Baruch Hashem

Shabbos Stories for Parshas Emor
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They Gave Their Lives For G‑d
Amazing Story

Everyone has heard of Romanoff dynasty of Russian Czars but few have heard of a far greater line of kings that ruled in Russia in those times; the Chabad Rebbes.

While the Czars represented only themselves and claimed to rule Russia, the Rebbes (all direct descendents of King David) represented the Creator and King of the entire Universe.

And there were times when the two kings met in battle.

For instance when the third Chabad Rebbe; Menachem Mendel (nicknamed 'The Tzemach Tzedik') decided to save the 'Cantonists' from the clutches of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Who were the Cantonists?

Czarist Russia was, arguably, the most totally and fanatically religious country in history. Everyone, including intelligentsia, government officials, and the royal family, was devoutly and insanely Russian Orthodox. So it wasn't a surprise that they threw themselves wholeheartedly in 'weaning' Jews from Judaism.

One way they tried to do it was through the army. Young Jewish boys were snatched from their homes at the age of ten or even less and 'trained' to be 'good' Russian soldiers i.e. with no Judaism. These soldiers became known as Cantonists.

The cruel program never really worked totally but it lasted some fifty years before it was dropped and resulted in large numbers of soldiers who were fiercely loyal to the Czar but nevertheless still aware of some Jewish identity.

It just so happened that near Petersburg was a fortified city by the name of Kronshtot which was the site of a huge army base of several thousands of soldiers. And a few hundred of them were Cantonists.

Although these soldiers had almost no connection to Judaism, except for a few Hebrew prayers some of them knew by rote.  Nevertheless, when they heard that the famous Tzemach Tzedek of Lubavitch was in close proximity something pushed them to request from their officers to invite him to speak.

It's not too clear why but the officers passed the request up to their general who passed to Minister of War and, to their amazement, he agreed!

Some say he hoped to influence the Rebbe to agree to some of their demands and soften his uncompromising stand on genuine Jewish education.

But, as we will see, they were wrong.

The Minister of War passed the request to the Minister of the Interior who sent an official entourage to the Rebbe in Petersburg to invite him.

The Rebbe agreed and, sure enough, a month later the Rebbe with an impressive entourage of over fifty Chassidim was entering the gates of the fortress.

He was taken to a large auditorium where several hundred Jewish soldiers from the infantry, navy and cavalry had been gathered and said before them a Chassidic discourse about the importance of 'returning' to G‑d and observing His commandments.

He then quoted and explained in Russian, several sayings of the Talmud about the importance of self-sacrifice for the Torah.

The Rebbe finished his talk by telling them that although they were in exile from the Holy Land until Moshiach brought them back, nevertheless it was their obligation to pray for the welfare of Russia and its leaders while they were there.

A while later, when the Rebbe successfully finished his work in Petersburg the soldiers somehow got wind of his plans to return home to Lubavitch and made a second request to their officers. They wanted to hear the Rebbe again and thank him for the trouble he had taken for them.

Again their officers agreed. But this time when they went to the Rebbe to convey the soldiers' request they added a warning. They informed him that his previous speech had caused quite a stir among the soldiers and that he better not do it again. One more incendiary word and he would be in danger.

Six hundred soldiers were gathered in a large open square in Petersburg and listened in silence as the Rebbe spoke.

Again the Rebbe said a Chasidic discourse but this time he finished with the following words: "If ever anyone tries to force any Jew to change their religion and deny Judaism, G‑d forbid, then that Jew is obligated to actually give his life rather than give in! Even if the King himself demands that you leave Judaism you must sacrifice your life rather than listen to him."

The Rebbe asked the soldiers to advertise his words, blessed them and bade them farewell.

The soldiers were deeply affected by these words but, being that the only connection most of them had to Judaism were no more than vague memories of their parents, there was little chance that the effect would last.

Five years later the entire camp was on its feet; for weeks they had been cleaning, painting and polishing every corner of the fortress in preparation for the ultimate honor. His glorious majesty; the Czar HIMSELF with his royal honor guard and the highest ministers in Russia were coming for an official visit to their camp!

It is hard for us today to imagine the awe, fear and trepidation the very mention of the Czar's name evoked in the heart of every Russian soldier, how much more so a visit from the Czar HIMSELF! The soldiers were in a frenzy.

When the Czar finally arrived the trumpets blared, the band began to play, thousands of soldiers from all branches of the Czars armies stood at attention in shining uniforms holding colorful banners. Then suddenly thirty or so chosen soldiers stepped forward and began to dance and do acrobatic feats before His Majesty.

The Czar was enthralled. He turned to the various ministers at his right and left, a broad smile of contentment on his face, nodding and raising his hands with approval as the soldiers flipped in the air and lifted heavy burdens.

"Who are these men?" He asked the commander of the base, "What are their names?"

The commander raised his hand, they stopped their performance, stood in a line before the Czar, sweating and trying to catch their breaths and he read off their names.

As he read, the Czar's smile faded into a frown, his body stiffened, he leaned forward and hissed "Why, those are Jewish names! Jews!!"

He straightened up, tried to regain his composure but did not succeed… he simply could not control his anger and disappointment. He scanned the soldiers and announced out loud. "Here, sitting with us here is a priest. I command you, all of you, to change your names and your religion …. NOW!"

The soldiers glanced briefly at one another, briefly behind them, and then straightened their gaze and stood at stiff attention. One stepped forward, saluted the Czar and spoke.

"Your majesty! Five years ago the Rebbe of Lubavitch visited here. He told us that it is forbidden for us to change our religion even if the Czar personally demands it. He said we must sacrifice our lives rather than do that."

And saying this they all turned around, ran as fast as possible to the bridge behind them, climbed over the rail and gracefully dived into the churning river… never to return alive.

When the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, told this story he explained that there are two miraculous details in this sad story. First, that they remembered what the Rebbe said five years earlier. And second, that it affected them so deeply that they actually gave their lives!

 
How The Rebbe Cares For Every Jew
 
One week before Chanukah 1979, a well-known and distinguished Rabbi active in outreach in South Africa named Rabbi Shabsi Katz (of blessed memory) was entering the Lubavitcher Rebbe's office for Yechidut.

[A private audience with the Rebbe is called Yechidut by the Chassidim because it awakens and activates even the deepest of the five levels of the Jewish soul called Yechida.]

Most of what the Rebbe said was personal but at one point he asked Rabbi Katz if he knew anything about the condition of the Jewish prisoners in the South Africa penal system. Rabbi Katz did. He often visited prisons to help the prisoners. He answered:

"The conditions there are in many ways inferior to those in the U.S. but the South Africans do have respect for the Jewish holidays and allow the prisoners to observe them."

"What about Chanukah?" asked the Rebbe. "Do they allow the prisoners to light Chanukah candles?

"No," Rabbi Katz answered. "That is a problem. In fact I began working on it last year with no results. It's too late to do anything for this year because Chanukah is only a few days away but as soon as I get home I'll work on it for next year. I'll have to arrange a meeting with the. "

"But what about this year?" the Rebbe interrupted.

Rabbi Katz was just beginning to shrug his shoulders as though to say it was impossible when the Rebbe continued.

"When you leave my room, go to the front office and ask one of the
secretaries to use the phone. Call the official in charge of the prisons in South Africa and ask for permission for Chanukah lighting.....this year."

"But Rebbe," Rabbi Katz tried to protest, "it is now four in the morning over there and the chief of the jails is a very high official. He used to be a general in the army. I can't call him now! He'll be furious. I'll do it first thing in the morning."

But the Rebbe didn't agree. "Chassidim do not compromise with the truth. Not only that but when the general sees that you called him at such an hour, he will realize the importance of the matter."

The Yechidut ended, Rabbi Katz left the Rebbe's room went to the office, asked for permission, and lifted the phone. He realized that he dare not think even one normal thought or he wouldn't go through with it.

He didn't have the general's phone number so he called his secretary there, got the number, and requested that she call the general first and prepare him.

He opened a book of Tehillim (Psalms), read for a few minutes, closed his eyes for a second, said a prayer.....and dialed.

The General answered. The Rabbi spoke apologetically.

"Hello General, this is Rabbi Shabsi Katz. Excuse the hour but it is
urgent."

Surprisingly, the general spoke in a pleasant and friendly tone. "Yes. Hello, Rabbi. Oh, no problem. How are you? Yes, how can I be of help? It must be important."

Rabbi Katz felt that a miracle was occurring here and continued. "Err....I am now in New York by the Lubavitcher Rebbe who is concerned about the Jewish prisoners in South Africa."

"Yes?" the general was interested.

"The Rebbe wants the Jewish prisoners to light Chanukah candles. He knows that if they celebrate Chanukah in such a dark place as prison, it will put light, hope, and joy into their lives."

The general was impressed. He actually thanked the Rabbi for waking him and concluded:

"Rabbi, tomorrow is my day off but I won't take a vacation. I will send letters to all the jails in South Africa ordering that all prisoners be allowed to light their menorahs. Is that all right?"

Rabbi Katz thanked the general profusely and hung up.

Early the next morning he stood beaming with joy at the entrance of the Rebbe's headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway, and when the Rebbe arrived, he gave him the good news.

The Rebbe smiled, thanked him for the news, and asked him to come to his office after the morning prayers.

Now, this was very unusual to say the least. Every instant of the Rebbe's time was precious (for example, the Rebbe received and answered more letters daily than any man in the world, even the president of the U.S.A.) and rarely did the Rebbe make such a request.

So, an hour later Rabbi Katz was again standing before the Rebbe figuring that the Rebbe wanted to thank him. But it wasn't so.....there was yet another mission!

"Do you know" the Rebbe said seriously, "that New York is the only state in America that does not allow its prisoners to light Chanukah menorahs? I want you to contact the head of the prisons here and tell him that you just received permission for the prisoners in South Africa to light menorahs and there is no reason why it should be forbidden here."

"But Rebbe," Rabbi Katz protested, "I don't know anyone in New York. At least in South Africa I vaguely knew someone, but not here."

"This is no problem," answered the Rebbe. "Go to Rabbi Yaakov Yehuda Hecht and ask him for help. He knows everyone."

Again Rabbi Katz left the Rebbe's office for another seemingly impossible task. He located Rabbi Hecht, told him what he wanted but Rabbi Hecht solemnly replied.

"Sorry, nothing is open today. Maybe tomorrow I can help but today it's impossible. No one is in their offices."

But when Rabbi Katz told him the entire story, Rabbi Hecht picked up the phone and started calling one person after another until, at about the tenth call, he raised his eyebrows and smiled.

"Hello commissioner?  Hey, am I lucky to get you!  Rabbi Hecht here. How are you?  How's the wife and kids? Thank G‑d! Oh me?  Thank G‑d, I'm fine! Listen, I have a very important Rabbi from South Africa that has to talk to you!" And he handed the phone to Rabbi Katz.

The results were unbelievable. First of all it "just so happened" that they caught the commissioner in a good mood. And most important, he was really impressed. "Well," he said, "if in South Africa where there are so few Jews they light Menorahs then for sure we have to let them do it here. Rabbi, I promise you that from this Chanukah on every Jewish prisoner here can light candles!"

Rabbi Katz thanked the commissioner and Rabbi Hecht and ran back to 770 to inform the Rebbe of the second miracle.

He caught the Rebbe just exiting his room for the afternoon Mincha prayer and motioned that he had succeeded. Again the Rebbe requested to see him in private after the prayer.

Rabbi Katz was almost getting used to the unusual but this time the Rebbe had a different message; he wanted to reward Rabbi Katz with a gift. At first the Rabbi refused but finally he agreed: "I want a Tanya (important Chassidic book) from the Rebbe as a Bar Mitzvah present for my son."

The Rebbe told him to go again to the front office where there were waiting four gifts: A Tanya translated into English for his son, a regular Tanya for himself, a Chabad book called "Challenge" for the general in South Africa, and another called Aishet Chiel for the general's wife.

When Rabbi Katz returned to South Africa, the first thing he did was call the general to thank him for his help and to tell him that he had gifts from the Rebbe that he would bring him tomorrow.

But before he could finish his sentence the general announced, over the protests of the Rabbi, that he would be at the Rabbi's house to get the gifts in a few minutes. And, sure enough, shortly thereafter the general was knocking on Rabbi Katz's door.

He shook the Rabbi's hand and explained his haste. "When a man sits in New York and thinks about people on the other side of the world he never saw before in order to make them happy with Chanukah candles, well.....that is what I call a true leader. And when a leader like that sends me something, I want to see it as soon as possible!"

 
The Rebbe Helped Me
Kosher My Kitchen
 

The Yom Kippur war (1973) left Israel with thousands of casualties, and one of them was Mr. Sadon.

He had been lying for weeks in critical condition in Tzrifim Hospital and the doctors weren't optimistic. But his wife, sitting by his bedside, knew better. Somehow she was sure that against all odds everything would be all right.....she was writing a letter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Mr. Sadon had never been an observant Jew, but his wife had. In fact her grandparents had been Chabad Chassidim, but she left it all when she was just a young girl; that’s the way things went in Israel. Nevertheless, writing to the Rebbe was not strange to her.

In the bed next to Mr. Sadon lay a Moroccan Jew called Mr. Shapir who also had been severely wounded and had a dim prognosis. When he saw that Mrs. Sadon was writing to the Rebbe his eyes lit up. He motioned her to come close and handed her a small book of Psalms (3 sq. cm.), a family heirloom given to him by his grandfather. He begged her to send it to the Rebbe and request that he sign it. So Mrs. Sadon added the T’hillim to her letter and mailed them off.

Things began to improve for Sadon to the degree that two weeks later the hospital informed him that he was well enough to leave! They needed the bed for more serious cases.

After a few months at home they had almost forgotten the entire incident, and things began to return to normal, until one day Mrs. Sadon received a small envelope in the mail from the office of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Inside was Mr. Shapir’s tiny book of Psalms inscribed and signed by the Rebbe in extremely small print, and a letter addressed to her.

The Rebbe repeated the blessings he wrote in the T’hillim, added a few more, and explained that although it was not his custom to sign holy books he had made an exception, and then signed his name once again. But at the bottom of the letter a footnote caught Mrs. Sadon’s eye:

"P.S. Apparently you already light Shabbat Candles like every Kosher Jewish woman."

The next morning Mrs. Sadon called the hospital, only to discover that Mr. Shapir had also recovered, and left weeks earlier. She got his number from the phonebook, but there was no answer at his house. So she mailed him a letter telling him about his T’hillim, and waited for a response.

Sure enough two weeks later she heard a knock at her door and it was none other than a beaming Mr. Shapir. He had been in a recuperation center for the last few weeks, and as soon as he arrived home and saw her letter he took a taxi to her house. It wasn’t long before he was joyously reporting the stages of his miraculous recovery, and marveling over the Rebbe’s inscription in his little book.

But the Rebbe’s footnote still burned in her mind.

On one hand, she left Jewish observance years ago for very good reasons; it was old-fashioned, closed minded, unpopular etc. why should she start now? Who needs it??

But something inside her kept repeating:

"Light candles like every Jewish woman".

Little by little she warmed up to the idea. After all, the Rebbe did write it to her, and it was the same Rebbe that just helped her and so many others...so it can’t be THAT bad.

After a few weeks of this she decided that she would do it! This Friday she would light Shabbos candles!!

She even went to the store and bought candles and two small candleholders. But when she arrived home she realized that she didn’t know what to do.

She didn’t know when to light them, or where to put them. She didn’t know the blessing, and most embarrassing of all; she didn’t even know whom to ask!

She stood there confused for several minutes and she felt a tremendous urge to just put it off for another week, when suddenly the phone rang.

It was her oldest son calling from the army; his weekend leave had been cancelled, and before he could continue she said, "Oh that’s too bad, I was looking forward to seeing you. Tell me son, is the Army Rabbi there? I want to ask him something."

A few minutes later the Rabbi had gladly answered her questions, dictated to her the blessing, and even promised that he would mail her a "Kitzur Shulchan Aruch" (Jewish Law book). Mrs. Sadon hung up the phone and did what he said.

She lit the candles, put her hands over her eyes, slowly said the blessing and just stood there.

When she uncovered her eyes suddenly everything was different. Suddenly everything was so pure and quiet.

She was so happy...She cried.

Of course it didn’t stop there; little by little the flames began changing their lives.

The next Friday, after lighting the candles she felt that some of the pictures and statues in the room sort-of "clashed" with the Shabbos lights. So she moved the offenders to a different room altogether.

Then they bought a few Torah books for their bookcase, and the T.V. became silent on Shabbos.

Finally she decided to contact the local Chabad House to make her Kitchen Kosher.

Then things really began to move. It wasn’t long before there were Mezuzas on all the doors. Mr. Sadon bought himself his first pair of T’fillin, and even began attending Torah classes a few times a week. And that was only the beginning.

The Rebbe and the Shabbos candles made the change.

Diamonds and Fish

Once upon a time there was a poor man who heard that in a faraway land, on the other side of the deep and dangerous sea, there is a place where diamonds were as plentiful as dust — one need only bend down, scoop them up, and fill one's pockets.

After a long and arduous journey, the man arrived in this wondrous land. Everything that had been said about it was true! Diamonds of all sizes were strewn around everywhere — even the sand was comprised of billions of tiny glittering gems. A group of children gathered to watch the strange stranger kneeling on the ground and stuffing his pockets with stones and pebbles, but our friend was too busy to notice them.

To celebrate the end of his poverty, the traveler ordered a luxurious dinner in the most expensive restaurant in town. Feeling generous, he handed the waiter a small-sized stone and exhorted him to keep the change. Needless to say, he spent that entire night washing dishes in the kitchen to pay for his extravagance.

He quickly learned that these pebbles, each of which would be worth millions back home, were utterly worthless. Here, the currency with which people paid for goods and services was fish. In fact, few people remembered that fish were originally consumed as a food. No one was bothered by the stench which emanated from their wallets, pocketbooks and money closets. Indeed, a reeking establishment exuded the sweet aura of old money.

Once he overcame the disappointment of his lost dream, our traveler was revealed to be a most resourceful and ambitious individual. He worked hard, invested wisely, and before long he was one of the wealthiest people in the land. His businesses were headquartered in the most rancid section of old downtown and his private vaults held thousands of tons of fish.

Finally, it was time to return home. He telegraphed his family: "Am rich. We shall never want for anything in our lives. Prepare triumphant homecoming." He loaded his fortune on a fleet of ships, and set sail for his hometown.

Family and friends, dressed in their best, awaited him eagerly at the seaport. Of course, there was nothing that could be done with his shiploads of rotted fish except sail back a few miles from shore and dump them into the sea.

But later that day, as he was undressing for bed, a few specks of dust were shaken out of his trouser pockets and sparkled on the floor of his home. He and his family never again wanted for anything in their lives.

The soul, in its abode on high, hears wondrous tales of a faraway land. To get there, it must cross a deep and treacherous sea. Great treasures, it is told, are literally free for the taking in this place. A coin given to charity, a prayer uttered, a candle lit to usher in the Shabbat, a kind word extended to a troubled fellow — the higher realms, lacking physical bodies and a material reality, can only dream of such treasures.

The soul descends into the material world and discovers that everything that had been said about this place is true. Diamonds litter the streets. Wherever one turns, await countless opportunities to do mitzvot, good and G‑dly deeds. One need only bend down to the ground and fill one's pockets.

Yet the value of these "diamonds" are not appreciated in this alien land. "Riches" of an entirely different sort bekon, so that when the time comes to return, many a soul finds itself lugging home shiploads of fetid fish.

But no soul can traverse our world without picking up at least a few mitzvot along the way — gems which enrich the heavens and make the entire trip more than worth its while...



A Secret Jew
By Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz

"Now I understand why my mother did not eat bread for a whole week each spring," Basya's 70-year-old daughter told Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetzky, chief rabbi of Dnepropetrovsk and one of the representatives of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS in Ukraine.

But let me start at the beginning, and briefly share with you an amazing story of Jewish return in the Former Soviet Union.

A teenage girl showed up in Rabbi Kaminetzky's office one Sunday afternoon. Her great-grandmother was requesting that he visit her in the tiny non-Jewish village of Pridnipropsk, nearly two-hours from Dnepropetrovsk.

"Is your grandmother Jewish?" the rabbi asked.

"No," was the girl's straightforward reply.

"Is anyone in your family Jewish?" continued the rabbi.

"No," answered the teenager once again.

Rabbi Kaminetzky looked at his overcrowded calendar, jam-packed like the schedules of all of his colleagues, emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe around the world, and told the girl that he would be able to visit in two weeks.

A week later the girl returned to Rabbi Kaminetzky and begged him to come immediately. "My great-grandmother is in her 90s and too frail to travel. She needs to speak with you right away." Rabbi Kaminetzky made a few phone calls to clear his schedule for the rest of the day and accompanied the girl back to her tiny village.

Rabbi Kaminetzky entered the little home in Pridnipropsk and saw Basya, an elderly woman in her 90s. Basya began to cry uncontrollably when she noticed the rabbi. Eventually she calmed down and she started to speak in broken Yiddish. "I grew up in a religious Jewish home.

During a pogrom in my hometown of Yekatrinislav (now called Dnepropetrovsk) in 1911, I saw my parents killed before my eyes."

Basya switched to Russian, the language in which she was most comfortable, and her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren listened in great surprise. She recounted how kind gentile neighbors had taken her in and cared for her on the condition that she obtain new documents and never tell anyone that she was Jewish as they feared that it might endanger her life.

"Until this very moment," said Basya solemnly, "no other soul in the world knew that I was Jewish." Basya shook with emotion as she told the rabbi that she had always hoped that the day would come when she would be able to reveal her secret. But, at the very least, she wanted to receive a Jewish burial.

The room was silent as Basya recalled some of her earliest memories. "Rabbi, I remember well my childhood and all the wonderful things of living a Jewish life. I remember the Chief Rabbi of our city and his Rebbetzin, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson and Rebbetzin Chana."

Rabbi Kaminetzky was overwhelmed by this emotionally-charged encounter. He listened as Basya shared more Jewish recollections and he gently questioned her about her life since moving to this tiny gentile village.

Basya had three children, all daughters. Her daughters each had three daughters. Rabbi Kaminetzky explained to Basya's daughters, granddaughters and great-grandchildren that they are Jewish.

Before leaving Rabbi Kaminetzky told the family that he or some of his colleagues would be in touch with them, so that they could be introduced to their Jewish roots.

The very next day, the great-granddaughter returned to Rabbi Kaminetzky's office in Dnepropetrovsk. Tearfully, she told him, "Grandma died soon after you left her house. We need you to give her a Jewish burial."

It was after the funeral that one of Basya's daughters told Rabbi Kaminetzky, "Now I understand why my mother did not eat bread for a whole week each spring and why she fasted for an entire day each autumn."

Basya's dying wish was carried out and she was buried as a Jew. During her lifetime, she had dreamt of the day when she could reveal that she was a Jew. But surely her innermost desire, something she dared not even dream, was that her descendants be able to live as Jews. And that is exactly what has happened.

Today, all of Basya's children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren are living Jewish lives; many have emigrated to Israel.