The Unexpected Impact of Some Poppy Seed Hamantaschen

On the eve of Taanis Esther, the yeshiva took us to the local supermarket. There, amidst the aisles, I spotted a box of Reisman’s Poppy Seed Hamantaschen. At that moment, a voice within me urged, “Get this for Paul.”

By a CH Resident

In the haze of 2007 or maybe 2008 — I can’t recall the precise year — I was a young Mesivta boy, far from home and “engrossed” in my studies. While I can’t boast of being the biggest Lamdan, one thing I held dear was my fervor for Mivtzoim, a passion that still flickers within me today. My respect for the shluchim who devote themselves wholeheartedly to this cause knows no bounds. Thankfully B”H, through my role as a Chabad senior circle rabbi and program director at a (local) Chabad house, my family and I are privileged to taste the sweetness of shlichus while residing in Crown Heights.

In Lubavitch yeshivas, it is customary for Friday afternoons to be dedicated to Mivtzoim, and our yeshiva followed suit. I inherited a route from a fellow bochur who had served before me the year prior, and with bubbling excitement coursing through my 14- or 15-year-old veins, we embarked on our mission. Although I had done Mivtzoim in Manhattan for the past two years, this time felt different; now, we were the “rabbis” leading the mission.

Week after week, my chavrusa Yossi and I traversed the bustling streets of downtown, immersing ourselves in one of America’s lively metropolises. We visited newfound Jewish friends, sharing the warmth and light of Yiddishkeit with them. With youthful zeal and naivety, we enthusiastically discussed Torah thoughts, which occasionally included delving into a Sicha or קם רבה שחטיה לרבי זירא… with fervor, vividly recounting the story and followed by the Rebbe’s insightful explanation. One particularly memorable escapade involved being chased out of the county courthouse by a Jewish judge, a testament to the adventurous spirit of bochur life — a time I dearly miss.

Our encounters were diverse, from Michoel Wolf at Fox’s clothing store to Harvey Weisfish the lawyer and the Levin family of attorneys, not to mention the friendly faces at the camera/Kodak store (remembering them all sixteen years later is no easy feat).

Then there was Mr. Paul Solomon, a quintessential American Jew in his mid-sixties. Paul didn’t live a conspicuously Jewish life, though he mentioned once that his wife occasionally attended Chabad events. His days were spent behind a small window, selling lottery tickets from his cluttered office adorned with newspapers, and a small TV playing in the background. On Friday afternoons, we’d stand by his window, engaging in conversations that sometimes stretched for half an hour or more, punctuated by the occasional customer seeking to purchase a ticket. Looking back, I wonder what pearls of wisdom a 14-year-old Bocher could have possibly offered him.

Yet amidst our discussions about Torah and Jewish life, one topic stood out that year. As Purim approached, we chatted with Mr. Solomon about the upcoming holiday and its costumes and traditions. To our surprise, he shared his love for Poppy Seed Hamantaschen, raving about their deliciousness and mentioning a nearby restaurant called Creps where they were sold. It struck me as odd that a non-kosher establishment would offer such treats, but that’s what he told us. As a young Oholei Torah’nik, the mere thought of Poppy Seed Hamantaschen elicited a visceral “YUK!” from within.

That Purim, our yeshiva arranged Mishloach Manos for us bochurim to distribute to our Friday friends on Mivtzoim. On the eve of Taanis Esther, the yeshiva took us to the local supermarket to shop for whatever we needed. There, amidst the aisles, I spotted a box of Reisman’s Poppy Seed Hamantaschen. It was the first time I’d noticed them, realizing they were a delicacy some people actually enjoyed (let alone ate).

In that moment, a voice within me urged, “Get this for Paul.” Despite being far from home with limited funds, parting with the $6.25 it would cost wasn’t an easy decision. Perhaps it was the thought that if I didn’t buy them for him, he’d obtain them from a non-kosher place anyway, so investing in his happiness and Mivtzah Kashrus seemed worthwhile.

On Purim day, armed with our Mishloach Manos, we visited Paul. Alongside the mivtzoim Mishloach Manos, we presented him with the box of Reisman’s Poppy Seed Hamantaschen, explaining it was a special gift from us to him. What followed was unexpected.

Despite our many discussions, Paul had always declined our invitations to don tefillin. Every week, the answer was the same — no. Yet on that Purim, something changed. Tears welled in his eyes as he received our gift, and then, to our astonishment, he stood up, exited his cramped office, and approached us on the other side of the window. Rolling up his sleeve, he declared, “Here, I am ready to put on tefillin!”

It was one of the most emotional instances of Mivtza Tefillin I had ever experienced. (There is a picture of it somewhere, I just was unable to find it.)

I can’t say he put on tefillin every week thereafter, but that moment opened new channels of communication in all aspects of Yiddishkeit.

Reflecting on that event, I see the incredible hashgacha pratis that led me to purchase those poppy seed hamantaschen, resulting in Paul putting on tefillin. The lesson I gleaned from this and that I wish to share is to never overlook the power of a simple, small gesture. Often, we wonder why we should go the extra mile, why we should smile when we’re not in the mood, or why we should heed the Lubavitch guilt telling us it’s our mission to save and change the world. We might think, “What will my small act accomplish? Will anyone even notice?”

The answer is yes. Our job is simply to act. As we learn from the Purim Story, Mordecai conveyed to Esther that we are an eternal people, and no matter what transpires, Hashem will provide salvation רווח והצלה יעמוד ליהודים ממקום אחר. The only question remains: Will you be the one privileged to bring forth this salvation? We are called upon to seize opportunities and make a difference, the issue is that we sometimes overthink it and let the opportunity slip away. There was absolutely no need for me to buy him it, but that extra move resulted In tefillin, which was never part of the equation.

In 3rd or 4th grade, our teacher gave us a tape with a clip of a Purim farbrengen from 1982/5742, and there is a powerful message that the Rebbes says there that has stuck with me since. The Rebbe says:

וואס מהנ”ל איז פארשטאנדיק דער כח ויכולת וואס יעדער איד האט אויף מכריע זיין און געוועלטיקן אויף אלע “שבע ועשרים ומאה מדינה” — די גאנצע וועלט. און ווי פריער דערמאנט פון רמב”ם, אז יעדער איד, וואו ער זאל זיך ניט געפינען, און ניט קוקנדיק וואס ס’האט זיך געטראפן מיט עם א רגע לפנ”ז, דארף ער קוקן אויף זיך אין דער רגע, אין דער מקום, אז ער איז שקול און די גאנצע וועלט איז שקול, און ניט קוקנדיק וואס ער איז, און ווי אזוי ער איז — “מי אני ומה אני” — הענגט אין אים אפ אז ער זאל ברענגען תשועה והצלה לו ולעצמו ולכל העולם כולו! און דאס איז א’ הלכה אין תורת משה, וואס משה אמת ותורתו אמת (כנ”ל), דאס איז ניט ח”ו דעם רמב”ס’ס חידוש… ו
בנוגע לפועל: בשעת מ’רעדט צו דער אינגעלע, אדער צו דער “אינגעלע” מיט דער ווייסער בארד — זאל ער וויסן זיין אז דאס מיינט מען אים, אז “ה’ נצב עליו”, און ער איז א מרכבה צו עצמות ומהות, און דער רמב”ם זאגט אז בשעת ער טראכט א מחשבה טובה, קען ער אראפברענגען משיחין איצטער אויף 770 איסטערן פארקוויי, במוצאי פורים התחלה פון שושן פורים שנת תשמ”ב !
…ועד’’ז אויך בנוגע צו זיין דיבור ובנוגע צו זיין מעשה…

“Every Yid has the power and ability to have a decisive impact on all “One Hundred and twenty Seven states” — the entire world. as emphasized by the Rambam, that every Yid, wherever he may be, and regardless of the circumstances that may have befallen him, must reflect in the moment, in the place, that He is positioned on a level playing field alongside both the favorable and unfavorable sides, just as the world is. He should not wonder who he is or what his worth is; rather, he should focus on “Who am I and what am I?” — with the intent that he should bring salvation and redemption to himself and to the entire world!

“And this is a fundamental principle in the Torah, This is not G-d forbid a novelty of The Rambam.

“And regarding action: When one speaks to this child (the inner self), or to the kid “inner self” with the white beard — he should know that we mean him, it means that “Hashem stands over him”, and he is a chariot to Hashem’s essence. And when one thinks a good thought, he can actually bring Moshiahc right now at 770 Eastern Parkway, at the end of Purim, the onset of Shushan Purim in the year 5742!”

On Purim 5733/1973, the Rebbe explained the significance behind the detailed description of Achashveirosh’s extravagant feast in the Megillah, a detail seemingly irrelevant to the central themes and miracles of Purim.

The lesson drawn from Achashveirosh’s lavish celebration is profound: despite his misplaced priorities, he utilized all his resources and strength for his pursuits. This serves as a poignant reminder for us as Jews. If Achashveirosh could dedicate so much to his fleeting desires, how much more so should we dedicate ourselves to our divine mission, drawing upon every talent and resource bestowed upon us by Hashem.

It is not enough to merely equal or surpass the achievements of others; we must strive to reach our own maximum potential and go beyond. By offering our own spiritual banquet, commensurate with our abilities, we fulfill our obligations to Hashem, to the Jewish people, and to the world.

The message is clear: instead of overthinking or succumbing to anxiety, take action now with the capabilities you possess. Strive to do your best without comparing yourself to others, and you’ll be amazed at the outcomes, often exceeding even your own expectations. In conclusion, always remember: “The most crucial thing is to take action.”

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