From the time that G-d said to our father Abraham, Go
from your land, and Abraham went on, journeying
southward, began the process of birurimthe
process of extracting the sparks of holiness that
are scattered throughout the universe and buried within the
By the decree of divine providence, man wanders about
in his travels to those places where the sparks that are to
be extracted by him await their redemption. The Cause of
All Causes brings about the many circumstances and pretexts
that bring a person to those places where his personal mission
in life is to be acted out.
Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch
The news passed swiftly through the city of Chernigov, leaving
shock and sorrow in its wake. Reb Yekutiel, a wealthy businessman
and pillar of the community, had been arrested on charges
of tax evasion and misappropriation of government funds.
All who knew Reb Yekutiel had no doubt of his innocence.
Reb Yekutiel was known for his honesty, charity and modesty.
Despite his immense wealth and influential position, he regarded
every man as his equal and was always ready to lend a helping
hand and attentive ear. For this, he had earned the respect
and trust of all Chernigovs residents, Jew and non-Jew
alike. But this was czarist Russia, where a man could be arrested
on a bureaucratic caprice or by the stroke of a vengeful commissioners
Inexplicably, Reb Yekutiel was convicted. Nothingnot
his connections in the government, not the numerous appeals
by his expensive lawyers, nor the prayers of the communitycould
stave off the fate ordained for him. Reb Yekutiel was sentenced
to ten years of hard labor in distant Siberia.
On the day before Reb Yekutiel was sent east, a man knocked
on the door of Rabbi Dovid Tzvi Chein, rabbi of Chernigov.
Rabbi, said the visitor, who was none other than
the warden of the local jail, Reb Yekutiel requests
that you come see him. Special permission has been granted
for you to visit him in his cell, should you desire to come.
Certainly, said the Rabbi, of course Ill
come, and hurried to get his coat.
Tears filled Rabbi Dovid Tzvis eyes at the sight that
met him upon entering the cell. Reb Yekutiel, too, was overwhelmed
with emotion. The two men embraced and wept silently for some
time. Finally, the prisoner began to speak:
I asked you to come, Rabbi, not because I have any
personal request to make, but because I want to tell you why
I am here. Perhaps others can learn a lesson from my story.
Several months ago, I was traveling to Petersburg for
a series of meetings regarding my dealings with the government.
As usual, I obtained a compartment in the first-class section
of the traina crucial necessity for any businessman
seeking potential contacts among government officials and
fellow merchants. It was then that I learned that the Lubavitcher
on the train.
I passed by the Rebbes compartment, hoping to
catch a glimpse of his holy face. The door was ajar, and suddenly
I found myself gazing into his eyeseyes that looked
deeply into mine and seemed to know the innermost reaches
of my soul. For a long moment I stood there, rooted to the
spot. It was a while before I realized that the Rebbe was
motioning to me to enter.
With awe and trepidation I entered the Rebbes
compartment. But the Rebbe soon put me at ease, inviting me
to sit and offering me a cigarette. He expressed great interest
in our community, as well as in my personal life and business
dealings. In parting, the Rebbe said to me: Im
sure youve heard of the railway that the government
is planning to build across Siberia. I think this is a perfect
business opportunity for you. As one who has close connections
with Minister Potysukshnikov, you should be able to obtain
a sizable contract as a lumber supplier.
I returned to my compartment in a state of confusion.
The last thing I expected from the Rebbe was a business tip.
On the one hand, I felt that the advice of a tzaddik
should be followed. On the other hand, the proposal held no
attraction for me, despite its great financial potential.
My business affairs were going well, thanks to G-d; why should
I leave my family and community and spend many long months,
if not years, in far-off Siberia? At the end, I hesitated
long enough for others to avail themselves of the opportunityto
my considerable relief, I must confess.
And so, now Im on my way to Siberia. I thought
that the Rebbe was dispensing business advice, but he must
have seen that there is something there, in Siberia, that
I must achievesome part of my mission in life that must
be played out in the frozen east. I could have gone in comfort,
as a wealthy businessman and government contractor. Now I
am going in chains.
. Genesis 12:1,9.
. Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn, 1834-1882.