# 337 (s5764-29) 14 Nisan 5764

An Alternative Route

"If he invites you also to sleep over, decline and spend the night in the Green Shul" advised the Tzemach Tzedek.

An Alternative Route

A number of Jewish servicemen were based at a Russian army camp located near the city of Lubavitch. This location enabled them to maintain a reasonable level of Jewish practice, obtain kosher food, and pray with a minyan on Shabbat from time to time.
Much to their dismay, they learned that their unit would be transferred. To add to their distress, the transfer would take place in direct proximity to the Passover holidays. According to their commanding officer's plan, during Passover, they would be in the midst of a march deep in the Russian mainland, far away from any Jewish community.

Distraught, the soldiers decided to seek the Tzemach Tzedek's advice and one of them was dispatched as a messenger to Lubavitch. He explained their plight to the Rebbe, emphasizing, in particular, the difficulties they would have observing the Passover laws during their journey.

"I suggest you approach your captain with an alternative route for the journey" said the Tzemach Tzedek. "Explain that the route he has planned has many disadvantages. Since the cities on his itinerary are more than a single day's journey apart, the unit will be compelled to camp out at night in the wilderness.

"Suggest an alternative route - to pass through White Russia, stopping at Orsha, Shklov, Kapust, and Mohilev. The shorter distances between these towns will make the journey far more convenient for everyone. And you, of course, will gain access to the Jewish communities there.

"I also have a personal request. Most probably, you will be in Shklov on the first two days of the festival. When you go to shul on Erev Pesach, you will be invited home by one of the people. Accept his invitation for the seder and the festival meals. However, if he invites you to sleep over, excuse yourself and spend the night in the shul known as the "Green Shul."

"On the last days of Pesach, you will be in Mohilev. There too, accept any invitation for the festival meals, but insist on sleeping in the communal guesthouse."

The Tzemach Tzedek concluded his instructions and gave the soldier a parting blessing. Returning to his base, the soldier related the Tzemach Tzedek's advice to his comrades.

One soldier's response expressed the feelings of the entire group: "It is very sound advice, but how can we dare suggest it? The captain will be deeply offended if we so much as hint that his plan is less than perfect."

The soldiers discussed the matter for days. They hesitated to approach their short-tempered captain until the imminence of their departure date finally compelled them to act. Hoping that the Tzemach Tzedek's blessing would guard them, they presented the alternative plant to the captain.

Surprisingly, he was both impressed and willing. "Your suggestion is very good. How did simple soldiers like you come up with such an idea?" he asked in disbelief.

"To tell you the truth, sir, it was not our own idea but rather the advice of a great scholar, the Tzemach Tzedek," they answered.

Following the new plan, the troop indeed found itself in Shklov on Erev Pesach. The Jewish soldiers were given the next two days off and hurried to the local shul to seek arrangements for the holiday. They were all graciously invited to different homes and went off with their hosts.

After the seder, the soldier who had been given instructions by the Tzemach Tzedek prepared to leave. Despite the protests of his generous host, he excused himself and made his way to the Green Shul where he settled himself in a cozy corner to sleep. As he dozed off, he was suddenly awakened by sighs and moans coming from the far end of the shul. Only then, did he notice an elderly man hunched over the table in obvious distress. The soldier approached him and gently asked, "Why are you so upset, can I help you?"

"How can you help me?" the man answered bitterly, "Go back to sleep and just ignore me."

The soldier backed away, respecting the man's desire for privacy. When, however, the older man's anguished groaning continued and prevented the soldier from sleeping, he approached him again. "Please share your troubles with me," he said sympathetically. "Perhaps I can ease your sorrow."

The man was touched by the soldier's sincerity and told his story: "I am a widower who married a woman much younger than myself. What I thought would be a peaceful marriage turned out to be nightmare. We had been married only a few weeks when a traveling orchestra came to town. One of the musicians became friendly with my wife and before I knew it, the two stole all my money and ran away.

"I have no income, no home, and am at a total loss as to what to do. This is why I sleep here in the shul," the man concluded.

"One never knows," the soldier said in an attempt to console him. "Maybe I can be of help to you. Our troop is on a long trek into the inland reaches of Russia, and we will be passing through many towns and villages. Describe your wife and the musician to me, perhaps I will come across them while we're on the road. I promise to do my best to help you."

The man readily described the two and, calmed by the soldier's compassionate interest, he finally fell asleep.

The soldiers continued their journey during Chol Hamoed and, just as the Tzemach Tzedek had foreseen, they arrived in Mohilev on the eve of the latter days of the holiday. Again, the Jewish soldiers were given leave and they accepted invitations to the local people's homes.

Once again, the soldier excused himself for the night and went to sleep in the communal guesthouse as instructed. During the night, a loud commotion roused him from his sleep. He got up and saw that a band of people had arrived to spend the night there. Much to his surprise, one of the men and a woman fit precisely the description he had been given by the old man in Shklov.

Early the next morning, before the latecomers had arisen, the soldier hurried to the house of the local Rabbi and pounded on the door. "I am so sorry to disturb you, Rabbi, but there is an urgent matter which I must discuss."

He quickly related the sorry plight of the man from Shklov. "I believe that I have found his runaway wife and her friend," he suggested.

The Rabbi immediately contacted the authorities and the two were arrested. The stolen money and valuables were traced and after the holiday, the Rabbi arranged for a divorce.


[Adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from "From My Father's Shabbos Table" (pp. 132-134), Eliyahu Touger's excellent selection and translation from Rabbi Yehuda Chitrik's 4-volume series, Reshimat Devorim.]

Biographical note:
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn [1789-1866], the third Rebbe of Chabad, was known as the Tzemach Tzedek, after his books of Halachic responsa and Talmudic commentary called by that name. He was renowned not only as a Rebbe, but also as a leading scholar in his generation in both the revealed and hidden aspects of Torah.


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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