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The Mission

Why Hashem had me come to Crown Heights on this day, at this hour


Every Tishah B’Av, a day when learning Torah is prohibited, I speak about a tragic event in Jewish history. This year, I spoke about the Crown Heights riot/pogrom of 1991.

After spending weeks preparing, I decided I should go to Crown Heights myself, to experience and feel the neighborhood.

My wife warned me to leave early to avoid the Friday afternoon gridlock at the Lincoln Tunnel. Suffice it to say, I did not heed my wife’s advice and spent longer than planned there. I walked the streets and perceived the milieu of the neighborhood. Finally, I arrived at my final and most emotional destination of the day, the corner of President Street and Brooklyn Avenue.

It was here that Yankel Rosenbaum’s life was cut short.

I was deeply moved as I stood silently at the corner.

Suddenly, I remembered that it was Friday. It was time to get homebound. As I turned onto Brooklyn Avenue, I saw many young boys walking home after day camp.

I paused to take in the heartwarming sight of the smiling boys. The boys, who looked around eight or nine years old, were walking, skipping, or riding on their razor scooters. Suddenly, one scooter swerved, and one boy fell heavily to the pavement. I quickly knelt and asked if he was all right. He grabbed his knee.

“Are you all right?” I repeated.

The boy began to cry.

“Do you want me to call Hatzolah?”

He shook his head no.

“Would you like me to call your parents?”

He nodded yes.

The nine-year-old fortunately knew his phone number. I called, his father answered, and I put him on with his son.

Then the father thanked me and said he would be right over.

“Don’t worry,” I told him, “I’ll wait until you arrive.”

After the phone call, it was clear the boy just needed some TLC.

Suddenly it dawned on me that Shabbos was fast approaching.

I checked my watch.

“How far away do you live from here?”

The boy shrugged, “Not far.”

The minutes ticked away as I remembered that in Brooklyn a five-minute walk could be a twenty-minute drive.

I could feel the sweat on the back of my neck as I wondered, Did I really have to get involved and call his father?

All at once the epiphany became crystal clear.

I realized my mistake.

I had thought the reason I was going to Crown Heights was to see the neighborhood.

However, in truth, perhaps the real reason Hashem had me come to Crown Heights today and precisely at this hour was to do this mitzvah of making sure a nine-year-old boy was not left alone.

I recalled the words of the Rambam, “…throughout the entire year, a person should view himself as being in the middle… by doing one mitzvah, you tip the scales for yourself and for the entire world for zechus and for yeshuah!”

Here was my one mitzvah for which I had to be here!

Suddenly, time no longer mattered.

If I have to spend Shabbos in Crown Heights, so be it.

I will not leave this boy alone.

Perhaps it was the feeling of loneliness felt by Yankel Rosenbaum at this exact place that made me steadfast in my resolve that I would not leave this boy alone.

After what seemed to me an hour (which in reality was ten minutes), the boy’s father arrived and thanked me.

I looked at him and said, “It is I who must thank you. Perhaps because of your son we just saved the entire world!”

The father looked at me with a quizzical expression, wished me a good Shabbos, and sped off. I lingered for a moment at this sanctified corner, where 28 years ago a lone Jew met his end for being a Jew, and where today, Hashem gave me the zechus of ensuring that another Jewish boy wasn’t left alone.

 (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 779)

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