Rabbi Pinchas Teitz of Elizabeth, New Jersey, made twenty-two trips to Russia in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Even during the height of the Communist empire and the secret police, he managed to secure permission for his visits. He had good contacts in the government, and they trusted him. Nevertheless, he was often able to utilize his visits to secretly smuggle in important Jewish paraphernalia, such as tefillin and prayerbooks, for the benefit of the oppressed Jews of the USSR. The KGB knows very well what a Tanya is...

Although Rabbi Teitz was born, raised and educated in Lithuania and its yeshivot, which rarely associated with Chabad chassidim, it was impossible to be involved in Jewish life in the Soviet Union in those days and not laud the activities of the Chabad chassidim, who had dedicated their lives to the preservation of Torah Judaism there. Thus, many times he merited to bring objects from the Lubavitcher Rebbe to his chassidim in Russia, and vice versa.

One summer, when he was preparing for another trip, a representative of the Rebbe showed up at his house, bringing him a package of prayerbooks, Bibles and several pairs of tefillin. This was no surprise; he was already used to, and even expected, the arrival of an emissary and the usual package.

But this time the messenger from the Rebbe also took out a small-sized volume of Tanya, the foundational book of Chabad teachings, and handed it to the rabbi. He explained that the Rebbe asked that Rabbi Teitz take it and carry it with him while in Russia—but didn’t say whom to give it to.

“I was astonished,” related Rabbi Teitz afterwards. “To cooperate with the Rebbe to deliver basic Jewish necessities to the deprived Jews of Russia was one matter, but to go with a copy of Tanya in my luggage? To Russia? It seemed unnecessarily dangerous. The KGB knows very well what a Tanya is. What plausible explanation could I give if it were detected?”

In the end, he decided to take it. If the Rebbe was making such an unusual request of him, he must have a good reason.

On the third day of his stay in Moscow, in the evening, while he was walking back to his hotel from the Great Synagogue after the evening prayer, two young men suddenly approached him as he passed through a dark side street. They took him by the arms and forced him to quickly go into a nearby parked car. The rabbi was taken by surprise and, of course, frightened. Were they the KGB? Was this a kidnapping?

His fears were soon dissipated, however, as his two “snatchers” turned out to be local Chabad chassidim. They apologized for the rough treatment, explaining that this was the only means by which they could possibly bring him to a safe house to talk to them without arousing suspicion, and they needed to discuss urgent matters with him. He wanted to know if the Rebbe thought he should flee Moscow...

Only after they were safely in the house did the two introduce themselves. They said they had investigated and discovered that he could be trusted, and what they wanted of him was that he should deliver a message to the Lubavitcher Rebbe for each of them. They had major life decisions to make, for which they needed the Rebbe’s input, and they couldn’t wait for an official emissary.

The older one had recently found out that the KGB was actively pursuing him. He wanted to know whether the Rebbe thought he should flee Moscow and move to another city, or remain, despite the obvious danger, in order to maintain and further his important educational activities in the Jewish underground, of which the Rebbe was already aware.

The second, younger man wanted the Rebbe’s advice whether he should apply for an emigration visa to Israel. Recently, a number of such requests had been approved. On the other hand, he currently held an excellent position as a top engineer, and as soon as he would submit his application, he would be fired from his job; if the request was refused, he would be left without any means of support.

Rabbi Teitz was very moved by the encounter, and especially by the fiery dedication of the two chassidim. He promised to commit to memory their names, their mothers’ names and their questions for the Rebbe, because it would be much too dangerous to write them down and have such a paper in his possession.

After this, the three men relaxed and engaged in conversation, marveling at the differences between their lives. The rabbi happened to mention that soon before his departure from home, the Rebbe had given him a copy of Tanya to keep with him on the trip, but hadn’t explained what should be done with it. A page had been slightly crimped by folding down the top corner . . .

The eyes of the two chassidim opened wide. “Do you mean to say that you have this Tanya from the Rebbe in your possession? Now? Here?” they exclaimed enthusiastically.

Rabbi Teitz silently took the Tanya from his coat pocket and showed it to them. They grabbed it from him and eagerly examined it from all sides and angles. Their increasing excitement was palpable. Clearly, they were overjoyed to be holding a book that less than a week ago had been in the Rebbe’s own holy hands.

However, it turned out there was more to it than that. While fondling the book, one of them shouted out in amazement. Too excited to speak, he pointed to what their intense scrutiny had uncovered: a page had been slightly crimped by folding down the top corner, as a person sometimes does in place of a bookmark.

They opened to the page and were awestruck by the very first words: “. . . He is extremely pressed for time, and finds it utterly impossible to delay . . .” (p. 323 in the standard edition; p. 634 in the bilingual edition—near the end of the fifth book).

“That’s it! That’s my answer from the Rebbe!” cried out the older chassid, visibly shaking with emotion. “The Rebbe is telling me to hurry and escape from here.”

The younger chassid quickly picked up the book and eagerly examined it even more closely, hoping to find another crimped page. And there was one! Again they were overwhelmed. This time it only took two words: “. . . to enter the Land . . .” (p. 74 in the standard edition; p. 130 in the bilingual edition—near the end of chapter 29 in the first book).

“That’s the answer for me!” he shouted excitedly. “I should apply to make aliyah to the Holy Land now.”

The two pleaded with Rabbi Teitz to allow them to keep the book. He refused, saying that the Rebbe had instructed him to carry it with him but had said nothing about giving it to anyone.

“To this day,” related Rabbi Teitz to Aharon Dov Halperin, the editor of Kfar Chabad magazine, “whenever I study something from this volume, or even happen to glance upon it, I recall this extraordinary episode and get excited all over again.”

Rabbi Teitz warned the editor not to publish the story, so as to not damage the rabbi’s relationships with his valuable contacts in Russia and the government’s trust in him. The editor transcribed the story in its entirety and submitted it to the Lubavitcher Rebbe on 17 Av 5744 (1984). He received a reply that same day: “I am pleased to receive this, but absolutely do not publicize it in any form at this time.”

For over a decade the story was suppressed, but when Rabbi Teitz passed on to his Heavenly award in the final weeks of 1995, it quickly found its way into print.

Translated and adapted from V’rabim Heishiv Mei’avon, and Sichat HaShavua #471.

Biographical note:
Rabbi Mordechai Pinchas Teitz [1908–1995] was the well-respected, innovative leader of the Jewish community in Elizabeth, New Jersey, for many decades. A scholar, educator, early pioneer in the use of modern technology to teach Torah, and tireless behind-the-scenes activist on behalf of Russian Jewry, a biography of him has recently been published by Ktav, titled Learn Torah, Love Torah, Live Torah.

Copyright 2003 by KabbalaOnline.org. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, unless with permission, in writing, from Kabbala Online.

This story is featured in KabbalaOnline managing editor Yerachmiel Tilles' third book, By the Light of the Full Moon.