By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Ever since I became involved with Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin some ten years ago, I have not ceased to be amazed by the many unbelievable twists in his case. Everything that could never happen, happened. Things that never happened to anyone else, happened to him. As his legal travails began a decade ago, his passport was taken from him and he was jailed, lest he fly off to Israel, the refuge of Jews facing charges the world over.
His passport was returned to him this past August 15th. That same day, he left for Eretz Yisroel to offer prayers of gratitude for being freed from his long ordeal. He also wanted to thank the roshei yeshiva, rabbonim, rabbeim and other good people who prayed for his release for many years.
His visit to Eretz Yisroel is another indication of how strong emunah and bitachon are rewarded.
We hear amazing stories of faith from hundreds of years ago, from the Holocaust period, and about great people throughout Jewish history. We think that such stories could not happen in our time, because we are not on a high enough spiritual level to possess the belief of giants of years past. If nothing else, the saga of Sholom Mordechai teaches us that a regular person in our day can be in an awful situation and not let go of his steadfast faith. The result was that he was rescued from a devastating situation.
I had the distinct pleasure of spending almost a week together with Sholom Mordechai in Eretz Yisroel, visiting gedolei Yisroel, meeting people who had davened for his release, and saying Hallel at the Kosel.
The welcome we received at each stop was overwhelming and served as an inspiration in the power of achdus, emunah and bitachon. The rabbonim congratulated Sholom Mordechai on his miraculous freedom and the zechus he experienced that a neis was performed through him.
They impressed upon him the obligation to continue his marathon of speeches, telling his story and strengthening emunah and bitachon among his listeners. Many discussed the zechus of bringing about achdus in Klal Yisroel, as Jews of all types davened for him and celebrated his release together.
It was a welcome reminder of the pact Sholom Mordechai and I made some ten years ago after we got to know each other and became friendly. Way back before the trial even began, we agreed that as a zechus for his victory, we would travel together and demonstrate how people of different backgrounds, hailing from different ways of avodas Hashem, could bond despite the differences. We decided that the first place we would go would be Eretz Yisroel.
We had no way of knowing that it would be ten years until we would be able to realize that agreement, but when we finally were able to, the result was nothing short of amazing. Everyone had heard of him and was familiar with his story. People stopped him in the street, smiled, and said “Boruch matir assurim,” before walking away. They didn’t engage in conversation. They didn’t intrude on his privacy. They were just so overwhelmed to see with their own eyes the person Hashem freed that they walked over and said those three words.
The word “historic” is bandied about with abandon. Every parlor meeting is termed “historic,” not to mention dinners and public functions. Every speech and occurrence is quickly branded a “kiddush Hashem.” These terms have been cheapened and have lost their value. But when something truly historic takes place and when a real kiddush Hashem occurs, it is incumbent upon us to stand up and take notice.
When a frum Jew is targeted by the Fake News and corrupt prosecutors force a business into bankruptcy, collapse its assets, and then collude with a witness and a judge to send a fine person to jail for bank fraud, everyone takes notice. When Sholom Mordechai was found guilty and sentenced to 27 years in prison, there was almost no one who did not see a vendetta and excessive punishment.
When every leading legal expert and ethics expert, men who spend their lives prosecuting criminals, judging, teaching, and living justice, signed petitions, wrote letters, and participated in the campaign to free Sholom Mordechai, that was historic.
When even after finding incriminating documentation, appeal after appeal is denied, people feel that there is some kind of agenda at work.
When Jews around the world daven for the release of a prisoner and follow his case religiously, that is historic.
When the prisoner is never broken and publicly maintains his faith in Hashem through all the curious twists, turns and negative decisions in his case, it is historic.
When Jews of all types come together at public gatherings to hear from his lawyers, daven for him, and donate to help cover his enormous legal fees, that is historic.
When he was freed in dramatic, miraculous fashion on Zos Chanukah, Jews around the world burst out in emotional song, dancing in the streets, in shuls, in botei medrash and in stores across the Jewish world, because it was historic.
We saw history. We experienced history. We saw Hashem save a person who had emunah and bitachon. We saw achdus. The night he was freed, we got a small taste of what it will be like when sinas chinom is banished once and for all.
The emotions were experienced again by our Israeli brethren. Like a selfie magnet, everyone wanted a picture with him. They saw that not only hundreds of years ago, and not only in decades past, but even today, it is possible for a regular person to merit a neis through emunah and bitachon.
When told about the person who had come to visit him, Rav Chaim Kanievsky broke out in a wide smile. Rav Chaim shed a couple tears when Sholom Mordechai told him that the few lines Rav Chaim wrote him when he was incarcerated were an immense source of chizuk and that the letter was always with him in his cell.
One night, we went to daven Maariv in Yerushalayim’s Zichron Moshe shul. Although Sholom Mordechai had never been there before, I guaranteed him that he would leave there charged with energy.
Real Jews connect to him and Zichron Moshe is the hub of real Jews. It is filled with people who have nothing, but who are happier than people who think they have everything. These are people who live simply, in small old dirahs where three rooms are enough space for families of ten or more. They are much more in touch with the spiritual and reflect what Jewish life was like generations ago, when everything was simpler.
When the Zichron Moshe mispallelim realized who was there, the small shtiebel, which usually accommodates twenty people, became increasingly packed, until the temperature rose and there was barely enough oxygen to go around. When Maariv ended, more people came into the room to see Sholom Mordechai and shake his hand. When he came out, the Yiddelach broke out in spontaneous dancing and people began flocking to the bais medrash to see the famous prisoner and say, “Boruch matir assurim.” It was midnight when we left, energized and mechuzak.
Friday morning was a reminder of the Brisker Rov’s statement that the chein, or charm, of Yerushalayim is evidenced in its children. We went to Toldos Aharon, where a meeting with the rebbe was followed by a visit to the cheder. In each class, Sholom Mordechai told a bit of his story, as the children sat glued in rapt attention. One group sang and danced for him.
From there, it was off to the Kosel, the place from where the Shechinah has not departed, for an emotional reunion of sorts. As people recognized Sholom Mordechai, they came over to see the man for themselves and exchange brief words of chizuk.
Pictures were being snapped right and left, as people wanted to remember the moment that the person who has become a living example of a yeshuas Hashem came to the Kosel to sing Hallel. It was a reminder that we all have much to be thankful for. Hashem is the merciful G-d and answers the prayers of all those who reach out to Him with emunah and bitachon.
We spent a day visiting the gedolim of Bnei Brak. Each one was warmer than the next. Everyone had heard his story and was effusive with brachos. We visited the homes of Rav Chaim Kanievsky, Rav Gershon Edelstein, Rav Berel Povarsky, Rav Dov Landau, Rav Shimon Galei and the Alexander Rebbe. We met the Sadigura Rebbe, whom we had also visited during a trip to New York. There were lechaims and lekach, and uplifting conversation. We got to meet Rav Elimelech Biderman, who has earned renown for the weekly booklets of his uplifting talks.
We had an appointment by Rav Shimon Baadani, the leading Yemenite talmid chochom and a senior Sephardic leader. We assumed that we were visiting him in his home and were embarrassed when we were led to the kollel he heads and brought over to him as he was bent over his shtender, struggling with a Tosafos.
I apologized. “Slicha kevod harav. We are so sorry to disturb your learning. We thought we were going to be visiting you in your home.”
He responded, “Zeh habayit sheli. This is my home. This is where I am day and night, and this is where I meet people.”
His simplicity and sweetness were overwhelming.
After some conversation, he turned to us and said, “The achdus you have achieved is remarkable. Perhaps you can bring some achdus to this country.”
He actually summed up our mission as we approach the Yom Hadin. There is no greater zechus than bringing Jews together. When we are divided, the Soton is empowered and is able to prevent Moshiach’s arrival.
When we are divided, we are lacking and are creating black holes in Shomayim. We daven and say, “Bayom hahu yihiyeh Hashem echod ushemo echod,” pining for the day when Hashem’s oneness is revealed to all. Our unity and achdus are vital to the achdus Havaya. [See Rashi Devorim 33:5; Maharal Gur Aryeh Ibid; Ramchal Maamar Hachochmah on Tefillos Rosh Hashanah]
When we daven, we use the plural, e.g., choneinu, hashiveinu, refo’einu, etc., including ourselves with every other Jew. We don’t just ask for a refuah for ourselves, but for everyone. We ask that everyone be written in the book of life, blessing, peace and prosperity. To be zoche on the Yom Hadin, we have to be part of a larger group. Communal merits cannot accrue to the person who breaks away and goes off on his own. That person is judged critically.
We have to seek to bring people together, not drive them apart. We have to work to bring people to Hashem, not drive them away. We have to use our abilities to bring about peace and achdus. Klal Yisroel is about the greatness of the individual, but it is also about the greatness of the group. Regardless of how great we think we are, if we are not part of the larger body of Am Yisroel, we are lacking as Jews. We beg forgiveness from each other so that we can be unified. We help the needy and show that our ego doesn’t preclude us from being concerned about other people. We don’t live for ourselves. We live to help others and to enhance the greater good.
We all have needs and wants. We all daven for a good year. We want to have simcha, nachas, brocha and good health. We want to grow without much aggravation. We want so much. We look for sources of merit, engaging in teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah. Let us seek to help others achieve the same, help bridge divides, and increase emunah and bitachon in our own hearts and those of others, meriting to be written in the sefer of tzaddikim.