Weekly Chasidic Story #699 (s5771-33 / 13 Nisan 5771)

Unexpected Holidays

They finished their Seder Night meal as quickly as possible and rushed to the Tzemach Tzedek‘s home, but the Rebbe’s secretary would not let them in.


Connections (2): Seasonal – the holiday, 245th yahrzeit.


In the latter years of the life of the Tzemach Tzedek, third Rebbe of Chabad, a large group of some twenty Chassidim from the city Tolinesh in Serbia decided to travel to Lubavitch (a three month journey!) to spend Passover with him. They left their city shortly after Chanuka and shortly before Pesach they arrived at their destination.

They assumed that because they come from afar they would certainly be allowed to enter the Rebbe’s Seder on the night of Pesach itself. But they were in for a disappointment.

On the night of Pesach they finished their festive meal as quickly as possible and rushed to the Rebbe’s home, but the Rebbe’s secretary would not let them in.

Besides the fact that the Rebbe was weak and that it was not his custom to eat the Pesach meal in public, his house was simply not big enough to take so many guests. Rather, the secretary suggested, they should go to the home of the Rebbe’s son, Rabbi Yehuda Leib (eventually to be the Rebbe of Kapust), who was also a holy genius and would certainly give them an unforgettable spiritual experience.

With no other choice they went. It was already past midnight by the time they reached Rabbi Yehuda Leib’s house and then they had to wait over an hour while he rested. But finally he received them cordially and told them that because it would soon be morning and he didn’t have time to sit with them at length, he would tell them a wondrous story that he just experienced the other day.
They agreed and he began.

“Last year I asked my father for permission to listen in to some of his private audiences and one day he told me to hide in one of the corners of the room and listen.

“The first person that entered was a well built, clean shaven young man of some twenty years old who seemed to be very anxious and afraid of something.

“He told the Rebbe that he was a Cantonist (Jews that had been snatched from their homes at a young age and ‘prepared’ for service in the Czars army by torture to ‘wean’ them from Judaism). He, unlike many others, survived and resisted the weaning process but now he decided he’d had enough and he deserted. He was on the run and he needed the Rebbe’s blessing so he wouldn’t get caught.

“But my father didn’t agree. ‘No! NO!’ he said forcefully. ‘You must go back to your battalion as soon as possible and G-d will protect you from all harm. You will merit to have long life and see children and grandchildren learning Torah and doing the Commandments of G-d.’

“The bewildered soldier looked at the my father in disbelief and said, ‘But Rabbi, if I go back now … just for leaving these few days I could be executed without trial. You don’t know our commander. He is a very cruel wicked person, a beast, and an anti-Semite too!’

“‘Don’t worry!’ the Rebbe assured him with a smile. ‘It will be all right. Just tell him you went to visit relatives and he will let you off.’

“‘The soldier took a few seconds to digest it all but finally nodded his head, said he would do what the Rebbe told him and began to turn to go. But my father stopped him.

“‘I have a request for you, please don’t refuse. Soon will be the days of Passover, ask permission from your commander to allow you to go for two days to the nearest town to celebrate the holiday with other Jews. Certainly he will agree. But, please do not sleep in the same house that you eat at. Rather, both nights of the holiday go to the synagogue and sleep there no matter how much your host insists you sleep at his house.

“‘Afterwards return to your battalion and then on the seventh day of the holiday again plead before your commander to give you a second leave for the last two days of the holiday. And also this time, do not sleep in the house where you eat but rather go to the general guest house.’ The soldier agreed, saluted, bowed and left.

“This was almost exactly a year ago,” said the Tzemach Tzedek’s son, “and since then I had heard nothing. Then, just a few days ago, my father again told me to hide in the corner of his room.

“I waited, suddenly the door opened and who entered? None other than the same soldier! But this time he was full of gratitude and excitement! He apologized for the delay and explained that this was the first opportunity he had since then to get a leave. He told my father what happened.

“He followed the Rebbe’s advice, returned to his commander and it was just as the Rebbe had said: when he reported that he had gone to see relatives, the mean, jew-hating officer smiled understandingly, slapped him on the shoulder and released him. It was a revealed miracle!

“But that was just the beginning. A few days later; the day before Pesach, he again approached his commander asked for a two day leave to spend the holiday in the town and his request was granted! Another miracle!

“Just hours later the soldier was seated around a richly decorated table with a group of well dressed Jews in a warm festive home about to begin the Pesach Seder. It was like being in heaven! During the meal tiredness overcame him several times but he made it till the end. Then after the meal was over he remembered what the Rebbe said and dragged himself to the nearby synagogue to sleep, despite the pleading of his host to stay.

“As he entered the shul a dejected, disheveled fellow of about fifty years of age stood up from the corner where he had been sitting and approached him.

“The man was clearly desperate for someone to talk to, and despite the fact that it was obvious that the soldier desperately wanted to lie down, he poured out his sad story.

“His name was Ephraim the Tailor. He had been a wealthy man, but after his wife tragically passed away over a year ago he made the mistake of marrying a woman some twenty years his junior without really investigating her. After several months of what he thought was a happy marriage, she took all his valuables while he was away on a business trip and ran off with one of his gentile servants, leaving him penniless.

“He reported it to the police but there was nothing they could do. When the news of his tragedy spread his creditors began hounding him. They foreclosed all his mortgages and took even the roof over his head. Now he had only this shul to call home.

“The soldier comforted him as best as he could before he went to sleep on one of the benches. The next night the same scene repeated itself but in more detail; the man’s wife’s name was Sherel the servant’s was Vashka etc.
“That next evening the soldier returned to his camp and, just as the Rebbe promised, five days later his commander again agreed to give him another two days holiday leave.

“In the meantime the troops had moved and were now encamped near a larger city where the Jewish community had better arrangements for visitors. There were two guest houses, one for men and one for women.

“That night after the holiday meal the soldier again left his host’s home, turned to the men’s guest house, was given a bed and went promptly to sleep. But in the middle of the night he was awakened by drunken singing and yelling.

“It seems that bunch of gypsies had somehow gotten in to the guest house and, not noticing him and thinking they were alone, began drinking and carousing. The soldier was about to yell at them to leave but suddenly he heard one of the voices was that of a woman. He listened and he heard the names ‘Sherel’ and ‘Vashka’–somehow the Rebbe knew that they would be there!

“The soldier snuck out quietly from the room and rushed to the home of the town Rabbi. He quickly told him what he had discovered and then they both rushed to the police. That night the thieves were arrested, imprisoned and forced to return almost all of what they had stolen.

“The soldier, as he told the story to my father, became more and more amazed…and so did I!”

Needless to say, the visitors from Tolinesh were satisfied.

Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the rendition of Rabbi Tuvia Bolton, the popular teacher, musician, recording artist and storyteller, on the website of the yeshiva which he heads, Ohr Tmimim (ohrtmimim.org/torah).
Connections (2): Seasonal – the holiday, 245th yahrzeit.

Biographical notes:
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn [29 Elul 1789-13 Nissan 1866], the third Rebbe of Chabad, was known as the Tzemach Tzedek, after his books of Halachic responsa and Talmudic commentary called by that name. He was renowned not only as a Rebbe, but also as a leading scholar in his generation in both the revealed and hidden aspects of Torah.

Rabbi Yehudah Leib of Kopust (1811- 3 Cheshvan 1866), an elder brother of Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, established an independent branch of Chabad Chasidism in Kopust after the death of his father, R. Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, the Tzemech Tzedek. Following his death in the same year, he was succeeded by his son, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman of Kopust, although many of the chasidim returned to Lubavitch.


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.