Two weeks ago I found myself at the International Conference of Chabad Shluchos in Crown Heights running a program together with my friend Rivka Kotlarsky for 120 Guests of Shluchos – many of them not yet especially observant. On Motzei Shabbos, while ascending the elevator of the Jewish Children’s Museum – where we had organized an elegant melave malkah banquet – I suddenly saw the woman next to me point in my direction and say to a third woman, “That’s the person you’re looking for.”
“Oh, you’re in charge of the Shluchos Program?” the lady asked me.
“No,” I said, “I’m one of the women in charge of the Guest of Shluchos program. If you want the Shluchos program, you’ll have to walk a block and a half where the main program is taking place.”
“I don’t want to walk,” she said. She was holding 25 beautifully embroidered challah covers that her husband – the rabbi of the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem – had asked her to distribute among the shluchos as a promotion for the hotel.
“Well,” I said, “if you want, I can give them to the shluchos’s guests. I’ll auction them off,” I said.
“No,” she said, “you can’t auction them. They have to be given for free.”
“I mean, auction them for mitzvos,” I said. “Every woman who wishes to receive a challah cover will pledge to do a mitzvah and then we’ll place all their pledges in a bag and randomly pick the winners.”
“Okay, let me ask my husband,” she said.
She called her husband, he gave the okay, and I was left holding the bag of beautiful challah covers.
All this was done on a whim. The idea popped into my head, and I went with it. I didn’t make much of it initially and even temporarily forgot about the covers. But then on Sunday, on the way back from the Ohel, the resting place of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, I suddenly remembered and introduced the mitzvah raffle idea to our guests. Right there on the moving bus the women shakily wrote their determined pledges. Our accommodating bus driver pulled out the lucky winners. But they were all winners – each one of them. You should have seen their pledges. They really touched our hearts
“I promise to stop watching TV and turn off my cell and computer on Shabbos,” one woman wrote.
“Go to the mikvah and light Shabbos candles,” wrote another.
“To learn and start saying the bathroom blessing,” wrote a third.
“Give daily tzedakah,” wrote a fourth.
“Maintain kashrut at home,” wrote a fifth.
“Won’t smoke or wear make-up on Shabbos,” wrote a sixth…and on and on
Who were these women? In a sense they were all ordinary people – like you and me. They were brought to Crown Heights from literally all four corners of the globe by some of the 2,000 shluchos who attended the conference that weekend. And something that Shabbos (the Shabbos of the Ten Commandments) touched their souls. The lectures they heard, the workshops they attended, the spirituality they imbibed that weekend permeated their souls and they wanted to do… more.
Will all these women keep all their pledges? Who knows? But I truly believe they will. Each one of these women entered the raffle voluntarily and on their own decided to pledge to undertake a new mitzvah. This act of devotion in itself is truly awe-inspiring.
Of course none of this would have happened had the woman with the challah covers not “accidentally” entered that elevator at that moment. Who said Hashem doesn’t run the world?