The Communists rose to power when Naphtali was young. His father didn't like the smell of it all, and told Naphtali to become a shochet – to master the intricate, exacting practice of kosher ritual slaughter. The training takes time and the pay is lousy. "Become a shochet," said Naphtali's father. "If you'll be a shochet, you'll stay a Jew."

Rabbi Naphtali Junik
Rabbi Naphtali Junik

Naphtali the Shochet and his wife raised their children under the Soviets. By the early 1950s, though, the entire family had managed to escape, most of them with false passports. Except for their grown son, Meir, and his growing family.

Their other son, Berel, had escaped together with Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe's mother, posing as her son. Upon arrival in New York, Berel became a diamond cutter, and (the gray Soviets' silver-lining) maintained his "filial" status with Rebbetzin Chana and developed a warm relationship with her son, the Rebbe of Lubavitch. Naphtali and his wife, together with their daughter, settled in Montreal. Their son Dovid was in Antwerp. Naphtali was happy, but for Meir's being held by the Soviets.

There is a custom to receive matzah from one's Rebbe before Passover. Naturally, Berel would be doing so.

"When you receive matzah from the Rebbe," Naphtali told his son Berel, "mention to him your brother Meir."

"But do not ask for just a brachah, a blessing," continued Naphtali. "Ask for a havtachah – an assurance – that my Meir will make it out alive."

Berel never pushed anyone into doing something they did not want to do. And a chassid does not demand of his Rebbe. But Berel never refused his father.

The Rebbe handed matzah to Berel. Berel mentioned his brother Meir and the Rebbe gave his brachah. "My father requests your assurance that Meir will come out," Berel responded.

The Rebbe's face grew dark and his hand shook. "Shlep mir nisht beim tzung (Don't wrench words out of me that I cannot say)!" the Rebbe answered with rare sting, and added, "My father-in-law [the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe] accomplished greater things than this."

Berel saw tears begin to fall from the Rebbe's eyes. The Rebbe gave Berel another piece of matzah. "You will give this to your brother."

"My brother Dovid in Belgium?" Berel asked.

"No. Meir. Not necessarily in America, but somewhere close by."

A few years later, the family got word that Meir had plans to spirit his family across the border with forged passports. He failed. More years passed. Berel held the matzah for his brother. Eighteen years he held onto that matzah. Matzah, which the Kabbalah calls the "Bread of Faith."

Then they heard the news. Meir is free! With his wife! With his sons! With his daughter! They received visas to Canada ("not necessarily America, but close by...") and Berel got himself to Montreal just as fast as he could. Berel hadn't seen his brother in over twenty years. He ran towards his brother. His brother ran towards him. He gave his brother the piece of matzah. And then they fell into each other's arms.

Berel's story explains Jacob. Jacob mourned his lost son Joseph as dead for over twenty-two years. He finally saw him – a miracle! – but Jacob did not kiss him; he was saying the Shema... a jaw-dropping breach of human emotion. Berel showed me, on the night I heard the story as told by his son, that a moment of faith does not separate between long-lost loves. It holds them together.