Until the last drop of blood

Thursday, 20 June, 2013 - 8:15 pm

The year was 1923. The place was Leningrad. Ten men gathered for a secret meeting. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, presided over the gathering. Together they forged a pact – promising to do everything in their power - until the last drop of blood - to ensure the survival of Judaism in the face of the communist onslaught.

Most of those men, along with hundreds of others inspired by them, indeed gave their last drop of blood for the cause. A few survived to tell the tales of courage and fortitude – of the establishment of a secret network of underground Jewish institutions. Schools, mikvahs, ritual slaughter and circumcision, all illegal and punishable by death or years in Siberian gulags.  When one man was arrested, sent to Siberia or killed, G-d forbid, another man was immediately dispatched to take his place.

At the center of this network was the individual responsible for providing the material and spiritual support – the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe. He was intimately involved in every decision that was made, every institution that was founded, and every person that was sent. He would later share how painful it was when each person was arrested, exiled to Siberia or worse.

Eventually the Soviets caught up with this Lubavitch network and in the summer of 1927 they arrested the Previous Rebbe and sentenced him to death. Through great miracles he was released from prison just under a month later – on the 12th of Tammuz (today’s Hebrew date) and was subsequently banished from the USSR. From outside Russia he continued to direct and support his Chassidim and their activities. Who knows what would have been, G-d forbid, had the Soviets carried out their intentions against him.

70 years later, with the fall of the USSR, it became apparent just how effective this network remained throughout the years to keep the embers of Judaism glowing in the face of immense adversity. For more on this see Embers – a video documentary at

The Previous Rebbe managed to somehow inspire a generation of followers to exercise Mesirus Nefesh – actual self-sacrifice for Judaism. When a person is in the state of mesirus nefesh the level of their intensity is so high that it elevates every element of their being. They become entirely consumed with dedication to Hashem and Judaism.

The Rebbe once commented, that the real challenge is to maintain this level of intensity once the threat of danger has passed. He pointed out that many of these individuals who were ready to go through fire and water for Judaism in Russia were more passive once they moved to the relative serenity of the US or Israel. Thus, he declared, the call of our times is to find that level of intensity without the physical threat. Can the threat of assimilation be motivating enough to be ready to invest the same intensity and dedication shown by the last generation in the USSR?

This is the modern message of the 12th of Tammuz. To have the same heightened level of intensity for Judaism during times of tranquility that our grandfathers had during the times of persecution.

Mazel Tov to our dear Parisian friend David Gies upon his upcoming marriage to Karine Lenczner. May they be blessed with happiness and a wonderful life together.

Mazel Tov to my parents, Rabbi Zelig and Bluma Rivkin upon the engagement of my brother Yosef to Binie Harlig. May there continue to be only happy occasions in the family and the entire community.

Wishing you a good Shabbos!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


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