My grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, once set out for Paris, together with two gabba’im (attendants), Reb Leivik and Reb Pinchas Leib. He was also accompanied by two chassidim, Reb Monye Monensohn and Reb Yeshaya Berlin (who was also a nephew of the Rebbe).On their arrival, Reb Yeshaya asked the Rebbe Maharash where they should proceed to and was told, “To the Alexander Hotel” – one of the largest hotels whose guests included royalty. The Rebbe Maharash put him at ease: “You can’t speak French…, so I’ll do the talking.”
He asked for a fine suite of several rooms and was told that one such apartment was available, but it cost 200 francs a day. When he asked if there was a better one on the same floor as the casino, he was told that there was, but that it was very expensive. He took it – with one room for himself, one for Reb Leivik and one for Reb Pinchas Leib. (The latter tried to cook himself a dairy borscht that spilled all over a costly divan, and the damage amounted to 200 francs.) Reb Yeshaya Berlin and Reb Monye Monensohn booked places in a nearby hotel because they were not prepared to pay so much.
A few hours later, stepping into one of the gaming-rooms, the Rebbe Maharash took a seat next to a young man who was playing cards and sipping wine from a glass goblet. Resting his hand on the young man’s shoulder, the Rebbe Maharash said: “Young man! One is not allowed to drink wine touched by Gentile hands!” (known as ‘yayin nesech’) Then he added: “Such wine dulls the sensitivity of the mind and the heart. Be a staunch Jew!”
Finally, after wishing the young man a good night, he retired to his room, his emotions bestirred. Reb Yeshaya Berlin later recalled: “I’ve never seen my uncle in such a state of excited arousal as at that time. In those days, in the absence of elevators, guests were seated on special chairs and carried upstairs and downstairs by stewards. The Rebbe was so overwhelmed on the way back to his suite that he sat down on one of those waiting chairs – which was promptly hoisted into the air by two stewards. Reminded that his suite was on the same floor, he said “Pardon” in French, apologizing for his mistake and went to his room.”
A couple of hours later, the young man inquired as to the whereabouts of the person who had spoken to him, and then spent a long time in the Rebbe’s room. The next day, the Rebbe returned home.
Sometime later, the Rebbe Maharash stated that many generations had passed since such a pure soul had come down here – except that it had been submerged in the depths of the kelipot (unholy forces) until the young man returned in teshuvah (repentance to an authentic Torah lifestyle). That young man became the patriarch of the well-known … family in France.
As found on Chabad.org – from SIE (Sichos in English) Library Chassidus – Sefer HaSichos 5705 – Shabbat Haazinu, 13th Tishrei (day of passing of the Rebbe Maharash) at the daytime meal. Slightly adapted from the English translation by Uri Kaploun.
This story was mentioned by the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, in his first discourse Basi LeGani describing the awesome Ahavat Yisrael – love of a fellow Jew – of each of the Chabad Rebbes!