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{336 - Yiddish} {716 - Hebrew}

The Lamed-Vavnik[1]

by M. B. Sztejn

Translated by Jerrold Landau

From the death of the Lamed Vavnik one could learn about his life. Aside from the rabbi, there was in Sochaczew one other Lamed Vavnik, who protected the city.

The key to those hidden people in whose merit the world exists is guarded under the Divine Throne, and only G-d himself knows the secret. Their power is exceedingly great. There is no reason to talk about them during their lifetimes. As is the case with everything that is hidden – the more that it is hidden the greater it is. The matter only becomes revealed after the death of such a person. Such was the case with Yakir the shoemaker.

His countenance shone with the Divine shadow. He was pale and sublime – like a precious stone. He had a long, wide beard that flowed over his cloak. It was a silvery beard. Yakir Shuster the shoemaker, to whom nobody paid attention, had a special merit … For on Sabbath evenings after the candles had gone out and the city was enveloped in a deep slumber – Yakir Shuster was awake and called out in a soft voice, saturated with pleading, to the Jews of Sochaczew to recite Psalms.

He did not awaken anyone from their sleep, heaven forbid, and even more so not on the Sabbath, for he would not even hurt a fly on the wall. He only requested that people arise for the recitation of Psalms, and his soft voice trilled:

Please hearken my beloved people

What I say to you:

The Clock has already struck three

And the time to recite Psalms has arrived.

His voice was heard from one end of the city to the other end. He did not only awaken the Jews, but also the gentiles. He awakened the fields and forests, and no gentile, including the priest and the administrator, was brazen enough to chastise him for waking up people in the middle of the nights. They disappeared before his silken voice. This was only because King David himself accompanied him and protected him[2].

Thus was his custom year after year – in the summer and winter, in the deep snow, violent storms, and the freezing cold, he would go out on Friday evenings to call the people for the recitation of Psalms – and his voice would fill the empty space of the Beis Midrash. When the Sabbath morning prayers began, the simple folk, tailors and shoemakers, had already concluded the recitation of the verses of the sweet singer of Israel[3], and their voice had opened up the gates of mercy.

As things came to pass, the hand of Esau overpowered the voice of Jacob[4], and on Tisha Beav, the day that is marked by disaster, the gentiles were inspired to conduct a battle, and a commotion started in the city. A notice was posted near the citadel by the gentiles calling the Jews to battle. The Jews stood, men and women, weeping and praying for an annulment of the evil decree. Only one person – Yakir the shoemaker – did not move from his shoemaker's stool. He did not raise his bright eyes, and he banged nail after nail into the hard soles. People passed by him and pierced him with their gaze.

However what did it matter to him? He had no children who would be fitting to conscript for the battle, and he himself was already old.

Yakir the shoemaker did not answer. He sat as if mute nailing nails into the hard soles, and his bright eyes that sparked as the stars were gazing down. For what comfort was there in the mouth of the shoemaker for the distraught people who were first to turn over their dear ones to the hands of Esau?

{Photo on bottom of page 717 – Reb Leib Zawadski, the founder of the Bible study society, and his wife Frimet.}

{338 - Yiddish} {718 - Hebrew}

Did He Not Promise You…

By Moshe Levanon

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Many years ago there was in Sochaczew a water-drawer by the name of Kalman Yankel.

There were several water-drawers in the town who drew water from the Bzura. In the summer they would be dripping with moisture, and in the winter they were covered with furs which froze like ice.

However, none of them had pails similar to those of Kalman Yankel. His pails were tied to a heavy pole, and they looked like large casks. He dragged them along with an erect posture, looking in front of him with protruding reddish eyelashes surrounding his eyes, as if he accepted upon himself his burden to atone for some sin that he had transgressed, and not for the porting of water or any other such matter[5].

He never knew how many times he dragged pails of water, and to which houses. When he was asked how many times he dragged water, he became perplexed and answered with difficulty:

"More than five."

It seems as if he dragged ten, and at times even twenty, in one session.

He never requested any payment for the porting of water. This was not his job, but that of his wife Freda. She kept the accounts, and therefore, as she was wont, she talked disparagingly about him, and told about her difficult life with him as she took what was owed to her.

Summer and winter, at dawn, as people were reciting the Shema[6], Kalman Yankel took the large pails, tied them to his pole, kissed his mezuzah and went down to the river. He filled them with water and returned to the city. Then he would go back, without tiring, without resting, and without uttering a word from his mouth. The impression was given that he would be forever going to the river to draw water; however suddenly, he removed the pole and pails from his shoulder, and returned again to the river not in order to draw water, but to fish with a fishing rod that was in his hand.

Nobody ever knew if Kalman Yankel ever caught a fish. And what about Freda? Perhaps she knew and perhaps she did not. It was clear that he did not sell any fish. He would stand at the riverbank until evening, with the fishing rod in his hand, looking at the water. Close to sundown he would go the Beis Midrash for the mincha and maariv prayers.

In the Beis Midrash he never moved far away from the group that sat at the end of the table that was next to the door, beside the two large heating ovens. From there, with his hands down, he stared at the Holy Ark, and did not move. He only nodded his head, as if he was agreeing with the words of somebody – but that was all. He did not answer "Amen" or "Barchu"[7]. He would stand at that edge of the table also on festivals during the prayers, with his clean prayer shawl hanging from him. His hands were always down, as they were when he was drawing water. Without moving he stood and gazed.

He was never honored with an "Aliya"[8] to the Torah. They did not know if he would know the blessings to make over the Torah – and they did not want to embarrass him. However, once a year, on Simchas Torah, he was honored with a "Hakafa"[9]. He would make the circuit quietly, with the scroll in his hand, without opening his mouth, as if deep in thought. He did not sing, he did not dance, and he did not rejoice with the Torah scroll, he just gazed ahead –

They knew him well in the city. "Mothers would warn their lazy children – "You will turn out like Kalman Yankel". Storekeepers would insult each other by saying – "All you are is a Kalman Yankel". He went through his life as "Kalman Yankel", and nobody ever told stories about him, except for the following incident that took place with him:

In a hot day in the month of Tammuz[10], around noon, he stood as usual by the river with his fishing rod in his hand. A carriage approached the river, and a merchant came out, undressed, and entered the water to bathe. Kalman Yankel did not pay attention, and certainly did not speak to the stranger. Perhaps he did not even notice. The stranger bathed, came out from the river, got dressed – and left just as he had arrived, and silence again enveloped the area of the river. Kalman Yankel continued to gaze forward.

Suddenly his rod started to be dragged downward, along with the float and the bait. Kalman Yankel was not concerned. He saw this as a sign that a fish was being sent to him from Heaven. He raised his rod, removed the silver fish from it, and placed it in the basket that was next to him. He then noticed a paper bag that was next to his basket. He deliberated as to whether to pick it up or not. He was not overly excited, however his curiosity was piqued and he picked it up. It was not a small bag, but rather a substantial one, filled with gold and silver coins.

"Dead heads" – he thought, and they should be buried. He dug a pit, placed the treasure inside, and put a branch on top of it so that he would be able to recognize the burial place.

A short time thereafter the carriage returned, and the desperate merchant came out. This was the place that he had bathed, and he had lost his treasure of coins. He searched and searched, and looked at Kalman Yankel.

"I have lost a large sum of money, silver and gold coins, and I am distraught."

Money? Kalman Yankel did not see coins, but rather heads. He found dead heads and buried them.

"Where?" He pointed to the branch that was placed in the earth.

The merchant leaped to the place, and exposed his lost treasure. With great joy he turned to Kalman Yankel.

"Fellow Jew, you have saved me". He took a handful of gold coins and gave them to him. "Take! Take! You have saved an entire family, take the wages for your efforts!"

"Heads, dead heads, what do I need them for?" – He said.

The merchant forced the money into his hands and said:

"Take! This is not theft, Heaven forbid. This is the commandment of returning a lost object."

"But not dead heads"…

The merchant looked at him as if he was looking at a madman. He then went to Reb Elazarel, related the incident to him, and left him money for charity.

The Rabbi took the money. There was no shortage of poor and needy people in town. However the incident itself was mysterious to him, but he did not talk about it.

In the evening, after the evening services (maariv), Kalman Yankel hurried to the Rabbi and told him that:

"Immediately after he returned home from the evening prayers, his wife came after him with an axe as if to murder him. He barely escaped."

The Rabbi sent his assistant and called Freda.

"Is such a thing possible? Did you approach him with an axe in your hand? Did you wish to murder your husband? A Jewish woman…"

"Rabbi, I don't have the strength to continue on with my difficult and impoverished life with him. I cannot continue on. If G-d had sent him a treasure, was it not befitting for him? He did not wish to keep the handful of gold coins that the merchant gave him. No, I don't want a husband such as this…"

The Rabbi explained to her the greatness of the commandment of returning a lost object. Kalman Yankel stood up to the trial. He did not wish to take any reward in return for the commandment (mitzvah). His reward would be great in the true world[11], after 120 years.

"However, what benefit do I get from his mitzvah? Why is my life in such straits?"

"Freda, you are correct. I decree that you should promise Freda one half of your reward in the world to come. She suffers along with you."

"Oh Rabbi" – the man trembled.

The Rabbi remained seated in his place. Kalman Yankel was not a simple person. He understood the greatness of his reward in the world to come.

The Rabbi stood up, approached Kalman Yankel and said:

"Tell me, who are you?"

As if he was forced to give up everything dear to him, he answered:

"Rabbi, let it be as you decided – I grant one half of my reward in the world to come to Freda".

He hurried to leave.

Rabbi Elazarel was lost in thought. If Kalman Yankel does not wish to reveal whom he is, he should not be forced.

However, the entire town found out about the incident, and they began to look upon him in a different light. They no longer mocked him, and the women would console Freda for her acceptance of her bitter lot in life:

"Did he not promise you, after 120 years".


1. Lamed Vav is the number 36. According to legend, in every generation, there are 36 extra-special righteous people, whose righteousness is a greatly kept secret from others. A Lamed Vavnik is a term referring to such a person. Here, the connotation is a righteous person who was not fully appreciated during his lifetime. Return

2. King David was the author of the book of Psalms. Return

3. A reference to King David. Return

4. A reference from the book of Genesis from the statement that Isaac made upon feeling Jacob's disguise when he came to his father to receive the blessing that was intended for his brother Esau. In this context, the phrase 'the voice of Jacob' refers to the prayers of the Jewish people, and 'the hands of Esau' refers to the violence of the gentiles. Return

5. The final phrase of this sentence does not appear to fit in to the context. Return

6. A portion of the morning prayers. Return

7. Various congregational responses during communal prayer. Return

8. On every occasion of public reading of the Torah (Sabbaths and Festivals, Monday and Thursday mornings, fast days and the New Moon), several men, the number depending on the occasion, are called up in succession to participate in the reading of the Torah. These men recite a blessing upon being called up. This procedure is called an "Aliya". Return

9. On Simchas Torah, seven festive circuits are made around the synagogue with all the Torah scrolls. Each circuit is called a "Hakafa". Return

10. The Hebrew month spanning anywhere from mid June to early August. Return

11. This refers to the reward in the Hereafter. 120 years refers to the fullest possible expected human lifespan (the number of years of Moses' life), and "after 120 years" is a term that a person uses to describe the time period after his death, without bringing on the "evil eye" by explicitly referring to his own death. Return



by Y. Tz.

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Childhood games

As is the custom of all children of the earth, the Jewish children of Sochaczew used to play various games. I will list some of them here.

1. The game of buttons

This game was based on winning and losing. Two or more children would play. The game took place upon the ground. With the movement of the fingers we would bring one button close to the other, and whoever would hit the button of his friend would win it. This was played in pairs or alone. The mothers in particular suffered from this game: for the children would pilfer any button from the house, and they also did not hesitate to remove buttons from their clothing. The varieties, types, and values of buttons were numerous, and lucky would be the player whose pockets were filled with the best types…

2. Horse and Rider

This game was played by young children in pairs. The main implement of play was a rope. Others used a thin stick or a detached branch. The rope served as a harness which was placed upon the shoulders of the child who played the role of horse. The other child who took the other end of the rope in his hand was the rider. The rider prodded the "horse" with shouts and whistles, and thus did they gallop along in pairs in the outskirts of the city.

3. Cops and Robbers

This game was a delight to the players of both roles: the robbers who are chased, and the cops who catch the robbers.

At a certain agreed upon sign, the robbers would separate from the group and flee and hide. The cops would chase after them and imprison those who did not succeed in hiding. The imprisonment was done with great fanfare, accompanied by screams and shouts of corrupted Polish and Russian swear words, as well as the tying of the hands with a rope. A stick served as a gun or sword, and they accompanied the prisoners to their jail.

4. Rolling Wheels

The implements of this game consisted of wheels and hoops made of metal or wood, as well as sticks. The children rolled the wheels, and beat them with the sticks in their hand in order to speed them up.

This game made a lot of noise and tumult in the street due to the grinding of the wheels against the stones of the street or the alleyway, as well as the beating of the wheels by the children, and the shouts of encouragement.

5. "Wars"

Older children played this game in the summer evenings, and in particular on Sabbath and festival afternoons in the public garden, in the courtyards of the marketplace, and in particular outside the town. The number of participants was variable. The participants were children who were above the age of Bar Mitzvah[12]. They were accompanied by younger children who did not go out to the "front". These served a secondary role: they were the assistants and arms-bearers of the older children. The wars took place for the most part by the throwing of rocks. When the chestnut trees ripened, the chestnuts served as missiles.

After the Germans captured the city, the war game took place in a true ambience[13]. The warriors dressed themselves up in the remnants of military gear such as belts and knapsacks, and they strung long narrow poles on their backs that served as javelins. The rubble of the destroyed houses and the trenches served as a realistic background to the game.

The participants were split into two camps and took their posts. A brave and nimble captain headed each camp.

The war took place by the throwing of stones from one camp to the other. Not infrequently, a warrior was wounded on his head or on another part of the body, and blood flowed. Wounds and dry sores were commonplace. When the stones were used up, the assistants provided new stones.

This game was accompanied by military pomp, in particular with the capturing of prisoners. At the conclusion of the game, the freeing of prisoners was accompanied by an elaborate ceremony. At first, they were exchanged one for one, and those remaining were exchanged for arms, such as javelins, knapsacks and belts.


Translated by Jerrold Landau

Father was Sentenced to Death

It took place in 1905. Echoes of the fermentation of the revolution came to our city as well. In one episode, father of blessed memory was visiting the home of a relative and heard that the maid was insulting the mistress of the house. Her behavior angered him, and he grabbed her by the neck and removed her to behind the door.

The young maid complained to someone, and as a result, father was summoned to appear before the revolutionary court at a late hour in the evening, in a certain forest in the village of Trojanow. However, father did not answer the summons and did not appear for the judgement, because he did not take it seriously, or for some other reason. Later in the day, a special messenger brought him word of the verdict that was issued in absentia. According to him, he was sentenced to death. Pinchas Graubard, our relative, signed the verdict.

After extensive negotiations, the death sentence was commuted via a ransom sum of 100 rubles, and the letter indicating the commuting of the sentence was published in the leaflet of the revolutionary movement that appeared in our town. This small withered leaflet that contained the letter of commutation, duplicated by hectograph was kept in our family archives for many years.


The Blind Man

The image of "Meir the blind" remains in my memory as he was sitting on the porch of the house of Leibish Graubard, with his cane between his knees, winking with his blind eyes, eating the food that was served to him, with a pleased expression upon his face. The Graubard children were gathered around him serving him another course of food.

When the blind man finished eating and was satiated, those who surrounded him would test his wonderful sense of touch: they would give him a metal coin and ask him its value, and afterward, they would give banknotes of various values, and Meir would identify them without difficulty. Afterward, they would give him various pieces of textile and pieces of paper and ask him their color.

The blind man would feel the material that was given to him, "guess" the color and would not make a mistake. This was wondrous to the children. To conclude the difficult examination, the most interesting and delightful question test would be given: one of the group would turn to the blind man and say to him: "Meir, one of us will extend their hand to you in greeting, will you please identify the person". Meir held the hand that was extended to him for a few moments and said: "this is so-and-so the son of so-and-so". The surprise of the children was without bound, even though they had already proven that "Meir the blind" never makes a mistake.


The Death of the Rabbi

In my childhood they used to say that in the merit of that Tzadik I am alive. This merit happened to me by virtue of the following story: when I was a baby I became very ill, and on a Sabbath eve my sickness worsened and my father – even though he was a Misnaged[14] – ran very late in the evening to the rabbi and begged him to pray for mercy for me. The rabbi blessed me by saying: "the merit of the Sabbath will stand by the baby!". His statement took effect, apparently, as I regained my health.

When I was a small boy, father once entered into the home in a very emotional state, with the lapel of his coat ripped in "keria"[15]. After he washed his hands he related that he just so happened to have been in the lumber warehouse of my Uncle Moshe Rechtman, which borders on the house of the rabbi. Suddenly he heard the cry: "Jews, the rabbi is dying". Father jumped over the gate and therefore merited to be among the quorum of Jews who stood by the bedside of the rabbi during his final moments. All of those who were at the bedside of the deceased rent their garments in "keria".

The news of the death of the Tzadik spread very quickly throughout the city, and with my own ears I heard children saying: "The rabbi, he should live and be well, has passed away".[16]

Immediately, great preparations began to be made: people streamed into the courtyard of the rabbi and into the street. After a short time, ever increasing groups of Hassidim began to stream into the town. They would come on wagons from nearby places, and by train from farther places. It is related that the Hassidim in the larger cities hired special trains in order to come to the rabbi's funeral. Jewish stores were closed, and even the few Christian businessmen in the town closed their stores. The students of the cheder were sent home.

In the carpenter's courtyard that opened onto the street, I saw that they were preparing a new "bed".


12. 13 years of age. Return

13. This presumably refers to the First World War. Return

14. A non-Hassid (literally an opponent of Hassidism). Return

15. "Keria" (literally a tear) is a tear that is commanded by Jewish law to be made in a garment on the occasion of the death of a close relative. Customarily, this tear may have been made as well on the occasion of the death of a great spiritual leader. Return

16. Obviously, they were referring to the rabbi with their usual expression, not realizing that it no longer made sense. Return



The youth who were in the next few weeks scheduled to go through their physical examinations in order to determine their fitness for conscription into the army of Nikolai were known by this name.

Prior to the conscription events, gentile conscripts from the neighboring villages would begin to appear in the town, and they would instill fear into the Jewish residents, particularly during the evenings. They would fill up the taverns, make noise and become boisterous. Groups of drunks would then go through the outskirts of the city, and the Jews would be wary of running into them.

It was a different situation for the groups of Jewish conscripts. Relatively, there were very few of them, a few from the town and the remainder from the neighboring villages. Their gathering place would be the house of study. I knew three things about them: they would afflict themselves, recite psalms, and at time also play practical jokes.

The Jewish conscripts attempted to lose as much weight as possible, so that the state of their health would be judged to be unfit and they would be invalidated for army service. They did this by depriving themselves of food, drink, and sleep, by smoking many cigarettes and drinking strong tea. In order to overcome the desire for sleep, they would gather in the evenings in the house of study to recite psalms.

Pairs of conscripts would go door to door in order to request money for candles, so that they would be able to light up the study hall in the nights. The residents generally responded generously to this appeal. It once happened that one of the householders did not donate sufficiently to this appeal, or insulted the honor of the conscripts in some other manner, and they would then take revenge by playing a practical joke on that person. They would remove the wooden steps from the door of the person, and in the morning the members of the household would not be able to leave their home. In other cases, they would remove the shutters from the windows, remove the nameplate, or other such thing.


A Desire which was Fulfilled

Every ring of the bell in the city that told news of a fire frightened the Jews. During the summer, many fires broke out in the surrounding villages, primarily at night. Those who were asleep would be awakened by the bell, get out of bed, and go outside and ask one another: "Where is the fire?".

Sometimes, fires broke out during the day, and then we children would follow closely what was happening around the fire. At first there would be an alarm sounded by a bell. Whoever first saw the fire or received news of it hastened to a special bell that was set up for that purpose, and would pull the rope of the bell in order to ring the bell loudly.

At the first sound of the bell, the volunteer firemen would hasten to their posts. As they were running, they would put on their capes, and fasten their belts to their loins. Afterwards, groups of horses that happened to be in the area, or happened to be in nearby stables, would be harnessed to the fire fighter's vehicles and would gallop in the direction of the fire.

Only one thing interested me of all this activity – the ringing of the bell. How jealous was I of the lucky person who merited to pull the rope and to alert the entire city. I dreamed that this honor would sometime come to me.

My dream was fulfilled in an unexpected manner: one night the members of our own household were awakened under strong moonlight to a fire in our own yard. I ran as fast as lightning into the street, emotional and excited, and I began to pull the rope of the bell in order to summon the firefighters and residents to come to help. I was trembling from emotion and fear.


Early Morning Excursions

During the spring season, in particular in the month of May, groups of older youth would organize excursion in the early hours of the morning called "maiowki". For the most part, they would go to the forest or a grove around a stream or water or a spring, several miles away from the city.

At the set time, the first people would arrive at the meeting place. A role call would take place to determine who was missing. When everyone was present, they would set out. At first they would go quietly in order not to wake up the residents who were still asleep, however as we got farther from the city, the hikers would become louder, and break out in song.

When the group reached their destination, they would sit on the ground in the shade of the trees. The day's activities would begin with a communal breakfast. They would pass the time with games, conversation and reading. The excursion would end during the afternoon, due to the necessity to dine with the family for the Sabbath or festival meal.

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