give me more dollars to sell...

A day before his trip to the Rebbe, Rabbi Cunin received a call in his office regarding a Jew named Sammy, who had passed away that day. "Sammy asked that the rabbis should take care of his burial," the caller said. Rabbi Cunin knew Sammy. To the best of his knowledge Sammy had never married and had no children. Without a will or any legal document, there was little hope that Rabbi Cunin would get the necessary permits to arrange his funeral or burial in a Jewish cemetery.

Rabbi Cunin called his colleague, Rabbi Avraham Levitansky (of blessed memory). "Avremel, did Sammy speak with you about what his final wishes were?"

"Yes," answered Rabbi Levitansky. "A while ago, he asked me to arrange a Jewish funeral for him when the time would come, and wrote up a will for this purpose."

Quickly Rabbi Cunin organized a funeral for Sammy, in accordance with his final wishes, and then boarded the plane to New York.

In the Rebbe's room, the Rebbe repeated the question he had asked a year earlier. "Shlomo, you need money again?"

This time the Rebbe did not take out a pack of bills from his drawer. He simply went on, "If you think that my giving you bills this time will help, go to Rabbi Hodakov [the Rebbe's secretary] and he will give them to you."

Rabbi Cunin was about to leave when suddenly the Rebbe asked him about the will of a wealthy man who had left his fortune to Chabad of California. "I remember that there was some litigation over the will, and in the end the two sides came to some compromise," the Rebbe said. Without waiting for a response, he wished Rabbi Cunin blessings for success and a safe trip.

As the Rebbe instructed, Rabbi Hodakov gave Rabbi Cunin 10 hundred dollar bills. However, the hesitance with which the Rebbe had given the dollars, together with the fact that he did not give him the dollars directly, gave Rabbi Cunin some doubts. In any case, he decided that he would sell each dollar for $25,000 and thus earn the entire sum he needed.

However, this time it did not work. People responded to his proposal with various excuses. "In another two months" ... "It's not possible right now," etc. Rabbi Cunin felt that the Rebbe had something else in mind.

When Rabbi Cunin repeated to his colleague Rabbi Levitansky the details of his meeting with the Rebbe, Rabbi Levitansky said with excitement, "Wait! The Rebbe said something to you about a will?"

"Yes, he did. But why are you getting so excited?" asked Rabbi Cunin.

"I think the Rebbe is referring to Sammy's will. We need to find out what he left."

Rabbi Cunin did not think that Sammy had any property. This was a person who used to come around and eat the leftovers of the Shabbat meals in the Chabad House. How much could he have had?

However, the reality was beyond their imagination. It turned out that Sammy's estate was worth $650,000.

Indeed, it was not for naught that the Rebbe had brought up the matter of a will. Sammy's will, in which he left all his property to Chabad, solved Rabbi Cunin's financial crisis for a number of years to come.
 

 


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