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Thursday
May302013

FROM SIBERIA TO WILLIAMSBURG

During the Tahalucha, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Levkivker, one of the more prominent members of the Chabad community in Tzfas, came to a Chassidic shul in Williamsburg to spread the joy of Yom tov. Just as he was about to depart, one of the elder Chassidim asked if he could tell him a fascinating story that began in remote Siberia, where a bogus wartime trial was held for an exiled rabbinical leader.

Translated by Michoel Leib Dobry

In these times on the eve of the Redemption, you don’t have to be a historian or an archivist to realize that a tremendous revolution is taking place among those sectors that had previously waged all out war against Lubavitch. Today, as we approach the long-awaited fulfillment of “When will the Master come?” the wellsprings of Chassidus continue to spread everywhere, to the point that even his enemies make peace with him.

The following amazing story comes to us from Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Levkivker, one of the Rebbe MH”M’s shluchim to the Holy City of Tzfas, and rosh mesivta of the Yeshivas Chassidei Chabad-Lubavitch in Tzfas.

“This past Simchas Torah, we went out on Tahalucha to give over the Rebbe’s sichos and bring some holiday joy to the shuls of Williamsburg. Anyone who remembers the more “heated” altercations between Satmar and Lubavitch knows that there were times when a Chabad Chassid fulfilling the Rebbe’s directives in Williamsburg literally meant putting his life at risk. The hatred and opposition to anything with a smell of Lubavitch would make their blood boil.

“This year, I clearly saw - exactly as the Rebbe always proclaimed in his sichos - how much the Rebbe Rayatz paved the way, and we, the seventh generation, continue the march towards the True and Complete Redemption.

“We came to the shul of the Lantzuter Chassidim, headed by the ‘Lantzuter Rav.’ We received a very warm welcome upon our arrival. Naturally, they allowed us to give over a sicha from the Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach, followed by some joyous holiday dancing. As we prepared to leave, one of the shul’s elder Chassidim asked us to wait. ‘I want to tell you a unique story,’ he said. Naturally, we remained to listen.”

“Once, during the early years of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s leadership,” the elder Chassid began, “two yeshiva bachurim from Crown Heights came to this shul. The ‘Lantzuter Rav,’ who was still alive at the time, warmly greeted them and permitted them to give over a sicha of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in the shul.

“I was then just a young boy,” this Chassid continued. “My father a”h was the shul’s gabbai, and the bachurim went up to him and asked if they could give over a sicha. My father a”h told them that the shul had a rav, and they had to ask him. The bachurim didn’t waste any time, and they went straight up to the ‘Lantzuter Rav.’ The whole congregation watched them, as this was a most remarkable and almost entertaining sight. I curiously watched to see what the rav’s response would be. To my great surprise, the ‘Lantzuter Rav’ happily agreed to let the bachurim give over the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s sicha.

“The truth is that since I knew quite well what the community’s position was on the Lubavitcher Rebbe and his Chassidim, I was very surprised to see the unusual conduct of the ‘Lantzuter Rav.’

“In the congregation, there was a highly respected Jew who served as the shul’s president. He was a very learned Chassid, held in high esteem by the entire community for his considerable financial largesse. When he saw that the ‘Lantzuter Rav’ had given permission to the Chabad bachurim to give a d’var Torah from their Rebbe, whose whole approach was an outrage to Satmar – he became furious. He turned to the bachurim and said, “You have no permission to speak here. The rav was just being polite. No one gives a d’var Torah in the name of Chabad in this shul! Get out of here!’

“Total silence engulfed the shul. This was sheer drama, the kind that no one present would ever forget.

“The rav replied softly but firmly: ‘I gave my permission - and they can give over the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.’ However, the shul president respectfully responded with equal determination: ‘K’vod HaRav, there’s a tremendous dispute with Lubavitch…’ alluding to the position of the Satmar Rebbe against the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and the ideological alliance between Satmar and Lantzut. Yet, the rav remained steadfast: ‘I am the rav here, and my decision stands. I request that these bachurim who came from the beis midrash of the Lubavitcher Rebbe should say Chassidus in his name.’

“The wealthy Jew proceeded to throw down the gauntlet. ‘If they speak - I am leaving the shul and resigning my position!’ he declared. Still, the ‘Lantzuter Rav’ would not be intimidated. ‘I do not demand that you or anyone else leave this shul. You can do as you wish, but these students will speak words of Chassidus in their Rebbe’s name.’

“The man angrily and arrogantly stormed out of the shul. The bachurim spoke, as the congregation remained in turmoil. Together with several leading community members, my father a”h went over to the ‘Lantzuter Rav’ and asked him to explain why he had acted in the way he did. With all due respect to these Chabad bachurim, they had come and would go within a short period of time, while the pillar of the community had just walked out. ‘Was it so important that these Lubavitchers should come into the shul? Was it worth the price?’

“‘With regard to our honored and esteemed colleague,’ the rav told them, ‘I can assure you that he’ll be back. As to why I was so stubborn about letting the bachurim speak, I have to tell you a story that happened to me. Then, you’ll understand everything.’”

“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 before Erev Rosh Hashanah 5700, when Lantzut was occupied by the Nazis (may their name be erased). Ten days later, on Yom Kippur, the entire Jewish population, myself included, was expelled for allegedly being Communists. We were driven into Soviet occupied territory towards the San River.

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

“However, my hardships didn’t end in Siberia,” the ‘Lantzuter Rav’ continued. “Libelous charges were lodged against me that I had passed secret information to the Poles. This amounted to sedition against the U.S.S.R., and if convicted, I could be sentenced to death r”l! In fact, twelve people had testified to my guilt! Furthermore, since I was a rabbi, the case aroused a great deal of interest, and many people came for the ‘trial’, the results of which were determined well in advance.

“Under normal circumstances, there was no chance for me to survive such proceedings. Yet, I experienced a miracle. After the ‘witnesses’ completed their testimony, the judge pounded his gavel, turned me and said, ‘You are charged with violating Statute #… The fact that you show ingratitude for Mother Russia, paying her with evil for the good she has done for you, after welcoming you with open arms from the fires of Poland, and your willingness to assist 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,’” I replied to the judge. “‘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,’” I emphatically declared.

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

“I was stunned. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would be set free. When the hall emptied and I left the courtroom, the judge approached me and placed a note in my hand. He had written that he wanted to see me in his home – at eleven p.m.

“As I came to the judge’s house at the appointed time, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The door was opened by a woman wearing a sheitel. The judge welcomed me with great respect, and showed me that he was wearing a tallis Katan. He then offered me a seat in his living room and proceeded to tell me what had impelled him to clear me of all charges.”

“Just before I joined the Red Army, I went to the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, to receive his blessing. The Rebbe looked at me with his holy eyes, and said to me 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 try to rule in your favor, the people in the courtroom would tear us 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 Yosef Yitzchak, 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 Alm-ghty helped and He placed the right words into my mind, which Baruch Hashem, resulted in your acquittal and our both leaving the courtroom, safe and sound…”

 

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