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22 Adar 5759 - March 10, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







The Ponevezher Rabbonim: HaRav Itzele Ponevezher and HaRav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman

From HaRav MiPonevezh, by Rabbi Aharon Surasky

In recent weeks, a monumental three-volume work on the life of HaRav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, the Ponevezher Rav, zt'l, was published by the Mochon Chayei Yahadus Lita of Bnei Brak. Written by the well-known author Rabbi Aharon Surasky and the product of many years of research, it sheds light on the life and times of this great leader of Torah Jewry in Europe and Eretz Yisroel. The Ponevezher Rav was a major public figure for more than twenty years in Europe, and then in Eretz Yisroel, and a detailed account of his works gives important insights into the state of all Jewry in his times.

The Rav was born on 28 Iyar, 5646 (1886) in the town of Kuhl, a small town of about 500 of which about a third were Jews. At the age of 14 he went to the Telshe Yeshiva, where he learned until he was twenty. He then spent a half year in Novardok, after which he spent three years in Radin under the Chofetz Chaim. He married the daughter of the rov of Vidzh, and took over there at the end of 5671 (1911), when his father-in-law became the rov of Wilkomir. During the upheavals of the First World War, he spent three years in Coltinan cut off from his family, but not from the Torah.

Eighty years ago, HaRav Itzele Rabinowitz the rav of Ponevezh, passed away on Friday 21 Adar I, 5679 (1919). Within a few weeks HaRav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman was appointed the new rav of Ponevezh, a major Jewish community, at the relatively young age of 33. His father soon passed away, on 28 Adar II in Kuhl. In honor of these occasions, we present the following excerpts from this new major work. These selections are but a small sample of the entire three volume masterwork.

Intense Learning in Coltinan

To HaRav Moshe Portman, a survivor of Yeshivas Ponevezh in Lithuania and a close friend and assistant of the Ponevezher Rav, he poured out his heart on a rare occasion: "Who can bring back bygone days, those pleasant, good years that I lived in Coltinan . . . I learned the entire Shas there . . . During the day, we learned in deep friendship and had scholarly discussions, and at night, I learned alone . . . There was no proper lighting, no candles to be found, not even a drop of oil . . . All I could get was kainelach . . . very thin, long, dried, wooden toothpicks that the destitute villagers used to dispel a bit of darkness . . . These kainelach are inserted into the wall, and before one burns out, [one uses it to] light the second one . . . It is impossible to describe the intense desire with which we learned during those hours, when those kainelach were burning in front of us, emanating a weak glow of light that flickered on the letters of the gemora . . . Picture this: all around, everything was pitch black, a thick darkness pervaded both outside and inside; there was light only on the page of gemora that I held in my hand . . . The entire world was enveloped in darkness; there was light only in the Torah . . ."

With these sweet words, he expressed the emotion that was stored in his heart: "Now, like then, the entire world is plunged into a dreadful darkness; there is light only in the Torah . . ."

In another conversation, he said, "Rabbenu Asher (the Rosh) lived in Europe during a most difficult period for the Jews, and he did not even hint to it in his chiddushim, as if it never occurred . . . as if the terrible decrees did not affect him in the least . . . One sees clearly how he lived in his own world, in the cocoon of Torah. Thus all our gedolim lived through calamities . . . expulsions . . . pogroms . . . the Jews of those times lived in another world, a world that was completely theirs . . ." And as he spoke, the listeners felt strongly how very applicable the words were to him.

The Wisdom of Yosef Shlomo

During his exile in Coltinan, besides dedicating part of his time to deliver regular shiurim to bnei Torah and ba'alei batim, Rav Kahaneman found time for anyone who had a problem and patiently listened to all requests. Jews from the surrounding settlements, simple villagers, who were unable to flee at the beginning of the war, flocked to him with their she'eilos, their personal problems, their pain and sorrow. Sometimes, two or three Jews would come together and ask him to resolve an argument that sprang up among them.

There was a widow with small children in Lingmian, a small town ten kilometers away from Coltinan, who required the Rav's assistance. Her husband, a talmid chochom from Volozhin, was a well-to-do forest merchant who died in his prime during the World War near Globoki. The widow sold his share in the business to his former partners for quite a respectable sum of money. She then lent the money to merchants in Lingmian.

Meanwhile, the Russian Revolution occurred, the Czarist government was overthrown, and the money lost all its value. The merchants wanted to return the thousands of rubles in the same form that they received it -- in money whose validity had expired. The colored papers, bearing the large "Russian Eagle" and numbers, were worthless.

There was no rov in Lingmian. They decided, therefore, to bring the case to the visiting rov in Coltinan. The widow was extremely distressed. Her brother and brother-in-law were both reputable talmidei chachomim; her brother was a rov and her brother-in-law, a gemora teacher. They were fluent in halocho, and they realized that there was good reason to worry. It seemed that the borrowers were correct; where would help come from? Having no other choice, they patiently waited for the rov of Coltinan's verdict. (By the way, the Rov never took the customary fee for judging a case.)

When he heard about the case, Rav Kahaneman did not ask them to come to him, but like Shmuel Hanovi, he got up and announced, "I am coming to you." He traveled in a horse-drawn wagon to Lingmian. When he heard the widow's story and the borrower's words, his heart sank. An unfortunate woman, a destitute widow was standing before him, and they were demanding a psak halocho. What could he do? It was an explicit law "matbei'a shenifsal, omer lo harei shelcho lifonecho," a coin that was disqualified, say to him here is yours. (One can return the coin in its original form.)

After moments of deep thought, the Rov said, "I will contemplate the matter, consult seforim, and in another week im yirtze Hashem, I will know if I can give a psak."

In fact, he did not tarry a whole week but two days later unexpectedly returned to Lingmian. He summoned the litigants and requested that they reiterate their claims.

In the course of the clarifications, he turned to the widow and asked, "What kind of money did you lend them? Bank notes? Please specify the exact denominations, how many thousand ruble notes, how many hundreds, tens, fifties; please state the size and value of the money."

The widow clearly remembered and began to list, "X thousand ruble notes . . . such and such hundreds . . . twenties . . . a purse full of gold coins . . . such and such ten ruble notes . . . such and such five rubles . . ."

When the Rov heard her last words, his face lit up. He asked the borrowers, "Is that true?" They acknowledged that they received those amounts in notes and coins, exactly as the widow had stated, down to the last coin.

Rav Yosef Shlomo declared, "If so, you have a psak din that is not based on a sofeik: return the money exactly as you borrowed it. Give the widow the amount she lent in bank notes (which are now worthless) as well as the gold coins she gave you, and tell her harei sheloch lifonech'."

The gratifying news of the Coltinan Rov's wise psak din swiftly spread through the Jewish community of Lingmian: The gold coins, inherently valuable, that obviously became very expensive when the paper money became worthless, covered the widow and orphans' entire fortune that almost went down the drain.

Years later, when the widow's son who learned in Ponevezh reminded him of the incident, he reacted with excitement. "Now you definitely understand my situation then . . . After I heard the complaints, I simply became sick from distress, and at night, I could not close my eyes from a lack of peace and tranquility . . . And behold, Hashem enlightened me."

Hagaon Reb Chaim Ozer Foresees his Appointment as Rov of Ponevezh

In the second half of Adar, 5679, Rabbenu Yosef Shlomo began traveling as a shaliach mitzvo and came to Vilna alone. When he reached the city, he saw Bolshevik soldiers swarming in every corner. Rumor had it that the commander, Leib Trotsky, had arrived. The Torah observant Jews were terrified. They had heard stories from the refugees that crossed the Russian border about the persecution of religion and religious people, about libels and harsh decrees, and about the war to annihilate yeshivos and Torah personalities. All hearts trembled with fear.

He immediately went to Reb Chaim Ozer zt'l, the me'or hagoloh, who was alone in his house. He poured out his worries: "I feel as if I am being suffocated by the Bolsheviks, trapped by them . . ." He went on to disclose a plan that had been forming in his mind, to flee across the Polish border.

Reb Chaim Ozer asked, "It is difficult today to get a wagon for travel; is the wagon and the driver that brought you here, still outside?"

The Rov zt'l replied that he didn't know. Reb Chaim Ozer said to him, with an inexplicable urgency, "Go out to the street quickly and chase after them. You must return home immediately. Don't wait even one more moment. Go back to Coltinan."

The explicit instructions of Reb Chaim Ozer were like a psak din for him. He therefore hurried back to his temporary home in Coltinan. Once there he received a telegram from the leaders of the Ponevezh community inviting him to come to their city immediately!

The thought swiftly passed through his mind: the spirit of Hashem spoke through Reb Chaim Ozer. It was because of his directions that Rav Kahaneman returned at exactly the right time and did not miss the opportunity. On that very day, Kovno in Lithuania gained independence and its borders were closed. The roads from Vilna to here were now completely sealed. If Reb Chaim Ozer had not urged him on, he would have probably stayed there for a short time and then would have been forced to remain for many more days.

How Did He Know?

About four and a half years later, on 3 Elul 5683, the first Knessia Gedola of the world Agudas Yisroel convened in Vienna. At this exalted gathering, held in the presence of the Chofetz Chaim, Rabbenu Yosef Shlomo met HaRav Chaim Ozer on his way to the hall, not having seen him since the fateful meeting in Vilna. As he approached him, R' Chaim Ozer joyfully greeted him with a wide smile and began speaking as if he were continuing a conversation that had been interrupted momentarily. "Now I will explain why I told you to return home immediately."

In one breath, he continued, "I had received a telegram from Ponevezh that HaRav Itzele had contracted typhus and that I should try to send the Vilna doctor, Dr. Zemach Shabad. Then another telegram was sent telling me that there was no need for the doctor, but it did not mention the Rov's condition. I understood that R' Itzele was no longer alive, and the Ponevezh community would need to appoint a new rov. If you would have traveled further, as you intended to do, where would the Jews of Ponevezh find you? That is why I urged you to go home quickly . . ."

"Who is a wise man? One who foresees the future!" Who is wise like Reb Chaim Ozer, who saw from afar the events unfolding and put all the pieces together at precisely the right moment. To him, it was a foregone conclusion that Rabbenu Yosef Shlomo was the one to inherit the position of the great Reb Itzele.

At the time, the leaders of the Ponevezh community asked the Rov zt'l to speak at the large eulogy that was held in honor of Reb Itzele at the end of the shiva. Immediately afterwards, the seven city elders came to him, greatly excited and, in the name of the entire community, asked him to fill the position.

The Ponevezher Rov

When Rabbenu Yosef Shlomo was invited to become the rov of Ponevezh, a large, bustling city, he began the prime of his life. It was during this time period that he became known throughout the Jewish world. After all, who has not heard of the Ponevezher Rov?

During this time -- twenty-one turbulent years from 5679 (1919) until 5700 (1940) -- he reached spiritual heights. His tremendous inner strength and multifaceted talents were revealed in their full glory, whether in the field of rabbonus and spreading Torah, or in the field of communal affairs both in his own city and for all of Klal Yisroel.

In a relatively short time, his unique triple position crystallized. He was a creator and builder of the Torah world, a rosh hayeshiva; and also the captain and leader of Lithuanian Jewry; and also one who shouldered the yoke of world Jewry in general. But first and foremost, he was the Rov of Ponevezh.

Ponevezh was the anvil on which he worked with his spiritual hammer. Over the years, many prestigious communities exerted much effort to persuade him to become their rov, but he declined all offers and continued as the rov of Ponevezh.

The leaders of Grodno, home of his teacher HaRav Shimon Shkop zt'l and his yeshiva, came to him several times and offered him a signed shtar harabbonus, but he did not accept it. In 5687 (1927), he was called from Dvinsk to fill the position of HaRav Meir Simcha zt'l, author of the Or Somayach and one of the gedolei hador, after his death on 4 Elul 5686, and he refused. The Orthodox community of Frankfort, Germany, followers of Reb Shamshon Raphael Hirsch zt'l, greatly urged him to become their leader, but he did not agree. In 5680 (1920), the Rabbinical Seminary of Berlin, founded by Reb Ezriel Hildesheimer zt'l, wanted to appoint him their dean and to make him the Rov of all the orthodox rabbonim in Germany, but he declined and sent Reb Avrohom Eliyahu Kaplan zt'l, son of the Rakover Illui, in his stead. During the later years, he even received a written and sealed shtar harabbonus from the largest city in Eretz Yisroel, Tel Aviv, but he stayed in Ponevezh.

The Ponevezh Rabbonus

Numerous great talmidei chachomim, gedolei olom, previously held the exalted the position of rov of Ponevezh, from R' Avrohom Avli Yaffe zt'l (author of Mesek Sifasayim on maseches Shabbos), followed by R' Yaakov Bar Yitzchok Halevi zt'l, R' Shaul Shapiro zt'l (author of Chemdas Shaul), and R' Shmuel Bar Avrohom Shapiro zt'l (author of Me'il Shmuel), to R' Moshe Iztel Segal zt'l from Libau, R' Hillel Charif zt'l, to R' Eliyahu Dovid Rabinowitz Te'omim zt'l, the Aderes, to R' Itzele Rabinowitz zt'l.

Not even thirty-three years old, Rav Kahaneman decided to fulfill the dictum of the wisest of all men (albeit in a somewhat innovative interpretation): "Ubimkom gedolim al ta'amod, do not stand in the place of great ones" (Mishlei 25, 6). This posuk advises one in his position: In a place that such great men served as rov, do not stand still, do not rest on your laurels, but advance and elevate yourself, grow . . .

Rav Kahaneman did not become conceited from the glory and honor. In his later years, he once told Reb Yehoshua Zelig Diskin in Eretz Yisroel, "Because I dedicated myself to Toras Hashem, I had to renounce all honors and other pettiness and weaknesses that the human race is afflicted with."

The Chofetz Chaim was informed of his appointment when he was with his Radin students, deep in exile in Russia. He stood up at the bima and announced happily, "We get a mazel tov! Reb Yoshe Kular was appointed rov of Ponevezh!"

When the Rov zt'l later heard about the incident from Rav Nisan Waksman zt'l, one of the students present at the time, he tried to lessen its impact: "The Chofetz Chaim was not referring to me, but rather to the talmidim of the yeshiva to encourage and strengthen them, and to show them that life will get back to normal and [as a sign of this that] Klal Yisroel already needs rabbonim."

R' Moshe Zinowitz a"h, the veteran historian from Lithuania, used to tell how some of the elders of the Ponevezh community, who had been used to the famous rabbonim, treated the young Reb Yosef Shlomo with honor mixed with suspicion. "Although he had an excellent reputation previously and the Rov of Vidzh was known as a multi-talented activist, there were some older ba'alei batim in Ponevezh who had their hesitations. Would his path be strewn with roses even here?

"Reb Yosef Shlomo succeeded unexpectedly, and thanks to his personality, Ponevezh blossomed. He knew how move mountains to benefit the community, and even the nonobservant factions respected him."


It was still a time of upheaval. The Jewish community in Ponevezh, which was over two hundred years old, almost completely disintegrated during the stormy days of the First World War. The beautiful city, nestled on the banks of the Nevizhe River, on mountains and plains, was passed from one hand to another -- from the Russians to the Germans, from the Germans to the Russians -- each one competing in their hatred for the Jews and tormenting them to the utmost. Now, at the end of the war, the Bolshevik revolutionists controlled Ponevezh, and they cruelly aborted any attempt to revive traditional communal life.

In spite of everything, it was clear to Rabbenu Yosef Shlomo from the very first day of his appointment, that he would establish a yeshiva here, a large, respected yeshiva that would spread Torah to Klal Yisroel. The instructions of his rebbe, the Chofetz Chaim, that he should not become a rov without establishing a yeshiva because his main purpose in life was to be a marbitz Torah, was the deciding factor in all his decisions. When he began contemplating how to rebuild the destroyed Ponevezh kehilla, his first and foremost thoughts were about how to renew Torah study.

He frequently used to say: We find in ma'asei Bereishis, that Hashem created light on the first day and did not put luminaries in the sky until the fourth day. Why? Because first He had to take care of the neshomoh of man and his ultimate purpose. The light of the first day, as Chazal tell us, was the light hidden in the Torah, while the luminaries on the fourth day served mainly for chayei sho'o, for this temporary life.

In his old age, Rav Kahaneman wrote about his first activities in Ponevezh: "My first steps in rabbonus were to build and restore the chareidi institutions in the city, which would serve as a nucleus of unification and revival . . . First I began to establish be'ezras Hashem the great yeshiva; I sunk a good part of my strength and my very being into it, under the face of and in spite of the incessant scheming of the Bolsheviks . . ."

In the Path of Reb Itzele

Actually, Ponevezh had already been made into a mokom Torah by his predecessor, Reb Itzele, who was a rosh yeshiva in his own right and was considered one of the sharpest geniuses in his time. Twelve years earlier, in 5667 (1907), he had established his famous "kibbutz." Dozens of highly talented young men and adolescents learned under his guidance in this kibbutz and were supported by the Gavronsky Family Fund.

Mrs. Leiba Miriam Gavronsky a"h, a woman who loved Torah, established the fund. She was the daughter of the famous R' Kalman Zev Wissotzky of Moscow, founder of a worldwide tea business, and the widow of Reb Asher Bendit Gavronsky a"h, who was known for the large sums of tzedokoh that he gave to yeshivas and other worthy causes. In the introduction to Mishpetei Hashem written by HaRav Shmuel Yaakov Rabinowitz zt'l, av beis din of Yilok (Vilna 5677), she is praised among other things for "founding the kibbutz of Torah study for young men and adolescents in the city of Ponevezh, and she sends them over five thousand rubles a year."

Reb Kalman Zev Wissotzky originally served Rabbenu Yisroel Salanter zt'l in his beis midrash Niviezer in Kovno, and even later, when he became rich and famous and moved to Moscow, he continued practicing his rebbi's teachings. The sefer Tenu'as Hamussar (Vol. II, P. 61) describes him as "a man outstanding in his sterling character and his numerous activities." It describes how "when he first moved to Moscow, he would draw the Cantonists closer to Torah. He himself would sneak into the Kazarktin, teach them tefilla and dinim, celebrate yomim tovim, conduct a seder on Pesach, and imbue them with the sweet scent of Torah and yiras Shomayim."

In the memoirs of Rav M.Z.A.H (Tel Aviv, 5696), it is told how Reb Kalman Zev once came to consult him on how to distribute ma'aser from his wealth, which was valued at half a million rubles at the time. "When we finished our deliberations, he got up and walked to and fro with his hands on his head crying out the words of Chazal, Oy lonu miyom hadin! Oy lonu miyom hatochocho!"

One of Reb Kalman Zev's sons-in-law, R' Refoel Shlomo Gutz a"h, who enjoyed a good reputation as a talmid chochom and generous person, is praised in the Achiezer of HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky zt'l, and was included on a list of candidates for the parliament of Russian Jewry in 5677.

When the family decided to establish a Torah institution, he went to HaRav Chaim Brisker zt'l and asked him where to establish it: in Brisk under Reb Chaim's tutelage, or in Vilna under Reb Chaim Ozer, or in Ponevezh under Reb Itzele. Reb Chaim answered, "As to Brisk, the place is appropriate, but the rov is not (referring to himself); Vilna, the rov is worthy, but the place is not; but Ponevezh, this is the proper place -- the rov is worthy and the place is also . . ."

Thanks to this decision, Ponevezh became an outstanding mokom Torah, and Reb Itzele, in his kibbutz, raised and cultivated a complete entourage of brilliant talmidei chachomim who lit up the world with their Torah for generations to come.

However after a mere seven years World War I broke out at the end of 5674 (1914), and it almost completely silenced the sound of Torah in Ponevezh. During the crisis, Reb Itzele and a group of kibbutz men wandered to the city of Aryopol, on the edge of the Ukraine.

The Gavronsky Family Fund continued to support them for another four years until the Bolsheviks came into power. It was only then that the wealthy Wissotzky family fled Russia, and the fund stopped functioning. Reb Itzele, who did not foresee any future under the Bolshevik regime, returned to Ponevezh with one, lone student, a survivor of his entire entourage.

While Reb Itzele was away from the city, the influence of Reb Yosef Shlomo, then a young avreich, was apparent there. Although he did not hold an impressive position there (actually, he served as the rov of Coltinan), when he would occasionally visit to help the refugees, he would do his utmost to ensure the continuation of Torah learning there.

With his assistance, around 5677 (1917), a small yeshiva for the children of the city was opened under the tutelage of HaRav Moshe Brenner zt'l, a former member of Reb Itzele's kibbutz. When the Russians came, they expelled the Jews of Ponevezh which effectively ended the Torah learning there.

A few weeks after Reb Itzele came back from Russia, his first step in reestablishing the Torah center was his plan to reopen the cheder. Immediately, the wrath of H. Gershonovsky, the Communist educational Komisar, poured down on him. He summoned the elderly rov and told him in no uncertain terms, " `Grazdanin' (citizen) Rabinowitz, you must close the cheder immediately, for good. If you don't, we have explicit instructions on how to deal with these situations . . ."

This incident put Reb Itzele into a depression. He was extremely distressed by pain and fear of the enemies of Judaism. His health deteriorated steadily until he returned his soul to its Maker on Friday, 21 Adar I, 5679.

The Sun Rises and the Sun Sets

Reb Itzele's death was a heavy blow to the Torah world in general and to the Jews of Ponevezh in particular. Most of the important members of the community were under lock and key, imprisoned by the Communists for various pretenses. Like a ship tossing in the heart of stormy seas cries out for a captain to guide it through the turbulent waves, the Jews of Ponevezh desperately needed a leader to guide them.

"The sun rises and the sun sets." Before the sun of Reb Itzele set, the sun of Rabbenu Yosef Shlomo was already seen on the Ponevezh horizon.

He immediately went into action, with all his vigor and vim, and with great momentum. He came alone to Ponevezh; his wife and children temporarily stayed in Coltinan. The Jews of Ponevezh felt that it was so necessary and urgent that he become rov immediately, that they pressed him to accept the shtar harabbonus even before the end of the sheloshim. This was contrary to the opinion of R' Avrohom Riklis zt'l, one of Reb Itzele's esteemed students and a respected member of the Ponevezh community, who requested that they at least wait until the sheloshim on Sunday, 21 Adar II, 5679.

"The beginning of Torah is chessed." His first act before the upcoming Pesach holiday was to organize "kimcha depischa" for the needy and the prisoner's families, as well as to bake kosher matzos, two things that put him into great danger in the Bolshevik regime. "I was young and bold," the Rov related in his old age. "I did things that involved risking my life, that according to the din, I was not required to do." Thus he made all the necessary arrangements to sell Jews' chometz to non-Jews on erev Pesach.

The Death of his Father

Rabbenu Yosef Shlomo did not know that a personal tragedy occurred during those days. Only a few short days after becoming rov of Ponevezh, his father passed away in Kuhl on motzei Shabbos, 28 Adar II, 5679 (1919) after a harsh disease. Due to the circumstances and the unstable roads, it was impossible for him to come to the funeral, and it was held without him. At the advice of his father-in-law, the rov of Wilkomir, his friends concealed the bitter news for a long time. Reb Leib felt that it was not appropriate that he should be bothered now by the aveilus and everything it entailed. He, therefore, advised that they should not tell him.

It was only three months later that he found out from R' Paltia, the shammash's assistant in Ponevezh, who told him due to a misunderstanding. He, therefore, only practiced the laws of a mourner who hears after a relatively long time (shemu'o rechoko).

In the short notes of chidushei Torah on mishnayos that the Rov zt"l wrote by hand, there is a small testimonial for his revered, beloved father. These few short words speak volumes:

"As a memorial, I will write what came into my mind as I learned mishnayos lezecher nishmas my master, my father, my teacher zt'l hk'm who ascended to the heavens on motzei Shabbos kodesh parshas Shemini 28 Adar II, 5679 Ateres shehusra meirosheinu, the crown was removed from our head. The terrible news reached me on Sunday parshas Bolok 8 Tammuz here in Ponevezh, and I immediately accepted upon myself bli neder to learn each day of the year, in honor and in memory of his holy soul, the seder of Zero'im and Taharos and chapters from the Rambam on these laws, since my father zt'l toiled his whole life in Torah and established the learning of mishnayos in the city he lived in, and he himself taught Torah in public for thirty- three years straight in the Chevra Mishnayos, Gemora and Orach Chaim that he established. Through this I will honor him after his death by doing his will. And Hashem should comfort us amongst all the mourners of Zion and Yerushalayim, Amen."

The Mechiras Chometz Document Written from Memory After a Brush with Death

On the night before erev Pesach, the Ponevezher Rov sat in his rented apartment, deeply concentrating on formulating a mechiras chometz contract for the community. Due to the circumstances, he had not had time to prepare a document in advance. Now, he could not find a single form to copy from, nor did he have any sifrei halocho to consult, and he was forced to reconstruct every detail in the document from memory.

Suddenly, loud knocking was heard at the door. Two armed Bolshevik guards walked in. They asked if this was the address listed on their form and asked what he was doing. After exchanging a few sentences, the two motioned that the Rov should come with them. In the few short steps between the table to the door, he whispered vidduy.

They took him down to the courtyard. One of the guards pointed a loaded pistol at him, ready to kill him as per his superior's orders. While his finger was on the trigger, the second guard, who was apparently his commander, suddenly grabbed him. For some reason, he had his doubts if this was the man they were looking for. He told his underling to look in the other entrance of the building. Meanwhile, he stayed to guard the Rov.

A few moments passed, and a two shots rang out in the courtyard -- and then silence. The guard came back to report "mission accomplished." The shocked Rov obviously did not open his mouth. The two left him in the courtyard, and walked away.

Although he had just barely escaped death, Rabbenu Yosef Shlomo hurried up to his room and continued working on his shtar mechiras chometz with a clear head, as if nothing had happened. Unperturbed, he stayed up until four in the morning until he completed his task. Later he related that he received an old shtar mechiras chometz and compared the two. He saw that he had written the exact thing by himself from memory and even erased a few words, enhancing it.

End of Part I


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