Weekly Chasidic Story #841 (s5774-19 / 5 Shevat 5774)

Laws of Promising

The rabbi went again to the Rebbe Rayatz. “He does not let me live,” he appealed to the Rebbe.”

Connection: Seasonal–Shabbat, Yud Shefat (2014: Shabbat, Jan11), is the 64th yartzeit of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe.


The financial situation in Yeshivat Tomchei Temimim, the central Lubavitch/ Chabad yeshiva founded in Rostov, Russia, in 1897, was very difficult in the years of Bolshevik and Communist oppression. There was never enough food for the students let alone money for other necessities.

One time, in the early 1920’s, one of the directors of the yeshiva approached a very wealthy Jew in Rostov and asked him for help. At first the man refused, but after much prodding he finally agreed to contribute some of the much-needed funds. He would only give the money, however, on one condition: He and his wife had been married for many years and still had no children. If the rabbi would promise them a son, the man would help the yeshiva.

The yeshiva desperately needed the money. Feeling he had no choice and trusting in the Al-mighty, the rabbi promised the wealthy man that in the merit of his tzedaka (charity) he would have a son. The man gave the money and the crises lessened.

A year passed but no celebration for the birth of a child took place in the wealthy man’s house. He went to the director of the yeshiva and said, “You promised me a child. I kept my part of the deal but you haven’t kept yours.” The rabbi encouraged the man to have faith and to wait patiently. He was certain that in the merit of the donation the couple would have a child.

Another year passed and still no child was born. This time the wealthy man approached the rabbi angrily. “You deceived me. You promised me a child and we do not have any children!”

The rabbi went to the Rebbe Rayatz and told him the whole story.

“Who told you that you could promise someone that they will be blessed with children when you cannot keep your word?” the Rebbe asked sternly.

“But Rebbe,” the rabbi replied, “the yeshiva was in dire straits and I was certain that in the merit of his donation that would enable hundreds of students to study Torah that he and his wife would be blessed with a child.”

“Still,” said the Rebbe, “it is forbidden to make a promise that you cannot personally keep.”

A few years passed. The man began harassing the rabbi on a daily basis. Day after day he confronted him, crying bitterly, “Where is the child you promised me?”

The rabbi went again to the Rebbe. “He will not leave me alone. He does not let me live,” the rabbi told the Rebbe.

“Go to the man,” said the Rebbe, “and tell him in my name that he will have a child this year. And never again make a promise that you can’t keep.”

The following year the man and his wife made a festive celebration upon the brit (circumcision) of their son.

Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the rendition on “Living Jewish” – a weekly publication in the Jerusalem area, based on //

Connection: Yud Shefat, the tenth of the month of Shevat (2014: Shabbat, Jan11), is the 64th yartzeit of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe. (That same date is also the day on which the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, assumed leadership of Lubavitch a year later.)

Biographic note:
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (12 Tammuz 1880-10 Shvat 1950), known as theRebbe Rayatz, was the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, from 1920 to 1950. He established a network of Jewish educational institutions and Chassidim that was the single most significant factor for the preservation of Judaism during the dread reign of the communist Soviets. . In 1940 he moved to the USA, established Chabad world-wide headquarters in Brooklyn and launched the global campaign to renew and spread Judaism in all languages and in every corner of the world, the campaign continued and expanded so remarkably successfully by his son-in-law and successor, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.


Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.

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