The Kotzker Rebbe and the Crimean War:

Expressions of love for Jewish soldiers

I saw this Vort from the Kotzker mentioned in Harry Maryles’s Blog, Emes V’emunah, by a commentator named Ephraim.  I have not seen this Vort in  a sefer, but it is true to the Kotzker and keeping with the feeling of his responsibility to the entire nation of Israel.

The Kotzker said:

In the Gemara (Brachos 5a) it’s written that if one experiences ordeals he should examine his actions. If he examines them and finds no flaw, he should assume the ordeals are due to “Bitul Torah”. The Kotzker asks, if there was “Bitul Torah”, how could he have not find a flaw – Bitul Torah  is a flaw! Rather, what the Gemara means by Bitul Torah  is that he didn’t want to be involved in other Mitzvahs or the needs of the community since he was afraid that spending time on such things would be Bitul Torah. And this is criminal, because the entire Torah only comes to teach people how to help and benefit others and not just to provide fear and self-concern for the individual alone.

This idea that the Torah comes to teach people to feel the needs of and benefit others is beautifully expressed in the feelings of the Kotzker in the following story told on pages 71 and 72 of the book, “The Rebbe of Kotzk and the 60 Warriors Surrounding Him”, published in 1938 by Rabbi Pinchos Leib Glicksman.

The story took place during the Crimean War, 1853 -1856.  The Kotzker Rebbe longed for victory of England and their allies against the Russians. (The Kotzker was in Poland which was under Russian rule). He consistently inquired about the battlefield events. One time the Kotzker ask one of the Chassidim who came to visit, “What have you heard from the battlefront.” The Chassid answered, “ I heard that Czar Nikolai send an order that the officers should remove their golden medals from their uniforms.  The medals were bright, drew fire from the enemy sharpshooters, killing many officers, and depleting their ranks.   If so, the Kotzker replied, if they are removing their medals, they (the Russians) have lost the war. If a short while, as the Kotzker predicted happened and the Russians lost the war.

In the peace pact, the Russians had to disarm and could not keep an army for a number of years.    As a result many Jewish soldiers, including the Cantonists, were freed from army service and were able to go home.

The Kotzker ‘s sister-in-law, Feigle, the wife of the Chidushei Harim, traveled from Warsaw to Kotzk, to tell the Rebbe the good news, because she knew how much the Kotzker waited to hear this news.

This is the feeling of a leader of the Jewish people. The Kotzker knew that Jewish boys were suffering. We all know about the terrible ordeal of Jewish boys kidnapped for Russian army service, which in most cases was a death sentence. The Kotzker cared about the war because of Jewish suffering. He prayed and pleaded with God to free the boys from army service.   This is behind the Kotzker insistence to know what was happening on the battlefield.    He cared about each and every Jew. The Canonists were not throw away kids, they were his kids and he longed for their freedom.

The Crimean war was fought between the Russians and an alliance that included; England, the Ottoman Turkish Empire, France and Sardinia.   The battle of the Charge of the Light Brigade made famous by Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem occurred in the Battle of Balaclava on 10/25/1854 during the Crimean war.

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