After the demise of Czar Paul, Alexander I ascended to the throne of Russia. The enemies of the Jews who had been held in check by the previous king looked hopefully to the new king for a change in policy toward the Jews. It was not long before tragedy struck.
A leader of the community of Bovitbask, Benjamin Bainash, was a very wealthy man, a philanthropist and a talmid chacham. He owned many forests, hotels and bars. As a pillar of his community, he supported all the indigent families of the surrounding neighborhoods and his door was always open to the hungry people of the town.
One Shabbos morning while he was davening in shul, the chief of police, accompanied by many policemen, entered, approached Benjamin Bainash, tore his tallis off him and placed him under arrest.
The community was thrown into an uproar. They approached the mayor and begged him to at least tell them what the charges were. But the mayor was equally confused. “An order came through this morning from St. Petersburg, from the czar himself, to arrest this man. No reason was given.”
The following day a platoon of soldiers arrived to take Benjamin Bainash to St. Petersburg. In the meantime, all of his possessions were confiscated and held in escrow by the government.
Word was sent to Rav Nathan Nata who undertook to travel to St. Petersburg to secure his release. It was wintertime and a terrible storm raged as the rav set out on his long journey. He traveled through many towns until he reached the city of Vilna. There he visited the grave of the Vilna Gaon, and he cried bitterly, asking the Gaon to help his descendant, Benjamin Bainash.
When he returned to his hotel, he was told that the great Rav Chaim of Volozhin, the talmid of the late Vilna Gaon, was in Vilna. Although he was very tired from his long journey, he visited Rav Chaim and asked him to pray for his success.
“Fear not,” said Rav Chaim, “the ways of G-d are mysterious and His help will come momentarily. I am sure that you will succeed in your mission.”
Rav Nathan Nata thanked Rav Chaim and started back to his lodging. On the way, he passed a huge mansion all lit up, with the sounds of music from its windows. A royal party appeared to be in progress as the surrounding streets were all lined with coaches of barons and princesses.
At the entrance of the mansion stood a little hut, occupied by a soldier guarding the entrance. Approaching the guard, Rav Nathan offered him a few kopeks and asked him what was happening at the mansion.
“This is the castle of the governor and he is entertaining some important government officials and barons,” answered the guard.
Rav Nathan immediately thought that this would be a wonderful opportunity to meet some political figures who might be able to help him free the Benjamin Bainash.
“Look here,” he said to the guard, “I will make it worth your while if you will allow me to enter the house and meet some of the people.”
The guard became frightened. “They will have my head removed if I do that,” he answered. “But I have another plan for you. Why don’t you stay with me in this hut until all the officials leave? When the most important official comes out, I can point out his carriage to you and you can meet him.”
Having no other choice, Rav Nathan waited for many hours in the hut, saying Tehillim to himself. Toward morning, the party ended and all the guests began leaving. Suddenly the guard pointed to a large coach, which was preceded by two soldiers. He said, “There is the important official’s coach.”
Rav Nathan saw a man bedecked with many medals and dressed in royal clothes enter the coach.
Rushing over to him, Rav Nathan said, “If it pleases my master…”
The official turned and exclaimed, “What do you want at this hour of the morning?”
“A terrible tragedy has befallen one of your subjects and he needs your help!” answered Rav Nathan.
“Then see me in the morning at the hotel where I am staying. It is too late to discuss anything now,” answered the official.
Rav Nathan was about to depart, when the young woman who was accompanying the official called out, “Wait, don’t leave!” Turning to the official, who appeared to be her husband, she said, “This man says it is a matter of life and death. Maybe tomorrow will be too late. Why not take him along to our hotel and he can tell us all about it before we go to sleep.”
The official agreed, and motioned to Rav Nathan to enter his coach. At the hotel, Rav Nathan waited in the anteroom while the official and his wife removed their formal clothes. When they reappeared, Rabbi Nathan bowed before them and began to relate the reason for his mission.
Acquainted With The Case
“I am very well acquainted with this case,” answered the official. “I was shown that this Jew was forging official government documents and stealing from the czar’s personal warehouse. The king ordered me to arrest him.”
With tears streaming down his face, Rav Nathan cried out, “I swear on all that is holy that this is untrue. The prisoner is one of the most honorable people in the country. Even your governor will testify to that fact.”
Rav Nathan’s sincerity impressed the official and he called in the governor who had accompanied them to the hotel.
“Yes, it is true,” said the governor. “Both the rabbi and the man accused are honorable people.”
The official appeared convinced. “I agree with you that he may be innocent,” he said, “but unfortunately it is now in the hands of the king and only he can free him.”
“Very well,” answered Rav Nathan, as tears continued streaming down his face, “introduce me to the king and I will convince him, too.”
The official looked at Rav Nathan with piercing eyes, whispered something to the governor and then said to Rav Nathan, “Never mind, you can go in peace, rabbi. I will take care of the matter personally with the king. Your friend will be free in the morning.”
Before The Czar
Only then did Rav Nathan realize that he was standing before the czar of all Russia, Alexander I, and he began to tremble. “Will my master allow me to offer a blessing which our sages have prepared for such an occasion?”
“You may,” was the answer.
Rav Nathan then arose, and with awe, uttered the blessing of one who meets the king, “Blessed is He who gives some of His glory to mortals!”
The following morning the order came through – signed personally by the czar – to free Benjamin Bainash and to return all of his possessions to him.