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Chanukah - Self-Sacrifice

The following story of self-sacrifice for lighting the Chanukah lights, was told by the tzaddik Reb Shabsi Yudelevitz zt"l who personally knew the hero.

The Russians had just conquered Hungary after World War II. There was a Hungarian Jew who was particularly concerned with the new political events. It wasn't so much about his safety that scared him. He knew very well that anywhere a Jew lived in the anti-Semitic countries he needed Hashem's constant protection from the wolves that surrounded him and wanted to devour him. What bothered him was that the Soviets would surely outlaw all religious service and he was a religious Jew. There was no choice but to attempt to cross the border to non-Soviet territory and from there try to get to a somewhat tolerant country.

But crossing the border was very dangerous. The Russians guarded it very carefully and would shoot on site anyone who tried to escape from "Mother Russia." Nevertheless, there were local non-Jews who led entire groups to safety. The price was exorbitant and the danger was tremendous, but many felt it was worth the chance. Our Jew was one of them. He sold his house and everything he owned to pay the guide in advance. Finally, he was told to be ready to leave with a group of non-Jews on the fourth night of Chanukah. They would travel all night long and hopefully, if they were lucky, reach their goal in the morning.

The guide instructed his group to follow him carefully, and, most of all, to remain absolutely silent. The tiniest noise could alert a Russian guard who would shoot them all on the spot. The Jew didn't mind being quiet, but he was upset about something else. It was the first time in his life that he did not light the Chanukah menorah. At first he consoled himself that by getting out of Hungary he would be able to light the holy lights for many years to come. But then he felt uncomfortable again. He approached the guide and whispered to him that he would like to light a candle he had with him; even for just a few moments. The guide couldn't believe his ears. "Are you out of your mind?" he asked, trying his best to prevent letting out his anger in a huge roar. "A flicker of light in the darkness will bring the whole Soviet army here within seconds. The rest of the people in the group will kill you first for having endangered their lives by your stupidity!" The Jew got the message and returned to his place, very disappointed.

A little while later, the guide led the entire group into a deserted barn where they could rest a bit from their tiring and nerve racking journey. This was the chance the Jew was waiting for. He asked no questions, but ran into the furthermost corner and quickly lit four candles. He hovered over them to block their light as best as he could. But before the group was able to protest, a Russian officer entered and, loaded rifle in his hand, ordered everyone to raise their hands high. The people in the group would have torn this Jew to pieces for having brought certain death upon them; but they could not do much with their hands over their heads.

The Russian officer scrutinized his victims, and with bloodthirsty eyes he seemed very anxious to get the job done. Suddenly, he noticed the four candles burning in the corner. He stared at them for several minutes and seemed to be hypnotized by them. His eyes, which probably never cried in his lifetime, suddenly shed a tear.

The officer turned to the petrified group, told them to put down their hands, and even handed them a bottle of Vodka to pass around. Then he shared his thoughts with them. "I am a Russian officer. My men and I have been following you for hours; since you entered the woods. When you came into this barn, we decided this is the time and place to finish you off. I decided that I would be the one to do it.

"But when I saw those candles burning, something very strange overcame me. I suddenly remembered that I am a Jew. I remembered my father's house and the big silver menorah he would light and the songs he would sing with us. Twenty five years have passed since I left his home and became a Communist. For twenty five years I forgot that I was a Jew. I only believed in "Mother Russia" and I served her loyally. But now I remember who I am and where my roots are. And I will not harm my brother Jew or his companions. You are all free to continue your journey." And with that, the Russian officer turned and left.

The brave Jew eventually made it to Eretz Yisroel where he raised a religious family.

Reb Shabsi would say that we should learn from this how important parents' education of children is and how deep an effect it has on them. Twenty five years later, a devoted Communist still remembered the scene in his father's home, which he had abandoned, and the spark of Yiddishkeit was rekindled within him.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel