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Wednesday, September 17, 2014


New Book of Stories - Saturday Night, Full Moon

A few months ago, my good friend and esteemed colleague, Yerachmiel Tilles of Ascent of Safed [Tzfat], released his first book of stories. For several years now, Yerachmiel sends out a weekly story from Ascent via e-mail. Many of these stories he's been sharing at Ascent on a Saturday night Melave Malka in Tzfat, for even more years. The stories run the gamut, from the days of the Arizal and his disciples in 16th Century Tzfat, to modern times, with much in between. While they cover mostly the Chassidic and Kabbalistic world, even that is not exclusively so. Several of his stories have graced this blog as well...HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Above you see Yerachmiel sitting around the table at Ascent in Tzfat, no doubt in the middle of sharing another wonderful story!

You can order the book here, and you'll be delighted you did!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev comes to....Gaza!

After a long hiatus, I could not resist sharing the following story, which was posted on the Cross-Currents site. I have done some light editing, added some links and a picture.

The Berditchever in Gaza
by Yitzchok Adlerstein, on July 28th, 2014

I cannot reveal my source. All I can say is that it happened as he patrolled late at night in a Beit Hanoun street abandoned by its residents, walking a few paces ahead of the rest of his unit. He saw a figure, standing to the side, shrouded in light. “Shalom alecha, my son,” he said. His voice was redolent with peace and tranquility. My friend instantly realized that this figure was not of this world, and responded, “Shalom alecha, rabi u-mori. I presume that you are Eliyahu ha-Navi?” The figure smiled. “Not quite. They used to call me Levi Yitzchak, and I have been watching the events here with keen interest. I had to come back to revise one of my more famous songsA Din Toyre Mit G-tt.” He handed my friend a handwritten scrap of paper, and vanished into the night.

Good morning to You, Ribono shel Olam.
I, Levi Yitzchak, son of Sarah Sosha of Berditchev,
I come to you with a Din Torah from Your people, Yisrael.
What do you want of Your people Yisrael?
For everywhere I look it says, “Say to the People of Israel.”
And every other verse says, “Speak to the People of Israel.”
Over and over, “Command the People of Israel.”

Merciful Father! How many nations are there in the world?
Persians, Babylonians, Edomites…
The Scandanavians, what do they say?
That there is no G-d.
The Persians and Arabs, what do they say?
That G-d is a bloodthirsty maniac.
And the English, what do they say?
That G-d is no longer relevant.

But Your people, Yisrael, what do they say?
Ani Ma’amin. Yisrael b’tach baShem.
These are the songs their sons sing as they march to and from battle with those who scoff at You.
And how I wish they only scoffed! But they rain down their rockets upon your holy Land and its inhabitants, who look to You for protection,
While the enemy sends their sons to burrow through the ground in the hope of slaughtering the innocent.
And those nations look on, and heap scorn and hatred upon us for simply surviving.
After two thousand years of exile, they have learned to tolerate us.
But only if we are dead.

If Yisrael and its Torah and You are all One, Whom do they really malign?
Is it not You they ridicule, not just us?
A few weeks ago, I thought I understood what You wanted.
You have always chastised us, because You care about us, and discipline us for our good.
But You have always warned us first.

You told us that if we would follow You inconsistently – b’keri – You would do the same.
We have been guilty of that.
But surely You have taken note of how this holy nation has lived in the last weeks, steadfastly turning to You – even those who ordinarily don’t bother?
Was it not a special moment when a government official who had not entered a shul since his son’s bar-mitzva searched his house for his grandfather’s Siddur so that he, too, could turn to You with the rest of the country?

Did You not take pleasure in the Shema Yisrael spelled out by the lights of a tower in Tel Aviv, the “secular” city?
How often before did You witness tens of thousands of people gather to beseech you, observant and non-observant together, as they did there when we still thought that the three kedoshim were alive?
(And speaking of the three kedoshim – did You not have to shed a Divine tear over the story of the bar-mitzva boy, Gilad Shaar, who sought out Rav Yitzchak David Grossman to find out how to merit sanctifying Your Name?)

You warned us again in the Gemara that the galus would be prolonged because of sinas chinam.
Have You ever witnessed as much ahavas chinam as in the last week? Thirty-thousand people attending the levaya of someone they did not know?

Lines down the halls of hospitals, strangers waiting patiently to offer words of encouragement to wounded soldiers they never met?
Hordes of people descending on the border (despite the rockets) to offer gifts to the soldiers of Tzahal fighting for Your honor?

You warned us not to fall into the kochi v’otzem yadi trap.
You got us on that one! Close to five decades ago, You granted us a spectacular victory. Some realized it was from You; too many others credited the might of their planes and their prowess.
Years and years went by, and with few exceptions, the Rosh Memshala did not speak about You.

But this week, praising the accomplishments of our soldiers, the political leader of the country ended his speech with these words: “With the Almighty’s help, and theirs, we will succeed.”
He put You first, where You belong.

You must have noticed how different the mood is this time. With all the success of the technology You have given us the intelligence to design, more people credited the Big Kippa than the Iron Dome for our incredible salvation.
(Even the evil ones had to declare in inch-high headlines, “Their G-d Changes the Path of Our Rockets in Mid-Air, Says Terrorist.”)

If this is not full, national teshuva, does it not count at least as a full national chudo shel machat?
Should that not suffice?

What more do you want of Your people Yisrael?
We will gladly do it – so long as You will allow us to come closer to You, and You will continue to show Your love for us.
The others continue to blaspheme You.

But I, Levi Yitzchak son of Sarah Sosha of Berditchev, say:
Yisgadal v’yiskadash sh’mei raba/Glorified and sanctified be Your great name.”

And I, Levi Yitzchak, son of Sarah Sosha of Berditchev, say:
From my stand I will not waver.
And from my place I shall not move
until there be an end to this exile.

“Yisgadal v’yiskadash sh’mei raba”

Wednesday, June 01, 2011


The Weeping Paratrooper's Tefillin

In honor of Yom Yerushalayim, which began last night and continues till nightfall today, I bring you the following story. I have translated it from the recent B'Sheva weekly.

The Weeping Paratrooper's Tefillin
by Oded Mizrahi – B'Sheva, 23 Iyar 5771

During the Six-Day War, Avraham was a runner for the Paratrooper Company Commander in the 71st Battalion. When the battle was decided in Sinai, the regiment was summoned up to fight in Jerusalem. After his Company Commander, Yoram Zamush, accepted the mission to break into the Old City, he turned to Avraham and said: "Take your tefillin, because tomorrow we will be at the Kotel [Western Wall]! Surely a lot of guys will want to put them on."
Avraham excitedly went to one of the other Companies, where his friend, Moshe Grossberg, one of the last Jews born in the Old City, and told him tearfully: "Moisheleh, tomorrow our Company will break into the Old City. Take your tefillin, so they could put them on at the Kotel tomorrow."
Moshe laughed in disbelief, but still took the tefillin.
The campaign included fierce fighting at the Jordanian police academy and at Ammunition Hill. Finally, the command to enter the Old City came from the Brigade Commander, Motta Gur. The paratroopers broke through Lions’ Gate and reached the Wall. Once he reached the Wall, Avraham buried his head between the stones and began to cry. Then he took the tefillin that were in his pouch and began to put on the Tefillin shel Yad [hand-tefillin]. A secular soldier grabbed his Tefillin shel Rosh [head-tefillin] and put them on. No one could just stand in front of Western Wall. Some put on Tefillin shel Yad, others Tefillin shel Rosh, while still others prayed. Everyone felt that something had to be done b’Kedusha - in sanctity. After the initial excitement, Avraham and some friends got up on the ledge and hung an Israeli flag. Later Avraham’s picture, with his face buried in the wall, was published, and he became known as "the weeping paratrooper."

More than six years passed, and the Yom Kippur War broke out. Paratroopers were recruited, this time led by Danny Matt. After two weeks, an order came to cross the [Suez] Canal. The Brigade Commander gave the order and prepared his soldiers for a difficult battle, saying that "not everyone will return. Those who are afraid can stay behind." There was a plan to transfer a limited number of fighters to see what the Egyptian reaction would be. The forces lowered a "portable bridge" into the water, and the fighters, including Avraham, passed through the Canal and returned to the other side. Then they threw hand grenades into the water so that the Egyptian commando fighters would not dive in and blow up the bridge.
On Friday at one o'clock in the afternoon, the Egyptians attacked with fifteen MiGs. Four Israeli Mirages fought them at point-blank range in the air, and downed them one by one. During the air battle, one of the MiGs went down to the Canal and fired rockets at the Israeli ground forces. Avraham was in the trench and one of the rockets hit his ammunition pouch and exploded. Shrapnel penetrated his stomach and his feet. The tefillin that were between him and his ammunition prevented a far more serious injury. He was wounded, and immediately evacuated to the Regiment’s meeting station. From there, he was taken to hospital in Refidim, where they took out the shrapnel with tweezers. He was then taken to a hospital in the home front, but caught a ride on an armored personnel carrier on Friday afternoon, and returned to his Company.
When he returned to his kibbutz, Shluchot, for a furlough, he took the tefillin that was damaged to a scribe from the kibbutz and asked him to repair them. The scribe took them, and gave Avraham a replacement pair of tefillin to use. Upon completing his army service, Avraham returned home and received the tefillin. The scribe painted the boxes and the straps, and said that he replaced one of the four parshiot [parchments] of the Tefillin shel Rosh, and now they were all right.

Fourteen years later, Avraham arrived in New York, where he lived with his relatives. He told a relative: "I want to see what the story of the Lubavitcher Rebbe is about."
"Come on, don’t go," said a relative, "There are so many people standing in line."
Nevertheless, he went to the Beit Midrash of the Rebbe, and waited in the line for the distribution of dollars for over two hours. When it was Avraham’s turn, the [Rebbe’s] secretary asked him: "What's your name?"
"Avraham Meir ben Yoel, from Israel."
"Do you know Yiddish?" asked the secretary.
"A bissel (a little bit)," said Avraham.
Avraham entered. The Rebbe saw him and said in Yiddish, "You are one of the special people," and then continued in Hebrew, "and you were protected from Heaven." Finally, he gave him a dollar bill. Avraham did not understand exactly what the Rebbe had meant.

Twenty-one more years passed. One day, the Rav collected all the tefillin of the kibbutz members for a thorough inspection in Yerushalayim, at the scribal institute, "Oter Yisrael." Avraham told the Rav that if his tefillin were found to be pasul [invalid], he wants them back [anyway], and told him the story of tefillin during the Six-Day and Yom Kippur Wars. After a long while, the Rav called him and announced: "Your tefillin were invalid. There was a large rip at the verse of Shema Yisrael."
Avraham was astonished. He recalled the scribe that replaced some thirty-five years ago one parsha of the Tefillin shel Rosh and did not find any further problem. He told this to the Rav. Finally, it was decided to replace all the parshiot.

The old parshiot with the rip are still in Avraham’s possession, and they remind him that the tefillin with which he shared with the first paratroopers to reach to Kotel, they are what saved him in the Yom Kippur War.

Monday, March 14, 2011


A Shabbos with the Rebbe Shlita in Meron

Words cannot really describe the uplift our souls felt this past Shabbos, Parshas Vayikra, that we were zoche [merited] to spend with our Rebbe, the Modzitzer Rebbe Shlita, in Meron, near the Tzion [gravesite] of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, author of the Zohar and a famous Tanna [Mishnaic rabbi] as well.
That being the case, perhaps the following video will give you a tiny taste of the joyous ecstasy we experienced in the Rebbe Shlita's presence this past Shabbos...

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Rav Mordechai Eliyahu Ztvk"l and the CHIDA

We are still in the 30-day mourning period for the great Rav, former Rishon L’Zion [Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel], Rabbi Mordechai Tzemach ben Suliman Eliyahu ztvk”l. He was buried on Har HaMenuchos near the CHIDA. But his connection to the CHIDA began much earlier, as we shall see below…But first, some background:

Rav Chaim Yosef David Azulai (circa 5484-5566; 1724-1806), better known as the "CHIDA," which are the initials of his name, was a Halachist, Kabbalist, historian and bibliographer.

The CHIDA was one of the most fascinating and multi-faceted figures in Jewish history. He was highly respected for his great piety and scholarship, and wrote no less than 71 works. Thanks to his work, many works of other authors came to light.

Born in Jerusalem he became a scholar of the first rank, studying under prominent scholars of the old Yishuv: Rav Yitzchak HaKohen Rappaport, Rav Shalom Sharabi [the Rashash], and Rav Chaim ben-Atar (the Ohr HaChaim).

In 1753, at the age of 29, he traveled to Europe as an emissary of the communities of Eretz Yisrael and again in 1772 on behalf of Chevron. Each trip lasted in excess of 5 years. He served as the Rav of Cairo (Egypt) for five years.

Wherever he visited, the CHIDA made sure to inspect the important libraries and thus became familiar with many thousands of manuscripts. Out of these visits grew his remarkably compact and informative classic bibliographic and biographic work, Shem HaGedolim. The first part of the sefer contained biographies of some 1,300 scholars.

The second part, entitled "Vaad LaChachamim" (Assembly of the Wise Ones) enumerates some 2,200 works, published and unpublished, and describes their contents. Many of the books mentioned had never been heard of, and important facts about many authors and their books would have been lost to us but for this great work of the CHIDA. It was later revised and supplemented by various scholars at different times. The "Shem HaGedolim" has thus become one of the most important and invaluable source books of Jewish literature and history.

In the year 1778, Rav Chaim Yosef David Azulai completed his second trip, and settled in the quiet and prosperous Jewish community of Livorno (Leghorn), Italy, to begin writing his major works. Livorno was then a center of Hebrew printing, wherein the CHIDA found all the necessary facilities for publishing his works. He passed away in 1806 at the ripe old age of 82, in Livorno, and was buried there.


“G-d will grant you special Providence, and bring my remains out of this place.” [Breishis, 50:25]

“He said to me, ‘Can these bones live?’…As I prophesied, there was a roaring sound, and the bones came together and joined one another... ‘I am going to open your graves; I will take you out of your graves, My People, and bring you to the Land of Israel.’ ” [Yechezkel, 37:3, 7, 12].

The following story appears in a number of versions. Although details from the various versions may be included below, where the story differed from the version that Rav Eliyahu himself told, I have used his version:

A century and a half later, the Rishon L’Zion, Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, was Rav Yitzchak Nissim, who had a special appreciation and admiration for the CHIDA, his deeds and his writings. One of his friends was Dr. Shlomo Umberto Nachon, a native of Livorno who had made Aliya to Israel. Dr. Nachon was instrumental in bringing major artifacts from Italian synagogues to Eretz Yisrael, such as Aronei Kodesh, ancient handwritten manuscripts and the like. In 5712 [1952], he founded the Italian Synagogue in Jerusalem.

A few years later, they learned that the Italian authorities wished to build a highway through the Jewish cemetery. At this point, Rav Nissim and Dr. Nachon understood the urgency of the situation, and decided it was time to reinter the CHIDA in Eretz Yisrael. While Dr. Nachon made the arrangements with the authorities in Livorno, Rav Nissim, after much coaxing, commissioned then 31-year-old Rav Mordechai Eliyahu to head a team of esteemed Sephardic rabbis for the reinterring in Yerushalayim.

[Above: the Baba Sali and his brother, the Baba Haki]

So in the year 5720 [1960], the Rishon L’Zion, Rabbi Yitzchak Nissim, told Rav Eliyahu and Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira [the Baba Sali] along with the Baba Haki and other rabbis, to take care of reinterring the bones of the CHIDA. The Baba Haki was the Baba Sali’s brother, and a leading rabbi in the city of Ramle who was familiar with Jewish burials in his native Morocco.

[Rav Mordechai Eliyahu zt"l]

Rav Eliyahu related that when he arrived at Lod Airport with the other rabbis, he met with the agency representative who had brought the bones of the CHIDA in a small wooden coffin. When he saw it, Rav Eliyahu was appalled, and asked, “What is this? His bones are rolling around in a coffin? How could such a thing be?!?”
Rav Eliyahu then asked that a larger coffin be brought, so that the bones could be transferred to it, for an honorable burial. Immediately, he requested that the Baba Haki's driver go with his driver, immerse in a mikva [ritual bath], and buy a Phillips screwdriver to open the coffin. When they returned, the Rav made a large hole in the bottom of the coffin so that there would be no barrier between the bones and the soil upon burial. But for now, the hole was closed with a [rubber?] stopper.

Rav Eliyahu, about whom it was known that he was familiar with the CHIDA’s writings, inside and out, opened the coffin, and put his hand in to arrange the bones. Then he closed his eyes and asked pleadingly from the CHIDA, that he should put himself in order, since he has no power to put the bones in order.

Immediately a powerful, almost explosive sound was heard, the coffin began to shake, and a rattling sound - made by the CHIDA's remains striking the coffin's walls - was heard. All of the other rabbis fainted on the spot. Rav Mordechai did not faint, saying that this occurred because he was absorbed with the mitzva. And behold, it was incredible -- real resurrection, the bones managed to put themselves in order, bone by bone, until the entire body was in order -- in the merit of the holy master, the CHIDA!

The funeral went out from the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sanhedria, with thousands accompanying him on his way to Har HaMenuchos. At the burial, Rav Eliyahu related, he was also able to remove the stopper from the hole he made at the bottom of the coffin, so that the body should be in contact with the soil of Eretz Yisrael. Rav Eliyahu described these events as “Nisei nissim, utter miracles.”

Later Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu said that whoever needs to be saved, should go to pray at the grave of the CHIDA.

Is it any wonder that Rav Eliyahu is buried near the CHIDA???

Zechutam yagein Aleinu v’al Kol Yisrael – may the CHIDA’s and Rav Eliyahu’s merits protect us all!


Some of the Sources:

Chabad.org Bio

Bar-Ilan University

Tzemach Dovid

Wikishiva on R. Mordechai Eliyahu

Thursday, February 04, 2010



I received this wonderful piece below from the author, who dedicated it as follows:

I want to dedicate this drasha to the memory of my aunt, Miriam bat Reb Zvi (Fleisher) z"l, who died peacefully a few days ago at the age of 90. After escaping Europe at the beginning of World War Two, she made her way to North Africa and eventually to the States. She was there to receive my father (may he be blessed with many more years of good health and happiness) when he arrived after the Shoah, and to help him start a new life. May her memory be blessed.

I would also like to dedicate it to the memory of my beloved father-in-law, R. Leibush ben Moshe Shmiel, a Holocaust survivor who passed away on 17 Shvat [early Monday morning in Israel]. He was a dedicated Jew who did everything for his family, and was rewarded with much Jewish nachas from his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, who are all observant Jews, and most of which live in Eretz Yisrael, where he spent his final years. Yehi zichro Baruch -- may his memory be for a blessing!


PARSHAT YITRO 5770, by Rav Zvi Leshem

Receiving the Torah in our parsha is of course a peak prophetic experience for Am Yisrael. Amongst the descriptions of this experience is that Am Yisrael were seeing the voices. [1] In this context, the Degel Machaneh Ephraim quotes an astounding allegory from his grandfather, the holy Baal Shem Tov.

There was once a musician who played such beautiful music that those who heard him were unable to restrain themselves, and they danced almost to the ceiling due to the great pleasure and sweetness. Anyone who passed by would stop to listen and then also join in the ecstatic dance. A deaf person passed by who could not hear the music; he just saw people dancing wildly, and he thought they were insane. Had he been wise he would have realized that they were dancing to beautiful music and he would have also joined in.

The centrality of dance in Chassidut is well documented. A form of avoda in and of itself, it is also a mystical technique designed to raise the dancer to a state of spiritual ecstasy and open him up to receive prophecy or Ruach HaKodesh. Thus, early Chassidic groups were a replay of the Bnei HaNeviim, the bands of student-prophets in Biblical times who used music and meditation to achieve and altered state of consciousness that was conducive to the reception of Nevua [prophecy]. [2]

The Degel Machaneh Ephraim explains his grandfather's story to mean that the angels, who were unable to hear Hashem's voice addressing the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, nonetheless saw the ecstatic bliss of the people and approached, attempting to also enjoy the great sweetness and pleasure of the Torah. In this we have an advantage over the angels, as Hashem is talking to us! When you hear the Ten Commandments being read this Shabbat morning, close you eyes and try to visualize the letters and words as you hear them. Hashem is revealing His holy Torah to you – let yourself dance to the beautiful music!
[1] Shemot 20:15. See our Redemptions, pp. 104-5.
[2] This is of course a major theme in the Piaseczner Rebbe's plan for secret groups of Chassidic mystics who used dance as well as other techniques in order to try to receive prophecy. His Bnei Machshava Tova groups were modeled explicitly upon the Biblical Bnei HaNeviim. See our dissertation, Between Messianism and Prophecy the chapters on Chassidism as prophecy and on spiritual groups. On dance as a mystical technique see pp. 81-83, especially notes 262, 263.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


The Soldiers' Rebbe

Today was Heh [the 5th of] Shvat, and the Yahrzeit of HaRav HaKadosh Rebbe Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter, better known as the Sfas Emes, the second Gerer Rebbe.
He was the son of R. Avraham Mordechai zt"l, who was the eldest son of the Chiddushei HaRim [the first Rebbe] of Ger. He was born on Erev Rosh Chodesh Iyar 5607 (1847), and as a boy of only two, he was orphaned of his mother. When he was about nine years old, his father was also niftar [passed away], and he was brought up by his holy grandfather.

Previous posts:
The Sfas Emes on Shiras HaYam
A Man of Truth Becomes a Rebbe

The Sfas Emes' concern for the plight of Jewish men liable to conscription in the Russian or Polish army, was legendary. The following is from an article on him on a Breslov website; but we have interwoven a Reb Shlomo Carlebach story which brings out the point even more strongly. So without further ado, onward march!


Throughout our long and bitter exile, the times when young Jewish men and boys were conscripted into the army of their host country was always an eis tzara [time of distress]. It denoted fear of the unknown, dread of what the future would bring and desperate efforts to bribe anyone who had a say in the government.
The days of the Sfas Emes zt"l were no different. As soon as the conscription time began, a long line would form outside his home in Ger and, like a caring shepherd, he would give each person in turn a bracha [blessing], comfort and chizuk. To the Bnei Torah he would cite the Mishna in Pirkei Avos: "He who takes upon himself the yoke of Torah will be freed from the yoke of the government."
The Chassidim used to say that one could tell from the Rebbe's advice and blessing whether the person standing before him would be sent to the army or not. Once, two young men, one who barely made a living and the other a man of considerable means, came to ask the Sfas Emes if and how much they should bribe the officials in order to avoid conscription. The rich man he advised, "It's a shame to waste your money on bribes as even a hundred rubles will be of no avail. Rather invest it so that your wife will have a good business to live on (indicating that she would have to manage on her own, as indeed it turned out)." Whereas the poor man he advised to scrape together twenty-five rubles and that will suffice to save him (as it did).
At one point, the Russian government began to suspect that the Sfas Emes was preventing people from joining the army, and sent a spy to confirm their suspicions. A Jewish meshumad [convert to Xianity] of draft age was chosen for the job. He entered the room of the holy Sfas Emes disguised as a Chassid, to request a bracha from the Rebbe and guidance in his inevitable enlistment. To the wonder of all those present, the Rebbe shrugged, "Nu, the Russian army needs soldiers; without fighters we cannot win wars." The reply that evoked such astonishment among the Chassidim was only later understood, when they heard that this "Chassid" was just a spy planted by the Russian authorities.
In his later years, war broke out between Russia and Japan, and this time, bribery and ransom were of no avail. Whoever was of age received a draft order to appear in the town square on a certain date and from there they were dispatched directly to the battlefront. Thousands of young men and boys were torn away from the beis medrash [study hall] and uprooted from their homes, leaving behind terror-stricken parents, wives and children.
All through the war, the Sfas Emes zt"l never slept on his bed at all. Instead, when the hour turned late, he would lay on the floor with only a thin garment spread underneath him. After he got up in the morning, his assistants would find the garment soaked with the tears that he had cried all night for the young Jewish soldiers on the front lines.
In addition to the pain of being far from home, the Chassidim were broken at being cut off from their spiritual world, the hallowed walls of the beis midrash and the court of their holy Rebbe. Letters full of longing arrived to him, from one Chassid describing how, having no shofar on Rosh Hashana, they just sat together discussing the shofar and its awakening power! Another Chassid wrote that during Sukkos while digging trenches, they somehow found the strength and will to set up three boards within the trench, forming a sukka so that they could each eat a kezayis [minimal amount of food] inside!
One talmid who excelled in Torah learning sent a lengthy explanation with his own chiddushim [insights] on the Rabbeinu Yona! The Rebbe was so moved that he sent a letter back which later became world-famous. Quoting the pasuk [verse] from Ha'azinu: Ha'idosi bachem eis hashamayim v'eis ha'aretz -- using ha'idosi to mean decorate as in "adi adoyim" --- the Rebbe wrote: "With heroic people like you my dear Chassidim, Hashem adorns the heaven and earth."

as told by Reb Shlomo Carlebach [slightly adapted for this blog]
Here's an unbelievable story. At the beginning of the 20th Century, 1904-5, there was a war between Russia and Japan. There were so many Jewish people who were drafted. They all came to the Heiliger [holy] Sfas Emes, the deepest of the deep, and asked him for his blessing. And he blessed everyone that a miracle should happen and they should not have to go to the War.

There was one young man, so eidel [refined], so gentle and so holy - really, he was not fit to be a soldier! And the Sfas Emes says to him, "Wait a minute." He goes into his room and comes back with a book - a little manual, how to do circumcisions [make a Bris]. And he says to him, "Here, learn how to make a Bris, and I bless you, even when you go to the army, you should come back b'Shalom (safely) - peacefully and with joy."

And he begins to cry and says, "Rebbe, please bless me that I shouldn't have to go to the War." But the Sfas Emes was already talking to somebody else.

He is drafted and he goes to basic training. And all those Russian and Polish peasants were so dirty. And this officer is so ashamed of them: they don't shine their shoes, they don't take care of their rifles. And then suddenly a general comes to look at the basic training - the new soldiers. And this officer tells him, "I'll tell you the truth, I'm not so proud of the other soldiers, but there's one Jew here - he is very clean and looks very beautiful."

So he's introduced to the general, and the general says to him, "I want to talk to you privately." He takes him into his office and takes a pistol in his hand. And he says, "Is it true that you only eat kosher food?"


The general holds his pistol to the Jew's heart and says, "Hey, you're a soldier of the Czar of Russia, and the Czar doesn't want you to be hungry! The Czar wants you to eat all the food you can get your hands on. So I order you to eat non-kosher food."

He says, "I'm sorry, I'm a servant of G-d, not of the Russian Czar."

He walks up and down in his room, then he comes up to the Jew again and says, "I heard that you keep Shabbos, is it true?"

He says, "Yes."

"Are you crazy?" he says. "You're a soldier in the army of the Czar, and you keep Shabbos?! The Czar needs you to work every day!"

And mamash this young man knew that this was the test of his life. He says, "I'm sorry, I'm a servant of G-d."

And he's holding the pistol against his heart. Suddenly he smiles and puts down the pistol, and he says to him, "Listen to me. Nobody knows, but I'm Jewish. My wife just had a baby. I need a Mohel [ritual circumcisor]. I'm not religious, but one thing I know - the Mohel has to keep Shabbos and eat kosher food. So I just wanted to test you, if your really eat kosher, and if you really keep Shabbos. But now that I see that you do, I'll tell you what I'll do for you. I'll sign you out from here, and I'll say I need to take you with me. And after you do the Bris, I will give you civilian garments and you can just run home."

Suddenly, the young man remembered that he doesn't even know how to make a Bris. Gevalt, gevalt, the Heiliger Sfas Emes! He gave him a book [about] how to do it. You know friends, those Rebbes - what eyes they had, what hearts they had! Such a privilege to know…


[Continuation of first article:]

When the war intensified, a general order was given again for those who had remained behind, to fight for the mother country. Men and their wives, mothers and their sons gathered at the entrance to the Rebbe's house, pleading with him to save them. Immediately, he instructed them to go to shul, light candles and start saying Tehillim. The Rebbe himself joined them and their tearful prayers, rising in loud cries that must surely have pierced the heavens.
Following this, the Rebbe turned to all those assembled and in a now calm tone assured them that b'ezras Hashem all would be well. A short while later news that the war had ended spread through the country, bringing home the soldiers and saving the rest from having to leave.
However, the returning hordes of barbaric Russian soldiers from the front plundered and robbed their way back home leaving a trail of havoc and sorrow in their wake. The sight of the returning Jewish soldiers, crushed in body and spirit, many of them wounded or with missing limbs, and the troubles that had been Klal Yisrael's lot in his times, broke the Sfas Emes. His pure body, unable to bear the heavy burden it was carrying, fell ill with a strange malady that no one could cure, slowly paralyzing his vital organs.
In a desperate attempt to heal him, Polish Jewry stormed the heavens, gathering all over to say Tehillim and fasting. In Ger itself, prayers were said on his behalf around the clock without a break. But as dawn broke on the 5th of Shvat, the angels won the battle over this pure soldier, taking the aron hakodesh to the heavenly spheres.
The Avnei Nezer, who arrived the day before in Ger to visit the Rebbe, did not sleep all night, keeping a constant vigil and reciting tefillos [prayers] at his bedside. At the levaya [funeral], he revealed why the Sfas Emes zt"l had to be stricken with such a rare illness. "Chazal [our Sages] tell us one who prays for his friend while he himself is in need of that yeshua [salvation] is answered first. All his life, our Rebbe the Sfas Emes bore the burden of all our illnesses, our pains and sorrows, pouring out his heart in prayer for Klal Yisrael-- that sick people be healed and the healthy not fall ill. Had he become ill with a common illness, he would immediately have been answered. So, when the Creator wanted to take him away from this world, He struck him with an unknown illness for which the Rebbe had never davened for a fellow Jew and thus took him to Gan Eden."

Zechuso yagein Aleinu - as the Sfas Emes protected the holy soldiers, may his merits protect us all!

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