It was a historic epoch in time, turbulent, critical and threatening, a frightening period for the Torah world which was being menaced with destruction.
It was the dawn of Israeli statehood, the early, formative years of this political entity for Jewry. The Torah enemies were seeking to destroy the yeshivos, to draft yeshiva students into the army. To this very day, this threat repeatedly rears its head.
Askonim come and go in their trifold efforts at appeasement, prayer and — if these are ineffective — for an all-out war. Gedolei Yisroel toil on many fronts, in many ways. Jewish leaders issue a rally cry for the loyal ones to be prepared to fight to the finish. But Heaven has its plan and, with divine mercy, all turns out for the best. Torah Jewry survives and thrives.
Pragmatism has led us to a most interesting fact and its necessary conclusion regarding the real tactics in fighting this ideological war, as we heard it stated not long ago by one of our leading contemporary Torah sages, heard by R' A. Soraski.
He told of a decisive moment in that pitched battle of those early times, whose details were not publicized until this present day, when he revealed them . . . And in the moving narrative, his eyes shed to large, hot tears . . .
The Rov of Lutzk was a phenomenally wise man and his sagacity was grounded and surrounded by good acts. Success flowed from him like from a gushing fountain. To this day, people pride themselves on that glorious period when Hagaon R' Zalman Sorotzkin stood at the helm of Torah Jewry and fought its battles victoriously.
Then, too, in those decisive, formative years, when so much hung in the balance for Torah Jewry, the Lutzker Rov girded his loins for the fight. He worked through government channels, with brilliant diplomacy, outwitting the enemy at his own game. He employed every possible guile, explored every likely avenue and utilized his canny genius to outwit the forces of evil on their grounds, according to their own rules. But with his added special touch.
The roshei yeshivos secured an agreement for a meeting with one of the government big shots in the Ministry of Defense. It was to be a critical, decisive confrontation. The land was seething with the controversy of the draft and yeshiva students were in a dilemma, confused and frightened. This upcoming encounter would have far reaching implications and immediate repercussions in these most crucial matters.
A large taxi transported the roshei yeshivos to the appointment, but first, it would make a stop by the home of R' Zalman Sorotzkin, who would be heading this delegation. A special place was kept for him in front, near the driver, who was told to head for Rechov Hoshea where he would be picked up.
The Rov walked up to the car. Everyone inside was taut with anxiety. They anticipated a difficult session ahead and trembled with the responsibility of their mission. Their eyes were affixed on the regal figure of this stately, elderly sage who would head their delegation, set the tone and maneuver it along to its culmination. Hopefully, in the favor and for the relief of Torah Jewry in the Holy Land.
He reached the taxi, opened the front door and was suddenly taken aback. "Oh, excuse me, driver, but I just remembered something. I must go back a moment for something I forgot. Don't worry; I'll pay you extra for the waiting time, but it will surely take several minutes. I must go back up; please wait."
Visibly overwrought, the gaon retraced his steps and was about to ascend the flight of stairs leading to his apartment.
What could the Rov of Lutzk have left behind? Who could enter the intricacies of his brilliant mind and guess what it could be? Was it some object? His walking cane? A handkerchief, perhaps? Of what significance could these puny things have when a delegation of the most prestigious rabbis was waiting in the cab, at this moment when, indeed, the eyes of all Torah Jewry were focused on this dramatic, critical event, and their prayers would be accompanying them? When hearts were wishing that it would all be behind them already, with a successful outcome . . . Could it be some important secret documents that might lend weight to their position? Who knew?
It was clear, however, that to the Rov, whatever-it-was was of the utmost importance. He had forgotten something. Something important. So vital that it was necessary to make the rest of this distinguished group wait until he fetched it. Even with the knowledge that the important meeting at the offices of the Defense Ministry would be delayed by several moments. But there was no choice. The Lutzker Rov, in his vast wisdom, deemed that particular thing to be of supreme importance and decisiveness. Apparently, all of the diplomacy, tactics and clever maneuvering of the combined brilliant minds of this delegation could not make up for whatever this single thing represented, that item that would take the Rov another ten minutes to fetch — and to overshoot the appointment.
Tension in the cab ran high. Curiosity even higher.
Whatever the case, the occupants of the taxi had no choice but to wait. One of these was the Admor of Slonim, who had decided to discovered firsthand what it was that the Rov of Slutsk had forgotten. Sleuth like, he climbed out of the car into the frosty Jerusalem air and followed behind his `quarry.' He entered the courtyard, walked up the stairs and even put one foot into the apartment. There — he was inside!
He succeeded in being the eyewitness to a most unusual sight, which he later reported to the other occupants of the waiting taxi and which became public knowledge only recently. One thing is certain — it were wise for all of us to take a lesson from this episode and to always bear in mind what it was that the Lutzker Rov `forgot' . . .
This is what happened:
The gaon entered his room and immediately burst into tears. A wracking, heaving weeping irrigated by steaming, copious tears. His voice rent the air with an emotional, moving prayer, personal and collective. It consisted of psalms of Tehillim and words from the heart, a beseeching outpouring. He wept with his entire being, like a young babe totally absorbed in what was hurting him, aware of nothing else in the world.
He wept thus, consumed in fervor and supplication, for ten minutes, and then ceased. He composed himself, left his room and walked towards the door, murmuring, "Now we are ready to go."
As he took his seat in the front of the cab, after those ten minutes, he smiled apologetically, and said to the other occupants. "I'm sorry, but I forgot something..."