This is the story of a very special Torah scroll, purchased shortly after the Second World War by Rabbi Pinchas Sudak, when he and his family were fleeing from Stalinist Russia.

Escaping from Russia under the Communists was very dangerous. The first stage of the journey was to get out of Russia into Poland.

But that was only the beginning. They still had to make their way from Poland to Prague in Czechoslovakia.

The Sudaks were together with a group of forty-six other Lubavitch Chassidim who were also hoping to escape. Anxiously they waited for their chance to get out.

While they were still in Cracow, in Poland, Rabbi Pinchas met a Jew who had a Torah scroll for sale. This seemed to him extraordinary, like it was arranged specifically by G‑d. Immediately he decided to purchase the Torah with money he had managed to smuggle out of Russia.

“Such a large a group of Jews cannot travel without a Sefer Torah in their midst,” he said. So he bought the Torah, and quickly had a wooden box made to protect it.

Finally it came time for the group to move. It was late at night when they set out. No one was allowed to take more than their most basic needs. Everything else had to be abandoned. In the blackness of the night the journey began. Rabbi Pinchas and his wife and three children all held onto a rough rope to keep them together. Silently they trudged through the dense forest, Rabbi Pinchas clutching his beloved Sefer Torah, his wife, Batya, carrying their youngest child.

The way was difficult. As the hours passed, Rabbi Pinchas’ wife grew more and more weary. Finally she could no longer carry the child. She motioned to her husband to take the baby.

Rabbi Pinchas understood at once that if he would take the baby, he would have to leave the Torah behind.

With tears in his eyes, he said, “Forgive me, my dear Torah. But it is either you or my child. I must leave you now, so that my children and children’s children will be able to have you in their lives.”

Weeping, he embraced the precious scroll one last time, and gently laid it in its box, and placed it under a tree. Then he picked up his child in his arms and journeyed forward.

The journey was successful. Eventually they reached freedom and settled in the Land of Israel.

Time passed. Rabbi Pinchas’ children grew up and married, and established homes in communities where they became Rabbis and teachers, sharing with others the faith in Torah and Judaism they had received from their parents.

“To his astonishment, his hand touched something hard and smooth...”

Fifty years passed. Rabbi Pinchas’ daughter, Rebbetzin Batsheva Schochet, herself already a grandmother, happened to be visiting friends in California.

While there she called on a friend of the family, Mrs. Faigy Estulin. They spoke of the past, and Faigy described how their family had also escaped from Russia, after the war.

“It’s an extraordinary story,” she said. “As my parents were making their way through the woods, my older sister, who was then only five years old, wandered off. The forest was pitch black. No one could see a thing. No one had any idea where she had gone. Everyone was in a panic.

“Frantically they searched for the child, crawling on their hands and knees, groping amongst the bushes and branches on the ground.

“Then suddenly my father’s hand touched something hard and smooth, not a branch or a root of a tree. It was a wooden box. He opened the lid, and to his astonishment, he found a Sefer Torah inside. And there sitting right next to the box, was his little daughter, my sister!

“He couldn’t believe it. He kissed the Torah. And he kissed his little girl. And he kissed the Torah again, and he kissed his daughter again and again, over and over.

“Then he took the Torah from its box, and wrapped it around his body, tying it round his waist with his gartel, a belt he used when praying. That’s how he took the Torah with him, through the rest of their journey.

“In the end, they made it to freedom. They brought the Sefer Torah with them to America, and to this day it is used in a shul in New York.

“My father has been blessed with good health and a good long life. No one in our family has any doubt that this blessing is because he saved the Sefer Torah,” she concluded.

Hearing these words, the face of Rabbi Pinchas’ daughter, Batsheva Schochet, turned white. Tears began streaming from her eyes.

The story of Rabbi Pinchas’ Sefer Torah had come full circle.