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Why the Rebbe Cried

Why the Rebbe Cried

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The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, once recounted the following story about his father and predecessor, Rabbi Shalom DovBer of Lubavitch:

In 1905, a rabbinical conference was assembled in Vilnius, with the participation of many of the greatest leaders of European Jewry. The issue on hand was an attempt by the Czarist government to impose certain requirements on rabbis and Torah teachers, requirements that would compromise the integrity of Jewish tradition.

The assembled rabbis were united in their opposition to this new edict. The Russian Minister of the Interior, however, made it known that if the rabbis didn't withdraw their opposition to the new measure, he would unleash pogroms on 101 cities throughout the country.

As the conference was nearing its close, Rabbi Shalom DovBer requested permission to speak. He spoke passionately and forcefully. Though well-aware that the government had planted informers in the room, he protested the injustice and the threatened barbaric pogroms. He then emotionally declared that "we must announce before one and all that only our bodies are in exile, but not our souls." In all areas that affect Torah and mitzvot, our only sovereign is G‑d Almighty Himself....

Rabbi Shalom DovBer finished his impassioned talk and fell to the floor in a faint.

As soon as he left the hall, he was placed under house-arrest.

Soon thereafter, Rabbi Shalom DovBer was visited by a fellow attendee of the conference, Rabbi Chaim of Brisk, one of the preeminent sages of the time. Rabbi Chaim entered the Rebbe's room and found him sobbing. "Lubavitcher Rebbe," he asked, "why do you cry? After all, we did all that we could..."

"Yes," Rabbi Shalom DovBer responded. "But the objective was not accomplished."

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg is a writer, editor and director of the curriculum department at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Chaya Mushka, and their three children.
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