By Dovid Zaklikowski for COLlive and Hasidic Archives
The button factory in Nazchelsk, Poland, was forced to close its doors. Former factory workers found themselves unemployed overnight which sent the economy of the entire town plunging. Yossel Borenstein‘s parents shared the fate of the other townspeople, their small grocery store that had provided them a decent living faltered. The unfortunate locals couldn’t even afford the basic necessities for their families.
Eighteen-year-old Yossel wanted to help his parents. He decided to learn a trade and move to Canada where his sister and her husband resided. There he would work and send money back home to his parents. Yossel traveled to the Canadian embassy numerous times, badgering and pleading with the tough immigration officials. Finally, Yossel was granted an entry visa to Canada. Immediately the young adult purchased his boat ticket to Nova Scotia, Canada.
After an emotional farewell from his parents, he boarded a train to Danzig, where the ship was scheduled to depart on Sunday. Friday morning he set out to find lodgings for the holy Shabbos. He found an inn and headed out to obtain his boarding passes.
“Your ship is scheduled to depart on time,” the official behind the ticket counter reassured Yossel. “Just make sure you obtain a writ of health.” Confused, he asked the official, “What is a writ of health?”
The official explained that none of the travel companies permitted ill or diseased passengers to sail. “You need to see a doctor who will determine if you are healthy to travel. Almost any doctor in the city can help you. There’s no rush. You can only be examined one day prior to departure, so you will need to do it tomorrow.”
Yossel felt like a pound of bricks had landed squarely on his head. He thought of the verse, “And on the seventh day G-d rested from all the work.” Jews rest every Saturday, the seventh day of the week. For 25 hours one does not handle any money, write or engage in a host of other forms of work.
How could he go to a doctor on the Shabbos? How would he be able to pay the doctor for his services? And what if the medical tests entailed desecrating the Shabbos?
“What about Sunday? Can I see the doctor then?” he asked the official desperately.
“Sunday? No doctor’s office is open on Sunday!”
Yossel tried to think rationally. Would he be able to find another ship sailing to Canada before his visa expired? He couldn’t fathom going through the visa-obtaining saga all over again.
He scanned the room, looking for other Jews. He quickly noticed that he was not the only one bothered by the predicament. He walked over to a group of Jews and asked them what they planned to do. “If you do not obtain the medical papers you may never have another chance to go to Canada,” one person insisted.
“How can we even consider desecrating the Shabbos?” asked an older gentleman. Although the winds in 1929 Europe were volatile, there was no immediate danger which would, according to Jewish law, permit one to desecrate the holy day.
“Sometimes you need to sacrifice your religion for the end goal,” another suggested.
But Yossel couldn’t agree with that statement. He was not going to make a deliberate decision to falter in his beliefs and traditions. He knew G-d has His own methods and for the moment, observing the Shabbos had sealed his fate. He would do the right thing.
Sunday, departure day, arrived. With none of the health forms filled out Yossel began making his rounds, searching for a doctor that could help him at the last minute, on a Sunday. He finally found a doctor and was declared healthy, but by the time he arrived at the pier, the ship had already sailed.
Yossel decided that he would take a train to Copenhagen, where the ship would be docking briefly. Although the ship was supposed to leave Copenhagen on Monday night, and the train would only arrive in the city on Tuesday morning, he figured that he had nothing to lose. The boat may just be delayed in the city overnight.
And so he headed quickly to the station. Arriving in Copenhagen, he rushed nervously to the pier where he saw the ship and the captain sitting calmly on the dock! He handed him their tickets and health forms. “All is good, welcome aboard!” said the captain.
Yossel needed to know. “Why haven’t you sailed? Weren’t you scheduled to depart last night?”
There had been a horrible storm, the captain explained, and all the passengers and even the sailors became seasick. “We could not travel with the crew so ill. We decided to stay here for a day to recover. The crew seems to be almost ready to continue along,” he said. “We should be leaving tomorrow morning.”
Although the trip was long and difficult Yossel, it was even worse for all who were seasick from that first leg of the trip.
His determination to observing the Shabbos stayed with Yossel as he faced the challenges of relocating to the West. Anytime he faced temptation, he reminded himself that he had overcome temptation just to get to Canada, surely he could continue to observe G-d’s directives in his new life.