When Rav Yisroel Spira zt”l, the Bluzhover Rebbe, was forced to relocate from Istrik, Poland, to Lvov, it was then under Soviet rule. According to Soviet practice, each person was to be employed in a productive job; otherwise, he was classified as a parasite and was liable to be exiled to Siberia. There were no exceptions. All chasidic rabbis had to find productive positions in the Communist utopia and were forbidden to use the title “Rabbi.”

And so, the Rebbe of Bluzhov became an insurance agent. At the end of each month, he had to prove that he had earned at least 1,000 rubles. In those days the Rebbe still had many followers. To produce a receipt at the end of the month for 1,000 rubles, together with a list of insured individuals, was no great task for him. In this way, the Rebbe was able to satisfy the Russian demands while continuing to serve his chasidim.

One December evening, the Russian commissar called for a regional meeting of all insurance agents. Attendance was mandatory. Among the insurance agents was one other chasidic Rebbe, the Boyaner Rebbe, Rav Avraham Yaakov Friedman zt”l. The night of the regional meeting coincided with the first night of Chanukah.

It was customary for many chasidim to assemble at their Rebbe’s house for the festive kindling of the first Chanukah light and for the celebration that followed. The Bluzhover Rebbe searched for any way in which to excuse himself from the forthcoming meeting so that he might celebrate the first night of Chanukah in the company of his chasidim.

Suddenly he had an idea. He smiled to himself and left for the commissar’s office. On the way there he took from his pocket his snuff box and began to sniff tobacco without stopping. By the time he reached the commissar, his nose was red and he kept sneezing. Between one sneezing attack and another, Rav Yisroel explained to the commissar that he had a very bad cold and would be unable to attend the evening meeting. The commissar, decorated with many medals, sat behind a huge desk covered with neatly arranged piles of paper. He listened to the rabbi with an obvious expression of disbelief.

“A strange coincidence,” he said while looking straight into the Rebbe’s eyes. “Only a few minutes ago, another insurance agent was here, an agent with a beard and side locks; and just like you, his nose was red as a flag and he did not stop sneezing. He, too, claimed that he had caught a cold and asked to be excused from tonight’s meeting.”

It was probably the Boyaner Rebbe, thought the Bluzhover to himself, as he tried to conceal his smile. He composed himself and replied, “It is quite natural for two people to catch a cold at this time of the year.”

The commissar did not reply. He got up from his chair and walked out of the room.

After a short while, he returned with a mischievous smile plastered on his face and resumed his seat beneath the huge portrait of Stalin. “Now I understand the cause of your sickness,” he said. “I have just checked my Jewish calendar. Tonight is the Jewish holiday of Chanukah and the kindling of the first light. Rabbi, you should have known better. In Russia, when concocting a story, one should make sure it is a solid one.”

Rav Yisroel paled at the thought of being caught red-handed and what the possible consequences for his “crime” would be. But then, the commissar relaxed his expression and lowered his tone. He said, “A word of advice, if I may? One can never be sure who is hiding behind the uniform of a Soviet commissar. If another commissar were sitting in my chair, you and your other sneezing friend would be nursing your colds in the Siberian plains. However, I am the son of the shochet of Mezhibuzh. Go home and kindle the first light of Chanukah.”

[Heroes of Faith]

Rabbi Dovid Hoffman is the author of the popular “Torah Tavlin” book series, filled with stories, wit and hundreds of divrei Torah, including the brand new “Torah Tavlin Yamim Noraim” in stores everywhere. You’ll love this popular series. Also look for his book, “Heroes of Spirit,” containing one hundred fascinating stories on the Holocaust. They are fantastic gifts, available in all Judaica bookstores and online at http://israelbookshoppublications.com. To receive Rabbi Hoffman’s weekly “Torah Tavlin” sheet on the parsha, e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.