Monday, October 31, 2005

A prayer for reconciliation and forgiveness

Posted on Mon, Oct. 31, 2005

A spur-of-the-moment visit to Rabbi Menachem Schneerson's tomb brings unexpected and astonishing results

Special to the Observer

I make no apologies for my devotion to Chasidism, particularly to the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, with its tireless outreach and nonjudgmental welcome to Jews of all callings and backgrounds. Moreover, it asks nothing in return.
Do I agree with every point of the movement's theology and lifestyle? No, but enough to make me an adherent. In fact, we often joke about how a rabbi so seemingly atypical, in a decidedly un-Chabad town like Greenville, is so devoted to the work of Chabad. Hence my title, "Closet Lubavitcher"!
Their most recent, now deceased, Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, is understood by all Lubavitchers as irreplaceable. Do they consider him a miracle-worker? Perhaps, or at least a great cosmic influence. Is he the Messiah? This is the subject of tremendous controversy, even condemnation, in the secular media and other Jewish movements. Let's simply say that many Lubavitchers openly declare him the Messiah, while for others the idea hovers as a distinct possibility.
Two years before his death, the Rebbe became my "savior." In a scant 30 seconds, he stroked my arm and offered me guidance at the most dismal time of my life. Those few words, I now realize, marked the beginning of my emotional and spiritual restoration and intervened in my imminent suicide.
A trip to the tomb
That was then. Now, let me tell you about my recent transcendent experience -- or spooky experience, depending how you look at it -- with the Rebbe:A few months ago, I spent a week in New York working on a project. By serendipity, my driver to the airport was a young Lubavitcher. At the sight of my yarmulke, he asked whether I had ever visited the Ohel (Rebbe's tomb). I told him I had not, but if we had time, I would certainly like to pay my respects. Knowing that people flock to the Ohel to ask for the Rebbe's intercession, and remembering his life-saving advice for me 13 years earlier, it was the least I could do.
Arriving at the Ohel, my driver recommended that I write a "pan," an acronym for pidyon nefesh, a "redemption of the soul," to place on the Rebbe's tomb. What could it hurt, I thought. So, I prayed for universal peace and for the safety of my family.
One extra request
Then, I asked for something out of the ordinary: Three years earlier, I had departed my congregation in Greenville under acrimonious circumstances. Many congregants were left angry and estranged. Little by little, some had forgiven me, and our relationships had slowly resumed. For others, the anger still burned.
But, the Goldbergs (name changed), with whom we were particularly close and whose friendship we cherished, stopped talking to us and refused all pleas of forgiveness -- would not even answer calls, notes, e-mails, coming to the door or responding to mediators.
So, I prayed on my pan that there would be reconciliation with congregants who were still estranged and particularly for forgiveness from the Goldbergs. I dropped the shredded pan, as is the custom, on the Rebbe's tomb and noted that it was 6:00, time to leave for the airport. Shortly thereafter, I called Linda to tell her that the plane was departing on time.
"You'll never guess who called," Linda announced. "The Goldbergs."
Astonished, I asked her if there had been any particular reason.
"No. An incredible surprise. They just wanted to say hello."
"And do you remember about what time they called?"
"It must have been around 6:05."
We never know
Please understand my purpose. My personal feelings aside, relating this wonder-story is not to convince anyone to believe in miracles, nor to believe that the Rebbe is the Messiah, nor that I was at all worthy of Divine intercession.
I have only one purpose: It is to tell people smug or doubting that we never know. We expect, and we never know. We are so often thwarted. Life wearies us, and we never know. The sun may yet shine from the abyss.
A serendipitous ride to the Ohel? I think not.
Marc Howard Wilson is a rabbi and syndicated writer in Greenville, S.C. A collection of his essays may be found at Write him at
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