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The Circle Is Closed

Binyomin Zippel is the Chabad rabbi in Salt Lake City, Utah. In addition to his intensive activities with the local Jewish community, Rabbi Zippel works with Jewish youth located in dormitory programs far from the hubbub of the city.

These restricted educational programs are designed for youngsters who have previously broken the law or got into trouble with the police. The rationale behind these dormitories is to give these children a normal school framework, as opposed to being behind bars.

While most of these young people are non-Jewish, the schools also have a fair share of Jewish children, including those sent from nearby states such as California. Over the years, Rabbi Zippel has established contact with the administrators and principals of these schools. He has received permission to visit these institutions on a regular basis and conduct spirited outreach programs for the Jewish youngsters.

A young Jewish girl was once brought into one of these closed institutions as a result of a crime she had committed. She was extremely rebellious, and she didn’t make life easy for the school administrators. Time after time, she complained to the authorities, and even tried periodically to escape from the facility. After one particular escape attempt, it took the police several days to locate her and return her to the institution.

In an urgent staff meeting with administrators and counselors, it was decided that the school was no longer an appropriate place for this girl. They suggested sending her to the local prison, from where she could not escape and where the rules would be applied with far greater stringency. When the girl’s mother heard the administration’s decision, she was horrified. She appealed to them to change their verdict, but it was too late.

Suddenly, she remembered that she had once heard her daughter speak about Rabbi Zippel, who conducted holiday activities with the students. With nowhere else to turn, she decided to contact him and ask for his help.

She called Rabbi Zippel and told him about everything that had happened to her daughter. “All of my efforts have failed; maybe you can succeed where I didn’t,” she pleaded.

“I am prepared to make the effort and plead your daughter’s case before the school administrators with whom I am well acquainted,” said Rabbi Zippel. “But I have a request. My request is that you accept upon yourself the fulfillment of a mitzvah, something that will surely assist me in my efforts to help your daughter.”

Rabbi Zippel proposed that she begin lighting Shabbos candles.

The woman listened, but she declined the proposal. “I have my principles,” she said firmly. “I won’t do something that I don’t believe in. I wasn’t educated that way.” Rabbi Zippel chose not to enter into an argument with her. It was Wednesday. Before concluding the conversation, he asked her to reconsider his suggestion. He said that he would call back in two days – on Friday.

Meanwhile, he didn’t waste any valuable time and immediately came to the young girl’s aid. He had telephone conversations with the school administrators, and with a little persuasion and his personal charm, he succeeded in convincing them to let her stay in her current program and not transfer her to the local prison.

On Friday, Rabbi Zippel called back the girl’s mother. She immediately declared that after giving considerable thought to his suggestion, she had decided that she would begin lighting Shabbos candles. “You should know,” the rabbi informed her, “that you have succeeded in helping your daughter. The institution has agreed to give her another chance.” The mother was overjoyed, and the rabbi decided to strike while the iron was hot.

“Do you know how and when you are supposed to light the candles?”

“No,” she replied. “I’d be happy if you could send me a brochure with the information. Next week,” she promised, “I’ll light the candles.”

“Why not light today?” the rabbi asked.

“How can I?” she queried. “It’s Friday afternoon. I don’t have any candles at home, and I’ve never fulfilled this mitzvah before.”

The rabbi asked for her address - Calabasas, California - and he promised to get back to her as soon as possible. He immediately called Rabbi Moshe Bryski, a Chabad rabbi who lives in nearby Agoura Hills, and asked him to contact this woman and make certain to give her Shabbos candles. Rabbi Bryski happily agreed and immediately called the woman. When she realized who was on the line, she was stunned. “You Lubavitchers are really stubborn. Why is it so important to you that I do something that brings you no reward?”

Rabbi Bryski patiently explained that his reward is her reward, and it eventually will be the reward of the entire Jewish People. When he asked for her address, she replied, “I’m not at home right now. I went out shopping.”

“Where are you?” Rabbi Bryski asked.

“Far from my house,” she said. “I’m at a gas station in Agoura Hills. Does that help you?”

“At which station? On what street?”
She told him where it was located.

Rabbi Bryski was astounded by the incredible Divine Providence. “I live right across the street. Turn to your right, I’ll be waiting for you there. You can’t miss me…”

The rabbi waited for her with the Shabbos candles. When she came across the street, he greeted her with a smile, and then proceeded to explain to her about the mitzvah of lighting Shabbos candles, its meaning in Jewish tradition, and the tremendous benefit it carries for her as an individual and the Jewish People as a whole.

The woman was amazed by the self-sacrifice of the Chabad rabbis, and the unique chain of events that had led them to her. She promised Rabbi Bryski that she would light Shabbos candles each Friday evening.


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