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The Accusations Are Untrue

The Rizhiner Rebbe had thousands of Chasidim in Ukraine while Czar Nicholas sat on his throne. It was during this period that the opponents of Chasidism made terrible accusations against Chasidim which reached even the highest gentile authorities.

One time the Czar was told that the Rizhiner Rebbe considered himself a king, and that he did not recognize the authority of the Russian crown. Incensed, the Czar decided to dispatch an infiltrator to make an investigation.

The infiltrator was a high-ranking officer, a renegade Jew happy to turn informer. Arriving in Rizhin, he asserted that he wanted ask the tzaddik for his blessing for business endeavors. To ingratiate himself with the Chasidim, he bought refreshments. Then he began discussing his business, attacking the government for making laws and restrictions. The infiltrator was surprised that not one voice was raised in his favor. He repeated this performance several times, but each time was met by total silence from his listeners.

One afternoon he was ushered into the Rebbe's room. The spy began to tell the Rebbe how, as a wealthy merchant, he was suffering from the terrible decrees and regulations imposed by the government.

The Rebbe looked deeply at his visitor and said, "I will tell you a story.

In a small village lived a Jewish innkeeper who had an only son named Yossel. Because the village was so isolated, Yossel had no Jewish friends. His best friend was Stepan, the son of the gentile handyman who worked for his father.

Stepan had a quick mind and enjoyed sitting in on the Torah lessons Yossel received. In fact, Stepan was quicker than Yossel to grasp the lessons.

Years passed, and it was time to look for a bride for Yossel. A matchmaker came to the little village to interview him. Stepan sat together with Yossel as the matchmaker questioned him on Jewish topics. Each time a question was posed, however, Yossel was silent, while Stepan supplied the answer. It was clear to the matchmaker that this boy was not a good prospect and he left.

The innkeeper decided to separate his son from Stepan.

After much thought, he decided to send away both father and son. When the handyman heard, he protested: 'Why should I be punished on account of my son? Let him go out into the world.' And so Stepan left the inn.

For many months Stepan went from one study hall to another masquerading as a Jewish orphan and receiving hospitality from Jews wherever he went. Eventually he tired of that life and decided to move to a large city, where he enrolled in a university and excelled in his studies. When he completed his courses he began searching for a good opportunity.

One day, arriving in a very distant city, he heard that the citizens were about to choose a new ruler, something they did every three years. All candidates were to present themselves at the palace where their suitability for kingship would be determined. Stepan rushed to the palace. With his outstanding intelligence he was chosen king.

Soon after his coronation the new king inexplicably began making terrible decrees against the local Jews. The most devastating was that the Jews would have to leave the realm at the end of twelve months!

The Chief Rabbi declared a public fast, during which the people begged G‑d to soften the king's heart. On the fourth day, he called a meeting of the seven most prominent members of the community at which he related to them his strange dream. He dreamed that in a faraway land there was a young innkeeper named Yossel who would be able to change the decree of the king. Strangely enough, each man present had had the exact same dream.

Messengers were dispatched at once to bring the innkeeper to their city. They related their strange tale and begged him to accompany them and Yossel agreed. The prominent Jews of the city managed to arrange a meeting with the king, and Yossel was ushered into the royal throne room. Stepan was overjoyed to see his old friend, and they embraced each other warmly.

What is this I am told about the evil decrees you have made against the Jews of this realm? asked Yossel.

I really don't have anything against the Jews, Stepan replied. In fact, they have always treated me very kindly, but as soon as I became king, I felt that I had to make these new decrees. I don't entirely understand why.

The rabbi explained: Your majesty, our Torah teaches that the hearts of kings and rulers are in the hand of G‑d. When Jews keep the Torah and do mitzvot, they fare well, but when they rebel against G‑d, He hardens the heart of their king and they fall prey to evil decrees. Nonetheless, they do not pray for another king, for they know that it is their own actions that shape their destiny and not the will of the king.

Having concluded his story, the Rizhiner looked into the eyes of the informer and said: Go and tell those who have sent you that the accusations against the Jews are untrue. They are loyal citizens and pray for the welfare of their rulers and the country in which they live.

The Rabbi Who Converted Out of Judaism

Near the end of Shabbat the Baal Shem Tov sat at the head of the table eating the 'Third Meal' with his Chassidim (followers). They were singing beautiful niggunim (Chassidic melodies) while he was immersed in deep thought seemingly in another dimension.

And in fact he was in another dimension. He was scanning the entire world, everywhere where Jews were (or were supposed to be) to see what could be done to bring Moshiach (who will alleviate all pain and suffering) one
moment sooner. Suddenly his face darkened.

This was no small catastrophe. One of his most talented followers; a great Rabbi, Rab Avraham, who was versed in all the holy texts and a leader of an entire town, had fallen to the depths of idolatry!! What could possibly have brought such a Tzadik to such a heinous sin? What went wrong?!

The Besh't concentrated deeply and his soul soared to the upper realms. it was worse than he thought. This Rabbi had, somewhat like in the story of Job, been given into the hands of the Satan. But unlike Job he had done something to deserve it.

In Rab Avraham's town lived a great Talmudic scholar that existed from community support. Once a week someone would go from house to house to collect money for him and take a small percentage for himself.

But when Rab Avraham discovered that people were using this as an excuse not to give to other causes he expressed his dissatisfaction which his congregants understood as an order to stop giving him donations. In time the income dwindled so that the unfortunate scholar didn't even have money to give his wife to prepare for Shabbat and when that happened he and his wife burst out in tears.

Shortly thereafter a rich member of the Jewish community used his power and influence to try to force a simple man out of business. The latter complained to Rab Avraham who, for some reason, did not reprimand the rich man as strongly as he should have. So the injustice continued until one day the simple man had to close his store and on that day he wept.

The tears of both the scholar and the simple man burst through to the highest heavens and began to accuse; such deeds from such a distinguished Rabbi were a disgrace to both the Torah and to Judaism. Rab Avraham must suffer!! And his punishment was decided; he would be given into the hands of the Devil!

The Rabbi's custom each Sabbath was to pray the first half of the daytime prayer alone in his home and then go to the Synagogue when the cantor began his repetition. But this Shabbat suddenly, in the middle of his prayers, he felt strange lust enter his heart. Instead of being enraptured with the greatness, the awesomeness and the nearness of G‑d as usual in his prayers, he only wanted a drink of brandy.

He stopped his prayers thinking that the idea would leave him but it didn't. It became a burning desire! Suddenly he felt that without brandy he would die! Before he knew it he had downed three full cups, removed his prayer shawl and was running down the street in the direction of the ... church!

"I want to see the Bishop!!" the Rabbi yelled insanely as he pounded on the massive church door. "Let me in!!" the fire of apostasy was burning in his brain and heart and the Bishop, who was busy talking to some important people, heard the yelling and immediately understood what was happening.

He ordered his servants to take the Rabbi to his home and provide him with light refreshments and, of course, more brandy until he was free to deal with him. They did as they were told and as soon as he saw the food and drink he grabbed the bottle in one hand and the food in the other and began eating and guzzling like an animal while screaming blasphemies ... until he fell unconscious on the floor.

The Baal Shem meanwhile was desperately occupied in the upper worlds urgently trying to find a way to save this unfortunate pupil. But the only thing that could save him were pure merits, and they were hard to find. It seems that every commandment that Rab Avraham had ever done contained some minute measure of ulterior motive. Nothing had ever been done with 100% love of the Creator. AHA!! Except for one custom! The Besh't had found it! ... Eating the Melave-Malke meal after the Sabbath! As strange as it may seem, this was the only commandment that the Rabbi did purely for G‑d.

The Besh't knew that he had to work fast; his only chance was to somehow get him to eat this meal before the Bishop got to him!

The Besh't took a piece from the loaf of bread he had just eaten from, added a whole loaf from the 12 he had on the table before him at each of the Shabbat meals, wrapped them in a cloth and handed it to one of his holy pupils saying,

"Take this and go. And HaShem will help!"

The pupil had already seen such things from him master. Often a necessary ingredient to fix the world was implicit trust in G‑d.

He took the bread, put on his coat and walked into the cold Ukranian night not knowing why or even where he was going.

He said words of Torah by heart as his feet led him out of Mezibuz (the Besht's town) to a lone, moon-lit, forest road. Suddenly the wind began blowing and the road became strewn with rocks and pebbles making it almost impossible to proceed.

"This is obviously from the Devil" he thought to himself as he forged ahead, and began praying.

Then the road turned into deep sand but he only closed his eyes, prayed more intensely and pushed himself on trying not to become discouraged.

So it was a third time; darkness and snow engulfed him. But this time when he opened his eyes from his prayer he found himself in a different place altogether. It was as though he had jumped hundreds of miles away.

The snow was gone, in the moonlit distance he saw a Church and in just moments he was standing outside of the house that he sensed was his destination. He entered and saw an unconscious Jew lying on the floor in soiled Shabbat garments filthy with vomit and mud surrounded by idols and icons. Gevalt. it was Rav Avraham!! He recognized him! This must be what the Besh't sent him for!

He took some water, splashed it on the poor Rabbi's face to awaken him but when he woke he began mumbling anti-Semitic remarks and demanding brandy. The Chassid, however, paid no attention and just insisted that Rav Avraham wash his hands for bread. Miraculously he consented.

"Come, now lets eat some of this bread" coaxed the Chassid. It took some maneuvering to get the Rabbi's attention away from the bottle but as soon as he took the first bite of the Besht's bread a startling change came over
him.

He let out a deep, frightening moan, looked down at his dirty garments then at the crosses and statues that hung on the walls and stood up in amazement. "What happened to me?" he screamed. "What have I done?!! NO.. NO!!!!! What have I done!!! We must leave here quickly!"

He grabbed the Chassid's hand, staggered, weeping and moaning, out of the room, away from the house, back to the forest path from whence he came. They began running in the darkness and suddenly they were back in Mezibuz. another miracle the Besh't had arranged.

The Besh't was still sitting at the table surrounded by singing Chassidim when Rav Avraham stumbled in, filthy and heart-broken and collapsed on the floor. Another soul had been saved.

By Solly Ganor

ed. note: Shpiel means Play

Arriving from Auschwitz in groups of 20, they looked like walking skeletons; triangular faces with pointed chins and sunken cheeks, lips shrunken to thin blue lines, large eyes with a strange luminous sheen. They were known in concentration camp slang as “Musselman,” usually the last stage before death.

Their Yiddish accent sounded strange to us Lithuanian Jews. They came from the ghetto of Lodz through Auschwitz, before they were sent to our camp. Our camp was known as the “Outer camp of Dachau, #10,” situated near the picturesque town of Utting by Lake Amersee, in a small forest surrounded by green meadows and beautiful landscapes.

I remember the day we were brought there, I thought to myself, “Can anything bad happen amid all this beauty?” But the beauty was in the landscape only; the Germans were sadistic murderers.

The Lodz people fell into the same deceptive trap. After Auschwitz, our camp looked like paradise. Most of them died soon after arriving, from hard labor, beatings and starvation, but they preferred to die here than in Auschwitz’s gas chambers.

It was from them that we heard the horrors of gas chambers and crematoriums, where thousands of our people were killed every day. Some told us that they were standing naked before the gas chambers when they were suddenly ordered to dress and were sent to our camp. The Germans must’ve been desperate for workers to send these walking skeletons all the way from Poland.

Around March 1945, only a few remained alive. One of them was known as “Chaim the Rabbi.” We never found out whether he was actually a rabbi, but he always washed his hands and made a blessing before eating. He knew the Jewish calendar dates, and also knew the prayers by heart. At times when the Germans weren’t looking, he would invite us to participate in the evening prayers.

Our Jewish camp commander, Burgin, tried to get him easier jobs. Most people died when they had to carry 100 pound cement sacks on their backs, or other chores of heavy labor. He wouldn't have lasted a day on a job like this. He once told me that if he survived, he would get married and have at least a dozen children.

Around the middle of March, we were given a day off. It was a Sunday. The camp was covered with snow, but Spring was in the air. We heard rumors of the American breakthrough into Germany and a glimmer of hope was kindled in our hearts.

After breakfast of a slice of moldy bread, a tiny piece of margarine, and brown water known as “Ersatz Coffee,” we returned to our barrack to get some sleep.

Suddenly we saw “Chaim the Rabbi” standing in the snow and shouting, “Haman to the gallows! Haman to the gallows!”

He had on his head a paper crown made out of a cement sack, and he was draped in a blanket that had cut out stars from the same paper attached to it.

Petrified, we watched this strange apparition, barely able to trust our eyes, as he danced in the snow, singing: “I am Achashverosh, Achashverosh, the king of Persia!”

 Then he stood still, straightened himself up, chin pointed to the sky, his right arm extended in an imperial gesture and shouted: “Haman to the gallows! Haman to the gallows! And we all know which Haman we are talking about!”

We were sure that he had lost his wits, like others in those times. About 50 of us were gaping at the “rabbi,” when he said: “Yidden wos iz mit ajch! Fellow Jews, what’s the matter with you?! Today is Purim! Let’s make a Purim Shpiel!”

Back home, a million years ago, this was the time of the year when children dressed up for Purim, playing and eating Hamantashen. The “rabbi” remembered the exact date on the Jewish calendar. We hardly knew what day it was.

Chaim then divided the roles of Queen Esther, Mordechai, Vashti and Haman among the onlookers. I received the role of Mordechai, and we all danced in the snow in our Purim Shpiel in Dachau.

But that was not the end of the story. The “rabbi” said that we will get “Mishloach Manot,” our Purim food gifts. That was hardly likely to happen.

But, miracle of miracles, that afternoon, an International Red Cross delegation came to our camp. It was the first time that they bothered about us. Still, we welcomed them, because they brought us the “Mishloach Manot” the “rabbi” had promised.

Each of us received a parcel containing a tin of condensed milk, a bar of chocolate, a box of sugar cubes, and a pack of cigarettes. It is impossible to describe our joy! Here we were starving to death, and suddenly on Purim, we received these heavenly gifts. Since then, we never doubted the “rabbi.”

His prediction also came true. Two months later Haman/Hitler went to the gallows and shot himself in Berlin, while those of us still alive were rescued by the American army on May 2, 1945.

I lost track of “Chaim the Rabbi” on our Death March from Dachau to Tyrol, but I hope he survived and had many children as he always wanted.

I recall his Shpiel whenever Purim comes around.

Solly Ganor solganor@netvision.net.il went to fight in Israel's War for Independence, was honorably discharged in 1949, joined the Merchant Marine, and fulfilled his desire to see the world. After twelve years at sea, he married his wife, Pola. They now divide their time between La Jolla, California and Herzlia, Israel.

Passover in Pakistan

"I could never have undertaken such a responsibility myself," related Rabbi J. J. Hecht. "As soon as I received the information I notified the Rebbe."

What did Rabbi Hecht mean? A few days before Pesach 1987, his son, Rabbi Sholom Ber Hecht of Forest Hills, New York, consulted him about a message that a congregant had received from his nephew.

The nephew and three hundred other Jews had fled from Iran and were temporarily staying in Karachi, Pakistan, where there was no Jewish community. Caught between Iran and Afghanistan, and involved with their own religious disputes with India, the Pakistanis showed no tolerance of other faiths. The man had asked his uncle to send Passover provisions to the refugees, or at least matzos for the Seder night.

Rabbi Hecht had deep ties with the Iranian community. Thousands of Iranian teenagers had left the country on student visas under his guidance shortly after the Khomeini Revolution. He had made many previous commitments in time, money, and soul. But in this instance, something more was involved; any person spreading Jewish observance in Pakistan was risking his life.

The Rebbe instructed Rabbi Hecht to find somebody who was familiar with Iranian customs and who would agree to travel to Pakistan. The Rebbe added that he would sponsor the trip, purchase the entire amount of matzos needed, and offer a blessing to the Yeshivah student's success.

The last particular was more important to Rabbi Hecht than the financial help. It meant that the shaliach would be safe.

Soon Rabbi Hecht found a yeshivah student, Zalman Gerber, who was willing to undertake the journey. Senator Al D'amato of New York helped him bring the matter to the immediate attention of high-ranking officials in the Pakistani Consulate. However, those officials refused to issue a student visa, clarifying that only those with clear business reasons for journeying to Pakistan could obtain a visa.

This requirement did not dissuade Rabbi Hecht. His associates in the Persian community helped him find a rug dealer, who supplied a letter explaining that Mr. Gerber was journeying to Karachi for two weeks in order to purchase Oriental carpets. The letter worked, and the Pakistanis issued the visa, emphasizing, however, that they could take no responsibility for the traveler's safety.

Arriving in Karachi, Zalman encountered a series of hazards and providential means of overcoming them. The packages of matzah which he brought were checked carefully by a customs official, who could not understand what a rug dealer was doing with so many of these strange crackers.

Checking in at the hotel where he had made reservations, he discovered to his dismay that his room was on the eighth floor. Fearful that the hotel staff might grow suspicious after possibly seeing him walk up and down eight flights of stairs on the holiday, he asked to be given a room on a lower floor. Fortunately, this request was allowed, and he moved to an unoccupied second-floor room.

In order to avoid the watchful eyes of Moslem extremists while contacting refugees, the Jews had taken shelter in a deteriorating neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. After they had been located, it was no small feat to transport the boxes of matzah without attracting additional attention. Nevertheless, just before commemorating our people's exodus from Egypt, Zalman was able to bring Pesach supplies to this community in the midst of their own journey to freedom.