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Thursday
Jul182019

The Rebbe Intervened To Save His Life...

A profile of an elder Chabad Chassid, Rabbi Avrohom Tzvi (Segal) Landa, who passed away a few months ago at the age of 100

The students in Vilna realized that the Nazis were making their way toward Lithuania in order to conquer it, and they had to flee before it was too late.

The escape route that developed at that time included a journey via Russia to Japan and from there (the initial plan was), to the United States. This plan was made feasible through the heroic assistance of the Japenese consul to Kovno, Mr. Chiune Sugihara who agreed to issue a large number of Visas to the Jews who wished to flee Lithuania , as well  R’ Shmuel Dovid Raichik who coordinated the details of the escape with self sacrifice.

The Rebbe Rayatz worked assiduously to obtain visas to the U.S. and in Elul of 5700/1940, he was successful. The American government announced their intentions to grant visas to 52 talmidim and 47 rabbanim and roshei yeshiva and their households.

The work to obtain visas began several months before R’ Avrohom Tzvi arrived at Tomchei Tmimim. This is why, when the list arrived, he was not on it. He knew what this meant and the day after Yom Kippur he wrote an impassioned letter to the Rebbe Rayatz asking him to obtain a visa for him too, since a visa meant a passport to life.

Nearly two months passed until his letter reached the Rebbe and on 8 Kislev 5741 (1940), the Rebbe sent his response in which he included the following:

In answer to his writing of 11 Tishrei that was received these days, he should remove all anguish from himself and Hashem will give him length of days and good, luminous years in the tent of Torah. And similarly he should not worry about the visa because with Hashem’s help we will make every possible effort, and Hashem yisborach will assist us and him in the material and in the spiritual.

R’ Landa’s peers would later recall that they’d huddle next to Avrohom Tzvi during times of danger, since they knew that he had received this letter of reassurance & blessing for long life, from the Rebbe himself.

The last weeks of 1940 were a time of great tension for the tmimim in Vilna. In addition to a visa to the U.S., they needed transit visas via the Soviet Union. On 4 Teves they finally got the Soviet travel permits, but R’ Avrohom Tzvi Landa had yet to appear on the list of students who were granted visas by the U.S.

The tmimim in Vilna sent a telegram to update the Rebbe in which they asked again to add R’ Avrohom Tzvi to the list. They noted that they were asking for “special consideration.” They signed the telegram with a poignant message, “Rachamim (mercy) Tmimim.”

The Rebbe did what he could and indeed, when the final list arrived, R’ Avrohom Tzvi was on it.

Since R’ Avrohom Tzvi used two family names, Follman and Landa, it wasn’t known which name appeared on his passport. Therefore, he was on the list twice, once as Avrohom Tzvi Follman and again as Avrohom Tzvi Landa.

On a lengthy journey that began in the winter of early 1941, R’ Landa managed to escape the valley of death together with the tmimim in Vilna. They first went to Kobe, Japan, until the Japanese eventually moved all the refugees to Shanghai, China (which was under their control at the time), placing them in a ghetto under very difficult conditions.(R’ Landa was the last surviving member of this famous group of Tmimim).

WITH THE REBBE RAYATZ

Avrohom Tzvi arrived in America in 1946. He and his peers had been in relative isolation for 5 years and they now heard of the complete devastation that the Nazis had brought upon polish Jewry. His parents had both been murdered and only one sibling, his younger brother Berish, survived the inferno. As they were virtually alone in the world, the Rebbe Rayatz served as a father figure to the Talmidim and regularly provided them with guidance on how they ought to conduct themselves.

One time, R’ Avrohom Tzvi sent a question to the Rebbe Rayatz about Zivugim, for there is a disagreement between the philosophers who maintain there is free choice and the kabbalists who maintain that it is a decree. He asked, what does Chassidus say?

The Rebbe referred the question to his son-in-law, Ramash (later the Rebbe MH”M) and R’ Avrohom Tzvi merited to receive a long letter in response which covers all the views on the subject (printed in Igros Kodesh vol. 2, letter 264).

One year before pesach, Reb Shmuel Levitin was getting ready to arrange the sale of Chometz in 770. Being that he wanted the bill of sale to be written out clearly for the Rebbe Rayatz, R’ Avrohom Tzvi, who was then a talmid in 770, was given the task, and he merited to write up the shtar for the Rebbe in his clear and beautiful handwriting.

At that time, many of Anash lived in Brownsville which is not very far from Crown Heights. R’ Avrohom Tzvi also lived there, in the home of R’ Mordechai Avrohom Yeshaya Groner, and that is how it came to be that on Pesach night of 1947, he walked to 770 with his friend Yitzchok Dovid Groner and together they merited to partake in the pesach seder of the Rebbe Rayatz.

MARRIAGE

On the 20th of Kislev 5709, shortly before his 30th birthday, R’ Avrohom Tzvi married Chaya Klein, a concentration camp survivor, daughter of Rabbi and Mrs. Yitzchok and Yutta Klein.

At first, they planned to marry on 20 Cheshvan but when the chassan told this to the Rebbe M”HM, he pointed out that we don’t make weddings during the second half of the month of Cheshvan (that was the practice at that time) and he recommended pushing it off to 20 Kislev. Obviously the chassan agreed to this suggestion.

When the wedding day was approaching, he asked the Ramash whether he should fast, considering it is a Chassidic Yom Tov. The Ramash responded by suggesting that when he would see the Rebbe Rayatz in yechidus before his wedding, he should ask.

R’ Avrohom Tzvi later recounted that the Rebbe Rayatz would answer all his questions in yechidus immediately, but when he asked about fasting on 20 Kislev, the Rebbe thought for a moment and then said, “Yes.” R’ Avrohom Tzvi wasn’t sure whether this meant to fast or not and so he asked, “Yes, to fast?” The Rebbe smiled and said, “Yes, to fast.”

During the Kidush in 770 on the Shabbos before the wedding, the Ramash spoke about the significance of the Chassan’s name “Avrohom Tzvi” according to kabbala. However, by that point the attendees had already said a number of L’chaims, & full details of what the Ramash said, are not available.  

OPEN MIRACLE OF THE REBBE

After the passing of the Rebbe Rayatz, R’ Avrohom Tzvi was mekasher himself to the Rebbe MH”M. Shortly after the Rebbe’s acceptance of the nesius, R’ Avrohom Tzvi experienced the following open miracle:

At that time, there was a serious shortage of apartments to rent in the Brownsville area and whomever was lucky enough to find an apartment had to pay an extra large sum of money known as “Shlisel gelt’’(key money) to the previous renter. R’ Avrohom Tzvi had yechidus and asked for a bracha to find an apartment. The Rebbe said, “Sometimes it happens that a Jew moves to Eretz Yisrael and his apartment is vacant and it also can happen that he is willing to rent it without Shlisel gelt.”

In those early years it was very uncommon for Jews living in America to move to the fledgling state in Eretz Yisrael. However, two days later, while in shul, he heard two people talking about someone by the name of Rabbi Zaks whose wife was sick with asthma. The doctor said they had to move to a place with a dry climate. They decided to move to Eretz Yisrael..

R’ Avrohom Tzvi approached R’ Zaks and asked whether the rumor was true and if he could take over renting his apartment. R’ Zaks confirmed it and said he would be happy for him to take over the rental of the apt and there was no need to pay any Shlisel Gelt.

R’ Avrohom Tzvi, astounded by this miracle, went back to the Rebbe and told him, in amazement, about how things happened exactly as the Rebbe said. The Rebbe listened quietly and did not react.

HOW DID YOU KNOW MY MOTHER’S NAME?

In the early 1950s, R’ Landa worked in bookbinding. Once, during that period, the Rebbe showed him the Tehillim of his mother, Rebbetzin Chana, that was very worn and some of the pages had fallen out. The Rebbe asked him to rebind the Tehillim and to add empty pages at the end on which she could write her memoirs.

R’ Landa hurried to take care of this and, on his own initiative, decided to beautify it with gold stamped  letters on the cover that said “Chana Schneerson.” When he returned the Tehillim, the Rebbe asked him, with a smile, “How did you know my mother’s name?”

R’ Landa said that he knew it from the introduction that the Rebbe wrote to the Tanya that Kehot had published at that time, which the Rebbe had signed with his name and his mother’s name.

BEING ACCURATE

Throughout the years Rabbi Landa was known for his style of storytelling, telling them over in both an interesting and accurate way. In the early years he was one of the contributers for the Yiddish language Shmuesen mit Kinder un Yugn’t (Talks and Tales), published by Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch. Many stories that appeared in the magazine and were later translated into several languages, were written by him, as he heard them from elder Chassidim of the previous generation.

R’ Landa wasn’t only precise with stories but also with niggunim. He was particular about every kneitch in a niggun that it be sung slowly & correctly. For many years he would serve as bal tefilah during the Yomim Noraim and many people recounted to family members that just hearing him daven mincha on Yom Kippur with his authentic & earnest Nusach haTefilah, would move them to Teshuva.

THE REBBE SAID YOU ARE ROSH MESIVTA!

For a number of years, R’ Avrohom Tzvi was a Melamed in Beer Shmuel of Boro Park, while also working afternoons at the post office, to help make ends meet. Since between everything he did not have a lot of time for learning on his own, it happened that on 19 Kislev, when the Shas was divided, he took the short tractate Tamid.

After a few days, Rabbi Chadakov called him and said that the Rebbe reviewed the cards that were filled out when Shas was divided, and when the Rebbe saw his card, he exclaimed, “A rosh mesivta takes the smallest tractate in Shas?!”

R’ Chadakov came to his defense and said surely he also learned other tractates and he had only written that on the list that would be publicized, but the Rebbe did not accept that.

R’ Landa tried to justify himself by saying that he is only a Melamed dardekea, but R’ Chadakov said emphatically, “If  the Rebbe called you a ‘rosh mesivta’ that means you are a rosh mesivta!”

GIVING DOUBLE

Parnassa was difficult for him. At a farbrengen, the Rebbe asked all those present to write how much they were donating toward an appeal that the Rebbe made at that time. R’ Avrohom Tzvi carefully assessed his financial abilities and wrote down a sum that to him was the extreme limit of what he could give.  The Rebbe began opening the envelopes and told some of the donors to increase the amount they would give. When he opened R’ Avrohom Tzvi’s envelope, the Rebbe said he should double the amount!

R’ Avrohom Tzvi wondered whether this meant to double the original amount or aside from the original amount, to add double to that. In the end, he decided to be stringent …

Since he did not possess such a sum, he had to go to the bank for a loan, but being a teacher, he could not get to the bank until Friday afternoon. In the meantime, the deadline that the Rebbe stated for the donations had passed. He submitted the money along with a letter of apology for not being able to bring the money earlier.

On motzoei Acharon shel Pesach, when he passed by the Rebbe for “kos shel bracha,” the Rebbe called him back and gave him matza from his table. After that, he had ample parnassa until the end of his life.

***

After many years of teaching in the morning and working at the post office in the evening, he stopped teaching at Beer Shmuel and looked for another teaching position. R’ Michoel Teitelbaum, founder of Oholei Torah, begged him to teach in his yeshiva, but asked him to work a full day. At the same time, the post office offered him a full-time job with all the government benefits of health insurance and a generous pension. He was inclined to accept R’ Michoel’s offer but as a faithful Chassid, he wrote to the Rebbe about the two offers and asked what he should do.

The Rebbe’s answer was delayed and in the meantime, the new school year was approaching. R’ Michoel begged him to start teaching in Oholei Torah and if the Rebbe answered otherwise, he could leave. That is what he did and he went to Oholei Torah on the first day of school.

That evening, he received the Rebbe’s answer which said that it was not worth forgoing the benefits at the post office. He had not anticipated this answer but with absolute kabbolas ol he left Oholei Torah and worked full-time at the post office. As a Chassid, he used every opportunity to spread Yidishkeit and carry out the Rebbe’s mivtzaim among his fellow postal workers, including putting on tefilin with whoever agreed to do so.

Owing to the Rebbe’s directive, upon reaching retirement age nearly twenty years later, he was able to draw a pension from the U.S. Postal service , which supported him and his wife for more than three decades & allowed him to be immersed in the tent of torah.

YEARNING FOR MOSHIACH

R’ Landa davened for many years in the Lubavitch shul in Boro Park founded Rabbi Eliyahu Simpson, with whom he was very close.  Throughout the years that he lived in Boro Park, he was the example of a true Chasid.  Learning Torah with  simple yiden ,davening in an unhurried and contemplative manner, abstaining from a pursuit of wordly taavos & carrying out the mivtzaim of the Rebbe.  Every weekday after mincha, he gave a shiur in Ein Yaakov and a shiur in Tanya in the main Vizhnitzer shul.

In the early nineties, when the Rebbe spoke about the need to learn inyanei Geula and Moshiach in order to “open your eyes,” he told his listeners that now he understands the significance of the words we say towards the end of the “U’va L’Tziyon” prayer, “And we should merit and we should live and we should see… the years of Yemos HaMoshiach.” This means that it is possible for there to be a situation in which one merits and lives through the times of Moshiach, but still not see.  And this requires a special effort of prayer on our part.

He also spoke passionately about the words of the liturgical poet R’ Eliezer HaKalir, cited in the yotzros for Shabbos HaChodesh, where he seems to indicate that Moshiach will first be revealed to a select group of people and not to the entire Jewish nation. It is only at a later point that Moshiach will be revealed to all. R’ Landa even wrote to the Rebbe about this.

His family recounts that after Gimmel Tammuz 5754, he would find enjoyment & encouragement from the weekly issues of Beis Moshiach magazine.

R’ Avrohom Tzvi moved to Crown Heights in the year 5770, and merited old age with a lucid mind. He passed away in his sleep early Friday morning erev Shabbos Parshas Titzaveh 5779 and was buried that same day.

He was in his 101st year of life, thus the Bracha of the Rebbe Rayatz, which he merited to receive so many years before ,during the turmoil of world war two, was fulfilled.

The family received a wink from above, in the form of a great grandson that was born to him that same morning, during the hurried preparations for his Livaye. The little boy’s bris mila was celebrated one week later, the morning after Shiva where he was given the name “Avrohom Tzvi Halevi’’ after his special Zaide. 

RUN TO DO A MITZVA

In his childhood, R’ Avrohom Tzvi suffered from pains in his feet due to exposure to extreme cold.  His parents took him to a German doctor, who diagnosed the he suffered from “geleiges untzindung.” He did not know what this meant, but the words remained engraved in his memory. 

Many years later, the pains returned and when he went in for a yechidus to the Rebbe, he mentioned the words that the doctor had said many years prior.  The Rebbe told him that “geleiges untzindung” meant inflammation of the joints, and since the pains from back then had already stopped, so too, they should stop again now.  In fact, the pains did go away a short time after that yechidus.

Many year later, the pains in his feet returned again.  This was already in the years that the Rebbe no longer saw people for private yechidus, so when he passed before the Rebbe at the distribution of dollars, he asked the Rebbe for a bracha. 

The Rebbe answered him: You should be someone who runs to do a mitzva with healthy feet.  Immediately afterwards, his feet were completely healed, and until the last few years R’ Avrohom Tzvi would walk briskly for the sake of a mitzva. It was only at age 95 that he conceded to the instructions of his doctor and began to use a cane.

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