#130 (s5760-30/29Adar II)


The Rebbe Reshab of Lubavitch repeated the same words for a third time.



In 5665 (1905), when war broke out between Russia and Japan, all Russian males below the age of 50 were commanded to report to their local draft boards. Many Jews did whatever they could to escape the draft, for in those years it was impossible to serve in the anti-Semitic Russian Army and live as a mitzvah-observant Jew. Of course, a significant number were unable to avoid being drafted, despite their mighty efforts. One of these was Mendel Dovid Gurevich, a teacher in the city of Valitch and already the father of a large family.

Mendel Dovid was a chassid of the Rebbe Rashab of Lubavitch, so as soon as he received his draft notice, he hurried off to speak with the Rebbe. He told him of the disastrous event, the extreme difficulties it would cause his family, and how distressed they all were at the evil that had befallen them. The Rebbe blessed him and said, "G-d Al-mighty will redeem you from their hands."

But Mendel Dovid's agitated heart felt no relief from the Rebbe's words. "Rebbe, a blessing is not enough for me; I need a promise!" he pleaded.

The Rebbe looked at him intensely, and then replied, "A promise I don't have for you but a blessing I do," and he repeated his original words. Mendel Dovid refused to be discouraged and again requested an explicit promise, but the Rebbe merely repeated the same words for a third time.

Mendel Dovid respectfully took his leave of the Rebbe and returned home. He strengthened himself and his faith in the Rebbe's blessing, and tried to be optimistic about the future. Nevertheless, he felt he had no choice but to make his own plans for when he would have to appear at the draft board.

The dreaded day arrived. Mendel Dovid reported to his assigned draft center. Thousands of new soldiers converged there with him. They passed through a series of medical tests and other examinations, under the supervision of officers who would determine who would be shipped off to battle and who would be assigned non life-threatening duties at the home front.

All Mendel Dovid's attempts to gain an exemption were fruitless. Indeed, he was even found fit to be sent to a battle regiment. His only hope was the blessing of the Rebbe Rashab, even though it was impossible to imagine how it could possibly be fulfilled at this point. What would happen to his abandoned family? What would become of him? It seemed he needed a miracle.

At the conclusion of all the tests and classification procedures, all the draftees were assembled for their first military inspection. The officer in charge was a General Kazaroff. With a fiery speech, he attempted to enthuse his new troops about the great merit that had fortunately come to them: to be privileged to defend with their lives their dear, beloved mother country.

When he finished speaking, the draftees turned to go to their respective ways. The general indicated to them that they should remain where they were for just a few more moments. He strode into his headquarters, and then quickly emerged. They could see that he was holding a piece of paper in his hand.

The general glanced at the note. "Who is Gurevich Mendel?" he called out.

Mendel Dovid began to tremble uncontrollably, from fright. He took a moment to try to figure out what could possibly be the reason that the general was singling him out in front of thousands of soldiers, but couldn't think of anything. He doubted if it could be good. Hesitatingly, he stepped forward and presented himself. The general merely glanced in his direction and said, "You are discharged. You may go home." He turned on his heels and left, leaving a stunned but ecstatic Jew momentarily frozen in place.

After a few moments, Mendel Dovid was able to accept that it wasn't a wistful dream. It really was true! He was free to go! "I believed in the Rebbe's blessing," he said to himself as he joyfully set out for Valitch, "but I never imagined it could come true so quickly or in such extraordinary fashion."

The following Shabbat Menachem Dovid sponsored a large kidush at the Chabad shul. He told them the whole story: how the Rebbe had repeated his blessing three times in identical wording, and the wondrous manner in which he had obtained his speedy release. Everyone listened in rapt attention and sincerely shared in the joy of his deliverance.

Then, one of the chassidim rose, and offered to shed light on how the Rebbe's blessing had become enclosed in this particular natural-seeming guise. "This General Kazaroff," he began, "used to live in our city. The rented apartment he dwelled in was owned by a Jew. A few months ago his landlord passed away. The heirs made clear their intention to raise the rent. Kazaroff very much wanted to continue living there, but not to pay any additional money. He approached the heirs and proposed that if they agreed to not increase his rent, he would repay them in a different way. In the upcoming large draft, he would exercise his powers as a general to obtain the release of a Valitch Jewish soldier.

"His new landlords accepted this unusual offer, and Kazaroff continued to live in the apartment for the same amount of money. About a month ago, however, he moved out. Since war had erupted, he was forced to leave Valitch and relocate nearer to the front. In the meantime he became appointed the general in charge of the draft, and it seems he didn't forget his promise. He must have perused through the draft list for a Jewish-sounding name from Valitch, and the first one he came across presumably was that of our friend, Menachem Dovid Gurevitch."

[Translated-adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from Sichat HaShavuah #618.]


Biographical note:
Rabbi Sholom-Dovber Schneersohn
(Cheshvan 20, 1860 - Nissan 2, 1920), known as the Rebbe Rashab, was the fifth Rebbe of the Lubavitcher dynasty. He is the author of hundreds of major tracts in the exposition of Chassidic thought.

Yrachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He has hundreds of published stories to his credit.

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