From The Crash, Saved From The Flames
whole thing happened in a split second. The bachurim tried to open
the doors, but the impact of the collision had crushed them in.
The flames were already inside the van…
not been many instances that the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach performs
an open miracle and publicly admits his participation. The
following, however, is one such story.
the farbrengen of Acharon Shel Pesach 5729 (1969), the
Rebbe MHM spoke at length about the need to strengthen the Jewish
communities of New York, particularly Crown Heights. Although by
that time, many Jews had fled the rapidly deteriorating
neighborhoods of the inner city, the Rebbe stressed the halachic
prohibition against abandoning these locations. In connection with
Crown Heights, the Rebbe said, G-d has commanded His blessing
days it was unusual for the Rebbe to personally edit his sichos
kodesh. Though, on the rare occasion, the Rebbe would request
that a sicha be submitted for his approval before
publication, and Acharon Shel Pesach 5729 was one of these sichos.
The chozrim rushed to finish their final draft and gave it
in. But weeks and months passed, and for some reason the Rebbe did
not edit it.
middle of the night on Tuesday, the 8th of Tammuz 5729, the Rebbe
suddenly handed the sicha to his secretariat and instructed
them to prepare it for immediate publication. One of the Rebbes mazkirim
noticed that the Rebbe had added an entire section that was not
originally said at the farbrengen. A closer look revealed
that that Rebbe had included a number of well-known sayings of Chazal
about becoming wealthy in the aftermath of a fire. The Rebbe also
requested, in his holy hand, that several Igros Kodesh of
the Alter Rebbe, the Mitteler Rebbe, and the Tzemach Tzedek on the
same subject be printed at the end of the kuntres.
section, as well as the letters, did not really pertain to the
subject matter, and everybody wondered why the Rebbe had included
them. Indeed, at the time it was the topic of much speculation.
A family of
Chassidim was celebrating a simcha. HaTamim Elchanan
Geisinsky would soon be getting married in the city of Boston.
Elchanans friends, some of the finest bachurim in 770,
decided to make the trip to be mesameiach the chasan.
The drive up to Boston was uneventful, and the bachurim
danced and brought joy to the bridegroom until the wee hours of
in later years each of these bachurim would go on to occupy
important posts in the field of shlichus and chinuch.
Their names are well known to Anash: Rabbis Yosef Minkowitz,
Shloma Majeski, Shmuel Leit, Shalom Ber Levitin, Yosef Samuels,
Eliyahu Hecht, Meir Minkowitz, Hershel Marosow, and Rabbi Aryeh
Leib Kaplan, o.b.m.)
left for Brooklyn right after the wedding, hoping to get back to
the dormitory and catch a short nap before the morning shiur
in Chassidus. The mood was positive in the car on the way back,
having thoroughly enjoyed themselves at the chasuna. At
that hour, 4:00 a.m., the roads were virtually empty of traffic.
there was the sound of a tremendous impact from the rear. Without
warning, the bachurim felt the van turn over and over in
the air, eventually righting itself a few dozen yards up the
highway. A huge trailer truck had crashed into them, and in less
than a second the van was surrounded by flickering trails of
gasoline. The fire was getting closer and closer to the gas tank
and then it exploded into a ball of flames!
in front managed to open the doors, while the passengers in the
rear were able to climb out through the shattered back windshield.
But the three Tmimim in the middle, Yosef Minkowitz, Shalom Ber
Levitin and Leibel Kaplan, were trapped. The doors refused to
budge, crushed from impact and fused by the intense heat. The
flames were already inside the van, scorching their bodies.
second, in an amazing burst of heroism and adrenaline, Shmuel
Light ran over to the burning van and pulled the door open from
the outside. The three bachurim tumbled out with their
clothes on fire and began to roll on the ground to extinguish the
shock, they looked at one another in disbelief. Were they all
accounted for? Standing by the side of the road they started to
count, but reached only eight. In horror they counted again, but
still someone was missing. Their eyes filled with terror as they
watched the flames consume what was left of the van.
later, Shloma Majeski crept up from behind them and joined the
group. Somehow, he had ended up at the foot of a small hill a
short distance from the vehicle.
car stopped to help, and took some of the injured bachurim
to the hospital.
occurred at the exact moment the kuntres was being prepared
for publication in New York.
policemen who arrived at the scene declared that they had never
seen anyone survive an accident of such magnitude. In actuality,
they had escaped death twice: first when the accident occurred,
then afterward when the car was engulfed in flames.
almost all of the bachurim were released from the hospital
that same night. The three burn victims underwent treatment. Yosef
Minkowitz was allowed to go home that same morning with his body
swathed in bandages. Leibel Kaplan and Shalom Ber Levitin, whose
burns were more serious, remained in the hospital.
later, on Thursday morning, the Tmimim recited the Shhecheyanu
blessing in the zal of 770. Yosef Minkowitz, who was still
wrapped in bandages, would later describe how the Rebbe looked at
him with a pained expression on his holy face.
the bachurim in the hospital were still in guarded
condition. Shalom Ber Levitin was the most seriously burned. The
doctors predicted that he would have to be hospitalized for two to
three weeks. And it was only a month before his wedding.
that Tuesday afternoon, the Rebbe inquired about the accident and
the boys condition. After being updated by Rabbi Yehuda Leib
Groner, the Rebbe said, Evidently, that is why the sicha
with the additions about fire was printed last night.
then directed Rabbi Hodakov to give each of the bachurim a
copy of the sicha, and in a handwritten note to his mazkirim
he specified: Each one should be given a copy of the kuntres
(with the addition of what is written on page 13), and a blessing
for a complete and speedy recovery. May they become Chassidim,
G-d-fearing individuals and Torah scholars, as well as, in the
language of our Rebbeim, in a manner of increasing wealth.
Hodakov later told the bachurim that the Rebbes publication
of the sicha had prevented further tragedy from occurring.
Shabbos, Parshas Chukas-Balak 5729, the Rebbe mentioned the
accident in a sicha, and explicitly connected the boys
miraculous escape to the printing of the kuntres. At the
conclusion of the sicha, the Rebbe invited the injured bachurim
to say lchaim.
Shalom Ber Levitins burns continued to heal, and the medical staff
in charge of his care declared it an open miracle. A month later
he was married right on schedule.
the end of Tishrei 5730, shortly before his upcoming
birthday, Yosef Minkowitz had yechidus with the Rebbe MH"M.
It was then two and a half months after the accident and
he was still undergoing medical treatment as a result of
his injuries. Among the other questions he asked the Rebbe
was whether to proceed with the experimental skin grafts
the doctors were suggesting. Since when do doctors know
about such things? the Rebbe replied, instructing him to
forgo the operation.
course of time the burns healed without the grafts. So
well, in fact, they were almost imperceptible.