Baruch Hashem
 

 

In the summer of 1929, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880-1950), visited the Land of Israel. The Rebbe departed the Holy Land on Thursday, August 22, two days before the Arab Riots of 1929 in which scores of Jews were massacred in Hebron and Jerusalem. Among the dead and wounded were several of the Rebbe's family relations and disciples.

In a letter to the then Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak writes:

"When the sad news of the pogroms perpetrated in the Holy Land reached me on Sunday [August 25], on the boat from Alexandria to Trieste, I fell ill with a kidney ailment out of sheer pain and distress. Thanks to G‑d, the most precious of men, the wise and truly G‑d-fearing Dr. Wallach, was with us on the boat and did much to relieve my illness... In such a state I was forced to continue my journey here; for several days after my arrival I was still unable to recover from the effect upon me of the conflagration with which G‑d scorched the house of Jacob, in general, and specifically from reading the list of the killed and slaughtered, the holy martyrs, may their souls be bound in the bond of life..."

On another occasion, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak related that at the conclusion of the voyage Dr. Wallach approached him and begged his forgiveness. "Rebbe!" he said "How can I atone for my being the cause of your illness?

"You, the cause of my illness?" asked the Rebbe in amazement.

"Yes," said the doctor. "There is no doubt in my mind that if I had not been on the boat with you, you would not have fallen ill. You, Rebbe, are a man upon whom the entire Jewish nation depends; surely, G‑d would not have allowed a life-threatening illness to befall you unless the instrument of your cure was on the ship with you."

 
The Shofar and the Wall

 
Editor's note: The Holy Temple in Jerusalem was twice destroyed—by the Romans in the year 69 CE, and by the Babylonians on the same date 490 years earlier by the Babylonians). One wall remains standing as a living symbol of the Jewish people’s ownership over the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem—the Kotel HaMaaravi or "Western Wall."

What follows is an excerpt (translated from the Hebrew) from the memoir of Rabbi Moshe Segal (1904-1985), a Chabad Chassid who was active in the struggle to free the Holy Land from British rule.

In those years, the area in front of the Kotel did not look as it does today. Only a narrow alley separated the Kotel and the Arab houses on its other side. The British Government forbade us to place an Ark, tables or benches in the alley; even a small stool could not be brought to the Kotel. The British also instituted the following ordinances, designed to humble the Jews at the holiest place of their faith: it is forbidden to pray out loud, lest one upset the Arab residents; it is forbidden to read from the Torah (those praying at the Kotel had to go to one of the synagogues in the Jewish quarter to conduct the Torah reading); it is forbidden to sound the shofar on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The British Government placed policemen at the Kotel to enforce these rules.

On Yom Kippur of that year [1930] I was praying at the Kotel. During the brief intermission between the musaf and minchah prayers, I overheard people whispering to each other: "Where will we go to hear the shofar? It’ll be impossible to blow here. There are as many policemen as people praying..." The Police Commander himself was there, to make sure that the Jews will not, G‑d forbid, sound the single blast that closes the fast.

I listened to these whisperings, and thought to myself: Can we possibly forgo the sounding of the shofar that accompanies our proclamation of the sovereignty of G‑d? Can we possibly forgo the sounding of the shofar, which symbolizes the redemption of Israel? True, the sounding of the shofar at the close of Yom Kippur is only a custom, but "A Jewish custom is Torah"! I approached Rabbi Yitzchak Horenstein, who served as the Rabbi of our "congregation," and said to him: "Give me a shofar."

"What for?"

"I’ll blow."

"What are you talking about? Don’t you see the police?"

"I’ll blow."

The Rabbi abruptly turned away from me, but not before he cast a glance at the prayer stand at the left end of the alley. I understood: the shofar is in the stand. When the hour of the blowing approached, I walked over to the stand and leaned against it.

I opened the drawer and slipped the shofar into my shirt. I had the shofar, but what if they saw me before I had a chance to blow it? I was still unmarried at the time, and following the Ashkenazic custom, did not wear a tallit. I turned to person praying at my side, and asked him for his tallit. My request must have seemed strange to him, but the Jews are a kind people, especially at the holiest moments of the holiest day, and he handed me his tallit me without a word.

I wrapped myself in the tallit. At that moment, I felt that I had created my own private domain. All around me, a foreign government prevails, ruling over the people of Israel even on their holiest day and at their holiest place, and we are not free to serve our G‑d; but under this tallit is another domain. Here I am under no dominion save that of my Father in Heaven; here I shall do as He commands me, and no force on earth will stop me.

When the closing verses of the ne’illah prayer—"Hear O Israel," "Blessed be the name" and "The L-rd is G‑d"—were proclaimed, I took the shofar and blew a long, resounding blast. Everything happened very quickly. Many hands grabbed me. I removed the tallit from over my head, and before me stood the Police Commander, who ordered my arrest.

I was taken to the kishla, the prison in the Old City, and an Arab policeman was appointed to watch over me. Many hours passed; I was given no food or water to break my fast. At midnight, the policeman received an order to release me, and he let me out without a word.

I then learned that when the chief rabbi of the Holy Land, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, heard of my arrest, he immediately contacted the secretary of High Commissioner, and asked that I be released. When his request was refused, he stated that he would not break his fast until I was freed. The High Commissioner resisted for many hours, but finally, out of respect for the Rabbi, he had no choice but to set me free.

For the next eighteen years, until the Arab conquest of the Old City in 1948, the shofar was sounded at the Kotel every Yom Kippur. The British well understood the significance of this blast; they knew that it will ultimately demolish their reign over our land as the walls of Jericho crumbled before the shofar of Joshua, and they did everything in their power to prevent it. But every Yom Kippur, the shofar was sounded by men who know they would be arrested for their part in staking our claim on the holiest of our possessions.

The Queer Begger

The Queer Beggar

His entire life was a secret.

Getzel-Shlomo was his name. He was a pauper who went around begging from door to door.

If anyone had pity on him and gave him something, he would say, by way of thanks, "Shema Yisrael." On the other hand, if he received nothing, but an apologetic "some other time," or the like, he also said, "Shema Yisrael." These were the only two Hebrew words he was ever heard to utter. Naturally enough, people regarded him as a half-wit. They were too busy with their own affairs and troubles to worry about Getzel-Shlomo, or his young son, Chaim Shmuel.

Chaim Shmuel grew up with little parental attention. When he was due to become bar mitzvah, a teacher in town took pity on him and taught him to read in the siddur, and to put on tefillin and say brachos.

When the poor, neglected boy became fourteen years-old, he left town to seek his fortune elsewhere. He wandered through towns and villages, but he was no shnorrer: he would not beg for alms.

Instead, he was ready to do whatever work came his way.

Sometimes he hired himself out as a shepherd boy; at other times he worked in the fields or gardens. Mostly his work was temporary, but somehow he managed to make his living. Thus ten years passed, and this lonely lad developed into a fine young man.

Many were the temptations that beset Chaim Shmuel's path, but whilst he felt responsible to no person, an inner fineness kept him honest and upright. Eventually he married when he was close to thirty years of age. His wife was the daughter of a humble Jewish villager.

Meanwhile, his father Getzel-Shlomo, remained in his native town, Harki (in Russia), where he continued as of old, begging from door to door, and still speaking only the two words, "Shema Yisrael." When Getzel-Shlomo felt that he was nearing his end, he called the sexton of the local Burial Society and said to him: "I would like to inform the Warden of the chevreh kaddishah that my last request is that I be buried in the poorest part of the cemetery. I only ask that I should be buried in the beginning of a new row." He then gave the sexton a basket which he asked should be buried with him.

"I am sorry to say," he explained, "I have no money to pay for my burial, and so I have tried at least to be as little trouble as possible to the Society. There, in the corner of the room, you will find a barrel of water, so that you should not have to bother bringing any for my `bath of purification'.

The sexton looked, and sure enough the barrel stood where the dying man had indicated. Plain shrouds were also there in readiness.

The sexton hurried off to his friends, the other grave-diggers, full of mirth at what he considered a huge joke. "What do you think, my friends? Getzel-Shlomo has actually requested that he be given the worst part of the cemetery as his burial place! As if he had any choice in the matter. But, mark you, he wants to be the first of a new row! Well, all I can say is that it will have to be a row of maniacs!"

As they joined in the laughter, the first gravedigger showed his friends the basket which Getzel-Shlomo had asked should be buried with him in his grave. They all looked at it curiously, wondering what it contained. One of them shook it and said: "It's not empty, let us look inside and see what it contains!" They opened it and saw some manuscripts there. "Maybe it is a literary work that Getzel-Shlomo has written," one of them said laughingly. "We really ought to go back and see if he doesn't forget to say Shema Yisrael after all!" He roared at his own witticism.

When they returned to Getzel-Sholomo's room, they found the dying man reciting "Vidui" with eyes closed. This man whom no one had considered capable of saying more than "Shema Yisrael!" how could it be possible? A few moments later, Getzel-Shlomo drew his last breath.

The Rav of Harki, Rabbi Nachman Yitzchak, always made it a practice to attend all funerals, whether of important or unimportant Jews.

And so when he heard of the death of poor Getzel-Shlomo, he asked that he be given notice of the time of the funeral.

When he arrived at the funeral, the sexton, who was given the basket with the manuscripts or documents, or whatever they were, came up to Rabbi Nachman Yitzchak and told him that Getzel-Shlomo had asked that it be buried along with him. The sexton wanted the Rav's confirmation that it would be in order to do so, as the dying man had requested.

Rabbi Nachman Yitzchak took the basket with the papers and examined them. To his great astonishment, he found that they were accounts which Getzel-Shlomo had kept for years!

The Rabbi scrutinized them all and discovered that they represented the sums of money which the "beggar" Getzel-Shlomo had collected every day. All the money had been accounted for by Getzel-Shlomo, showing that he had distributed the money among poor and needy people, who felt too proud to stretch out their hands to ask for help.

And so, Getzel-Shlomo had saved them from this "shame" by doing the begging for them in order to be able to provide them with their needs!

Now that it came to light that the deceased had been one of the hidden tzaddikim (righteous men) all his life, the Rav saw to it that he should be laid to rest with the honor and reverence due to him. The Rav himself undertook to recite the kaddish until the tzaddik's son could be found and informed of his father's death.

It was not until two years later that Chaim Shmuel learned of his father's death and what a great tzaddik he had been. That was when he returned with his family to settle in Harki. He rented lodgings on the outskirts of the town, where rent was cheapest. For although he worked hard to make a living by traveling in the surrounding villages, he barely managed to make ends meet. He was, in fact, very poor. To add to his misfortune, he had a nagging wife and ailing children. Yet never a word of complaint passed the lips of this saintly man. He never questioned the ways of G‑d.

Chaim Shmuel could have greatly improved his situation by taking advantage of the fact that he was the son of the tzaddik Getzel Shlomo, whose memory the Jews of Harki now revered so much; they used to go to his grave on special occasions to pray to Hashem at his holy resting place. But Chaim Shmuel would not dream of using his saintly father's memory for his or his family's benefit. He lived unobtrusively, and was absent so much in search of a living, that no one gave him a thought.

One person, however, took a special interest in Chaim Shmuel. That was none other than the saintly Baal Shem Tov. He had several secret followers in Harki, and soon after Chaim Shmuel's return, the Baal Shem Tov instructed them to take him under their wing.

The Besht told them, "Chaim Shmuel is a man with a lofty soul, and many good things have been decreed for him in Heaven, including considerable wealth. He is to become a rich man, in the material as well as spiritual sense."

Under the loving care of the Besht's secret followers in Harki, Chaim Shmuel threw himself heart and soul into his Torah studies and made remarkable progress. Materially, also he was so successful that before very long he became a rich man. He was most generous in support of the poor and needy, and played an important role in the Jewish life of his town.

Chaim Shmuel was an active member of the secret group of Chassidim in Harki doing their good works secretly, for the time was not yet ripe for the Baal Shem Tov and his followers to reveal themselves.

 
From The World Beyond He Came
One Friday afternoon, the Baal Shem Tov (the Besht) came to a small town
to spend the holy Shabbat there. On his usual visits there, it was his
habit to stay in the home of a wealthy householder who prized the honor
of hosting the tzadik (holy man). This time, to the consternation of
all, the Besht announced that he would be spending the entire Shabbat in
the shul.

When he arrived in shul, the Baal Shem Tov prayed at great length, all
the while weeping copious tears. The whole congregation joined him in
the emotional prayers, and they wept too, although they didn't know the
reason for their tears.

The Besht recited Psalms and enjoined the others to do the same. And
when the services came to an end, he sent the congregants home to enjoy
their Shabbat meal, instructing them to return and continue reciting
Psalms.

The next morning, the Besht followed his usual custom and immersed
himself before prayer. When he returned to the shul, he announced in a
hearty voice that he would be joining his usual host for the Shabbat
meal. The people were relieved, and a large crowd gathered at the
wealthy man's home, hoping to understand the meaning of the day's
events.

The Baal Shem Tov sat at the table in a happy mood, singing one Shabbat
melody after another. Suddenly a gentile walked into the room. The Besht
beckoned to the Russian to enter and join him at the table.

"Offer him some liquor," the Besht cried, and suddenly glasses and
bottles appeared in front of them. The Russian was pleased to down one
glass after another, and soon he was quite tipsy. Then the Besht asked
him, "Well, now, tell me what happened over there."

"Last night, the poritz (wealthy landowner) called in all his local
fellows. He was very angry at the Jews for not buying his grains, and
ruining his income. He had to put all his merchandise into storage and
he lost a fortune when it began to rot. So, he decided to get them back,
those Jews. All the local fellows gathered at the poritz's manor and got
good and drunk, while the poritz incited them against the Jews. They
were told that tonight was the night to attack the Jews—not only in
town, but wherever they could be found. Whatever they could grab would
be theirs.

"All of a sudden a man walked into the house, and the poritz stood up to
greet him. They embraced like long-lost brothers and went into another
room where they stayed for a few hours, while the crowd of hooligans
drank more and more. It turns out that the visitor was none other than
the poritz's best school chum, whom he hadn't seen in a dozen years.
They sat together talking and reminiscing, and in the course of their
conversation, the poritz told his friend about his plan to punish the
Jews for destroying his business. 'How can you think such a crazy
thing?' asked the friend. 'Can't you see that you're being led around by
the nose by the enemies of the Jews? Listen to me: of all your local
people, it's only the Jews you can really trust not to cheat you.
Remember my old estate manager, Moshke? If not for him I would have been
bankrupt more times than I care to count!' Their conversation continued
in that vein, and when he came out of the room, the poritz had been
completely convinced not to harm the Jews. In fact, he now felt that
they were his best friends. Who could figure that one out? He paid off
the drunken peasants and sent them on their way."

The Russian thanked the Besht for the fine liquor and left. Everyone in
the room was perplexed and waited for an explanation. The Besht was
obviously pleased at what the gentile had told him, and he explained to
the crowd, "I saw from Mezhibozh that there was a great danger hanging
over this community and therefore I came to spend Shabbat here. As you
know, the poritz had raised his grain prices to the point that no one
wanted to buy from him. As a consequence, he suffered a tremendous loss,
and the local priest and his cronies took the opportunity to slander the
Jews. The poritz was convinced that the Jews were conspiring against
him, and he devised a bloody plan to destroy them. I knew that there was
only one person who could persuade him otherwise, and that was his old
friend. The only problem was that he had passed away some years ago. I
was forced to bring him back into this world to avert this terrible
tragedy. Thank G‑d, I had success.

The people now understood the heartfelt prayer and the night of reciting
Psalms. They were both shocked relieved at what the Besht had related to
them. Then, one of them turned to the Besht and asked, "One thing I
don't understand: Why did you have to come to our town to accomplish the
miracle? Surely you could have done it from Mezhibozh and spared
yourself the journey."

The Besht nodded in the affirmative. But then he went on to explain that if, G‑d forbid, his intervention had not been successful, he had desired to be together with his fellow Jews in the time of their great ordeal. The people saw the depth of the love the Besht had for them and the extent of self-sacrifice that the tzadik of the generation has for every Jew.