For the Jews of Russia, the end of the 19th century was a time of darkness. The “Enlightenment” movement was gaining momentum while attempts by the rabbis to shield the Jews of their communities were proving unsuccessful.
One winter evening, several people wearing warm fur coats appeared on a deserted street and one by one entered a large building. This was a gathering of the leaders of “Enlightenment” for a secret meeting.
William Schmidt opened the meeting with the following statement - “We are all aware how much work our friend, Frederick Kreps, has put into this. Our plan is to use the material he has collected to finalize our goals.”
Kreps got up, cleared his throat and said the following - “I thank you. I have worked many months gathering material on Jewish life. I have spent many days in libraries studying the sources. The results of my investigation will help you prepare accusations against religious Jews in that they are trying to destroy Russian culture.”
Kreps paused and looked at his colleagues’ admiring faces. He was very proud of himself but was trying to maintain equanimity. “I have decided to travel to St. Petersburg to meet with the Minister of Education. I want to push through a bill which will allow us to finish off our enemies.”
The Rebbe Rashab (the 5th Rebbe of Chabad) was sitting in his study poring over the Talmud but something was bothering him. Suddenly he picked up his head and summoned his son, Yosef Yitzchak, his successor. R. Yosef Yitzchak rushed to his father.
“My son”, said the Rebbe, “you must know that the “maskilim” (the enlighteners) are hatching awful plans against the G-d. If they succeed in pushing through their terrible decree, what will happen to thousands of Jewish children?”
His son listened quietly to his father’s instructions: “Travel to Petersburg and do everything you can to annul the decree.” Yosef Yitzchak left his father’s study realizing the grave threat hanging over the Jewish people and immediately embarked on his journey.
Upon arrival in Petersburg, he immediately got to work using his connections with government officials and met with many influential people. After several days of hard work, he realized that everything was for naught, no one was willing to help him. In desperation, he sent a telegram to his father that all of his efforts had not brought the desired results. The answer came quickly - “You must do everything to annul the decree.” Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok continued his efforts but returned home, not having achieved any results.
* * *
The Rebbe Rashab was getting ready for the morning prayers. He had placed his prayer shawl on his shoulder and was checking the tzitzis. In walked Yosef Yitzchok and said - “Father, I have done everything I could but to no avail.”
The Rebbe Rashab looked at him closely and began speaking as if to himself.
“Once, the Alter Rebbe sent his son on a mission. Some time later, the son came back and reported that he had failed.
The Alter Rebbe at that point was getting ready for the morning prayers with his tallis draped over his right shoulder examining its fringes. Having heard his son’s report, the Rebbe turned to him and asked - “See this tallis? It symbolizes the surronding G-dly light. This light binds the eyes of the opposing forces.” His son grabbed the fringes, kissed them and went back to his task.
“This time, he succeeded”, concluded the Rebbe Rashab.
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok approached his father, kissed the fringes and departed.
* * *
Upon his return to Petersburg, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok thought deeply into the matter in an attempt to find a solution to the problem. He finally hit on an idea. He set out to the hotel where Frederick Kreps, the “maskil” was staying. This was a luxurious hotel with Persian rugs on the walls, gold candelabras, stucco ceilings, and elegant furniture.
Kreps was sitting at his desk and on it was a pile of papers which he was trying to organize. He heard a knock on the door and was very surprised to see the son of the famous Lubavitcher Rebbe whom he knew very well.
Kreps greeted Yosef Yitzchak and the asked - “Have you heard of the new decrees?” Yosef Yitzchak responded - “Of course, but they have no chance of passing as the government has no evidence.”
Kreps smirked - “No evidence?!” Yosef Yitzchak then responded, setting up a trap - “You’re likely afraid to show it!”
“Not at all”, declared Kreps and pulled out a stack of papers from a drawer. “Take a look.”
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak picked up the papers and began to carefully examine them. Kreps was silently watching and then suddenly blurted out - “You will soon meet your demise! In a few days we will force you to drop these outdated, progress-blocking customs.”
Suddenly Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak began to tear the papers one by one.
Kreps was stunned, blood draining from his face, while the rabbi kept on quietly and methodically destroying the “accusing” documents.
By the time Kreps regained his composure, the rug in the room was strewn with pieces of paper which, until a few minutes before, were the “evidence” against Judaism.
“What have you done?” - shouted Kreps. “All my work is ruined! In a few days there will be a session of the council of the Ministers and how will I look?”
He then lunged at the rabbi and landed a powerful punched on his face.
The Rabbi silently got up, took his coat, and left.
* * *
Soon after, Yosef Yitzchak was walking into his father’s study. A broad smile appeared on the Rebbe Rashab’s face. The son then told him how he had been able to annul the decree.
A few days later, Frederick Kreps suddenly passed away.