Rabbi Ben-Tzion Schwartz, head administrator of the Chabad yeshiva in Ramat Aviv, relates:
The Chabad yeshiva in Ramat Aviv is geared towards young men who are interested in studying Judaism but don't have a strong background in Jewish studies. Several years ago, a young man from France named Jo came to the yeshiva to study Judaism.
Jo was in his twenties when he decided to leave France and tour the world. His goals were to gain worldly experience and have adventures. Jo was raised in a traditional, but not fully observant, Jewish home. Before leaving home, his mother asked him to take his tefillin with him and put them on every day.
Jo agreed and packed his tefillin. Seeing that Jo was amenable to her suggestions, his mother gave him a tallit as well (in the Sephardic tradition, single men wear a tallit), but this he refused to take. "The tefillin are enough," he said. "I don’t want to be unduly restricted."
Jo started his tour in Madagascar. From there Jo planned to visit dozens of other countries. As he had promised his mother, Jo put on his tefillin each morning and said Shma.
One day Jo came to a tiny, forsaken village where the people lived in huts and walked barefoot. Here and there, one could see a donkey or horse dragging a cart through the sand. The village seemed utterly removed from the rest of the world. Jo decided to spend the night.
In the morning, he put his tefillin on as usual and began saying Shma. When he got to the words, "Speak to the Jewish people and say to them, and they shall make tzitzit (a four-cornered fringed garment)," he began to think, "I don’t have tzitzit." Then he remembered his mother asking him to take his tallit with him, which he had refused to do. "How can I stand here before G-d and say that I need to wear tzitzit when not only don’t I do so, but I actually refused to take them?"
Jo felt sad about the opportunity he had lost. He knew he wouldn’t be able to obtain tzitzit in that part of Africa. Each day, when he reached the words, "and they shall make tzitzit," he felt distressed. One day he felt he couldn’t take it any more, and he called out to G-d to help him obtain a tallit.
The next day, he walked down the dirt path leading out of the village, with his heavy backpack on his shoulders. He encountered an African village woman, holding bundles in her hands. He glanced at her and noticed that she was wearing a shawl that looked just like a tallit. Jo approached her and asked to see her shawl. He examined it closely and saw that it was indeed a tallit, a woolen tallit with the blessing embroidered in gold letters on a silken strip along the top!
Jo just couldn’t believe his eyes! Using sign language, he asked the peasant woman whether he could buy the shawl. However, the woman thought he was accusing her of having stolen it from him. Visibly aggravated, the women tried to communicate that she had, in fact, paid for it. After great effort Jo managed to explain to her that he wanted to buy the shawl from her, and even pointed out the Hebrew letters on it. Eventually she agreed to the purchase.
Now that he had miraculously acquired a tallit, Jo was sure to put it on every day followed by his tefillin.
During Jo's next conversation with his parents, he told his mother what had happened. Naturally, his mother was astonished and very pleased by the news.
When Jo arrived in India, he met the Chabad emissary in New Delhi, Rabbi Nachman Nachmanson. Jo became interested in Judaism and got more involved. Rabbi Nachmanson sent him to the new yeshiva in Ramat Aviv.
How did the tallit end up in a little village in Madagascar? Not long before, food parcels and American aid had arrived in the area. Among the packages that American citizens had sent, there was a tallit. Evidently it had been sent – by Divine providence – for the purpose of reaching Jo, the wandering Frenchman.