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Art of the Heart

Rabbi Hendel Lieberman, who passed away in 1976, was a well-known Chassidic artist. Trained in the Moscow Academy of Art, R. Hendel's trademark was his lively, colorful portrayal of shtetl scenes. For R. Hendel, who lost his wife and two daughters in the Holocaust, his paintings were a source of solace, enabling him to forge a connection with a lost world. His paintings hang today in the New York Metropolitan Museum of art, London's Tate Gallery, and museums in Paris.

Rabbi Hendel was a devoted Chassid of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. After his harrowing experiences during World War II, he arrived in New York broken in both body and soul. The Rebbe encouraged him and breathed new life into him. Thanks to the Rebbe's blessings and support, Rabbi Hendel revived his art career. He also used his work to inspire others and draw fellow Jews back to the path of Torah.

R. Hendel was once invited to attend an art exhibition in a large American city, where many well-regarded artists were to exhibit their works. Before accepting the invitation, he requested the advice of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe instructed him to attend the exhibition, but not to stay in the hotel where the exhibition was being held. Rather, he should stay in another, nearby hotel.

R. Hendel did as the Rebbe asked. He rented a room in the hotel and brought with him enough kosher provisions to last for the duration of the exhibition.

His paintings proved to be very popular among the exhibition viewers. His appearance, especially, attracted attention: A Jewish rabbi of the old generation, with side locks and a saintly look.

During his spare time, R. Hendel sat in his hotel room studying Torah, so as not to waste a minute. One day, while in his hotel room, he heard a knock at the door. A stranger stood there and asked for a few minutes of his time.

R. Hendel ushered him in, and the man asked to borrow his tallit and tefillin. R. Hendel was surprised at the request, as the man did not look Jewish, but he complied happily. The man thanked R. Hendel and returned to his hotel room.

A while later, R. Hendel passed the man's room and heard sounds of sobbing. He was sure that the man was overcome with emotion and crying to G-d from the depths of his heart.

An hour later, the man returned the tefillin. R. Hendel noticed that the man's eyes were red and his face showed signs of deep emotion, but he pretended not to be aware of the change.

The man came several more times over the next few days, asking to borrow R. Hendel's tefillin. His curiosity aroused, R. Hendel engaged the man in a personal conversation. The man confided to R. Hendel that in his youth, he had been a yeshiva student. Later, he became influenced by the communist ideology and left Judaism completely.

When he arrived in the hotel for the art exhibition, he passed by R. Hendel's room and heard his prayers, so full of longing and beautiful melodies. The experience brought back memories of his youth, when he had learned in yeshiva and prayed with tallit and tefillin. He remembered his Chassidic parents who had observed all the commandments stringently. The home had been filled with such light and warmth; the Shabbat and holidays were the highlights of their lives.

He could not contain his feelings any longer, and decided to borrow the tefillin from R. Hendel. Now his longing for his childhood faith grew within him, and he could not let a day pass without prayer.

R. Hendel was deeply moved by the story. He now understood the scope of the Rebbe's vision. This must be the reason why the Rebbe asked him to participate in the exhibition and to stay in that hotel. The Rebbe, with his special spiritual sensitivity, had foreseen that this Jew would be there, and assigned R. Hendel the task of reigniting his Jewish soul. R. Hendel's presence in the hotel caused the man to remember his past and return to his Creator.

At the close of the exhibition, the two men parted and R. Hendel returned to Crown Heights. He wrote a report to the Rebbe about all that had happened at the exhibition, and how a Jewish artist had been inspired to return to Judaism.

Not long afterward, R. Hendel was dumbfounded to read in a newspaper that the Jewish artist had passed away. The Rebbe had sent him on a mission to help this man return to G-d completely in his final days.

   
 

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