It was mid-afternoon, erev Pesach, Friday, April 4, 1958, a few hours to go till the holiday officially began.
A group of Chabad yeshiva boys in Brooklyn had finished baking the last of the Passover matza. The Lubavitcher Rebbe would distribute a piece of hand-baked matza to people as a spiritual gift. The Rebbe would stand the whole time, greeting people while handing them matza and wishing them a Kosher and Joyous Pesach. The mystical Jewish work, the Zohar explains that matza is the “bread of faith,” and simply eating it nourishes the soul!
The Rebbe would give matza first to the people who had to travel far, so that they could get home in time for the holiday.
“I was eighteen years old and had to get home to 167th and Jerome Avenue in the Bronx, which was pretty far away,” said Rabbi Shlomo Cunin. “When I approached the Rebbe, he said to me, ‘You live in the Bronx; Here is matza for someone who lives in the Bronx. Go to Rabbi Chadakov (the Rebbe’s secretary) and he will give you the address where you will deliver the matza.’ The Rebbe spoke to me in Yiddish, ‘Du lebst in di Bronx vest arein gein tzu Rabbi Chadakov vet er dir gebben dem address vu tzu nemen di matza’.
He handed me matza to deliver to this family in the Bronx.
I called my mother and told her that I could be very late for the seder so don’t wait for me. I managed to get some money to pay for a taxi from the place where I would be dropping off the matza to get home, since it was on the other side of the Bronx.
Then I took the train to the Bronx. On the way, the train broke down, so by the time I got to the station it was time for candle lighting. I left the money at the train station (which was happily picked up by others) and started walking. I saw Jews walking to shul and asked them where to find this address. I continued walking in the direction I was told. It was a long way to get there. Pretty soon I saw people coming home from shul. I asked them where this address was located, and they pointed to a certain housing project. When I finally got there, it looked different than other projects. I later learned that it was a special project for families with blind children.
I walked up the stairs to apartment 3D. The place had a very nasty odor.
I knocked on the door and out came a man with no shirt, tattoos and a pot belly.
‘What is it?’ he snapped. “‘Excuse me, are you Mr. So-and-So?’” I asked. ‘Yeah,’ he said.
“‘The Rebbe sent something very special for you and your family,’” I answered.
‘The Rebbe!? Oh, please come in!’ he said. The tiny kitchen contained only a small table, some chairs and a hot plate. On the table was a loaf of rye bread. I asked him to cover the bread.
I didn’t understand what I was doing there, delivering matza to a family who wasn’t celebrating Passover. Then I thought, perhaps that’s exactly why I am here.
At this point the wife and two beautiful young girls came into the kitchen. The wife was visibly pregnant, and I noticed that the girls were blind.
I asked the man if he had some clean paper cups? He brought out the cups and covered the table. I told him I would make a seder for his family. I gave him my yarmulke (as I had a hat) and began the seder. I gave out the Rebbe’s matza to each family member. The couple was very emotional at the seder, crying a lot.
They ate the matza and used water in the paper cups to recall the four cups of wine. I tried to think what the Rebbe would do if he was here. I looked at the little girls and at their mother, about to have another child, and began to tell them some things I had learned from the Rebbe.
I told them that we have to have faith. On this night, G-d liberated our ancestors from slavery, and He liberates us, too. The husband and wife seemed to hang onto every word, like they were getting nourishment just by listening.
I told them that on Passover, we journey through our personal Egypt to freedom, and that G-d doesn’t put on our shoulders more than we can carry. Once you know that, and believe it, you’re already liberated. We sang songs with the children and the time flew by.
At 1:00 a.m., the woman put the girls to bed, and it was time for me to leave.
Seeing how emotional the seder was for them, I asked them, “‘What is the story with you and the Rebbe?’”
The man replied that he was a leather tanner and worked in a factory with a Rabbi.
‘One day when I came in to work, my head was completely spinning,’ he explained. The Rabbi saw me and asked, ‘What’s wrong?’ I told him that we had two blind children and my wife was not supposed to get pregnant, because we feared that this could be the case again. However, she did. The doctor suggested an abortion as the child would most likely be blind. I was very upset about this idea and didn’t know what to do.
The Rabbi, who I later found out was a Lubavitcher Rabbi, said, ‘Write to the Rebbe for advice and a blessing.’ The Rebbe said not to have an abortion and that the child would be fine and sighted.
The man continued, ‘The Rebbe told us to have faith in G-d. You know, my wife and I weren’t sure about this. How are we supposed to have faith? How are we supposed to forget what is and have hope? We didn’t think it was possible. But tonight, hearing about faith and how G-d gives us the strength to overcome our personal limitations, our personal Egypt, well, now we understand.’
Indeed, that is exactly what happened. The boy born to this family was sighted. I stayed in touch with them for many years. Thank G-d, the family became religious. Both girls married and established Jewish traditional homes and had sighted children. The boy went on to learn in Yeshiva and also established a frum home.
If you are wondering what happened to me that seder night?
Well, I walked home across the Bronx and made it home safely, thank G-d, by four in the morning. My mother was waiting up for me. I began my seder knowing that the Rebbe cares about every Jew and grateful that I could be his emissary to bring his message of faith and joy to a Jewish family.”
Rabbi Cunin adds: “To really describe the Rebbe’s love for every Jew all over the world would be impossible. The best I could do is to write about a poor family in the Bronx, living in a housing project for the blind. And how the Rebbe had faith hand-delivered to their door.
As seen in The Moshiach Times Pesach 5780 issue.
In gratitude to Rabbi Shlomo Cunin* for verifying this story and sharing pertinent details.
Our Sages say: “When a Tzadik departs he is to be found in all the worlds more than during his lifetime.”- Zohar (as explained in Chapter 27 of Igeres HaKodesh.)
*Rabbi Boruch Shlomo E. Cunin, was sent on Shlichus by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1966. He is the head Shliach (emissary) and Director of Chabad Lubavitch on the West Coast for the states of California and Nevada. This article was originally published in Farbrengen Magazine.