Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Grossman recently told the story of his visit to China. (Don’t worry – this was in pre-Corona days.) But before I tell you his story, let me introduce you to the Rabbi, also known as the “Disco Rav.”
At the tender age of 22, Rabbi Grossman left Jerusalem for the unprosperous immigrant town of Migdal Ha’emek in order to provide social and humanitarian aid to the needy souls there. High unemployment, together with a lack of educational and religious facilities and schools, had turned Migdal Ha’emek into a center of criminal activity.
He began by tackling the problem at its roots. Attired in his chassidishe garb, he would frequent local bars and discotheques in order to seek out and connect with the young generation. Within a year he was unanimously elected Chief Rabbi of Migdal Ha’emek. He founded the comprehensive Migdal Ohr Educational Center and has since touched thousands of souls.
But what was Rav Grossman doing in China? He had come to participate in the bris of his great-grandson. The parents of the baby were the Chabad shluchim in Chengdu. Although this famous city numbers over 15 million inhabitants, only 200 of them are Jewish. Like Chabad houses all over the world, Chengdu Chabad supplies kosher food, Shabbos meals, tefillin, religious services, support and advice to Jews living there, as well as to Jewish travelers and visitors.
The historic bris that his grandson was making was the first bris to be performed in that area for over one thousand years! When Jewish travelers in the region heard that Rav Grossman would be flying in to participate in the shalom zachor and bris, many flocked to Chengdu in order to share this uplifting Shabbos and momentous event.
One young Jewish traveler, however, was traveling in a different direction. Ro’i was on his way to Kunming, the “City of Eternal Spring,” with a friend. When the friend decided to drive to a different destination, Ro’i got out of the car and continued on foot to the nearby city. But Ro’i had miscalculated the distance. After plodding on for miles, he realized he was lost in the forest, with no human beings in sight. The sun had set, he was exhausted, and the howls of animals were the only voices he heard. When he awoke from his fitful sleep the next morning, the nightmare of his reality continued. He reluctantly pulled himself up, slung his knapsack over his weary shoulders, and walked for several hours until he discovered that he was approaching the same big rock that he had passed several hours earlier.
Ro’i collapsed onto the rock and cried out in despair. In order to maintain his sanity, he began to review the course of his life, year by year. As he was going through his high school days in Jerusalem, he vividly recalled an outing his class had made to Migdal Ha’emek. There they had met Rav Grossman, who had taught them a song. Ro’i didn’t remember anything else about the visit except for the song:
“What was – was.
The important thing is to begin anew from the beginning.
Abba, renew me entirely – light up my soul!”
Ro’i chanted the haunting melody over and over. He sang and cried out louder and louder the prayerful words which emanated from the depths of his despondent being.
And someone heard him. The One Above sent a building contractor who was driving on the road below the forest. He heard the plaintive notes and searched out the source of the melody. When he found Ro’i, listless on the rock, he asked him what he was doing there alone and about the wistful song he was singing so fervently. After hearing his story, the man drove Ro’i to the nearest city, Chengdu, straight to the Chabad House.
When the bedraggled Ro’i entered the dining hall, the first image he saw was the beaming face of Rav Grossman, the man who had taught him the song! Rav Grossman was speaking to the crowd assembled around the Shabbos table. His paternal, encouraging voice and gleaming eyes spoke energetically of the spark of holiness that every Jew possesses and of the miraculous power of our prayers.