Friday, April 18, 2008

Immediate Payback

Immediate Payback
By Menachem Ziegelboim

People stood shaken and fearful as they silently watched the soldiers turn the house upside down in their search. None of them dared tell them what the Rebbe said... * The following story is publicized for the first time (in English), as heard from the protagonist, Rabbi Yaakov Landau, zt’l, rav of Bnei Brak, a close Chassid of the Rebbe Rashab (see bio in issues 278-279 of Beis Moshiach).

5678 (1918). Civil war raged between the Reds and the Whites in Russia. After a few months of bitter street fighting, the Reds finally took the upper hand. That is when the Communists began forcibly ruling over the millions of Russian citizens.

In order to firmly establish their position, the Communists compiled a long list of rules to regulate the lives of the citizens. They couldn’t congregate in the evening, and even during the daytime no more than a few people were allowed to gather, lest they attempt to conspire against the government.

Beginning in 5679 (1919), the government cracked down harder and harder. They established laws limiting the activities and authority of religious institutions. They began to dog the footsteps of rabbanim and often conducted searches in their homes for possible proof of rebellion.

One day they came to the home of the Rebbe Rashab in Rostov. A group of soldiers armed with rifles broke into the Rebbe’s home to search for anti-revolutionary material. The members of the household were ordered not to move from their places. The sight of the armed soldiers was terribly frightening, and the Rebbe remarked to those standing around him that it would only be right if the soldiers at least removed the bayonets from their rifles.

Those who had come to the house stood in terror, watching silently as the soldiers turned the house over in their search. None of them dared repeat to the soldiers what the Rebbe said. Another moment went by, and then Rabbi Yaakov Landau, the young rabbi who was a household member in the Rebbe’s home, courageously spoke to the commanding officer and asked him to consider the Rebbe’s honor and remove the bayonets.

The officer could have easily ordered that the young man be beaten for his nerve, yet amazingly, the officer told his soldiers to respect the Rebbe’s wishes.

But the search was not over. The soldiers continued looking, and one of them found a box of tobacco the Rebbe used on Pesach. The soldier wanted the box and put it in his pocket. The Rebbe observed the theft and moaned, telling those around him that the box was precious to him, and that he was willing to redeem the Pesach snuff box, which was made of tin, for a different one made of silver.

The household members standing around thought it wasn’t an auspicious time to get into an argument with soldiers over something so insignificant. Again it was Rabbi Yaakov Landau who put his life on the line, and as a loyal Chassid he acceded to the Rebberequest. He turned to the officer again and asked him to tell the soldier to return the box.

Again those present were certain that the officer, a wicked man whose hatred for the Jews burned in his eyes, would order Rabbi Landau’s arrest, but incredibly, he turned to the soldiers, red-faced with anger, and said that whoever stole the box had to remove it from his pocket at once and put it on the table, otherwise he would be sorry. Within seconds one of the soldiers grudgingly removed the box from his pocket and placed it on the table.

The Rebbe looked pleased until he noticed that the box cover had been opened. His face was downcast again and he said that since the box had been opened he didn’t need it anymore, since the soldier might possibly have had a drop of chametz in his pocket.

Dovid HaMelech said, "V’ata m’shaleim l’ish k’maaseihu" (You recompense a man according to his deeds). As the soldiers left the house, a bullet from one of the soldier’s rifles accidentally shot the soldier who had stolen the box, and killed him on the spot!

This difficult episode left its mark on the Rebbe Rashab, who said that he could not continue to live with the Communists. Shortly thereafter, on Beis Nissan 5680 (1920), the Rebbe Rashab was nistalek.
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