All Israel Are Guarantors One For Another
[EDITOR’S NOTE: We never grow tired of repeating the wonderful stories of our gaonim and their pious deeds. It is our hope that we will be inspired by their devout and holy behavior. In the zechus (merit) of repeating these stories (V'Shinantam L'Vanecha) we pray that we will all enjoy a year of peace, good health and happiness.]
A Near Tragedy
"All Israel are guarantors one for another," (Shevuoth 39a). The Jews of the town of Kalinkubitz, which adjoined the city of Minsk in Lithuania, learned to respect this edict of our sages, as a near tragedy struck their town. The story occurred in the time of the Gaon Rav Dovid Tabli who was a disciple of the Gaon Rav Chaim of Volozhin and the chief rabbi of Minsk.
Erev Yom Kippur, a company of soldiers arrived in the town of Kalinkubitz. They were escorting a group of prisoners who were shackled in chains to Petersburg to stand trial and judgment. The prisoners were accused of various crimes ranging from sedition to murder. Amongst the prisoners was a Jew who was accused of murder.
When the Jewish leaders of the town heard about the Jewish prisoner, they approached the captain of the guard and asked him to release the prisoner into their custody so that he might be able to pray in the synagogue on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. The captain was reluctant to take a chance so they gave him a sum of money after which he agreed to their request. However, he assigned a soldier to accompany the prisoner to the synagogue to guard him.
The Prisoner Escapes
When the prisoner entered the synagogue he was given a tallis and a siddur and he began to pray while the guard sat alongside of him. When the congregation began the Shemone Esrei, the prisoner turned to the guard and whispered to him that he had to leave the room to go to the bathroom.
Before the guard could even answer him, he took off his tallis and left the room. The guard waited a few minutes and then he went out to look for him. But the prisoner had vanished. The guard entered the synagogue and shouted that the prisoner had escaped. The congregation began to search for him. They even looked for him in the surrounding villages but he was nowhere to be found.
That same night the leaders of the town were brought to the jailhouse and imprisoned. The soldier who had been guarding the prisoner was also jailed.
The following morning the governor arrived to see the imprisoned soldier and he found him hanging from a rope in his cell. He had committed suicide. The news soon spread throughout the country and the Jews became frightened. They would be accused of aiding and planning the escape of a murderer. The governor was known to love money and the Jews feared that he would use this opportunity to extract a big ransom from them.
Jewish Community Fined
Soon their worst fears were realized. The community leaders were taken from their cells and brought before the governor. He shouted at them, accusing them of plotting the prisoner's escape. He had also discovered that they had bribed the captain of the guards. His punishment: All of them, including their aged rabbi, would stay in jail and receive 25 lashes until they revealed where the prisoner was hidden. The leaders paled as they pleaded with the governor for time, and told him that they would pay any fine he would impose upon them.
"Very well!" shouted the governor, "I will give you a month's time to raise the money." He then named an amount of money that would be impossible for them to come up with.
The community leaders were horrified and quickly sent an emissary to Zundel Sonnenberg, known as Zundel the Great, who was the chief rabbi of Petersburg. They chose lots to determine who to send and the choice fell on the aged judge of the community, a man with a long, white beard. The distance was great and the road was difficult as it was the rainy season, but the Dayan happily undertook to save the lives of the Jews of Kalinkubitz. While all the Jews of the town were saying Tehillim for his success, the aged messenger started out.
The Gaon Blesses Him
On the way, he stopped off at the home of Rav Dovid Tabli in Minsk to receive his blessing. Rav Dovid wrote a personal letter to Zundel the Great, urging him to help this messenger and he blessed the man that he be successful in his venture.
"Go in peace;" said the Gaon, "and remember the edict of our sages that the saving of even one life is more important than all the mitzvot of our Torah.
The messenger continued riding day and night until it was erev Shabbos. Remembering the parting instructions of the Gaon he told his Jewish coachman, "Don't stop even for Shabbos, let us continue on, for the time is short and the lives of all the Jews in our town are in danger!"
The following day, Shabbos morning, the harried horses, foaming at the mouth, reached the big synagogue of the city of Petersburg where the Gaon, Zundel the Great, was praying. Shouting at the top of his lungs, the old messenger said, "Rav Zundel, save the Jews of the town of Kalinkubitz!"
The members of the congregation were thunderstruck. They were in the middle of Krias HaTorah, when this distinguished old man dashed in from his horse and wagon shouting. Zundel the Great was annoyed and he ignored the commotion until the aged messenger gave him a letter from the Gaon Rav Dovid Tabli and told him about the urgency of the matter.
Collect Money On Shabbos
When Zundel heard the name of Dovid Tabli mentioned he immediately stopped the reading of the Torah and listened to the full story of the tragedy. Zundel then urged every person to go home immediately and make a collection, in order to raise this vast sum of money, for time was of the essence.
The Shabbos was disturbed as every person went from door to door to raise the money. That afternoon the money was raised and turned over to the messenger and the Gaon Zundel signed and sealed a receipt for it after assuring everyone that they had not committed any sin but on the contrary had earned one of the greatest mitzvot.
When Zundel returned home that night he began to cry. "Now the government officials will never believe me when I beg off doing things on Shabbos for they will point out to me that I was able to violate the Shabbos when I thought it convenient for me to do so,"' he said. "But what could I do when I was told to do so by the great Tzadik and Gaon, Rav Dovid Tabli?"
May Your Lot Be My Lot
The following week Zundel received a letter from Rav Dovid Tabli, "May your lot be my lot," said the letter. "Now I realize why you are called, 'great' For it is a din (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 2, third halacha) that to violate the Shabbos to save a life, you are not to do so through a Gentile, nor a servant, nor a woman nor a child but only through the greatest person in Israel.
'And if you feel any regret about violating the Shabbos;' the letter concluded, "Therefore do I offer you any amount of Sabbasos which I observed during my life. I offer them all in exchange for that one Shabbos which you violated to save the Jews of Kalinkubitz.”
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Page last updated - 09/25/2009