By Dovid Zaklikowski for COLlive and Hasidic Archives
Shortly after World War II began, 18-year-old Mottel Chaiton was drafted into the Canadian army. During the next three years, he was stationed first in Halifax, Nova Scotia, then in Ottawa, Ontario.
Once the family heard he was sick and went to visit him. When they arrived at the army base and asked for Chaiton, the soldiers told them, “He is our rabbi,” and proceeded to relate how he had earned the title.
On Sundays, the soldiers were required to attend church, and Mottel had asked that he and the other Jewish soldiers be excused, saying that he would arrange Jewish services for them.
When the clergyman objected that there was no Jewish chaplain, Mottel replied, “We don’t need one. We can make our own.”
From then on, Mottel organized a minyan on Shabbos whenever possible. He would lead the davening and read from the Torah.
His brother Aaron Chaiton was the first boy in the family to attend yeshiva when, in 1941, the Lubavitch Yeshiva opened in Montreal. At the age of 12, Aaron went to New York to study in 770 Eastern Parkway, Chabad Headquarters.
Mottel, who had then just begun his army service, requested leave to go to New York and help his younger brother get settled and purchase a pair of tefillin for him.
While there, Mottel had a private audience, yechidus, with the Rebbe Rayatz. He asked for a blessing that all his friends should remain safe and return unharmed from the war, and the Rebbe gave his blessing, adding that he should tell his friends not to do any unnecessary prohibited malochos on Shabbos, such as smoking and sewing.
Back at the base, Mottel was asked to be the assistant to the commanding officer, General Perterson. One of his duties was to wake the general each morning at a certain time, for which purpose he slept in a room close to the general’s.
Mottel himself would wake up much earlier to put on tefillin and daven. Once, General Perterson woke up early, and, knocking on Mottel’s door, strode into the room to find him in the middle of davening. Immediately, he turned and left without saying a word.
When he reported for duty that day at nine o’clock, the general asked him to come into his office and close the door behind him. Mottel walked in with a sinking heart, certain that he was about to be disciplined.
“Chaiton,” the general said, “don’t ever let me disturb your prayers again!”
“At that moment,” Mottel said later, “I saw what it says in Gemara, that when the nations will see you with tefillin on your head, they will fear you” (Berachos 6a).