| For the Record |

Holy Heist

Despite the dismay caused by the theft of these valuables, the wedding was celebrated with much joy
Title: Holy Heist
Location: Warsaw, Poland
Document: Jewish Telegraphic Agency
Time: December 8, 1928

The Tzemach Tzedek, Rav Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1789–1866), was the third Lubavitcher Rebbe. His seven sons were sometimes referred to as the “seven branches of the menorah.” Most went on to establish Chabad branches across White Russia. However, the oldest son, Rav Baruch Shalom, and the youngest, Rav Shmuel, stayed in Lubavitch, with the latter assuming the mantle of leadership. Destiny ordained that their descendants would unite to rebuild Chabad-Lubavitch in the 20th century.

Named for the Tzemach Tzedek, Rav Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902–1994) met his future father-in-law, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rav Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson (known as “the Rayatz”) in 1922 in Rostov, Russia. Following their 1927 exit from the Soviet Union, the shidduch was formalized between young Rav Menachem Mendel — who would succeed his father-in-law as the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe — and his cousin, the Rayatz’s daughter Chaya Mushka. The wedding date was set for 14 Kislev 1928, and was to be held in Warsaw.

The ceremony, held at Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim, drew some uninvited guests — pickpockets. Rav Eliyahu Chaim Althaus, shomer for the chassan, recorded this in his diary:

Thousands of people gathered [together] and jostling one another [creates] an opportune time [for thieves] to pick peoples’ pockets and… strip them of their expensive ornaments. It is all done secretly, very quickly and professionally. With my own eyes, I saw that some of the victims of theft were there at the chuppah with cuts in their clothing, and I can wholeheartedly [attest about] the thief that his knife was exceedingly sharp and smooth, and there was no reason to suspect the slightest flaw or feeling of roughness, heaven forbid. And there [was] no suspicion of causing pain to living creatures with their work, because the “slaughtered” one, who was robbed, did not feel a thing during the… thievery, even… when the knife entered his pocket and when it left…

A gift for the new couple was among the significant items to have been stolen: a rare cache of letters from the Alter Rebbe, Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi, along with letters purported to be from the Baal Shem Tov himself. Despite the dismay caused by the theft of these valuables, the wedding was celebrated with much joy.

In the Presence of Giants

Among the many rabbinic figures in attendance were Rav Mordechai Yosef Elazar Leiner, the Radziner Rebbe, who was honored with reading the kesubah, and Rav Meir Shapiro, honored with writing it. Rav Meir told the Rayatz, “Der Lubavitcher Rebbe hut genimen a gaon olam far an eidem (you have taken a gaon of international standing for a son-in-law). Years later at a farbrengen, the Rebbe related:

The Rav of Lublin, Rav Meir Shapiro, attended my wedding in Warsaw, and gave me his sefer, Shu”t Or HaMeir, as a present. “During the wedding and sheva brachos, my father-in-law, the [Frierdiger] Rebbe, wanted me to speak in learning with him, but I tried to evade doing so. However, since my father-in-law liked him very much, I perused his sefer, and noticed a teshuvah regarding this Rashi.” The Rebbe smiled and added (with a touch of humility): “So you shouldn’t think that I’m fluent in every teshuvah of the Acharonim. I saw this specific teshuvah, and it remained in my memory…”

Dancing till the End

Rav Eliyahu Chaim Althaus was a distinguished Chabad activist whom the Rayatz described as “my best of friends” and was at his side when Soviet authorities exiled him to Kostrama in 1927. His martyrdom in Riga 80 years ago on 10 Kislev 1942 was described by his daughter:

Rav Elya Chaim was led away, although not before wrapping himself in his kittel and tallis. Reb Itche der Masmid opened the aron kodesh, took out a sefer Torah, and declared: “We have the zechus to sacrifice our lives al kiddush Hashem, and we must therefore be happy!” With that, he placed his hands on the shoulders of Reb Elya Chaim and Reb Chatche Feigin, and they began dancing to the tune of the hakafos niggun, while the Nazis burned the shul to the ground.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 938)

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