Weekly Chasidic Story #716 (s5771-50 / 16 Menachem-AV 5771)
The Tenth Man
“Rabbi [Levi-Ytizchak] Schneerson, I’m very thankful to have reached here without being caught. Now you must do a great favor for me.”
Connection: Seasonal — 67th yartzeit
Yekaterinoslav (Dnepropetrovsk), 1935
Another winter night. Silence and fear rule dark desolate streets. A drunk staggers past the secret police.
The chief rabbi of the city, the brilliant Torah scholar and kabbalist, Rabbi Levi-Yitzchak Schneerson, is awake, deep in his studies, after a day taken up with underground activities. For there are still Jews around who immerse in amikvah, pray in a minyan, and teach their children Torah. Stealthy messengers come and go with coded notes. Bribe money changes hands. Earlier, when dusk descends, he thanks G-d for whatever successes there were. Then, too, the tension hits – a steel trap always ready to slam shut. For a moment he permits the exhaustion to have its say, but his hands are already reaching for a sefer. His eyes find the lines they had left off last night; a smile flickers, and his strength returns. These are the times he loves the best.
His hours of study soar and then – minutes before midnight – a soft knock on the door. Your heart stops then. It’s never good news.
He sits, tense – and ready. Another knock: weak, vacillating. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak exhales. No, it’s not the secret police. The NKVD’s style is: kick, and break through. This visitor needs help. He gets up and opens the door.
A woman stands there, completely bundled up and very frightened. She enters quickly, as if pursued. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak closes the door after her. Once inside, she takes off her winter wraps, looking furtively into every corner of the house. No one’s there besides the Rabbi and his wife, so she begins to speak. “Rabbi, I’m very thankful to have reached here without being caught. I’m from a distant city, and now you must do a great favor for me…”
Rebbitzin Chana offers her a chair, but she declines. She’s speaking quickly: “My daughter and her fiancee wanted to get married in the government offices. But my heart wouldn’t let me agree to a marriage without a chuppah andkiddushin, the Jewish way.
“I begged and begged them – and they finally consented to come to you for a true Jewish wedding. They’re frightened out of their wits: both are high-level Communist Party officials. If they’re exposed, they’ll lose their jobs – if not their lives. They’re coming here exactly at midnight to get married. Please, Rabbi, do this great kindness; marry them. Put three souls at ease.”
Minutes pass. The clock sounds twelve chimes. More quiet taps on the door, and a young fearful couple comes inside. The rebbitzin takes them quickly into an inner room; the rabbi sets out to find a minyan.
It’s approaching 1am. Even the NKVD have disappeared. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak moves swiftly and deliberately through the lonely streets, asking the Master of the Universe not to encounter a late-night police squad. Now he knocks on another door, leading the faithful from their beds to the wedding. He prays in his heart not to err regarding theminyan‘s discretion – there’s no room for a tragic slip.
Nine faithful Jews are in the room. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak feels blessed. Nine faithful Jews in Yekaterinoslav that know how to keep their mouths closed. But, who will be the tenth? Who can he trust?
His mind scans all the possibilities and decides upon a solution. “Wait,” he tells them as he leaves the apartment and goes downstairs. Grisha, “Chairman of the Residents’ Committee,” lives on the ground floor by the entrance. For many years he belonged to the large Yekaterinoslav shul, until the communist madness swept him away and he became a Party member. Now he worked hand-in-hand with the NKVD – keeping an eye on Jews suspected of underground Jewish activities; reporting “deviant” behavior. His current assignment: Rabbi Levi Yitzchak – his rabbinical activities, and everyone coming to and leaving his home. Grisha sees, writes, and reports everything.
He dozes now in his observation post, his alertness dulled after a long day of spying. A sudden knocking at the door, and he rises with difficulty to open it. Reb Levi Yitzchak himself is standing there, smiling. Grisha feels confused; he invites the Rabbi inside.
“Come, Grisha,” the rav is holding Grisha’s hands warmly, “come complete a minyan for a young Jewish couple. They’re getting married; building a family – an eternal house in the path of our fathers…”
Reb Levi Yitzchak’s presence overwhelms Grisha. The elegant beard and noble countenance, and – more than anything else – his eyes: piercing eyes whose direct gaze looked into a man’s soul.
A flood of emotions sweeps through Grisha’s heart. The Rabbi’s request is staggering: Grisha’s standing responsibility is to report misdeeds – not promote them! But – who but Grisha could fathom the personal risk the Rabbi is taking by asking his “personal watchman” to join and assist him in his underground work. The Rabbi’s willing self-sacrifice for Judaism’s continuation penetrates Grisha’s heart to the core. Yet, far beyond any of this, it’s the Rabbi’s trust in him; that look on his holy face that shows the total confidence he places in him. Grisha is overcome at once with pain – as well as the greatest wealth he’s ever experienced. The Rabbi himself is counting on me, he thinks, tears filling his eyes…the Rabbi is placing his trust in me.
“Me?” whispers Grisha, choking. “But the Rabbi knows that I… I…” He can’t finish the sentence.
Reb Levi Yitzchak hugs Grisha’s shoulders; a flash of awareness passes between them. Grisha locks his door and, as in a dream, follows Reb Levi Yitzchak up the stairs.
“There are ten kosher Jews here,” says the rav in a voice radiating trust and pleasure. He sits down to write theketubah, the wedding contract; everything is quickly signed and readied. The rebbitzin produces a tallit, four men take hold of its corners; the wedding canopy is spread above the young couple.
Reb Levi Yitzchak starts humming the soulful wordless niggun tune customarily sung at the chuppah. The chatanlowers his gaze. Now the kallah, with her mother and Rebbitzin Chanah Schneerson on either side, begins her seven circles. The chatan places the ring on her finger: “Now you are my wife sanctified to me according to the law of Moses and Israel… he says in Hebrew, with a Russian lilt. A new eternal house rises in Israel – a house built upon genuine self-sacrifice.
Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the translation by Tuvia Natkin of the free rendition by Menachem Ziegelbaum in Kfar Chabad Magazine, and from “Mother in Israel.”
Connection: Seasonal – 67th yahrzeit
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson [1878-20 Av 1944], father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, was considered by the Rebbe Rashab to be one of his three greatest chassidim. An outstanding scholar and a leading Kabbalist of his generation, he was the Chief Rabbi of the major Ukrainian city Yekaterinoslav (today called Dnepropetrovsk) until his arrest and exile.
Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). 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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