As we are approaching 20 Av, the yahrzeit of the Rebbe’s father, the gaon, chossid and mekubal HaRav Levi Yitzchok Schneerson, we present the following story demonstrating Rabbi Levi Yitzchok’s mesirus nefesh, self-sacrifice, to help a Jewish couple. The story, which takes place during the time of Soviet anti-Jewish oppression, was related by the Rebbe’s mother, Rebbetzin Chana.
One night, at 11 p.m., a knock was heard on the door of his home. An older woman entered the apartment. She looked around nervously to make sure that there was no one there besides the rabbi and his family.
“Rabbi,” she whispered. “I have come from a distant city that I cannot identify by name. In another hour, at midnight, my daughter and son-in-law will be here too. They are both serving in high-level government positions; coming here is fraught with danger for them. It was only after I begged and pleaded with them to go to a rabbi who would arrange a proper Jewish wedding for them that they promised me they would come. But they set the condition that the chuppah (wedding ceremony) would take place at your home, honored rabbi, and nowhere else. I came in advance to give you time to prepare for their arrival.”
At exactly midnight, the couple arrived. They were immediately brought into a side room so that no one would see them.
The rabbi began to prepare for the marriage ceremony. First, he needed to get a minyan of ten Jews. By now it was after midnight. The streets were empty, deserted; not a living creature could be seen. Where would it be possible to get another eight – aside from the rabbi and groom – to complete a minyan at this hour?
The marriage needed to take place that night at any cost. There could be no delay. It was necessary to get eight “kosher” Jews – people who could be relied upon to keep a secret and not tell anyone what they had seen. Otherwise, the lives of the rabbi, the young couple and everyone present would be in danger.
Within half an hour, the room held nine men. Only one was missing, a tenth man for the minyan.
What did the rabbi do?
In Rabbi Levi Yitzchok’s apartment building, a young Jew had been assigned by the government to serve as head of the housing committee. It was his responsibility to spy and keep careful tabs on any irregular movements in the home of the rabbi, and verify that no religious ceremonies were taking place.
It was to him that the rabbi sent a messenger, asking him to come.
When he arrived, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak told him that he wanted him to serve as the tenth man of a minyan so that he could conduct a Jewish wedding for the young Jewish couple getting married that night.
“Me?!?” The man jumped back as if bitten by a snake.
The young man rushed to the windows and closed all the shutters. Then he sat down quietly, and watched the unfolding events.
The rebbetzin brought a big tablecloth to serve as the chuppah canopy, and four of those present, like living posts, held up its four corners.
When the ketubah (marriage contract) was drawn up, the bride and groom were summoned from their hiding place in the other room. The bride’s face was veiled, and the groom tried to cover his face as well so he would not be recognized. The ceremony began. No candles were lit due to the bride and groom’s fear of discovery. Seven circles were conducted around the groom as is customary, and the rabbi arranged the marriage and recited the blessing over the wine. The groom put the ring on the bride’s finger and said, “Behold you are betrothed to me . . .” The ceremony was complete.
It was now 1:30 a.m. The bride and groom hurried to vacate the premises, as did all the other participants – except two.
These were people who held Communist Party cards. They took their cards out of their pockets, approached Reb Levi Yitzchak, and said emotionally:
“As of now, Rabbi, we are with you and we do not want to part from you. All of this” – pointing to their cards – “is worth nothing to us when we are with you, honored Rabbi . . .”
Here was a leader who personified mesirus nefesh.