The Snow Didn’t Stop Him
By Dovid Zaklikowski for COLlive and Hasidic Archives
When the Rebbe asked people to study the Alter Rebbe’s Torah Ohr and Lekutei Torah, discourses on the weekly Torah portion, the chassid Reb Chaim “Tashkenter” Horowitz began to study some of the dense, esoteric volume each day.
Reb Chaim was a fundraiser for Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim in Brunoy, France, and would travel from city to city. Usually, he took a Torah Ohr with him, but once, he found himself in Lucerne, Switzerland, without the volume. He asked around in the local Jewish community, but no one had a copy.
In Zurich, he knew, he would find a copy in the home of Akiva and Malka Schmerling. Mr. Schmerling was the grandchild of Chabad chassidim Levi Yitzchok and Sarah Schmerling, who had settled in the city at the beginning of the 20th century and began manufacturing kosher Swiss cheese. They had three children, Clara, Rosie, and Benno. Benno had three children, Levi Yitzchok, who together with his father, ran the family business, Akiva, who became a Swiss watch dealer and Avrohom Gershon who at the time a young man.
Lucerne is an hour from Zurich by rail, but that day there was a snowstorm, and the train was canceled. Reb Chaim was not going to let a snowstorm prevent him from continuing his daily study routine, however. He decided to hitchhike to Zurich, but even that proved difficult in the bad weather. He eventually found a trucker who was willing to take him, though by the time he arrived at the Schmerling home it was three in the morning.
Reb Chaim did not want to knock on the door or ring the bell and risk waking up the children. He knew that the Schmerlings would be happy for him to enter unannounced. He tried the door and windows in the front of the house, but they were locked. Mrs. Schmerling was awakened by the noise and told her husband that a burglar was trying to break in.
Peering through the window, Mr. Schmerling beheld what appeared to be a Jew with a black hat and beard. He opened the door and immediately recognized Reb Chaim.
Without a word, Reb Chaim, drenched to the skin, walked to the bookshelf, found the Torah Ohr, and sat down to learn for a few minutes. Only then did he greet his host and explain the story behind his late-night visit.