In honor Of Gimmel Tammuz, The Avner Institute presents a unique encounter with two “underground chassidim” on one particular trip, which he related shortly before his passing. Special thanks to Rabbi Yerachmiel Tiles, Director of the Ascent Institute, Safed, Israel.
Rabbi Pinchas Teitz of Elizabeth, NJ made 22 trips to the USSR in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Even in the heyday of the Communist empire and the secret police, he managed to secure permission for his visits. He had good contacts in the government, who trusted him. Nevertheless, he was often able to utilize his visits to smuggle in Jewish paraphernalia, such as tefillin and prayer books, for the benefit of the oppressed Russian Jews.
Although Rabbi Teitz was born, raised, and educated in Lithuania and its yeshivas, it was impossible to be involved in Jewish life in the Soviet Union in those days and not laud the activities of the Chabad Chassidim who had dedicated their lives for the preservation of Torah Judaism there. Thus, many times he merited to bring objects from the Lubavitcher Rebbe to his Chassidim in Russia, and vice versa.
One summer, while he was preparing for another trip, a representative of the Rebbe showed up at his house, bringing him a package of prayer books, Bibles, and several pairs of tefillin. This was no surprise: he was already used to and even expected the arrival of an emissary and the usual package.
But this time the messenger also took out a small-sized volume of Tanya, the seminal work of Chabad teachings, and handed it to the rabbi. He explained that the Rebbe had asked that Rabbi Teitz take it and carry it with him while in Russia, but didn’t say whom to give it to.
“I was astonished,” related Rabbi Tetz afterwards. “To cooperate with the Rebbe to deliver basic Jewish necessities to the deprived Jews of Russia was one matter. But to go with a copy of Tanya in my luggage? To Russia? It seemed unnecessarily dangerous. The KGB knows very well what is a Tanya. What plausible explanation could I give if it were detected?”
In the end, he decided to take it. If the Rebbe was making such an unusual request of him, he must have a good reason.
On the third day of his stay in Moscow, while passing a dark side street on the way back to his hotel from the Great Synagogue after the evening prayer, two young men suddenly approached him. They seized him by the arms and forced him to go quickly into a nearby parked car.
The Rabbi was taken by surprise and of course frightened. Were they the KGB? Was this a kidnapping?
His fears were soon dissipated, however as his two ‘snatchers’ turned out to be local Chabad Chassidim. They apologized for the rough treatment, explaining that this was the only means by which they could possibly bring him to a safe house without arousing suspicion, and they needed to discuss with him matters of emergency.
Only after they were safely in the house did the two introduce themselves. They said that after investigation they were assured he could be trusted, and that what they wanted of him was the delivery of a message to the Lubavitcher Rebbe for each of them. They had major life decisions to make for which they needed the Rebbe’s input, and they couldn’t wait for an emissary.
The older-looking one had recently learned out that the KGB was actively pursuing him, so he wanted to know if the Rebbe thought he should flee Moscow and move to another city, or should he remain despite the obvious danger in order to maintain and further his important educational activities in the Jewish underground, which the Rebbe already knew about.
The second, younger-looking one wanted the Rebbe’s advice whether to apply for an emigration visa to Israel. Recently, a number of such requests had been approved. On the other hand, he currently held an excellent position as a top engineer, and submission of his request would quickly get him fired. Naturally, official refusal of his request would leave him without any means of support.
Rabbi Teitz was moved by this encounter and the fiery dedication of the two Chassidim. He promised to commit to memory their names, their mothers’ names and their questions to the Rebbe, because writing them down and having such a paper in his possession would be much too dangerous.
The three men then relaxed and engaged in conversation, marveling at the differences between their lives. The rabbi happened to mention that soon before his departure from home, the Rebbe had given him a copy of Tanya to keep with him on the way, but without explaining what should be done with it.
The eyes of the two Chassidim opened wide. “Do you mean to say that you have this Tanya from the Rebbe in your possession? Now? Here?” they exclaimed.
Rabbi Teitz silently withdrew the Tanya from his coat pocket and showed it to them. Eagerly they grabbed it from him and examined it from all sides and angles. Their excitement was palpable: clearly they were overjoyed to be holding a book that less than a week ago had been in the Rebbe’s own holy hands.
However, it turned out there was more. While fondling the book, one of them shouted out in amazement and pointed to what their scrutiny had uncovered: a page slightly crimped by a folded top corner, as is sometimes done in place of a bookmark.
They opened to the page (162 in the standard edition; 630 in the bilingual) and read in awe the very first words: …he is extremely pressed for time and finds it utterly impossible to delay.
“That’s it! That’s my answer from the Rebbe!” cried out the older Chassid, visibly shaking with emotion. “The Rebbe is telling me to hurry and escape from here.”
The younger-looking Chassid quickly picked up the book and examined it even more closely, hoping to find another crimped page. And indeed, there was one!
Again they were overwhelmed. This time (38 in the standard edition; 134 in the bilingual) it only took two words: l’heekaneis l’aretz [to enter the Land].
“That’s the answer for me!” he shouted. “I should apply to make aliyah to the Holy Land now.”
The two pleaded with Rabbi Teitz to allow them to keep the book. He refused, saying that the Rebbe had instructed him to carry it with him, but had said nothing about giving it to anyone.
“To this day,” related Rabbi Teitz to a good friend Rabbi Halperin, “whenever I study something from this volume, or even happen to glance upon it, I recall this extraordinary episode and get excited all over again.”
Rabbi Teitz warned the editor not to publish the story, in order not to damage the Rabbi’s relationships with his valuable contacts in Russia and the government’s trust in him. On 17 Av 5744 [Aug. 15, 1984], the editor transcribed the story in its entirety and submitted it to the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He received a reply that very same day:
“I am pleased to receive this, but absolutely do not publicize it in any form at this time.”
For over a decade the story was suppressed, but when Rabbi Teitz passed on to his Heavenly Reward, in the final weeks of 1995, it quickly found its way into print.
To receive inspiring stories and letters from The Avner Institute to your inbox, email [email protected]