Otzar Nachmani, Vol. I, sec. 99
By Rabbi Nachman Burstein, zatzal
Translated by Dovid Sears (unedited)
[Rabbi Nachman Burstein relates:] I heard from my friend, the chassid Rabbi Yaakov (“Yankeleh”) Kohen Barzeski, zal, that once he was traveling to Meron with another person (whose name he mentioned, but which I have since forgotten) by way of Tiveria. As they were thirsty, they stopped at a certain kiosk for a drink. The owner of the kiosk stood there with his head uncovered, but when he saw two chassidim approaching, he immediately put on a kippah out of respect for them. He also answered “amen” to their blessings of “shehakol.” After they finished drinking and arose to leave, the proprietor asked them to tell him a “good vort (saying)” that he might find memorable. Reb Yankel said that although he ordinarily has many teachings from the Rebbe at his fingertips, suddenly his mind went blank and he couldn’t think of one thing he could quote! So he raised his eyes toward heaven, asking that he be given some good teaching that might inspire this man. And with the help of heaven, after a second or two, he remembered the Rebbe’s declaration, “If you believe that you can destroy, believe that you can repair [the damage]!” (Likutey Moharan II, 112). So he repeated this to the man, who was most gratified to hear these wondrous words and thanked him warmly. Then they departed in peace and went their way.
Many years passed. Then they happened to pass through Tiveria again and stopped at the same kiosk for a drink. However, a different fellow waited on them; one who wore a beard and a hat, and received them cordially. They inquired about the previous owner of the kiosk, where he was and what had happened to him, and they were amazed at the answer: “I have been here for many years and no one else has been here.”
As they conversed, the proprietor suddenly remembered these two chassidim, whom he began to recognize. “Maybe you’re the two chassidim who came to me a number of years ago? And I asked them for some good vort that I might enjoy? And one of them told me something fantastic that went straight to my soul—‘if you believe you can destroy, believe that you can repair!’ These words pursued me wherever I went and gave me no rest. Because I thought in my heart, ‘I know that I have done much damage in my life. I have not kept the Torah and mitzvos as a Jew should. How could this ever be remedied? However, this wondrous rule spoke deeply to me and instilled new hope within me: ‘if it is possible to destroy, it is possible to fix.’ Thus, little by little, my inner transformation began. I started to observe a few mitzvos and stop doing things that were contrary to Judaism. Additionally, I started to attend the synagogue every so often, and to observe Shabbos and the kosher laws, as well as those concerning modest behavior. With G-d’s help, I wanted to fix what I had damaged!
“Today you see me as a God-fearing Jew in all things. My family and I live a life of holiness and purity, observing the mitzvos fastidiously and living a religious life at home and everywhere. Praise to the Creator of the universe who has performed such great kindness with me as to have sent those two emissaries—good emissaries such as you—who enabled me to merit the eternal life of the World to Come!”
When Reb Yankel demonstrated that indeed, he was the one who had told him that vort, the man hugged and kissed him with love for having brought him back to Judaism, so that he was now a proper Jew who had repaired what he had damaged. He thanked him from the depth of his heart and crowned him with many blessings and good wishes, with tears of joy. Thus, they left him again, but now with a happy heart.
Reb Yankel concluded that ever since this wondrous occurrence, he has taken to heart the importance of constantly reviewing teachings from the Rebbe so that he would have them ready whenever need be. As our sages state, “The words of Torah should be honed in your mouth—if someone asks you a question, don’t stammer when you reply!” (Kiddushin 30a).