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"According to the teaching that they will teach you and according to the judgment that they will say to you, shall you do; you shall not deviate from the word that they will tell you, right or left" (Devarim 17:11).

The Torah commands us to follow the instructions of the higher Rabbinical authority, even when we do not understand the Rabbis' ruling and think that they have made an obvious mistake, like confusing right with left.

Sometimes we think that if we stray a bit from the ordinances of the Torah it will actually be beneficial for the Torah itself. That is one of the instances when the leaders of the Nation, the Torah scholars, stand firmly to defend the strict ideals of the Torah from change. The following story is recounted by Harav Yitzchak Zilbershtein shlita in his book Tuvecha Yabiu.

In the town of Liuban, in the city of Minsk, Russia, the Jews suffered terribly. Not only was the Communist regime very hard on them, as in all places under their iron rule, but, to make matters worse, there was a Jewish Moiser (collaborator) in their midst. This evil person was an agent of the much feared NKVD, the Soviet Secret Police. Being an insider, he was able to deliver dangerous information which the government inspectors would not have otherwise known. Many lives were ruined because of him. Everyone hated this despicable fellow and did whatever they could to keep out of his way.

No one lives forever and one day the Moiser realized that this was his last in this mortal world. Unexpectedly, he sent for the Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society) and said that he had a special request of them. Since he had done terrible things all of his life, he said, he realized that now he would be called to account for them in the World of Truth. Woe to him what awaited him there, he continued. Therefore, he begged them to help him lessen his punishment Above by submitting him to shame here Below; as it is written that shame absolves a person of many of his sins. He requested of them that rather than bury him in the honorable way the Torah prescribes, on his back, they should bury him like a donkey, standing up. This disgrace, he concluded, would perhaps absolve him of some punishment.

Every single Jew has a holy soul which is a part of the Essence of Hashem, and, therefore, it is not surprising when even the greatest sinner repents before facing the Angel of Death. Jewish history is replete with such inspiring stories. Consequently, the Chevra Kadisha did not doubt the Moiser's intentions. However, since he was asking them to do something contrary to the usual Jewish laws of burial, they were not sure if they were permitted to do so. On the other hand, they thought that it might be proper to sway from the guidelines a bit in order to help a great sinner gain some repentance.

Realizing that this question could not be resolved by them, they turned to the Rabbi of the city, Hagaon Reb Moshe Feinstein, ztvk"l. When Reb Moshe heard the sheiloh (Halachic question), he immediately ruled that it was not permissible to change the Halachic rules by even one iota. The dead man must be buried lying on his back like every other Jewish person. The Chevra Kadisha obeyed the Rav, of course, although some of them may not have concurred with his reasoning.

The next morning, right after the funeral, high officers of the NKVD banged on the doors of the Chevra Kadisha and expressed a strange demand. They insisted that the grave of the Moiser be opened for inspection immediately. The members of the Burial Society tried to argue that it is against Jewish Law to open a grave, but the officers were not impressed. They ordered that the grave be opened immediately, "or else." Everyone in Russia knew what "or else" meant, and so they had no choice but to reopen the fresh grave. The officers looked inside, glanced at each other, shrugged their shoulders and left without saying a word.

Only then did everyone realize what had been the Moiser's real intentions. He was not one of those who repented on their deathbed. On the contrary, before dying, the wicked wretch contemplated how he could cause more suffering on the Jewish community with his death than he had all of his loathsome life. He then devised a fiendish plan. He told his friends at the NKVD that the disloyal Jewish Community would surely punish him for being loyal to the government and its agents. They would let out their anger on his dead body and take the vengeance they were not able to achieve in his lifetime. They would not bury him as a human being, lying down, but as a donkey, standing up.

The agents of the NKVD came to inspect the grave and see if their friend's prediction had been fulfilled. Woe to the community had they found him buried upright. But, because their Rabbi had insisted that they not budge from Jewish Law and Tradition, they had been saved from a terrible fate.

Those who obey the directives of the great Rabbis, though we may not understand them, will find happiness in this world and surely in the World-to-Come.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel