THE ORPHAN FROM SHVENTZIAN
November 8, 2017
rena g in #1092, Tzivos Hashem

Chapter 1

By Devorah Leah

The Rebbe Rayatz often refers to his beloved teacher, Rashbatz (Rabbi Shmuel Betzalel Sheftel), in his diary. Rashbatz was a great Chassid and enormous gaon who was devoted to the study and ways of Chassidus. It is hard to believe that such a Chassid was once a Misnaged!

The story of how Rashbatz became a Chabad Chassid is quite interesting. It is a story of the mesirus nefesh of a young boy. Together, we will walk with Rashbatz from when he was a boy until he became one of the great Chassidim. We will also try to learn a little about the devotion we, children of Chassidim, ought to have for learning Torah and good conduct.

In order to start walking with Rashbatz, come, let us become acquainted with the town he was born in, Shventzian. Shventzian was a small town. Apparently, most of the people there were Jews. It was near Vilna, the Misnagdic capital, and therefore, many Misnagdim lived there.

In Shventzian lived a large community of zealous Misnagdim. Just a whiff of Chassidus, or the kat (cult), as they called Chabad Chassidim, was enough to make them jump. Of course, they were b’nei Torah who sat and learned Torah day and night. They took pride in their ability to learn and explain Gemara. When Rav Hershele, the rav of the town, did not understand Rashi or Tosafos on the Gemara, he would say that Rashi or Tosafos did not understand the Gemara properly. Only he, R’ Hershele, the gaon and tzaddik (as he referred to himself) understood the Gemara properly.

Do you understand? Big tzaddikim, like Rashi and the Baalei Tosafos, who had ruach ha’kodesh, and were giants in their righteousness, who lived many centuries earlier – and Rav Hershele dismissed their comments.

There were also Chassidim who lived in Shventzian, about thirty families. They were destitute and constantly suffered from persecution by the Misnagdim. However, as Chassidim, they remained happy. They sat together every day to learn Tanya with great enthusiasm and three times a week they learned Gemara together, in great depth.

Rashbatz’s father was a Misnaged, but since he was a refined person and G-d fearing, he never spoke badly of Chassidim. He devotedly raised his young son Shmuel Betzalel and life was good.

One day, everything changed. Shmuel Betzalel was eleven and he returned from yeshiva humming a happy tune. Then he suddenly stopped. Something looked odd. Many people were crowded around the entrance to his house. Some of them pushed at the door of the narrow house while others paced here and there in confusion. It looked as though all the neighbors had decided to visit his house simultaneously.

“What’s happened at our house?” he wondered, and then broke into a run.

When he arrived, people silently cleared a path for him. He burst into the house and by the weak light of candles he saw his mother crying. He fell upon her and cried out, “What happened?” His mother did not answer. She just continued crying.

Only after the Shiva did Shmuel Betzalel begin to absorb what had happened. It was as though he had grown up all of a sudden. Life, in all its seriousness, could be seen in his sad eyes. He began putting his energy, more and more, into his learning of the holy Gemara, thus trying to forget his great sorrow of losing his father.

Some time later, his mother informed him that she was going to remarry. “However,” she added sadly, “your new father does not want you to live here with us. He commits to providing you with your food, but during the day you must learn in the beis midrash and at night you must sleep there.” She sighed heavily and looked lovingly into his eyes. “What can I do? We need someone to support us. I have no choice. I will continue to look out for you wherever you are.”

Her eyes filled with tears and her son, who did not want to cause her pain, gently said, “Don’t worry, Mama. The best place for me is the beis midrash. There I will be able to become great in Torah. My new father promised to provide me with food every day, so what more do I need?” He said goodbye to his mother and went off to the beis midrash to learn Torah.

The wedding was modest and immediately afterward, the boy’s life changed. Now, he no longer had a home. He no longer had a bed to lay his head on at night. The beis midrash was his home. There he learned and there he slept on a hard wooden bench.

Then things took a positive turn. His stepfather, seeing that he was serious about his learning and did not fight with him, began to draw him close. He even arranged for a good study partner to learn Gemara with him every day.

One day, when he went to his parents’ home to eat, his mother looked very happy. It had been a long time since he had seen her so happy.

“My dear,” she began happily. “From now on, you can come and sleep at home! Your stepfather sees that you are a ben Torah and he allows you to sleep at home every day. I am so happy! Now we can be together again and life will be happier than ever.

To be continued, G-d willing.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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