Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The following story was told by HaGaon HaRav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik from Boston.

It was Purim in Berlin, and Rav Soloveitchik was ready to do a Brisker “Ad Delo Yoda.” There is a halachic obligation on Purim to reach a state of “Ad Delo Yada” – of not knowing the difference between “Baruch Mordechai” (blessed is Mordechai) and “Arur Haman” (cursed is Haman). One way to do that is by drinking extra wine, but the Brisker way of accomplishing this is by going to sleep; while sleeping, you don’t know the difference between the two.


It was the night of the Purim seudah, at the end of Purim. Around midnight, the telephone rang. It was the police chief, asking the Rav if he knew a person with the name Schneerson.

The Rav’s first instinct was that the Rebbe was probably at the police station advocating for someone in trouble. But the police chief said, “No, we have him in custody.” So Rav Soloveitchik said, “I’m coming right over.”

When he came over, he saw the Rebbe and heard what had happened: It was after the Purim seudah, and the Rebbe was “Ketov lev HaMelech bayayin” (having drunk wine). The Rebbe went out in the street, gathered some people around him, and began speaking to them in German. He explained to them that we should learn from Mordechai, as the Megillah says, “U’Mordechai lo yichra v’lo yishtachaveh,” that Mordechai did not bow down or prostrate himself. Mordechai was steadfast in his belief in G-d and he didn’t bow down to or even listen to Haman. He did what Almighty G-d wanted. This, the Rebbe expounded, is the message to everyone in all future generations.

A policeman noticed the crowd gathered around the Rebbe and listening to him, so he came over and asked the Rebbe, “Haben Sie eine erlobinish?” (“Do you have a permit?”) When the Rebbe did not produce a permit, the officer arrested him.

This is how the Rebbe ended up in jail.

Rav Soloveitchik told the police chief that he knew this person and vouched for his upstandingness, so the police chief released the Rebbe. In a gesture of hakoras hatov, as Rav Soloveitchik put it, the Rebbe went to Rav Soloveitchik’s house instead of going straight home.

As soon as the Rebbe came into the house, he asked for the telephone to call his Rebbetzin. The Rebbe told her that everything was fine and that he would just arrive home a little late. The Rebbe remained in the Soloveitchik house, and as Rav Soloveitchik put it, “Un m’hot geredt in lernen a gantze nacht” (“We spoke in learning an entire night”)!

Rav Soloveitchik also said that he told the Rebbe, “Itzter veis ich az ir vet zein a Rebbe” (“Now I know that you are going to be a Rebbe”) – “Ir zayt shoin gezessen in tefisoh oich” (“You already sat in jail also”)!

That is the first part of the story, as related by HaGaon HaRav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik.

The second part of the story was told by a Jew named Rabbi Pinter, who lived in Crown Heights, diagonally across from 770, at 723 Eastern Parkway. He had three sons and sent them all to the Lubavitcher Yeshiva on Bedford and Dean. The oldest son was Avrom, who was around two years older than me. The middle son was Leibish and he was in my class. The youngest son was Shmelka. Rabbi Pinter would daven in 770 once a week, on Motzei Shabbos, because the z’man for maariv was a little earlier than in the other shuls.

Rabbi Pinter related that he had witnessed the Rebbe’s arrest in Berlin that night. He was about 16 or 17 years old and it was after the Purim seudah in either 1930 or 1931. He saw from a distance how the Rebbe was talking to a group of people in the street. Then he saw a policeman come over to the Rebbe. He couldn’t hear what the policeman said, but he saw the Rebbe motioning with his hand from top to bottom; among chassidim. Then he saw the policeman arrest the Rebbe.

Rabbi Pinter continued that in Purim of 5714 (1954), his family didn’t live in Crown Heights yet; they still lived in Williamsburg. But he came to the Rebbe’s Purim farbrengen. And at the end of the farbrengen, he went over to the Rebbe and said, “Ich gedenk Purim in Berlin” (“I remember Purim in Berlin”). That’s all he said.

The Rebbe gave him a big smile and said to him, “Zol es bleiben tzevishin unz, m’vet noch a machen a neiyem yom tov in Lubavitch” (“This should remain between us. Otherwise, they will make a new Yom Tov in Lubavitch”). This is the story.

Indeed, this was a great miracle because, in 1933, the Nazis, yemach shemom, had already took over Germany officially. Thus, in 1930 or 1931, they were already deep into taking power. The police chief could very well have been a Nazi or belonged to the Nazi party, and he could have dealt with the Rebbe much more harshly.

But miraculously, he let the Rebbe out. And so the Rebbe was released from jail on Purim. L’chaim – indeed a great simcha!


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Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman is director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization. He can be reached at [email protected].