Plight Of The Aguna
By E. Lesches
plight of the aguna is particularly heartbreaking. These women, many
still in the prime of life, remain halachically forbidden to remarry
until they receive a writ of divorce or information concerning the whereabouts
of their missing husbands. Many such cases came before the Tzemach Tzedek, due
to the constant unrest in that period of time.
first, the Rebbe was reluctant to receive women for yechidus. Hence,
after arriving in Lubavitch, these women began making desperate efforts to
communicate with the Tzemach Tzedek. They sought help through every possible
avenue; family and friends were asked to enter yechidus for these
unfortunate women, and the Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka herself intervened on many
occasions. There was simply no way for these agunos to speak directly
with the Rebbe.
this, however, came to an abrupt halt with the sudden illness of the Rebbetzin.
When the Tzemach Tzedek came to visit his ailing wife, she reproached him for
his conduct. "I want you to know that I’m sick because of your ‘sins,’"
she said. "Many, many agunos come to consult with you, and are not
permitted to even cross your threshold. You show no interest in their plight.
Because of this I am sick now."
then on, the Tzemach Tzedek admitted all agunos. They came from far and
wide to seek his sage council, his holy blessing. Many merited to witness open
miracles as the Rebbe used his ruach ha’kodesh to assist these
once happened that an aguna came to consult with the Tzemach Tzedek. Her
husband had disappeared one day, leaving her and their young son alone. As she
had heard amazing stories of miracles wrought by the Tzemach Tzedek, helping
others who shared her terrible plight, the woman set her hopes on meeting with
the Rebbe. Her brother accompanied her on the journey to Lubavitch and they were
soon admitted into the Rebbe’s yechidus chamber.
with emotion, the woman burst into tears, barely able to speak. Her brother came
to the rescue and described his sister’s unfortunate situation, asking the
Rebbe for his blessing. "But I am not a prophet nor the son of a
prophet," said the Tzemach Tzedek.
the Rebbe’s reluctance to help, the brother changed the subject. "I am
planning to travel to Eretz Yisroel," he said. "Will the
Rebbe bless me?"
Tzemach Tzedek thought before responding. "Well," he said, "if
that’s the case, I want your sister to travel with you. The journey is a long
one; your sister may find her missing husband on the way."
Tzemach Tzedek then blessed them both and the pair left the Rebbe’s room. They
returned home, planned their journey, loaded their belongings onto a carriage
and took departure of family and acquaintances.
brother and sister, accompanied by the little boy, left their hometown and set
out for their first stop, the city of Odessa. "You know," said the
brother as the carriage rolled through the country roads, "I’ve been
thinking about your son. The passport officials in Odessa are very particular
about their job. They take great pains to check every detail mentioned in people’s
passports. Your son isn’t mentioned at all in your papers, and we’re headed
for trouble if we pass their checkpoint. I think we should split. I’ll travel
through Odessa; you take the boy and go through Yassi. We’ll meet up together
never!" cried his sister. "How could you leave me alone with a little
boy? I can’t do the trip without your help!"
her brother shrugged. "I guess we’ll both travel through Yassi." He
turned the horses and changed direction, his thoughts reverting to his missing
mindful of the Rebbe’s counsel, the travelers made certain to stop at every
village on the way. They entered, combed the streets, questioned passersby, but
to no avail; they could not locate the missing man. They continued driving
through the country, coming closer to Yassi, when nightfall forced them to stop
at a roadside inn. The almost total darkness confused the brother and, as he
neared the inn, he accidentally bumped into a mail coach parked nearby. A string
of obscenities rang though the air as the mail driver roundly cursed whoever it
was that dared bump his carriage.
sounds like my husband," hissed the woman.
be ridiculous," her brother answered. "Stop fantasizing; it’s some
Russian peasant. Can’t you tell from his language? Let’s get away before he
vents his anger on us." He drove up to the inn and the tired and hungry
threesome entered for some food and rest.
innkeeper quickly approached his newest customers, sat them down at a table, and
offered them a warm meal. "You know, we bumped into the mail carriage
outside," said the brother. "Who’s the person sitting out
innkeeper sighed. "He used to be a Jew like us, " he said. "He
interesting," said the brother. "My sister says he sounds like her
innkeeper opened his eyes in surprise. "That’s a rough situation,"
he said, shaking his head sadly. "He’s a real tough character. No way you’ll
receive a get (halachic writ of divorce) from that crook."
the door crashed open and the peasant stormed into the room, still cursing the
driver who had collided with his mail carriage. The woman rose from her chair
with a cry of surprise – and the villain, seeing her, stopped dead in his
tracks. "So you found me," he said sulkily. "I suppose you want a
divorce. We can go to the next village. There’s a rabbi there; he’ll do the
divorce for us."
it was the innkeeper who cried out in surprise. A divorce? No argument; no
denial; no accusing. He had never seen this loathsome creature act so gracious.
He closed his eyes and shook his head in disbelief. The group quickly left the
inn and soon two carriages headed for the nearest village. They arrived at the
rabbi’s home, informed him of the circumstances, and the divorce was properly
undertaken. The convert remained strangely subdued throughout the entire
procedure, and granted the divorce without asking for a penny in return. With
gratitude in their hearts and warm thoughts of the Tzemach Tzedek, the pair
clutched the precious paper and returned to lodge at the inn.
innkeeper stood alone at a table in the quiet dining hall and thought about the
amazing scene he just witnessed — the renegade Jew, the fearsome ruffian,
acting so respectfully to his despised wife. He jumped as the door crashed open
again. The mail driver stood in the doorway, shaking with cold. He closed the
door and sat down at an empty table. "Beer!" he shouted to the
frightened innkeeper. "Make it a big one."
Jew hurried behind the counter and filled his largest glass with the frothy
liquid. After all, the driver deserved the best treatment for his act of
benevolence. He brought the glass over and set it down on the table. "Just
gave a divorce," the driver said to no one in particular. "Didn’t
ask for a penny."
innkeeper steadied his shaking hands. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the
brother and sister enter the room and sit down nearby. Curiosity overcame his
fear as he leaned over towards the driver. "That was very good of
you," he offered. "Some people refuse to give a divorce until they get
a nice bundle of money. What made you do it?"
driver took a few large gulps and wiped his dirty sleeve across his mouth.
"I know you’re surprised," he said gruffly. "No matter. I’ll
tell you everything and you’ll understand. You know the haunted house just up
near this inn?"
innkeeper nodded. There was an empty ruin nearby, frequented by evil spirits.
All kinds of hair-raising stories were associated with the demons living in that
place, and local residents made sure to give the house a wide berth.
mail route passes it every day," continued the convert. "I drive past
that haunted wreck, past your inn, and I deliver mail to the villages. I couldn’t
care less about the demons. What can they do to me anyway? I drive right by
there every day and laugh right at them."
driver took another swig and furrowed his brows. "Today was different,
though," he said grimly. "The horses barely had passed the ruins when
I was overcome with fear. I pulled the reins and just parked there, shaking in
fright. I could feel goosebumps cover my body. My hair stood on end; my teeth
chattered violently. I was totally powerless, unable to command the horses any
further. Whenever I merely thought of continuing, my fear intensified
something crashed into the back of the carriage. Apparently, someone
accidentally bumped into the wagon, and strangely, I felt the fear dissipate at
once. I cursed them — whoever it was — and felt my old courage return. The
whole thing seemed so strange to me — the sudden fear and its disappearance
— that I resolved to get to the bottom of the matter, to see who had bumped
me. I came into the inn and, well, the rest you know already."
demons were holding me hostage until I gave the divorce – of that I was
certain. So I did it. I went with my wife and did whatever the rabbi asked. I
didn’t ask for anything – not a penny. You can ask her."
driver stood up and approached his former wife. "Here!" he said,
offering her a wad of bills. "This is for the boy. He’s my son, after
all." He finished his glass and left the inn, leaving his family agape in
wonderment at the supernatural powers of the Tzemach Tzedek. They rested their
fill, thanked the innkeeper for his hospitality, and continued onward to the
Shmuos V’Sippurim I:64; Sippurim Nora’im pp. 105-106)