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A Letter of the Rebbe Rayatz On His Seven Terms of Imprisonment

A Letter of the Rebbe Rayatz On His Seven Terms of Imprisonment


1217 Iyar 5694 ([ת]רצ"ד; 1934)

In reply to your question about my imprisonment and my subsequent exile in Kostrama: Though everything is recorded in my notes, for various reasons the only things that may be revealed are a number of excerpts and general impressions that will be offensive to no one.

The imprisonment in 5687 [1927] was the seventh, because I was imprisoned five times under the old [i.e., czarist] regime, and twice under the new [i.e., communist] regime.

The first imprisonment took place in Lubavitch when I was eleven years old. At that time, following the advice and directive of my teacher, R. Nissan, I began (in 5652 [1892]) to record my recollections in a book. This incident, too, was recorded there, in 5653 [1893].

The second imprisonment took place in Lubavitch in Iyar, 5662 [1902]. The informers3 to the authorities were the teachers of the school that had been founded in Lubavitch by the Society for the Dissemination of the Haskalah (the “Enlightenment”).

The third imprisonment, also in Lubavitch, in Teves, 5666 [1906], resulted from the participation of members of the [secular] Poalei Tzion Party4 in an uprising against the local police.

The fourth imprisonment took place in Petrograd in Teves, 5670 [1910]; the informer in this case was an educated Jew called K.

The fifth imprisonment, also in Petrograd, in Shvat, 5676 [1916], resulted from my efforts to obtain legal information concerning military exemptions for people serving in rabbinical positions.

The sixth imprisonment, in Rostov on the River Don, in Tammuz, 5680 [1920], followed my denunciation to the authorities by D., the head of the local Yevsektsia.

Each of the above arrests, however, resulted in imprisonment for a number of hours. The seventh was somewhat weightier.

* * *

Normally, an analogy is less earnest than its analog. Consider, then: If imprisoning a body in a jail of wood and stone is called suffering, then how intense must be the suffering of the Divine soul when it is imprisoned in the body and the animal soul. This is something worth thinking about deeply.

* * *

I will not deny that from time to time the seventh imprisonment brings me particular pleasure. As witness: Even now, some seven years after the event, I occasionally set aside time to spend alone — to picture in my mind’s eye the sounds and words, the sights and the dreams, that I heard, saw and dreamed in those days.

A lifetime spans a certain number of changing stages — childhood, boyhood, youth, young adulthood, adulthood, advancing years, and old age. People also vary in their gifts — whether common and mediocre or wonderfully luminous; likewise in their natures — for example, whether bashful and morose, or jolly and exuberant. But apart from all these variables, in the course of a lifetime Divine Providence engineers particular periods which sometimes change a man’s very nature. They develop his gifts and set him up at a particular height, so that he can gaze upon the ultimate purpose for which a man lives his life on the face of the earth.

Above all, a man’s personality and gifts are most intensely escalated by a period rich in suffering which is inflicted on account of his vigorous endeavors for an ideal. This is particularly so if he struggles and battles with his pursuers and persecutors for the sake of preserving and advancing his religious faith.

Such a period, though fraught with affliction of the body and suffering of the spirit, is rich in powerful impressions. Such days are the luminous days in a man’s life.

Every single incident in such a period is significant. In particular, if imprisonment is involved, the resultant spiritual benefit is so great that it warrants the recording not only of days and nights but even of hours and minutes. For every hour and minute of torment gives rise to inestimable benefits: it makes a man so resolute that even a weakling is transformed into the most courageous of men.

* * *

My arrest began at 2:15 a.m. on Wednesday, 15 Sivan, 5687 [1927], and continued until 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, 3 Tammuz, 5687 [1927], in Leningrad (Petersburg).

After these eighteen days, eleven hours and fifteen minutes, I spent approximately six hours in my home, and at 7:30 p.m. took the train to Kostrama.5 I arrived there on Monday, 4 Tammuz, and remained in exile until 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, 13 Tammuz, for a total of nine days and seventeen hours.

Finally, in response to your request, I am now sending you selections from my notes concerning the respective terms of imprisonment.

Notes concerning the first three prison terms were published in HaTamim, Booklets 7-8.
nt: For a graphic description see Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. I, Chapter 4a, Sections 15-17.
HaTamim, p. [שנ"ד].
HaTamim, p. [ת"ד]. In English, see Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. III, p. 118 (and the extensive documentation listed in the footnote there), and p. 229.
Volga River. (See Appendix on p. 133 below.) The following week, however, on 12 (Yud-Beis) Tammuz, the Rebbe Rayatz was informed of his impending release, and on 13 (Yud-Gimmel) Tammuz he was in fact liberated.
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