It was during Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak’s younger years, when the czars still ruled the Russian empire. A new decree against the Jewish community was in the works, aimed at forcing changes in the structure of the rabbinate and Jewish education. Rabbi Sholom DovBer (the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe) dispatched his son, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, to the Russian capital of Petersburg to prevent the decree from being enacted. When Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak asked how long he was to stay in Petersburg, his father replied, “To the point of self-sacrifice.”

Upon his arrival in Petersburg, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak learned that the decree had already reached the desk of Stolypin, the interior minister of Russia and arguably the most powerful man in the Russian empire. The Czar’s intelligence (or lack thereof) made him a virtual rubber stamp for whichever minister the prevailing political climate favored; at the that particular time, His Highness was led by the nose by Interior Minister Stolypin, a heartless tyrant and rabid antisemite who was personally responsible for many of the devastating pogroms which were “arranged” for the Jews of Russia in those years.

Living in Petersburg was an elderly scholar, a former teacher and mentor of the interior minister. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak succeeded in befriending this man, who was greatly impressed by the scope and depth of the young chassid’s knowledge. For many an evening the two would sit and talk in the old man’s study.

One day, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak told his new friend the purpose of his stay in Petersburg, and pleaded with him to assist him in reaching the interior minister. The old scholar replied: “To speak with him would be useless. The man has a cruel and malicious heart, and I have already severed all contact with this vile creature many years ago. But there is one thing I can do for you. Because of my status as Stolypin’s mentor, I have been granted a permanent entry pass into the offices of the interior ministry. I need not explain to you the consequences, for both of us, if you are found out. But I have come to respect you and what you stand for, and I have decided to help you.”

When Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak presented the pass at the interior ministry, the guard on duty was stupefied: few were the cabinet-level ministers granted such a privilege, and here stands a young chassid, complete with beard, sidelocks, chassidic garb and Yiddish accent, at a time when to even reside in Petersburg was forbidden to Jews. But the pass was in order, so he waved him through.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak entered the building and proceeded to look for Stolypin’s office. Those whom he asked for directions could only stare at the strange apparition confidently striding the corridors of the interior ministry. Soon he located the minister’s office at the far end of a commanding hallway on the fourth floor of the building.

As Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak walked toward the office, the door opened and Stolypin himself walked out and closed the door behind him. The rebbe’s son and the interior minister passed within a few feet of each other. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak made straight for the office, opened the door, and walked in.

After a quick search, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak located the documents pertaining to the decree in Stolypin’s desk. On the desk sat two ink stamps, bearing the words “APPROVED” or “REJECTED” above the minister’s signature and seal. Quickly, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak stamped the proposed decree “REJECTED” and inserted the papers into a pile of vetoed documents which sat in a tray on the desk. He then left the room, closed the door behind him, and walked out of the building.