Among the many decrees that were issued by the evil Nazi government in the ghettos was the prohibition for Jews to immerse in a mikvah. The mikvaos were sealed (by the Germans), and on the door was affixed a note stating that opening the mikvah or using it will be considered an act of sabotage with punishment ranging from ten years in jail to the death penalty.

However, the Piaseczna Rebbe, Rav Kalonymus Kalman Shapira zt”l, Hy”d, came to a firm decision: On the eve of Yom Kippur, a Jew must immerse himself in the mikvah. It was important for his purity. The objections from his close followers were of no avail. After a number of secret consultations between the Rebbe and the owner of one of the mikvaos, the decision was made. Towards dawn on the day of Erev Yom Kippur, a time when the Jews were allowed to walk in the streets (to work), a small group headed by the Rebbe started their perilous march to the mikvah. Darkness still prevailed outside. It was a long distance from the Rebbe’s house to the mikvah. They had ordered a rickshaw (a means of transportation in the ghetto) but it did not arrive. It was already ten minutes past five in the morning. They decided to walk on foot – maybe the rickshaw would arrive in the meantime. The rickshaw had been given strategic instructions and knew how to reach the place, which streets to use, and where to stop. Some obstacle must have been put in its way, as unfortunately happened many times.

The group descended the staircase silently and, then, an unforeseen event: The building’s janitor, a non-Jew, was not interested in getting up at such an early hour to open the gate. He wanted to know why the Jews were up so early and where they were going. A big coin softened his heart and he agreed to open the gate. With deliberate steps, they walked in pairs, keeping a set distance between each pair. Their hearts beat like hammers, eyes tried to pierce the deep darkness of the night in order to detect any approaching shadow. Suddenly, they heard the bell of the nightly streetcar approaching. They ran in the direction of the stop, but as they came closer, they saw that it was an Aryan streetcar, forbidden for the Jews. It was impossible to wait for a Jewish streetcar since this would take a long time. They walked from one street to another. Suddenly, the searchlights of a car dazzled their eyes. They remained standing in place, petrified. In these days, it is not desirable to encounter a car: In most cases, you are invited to step inside, never to return. Luckily, the car passed by and continued on its way without stopping. Holding their breath, they passed by all the dangerous points and finally arrived at the building where the mikvah was located. The courtyard was dark. Mysterious shadows appeared close to the walls and disappeared in a side basement.

A secret messenger was standing there, waiting for them. Silently, he directed their way. The Rebbe and his devoted followers went down into a dark basement. The door closed above their heads. They went groping in the dark. They received instructions to walk straight and then make a left turn. They reached an opening in the wall. With great effort, they pressed themselves through the opening. They were now standing on a heap of wood that looked like it was blocking their way, but after a successful leap, they found themselves in the corridor finally leading to the door of the mikvah.

Without taking into consideration the possible dangers involved, the Piaseczna Rebbe and his inspired group felt thrilled. In front of their eyes, they saw a live picture of their forefathers in Spain, saving Torah scrolls from destruction or praying in underground synagogues out of fear of the Inquisition. They certainly never imagined that 400 years later their grandsons would be in a much more difficult situation, and if they wanted to immerse themselves in honor of the festival, they would have to go through a process full of dangers like in those days. In the mikvah, they saw a number of visitors who somehow had heard that the mikvah was to be open for one hour. Quietly, in great haste, they all immersed themselves in the mikvah in honor of the holy day of Yom Kippur. After a few minutes, they were on their way back through the basement just as they came.

Standing in the courtyard, they looked at the well-known poster: “Opening the mikvah or using it will be considered as an act of sabotage with punishment from ten years in jail to the penalty of death.” But they didn’t feel deathly – they felt alive! They had just fulfilled a purifying mitzvah, and those who lived to tell about it would never forget that experience forever.

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 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.