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18 Adar II, 5784 - March 28, 2024 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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The Hundredth Anniversary of a Miracle in Russian Georgia

by Yisroel Lemberger

A view of Kutaisi

Motzei Shabbos, the night of Purim d'Prozos, commemorated one hundred years since the miracle that was experienced by Chacham Yaakov Debrashvili, one of the illustrious figures of Georgian Jewry.

Kutaisi, once the capital of Georgia (a country conquered by Stalin who changed its name to Gruzia), contained its largest concentration of Jews. Chacham Yaakov lived near the site where a large statue of Lenin stood, a statue that Stalin demolished, and replaced with one carved in his image.

One time, the Chacham passed by the statue, accompanied by a Jew who asked why the statue had been changed. Rav Yaakov tersely quoted in reply, "Better the live dog than the dead lion," a verse in Mishlei.

That day, his escort attended a bris milah, and quoted that saying in the name of Rav Yaakov. An agent planted at the event by the KGB, reported to his superiors that the latter had dubbed Stalin a dog, and Lenin, a lion.

We will pass over the horrible tortures inflicted upon Rav Yaakov in prison.

On the eve of Purim, soldiers dragged him from his cell for extended interrogation. This time, unlike the previous grilling, he was cross-examined in the presence of high ranking officers.

The main shul of Kutaisi

The interrogator said: "Listen well: if you admit to the charge, you will be punished by only fifteen years of imprisonment. But if you deny it, you will be killed this very night." Rav Yaakov asked for a few minutes of contemplation but the interrogator shouted at him, "If you don't admit this very minute — you will die." One of the officers present asked that he be allowed those few minutes to decide.

Chacham Yaakov took advantage of the short reprieve and asked if he could be allowed to relate a brief historic account. The interrogator nodded and Chacham Yaakov began with a tale of a blood libel that took place in Madrid (to be found in "Shevet Yehuda" by Rav Shlomo ibn Gabirol) when the Jews were accused of having murdered a gentile in order to use his blood in their matza baking. The elderly rav of Madrid was arrested along with ten notables of the community and tortured terribly.

At first not one of the Jews admitted to the crime. But the ailing and elderly rav finally gave in and 'confessed,' and even asked the other ten to confess as well so as to stop the excruciating torture.

Here, Chacham Yaakov noted that he, too, had suffered terrible torment, similar to that of the Jews of Madrid. He displayed his legs, blackened from burns. The officers turned their faces aside, unable to look at them and even went so far as to reprove the investigator at the exaggerated torture.

Chacham Yaakov resumed his tale:

After the Jews confessed, the king passed their sentence.

"Just as you shed Christian blood, so shall your blood be shed." He ordered his servants to prepare empty barrels and hammer in large nails from the outside. Each Jew was to be placed in such a barrel and rolled through the city streets.

The officers honored the king to insert the first prisoner into a barrel. But as soon as he did so, he immediately suffered a major heart attack. Even he understood that as the hand of G-d. He ordered a new investigation to be made where the truth was revealed and the Jews completely exonerated.

The chief interrogation officer understood the point which the Chacham intended with his story and asked, "Why, then, doesn't your G-d punish the interrogator?"

The Chacham answered very simply, "I am not worthy of a miracle like the Jews of Madrid, but I am certain that in the end, G-d will exact His revenge."

The questioning was terminated and the Chacham was led back to his cell.

On the following morning, Purim 5684, Chacham Yaakov was taken to a more spacious cell where a sumptuous meal awaited him.

The prison wardens eyed him with fear. Not long after, everything became clear.

The interrogator's three-year-old daughter fell the day before into the water barrel in his home and drowned. Her mother — his wife — found her lifeless and committed suicide.

100 years passed. The names of our enemies have changed but their essence remains the same.

Thus may all of Your hated ones, Hashem, perish.


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