The Human Side of the Story

For the week ending 11 September 2004 / 25 Elul 5764

The Seder for Socialists in Vilna

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
Library Library Library

During a condolence visit to Rabbi Berel Wein, a distinguished member of the Ohr Somayach faculty, who was sitting shiva for his late father, o.b.m., this noted Torah scholar and historian told a story of a visit his father made back in 1930 to the leader of Lithuanian Jewry, Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzensky. The head of the yeshiva he was studying at in Grodna, Rabbi Shimon Shkop, had sent him to solicit financial assistance from the Yeshiva Fund in order to save the yeshiva students from starvation.

One story about Rabbi Chaim Ozer led to another. Rabbi Wein once asked a high-ranking official in the Israeli Ministry of Education how it was that a pronounced secularist like him was so helpful to Torah institutions. His response was a recollection of something that took place half a century before. At that time he was head of the Jewish socialist organization in the University of Vilna. One day he received a surprise visit from a messenger who informed him that Rabbi Chaim Ozer wished to see him. When he arrived he was warmly greeted by the rabbi who invited him to join him in some cake and tea. I will make the beracha, he said to his secular guest, and all you have to do is say Amen.

He then got to the point. Pesach is drawing near and there are many hundreds of Jewish students in the university who will not be at a Pesach Seder. If I make a Seder for these irreligious students hardly anyone will come. But if you, as head of the socialists make one, you will get a big crowd. I will supply you with all the money you need to see that everyone who wishes to be at the Seder will have matzah and maror and four cups of wine.

There were a thousand students at that Seder, the official concluded his story, so now you know that the money I am channeling to yeshiva is really coming from Rabbi Chaim Ozer.

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