Story: Dodging the Czar’s Draft

In honor of 12-13 Tammuz, the birthday and day of liberation of the Previous Rebbe, we present an inspiring story that occurred during the lifetime of his father, the Rebbe Rashab, written by renowned author Rabbi Sholom Dovber Avtzon:

Yud beis Tammuz commemorates two points of the Frierdiker Rebbe’s life. It is his birthday and also the day he was freed from his imprisonment.
So obviously by farbrengens this past Shabbos these were two of the focal points discussed. I would like to share with you two thoughts I heard on Shabbos.

The mashpia Reb Shlomo Chaim Kesselman would relate the following story.

As it is known every young man in Russia had to present himself to the draft board by his eighteenth birthday.  The government doctors would decide after their examination if the person in front of them was capable of serving in the army.

The percentage of exempted men was extremely minimal.  For even if a person didn’t qualify to be a soldier on the battlefield, he could be capable of digging trenches, loading the wagons with whatever was needed on the battlefield or even to peel vegetables for the soldiers.

For a Jewish soldier in addition to the mortal danger, especially as the Jews were often the ones sent to the front lines of the fiercest battles which took the most casualties; there was also the spiritual danger of not having kosher food to eat, and in general being in an environment that was made to try to encourage them to assimilate.

So on Simchas Torah the bochurim in Tomchei Timimim who were becoming eighteen that year would go to the Rebbe Rashab  and request a brocha that they receive the elusive exemption.   Indeed quite a few received this coveted brocha.

One year a large group of bochurim came to the Rebbe Rashab but none of them were blessed.  One can understand their pain as they all realized that this year there must be a tremendous heavenly accusation (kidrug) against them.

Some days or weeks later the Rebbe Rashab called in his only child the Frierdiker Rebbe, whom he appointed to be in charge of the Yeshiva and informed him “Right now is an auspicious time (eis ratzon).

Hearing these words, the Frierdiker Rebbe rushed out of his father’s room and ran into the beis hamidrash and personally informed all of the bochurim who had requested that brocha to go immediately to his father the Rebbe and repeat their request.

Seeing the happiness and joy on each and every face as they came out of his father’s room told the Frierdiker Rebbe all he he wanted to know: each bocher received the brocha to be exempted from the war.

After all the bochurim exited the Rebbe Rashab’s room, the Frierdiker Rebbe re entered and asked for a personal brocha.

His father, the Rebbe Rashab replied that eis ratzon is now over, however,  I will give you a blessing that is higher than time.

Reb Shlomo Chaim concluded, we see from this the extent of the Frierdiker Rebbe’s love to the talmidim; that instead of asking for himself first he made sure that all of the bochurim could present their request first and only after they were blessed did he think about us.

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The Gemora (bava metzia 95b) relates that Reish Lukish went around and marked all the graves of the great Rabbonim.  He did this in order that no Kohen steps on a grave by mistake and will unknowingly become impure. However, although he knew the proximity of Reb Chiya’s grave, he was unable to locate it.

Realizing that it was a sign from heaven that he is unworthy of locating it he asked,  “Ribono shel olam (master of the universe) have I not deliberated on the Torah as Reb Chiya?”

A heavenly voice replied, “Yes, you have indeed toiled in the study of the Torah equally to him. However, you have not disseminated the Torah as he had.”

The Gemora than explains that Reb Chiya set up animal traps and then turned their hides into parchment. He then the entire chumash and all of mishnayous on different pieces of parchment and taught each piece to a different boy and then encouraged the boys to teach the boys the Torah knowledge he gained.

In essence he ensured that the Torah would never be forgotten from the Jewish people. Therefore Reb Yehudah Hanasi said in his praise, “How great are the actions of Chiya!”

The Gemora than bring down a few stories to show how even in gan Eden Reb Chiya was above and beyond all of the other great talmidei chachomim.

So too by the Frierdiker Rebbe, there were other talmidei chachomim and tzaddikim who indeed accomplished tremendous things for the Jewish people. But as the Gemora asks was there anyone who disseminated the teaching of the Torah in Russia and then in America and indeed throughout the world as he has?

So on this auspicious day of yud beis and yud gimmel Tammuz,  let us demonstrate our commitment and connection to the Frierdiker Rebbe as well as to the Rebbe by reaching out and teaching another Jew.

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