Confronting an internal KGB

Friday, 7 July, 2017 - 12:33 pm

90 years ago on this day, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe was released from Soviet imprisonment. This marked the first show-down in a battle that would end up lasting 70 years. At that time (1927) the GPU (forerunner of the KGB) and Communist party had a Jewish sector that was singularly devoted to eradicating Judaism from Russia. (Other religions were targeted as well. In fact, on the night of the Rebbe’s arrest, 10 other faith leaders were arrested, some were eliminated by a firing squad that very night, making his survival that much more extraordinary.)

Reading the diary of the Previous Rebbe, in which he gives a detailed account of the experience, one discovers that he made a determined resolution to defy the Soviets without submitting to their intimidation in the slightest. Even as a prisoner in the feared Spalerno prison, he refused to behave submissively in any way, shape or form. He addressed them with open disregard. They had never dealt with a person who didn’t melt with fear under their threats and tortures. In the end they were forced to blink first and he was released and eventually left Russia. But not before establishing a vast network of underground Jewish activities that were manned by his Chassidim (at great peril and loss of life). He continued to direct and fund those activities, even traveling to the USA in 1929 to raise awareness and much needed support for the Russian Jews. Thanks to those efforts and self-sacrifice, the embers of Jewish life managed to keep burning throughout the 70 years of Communism. With the fall of the Soviet Union, those embers burst into flames as Jewish life sprung up from the underground.

What can we take away from this story that can impact the way we live our lives of serving Hashem? Thank G-d we do not live in fear of religious persecution. On the contrary, we live in a country where our right to worship is protected under the very constitution of the land. We do not have a KGB threatening to arrest us for practicing and teaching Judaism. On the contrary, our government encourages faith based communities, wishing them to thrive and flourish.

Our issue is the internal KGB (Yetzer Hara). Our KGB uses similar tactics, such as persuasive attacks utilizing the intelligent sounding language of progressiveness to tell us that our values are primitive. Our KGB tries to get us to feel the need to be like everyone else and not stick out and be unique. Our KGB tells us that if we would only assimilate all of our problems will dissipate. These are all eerily familiar to declarations of Soviet utopian promises. It didn’t help us then and it will not help us now. Just as the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe stared them down and didn’t flinch, we need to take the same approach with fortitude and strength in our devotion to Torah and Judaism! The result will be a strong Jewish people dedicated to Hashem.

I take this opportunity to wish my mother a happy milestone birthday. May Hashem bless her with healthy long years filled with nachas and spiritual meaning and success in all she does, together with my father in good health!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin 


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