The Soviet communist government was determined to wipe out all traces of religion and belief in G-d, G-d forbid.
Thus, they hounded and arrested anyone who they felt stood in their way. Through fear and a network of spies, anyone brave enough to remain loyal to their religion was ‘guilty’ of anti-Soviet propaganda and would be arrested, sent to exile, or shot. They were especially concerned of the ‘Schneersons’ – anyone connected to the Chabad, knowing full well that these people could not be influenced to follow their hateful doctrine. Following the departure of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe from Soviet Russia in 1927, Reb Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, known affectionately as Reb Levik, a direct descendent of the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, and father of the Rebbe, carried on with courage and self-sacrifice to guide the Jewish people.
For a long time, the Soviet government had been carefully scrutinizing the actions of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, the chief rabbi of the city of Yekatrinislov. A network of spies had infiltrated his synagogue and was observing every step. Indeed, a thick dossier of his ‘crimes’ had already been gathered.
So far, the rabbi had succeeded in avoiding their clutches. Once the government decided to conduct a census in which all Soviet citizens were asked if they believed in G-d. Because of the great danger involved in responding truthfully, many Jews, even observant ones, had planned on answering in the negative. Reb Levik, however, would not hear of such a thing. A Jew cannot be severed from G-d for even a moment, he observed. He spoke publicly and passionately on the subject in the synagogue and encouraged everyone to answer honestly that they believe in G-d!
When he was summoned to appear before the authorities, and was asked why he acted against the government in this way, he answered innocently saying, “When I learned that some Jews intended to lie on the census, I merely did my job as a Soviet citizen and urged them to tell the truth!” He was released.
The day came when Reb Levik was summoned to court once again on charges of conducting Jewish activities in his home. This was strictly forbidden, and if found guilty, the punishment was severe.
The rabbi’s apprehension only grew when he saw the two main witnesses for the prosecution. Here was the director of the housing unit in which he lived, a young Jew, who was a sworn communist. He was appointed by the authorities to keep track of the residents’ comings and goings. Reb Levik understood that he was the main person they wanted the director to spy on. The other witness was his next-door neighbor, a woman whose husband was the regional head of the communist party in charge of transportation.
In truth, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak had much to fear from these two witnesses. Not long before, a young Jewish couple, both high-ranking government employees, had suddenly appeared on his doorstep in the middle of the night incognito, and asked that he marry them according to Jewish law. It was a very dangerous proposition. Not only did the rabbi not know them personally, but in order to conduct a Jewish ceremony under a chuppa, ten Jewish men would have to be present, who would be trustworthy. Within a short time, nine Jews were hastily assembled in Rabb Levi Yitzchak’s home. But where to locate a tenth? With no other option, the rabbi sent a messenger to call the Jewish housing director. When he arrived, the rabbi told him that he was needed to serve as the tenth man for a Jewish marriage ceremony.
“Me?!” the man asked incredulously.
“Yes, you,” Rabbi Levi Yitzchak answered earnestly. Surprisingly, the director agreed, and the clandestine wedding was held.
The second witness had also recently been involved in an activity that could possibly implicate him. One day a secret messenger came to the rabbi’s house and informed him that the following day, the woman’s husband, the high-ranking communist, would be away on business from morning till night. The real reason for his absence, however, was to allow the rabbi to arrange a brit mila (circumcision) on their newborn son. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak did not know if he was walking into a trap, but the next day, the infant was entered into the Covenant of Abraham. In the evening, the father returned home and made a big fuss about the ‘terrible’ deed that was done without his knowledge. So, it was difficult now to predict how the neighbor woman and the housing director would testify in court.
The tension was great as the trial opened. The director of the housing project was the first to testify:
“As you all know,” he began, “I am well aware of everyone who enters and exits Rabbi Schneerson’s apartment. But the only unusual visitors I’ve noticed are two old relatives who drop by from time to time.”
Now it was the turn of the second witness to speak. “As a neighbor of Rabbi Schneerson,” the woman testified, “I always expected that as a spiritual leader, he would try to establish contact with members of his faith, I therefore find it surprising that I have never noticed any illegal activities in all the time he has lived next door to me.”
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson thus emerged unscathed from this particular incident.
Unfortunately, the ‘evidence’ against him continued to mount until in 1940, shortly before Passover, he was imprisoned on trumped-up charges as an ‘enemy of the people’ and after torture and suffering in prison, was exiled to Chili in Central Asia, for a period of five years. This was a very primitive village where it was almost impossible to get the most basic provisions. His loyal wife, Chana, joined him there and tried her best to make her husband’s life a bit more pleasant. Through her efforts, her noble husband was able to write down his novella on the margins of the few holy books he had. These were smuggled out of Russian when Rebbetzin Chana left and were published by the Rebbe. They are studied and expounded upon by scholars of Kabbalah till today.
After an extended and debilitating illness, Reb Levik returned his holy pure soul to his Maker on the 20th of Menachem Av, 5704 – 1944. He was interred in Alma Ata, where, till today Jews make a pilgrimage to pray at his burial site.
Today there is a Chabad House and Chabad rabbi in close proximity the Ohel of Reb Levik. He directs Jewish activities for the Jewish community of Alma Ata – today called Almaty, and surrounding towns in Kazakhstan (which became an indendent country in 1991).
Adapted from L’Chaim #1682 “It Happened Once” story.For more on the significance of the 20th of Av and Reb Levik, please visit: www.chabad.org/reblevik