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Performing Baal Shem’ske Wonders In Petersburg
By E. Lesches

In the little town of Lubavitch, the month of Elul was drawing to a close. The wind of teshuva had blown through the village for thirty days, aiding everyone in perfecting their spiritual service. More Tehillim, more charity, more Torah study. The frenzied preparation reached its climax.

The setting sun signaled the beginning of a new year when the Creator sits in judgment and decides the affairs of every individual. Many thousands of Chassidim poured into the village, eager to spend Rosh HaShana with the Tzemach Tzedek. They crammed into the Rebbe’s shul, filling the huge interior until nary a empty inch remained. A hush fell on the room as the Tzemach Tzedek entered. A path miraculously appeared, the Rebbe made his way to his place, and Maariv began.

It was an unusual Maariv. The Tzemach Tzedek appeared drawn, worried. His prayers were imbued with extraordinary fervor, as though – if it were possible – they were more fervent than an ordinary Rosh HaShana. Fear and dread gripped every heart. This is the time when "the angels tremble, terror seizes them, and they exclaim: the Day of Judgment is here." The Chassidim redoubled their concentration, desperately trying to arouse Divine mercy. Everyone felt that something unusual was in the air.

That night after the prayers, the Rebbe joined his family in the Yom Tov meal. Though the Rebbeim generally minimized all talk on Rosh HaShana, the Tzemach Tzedek distinctively made it a point to speak during the meal every Rosh HaShana. He discussed current events in the capital, the names and ranks of different ministers and the political situation in general. Reb Yehuda Leib, one of the Rebbe’s sons, would remark, "He is performing Baal Shem’ske wonders in Petersburg right now."

This year was no different. The Tzemach Tzedek related all the goings-on in the capital and focused on certain ministers and their roles. In fact, he seemed more specific, more detailed, than in other years. His sons listened quietly, as they always did, taking notice of the Rebbe’s particular emphasis in the discussion.

The day of Rosh HaShana dawned and throngs of Chassidim streamed toward the Rebbe’s shul. Again the Rebbe’s prayers were permeated with emotion. After the morning prayer was completed and the Torah reading was finished, everyone prepared themselves for the great mitzva of shofar.

A feeling of awe enveloped the large shul as the sons of the Tzemach Tzedek took their places around the bima, each in his designated place. The Tzemach Tzedek himself finished his preparations, readying himself to blow the tekiyos. His face burned brightly as he sang softly to himself, his eyes closed in deep concentration. Suddenly his voice resonated throughout the shul, "Ay, sertzeh, LaMnatzei’ach… ("Woe! My heart! A Psalm…").

Panic gripped the congregation and tears flowed from every eye. Some evil decree prompted the Rebbe’s unusual outburst, no doubt, and a great wailing filled the shul. Everyone’s heart was open, raw and receptive. The congregation recited the Psalm seven times as required and the Rebbe began the tekiyos

* * *

Minister Suvorin, minister of Petersburg, the capital, studied his reflection in the ornate mirror gracing the walls of the czar’s antechamber. He was waiting somewhat impatiently for his scheduled appointment with His Majesty. In his hand lay the document in which he had invested so much work. It concerned the great rabbi, the one they called the "Tzemach Tzedek."

A flicker of annoyance crossed his face. It was intolerable that a rabbi should have all that power, what with all his followers and students spread across White Russia. His power lay in his choice of residence, a small village far away from prying eyes and government informers.

No more. The rabbi would now be forced to move to either Petersburg or Kiev. His followers would think twice before visiting their rabbi in such a large city. They would be too easily followed, easily questioned, easily inspected. He had the official document in his hand now: all it needed was the czar’s signature.

Suvorin crossed the magnificent antechamber and stared pensively out the window. A fair portion of Petersburg was visible from here. There had been some trouble lately – anger was brewing among the populace, and he was mostly to blame. Two new decrees had raised the ire of Petersburg’s residents, but they were just a mob of common folk anyway. After all, his intentions had been pure.

He turned from the window and paced the room, smiling as he recalled the new decrees. No smoking was allowed on city streets. It was untidy; too many cigarette butts were allowed to litter the city streets. No more meat would be sold within the city. Whoever wanted meat needed to go out of the city and buy it there. No longer would the beautiful capital carry the smell of rotting flesh. He, Minister Suvorin, would make Petersburg the most beautiful capital in the world.

A liveried servant entered the antechamber and bowed. "Minister Suvorin," he said. "His Majesty will see you now."

Suvorin straightened his uniform and followed the servant, beads of perspiration forming on his forehead. He entered the dazzling audience chamber and bowed low before the czar.

The czar was in a foul mood. "What is news in the city?" he asked.

"No news," responded Suvorin. "All is well."

The czar stared at him savagely. "I know some news," he finally said. "You passed two decrees banning the sale of meat and outside use of cigarettes. The population is angry; the decrees are unbearable."

"B-But I did it for the good of the city," stammered the minister. "Our streets will not be dirtied by cigarette butts and the smell of meat will not…"

"Idiot!" roared the czar. He tore the document out of the minister’s hand and hurled it angrily on the floor. Suvorin turned white with fear, bowed low and quickly left the audience chamber.

The minister stood once again in the antechamber, his mind whirling with confused thoughts. His dream had been shattered. Gone was his goal of restraining the great rabbi. For such was the accepted law: any document that had been thrown away by the czar was automatically negated and it was illegal to present the request again. His plan had been shattered; the rabbi would stay in the village of Lubavitch after all.

* * *

Far, far away in the village of Lubavitch, the Tzemach Tzedek finished blowing tekiyos. He returned to his place and the congregation began the Musaf prayer.

(See HaMelech B’M’sibo p.143; Seifer HaSichos 5704, p. 4.)


By Zalman Kleinman







Some evil decree prompted the Rebbe’s unusual outburst, no doubt, and a great wailing filled the shul. The congregation recited the Psalm seven times as required and the Rebbe began the tekiyos…





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