New Light For the Blind
by Reb Mordechai Staiman

(A never before published article, written
(in January 1997) by Reb Mordechai Staiman)

"Who is blind?" a Ladino writer once asked. His answer: "He who declines to see the light."

Thank Hashem, chasidim of the Rebbe have been seeing the light for almost 47 years, and can't wait till the ultimate light arrives with Moshiach. Yet for years one Lubavitcher chasid named Rabbi Yosef Y. Shagalov was bothered about something. Over and over, he used to wonder: "What about the blind and the hard of seeing? They're certainly not declining to see the light. There must be something I can do. But what?"

Suddenly it was no longer a brain-solving problem. The solution had hands and feet. In his sichos, on Shabbos Parshas Eikev, 5751, the Rebbe further lit up the path to the Redemption, by announcing that the publication of the Tanya was printed in (Hebrew) braille. Now, the way was open, for spreading the teachings of Chasidus, to people who never before had the opportunity to taste this spiritual knowledge, in a new window for the soul.

And just as quickly, Rabbi Yosef Shagalov, taking his cue from the Rebbe, sprang spiritedly to his own feet and let his fingers do the talking on his computer.

Out of this emerged one of the most important Lubavitcher publications, Living With Moshiach, ever to hit the Orthodox Jewish market. The weekly magazine, which is generally 16 pages long but has hit the "newsstands" with 64 pages, has a twofold purpose: 1) to keep the visually impaired and the blind up to date on Moshiach matters, and, by doing so, 2) help hasten his arrival, as the Rebbe himself has encouraged all of us to do many times.

The "newsstands" that Shagalov reached were the libraries for the visually impaired and blind all over the U.S. and its worldwide territorial possessions. And due to the generosity of certain benefactors, the magazine also reaches, free of charge, thousands of blind and handicapped Jews, public service libraries and nonprofit organizations, and countless others also via the Internet.

As for the publication itself, a breakdown of its material, culled from many chasidic sources, as printed in L'Chaim Weekly Magazine, shows a definite emphasis on the teachings of the Rebbe.

It all began with the sending out to the blind and visually impaired a Happy New Year's Card for 5753, with the Rebbe's message, printed in large, 22 point type and also in braille. This was then followed up by four 9" by 12" holiday magazines issues, under the banner: "Moshiach -- Holiday Series." These included Moshiach and Chanukah, Moshiach and Yud Shevat, Moshiach and Tu B'Shevat and Moshiach and Chof Beis B'Shevat, all 64 pages long.

At the same time Rabbi Shagalov printed these issues for the visually impaired, he joined forces with Rabbi Menachem Sheingarten, who used his braille machine to publish the issues for the totally blind.

It was an exciting time for the two rabbis, for so many reasons, because, as it says in Living With Moshiach as well as many other places, "It is our fervent hope that our learning about Moshiach and the Redemption will hasten the coming of Moshiach, Now!"

One of the most thrilling yet almost frustrating moments came on the night of Kislev 19, 5753, when, if you recall, the Rebbe, recovering slowly from his stroke, made an appearance -- although appearance is not the right word for this ecstatic occasion -- for six hours at a farbrengen in 770. That night all of Crown Heights seemed much brighter and hopeful. And on that same night, two chasidim -- Rabbi Shagalov and this writer -- were laboring to prepare the first "blind" issue for the printer the next morning -- and willing to give their right arm (only kidding of course, but it's a good expression to stress their urge) to be with the Rebbe. Imagine: six hours of basking in the Rebbe's light! What a gift! Yet time was of the essence, and if we didn't finish tonight -- and it looked as if we'd be working long through the night -- we could just forget about the Chanukah issue and our new readers. We'd have to start all over next holiday, with different material.

So, finally, what did we do? The Rebbe's ways and means won the day -- or, in this case, the night. Here we were trying to follow his directives, to spread Yiddishkeit to the blind. Surely, if we asked the Rebbe what we should do now on this very night, to come to see him in 770 or to spread the wellsprings of Chasidus in doing what we were doing, there was no question what the Rebbe would want us to do. So we remained at our "drawing-board," editing and editing, until the wee hours in the morning (try seven or eight a.m.), and the publishing of our first issue was, thank G-d, a big success. Letters from Jews immediately started coming in from around the nation, thanking us for reaching them in their remote places and bringing a lot more than a bit of Chasidus to their lives. They were so happy that other Jews cared enough to reach out to them. The same elation and gratitude were expressed at the "770" Chanukah rally, sponsored by Kolel Tferes Zkeinim -- Levi Yitzchok, the Lubavitch Torah Institute for seniors, headed by Rabbi Menachem Gerlitsky. At the rally, each elderly man and woman was presented with a free copy of Moshiach and Chanukah.

Then, as with all smooth-running machines, a glitch finally came up. Rabbi Sheingarten moved, lock, stock and barrel, including the braille machine, with his family to Buenos Aires to become the Rebbe's sheliach there.

But this did not deter Shagalov's determination one bit. So, until he could come up with about $20,000 to buy his own braille machine, Shagalov, soon thereafter, began to print a small (in size) weekly magazine, about, as we mentioned earlier, 16 to 64 pages long. This is the Living With Moshiach series he now spends many sleepless nights producing (besides holding down a full-time job during the days). So far he's put out, under the auspices of the Lubavitch Shluchim Conferences on the Moshiach Campaign, Committee for the Blind, more than 90 issues. It all began at the urging at the Shluchim's convention of 1992. There, one of the resolutions called for publication of Moshiach written material for the blind and the visually impaired.

Suiting the action to the word, the magazines issues took hold, and what issues they were! Even non-Jews were impressed. One case quickly comes to mind. As part of the labor-of-love task of mailing off the issues, Shagalov, one night a week, delivers his ready-to-mail bags of booklets to the post office. One night he was approached by an elderly black female postal worker. In her hand was a copy of the previous week's issue of Living With Moshiach.

"Rabbi, Rabbi," she excitedly asked Shagalov, "where can I get this every week?" The lady's eyes were very moist as she looked at Shagalov.

"Why?" he sincerely asked her.

"Because, in it, you have the holy words of G-d!"

From then on, Shagalov left some copies at the post office for the postal workers to read.

A typical issue will contain the weekly Torah portion, adapted from the works of the Rebbe; Maimonides' Twelfth Principle of Faith; the Rebbe's Prophecy about Moshiach and the Redemption; times for candle-lighting, or where to phone for further info; ads about the "Good Card" and "Moshiach In The Air" radio and TV programs; the Rebbe's call to action, like, for example, enrolling your child in a Torah summer camp; many highly interesting and relevant subjects; and, of course, the Rebbe's photograph.

"What a joy it is to open a magazine such as yours and see the beaming face of the Rebbe. I feel all lit up each time I see him," is the typical response in letters by visually impaired readers.

Many of his magazines revolve around specific holidays. Shagalov goes to great pains to produce -- ah! if he only had the money and time to produce a 120-page issue every week, he'd do it -- the most compact Moshiach issue he can produce in 18 point type. "It's not easy," he smiles, knowing that he has to be realistic; he can't write a tome every issue on one subject. But he tries, he really does. And his work pays off in many ways.

The week after Chanukah 5755, about 4 in the morning, a Jewish male postal worker approached Shagalov at, where else but the post office, and said, with a feeling heart, "Rabbi, your Chanukah issue was unbelievable. All my life I never knew the complete story of Chanukah. Never had a proper Jewish education, but your magazine feeds me, and I guess I've been starving for information most of my life as a Jew. So, G-d bless you and your organization."

And the letters keep coming in, according to Shagalov. "You know you're making it big-time," he said, "when you receive a letter, which I did this past March, from an eye doctor in a faraway state. He wrote to tell me that somebody showed him one of my magazines and he would like to subscribe, in order for his patients to read it in his waiting room. Nu, nu, when you can get your Living With Moshiach magazine in waiting rooms of doctors, to me, that's big-time."

Yet, Shagalov is the first to admit, it's often a struggle to get out each weekly issue on time, although you'd never know it by his almost heroic pluck. As soon as Shagalov is ready to print his magazine, donors are rarely on his doorstep, begging to pay for the printing costs of each and every issue So, the man who deeply loves his Rebbe, and believes "with complete faith in the arrival of Moshiach," has to wear many hats to get the job done. "I do what I have to do," says Shagalov. Of course, he wishes more financial supporters would remember this great cause, promoted and endorsed by the Rebbe, and help finance the magazine's production. One rewarding way this can easily be done, Shagalov points out, is for a donor to pay for a particular issue, thereby dedicating it to himself, his family or a recently departed loved one. Address all correspondence to: Enlightenment For The Blind, Inc. 602 N. Orange Drive. Los Angeles, CA 90036 USA. [or via email, or via the Internet, at the "Enlightenment For The Blind, Inc OnLine Donation Page"]

During one of those long nights putting out Living With Moshiach, this writer turned to Shagalov and asked: "Yossi, how come you devote so much of your life, waking and sleeping, to the Rebbe's Moshiach Campaign?"

"I'll tell you," he said.

Shagalov's personal history itself reveals part of the answer. His grandfather was Rabbi Yitzchok Elchonon Halevi Shagalov, the previous Rebbe's sheliach in Gomel, Russia, who was brutally murdered by Stalin's henchmen for carrying out the previous Rebbe's directive to spread Yiddishkeit throughout Russia.

"How come I devote all my life to this great cause?" the 38-year-old Shagalov said to me. "Because the Rebbe prophesied that 'The time of our Redemption has arrived!' and 'Moshiach is on his way!' And Because I won't do any less than my grandfather. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. All his life he pushed Yiddishkeit; all my life I'll do everything I can to hasten Moshiach."

So, now, who is blind? Clearly not the readers of Living With Moshiach!

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