Weekly Chasidic Story #774 (s5773-03 / 8
From Prayer to Forgiveness
Reb Mendel Futerfas was imprisoned
in the Soviet Union on the night of Kol Nidrei, and had to observe
the entire Yom Kippur within the walls of his cell.
Connection: Seasonal: Yom Kippur
From Prayer to Forgiveness
[Two short ones this week for Yom Kippur]
1) Question and Answer
Once I [Mendel Futerfas] was imprisoned in the Soviet Union on the night
of Kol Nidrei, and had to observe the entire Yom Kippur within
the walls of my cell. For the evening and morning prayers I succeeded somehow
in saying the prayers by heart. However, I only remembered a small part of the
liturgical poems of Musaf with difficulty, and it happened that I remembered
"All are True Believers." In the middle of reciting it, I was given
pause by the thought "Is it really true that 'all are true believers'?
What of the evil communist regime? And the members of the 'Jewish section' of
the party who actively uproot Torah: should they be called 'believers'?"
Two weeks later they transferred me to a concentration camp, and there they
squeezed me into a hall, where about sixty beds were crammed in tiers on the
surrounding walls. All the criminal offenders snatched the best places, and
I was pushed into a corner. I tried to hide from these hoodlums, and since it
was Shabbat night, I closed my eyes and immersed myself in the Shabbat prayers.
After several minutes a mustached Uzbek with a powerful physique and a scarred
face approached me and asked, "You are praying now, aren't you?" I
"You should know that I am also a Jew! This year, for the first time in
my life I fasted on Yom Kippur in prison, and I even prayed! Actually
I don't know a word of Hebrew, for even my father received a communist education,
and I did not see a trace of Judaism in my father's house. However, my grandfather
taught me in my childhood to say Modeh Ani. Believe me, Mendel, I fasted
all day, with my lips murmuring constantly: 'Modeh ani
"This was an answer from Heaven," concluded Reb Mendel, "to
my question concerning "All are true believers."
[Source: From "Days of Awe, Days of Joy", compiled by Rabbi
Eli Friedman; translated by R. Chaim Miller (Kehot).]
Rabbi Menachem-Mendel ("Reb Mendel") Futerfas
(1906 - 4 Tammuz 1995), was a near legendary Lubavitcher chasid, even for those
who knew him personally. In 1947 he was arrested for administrating networks
of underground yeshivas and Jewish schools, and for facilitating the
repatriation of thousands of Soviet Jews to Poland after WWII. For three months
he was interrogated, tortured and threatened with death, but he would not reveal
anything about his co-conspirators or the underground religious schools. Finally
he was sentenced to 8 years in Soviet prisons and labor camps, which he went
through without compromising any religious observances, despite the cruel pressure
to do so. After six more years in Siberian exile, he was allowed to emigrate
to England, thanks to an appeal for family repatriation made by prime minister
Harold Wilson during his summit meeting in Moscow with Chairman Nikita Khrushchev.
In 1973 he settled in Kfar Chabad, Israel, where for twenty years he was a major
influence on three generations of chasidim.
* * * * * *
2) Tumult in Heaven
One Kol Nidrei night, Reb Yaakov the shamash (synagogue attendant),
led the Yom Kippur Night Service in the shul of Yanova, and prayed
the Shemona Esrei prayer for a lengthy period of time. Annoyed and impatient,
the wealthy Congregation President went over and slapped his cheek. Reb Yakov
did not react, finished Shemona Esrei calmly, and continued praying as
if nothing had occurred.
After Yom Kippur, one of the wealthy members of the community approached Reb
Yakov and offered to buy his heavenly portion in the World-To-Come that he had
merited by quietly accepting the public embarrassment. Reb Yaakov said, "I
have nothing to sell, for already before taking the three steps back when finishing
Shemona Esrei I had forgiven the president.
"Indeed, if I would have still had a grudge against him, I would not have
been able to continue as the Prayer-leader on Yom Kippur. And anyway,
he was right, for it is inappropriate for the president of the congregation
to have to wait for its shamash."
The simplicity and righteousness of Reb Yaakov aroused a tumult in Heaven,
until it was decided to reward him with the merit of having a special son. This
turned out to be Rabbi Aharon of Karlin, one of the greatest of the followers
of the Mezritcher Maggid, successor to the Baal Shem Tov as head
of the Chasidic movement.
[Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel tilles from Lma'an Yishme'u]
Rabbi Aharon ("the Great") of Karlin; (1736- 19 Nissan 1772)
was a disciple of Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezritch. He was the pioneer of Chasidism
in Lithuania, as is evidenced by the fact that in contemporary sources, "Karliner"
became a local synonym for "chasid". He is remembered for the ecstatic
and unrestrained fervor of his prayer, for his solicitude for the needy, and
for the moral teachings embodied in his Azharos ("Warnings"). He was
succeeded by his disciple R. Shlomo of Karlin, after whose death the succession
reverted to R. Aharon's son, R. Asher of Stolin (d. 1823). The dynasty still
thrives today; the Chasidim are known for the volume of their communal prayers.
Editor's note: R. Aharon is mentioned in the Lubavitcher High Holiday
Prayerbook! - Look at the note accompanying "HaMelech," the
dramatic opening to the Morning Prayer.
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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