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Devar Torah - Korach

Thursday, 18 June, 2015 - 1:01 pm

Gimmel Tammuz: Tearing Down the Iron Curtain of Our Times
By Rabbi Shimon Raichik

This past week the Shliach of S. Cruz, Rabbi Shlomo Chein led a fabrengen in Shul in honor of Chof Ches Sivan; the anniversary of the day the Rebbe and Rebbitzin arrived from Nazi controlled Europe to the shores of America.

He told a story of a Chosid that took place in the year 1946- 1947 the year after the end of the Second World War in Russia.

In 1939 Eastern Poland was annexed by the Soviet Union, and soon afterward Moscow began a program of mass deportations. Hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens were forced to leave their homes and were transported to Siberia, Kazakhstan, and other parts of the Soviet Union. There were several waves of deportations during which whole families were sent to different parts of the Soviet Union. After the war those holding Polish passports were given permission to leave Russia to return to their native homes. Many Russian Chabad Chassidim made false Polish passports in order to escape Communist Russia. 

The story began with this Russian Chabad Chosid together with his immediate and extended family sitting on the train station platform in the city of Lvov with their false Polish passports waiting to embark on their journey out of the country. Suddenly an army jeep pulled into the station. The Chosid told his family to say Tehillim because they were coming for him. When the soldiers approached they asked to speak with him. The entire family got up and started to walk together. The soldier said; “No no, just him. We just need to speak with him for a minute, he’ll be right back; you stay here.” That minute didn’t end for six months, when the Chosid’s wife finally discovered the location where he was being held. The rest of the family left on the train that night and only the wife and daughter stayed behind in Russia. When he was released from prison, from then on he lived as a fugitive, a Lubavitcher who did the Rebbe’s work hiding in Samarkand in an effort to evade the authorities. Once you are arrested, even after your released they can and often did come to get you. In the meanwhile his son Mordecai had reached New York, and in 1958 was studying in the yeshiva in 770.

At that time legal emigration was in most cases only possible in order to reunite families, especially the elderly. Since this Chosid’s wife had elderly parents in Israel with no one to care for them there was a possibility if they applied for a visa the Soviets would allow the three of them to emigrate, for humanitarian considerations to Israel. The problem with this idea was that it required filling out extensive forms and providing many pictures and details of all of their activities within the last 20 years. For a wanted man living like a fugitive this would be considered tantamount to committing suicide. Then the KGB, having whatever evidence they needed including addresses and details had the discretion to come at anytime and arrest him, a practice that was commonplace. If on the other hand he would lie or forge anything and was caught the punishment was harsh labor camps in Siberia. On the other hand if he didn’t try then he would never be able to leave the Soviet Union. They were in a real quandary, a ‘Catch-22’, about what to do.

Mordecai went into yechidus with the Rebbe and explained the situation. He said that if father will go to the police with all the forms, pictures and details surely the police would investigate. Aside from the police, copies of the package will also be sent to city and state government offices as well as Moscow for investigation and approval. When they see his record they will arrest him but if he doesn’t apply he cannot leave. After he completed his description of their situation the Rebbe waved his hand as if waving it off and said: “Ay, zeh veit nisht chapen- they will overlook it, they won’t catch him.” He asked a second time and got the same response. Mordecai sent a coded message with the Rebbe’s answer to his father Russia.

When his father received the message he spoke with his fellow Chassidim about his next step. His friends were skeptical; they’ll arrest you up they said. But the Rebbe gave his bracha and said they won’t, he insisted. They gave a number of replies. One said that the Rebbe left in 1928 and things are different now, the KGB is much more aggressive. Another said the Rebbe is young. Another said only meant it spiritually. Another said that perhaps he got the message wrong.

In the end he decided that he would listen to the Rebbe and his wife went to the police station and filled out the forms. They waited for an entire year. It was an agonizing year. Having provided their address, they felt as if they could hear a knock on the door at any moment and he would be arrested. Finally they received a message to report to their local KGB station. Once again he went to his fellow Chassidim to talk it through. Again they were pessimistic. They were saying not to go, that certainly he would be arrested. “By going there you are walking straight into the lion’s den, sparing them the trouble of even having to pick you up.” they said.

Nevertheless, being a Chosid he decided to listen to and follow the Rebbe’s guidance. His wife went to the police station and when she arrived the woman clerk began asking questions in a daunting way. She would slowly ask one question after another, staring at her intently, with many pauses in between all intended to intimidate and weaken the resolve of the applicant, a common tactic of the KGB. Finally she interrupted the clerk’s questioning and asked with impatience in her voice; “Why are you asking all these questions, we answered all of them in the forms and you’ve had them for over a year?” The clerk apologized explaining that actually they lost their copy of the package and hadn’t even seen anything. Meanwhile we have received visas for the three of you from Moscow. I’m trying to get at least some understanding of the facts. Soon thereafter she handed her the visas.

After making their arrangements they arrived at the airport to leave. The officer who stamps visas looked at the visas and then at them and said; “ A whole family given visas to leave? We never do that. I’m going to check to see if these are real, I’m going to make sure”. With that he took their visas and left them standing there without their prized tickets to freedom. It was a distressing nervous hour that passed before the officer returned. Finally he did return and said; “Sometimes they are not good, but these are good, I checked with Moscow, you are free to go.”

Finally they boarded the flight. An hour into the flight the pilot made an announcement that there were people on the plane that had illegally boarded and that the plane was turning back and returning to Russia. When they landed the police boarded the plane. The Chosid was sitting with his head in his hands not knowing what would happen next. The police approached his row, and then passed by it going to the back of the plane and removed some other passengers. The police deplaned, the pilot apologized for the inconvenience and they took off again. They arrived in Vienna and from there they went to Eretz Yisroel. R. Shlomo Chein then said that the Chosid in the story was my grandfather R. Berke Chein. My father, R. Mordecai Chein, the son who went into the Rebbe, told this story to me many times.

Standing before Gimmel Tammuz we can learn an important lesson from this story. R. Berke Chein was a Chosid of the Previous Rebbe. He never met the Rebbe personally. He didn’t even have a picture, not to mention any Sichos Kodesh or any Mamarim. It was 1958 and he was completely cut off, he had no active physical contact with the new Rebbe. Never the less, he had a simple and profound emunah in the Rebbe and in his guidance. The Rebbe said to apply to the KGB and it wouldn’t be a problem. Even though that under normal circumstances if a fugitive provides the KGB with his name and correct address along with pictures and explanations of his activities over the last two decades he will bring great harm to himself; nevertheless he proceeded with the full belief in the Rebbe’s words beyond even the protests of his fellow Chassidim. He left to Soviet Union, escaping the KGB and arriving in Eretz Yisroel. He settled in Kfar Chabad and merited to be by the Rebbe in New York.

This story is relevant to all of us. The Rebbe said that this is the last generation of Golus. Many may ask, how is it possible? There is an ‘Iron Cutain’ of Golus surrounding us with all it’s naysayers and opinion makers who describe the impossibilities of us getting out of the predicament of Golus. Best to make peace with Galus and not ‘apply’ to leave. Some will say you never even saw the Rebbe, how can you rely on his word? The voices of caution say things like, the Rebbe was speaking on a spiritual level, or that message was meant for another time. Today we are able to see the Rebbe on video, to connect by hearing his voice learning his Torah and going to the Ohel and 770, things that the Jews in Russia did not have. Until the 28thof Nissan we relied on the Rebbe. Now it’s up to us.

A Good Shabbos

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