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Thursday
Apr112019

SEDER NIGHT IN EXILE

This story took place in communist Russia. The cruel communists did all they could to break the spirit of the Jews. It was the Rebbe Rayatz who strengthened the Jews, under the watchful eyes of the enemy.

Many Chassidim were killed, imprisoned or exiled, for the “crime” of spreading Judaism, but they kept on going. One such Chassid was Rabbi Refael Nachman Kahn, known as R’ Fole. He was a loyal soldier of the Rebbe. Then came his turn and he was brought to prison in the year 5690/1930.

He was sentenced to three years in exile under difficult conditions, far from his beloved family.

Three seder nights were celebrated there: one with wine but without matzos; another with matzos but no wine; and a third without matzos and without wine.

Here is the story of the first seder night:

R’ Fole was alone in a distant village. Every Monday he had to go to the police station and sign in, in order to prove that he hadn’t run away. The first year, the law was that he could not leave the village at all.

Pesach was approaching. “Please buy me a plate from the nearby village,” R’ Fole asked one of the gentiles who was allowed to leave the village. The gentile agreed.

R’ Fole immersed the plate in a well. This was such an odd sight for the gentile women who were there that they thought he was a sorcerer.

R’ Fole waited impatiently for the package of matzos sent from home but it was delayed. The package arrived on the eve of Yom Tov but inside was only wine; not matzos. There were also potatoes and beets.

What about something bitter for maror?

“Can you buy me chazeres (bitter lettuce)?” he asked a gentile neighbor.

But the gentiles were unable to obtain it for it was twenty degrees Celsius below zero, not the season for it.

The holiday passed with food to eat, thank G-d, but alas, no matzos.

When Shavuos came, a package arrived at the village post office. It contained matzos for Pesach. His dear wife had taken care to send him matzos back at Chanuka time, but in Russia of those days, deliveries could be delayed months.

He got another present for Shavuos. His gentile friends brought him a large amount of chazeres. They thought he liked it a lot …

Here is the story of the second seder night:

“What about matzos?”

R’ Fole was worried as Pesach approach, especially considering his sad experience of the year before.

It was erev Pesach, 14 Nissan. That night would be the seder and he had no matzos.

“Maybe a package was sent for me to the post office in the next village?” he thought. He asked wagon drivers to take him to the village but they all refused. “The snows are melting and the roads are dangerous,” they said.

Having no choice, he rented a horse and wagon since he was familiar with how to handle them. He traveled himself to the village and went to the post office. Unfortunately, it was closed.

R’ Fole was not one to despair. He spoke to two Jews who were friends of the owner of the post office. They got the owner of the post office to open it up.

With great effort they searched among all the packages but did not find one for R’ Fole.

R’ Fole had to make the difficult journey back to where he lived. It was a miracle that he made it back before sunset and was able to return the horse and wagon to its owner before Yom Tov began.

Without matzos and wine he held the seder; far from family, in exile, among gentiles.

The only thing he could do was recite the Haggada which he did, brokenheartedly. He was not concerned that anyone would hear him since he lived alone.

Instead of four cups of wine, he shed more than four cups of tears.

The story of the third seder:

R’ Fole was exiled to a village far north.

“If last year I did not have matzos and wine, it is even more unlikely I will have them this year, in this distant place,” he thought sadly.

Days passed and Pesach was approaching and he was becoming more and more concerned.

This time, he did not have any food either. Vegetables did not grow in this frozen wasteland.

But Hashem runs the world and the Russian government decided to do an experiment and grow vegetables there. They sent a large quantity of carrots and tried to grow them with a certain method, but were unsuccessful. The carrots froze and rotted.

So R’ Fole had a huge pile of what was once carrots. He wasn’t put off by their rottenness. He took a pail and filled it up with carrots. At home, after thawing them out, he began picking out the best of them. He cut off the rotten parts and threw them out. In this way, he was able to amass a lot of pieces of carrot which he saved for Pesach.

He knew his stomach would ache by eating it, but he was determined not to eat chometz, no matter what. He did not imagine what miracle Hashem was planning for him.

On the second day of Nissan, a Russian officer was sent from distant Moscow to northern Russia, not far from the village R’ Fole was in. When arrived he sent a message, “Please come to take me to your village; from there, I will continue on to my destination.”

It was very dangerous to travel and bring him since some of the snow had melted. Woe if the ice on the river cracked; one could drown! But the officer’s order had to be obeyed.

Those in exile who heard this pleaded, “Please bring us packages from the post office there. It has been half a year already since we received any packages! We will pay for every package that you bring.”

“I will certainly not bring heavy packages lest the wagon sink. I will only bring letters,” said the person assigned to bring the officer. This was happy news too.

The person set out and went to the post office. He took the prisoners’ letters and left but then the manager of the post office said, while pointing at a closed package, “You must take this with you. It is a government package. It is sealed with wax on all sides. If you don’t take it now, they will send you here again to get it.”

Having no choice, that package was taken. It was for R’ Fole.

When the Chassid opened the package, he could not believe his eyes. There were matzos for Pesach!

His gentile friends who witnessed this exclaimed, “G-d saved you! You are a righteous man!”

R’ Fole knew of another Jew there by the name of Kuti Grotzky who was not religious.

“I will share the matzos with you,” he said.

But the gentiles protested. “Don’t give him any; he eats non-kosher food!”

R’ Fole said to the Jew, “If you promise me that you won’t eat chometz or treif on Pesach, and eat only what I eat, I will give you matzos.”

“We will watch him. If he touches chometz, we will kill him,” said the gentiles.

The man was old and became sick. A doctor gave him a prescription, to eat half a kilo of klovka, a fruit that grew in the wintertime and was good for this illness.

“Please write that I need an entire kilo,” asked the man and the doctor agreed. And that is how the two Jews ate matzos and fruit on Pesach.

 

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