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The Rebbe’s Reminder

Prior to the Second World War, there was a large and vibrant Jewish community in the city of Lantzut, located in southeastern Poland. Several thousand Jews lived in the city in 1940, when Lantzut was occupied by the Nazis (may their names be eradicated) on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. Ten days later, on Yom Kippur, the entire Jewish population, including the Rabbi, was expelled for allegedly being communists. They were driven into Soviet-occupied territory towards the San River.

A stranger in a strange land, the Lantzuter Rav began to wander from place to place, looking for somewhere to rest from his weary journey. Then one day, he was stopped by the Soviet authorities. Since he had no identification documents and couldn’t speak Russian, he was placed under arrest. After a hasty trial he was exiled to the frozen wastelands of Siberia.

However, his hardships did not end in Siberia. Libelous charges were lodged against him, that he had passed secret information to the Poles. This amounted to sedition against the U.S.S.R., and if convicted, he could be sentenced to death, G-d forbid. In fact, twelve people had testified to the Rabbi’s guilt. Furthermore, since he was a Rabbi, the case aroused a great deal of interest, and many people came to the “trial,” the results of which were determined well in advance.

Under normal circumstances, there was no chance for him to survive the proceedings. Yet he experienced a miracle. After the “witnesses” completed their testimony, the judge pounded his gavel, turned to the Rabbi and said, “You are charged with violating statute number XX… The fact that you show ingratitude towards Mother Russia for saving your life, repaying her with evil for the good she has done for you, after welcoming you with open arms from the fires of Poland, by assisting the enemies of the Soviet people… all this pales in comparison to your greatest crime. You are a rabbiner, a Jew, and it is written in your Torah, ‘Pray for the welfare of the government.’ Therefore, as a rabbiner, how can you possibly act contrary to your Torah and commit treason against your country?”

“Your honor is correct,” the Lantzuter Rav replied. “I am a practicing rabbi, and our Torah condemns such conduct. However, it never crossed my mind for a moment to offer aid and comfort to our country’s enemies. All the testimony brought against me by these witnesses is completely false. I have never committed treason against Russia and I never will,” he concluded emphatically.

To the Rabbi’s great astonishment, the judge accepted his plea. He rapped his gavel again, declared that he had found the Rabbi innocent of all charges, and ordered his immediate release!

The Lantzuter Rav was stunned. Never in his wildest dreams had he imagined that he would be set free. When the hall emptied and he left the courtroom, the judge approached him and placed a note in his hand. On it the judge had written that he wanted to see the Rabbi in his home, at eleven p.m. that night.

At the appointed time, the Lantzuter Rav approached the judge’s home. When the door was opened, the Rabbi could not believe his eyes. The judge’s wife, modestly dressed and wearing a head-covering, invited him in. The judge welcomed him with great respect, and showed him that he was wearing a tallit katan. He then offered the Rabbi a seat in his living room and proceeded to tell him what had impelled him to clear the Rabbi of all charges.

“Just before I joined the Red Army, I went to the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn, to receive his blessing. The Rebbe looked at me with his holy eyes and said cryptically, ‘When you reach a position of greatness, don’t forget to do a favor for another Jew.’

“The years passed. I joined the army, and I was quickly promoted. After my discharge, having proven my loyalty to Russia, I received high-ranking positions with the local Ministry of Justice, eventually being appointed to serve as a judge.

“When you arrived in the hall, my eyes began to dim. I saw the rows of witnesses before me, and I realized that if I would dare to rule in your favor, the people in the courtroom would tear us both apart. I was about to render my decision in accordance with Soviet law, when I suddenly envisioned my holy audience with the Rebbe from years ago. I again saw the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph Isaac, looking at me with piercing eyes and saying to me, ‘When you reach a position of greatness – don’t forget to do a favor for another Jew.’

“I decided then and there that no matter what happened, I would risk my life to exonerate you. G-d Almighty helped and He placed the right words into my mouth, which, thank G-d, resulted in your acquittal and our both leaving the courtroom, safe and sound…”


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