Reb Yitzchak Eizik was adamant. No matter what the circumstances, he would NOT desecrate the holy Shabbos! His friends could not believe what they were hearing. “This is impossible,” they said to him.
Our story takes place during the second WW. Reb Yitzchak Eizik haKohen Rott, had been a shochet in his community in Buchniya, Galicia, before the war. When the opportunity presented itself, he fled with his family, in face of the oncoming Nazis, may their name be erased, to Russia. But soon enough, the refugees realized that they were in for more trouble. Russia sent them to Siberia to work camps.
The workload was unbearable. The weather was frigid and food was scarce. Many lost their lives from hunger and illness. The Jewish people who were Torah observant had even more trouble on their hands. The refugees were forced to work seven days a week. To refuse to work on Shabbos considered damaging the war effort.
Reb Yitzchak Eizik and his friends were assigned to cut down trees, work which was difficult and dangerous. Vicious overseers established the amount each one was required to accomplish. Disobedience to any instructions was met with harsh punishment.
As the first Shabbos approached, Reb Yitzchak Eizik gathered the Jewish workers around him. He addressed them about the importance of observing the holy Shabbos. He taught them the laws of Shabbos – how it is possible to make sure not to desecrate work on Shabbos which is prohibited by Torah law.
In the merit of his suggestions and encouragement, all the members of his group were able to avoid breaking the laws of Shabbos. During the week, they worked harder, in spite of their weakness and hunger, to cut extra amount of trees which they hid in a secret place. On Shabbos they took these hidden trees and brought them to the place they were working and left them there as if they had been cut that day. He came up with other solutions as well, showing them that indeed it is possible to keep the holy Shabbos.
But then came winter. The cold got much colder. Mounds of snow covered the ground. The strong winds chilled the bones. The refugees piled on themselves whatever garments they had brought with them, but the temperatures would hit minus fifty celcius. The terrible cold did not allow for man to be outdoors without the proper attire. The refugees were told to remain at home and to wait for a special delivery of warm winter clothes.
One day an announcement came: the distribution of winter attire would take place on… Shabbos! They were all to stand in a long waiting line and to sign when they received their parcel. Reb Yitzchak Eizik joined the winding line. But his lips whispered to his friends: “I will not sign, no matter what.”
His friends exchanged worried looks. “R’ Yitzchak Eizik,” they said to him, “you are putting yourself in grave danger. Maybe sign in an unusual manner, or just scribble something and don’t put two letters together.” (thinking of ways to make it less prohibitive).
A slight smile appeared on his lips as he announced: “NO!”
Soon enough, Reb Yitzchak Eizik found himself in front of the officer. “Sign here,” the man said to him.
“I don’t know how to sign,” Reb Yitzchak Eizik answered him.
The officer raised up his eyes and looked menacingly at the Jew in front of him. “Sign in the language that you know, just sign!” he commanded. His request went unheeded.
The Jew did not extend his hand to take the pen. Instead he remarked, “To sign can be done even after Shabbos.” With these words, he admitted the true reason for his refusal.
The anger of the officer was directed at him. “Really?” his lips curled in anger. “I hereby inform you that if you do not sign immediately, your end will be near.” Reb Yitzchak Eizik did not budge.
“Get out of here!” the officer shouted at him with uncontrollable anger, “You will see how you will soon be punished.”
When his family heard what happened, they became very frightened. “What will be?” his wife and children cried. But Reb Yitzchak Eizik encouraged them and said, “Today is Shabbos! Let us gather and sing zemiros – Shabbos songs!”
Following Shabbos, at three in the morning, the family was awakened by the sound of loud knocking on the door. The meaning of the knocking was all too obvious. With tears in their eyes, the children said goodbye to their father.
Also, Reb Yitzchak Eizik prepared himself for the worst. In a clear voice he gave his children his last wish and command, “Promise me, my dear children, that you will remain loyal Jews; and when the war will end, you will go to learn in holy Yeshivos!”
The father then went to open the door. There in the doorframe stood a Jewish acquaintance of his who was a neighbor of the government officer. He let himself into the house and with great feeling he called out, “Reb Eizik, there is a G-d in this world!”
He told the following story:
“This evening, before I went to sleep, my neighbor, the officer, notified me that tomorrow in the morning your end would come, because you dared to defy him and refused to sign on Shabbos.
“In the middle of the night, I awoke to the sound of loud knocking on my door. To my surprise, the officer was standing outside my door. His hair was disheveled, and he had a wild look in his eyes. He told me with great emotion that his late grandmother came to him in a dream and ordered him that he not touch even a hair from the head of the Jew. He awoke and said to himself, Awe, it’s just a dream. But when he fell asleep again the dream repeated itself.
“When he had the dream for the third time, he could not handle it anymore. He jumped out of bed, put on his coat and came over to me to ask me to go to your house right away and let you know that this time he would forgive you for what you did, and will not punish you. However, in the future, make sure to listen and follow his instructions.