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Friday, August 12, 2022 - 15 Av 5782
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Friday, 12 August 2022
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Saved From the Cyclone
It was supposed to be a routine trip by Rabbi Dovid Chadad to Yangon, Myanmar (Burma). Rabbi Chadad, one of the Rebbe's emissaries to  Thailand, was already quite familiar with the streets of Yangon from his previous trips. For a number of years, he would spend the High Holidays with the isolated Jews of Burma, to conduct the prayers and to turn an attentive ear to all their Jewish needs.

The "cargo" that Rabbi Hadad was to bring along with him on this trip was unusual indeed. Rabbi Yosef Chaim Kantor, chief emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to Thailand, had asked Rabbi Hadad to make a special trip to Myanmar to print a book of Tanya. The Rebbe had requested that Tanyas be printed in every city in the world, in order to ensure that the teachings of Chassidism reach and permeate every location on the globe. Rabbi Hadad, due to his familiarity with Myanmar, agreed to take a portable printing press and print a Tanya there on his next trip. He told himself that Myanmar should not lose out on this merit, despite not having a permanent Chabad emissary.

 Myanmar is one of the few countries in the world that is run by a military dictatorship. This makes it difficult for foreigners involved in any type of activity in Myanmar. Rabbi Hadad hoped that his little printing expedition would not attract much notice of the higher-ups and would be accomplished peacefully.

 At the airport counter in Thailand, Rabbi Hadad was greeted by an unsympathetic officer. "Passport and ticket, please," he said impassively. The passport and ticket were handed over, and the official eyed them quickly. "You may not board the airplane," he said emphatically. "You do not have a visa."

 Rabbi Hadad's face fell. He had not known about this new requirement, to procure a visa for travel from Thailand to Myanmar. "I just flew a year ago and I had no visa!" he protested.

 The official stood firm. "I am sorry, but these are the rules. No visa, no boarding the plane."

 "What to do?" wondered Rabbi Hadad. The Jews of Myanmar had already been informed of his plans and were eagerly awaiting his visit. "How can I let them down?" He decided to try again. "I am prepared to pay whatever you ask, but please let me on this plane." However, the official would not back down.

 Without any options left, Rabbi Hadad left the airport disappointed, together with the portable printing press, and returned to the headquarters of Chabad in Thailand.

 "Hello, what are you doing here?" his fellow emissaries asked him in surprise. Rabbi Hadad told them ruefully of his lack of a visa, which prevented him from completing his trip. His friends, too, were likewise surprised. They had never heard of the new visa requirement.  "It seems that from Heaven, you are being prevented from going to Myanmar at this time."

 The next day, Rabbi Hadad awoke to hear the news of Cyclone Nargis, a powerful storm that ripped through Myanmar, causing over 100,000 deaths. The frightening descriptions of the massive casualties, particularly in Yangon, affected Rabbi Hadad to the depths of his soul. All electric power was cut off in Yangon, and there were shortages of food and fresh drinking water. Thousands of bodies were piled in the streets.  If not for that unsympathetic official, Rabbi Hadad himself would have been in the thick of the storm.

 Now Rabbi Hadad understood quite well the unseen hand that held up the printing of the Tanya. "Emissaries of a mitzvah are not harmed." Rabbi Hadad was overcome with deep feelings of gratitude to G-d. At the first opportunity, he arranged for a gathering of his friends to express his joy and thankfulness, in the tradition of seudat hodaya.

Following the cyclone, the authorities in Burma became even more strict about issuing visas. They tried to prevent outside humanitarian organizations from entering Myanmar, to prevent criticism of how the military junta was handling the crisis.

Nevertheless, Rabbi Hadad decided that he would try again to enter Burma at the first opportunity. He applied for a visa, and to his surprise, it was granted immediately. Not long after the storm, Rabbi Hadad visited Myanmar and finally printed the long-awaited edition of Tanya.



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