Baal Shem’ske Wonders In Petersburg
By E. Lesches
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.
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
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.
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."
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
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.
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…").
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…
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."
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.
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.
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.
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
liveried servant entered the antechamber and bowed. "Minister Suvorin,"
he said. "His Majesty will see you now."
straightened his uniform and followed the servant, beads of perspiration forming
on his forehead. He entered the dazzling audience chamber and bowed low before
czar was in a foul mood. "What is news in the city?" he asked.
news," responded Suvorin. "All is well."
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."
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…"
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.
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 away in the village of Lubavitch, the Tzemach Tzedek finished blowing tekiyos.
He returned to his place and the congregation began the Musaf prayer.
HaMelech B’M’sibo p.143; Seifer HaSichos 5704, p. 4.)