I remember it as clearly as if it happened yesterday. It was Tuesday night, after midnight, Gimmel Adar Rishon 5749 (March 8, ’89] when I had the strangest dream. The [Lubavitcher] Rebbe appeared to me. He was smiling, which is a wonderful sign. He addressed me by my first name and said, "Tomorrow you should wear a necktie."

He was smiling, which is a wonderful sign.

Now, even in a dream that sounded ridiculous. I’m one of those yeshiva guys who goes with shirttails hanging out, and I can’t claim that I put on a fresh clean one everyday either. I guess you could call me a bit extreme. And I should put on a necktie. Preposterous!

I thought that in the context of the dream, and even more so when I woke up. When I went around the corner to [the yeshiva at] 770 [Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn] to board the tank, I didn’t tell any of the others about the dream. It was too ridiculous, even though the rebbe was in it.

On Fridays, all the yeshiva students scatter from Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn on "Tefilin Campaign" to points all over the city in order to encourage fellow Jewish males to put on tefilin with our help. We also distribute Shabbat candles to Jewish women, and in general to do whatever we could to be a helpful Jewish presence. Most traveled by subway. But on Wednesdays I also had a route in Manhattan with some other students and we went there in a "mitzvah-mobile," or Tefilin Tank, as we liked to call the specially designed mobile-home vans that we used. That Wednesday, as we set out, I briefly remembered the dream and again shook my head in disbelief.

We drove to our usual "station" on Sixth Avenue and Forty-Second Street, convenient to both the Garment and Diamond districts. I strolled away from the Tank a bit and began asking men that looked Jewish if they were indeed Jewish and if they wanted to put on tefilin. A few hours passed and I was thinking about taking a break to get something to eat when a man with an attaché case walked up to me and addressed me in Yiddish!

He was an old Jew from Europe and his attaché case was filled with...neckties!

It turned out he was an old Jew from Europe and his attaché case was filled with, of all things, neckties!"Perhaps you want to buy a nice tie," he asked.

"Mishigas" ("Nonsense"), I replied, even though I immediately recalled my dream of the Rebbe the night before. The concept of wearing a tie was still much too foreign. "What would I do with a tie? I’ve never worn one in my life. Look at me; do I look like a necktie type of person to you?"

"Still, you should have one," he insisted. "It will go well with your white shirt. And I have a very nice selection."

I shook my head firmly, but at the same time I began to question myself. First the dream and now this? Maybe I really had to consider it.

He continued to urge me and finally I relented. "Okay, I’ll look at what you have. But if I am really going to get a tie, which I can’t believe, I wouldn’t consider anything except what the Rebbe himself wears."

"What’s that?" he quickly queried.

"Solid black and 100% pure silk," I told him.

"Oh, I happen to have one like that," he said. "Let me find it for you…. Ah, here it is. As you can see it is of very fine quality. You have good taste. For you, only $80."

I burst into laughter. "You can’t be serious! Me, spend $80 on a necktie? Even if I had so much money I wouldn’t do it, but of course I don’t have. Not even close."

"So how much do you have?

I pulled out all the single dollar bills and loose change from my pockets. A vigorous shaking produced another few nickels and dimes. "A bit over five dollars," I said ruefully.

Perhaps you would like one of my cheaper samples.

His eyes opened wide. "Well, in that case, perhaps you would like one of my cheaper samples. They are also very nice."

"No," I said firmly. "Like the Rebbe’s, or nothing."

He was silent for a minute, a thoughtful look on his face. "Okay, I’ll let you have it for five dollars. But you have to put it on, and wear it too."

I gulped. This was not turning out as I had expected. I never imagined he would give it to me for such a small fraction of his "special" price. I thought I was rid of him and now I was stuck. "But I can’t put it on now. I don’t know how," I tried.

"Don’t worry," he rejoined. "I’ll tie it for you."

I was afraid he would say that. I gave him the money. He counted it carefully and then placed the tie around my neck and under the collar of my shirt. After some mysterious twisting of the two ends he was finished with the knot. He stepped back and said, "Ah. Wonderful. It looks very nice on you. Very becoming. Now you look like a mentsch."

I felt like I was choking. I figured as soon as he went away I would take it off, but it was as if he read my mind. He insisted that I leave it on for the day and I reluctantly agreed. He smiled, nodded, turned away, and soon disappeared from sight.

I noticed that I was getting a much higher percentage of positive responses than usual.

Then, something strange happened. I had resumed asking the Jewish-looking men walking by if they would like to put on tefilin, and after a while I noticed that I was getting a much higher percentage of positive responses than usual. "Could it really be the tie?" I wondered to myself. "It just doesn’t make sense." Even so, it somehow made an impression, and I accepted that I would leave the tie on.

Another hour went by and I had already forgotten I was wearing it. Then it was time to split up and make our rounds of the offices in the vicinity, where a number of the Jewish professionals were used to our weekly appearances. Many even looked forward to our visits.

One exception was a certain law office, which was on my route. Although the non-Jewish lawyers were friendly, and several of the Jewish lawyers were agreeable, the head of the firm never let them take the few minutes to put on tefilin with us. He would complain about "wasting time" and get upset about "whoever let these people in." After a few muttered words to one of his staff he would stalk away, and soon thereafter I would be politely asked to leave. The situation worsened to the point that the reception people were reluctant to buzz me in the front door, and many times they wouldn’t. But I kept trying.

This day, however, they let me in immediately. But as soon as I entered, the first one I encountered, before I could even say hello to the receptionist and the secretaries, was the boss man himself. He gave us a hard stare and said "You!" in a loud firm tone, and pointed his finger directly at me. "Come with me. Now!"

"Uh oh," I thought. "It finally happened. This lawyer is going to call the police on me or something." But there was no choice. I followed him into his private room.

He closed the door behind us and locked it. I couldn’t help noticing how fancy and prosperous-looking his office was. He tried making some small talk with me in halting Hebrew. He said that he had been to Hebrew University for a year in his college days. He already was aware that my English wasn’t that great. I assured him that I understood much better than I could speak.

"I want you to help me put on tefilin," he said quietly, averting his eyes.

He stared at me again. Then he spoke. "I want you to help me put on tefilin," he said quietly, averting his eyes.

Could I believe what just entered my ears? I must have looked stunned, although it probably wasn’t difficult for him to figure out how surprised I was. "I am sure you want to know why today I suddenly agreed to let you put tefilin on me. I’ll explain afterwards."

I nodded and quickly took the tefilin out of its pouch. I wrapped him up and coached him in the blessings and recitation of the Shema Yisrael prayer, in which tefilin is mentioned twice. When he finished, I removed the tefilin, returned them to their place, and looked at him expectantly.

He sighed. "I’m sure you see me as a very successful person, but the truth is that I am having a difficult time now. I've been having a number of personal problems, and lately I’ve been feeling that I could use some aid and advice, but I didn’t know where to turn.

"Then, yesterday, I happened to see one of the cards you fellows left here with your rabbi's picture on it, and it struck a chord. I wondered if he could possibly help me.

'What, those slobs? They look like a bunch of vagrants!

"Now comes the part that may be difficult for you to believe. Last night I had a dream. I dreamt that I saw the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He smiled and I asked him if he could help me. He answered, 'But I send you a few people every week.' To which I replied, 'What, those slobs? They look like a bunch of vagrants! Who can respect them? Why, none of them even wears a tie!'

"The Rebbe smiled at me again and said 'You want a tie? Okay, I'll send someone with a tie!' And I woke up.

"So when I saw you wearing a tie I immediately understood that the dream was real. I knew I should put on tefilin with you so I brought you in here. I hope now that my situation will improve."

After that day, he began putting on tefilin on a daily basis, by himself. I saw that his personal and spiritual situation definitely took an upturn. Even after I returned to Israel I maintained contact with him. We speak on the phone before every holiday, and whenever I get to New York, we see each other. He seems to be as prosperous as ever, or even more so. Just this winter, eighteen years after this story, he came to Brooklyn to visit me.

By the way, I continued to wear the tie whenever I went on Tefilin Campaign and I consistently noted increased success. If you are wondering why the other students didn’t follow my lead, it is because they never saw me wearing a tie and I never told them about it. I would put it on only when there were no other fellows around. To be seen wearing a tie? How embarrassing.

[Connection to this week: Seasonal – date of story; Weekly Reading – special ceremonial clothes!]

As told in a personal interview.

A revised version of this story appears in "Saturday Night, Full Moon," the first of a three volume set of Kabbala Online's managing editor Yerachmiel Tilles' best stories. Available in the North of Israel at Ascent-in-Safed, or kabbalaonline-shop.com, as well as at Menorah-Books.com.

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