Friday, June 29, 2007

Today (June 28) is the 12th of Tammuz, the day of the liberation of the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn from Soviet imprisonment. It is celebrated by Chassidim throughout the world as a major chassidic holiday and as a victory of light over darkness and holiness over tyranny. Here is an excerpt from the story of his imprisonment and ultimate release.

The Previous Rebbe describes the details of his imprisonment in 1927 by the Soviet authorities for his efforts to spread Judaism and Chassidism among his fellow Jews. These recollections are significant not only as a historical record, but also because they reveal the inner spiritual dynamic of his imprisonment and redemption.

From the beginning of his imprisonment, the Previous Rebbe resolved that he would not be affected by the authorities who had imprisoned him.This resolution had implications beyond his commitment not to compromise in Torah observance. The Previous Rebbe did not perceive the Soviet authorities as having any power at all. In his eyes, they were "utter nothingness and void." He refused to cooperate under interrogation and responded to them with pride and integrity. Despite the physical discomfort and the blows he suffered at their hands, he was not intimidated, nor did he allow them to break his spirit.On Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, guards entered his cell and ordered him to stand. He refused. The guards explained that they had information for him and that the prison rules required that he stand to receive it. He again refused. They threatened to beat him, and when he did not obey them, they carried out their threat.

This scenario was repeated three times. Before the last blows were administered, one of the exasperated guards told the Rebbe, "We'll teach you a lesson!" The Rebbe responded, "The question is, who will teach whom...."Realizing that their attempts to intimidate him were ineffective, the Soviet authorities invited him into an office and informed him of his sentence - three years' exile in Kostroma. (On the desk before him, the Previous Rebbe noticed his file. He saw that his sentence had actually been commuted. He had at first been condemned to execution; the second sentence suggested was twelve years' hard labor; and only the final ruling, three years of exile, was delivered.)

The date was Thursday, the first day of Rosh Chodesh Tammuz. He was informed that he would be granted several hours at home and then he would depart by train to Kostroma. He asked the prison authorities when he was scheduled to arrive in Kostroma and was told that he would arrive on Shabbos.

He refused to go. One of the officials warned that if he did not comply with their orders, he would not be granted another opportunity to leave prison. He replied that he was prepared to stay in prison for as long as necessary; he would not travel on Shabbos.

Shocked by the Rebbe's defiance, the authorities paused for consultation with leading government officials. After some hours, they agreed to detain him in prison over Shabbos and allow him to travel on Sunday, the Third of Tammuz.

To learn more about the story of the 12th of Tammuz, visit

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