“But happy soldiers!”

Friday, 26 August, 2016 - 7:03 am


Dear Friends,

Her name is Rochel, and she was born in Leningrad. When she was 13 years old the NKVD arrested her father, R’ Itche Raskin, on that infamous night of the arrest of the elite group of the Lubavitcher’s Rebbe’s soldiers, who had devoted themselves to keeping the spark of Judaism alive in Stalin’s Russia. This was in 1938 (5698). She never saw her father again; he was shot dead.

About ten years later, as a young married woman, she and her husband, Rabbi Nissan Pinson z”l, destitute refugees, were waiting  in France for instructions from the Rebbe as to whether they should continue to Kfar Chabad in the Holy Land, or come to Brooklyn, to live next to the Rebbe’s center. Much to their surprise, they were told to go out on a Shlichut (mission)! Where to? Morocco, and then Tunisia. I often try to imagine what they felt when they received this directive. After years of suffering under Soviet rule, their desire to live a normal life in Israel or in New York was probably at its strongest. And now – to go to a Moslem country? Morocco or Tunisia? I assume that they gritted their teeth, and perhaps blinked to stop their tears from coming, but saluted and said, “Yes, Sir!”

So, the gefilte fish met the spicy Moroccan fish. The young Russian Chabad couple, speaking Yiddish with a Russian accent, went to Morocco. They were and are a model for all the Shluchim all over the world. True soldiers.

Almost a decade after that, Mrs. Pinson managed to get a permit to go on a trip to America. She went to the Rebbe. But the moment she entered his room, just as the door closed behind her, this legendary woman burst into tears. Perhaps it was an unloading of all the pain she had had since her father was taken away, never to be seen again; perhaps it was a releasing of all the tensions and pressures after years of living in Morocco and Tunisia. Certainly, it included an element of deep yearning to see the Rebbe. But there was no despair or regret; for, a moment later, while still crying, she said in Yiddish, in a tone expressing much inner strength, a sentence that said everything - about her, her parents, her husband the rabbi and her children. It was a sentence that encompassed past, present and future: “Rebbe, we are the Rebbe’s soldiers!” The tears didn’t stop flowing, tears of pride in belonging to this special team.

The Rebbe listened, spread his hands out and said with a loving smile: “But happy soldiers!”

Rochel Pinson, may she enjoy good health, returned to Tunis and continued, with her husband, to raise generations of “freilichen Soldaten” (happy soldiers).

Dear friends, this week I was at the European conference of Shluchim, together with some of Rebbetzin Pinson’s sons and grandsons. We were in Russia, and we had to go from there to Belarus, in keeping with the Rebbe’s request from 25 years ago that the Shluchim visit the town of Liozna, where Chabad was started by Rabbi Schneur Zalman, Ba’al HaTanya. Unique, original Russian and Belarussian bureaucracy was doing its best to prevent us from entering. We waited at the border crossing for a long time – 500 Chassidim who had no intention of giving in. And then, when it looked like there was no chance of success, that the Russian government was intent on preventing us from fulfilling “our Rebbe’s” request – as if the 250 years of confrontation between Lubavitch and Russia were not over yet – we all started dancing happily. This was not a dance of hope, nor was it a dance of prayer, but rather a dance of trust, the inner trust that there is no power in the world that can prevent us from reaching our goal.

And I just closed my eyes and imagined Mrs. Pinson crying and hearing those words: “but happy soldiers!”

p.s. You think they didn’t let us in? Of course they did!


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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