Uplifted from Disgrace
The war clouds hovering over Europe were growing darker by the day, casting fearful shadows on the Jews. The first to experience the terror were the Jews of Germany and Austria.
The rebbe of Sadigura, Rabbi Avraham Yaakov of Vienna (great-grandson of Rabbi Yisrael of Ruzhin) was greatly pained at the suffering of his people. The looks of utter disdain on the faces of the German soldiers were enough to convince the rebbe that Vienna was not his true home. The harsh decrees and tragic, ruthless murders perpetrated against the Jews, made it even more agonizingly obvious.
And yet, despite, or perhaps because of the darkening horizon, the rebbe continued to gather his students, and share with them the light of the Torah. One day, as he and his students sat learning in the beit midrash, they were startled to hear guttural shouts coming nearer to them. Suddenly, the beit midrash door burst open, and, to the horror of all present, in walked two Nazi soldiers. The Nazis singled out the rebbe, and ordered him outside. The Nazis then turned to the students and commanded them outside, as well.
As the rebbe walked out the door, he saw that he and his students were not the only ones being ordered to stand on the street. The streets of Vienna soon became crowded with Jews, as the Nazis stood guard, with looks of glee on their faces. The Jews had no choice but to wait and see what the Nazis had in mind for them.
In the middle of the street stood one Nazi captain. The smugness in his voice was apparent, as he called out “Jews, welcome your new street cleaners!” The Jews turned to look in the direction of the Nazi’s outstretched finger, and realized with horror what the Nazi intended. The great Torah leaders of the city, the Sadigura Rebbe among them, were being forced to clean the city streets.
Left with no choice, the rabbis took the brooms they were given, and began to sweep. Before the forlorn gaze of his congregants, and the mocking glare of the Nazis, the great Sadigura Rebbe cleaned the streets. As he cleaned, however, he said a silent prayer. “Hashem, if I leave this place alive, and succeed in reaching Israel, I promise that I will happily sweep those holy streets.” After several hours of this humiliating exercise, the rabbis were finally allowed to return home.
Several weeks after that demeaning public display, the Nazis made another attempt at mocking the rebbe. They informed him that he was required to hang a Nazi flag in his beit midrash. Once again, the Sadigura Rebbe prayed “Hashem, if I leave this country alive, and merit going to Israel, I promise that I will hang the Israeli flag prominently.”
Rabbi Avraham endured many hardships, but, eventually succeeded in escaping the clutches of the Nazis. He moved to Israel, and settled in Tel Aviv. The rebbe made sure to fulfill his promise. He would awaken at 3:00 am, and go out and sweep the streets of his beloved home land. When Yom Haatzma’ut would arrive, he would hang an Israeli flag from the roof of his home, with great happiness and enthusiasm.
This touching story raises an interesting question. Why was it permitted for the Sadigura Rebbe to sweep the streets in Israel? Why was this not considered a degradation of the honor of a Torah scholar?
(See Bi’ur Halach, siman 251, paragraph beginning “Because it is his honor”)
Answer of Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, shlita:
Because the Sadigura Rebbe would sweep the streets at 3:00 am, no one saw, and, therefore, there was no concern of degradation of a Torah scholar. Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, shlita responded similarly, and suggested that this is most likely the reason that the rebbe chose to sweep at 3:00 am – so that he would not be seen.
Translated by Avigail Kirsch