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Saved From The Crash, Saved From The Flames
By Menachem Ziegelboim

The 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…

There have 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.

 At 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 there.

In those 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.

In the 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.

The added 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.

Nine of 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 the morning.

(Incidentally, 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.)

The boys 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.

Suddenly, 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!

The bachurim 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.

At that 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 flames.

In total 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.

Two seconds 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.

A passing car stopped to help, and took some of the injured bachurim to the hospital.

The accident occurred at the exact moment the kuntres was being prepared for publication in New York.

The 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.

Miraculously, 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.

Two days 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.

Unfortunately, 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.

After Mincha 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.

The Rebbe 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.

Rabbi Hodakov later told the bachurim that the Rebbes publication of the sicha had prevented further tragedy from occurring.

That 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.

Thank G-d, 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.


Another Miracle

At 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.

In the course of time the burns healed without the grafts. So well, in fact, they were almost imperceptible.





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