The chossid turned pale. He had heard stories about what happened to bochurim who were forced to serve in the Czar’s army. It was like a death sentence. The army officers loved to harass and torture the Jewish recruits, in their attempt to make the boys forsake their Yiddishkeit.
The chossid could not accept such a fate for either of his beloved sons. When he couldn’t get an exemption from the recruiting office located in his own town, Chassnick, he went straight to Lubavitch to speak with his rebbe, Rav Menachem Mendel, known as the Tzemach Tzedek, and ask for his brochah.
“Why have you come to me?” asked the Tzemach Tzedek. “I don’t work for the government.”
“Please don’t turn me away emptyhanded,” said the dazed chossid. “I’ve been a faithful follower of yours for years!”
The Tzemach Tzedek wasn’t satisfied with just words. He tested the chossid, probing the breadth and depth of the chossid’s knowledge and commitment to Chossidus. It was only after the chossid had answered every question with fluency and clarity that the Tzemach Tzedek agreed to assist him.
“Go to Liepl,” said the Rebbe. “There you will find a Yid who is an expert in these matters. He will help you. Just be sure to go to his house as soon as you reach the town.”
“How will he know who I am? Can I have a letter from you?”
Rav Menachem Mendel waved away the question. “He will know who you are.”
From Lubavitch, the chossid went straight to Liepl. He arrived at the man’s house very early in the morning. There were no signs of life at the house, but that didn’t stop the chossid from knocking on the front door. If the Rebbe told him to speak with this man as soon as he reached Liepl, this was what he intended to do.
A servant answered the door, looking none too pleased to be disturbed at such an early hour. “Who are you? What do you want?”
“I want to speak to your master.”
The servant hesitated. Then he opened the door and told the chossid to come inside. The chossid followed the servant into a spacious room, but he was too anxious to remain seated in the chair that was offered to him. At last, he heard the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs. The chossid looked eagerly to the door, but his heart fell at the sight of the man who entered the room.
The man’s eyes were dark and swollen, as though he hadn’t slept in days. Indeed, his whole appearance resembled that of someone who had spent the night in a ditch by the road. How on earth would such a person be able to help? the chossid wondered.
The man greeted the chossid and asked how he could be of assistance.
“I’m from Chassnick,” the chossid began to explain, “and I have …”
“Did you say Chassnick?”
“Boruch Hashem, I’m not going crazy after all!”
The man then explained the reason for his relief. When he went to sleep the night before, the Tzemach Tzedek appeared to him in a dream and told him to help a Jew from Chassnick. He then woke up, sure this was just some crazy dream. But when he fell asleep again, he had the same dream. And so it went throughout the night, until the word Chassnick was ringing in his ears.
“So, nu? What do you want?”
The chossid showed him his son’s draft notice. The man frowned. “This isn’t going to be easy,” he said. “But if the Tzemach Tzedek sent you to me, be’ezras Hashem I’ll succeed.”
And so it was. When the man returned from the recruiting office, he came with good news. “Neither of your sons will be called up for many years. By that time, the army won’t want them. They’ll be too old!”