Rabbi Avrohom Yehoshua Heschel, the rebbe of Kopischnitz (1888–1967), followed the ways of his predecessor and namesake, the Apter Rov (1748–1825), as an ohev yisrael, a lover of his people. In post–World War II America, he carried the pain and suffering of countless individuals on his weak and frail shoulders. Indeed, often when he heard the problems of others he would break down in uncontrollable weeping. The grief of his fellow Jews tormented him much more than his own afflictions, and countless times the rebbe put his name and honor at risk in an attempt to help others.

Once, a broken survivor of the Nazi inferno showed up at the rebbe’s door. He had just arrived from Europe, and was hoping to settle in America. His wife, however, had been refused entry due to her ill health, and was on Ellis Island awaiting imminent deportation. The man was inconsolable, and indicated that if his wife was indeed deported, he wouldn’t think twice about taking his own life. “Don’t worry, please don’t worry,” implored the rebbe. “I promise you that by next week your wife will be here together with you!” Upon hearing the rebbe’s words, an immediate feeling of calm overtook the distressed man. Greatly relieved, he went away a new person.

Rabbi Morgenshtern, one of the rebbe’s disciples who had witnessed the scene, gathered up his courage and asked the rebbe how it was possible for him to make an outrageous guarantee like that with such ease. It was no less than promising a miracle!

“You saw how desperate the poor man was,” the rebbe replied. “My first concern was to calm him down, and thank G‑d, I succeeded. At least for the next week he will feel better. If after a week he sees that I was wrong and his wife was deported, he will say, ‘Avrohom Yehoshua is not a real rebbe, Avrohom Yehoshua is a liar.’ But at least for a week I succeeded in bringing some peace into his life.”

With that the Rebbe took his Tehillim (book of Psalms) and began to recite its verses with intense emotion. As the tears were streaming down his face, he could be heard pleading, “Please, G‑d, please, see to it that Avrohom Yehoshua didn’t say a lie. I was only trying to help a Jew in a pathetic situation. Please don’t let me be a liar. Please help this poor woman into the country . . .” In this fashion his prayers continued long into the night.

The Almighty heard his prayers. The woman was granted permission to stay in America, and was reunited with her husband.

Biographical note:
Rabbi Avrohom Yehoshua Heschel of Kopischnitz (1888–1967) was named after his paternal ancestor, the Apter Rebbe. After World War I he moved to Vienna, and after World War II, to the Lower East Side of New York. Wherever he lived, he was renowned for his supreme kindness and great ahavat yisrael (love of one’s fellow Jew). His dedication to refugees of the wars was especially extraordinary. He opened an orphanage in Petach Tikvah, Israel, called Beit Avraham, which exists until this day.