The Plight Of The Aguna
By E. Lesches

The 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.

At 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.

All 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."

From 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 unfortunate women.

It 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.

Overcome 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.

Seeing 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?"

The 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."

The 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.

Soon 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 afterwards."

"Oh, never!" cried his sister. "How could you leave me alone with a little boy? I can’t do the trip without your help!"

"Okay," her brother shrugged. "I guess we’ll both travel through Yassi." He turned the horses and changed direction, his thoughts reverting to his missing brother-in-law.

* * *

Ever 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.

"He sounds like my husband," hissed the woman.

"Don’t 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.

The 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 there?"

The innkeeper sighed. "He used to be a Jew like us, " he said. "He converted."

"That’s interesting," said the brother. "My sister says he sounds like her runaway husband."

The 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."

Suddenly 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."

Now 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.

The 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."

The 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."

The 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?"

The 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?"

The 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.

"My 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."

The 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 tenfold."

"Suddenly 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."

"The 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."

The 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 Holy Land.

(See Shmuos V’Sippurim I:64; Sippurim Nora’im pp. 105-106)


A string of obscenities rang though the air...

"He sounds like my husband," hissed the woman.



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..."


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