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Open Door Policy

New Delhi, the capital of India, does not seem to be a particularly attractive place for the Western traveler. The crowding, the pollution, the stench, noise and crime would most likely drive off all but the most determined visitors.

It would seem so. But in actuality, New Delhi hosts millions of tourists each year, drawn magnetically to the bustling energy of this metropolis. For some it's a stopover on their way to further touring in the far east, or the starting point of a trek in the Himalayas.

Most tourists, particularly the Israelis, known for their rapacious appetite for travel, gather in the main bazaar in the center of Delhi. The local Chabad House set up shop in this area, and quickly became very active. In Delhi, like in other cities in India, there is an openness and interest to learn more about spiritual matters, and the Chabad House tries valiantly to fill the void. Chabad has successfully guided thousands back to traditional Judaism.

Rabbi Shmuel Sharf, the director of Chabad of Delhi, has scores of interesting stories of the people who have passed through the doors of his Chabad House.

During his early days in New Delhi, the Chabad House was located in a small guesthouse that had only two rooms. Rabbi Sharf worked together with a friend, and all day the place rocked with activity. Only in the late hours of the night did the Chabad House quiet down and then the two rabbis were able to lie down for a brief rest.

One Friday night, an affluent businessman was a guest in the Delhi Chabad House. He was in India on business and wanted to spend Shabbat in a Jewish environment. That Friday night the Chabad House also hosted about a hundred other guests. During the meal they told stories, spoke words of Torah and sang the traditional Shabbat songs.

When the Shabbat meal ended, the businessman asked the rabbis to describe their own accommodations. They showed him two mattresses stacked in a corner. "Those are our beds. After we clean up from the Shabbat meal, we spread them out on the floor and go to sleep."

The man was stunned. Filled with a desire to help these hard-working rabbis, he offered, "I have an idea. I rented two rooms in a nearby hotel. You're welcome to come and use one of them for the night. At least for Shabbat you should get a good night's rest."

The two rabbis were worn out after a week of hard work, and gladly accepted the offer. Rabbi Sharf, who was about to collapse from exhaustion, left right after the meal for the hotel. His partner stayed behind a while longer in the Chabad House. "Don't forget to lock the door before you leave," Rabbi Sharf reminded him.

However, his reminder did not help much. An hour later, his partner joined him in the hotel room, but in his tiredness he forgot to lock the door.

The next morning, Rabbi Sharf woke up early and headed back to the Chabad House. As soon as he got there his heart skipped a beat--the door was wide open, as if there had been a break-in.

As soon as he came in Rabbi Sharf first checked the aron kodesh, the ark. To his relief, the Sefer Torah was still there. Then he inspected the two small rooms, but there were no signs of any theft.

When his partner returned to the Chabad House, Rabbi Sharf berated him: "Not only you didn't lock the door, but you also left it wide open?!"

His partner wiped his brow. "Strange," he said. "I know I forgot to lock the door but I'm sure I did not leave it wide open."

After Shabbat the mystery was solved. A young Israeli woman came into the Chabad House and told Rabbi Sharf that she wanted to apologize. Clearing her throat, she said, "Although I might not look it, I am from a traditional Jewish family. Every Friday night my father would make Kiddush and we would eat the Shabbat meal together. However, I rebelled against all of that. On Friday nights I would come home and go to bed. Then, at four in the morning I would wake up and go into the kitchen to eat something. I wanted no part in my family's Shabbat meal.

"This habit became deeply entrenched, and even here, in India, I would do the same every Friday night. Last night, I woke up as usual at 4 a.m. I planned to get myself something to eat, when suddenly I felt a strong desire to eat Shabbat food. Cholent, or some other traditional dish.

"I came to the Chabad House. I tried the door--and it was open. I hesitated for a moment and came inside. I did not see a soul. I knew that you prepared the food for people like me, and therefore I permitted myself to open up the refrigerator and fill a plate of Shabbat delicacies. In any case, though, I am here to apologize for entering without permission..."

What had caused that young woman to feel an awakening that night for a traditional Shabbat meal, Rabbi Sharf did not know. But at least he understood why the door had been left open...


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