THE TRAVELS AND TRAVAILS OF THE TWO HOLY SHOFARS
September 9, 2015
Menachem Ziegelboim in #989, Feature, Tishrei

Beis Moshiach presents the story of the travels of two rare, precious shofars that had been owned by Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Schneersohn a”h for many years.

PART I

The gaon and mekubal, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Schneersohn, had two shofars.  They were precious because he had received them as an inheritance from his holy ancestors.

Every Rosh HaShana he would stand on the platform in the center of the large shul in Yekaterinoslav.  He would take a black shofar out of his bag and would blow it with trepidation.  This shofar was known as the “black shofar” and it was inherited from the Rebbe Maharash.

After R’ Levi Yitzchok was arrested and exiled to a distant city in Kazakhstan, the shofar remained with his wife, Rebbetzin Chana a”h.  It was incredible that the evil ones who conducted a thorough search of the rav’s house did not touch the shofar.  The Rebbetzin gave the precious shofar to the chassid, R’ Yehuda Gurary, who also lived in Yekaterinoslav, in the hopes of retrieving it in better times.

At some point, the Rebbetzin traveled to where her husband was in exile in order to be with him.  She knew that her husband would be spending a number of years there as the cursed ones had decreed, and that he would need a shofar for Rosh HaShana.  So she took back the shofar from R’ Gurary and made the long trip to the exile in Chili.

PART II

Years passed until R’ Yaakov Yosef Raskin was able to leave Russia.  Before he left, he asked the Rebbetzin, to whom he was related, to give him the shofar so he could bring it to a safe location so that it would not fall into the wrong hands.

The Rebbetzin, appreciating the importance of the black shofar, gave it to him after the passing of her husband.  For six years, R’ Raskin had the shofar and he blew it every year until Elul 5710.

In Av 5710, Ramash, the Rebbe Rayatz’s son-in-law and later, our Rebbe, sent a letter to R’ Raskin.  “It has become known to me for some time that you were able to bring my father’s shofar from that country.”  The Rebbe went on to say that R’ Dovber Chaskind would soon be visiting Eretz Yisroel and, “I would have a debt of gratitude if you would give over the shofar through the above-mentioned.  And it is understood that all of the expenses associated with this are incumbent upon me to cover as per his instructions, in addition to my great thanks for all this.”

Shortly afterward, R’ Chaskind went to R’ Raskin and said he was there on behalf of the Rebbe to retrieve the black shofar of his father.

It wasn’t easy for R’ Raskin to part with the precious shofar.  Although it rightfully belonged to the son of R’ Levi Yitzchok, still, it pained him to part with the holy shofar that he had used for the past six years.

Nevertheless, he gave the shofar to the Rebbe’s shliach, though he dared to ask the Rebbe for something in exchange, something belonging to the Rebbe Rayatz.

At that time, which was the year of mourning for the Rebbe Rayatz, the Rebbe would daven every day as the shliach tzibbur in the minyan of the yeshiva bachurim.  After the davening he would act like any other of the worshipers.  After one of the t’fillos, he went over to the bachur Dovid Raskin and said, “Your father asked for a gift in exchange for the shofar.  I suggest the Rebbe’s handkerchief.”

R’ Dovid quickly wrote to his father and asked him whether he agreed to the Rebbe’s offer.  His father was rather disappointed for he had hoped for something more enduring like a spoon or cup, and he wrote this to his son.  He ended the letter by requesting that he get a better gift.

A few days later, the Rebbe went over to the son again and expressed his surprise – why does your father refuse the handkerchief? “I wanted to send it but in the meantime it is shrinking.”

So the son wrote back to his father, expressing his surprise that his father was refusing the gift the Rebbe offered.  He wrote that among the talmidim and Chassidim in Brooklyn they already knew of Ramash’s greatness and holiness (which was not yet known by the Chassidim in Eretz Yisroel).

He wrote, “If the Rebbe is offering this gift, that’s no small thing and he knows the value of the gift.  Why haggle?”

When R’ Raskin received his son’s heartfelt letter, he immediately agreed to accept the Rebbe’s gift.  “With all my heart and soul I agree, and I abolish my opinion and desire before that of the Rebbe.”

The Rebbe, with his great sensitivity, asked the son whether his father wanted him to send the handkerchief to him directly or whether it could be sent through his son.  R’ Raskin wrote that he did not want to bother the Rebbe in sending it and he did not mind if the Rebbe gave it to his son who would send it to him. 

One morning, after Shacharis, the Rebbe told Dovid Raskin to go to his office.  The Rebbe then took out a key from his desk, went over to a closet in the room and opened it.  In the closet were a number of drawers and the handkerchief was in one of them.  He took it out and gave it to Dovid so he could send it to his father.

Dovid quickly sent it off along with a letter that described how he had received the handkerchief, noting that considering where it had been hidden away, it seemed it was quite valuable.

The handkerchief was made of thin material, was white, and ironed.  In one corner the initials JS, the Rebbe Rayatz’s initials, were embroidered.  One corner was missing and looked as though someone had cut off a bit as a segula.  “Now I understand what the Rebbe meant when he told my son that the handkerchief got smaller, for apparently a piece of it was given to someone for a refua or the like,” said R’ Raskin.

***

Fifteen years passed.  R’ Yaakov Yosef Raskin went to the Rebbe for Shavuos 5725.  On that visit he had yechidus where he worked up the nerve to ask the Rebbe what he should do with the precious handkerchief, which was being stored away and not being used.

“You will figure it out,” said the Rebbe.

But the Chassid persisted, “I don’t understand and want the Rebbe to tell me.”

“Are you a baal tokeia?” the Rebbe asked.

“Yes.”

“So during t’kias shofar on Rosh HaShana you can cover the shofars with the handkerchief and if a handkerchief is not enough with which to cover them, then take another cloth and cover the shofars.”

The Rebbe then explained that the Rebbe Rayatz’s handkerchief was meant to cover the shofars during t’kias shofar and it was therefore a suitable replacement for the shofar of his father.

PART III

After the Rebbe received the precious shofar, he wrote to thank R’ Raskin.  A year later, R’ Raskin wrote a letter to Rebbetzin Chana from whom he had gotten the shofar.  In his letter he expressed his feelings about how the shofar was now being used:

“I was so happy and delighted that my son Dovid wrote me that on Rosh HaShana this year, they blew the black shofar of the Rebbe Maharash, which I took from her honor in Alma Ata eight years ago and I blew it for six years on Rosh HaShana and enabled people to fulfill their obligation.

“Last year, when I received a letter from her son the Rebbe shlita who asked me for it, the truth is, I will admit and not deny it, it was very hard for me to part with it and I could not part with the shofar which was more precious to me than pearls, but I could not, G-d forbid, contravene the Rebbe’s request and demand.

“Now, when I heard that on Rosh HaShana they blew it by the Rebbe, I was very happy that I had the merit that it was through me, for I brought it from Russia and closely guarded it and it finally reached her honor’s holy son shlita.

“The small white shofar belonging to the Tzemach Tzedek surely remains with R’ Tzvi Rabinowitz, may Hashem have mercy on him and all of Anash in Russia.”

PART IV

What is the story of the second shofar, the white one, which was an inheritance from the Tzemach Tzedek? And what happened to it?

When R’ Levi Yitzchok was in exile in Alma Ata, there was a simple Jew there by the name of Chaim Ber.  After R’ Levi Yitzchok passed away, this man went to Chernovitz where he lived till his final day.

In the final Elul of his life, Chaim Ber called for the Chassid, R’ Yosef Nimotin and told him that he had never used the shofar, but this year he wanted to hear the t’kios from this holy shofar of the Tzemach Tzedek.  R’ Yosef refused for he was afraid to use this shofar.

The morning of Rosh HaShana, R’ Yosef went to the house of Chaim Ber to visit him.  On the table was the holy shofar.  Chaim Ber asked him again to blow the shofar and to enable him to do the mitzva, but R’ Yosef said he wanted to blow a shofar he was used to blowing.

“Were you at the mikva today?” asked Chaim Ber, seemingly off topic.

R’ Yosef said yes.

“Then please blow this shofar for me,” he kept begging him, until he finally blew the Tzemach Tzedek’s shofar and the t’kios came out smoothly.

R’ Yosef was about to leave the house when Chaim Ber said, “Please take the shofar to your house.”

R’ Yosef was surprised by this request for he knew how much Chaim Ber guarded this shofar like a treasure.  Nevertheless, he did as he was asked and took the shofar to his house.

It was like Chaim Ber had been prophetic, as though he knew his days were numbered and the shofar had to be under someone else’s care.

R’ Yosef Nimotin was arrested and after a brief trial he was exiled to a labor camp for six years.  His wife gave the shofar to the Chassid, R’ Hillel Liberow who kept it as long as R’ Yosef was in exile.

The shofar underwent more travails.  After R’ Yosef was released and returned to Chernovitz, he started davening in the shul of the Iranian Jews.  It was the first Rosh HaShana, and R’ Yosef was standing in his place, ready to pour out his heart in prayer on this Day of Judgment.  He was still standing there when suddenly a hand placed a shofar down before his eyes.  R’ Yosef just managed to see the back of Hillel Liberow, his friend, disappearing out the door of the shul.  R’ Yosef took the shofar and recognized it as the holy shofar.

His hands shook with emotion.  He had not expected to see this special shofar again, and at such a lofty time, shortly before the shofar is blown!

It was only later that he wondered why his friend had rushed to return the shofar to him and in such a mysterious way as this.  The two of them met at a later point and R’ Hillel told him an amazing story:

The morning of that Rosh HaShana, R’ Hillel took the shofar with him as he went to shul.  He planned on blowing it with the intention of arousing great mercy on himself and his household.  Who knew better than he how much mercy the Jewish people needed at this fateful time, when the communists persecuted Jews simply for being Jewish.

When he arrived at shul he suddenly noticed that the shofar was gone.  At first he thought his eyes were deceiving him and he began searching his bag but he soon saw that the shofar was really gone.  His heart skipped a beat.  The shofar … the shofar.  He realized it must have slipped out somehow on the way from his house to the shul.  It was unlikely he would find it, and it may have fallen into the hands of wicked people.

Still, he rushed to retrace his steps.  Maybe the merit of the holy shofar would enable it to be rescued.

Brokenheartedly, he walked quickly as he carefully looked everywhere.   Maybe it was in the street, maybe it had been pushed to the side by passersby.

Suddenly, his eyes lit up.  He found the shofar lying right near the tram tracks.  A tram was coming and his heart froze in terror.  Millimeters separated between the shofar and the iron wheels of the tram that rolled with such a racket. It was a miracle that the tram did not run over the shofar and smash it to pieces.

“At that moment, I realized that the shofar did not have to be by me,” explained R’ Hillel.  “That is why I hurried to return it to you, so you could watch over it and bring it to safe shores.”

***

Some time passed and R’ Yosef Nimotin was living in Tashkent.  It was the early 1970’s when a number of families began to receive permission to leave Russia.  R’ Simcha Gorodetzky approached R’ Yosef Nimotin and asked him for the shofar so he could give it to the Rebbe.  That was no simple mission, for the shofar could have fallen into the hands of wicked border guards, but the miracles continued.

R’ Simcha was able to smuggle it across the border and he later gave the shofar to the Rebbe who would take it with him to the bima on Rosh HaShana.

***

“YOU HAVE PRECIOUS GUESTS”
In the story, the strong relationship between R’ Yaakov Yosef Raskin and the royal family is referred to.  R’ Raskin helped R’ Levi Yitzchok Schneersohn in his final years, and afterward the relationship continued with Rebbetzin Chana.
As a sequel to the story, here is an excerpt from R’ Raskin’s diary about a special visit that took place in the home of Rebbetzin Chana, when he visited Crown Heights at the end of 5715.  During the visit, the Rebbe appeared.
Here is the excerpt:
I arrived in Brooklyn on 28 Elul 5715 before noon.  My son Dovid immediately called Rebbetzin Chana and told her I had come from Eretz Yisroel.  He asked when I could come by to say hello.  She said at five.
When we entered her home, the table was set with fruit and drinks, all arranged nicely.  She welcomed me happily and was very friendly.  After we sat for about a quarter of an hour and spoke about our memories of Alma Ata etc., we heard someone turn a key in the lock of the front door.  The Rebbetzin said to us, “It’s my son opening the door.” (The Rebbe always had the key to her door in his pocket so as not to bother her to get up and open the door for him).
In the meantime, the door opened and the Rebbe walked in.  From the entrance to the living room there was a long hallway and from there you walked right into the living room.  Of course we all rose.  Previously, I had been sitting at the table to the right of the Rebbetzin and she motioned to us to move to the left side.  The Rebbe went over to her and greeted her and asked how she was.  The three of us (me, Dovid and Leib) stood on the right side of the table.  The Rebbe stood under the pictures of the rabbanim hanging on the wall.  I immediately mustered the courage and said the “SheHechiyanu” blessing out loud and the Rebbe answered, “Amen.”
He asked me how the trip was and other things.  After about ten minutes he said to his mother, “You have precious guests, farbrengt gut and I will go.”
After he left, the Rebbetzin said that the Rebbe always came at six which is why she invited us for five, but this time he came early, maybe because the next day was Erev Rosh HaShana and time was more limited.

REGARDS FROM HIS FATHER
When the time came, they called me for yechidus.  The Rebbe welcomed me with a glowing face.  The first topic we discussed was the Rebbe’s father. The Rebbe asked me about his father’s passing, since I was among the main people who had been involved with his father in Alma Ata, and the Rebbe had always wanted to determine exactly when his father passed away because it was hard for him to talk to his mother about this for obvious reasons.  He wanted to know whether it was on the 20th of Av before sunset.
Since I had been at the tzaddik’s bedside at the time, I was able to say with certainty that it was before sunset and to reassure him I gave him signs: there was no electricity, and they only used a kerosene lamp, and the lamp was lit about half an hour after his passing, and as long as there was daylight they did not light the lamp.  Aside from that, I remembered that it was daylight outside.
The Rebbe asked whether I remembered the teachings that his father expounded upon.  I said I did not remember precisely.  I just said that in the final weeks that he was in this world, I had come from a bris mila that I did on a four year old child.  Upon returning from the bris, I went to visit him and he was in bed for he was very weak.  He sat in bed and shook my hand lovingly and joyously, and expounded on many things whose numerical equivalent is four like the name of G-d, four worlds, etc. and he told me I had done a great thing in performing a bris on a four year old.  And then he blessed me.

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