It was late in the afternoon when Rebbe Shmuel, the Maharash, accompanied by his two gabbaim arrived in Paris, France. The purpose of the trip was still unclear to the two escorts. Before leaving, the Rebbe told them only where they would be going.
“And where will we stay?” they wished to know.
“In the Alexander Hotel,” the Rebbe replied.
The gabbaim looked at each other surprised to hear this. The Alexander Hotel was the most beautiful and most expensive hotel in all of Paris. Even wealthy businessmen didn’t permit themselves the luxury of staying there. Only kings and high ranking aristocrats were accustomed to entering this majestic hotel.
When they reached the reception desk, the Rebbe, who was fluent in French, turned to the receptionist and requested three expensive rooms. The receptionist offered the Rebbe rooms at the rate of two hundred francs each per day. It was a high price, but the Rebbe was not satisfied.
“Perhaps you have rooms that are more expensive than these?’ the Rebbe asked. “I’m referring to the ones that are near the game rooms and the casino,” he said.
The receptionist checked his book and returned smiling politely.
“Yes sir, we have,” he said and quoted an even higher price than before.
The Rebbe retired to one room and the gabbaim to the other two. For a long time the Rebbe remained in his room. Suddenly he opened the door. With a serious expression on his face he strode directly towards the casino which was adjacent to his room. The eyes of the many players turned in shock towards the Rebbe whose saintly face didn’t fit in at all with the place. Near one of the tables sat a young Jew playing cards. In front of him was a glass of wine from which he sipped. The Rebbe chose to sit near hm.
For a long while the Rebbe sat silently studying the young man who didn’t even notice. Suddenly the Rebbe put his arm on the youn man’s shoulder. The young man lifted his eyes in surprise, and then the Rebbe turned to him and said:
“Young man, it is forbidden to drink non-kosher wine.”
The Rebbe continued looking him straight in the eyes and said:
Forbidden wine defiles the heart and mind.”
Then, without hesitating, the Rebbe stood up and returned to his room.
Late in the night the young Jew was seen wandering about the hotel.
“Where can I find the Rabbi who visited the casino today?” he asked the hotel guests. One of the gabbaim who happened to pass by then, directed him to the Rebbe’s room.
The young man remained in the Rebbe’s room for a very long time. No one knows what it was they discussed. The very next day the Rebbe paid the hotel bill and continued on his way.
“It’s been many years since a soul as pure as that young Jew descended into this world,” the Rebbe later told his chassidim and added, “but his soul was in captivity by the forces of unholiness.”
After speaking with the Rebbe, the young man changed his lifestyle and repented completely. All his children and grandchildren are G-d fearing Jews to this day!
From Journey With the Rebbes Vol 1 by Ufaratzta Publishing, Kfar Chabad, Israel