What brought the Rebbe’s father to tears? Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson (1878-1944) served as chief rabbi of Dnepropetrovsk with unwavering piety, even under the harshest repression.
The Avner Institute presents the following encounter, where Rabbi Levi Pressman, of blessed memory, describes the daring act of his father-in-law that saved the future Lubavitcher Rebbe from Soviet hands. With special thanks to Rabbi Tuvia Litzman.
Ben-Tzion Goldschmidt would never have called himself a holy man, but his actions, as well as fervor, would have placed him in a close enough category. At least according to the chief rabbi of his town, Levi Yitzchak Schneerson. For Reb Goldschmidt a respected shochet, ritual slaughterer, was unquestionably pious. Even under the harsh new Soviet regime he remained defiantly Torah observant, just like the chief rabbi.
Once when the shochet came to visit the chief rabbi, he found Rabbi Schneerson weeping.
“What’s wrong?” Reb Goldschmidt asked.
The rabbi explained, “There is a Jew here, an informer who is trying to blackmail me.”
“Blackmail you?” Reb Goldschmidt exclaimed. “Why?”
Apparently in order to keep his son out of the Soviet army, and its dangerously secularizing influences, Rabbi Schneerson had been forced to pay large sums of money to this particular individual. However, this time the man had demanded an impossibly high sum.
“There is no telling what he might do,” Rabbi Schneerson said. “He might turn my son in.”
Bristling, the slaughterer demanded the man’s name and appearance. Shortly later he found this rogue at the synagogue, in the middle of prayer service. As the latter was chanting prayers, no doubt as a ruse to blend in, he caught the slaughterer’s stern look.
Motioning with his hands, Reb Goldschmidt signed that he wished to speak with him after the service.
The service soon ended. As the worshippers filed out, the informer approached the shochet, who abruptly grabbed him by the lapels and almost dragged him into a side room.
He drew out from his bag a long slaughtering knife. “See this?” he barked.
The informer nodded.
Reb Goldschmidt inched closer, practically breathing down the man’s neck. “If you ever make anymore attempts to squeeze money from Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, I shall personally take this knife and slit your throat. Do you hear me?”
Again the other nodded.
Reb Goldschmidt added, “And I don’t care if I rot in jail!”
Eyes wide with terror, the blackmailer backed away from the slaughterer, towards the exit. Once outside the man fled the building, and in fact, the entire town, never again to return.
When Rabbi Levi Yitzchak heard what had happened, he embraced the shochet:
“I owe you in this world and in the World-To-Come.”
This world was repaid many times over by Reb Goldschmidt’s courage. Because the son he had helped spare from service in the Red Army was none other than the future Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson.