Rocky and I on our way to put tefillin on soldiers next to the Kotel. This picture appeared in a newspaper in England, 1991.
Twenty-four years ago, Parsha Chayei Sarah (this week's Torah portion) the Rebbe did me a big favor. He saved my life. In gratitude I like to share the story this time of year. The story is written in my book, "Coming Back to Earth."
The Rebbe gave me a lot more than that dollar. One night he saved my life. It was late Shabbat afternoon. Rocky had recently moved to Israel and we were sitting in my usual spot at the Kotel. The Rebbe was accustomed to sending groups of yeshiva students to various communities around the world to learn for a year. Not only were they to learn, but they were also instructed to get involved with the community to strengthen its degree of Torah observance. The group he sent to Jerusalem that year came to the Kotel for their first Shabbat here. They came with a large bottle of vodka, and one of them asked me if I wanted a "l'chaim" (a toast to life) from the Rebbe. "Sure." Who's going to turn down a l'chaim from the Rebbe?
He poured me a good-sized plastic cup full of vodka and said, "You know, it's almost the end of Shabbat so you're going to have to wait until after havdalah before you can drink it." (Just before the end of Shabbat we don't eat or drink until we say the service that makes a distinction between Shabbat and the workdays.)
"Had I realized that," I said, "I wouldn't have taken the vodka. What am I going to do, daven with a cup of vodka, and then walk home to do havdalah with a cup of vodka in my hand? Oh, well, the Rebbe sent it, there must be a reason for it."
After dark, I davened with the cup of vodka and then started home. Rocky and I decided to walk the direct way home, through the Arab shuk.
All the stores were closed and the shuk was almost completely dark, but I could see there were about seven Arab men standing in the middle of the shuk up ahead. I said to Rocky, "This doesn't feel good. Let's go back around through the Rova (Jewish Quarter)."
He objected, "Come on, I'm tired. We can make it."
I said, "Okay, I'll go first. Stay close." As we started walking toward the Arabs, all but one of them walked away down a narrow side alley, and the one remaining leaned casually against the door of a closed shop. We walked by, and it didn't feel good. At his feet, the Arab had a large rock in a black plastic bag. As soon as we passed by, he picked it up and swung the bag hard, smashing Rocky on the back of his head. Rocky screamed and fell to the ground, as the Arab went running down the side alley. I was a couple of steps ahead, so I turned back to see what had happened. I began to help him to his feet as he told me, "That S.O.B. hit me in the back of my head with a rock."
Just then the biggest of the seven Arabs jumped back into the shuk just a few feet from me with a bottle held over his head. There I was, an old Jew in a dark shuk with a young tough Arab about to try to end my life by smashing my face with a bottle! I quickly threw the vodka in his face. The alcohol got into his eyes and he screamed, blindly throwing the bottle down onto the stones. It smashed into a million pieces, none of which touched me, and the Arab went running down the alley to wash the "fire" out of his eyes.
I helped Rocky up and we went home to write the Rebbe a letter thanking him for his l'chaim. I wrote, "Dear Rebbe, Thanks for the l'chaim. That's probably the first time your vodka has ever been used as a direct weapon to save a Jew's life." They loved the story and published the letter in several Chabad newspapers and magazines.