Weekly Chasidic Story #1188 (s5780-51/
25 Elul, 5780 / Sept. 14, 2020) This week
of the Broken Bell
Although the Rebbe of Zmigrad had the holy shofar
that had been passed down from his ancestors, the thought of being caught blowing
it by the evil Russian guards brought dread to his very being.
Seasonal -- ROSH HASHANA
format for more convenient printing.
Shofar of the Cracked Bell
was the end of a Siberian summer, in 1940. My grandfather, Rabbi Meir Halberstam,
a young boy of 13 years old at the time, was imprisoned in a work camp together
with his grandfather, the Rebbe of Zhemigrod, Rabbi Sinai Halberstam.
Meir had moved with his family to Palestine to settle in the holy city of Jerusalem
in 1936, before the war had broken out. In honor of his upcoming Bar Mitzvah,
his father sent him on a boat back to Poland where he would be able to celebrate
this auspicious day in the chasidic court of his holy grandfather. Upon his arrival
in Poland, the rumble of war was approaching. Disciples, family, and community
members were all scrambling to save their lives. With the Nazis at their heels,
young Meir escaped with his Grandfather and immediate family to Russia. At last
they were safe from the Nazi enemies, or so they thought.
Due to the large
amount of Polish refugees in Russia, the Russian government seized the opportunity
to use them as slaves. Charging them as enemies of the state since they had Polish
passports, young Meir and his Grandfather's whole entourage were sentenced to
heavy slave labor in the cold Siberian plains.
Rosh Hashana was
approaching, and the mild Siberian summer had ended, ushering in the tundra-like
winds and cold. Young Meir noticed that with each passing day, his Grandfather,
the Rebbe of Zmigrad was becoming more and more depressed. "How will we blow
the shofar?" he cried. Although he had the holy shofar that
had been passed down from his ancestors, the thought of being caught blowing it
by the evil Russian guards, brought dread to his very being.
It was two
nights before Rosh Hashana, and young Meir devised a daring plan. He awoke in
the middle of the night, and wrapped cloth around his hands and feet in order
to muffle any noise he would make. From his window, he watched the wild guards
drinking and dancing late into the night. He waited until they were all stooped
over in a drunken sleep and quietly trudged through the wind and cold to the front
of the work camp, where the giant camp bell stood. He looked to all sides to make
sure he was unobserved, then climbed up a very high post until he reached the
top of the bell. With all his might he unraveled the rope holding the bell and
watched the entire bell come crashing to the ground, where it shattered into many
small bits and pieces. He then descended the post and quietly returned to his
The next morning there was an uproar in the camp. Upon awakening,
the guards saw the broken bell and realized that they would have a problem waking
all the prisoners in time. It would take weeks until they would be able to get
a new bell.
Young Meir then shared with his grandfather the brave mission
he had done the previous night and whispered his plan.
By the time all
the prisoners were up, the guards where quite angry and looking for someone to
blame. Instead, young Meir's uncle came forward and related to the head commander
that he had an old shepherd's horn that his father would gladly blow each morning
to wake the prisoners until they received a new bell. Upon hearing this, the commander
ordered him to bring the horn at once.
The Rebbe arrived, shofar
in hand, and began to blow long notes. "Let me blow it," yelled the
commander, grabbing it out of the Rebbe's hands.
The commander took the
shofar in his hands and brought it to his mouth, but no matter how hard
he blew, no sound came out. It was at this moment of frustration that young Meir's
uncle advised the commander to let his Father blow it, since he was a 'professional'
horn blower. The commander then appointed the Rebbe as the official waker, who
would be responsible to wake the prisoners each morning until a new bell was mounted.
spread quite quickly throughout the camp. All the Jewish prisoners knew that the
Rebbe of Zmigrad, would blow his holy shofar the next morning, on Rosh
Hashana. As the frosty morning beckoned, each prisoner was up early awaiting the
sound of the shofar. The Rebbe wept as he blew the horn, the prisoners
cried and prayed, and young Meir stood proudly as he watched the notes of the
shofar break the darkness on that crisp Siberian morning. It was a shofar
blowing that he never would forget.
My grandfather went through many more
trials and hardships until he made it back to the shores of Israel (then Palestine)
where he was welcomed and celebrated for the great miracles that happened to him.
Although I am a grandchild of Reb Meir Halberstam, I have only recently
heard this story and it made a deep impression on me. Rosh Hashana is a very special
time for our family. For me, it has always been a holiday of hope, and positivity,
as we surely believe that the Al-mighty will embrace us and hold us, as he ushers
us into a beautiful and sweet new year.
I try to think about the shofar
that Zaidy (my grandfather) heard all those years ago on that cold Siberian
morning, and the strength that it gave him and all the Jews who heard it. Perhaps
this year, if I close my eyes and listen with my soul, I can internalize the sounds
of the shofar and I will hear the sounds of faith, courage, and hope that
it gave my grandfather.
Source: Adapted and supplemented
by Yerachmiel Tilles from an article on //chabad.org.
is an educator and writer who lives with her husband and four children in Amsterdam.]
Biographical note: Rabbi Sinai Halberstam, the
first Rebbe of Zhmigrod (1869-1941), was a son of Rabbi Boruch of Gorlitz, the
4th son of the Divrei Chaim, Rabbi Chaim Halberstam, founder of the Sanz dynasty.
He died in the Omsk forest in Siberia, shortly after the events of the above story.
Many of his male descendants became rebbes, including five grandsons who currently
are Zhmigrod rebbes, in USA, Israel and Belgium.
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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