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The Fifth Night

The Fifth Night

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One of the legendary soldiers in the Lubavitcher Rebbe's army of teachers and activists who kept Judaism alive in Communist Russia in the darkest years of repression was Rabbi Asher Sossonkin, who spent many years in Soviet labor camps for his "counter-revolutionary" activities. In one of these camps he made the acquaintance of a Jew by the name of Nachman Rozman. In his youth, Nachman had abandoned the traditional Jewish life in which he was raised to join the communist party; he served in the Red Army, where he rose to a high rank; but then he was arrested for engaging in some illegal business and sentenced to a long term of hard labor in Siberia.

Rozman was drawn to the chassid who awakened in him memories of the home and life he had forsaken. With Reb Asher's aid and encouragement, he began a return to Jewish observance under conditions where keeping kosher, avoiding work on Shabbat, or grabbing a few moments for prayer meant subjecting oneself to near-starvation, repeated penalties and a daily jeopardy of life and limb.

One winter, as Chanukah approached, Reb Asher revealed his plan to his friend. "I'll get a hold of a small, empty food can -- the smaller the better, so it'll be easy to hide and escape notice. We'll save half of our daily ration of margarine over the next two weeks, for oil. We can make wicks from the loose threads at the edges of our coats. When everyone's asleep, we'll light our 'menorah' under my bunk...."

"Certainly not!" cried Nachman Rozman. "It's Chanukah, Reb Asher, the festival of miracles. We'll do the mitzvah the way it should be done. Not in some rusty can fished out from the garbage, but with a proper menorah, real oil, at the proper time and place. I have a few rubles hidden away that I can pay Igor with at the metal-working shed; I also have a few 'debts' I can call in at the kitchen...."

A few days before Chanukah, Nachman triumphantly showed Reb Asher the menorah he had procured -- a somewhat crude vessel but unmistakably a "real" menorah, with eight oil-cups in a row and a raised cup for the shamash. On the first evening of Chanukah, he set the menorah on a stool in the doorway between the main room of their barracks and the small storage area at its rear, and filled the right-hand cup; together, the two Jews recited the blessings and kindled the first light, as millions of their fellows did that night in their homes around the world.

On that first night the lighting went off without a hitch, as it did on the second, third and fourth nights of the festival. As a rule, the prisoners in the camp did not inform on each other, and their barrack-mates had already grown accustomed to the religious practices of the two Jews.

On the fifth night of Chanukah, just as Reb Asher and Nachman had lit five flames in their menorah, a sudden hush spread through the barracks. The prisoners all froze in their places and turned their eyes to the doorway, in which stood an officer from the camp's high command.

Though surprise inspections such as these were quite routine occurrences, they always struck terror in the hearts of the prisoners. The officer would advance through the barracks meting out severe penalties for offenses such as a hidden cigarette or a hoarded crust of bread. "Quick, throw it out into the snow," whispered the prisoners, but the officer was already striding toward the back doorway, where the two Jews stood huddled over the still-burning flames of their candelabra.

For a very long minute the officer gazed at the menorah. Then he turned to Reb Asher. "P'yat? (Five?)" he asked.

"P'yat," replied the chassid.

The officer turned and exited without a word.

Originally published in the Hebrew weekly Sichat Hashavuah; translation/adaptation by Yanki Tauber.
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Anonymous January 14, 2017

Wow that was amazing, thank you very much Reply

Anonymous Marana December 19, 2016

is it true that one night of Chanukkah is always dark because the moon does not shine Reply

Phil Kravetsky Toronto, Ontario December 5, 2010

Nu? Great story, but what happened? What was the miracle? Was the officer Jewish? What was the outcome?

I understand they weren’t punished and that is a miracle but there has to be more to the story. Please let me know, this is quite the cliff-hanger. Reply

Anonymous December 15, 2009

when it was suggested to throw the menorah out into the snow, reb asher a'h said, "no. hanairos hallalu kodesh haim (these lights are holy). they cannot be extinguished." Reply

Chatzkel December 26, 2008

Especially auspicious This is especially auspicious because according to the calendar, the fifth night will never fall on Shabbos, so it's up to us to bring the light of the fifth night into the world Reply

Anonymous Reno, NV December 22, 2008

Comrades in Life As an interracial and bi-cultural woman--Native and African American and Russian Jew, this story pleases me in that it shows the quality of transcending "identity" -- a necessary project for humanity that enables diverse practices and strong ethnic committments without hierarchy. Thank you. Reply

Howard London, UK December 21, 2008

Amazing story What an inspiring story. Reply

Paul Laurel, MD December 2, 2008

The Fifth Night Wonderful story. Five is a favorite number for me, as I come from a family of five, and this story brought me back to lighting the menorah in my parent's apartment in Flushing, New York. Of course we never had to hide anything, and spinning the dreidle was always my favorite thing to do. Also counting the chocolate Chanukah gelt.

Thanks for these stories. They are wonderful and I will share them with friends and family.

I loved the one of the dancing flame guiding the Chasid through the forest to the holiday celebration.

Thanks again! Reply

one who heard the story from Reb Asher February 24, 2008

Reb Asher, when telling this story, would explain that in truth this must have been Elijah the Prophet--for if not he would have been SEVERELY punished for this infractrion. Reply

Dana Stana Arad, Romania December 13, 2007

Impressive indeed! It's really breathtaking . Living in a former communist country, I can really understand all the two protagonists' distress and suffering.
Thank you very much for your fruitful activityand I wish you all spiritual and material accomplishments further. Reply

HY 29 Palms, California, USA December 22, 2006

Light in Darkness Powerful!!!! Reply

Anonymous January 10, 2006

What an amazing story. Arent Yidden amazing? No matter where they are they are Yidden. Beautiful Reply

Tzvi Friedl Perth, Australia December 10, 2005

Great site, great contents, thank you all very much for the work you put into it. It is much appreciated, and it is bearing fruit, even if you don't always know about it... Reply

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