On the third of Tammuz of the year 2488 from creation (1273 BCE), Joshua
was leading the Jewish people in one of the battles to conquer the Land of Israel. Victory was imminent, but darkness was about to fall. "Sun," proclaimed Joshua, "be still at Giv'on; moon, at the Ayalon valley" (Joshua 10:12). The heavenly bodies acquiesced, halting their progress through the sky until Israel's armies brought the battle to its successful conclusion.
A great fire destroyed much of the town of Lubavitch, including the home of the third Chabad Rebbe,
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (the "Tzemach Tzeddek", 1789-1866) and many invaluable manuscripts of Chassidic teaching.
The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880-1950), who was arrested on
Sivan 15 of 1927 by agents of the GPU (soviet secret police) and the Yevsektzia ("Jewish section" of the Communist Party) for his work to preserve
and disseminate Jewish learning and observance throughout the Soviet Empire. Held in the notorious Spalerno prison in Leningrad, he was repeatedly interrogated and beaten. Initially sentenced to death, international pressure compelled the Soviet regime to first commute the sentence to ten years hard labor in Siberia, and then to a three-year term of exile in Kostrama, a town in the interior of Russia.
On the 3rd of Tammuz, 18 days after his arrest, he was released from prison and allowed six hours at home before reporting to the Leningrad train station to embark on his exile. Many gathered at the station to see him off. Though he knew that there were GPU agents present, he spoke to the assembled crowd,
encouraging all to persist in the very activities for which he had been arrested. "This," he proclaimed "all the nations of the world must know: Only our bodies were sent into exile and subjugated to alien rule; our souls were not given over into
captivity and foreign rule. We must proclaim openly and before all that any matter affecting the Jewish religion, Torah, and its mitzvot and customs is not subject to
the coercion of others. No one can impose his belief upon us, nor coerce us to conduct ourselves contrary to our beliefs!"
(On the 12th of Tammuz, after serving only nine days of his three year term,
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak was informed that he was free to return home. Shortly thereafter, he was allowed to leave the Soviet Union and resettled in Riga, Latvia.)
Chabad-Lubavitch Chassidim observe the customs of the yahrtzeit (anniversary of the passing) in accordance with the customs instituted by the Rebbe for the yahrtzeit of his father-in-law and predecessor, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880-1950), following his passing on the 10th of Shevat in 1950.
During the summer months, from the Shabbat after Passover until the Shabbat before Rosh Hashahah, we study a weekly chapter of the Talmud's Ethics of the Fathers ("Avot") each Shabbat afternoon; this week we study Chapter Four.
The history of the Jewish people is not just one of rise and fall. It is a process, a purification, a sieve of many filters, a smelting furnace that refines the raw ore again and again until only the purest gold remains.
That is why today we are able to do a mitzvah today in a world so foreign to mitzvahs; to fill our lives with that which filled our great-grandparent’s and raise children that way; to go against the stream of the culture around us and be the Jew inherent within.
It is not with our own power, or with our own minds. It is with a hidden memory, an indestructible force that survived as our heritage.