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"This distressed Moshe greatly, and he said to Hashem, 'Do not turn to their gift-offering! I have not taken even a single donkey of theirs, nor have I wronged even one of them'" (Bemidbar 16:15).

Rashi brings the explanation of the Sages that Moshe said, "Even when I went from Midian to Egypt and placed my wife and my sons on the donkey (Shemos 4:20), and I surely ought to have taken it from them, yet I took it only from my own."

So it has always been. The true leaders of the Jewish Nation were and are selfless people who not only never exploit their congregation, but, quite to the contrary, give of their own for them. Often, they put their very lives in danger for the benefit of their followers.

Once, my great mentor, the Gaon, Reb Ya'akov Kaminetsky zt"l, told us that he had been visited by a woman this week who had said that she was related to Rebby Shia of Russia. This had reminded him of a story about him which Reb Ya'akov first told her and then, on Shabbos, us.

Rebby Shia taught young children Torah. Even after the Communist Revolution, when teaching Torah was a crime punishable by death, Rebby Shia would learn with youngsters underground, all day long. Like Rabi Akiva at the time of the Roman decrees against Torah, Rebby Shia knew that although if they did learn they were possibly in danger; but if they did not learn, they were certainly cut off from Torah, the real Source of Life.

One day, the inevitable knock of the NKVD was heard upon the door of Rebby Shia. Rebby Shia bade goodbye to his family, certain that he would never see them again, and was taken to the KGB headquarters. He was led into the large room of a high-ranking officer, who, surprisingly, offered Rebby Shia a seat. After the Rabbi was seated, the officer began to talk.

"So you are Rebby Shia," he began in an emotionless tone of voice. "We know everything about you." Taking out a very thick file from the desk drawer, he said, "Every move you make, from morning to night, is recorded and filed here. There is more than enough evidence to execute you."

Putting the file back in the drawer, he added, "As long as I am sitting in this position, that drawer will remain closed and you will be safe. However," he continued, "I cannot take anything out of here, and I won't live forever. Besides, in Russia no one ever knows if he will find himself tomorrow where he is today.

"Therefore, I suggest that you leave the country immediately and go to Israel. I will personally help you and see to it that you and your family arrive there safely. Otherwise, you are in danger every moment you remain in Russia."

All the while, Rebby Shia sat quietly, not believing what his ears were hearing. Perhaps it is a trap, he thought to himself. The Russians had done this before. They had offered their citizens the opportunity to leave Russia and then had sent to Siberia any traitor who had chosen to leave the beloved Motherland. Consequently, Rebby Shia did not respond. After a long, unbearable, silence, the officer continued speaking.

"You are probably wondering," he began, "why I would want to help you at all when my job is to persecute the likes of you. I will explain. When I was a young boy, I lived with my widowed mother. Although she did everything she possibly could to bring home some bread and the bare minimum for us to survive on, one day she told me that there was simply nothing in the house to eat. She had nothing left to sell and could not find an immediate solution. But she did not despair. She told me that not far from us lived a kindly man by the name of Rebby Shia. She would go to him and ask for help, she said. He would surely not send her away empty handed. She took my little hand and we went to visit you.

"I will never forget the scene which took place at the entrance to your humble home. My mother introduced herself as a widow with no means of providing for her child, who had come for a handout. I could see that you were deeply moved by our plight, but imagine our disappointment to hear you explain that you, yourself, did not have a single kopek in the house to give us. Brokenhearted, we turned to leave. Suddenly, you called us back. You said that you remembered that you still had had a silver spoon in your possession. You instructed my mother to take it to the local pawnshop and register it under your name. The broker would give us money to live on now, you explained, and you would, hopefully, redeem it in some better times to come.

"The money we got for your spoon tided us over until my mother was able to find some other solution. I vowed, then and there, that I would never forget you and that if I could ever help you, I would. When I got this position and saw your file, I knew that this was the opportunity I had hoped for. But, as I said, my ability to help here is limited. It is better that I help you get out of here, with your whole family, to a place where you will be safe."

Now Rebby Shia believed that the officer was sincere. He rushed home and prepared his family for the journey to the Holy Land where he brought up generations of devoted servants of Hashem.

Reb Ya'akov tried to describe to us Americans how cruel the Stalinists were. These were people who killed mercilessly, just to prove that they were apathetic and emotionless. Yet this hard heart had been moved by a simple act of compassion and righteousness of a Torah-true Jew. Similarly, he said, even the furthest Jew from Torah will be impressed with the compassion and righteousness of Moshiach, and will follow him back to the ways of the Torah; may he come speedily, in our days, Amen.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel