Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Hidden Tzadik Who Saved Kobrin

Reb Leib Sarah's was born with the blessing of the Baal Shem Tov (Besht). Early on, he became famous as a miracle-worker, and he was sent on many missions by the Besht to aid Jews.
One day, as he stood in the marketplace of Berdichev, a Jew approached him and exclaimed, "Thank G-d, I've found you!" The Jew, named Reb Binyomin, was the head of the community of Kobrin, and he had a serious problem.
The small town of Kobrin belonged to the Count Upinsky. While the old count had been friendly to the Jews, inviting them to settle on his lands rent-free, his son and successor was a bitter anti-Semite. The young count was now threatening to expel the Jews and seize all their property unless they paid him both rent and interest for all the years they had lived on his estate.
Reb Leib listened attentively to this terrible story, and then promised to try to intercede with the count. The very next day Leib Sarah's travelled to Kobrin and stood before the nobleman, ready to plead the Jew's case. The count was momentarily startled by the sudden unexpected appearance of the stately old Jew, but he recovered quickly and demanded immediate payment of the "debt."
Reb Leib replied in measured tones: "Sir, your father never expected or demanded rent from the Jews, and I ask you in all fairness to cancel their debt, for payment had never been intended. In return they will pray for your success and well-being all the days of your life."
"I do not need their prayers, but their money I cannot do without!" was his angry reply.
Leib Sarah's shot the count a burning, penetrating look that had the effect of calming his anger. The count soon regained his composure and continued: "Listen, I am going to make you an offer in the strictest confidence; take care no Jew betrays me. Our Polish people are tired of the Russian Czar's oppression. We are organizing a rebellion and we want Jews to join our side. If you agree, the debt will be cancelled."
"No, sir, this we cannot do. Our religion commands us to support the government under which we live. We may not join you."
His reply enraged the count. "Get out," he screamed. "You will pay dearly for this!"
Reb Leib returned to Binyomin with news of his failed mission. "Now, I will send you to someone who can indeed help. But you must keep this strictly secret."
Deep in the forest was a small hut where a poor broom-maker lived with his wife. It was here Binyomin was to go with all his provisions for Shabbat. Arriving at the hut Binyomin saw an old woman sitting in a poorly-furnished room. Just then her husband arrived, his face showing no surprise at the unexpected guest.
Binyomin prayed under the fragrant fir trees, and then entered the hut to find the old man reading the Grace After Meals slowly like a small child. After quickly eating, Binyomin lay down on a bench outside and fell asleep.
In the middle of the night he was awakened by the sound of a voice singing Shabbat melodies. The voice came from the hut, but a heavenly voice seemed to echo back. The hut shone with a burning light; Binyomin quickly shut his eyes, and when he opened them again, it was morning.
The night's vision convinced Binyomin that the broom-maker was no ordinary man. He could hardly wait for the end of the Shabbat to reveal his mission.
But before he could relay his request, the broom-maker came to him and said: "The Guardian of Israel has heard the prayers of the Holy congregation of Kobrin. The count's decree is null and void. Go in peace, but never tell anyone about this Shabbat."
The next morning Binyomin returned home to hear what had occurred. On Shabbat morning a refinement of Russian cossacks stormed the count's castle, arresting him for treason. The governor it seems, had suspected Upinsky of traitorous activities. One day a letter was intercepted which said that the count had been unsuccessful in enlisting the support of the Jews for the rebellion. With this evidence the castle was seized and the rebellion quashed.
In appreciation of their loyalty, the Czar awarded the Kobrin Jews the land of the Upinskys as a perpetual free hold, rent and tax-free.
Adapted from Talks and Tales

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