Rabbi Simcha Gorodetzky was a bochur in one of the Yeshivot in Russia under the direction of the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Y.Y. Schneerson, zt’l.
Even as a young man, Simcha was not a well person. Having seen a number of local doctors, the mashpia of the Yeshiva and great chosid, Reb Chatshe Feigin, decided to take him to one of the big doctors, a specialist in the larger city, to be checked. After examining the patient, the doctor called in Reb Feigin and told him that the young man he saw was extremely ill. His heart was not functioning properly and he had other serious medical issues as well. The doctor told him, that this young man is a very sick person and does not have much time to live (ch’v). Understandably, he was shocked to hear such words. When he came out of the doctor’s office, Simcha was waiting for him. He didn’t want to tell him what the doctor said. So, he told him, “Listen, R’ Simcha, you need some rest. The doctor said you shouldn’t stay at the yeshiva. It would be best for you to go home and get some rest.”
Reb Simcha answered emphatically, “Absolutely not! I want to continue to be a Yeshiva bochur!”
Reb Yechezkel did not want to tell him what he heard from the doctor, but he tried to pressure him to go home and be with his family.
Finally, they agreed to go to the Previous Rebbe and consult with him. The Rebbe was in Rostov at the time. This was soon after the passing of his father, the Rebbe Rashab, zt’l. When they came there, Reb Chatshe Feigen went in to the Previous Rebbe and he told him everything he heard from the doctor. The Rebbe said, let the boy come in.
Reb Chatshe Feigin went out and Reb Simcha came in.
The Rebbe said to him: “The doctors say that you can’t stay in Yeshiva because you are too ill; and I disagree. I say you can stay in Yeshiva! The thing is that some people in Yeshiva sit and learn; and some make sure the Yeshiva is sustained. To continue to survive financially they go around to raise funds. If you listen to me, you should go around to communities and raise funds. I promise that you will be healthy and live a long life.”
Though this would be a very stressful job, since the Rebbe suggested it, Reb Simcha readily agreed.
From then on, he traveled a lot. The Previous Rebbe told him to report back to him, how the Chassidim were faring in the different communities he visited.
Sometimes he had to bring back not such good news, because life was very difficult in Russia at this time. Sometimes it was that a family member was ill, or it was hard to find a source of livelihood, and the family didn’t have what to live on for basic necessities, and other troubles which he encountered. When he would report this to the Rebbe, the Rebbe would shed copious tears. He would cry from hearing the difficulties the people were going through.
Reb Simcha felt so bad, seeing how deeply the Rebbe was affected by the news.
He decided that he would write the report on a note and hand it in and wait till the Rebbe asked for more details.
Once, he was in the room with the Previous Rebbe when the Rebbe insisted he give over the report personally. The Rebbe had many questions and wanted to know in detail how this one and that one were doing. The secretary of the Rebbe came in and said, that it is time for Yechidut – (private audience with the Rebbe). People were waiting outside. The Rebbe said to have them come in.
Reb Simcha wanted to go out to give the people privacy. But the Rebbe told him to stay as he had some more questions for him and they were not yet done discussing.
He decided to go to the furthest corner of the room as far away from the desk as possible, to give the people as much privacy as possible.
During the course of the Yechidut, there were three people who deeply puzzled him. By Divine Providence over the course of many years, he met each of them again and the mystery of that Yechidut was cleared up.
The first person who walked in, asked: “Rebbe, did I get the sign right?!” And the Rebbe answered: “Yes!” And he walked out.
The second person walked in, he looked at the Rebbe and said: “I’m the one, it’s me!” And he fainted. They had to revive him and take him out of the room.
The third person who walked in was clean shaven, he did not look like a chasid. He handed the Rebbe a note with a list of questions. The Rebbe responded to each of the questions in order, except for the last question, which he did not answer. The man was not a chasid, so he kept pressing the Rebbe.
“Rebbe, I have one more question,” he said. The Rebbe responded, “I’m not blind, I can see. I know.”
So, he said again, “But Rebbe, I need an answer for the last question.” The Rebbe answered him, “I’m not deaf. I heard you the first time.” Yet he still did not reply to this question. The Rebbe then politely told him, “Have a nice day. Stay well.” As if to say, your time is up. He finally got the message and left.
These three encounters remained very puzzling to Simcha.
Years later, when he was traveling, he met the first chasid who had come to Yechidut, the one who asked if he read the sign correctly, and the Rebbe told him, Yes!
Reb Simcha reminded him about the Yechidut and asked him if he wouldn’t mind sharing the meaning of the Rebbe’s cryptic words. He said, It’s not a problem, I don’t mind sharing with you. And this is what he told him.
“The Rebbe Rashab**, zt’l (father of the Previous Rebbe) sent me on a mission to a far away place to strengthen Yiddishkeit there. It was a difficult shlichut. Nevertheless, with much effort and hard work, I was able to establish a shul, and a school for children. I started to learn with people and slowly I made progress and was able to build a community of dedicated and devoted Jews. Before I embarked on this mission, I asked the Rebbe Rashab when will I know that I have completed my mission and it is time for me to come back home. The Rebbe Rashab told me, “You will know; you will have a sign.” So, I remained at his post for many years.
One of the people who became close to me, was a baal teshuva (a returnee to traditional Judaism). When I first met him, he was totally unobservant. With love and care, he slowly began to put on Tefillin and take on more mitzvot. We became very close and shared many close moments together. One day, the news arrived that the Rebbe Rashab had passed away and his only son, the Previous Rebbe, took over the mantle of leadership. I wrote a letter to the Rebbe asking if the time had come for me to leave. If this was the sign (that the Rebbe Rashab passed away). The Previous Rebbe sent me back a letter.
‘My father told you that you will get a sign when you should come back. The sign has not appeared yet.’ So, I stayed on, fulfilling my mission faithfully.
One day, I was sitting in my house, and my close friend, the baal teshuva was with me. We were talking together when the mailman brought in a letter from the Previous Rebbe. In the letter, the Rebbe asked for my assistance in an important matter. ‘Please help find the husband of this and this woman. In the letter the Rebbe described what the husband looked like, based on the description of the wife. As I was reading the letter intently, I looked up and began to share what I was reading with my friend. Suddenly my friend’s face turned white. I became frightened and asked him, ‘Why are you so shaken by this letter?’ But then, when I looked more deeply into his face, I realized that the features described in the letter matched perfectly the features of the face in front of me. I understood that my friend is the woman’s husband!
I now learned the truth. This man was a religious man, married to this woman and decided to run away to a far away city, where he completely threw off all previous religious obligations. When the Rebbe Rashab sent me to this city, and I began with building a shul, he had a change of heart and decided to return to his Judaism. But he did not think about the wife whom he had left behind.
Now that the Frierdiker Rebbe sent this letter, we both realized the far vision of the Rebbes. The baal teshuva was deeply affected by this knowledge, how the Rebbe cared enough to send an emissary to bring him back to the fold, and he now understood his big mistake. We decided to travel together to the Frierdiker Rebbe. In my thoughts I was thinking that perhaps this was the sign and that I had now completed my mission. Thank G-d, a Jewish marriage was saved and now it was time to return to my hometown.”
He finished his story to Reb Simcha and said, “When I walked in to the Rebbe’s room I asked him, ‘Was this the sign?’” and the Rebbe answered, ‘Yes!’
When the baal teshuva entered next, he told the Rebbe, ‘It’s me!” He was so overwhelmed by the knowledge that the Rebbe knew everything about him that he fainted.”
And the third person – a few years later Reb Simcha was in another city and he met this person there. They began a conversation and the man remembered that he was in the Yechidut room. He agreed to tell him what happened. He began by saying, “You can see that I am not a chasid, but I heard that the Rebbe is a great man, so I came to ask him what to do. You see, my wife passed away, and my friends suggested to me a shidduch with another woman. I wanted the Rebbe to endorse this shidduch, to tellme if she would be a good choice for me. And the Rebbe completely ignored this question. So, I left. When I came back home to Vitebsk, I found out that she had suddenly passed away… So now I understood that the Rebbe already saw this and did not wish to distress me. That is why he did not answer me on this question. Your Rebbe is a true prophet of G-d and a lover of the Jewish people,” he concluded.
Rabbi Simcha Gorodetsky eventually made it out of Russia and settled in Kfar Chabad, Israel. Here he opened a Yeshiva for boys from Buchara which was called the Bucharan Yeshiva. He toiled with love and personal attention for the physical and spiritual needs of the boys, while raising his own family. Today his children continue his life’s work bringing light to the lives of others.
(As heard from Rabbi Eli Silberstein. The story has been printed in a number of publications and online in Hebrew and was verified by Rabbi Michel Vishetsky from Kfar Chabad, who spent a number of years at the home of his illustrious mentor, Rabbi Simcha Gorodetsky, in Russia and heard many wonderful stories from him.)
*The Previous Rebbe, also known as the Frierdiker Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneerson – 1880-1950
**The Rebbe Rashab, Rabbi Sholom DovBer Schneerson – 1860-1920