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Wednesday, February 28, 2024 - 19 Adar I 5784
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Wrong Address

It was Friday afternoon, a time when Chabad yeshivah students normally spend making their rounds to various Jewish businesses and homes, to give their “clients” an opportunity to perform a mitzvah, particularly laying tefillin. Our story concerns a group of rabbinical students in Chicago, who were there assisting one of the local Chabad rabbis, Rabbi Avraham Fine.

Rabbi Fine referred them to an address on Cicero Avenue. “There is a used car lot on that street, managed by a Jew named Abraham Horowitz. The manager himself will definitely be happy to lay tefillin, and maybe you will also find other workers who will want to put on tefillin.”

The students made their way to the address that Rabbi Fine had given them. In the office they met three people. The one who seemed to be the boss did not have a particularly Jewish appearance. In order to make sure they had reached the right person, the students asked him if he was Jewish.

The man gave them a strange look. “What? You will only buy a car from a Jew?”

“No,” they laughed. “We came here to ask you if you wanted to lay tefillin.”

The man’s eyes widened in surprise. “Tefillin?” The strange tone in which he enunciated the word made the students think that he was trying to figure out a way to get them out of his office as quickly as possible. He certainly was nowhere near as receptive as Rabbi Fine had assured them.

However, they had misjudged him. The man appeared willing to engage them in conversation. “Ever since my bar mitzvah, I have never once laid tefillin. Why should I start again after such a long interruption?”

The students got a sense that he was actually interested in beginning to lay tefillin again, but was seeking a reason to justify the practice. The next question he had for the students was whether they planned to ask him for money.

They assured him that their only goal was to get him to lay tefillin and they had no intention of soliciting money. After a short discussion, the manager said, “Look, if you can convince my two workers, who are also Jewish, to lay tefillin, I’ll do so as well.”

The challenge he had thrown down before them was no simple one. The workers were far younger than the manager, but difficult to convince nevertheless. The Chabad students were not deterred. They decided to take advantage of the opportunity and used their best persuasive skills to get the three of them to don tefillin.

In the end, the boss agreed to go first. He got up, rolled up his sleeve and laid tefillin. His two workers followed his lead.

After they had all removed the tefillin, the ice was broken somewhat and the manager engaged the students in a heartfelt conversation. He removed from his pocket a picture of his father and grandfather, both of whom were religious Jews, and told the students about how his grandfather had established the used car lot 75 years before.

“Tell me,” he asked suddenly, “Who really sent you to me?”

The students answered simply, “Avi.” They meant Rabbi Fine, whom they called by his nickname, Avi.

The manager raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Who? Avi Horowitz? My competitor across the street?”

Oops! Now the students understood their error. For some reason they had not noticed the other used car lot directly across the street, the actual address to which Rabbi Fine had directed them.

The students exchanged glances and couldn’t think of any explanation to give to the manager. They shook hands and parted warmly from the three used car salesmen, and then headed across the street, to their original destination.

Here they were received with great friendliness. Avraham Horowitz, it became clear, had a longstanding relationship with Rabbi Fine. He happily agreed to lay tefillin and listened as they shared with him some Torah thoughts.

As they were leaving, they again met the manager of the first used car lot. “Tell me the truth,” he said, not able to contain his curiosity. “Who sent you to me? What made you choose to visit me today of all days?”

The students answered forthrightly that they actually had intended to visit the car lot across the street, but had come to him by mistake.

The man appeared to be very moved. He took a deep breath and then declared: “There was no mistake! You were sent to me from on High!”

Now it was the turn of the students to be surprised. The manager explained: “Two weeks ago, my father passed away. My father of blessed memory was a traditional Jew who kept the commandments. It was important to him to identify as a Jew. After he passed away, I decided to honor his memory by accepting upon myself to fulfill an important mitzvah, so that he would he would take pride in me from above. Laying tefillin seemed to be an appropriate choice, but I had a small problem: I did not own a pair. I wanted to purchase a set, but pushed it off from day to day.

“Suddenly today, you “landed” in my office armed with a pair of tefillin. This was the first time in my life that anyone had come up to me and offered to lay tefillin with me. Therefore, I reacted with shock, as you saw. I did not understand who was reading my mind and sending you to me. Now I understand it all. G-d sent you to me. He caused you to make a mistake and come to the wrong address, in order that I should fulfill my resolution.”


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