Saturday, July 31, 2010
A bit about Chof Av:
Rabbi Gurary relates:
For a long time the Soviet government had been carefully scrutinizing the actions of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, the Chief Rabbi of the city of Yeketerinaslav (and the father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe). A network of spies, sent to infiltrate his synagogue, observed his every step. Indeed, a thick dossier of his "crimes" had already been gathered.
The truth is that it wasn't all that difficult to substantiate evidence of the Rav's defiance. Nonetheless, by dint of his courage and ingenuity, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak had so far succeeded in avoiding their traps.
Take, for example, the time the government decided to conduct a census in which all Soviet citizens were asked if they believed in G-d. Because of the great danger involved in responding truthfully, many Jews, even the observant, had planned on answering in the negative.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, however, would not hear of such a thing. He ran from one synagogue to the next, begging people not to deny the G-d of their fathers. As a result of his campaign he was summoned to appear before the authorities.
"What is there to find fault with?" Rabbi Levi Yitzchak answered innocently. "When I learned that some Jews were intending to lie, I merely did my job as a Soviet citizen and urged them to tell the truth."
The day came when Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was invited to appear in court on charges of conducting Jewish activities in his home. As this was strictly illegal, if he would be severely punished if found guilty.
The Rav's apprehension only grew when he saw the two main witnesses for the prosecution. The first was the director of the housing unit in which he lived, a young Jew who was a sworn Communist appointed by the authorities to keep track of the residents' comings and goings. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak knew that he was the housing director's primary focus. The other witness was his next-door neighbor, a woman whose husband was the regional head of the Communist Party in charge of transportation.
In truth, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak had much to fear from these two witnesses. And recent events had given him even more cause for worry.
Not long ago a young Jewish couple, both high-ranking government employees, had suddenly appeared on his doorstep in the middle of the night and asked that he marry them "according to the laws of Moses and Israel." It was a highly dangerous proposition: Not only did the Rav not know them personally, but in order to conduct a Jewish ceremony under a chupa, ten Jewish men would have to be found.
Within a short time, nine Jews were hastily assembled in Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's home. But where to locate a tenth? With no other option the Rav had taken the bold step of asking the director of the housing project to participate.
"Me?" The man had jumped as if bitten by a snake.
"Yes, you," Rabbi Levi Yitzchak had answered in earnest.
Surprisingly, the director had agreed, and the clandestine wedding was held. But who knew if this would now be counted against him?
The second witness had also recently been involved in an activity that could possibly implicate him. One day a secret messenger had come to the Rav's house and informed him that the following day, the woman's husband, the high-ranking Communist, would be away on business from morning till night. The real reason for his absence, however, was to allow the Rav to perform a brit mila on their newborn son.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak did not know if he was walking into a trap. But the next day, the tiny infant was entered into the Covenant of Abraham.
That evening, the baby's father returned home and made a big commotion about the "terrible" deed that was done without his knowledge. Thus, it was difficult to predict how the neighbor woman would now testify in court.
The tension was great as the trial opened. The director of the housing project was the first to testify: "As you all know," he began, "I am well aware of everyone who enters and exits Rabbi Schneerson's apartment. But the only unusual visitors I've noticed are two old relatives who drop by from time to time."
Now it was the turn of the second witness to speak. "As a neighbor of Rabbi Schneerson," the woman testified, "I always expected that as a spiritual leader, he would try to establish contact with members of his faith. I therefore find it surprising that I have never noticed any illegal activities in all the time he has lived next door to me."
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson thus emerged unscathed from this particular incident. But the evidence against him continued to mount until, in 1940, he was declared an "enemy of the people" and exiled to Central Asia. After much suffering he returned his holy soul to its Maker, on 20 Av 5704 (1944). May his saintly memory protect us all.