The False Accusation
After the demise of Czar Paul, Alexander I ascended to the throne of Russia. The enemies of the Jews who had been held in check by the previous king looked hopefully to the new king for a change in policy toward the Jews. It was not long before tragedy struck.
A leader of the community of Bovitbask, Benjamir Bainash, was a very wealthy man, a philanthropist and a talmid chacham. He owned many forests, hotels and bars As a pillar of his community, he supported all the indigent families of the surrounding neighborhoods and his door was always open to the hungry people of the town.
One Shabbos morning while he was wrapped it his tallis, the chief of police, accompanied by many policemen, entered the synagogue. They approached Benjamin Bainash and after tearing his tallis off him they placed him under arrest. He was dragged off to prison in handcuffs.
The community was thrown into an uproar. They approached the mayor and begged him to at least tell them what the charges were. But the mayor was equally confused. "An order came through this morning from St. Petersburg, from the Czar himself, to arrest this man. No reason was given."
The following day a platoon of soldiers arrived to take Benjamin Bainash to St. Petersburg. In the meantime, all of his possessions were confiscated and held in escrow by the government.
Word was sent to the Gaon, Rav Nathan Nata, who undertook to, travel to St. Petersburg to secure the release of this unfortunate Jewish philanthropist. It was wintertime and a terrible storm raged as the Gaon set out on his long journey. He traveled through many towns until he reached the city of Vilna. There he visited the grave of the Vilna Gaon, and he cried bitterly to the departed saint to help him in his mission to free Benjamin Bainash, a descendant of the Vilna Gaon.
Visits The Gaon Rabbi Chaim
When he returned to his hotel, he was told that the great Gaon, Rav Chaim of Volozhin, the talmid (student) of the late Vilna Gaon, was in Vilna. Although he was very tired from his long journey, he visited the home of Rav Chaim, who greeted him warmly. He then narrated the entire story to Rav Chaim and he asked him to pray for his success.
"Fear not," said Rabbi Chaim, "the ways of G-d are mysterious and His help will come momentarily. I am sure that you will succeed in your mission."
Rav Nathan Nata thanked the Gaon and started back to his lodging. On the way, he passed a huge mansion all lit up, with the sounds of music coming from its windows. A royal party appeared to be in progress as the surrounding streets were all lined with coaches of barons and princesses.
At the entrance of the mansion stood a little hut, occupied by a soldier guarding the entrance. Approaching the guard, Rav Nathan offered him a few kopeks and asked him what was happening at the mansion.
"This is the castle of the governor and he is entertaining some important government officials and barons," answered the guard.
Seeks To Meet The Officials
Rav Nathan immediately thought that this would be a wonderful opportunity to meet some political figure who might be able to help him free Benjamin Bainast
"Look here," said the Gaon, "I will make it worth your while if you will allow me to enter the house and meet some of the people."
The guard became frightened. "They will have my head removed if I do that," he answered. "But I have another plan for you. Why donít you stay with me in this hut until all the officials leave? When the most important official comes out, I can point out his carriage to you and you can meet him."
Having no other choice, Rav Nathan waited for many hours in the hut, saying the Book of Tehillim (Psalms) to himself. Toward morning, the party began breaking up and all the guests began leaving. Suddenly the guard pointed to a large coach, which was preceded by two soldiers. He said, "There is the important official's coach."
Sees Important Official
Rav Nathan saw an important official, bedecked with many medals and dressed in royal clothes, ente the coach.
Rushing over to him, Rabbi Nathan said, "If it pleases my master..."
The official turned and exclaimed, "What do you want at this hour of the morning?"
"A terrible tragedy has befallen one of your subjects and he needs your help!" answered the Gaon.
"Then see me in the morning at the hotel where I am staying. It is too late to discuss anything now," answered the official.
Rav Nathan was about to depart, when the young woman who was accompanying the official called' "Wait, don't leave!" Turning to the official, who peared to be her husband, she said, "This man says it is a matter of life and death. Maybe tomorrow will be too late. Why not take him along to our hotel and he can tell us all about it before we go to sleep."
The official agreed, and he motioned to Rav Nathan to enter his coach. At the hotel, Rav Nathan waited in the anteroom while the official and his wife removed their formal clothes. When they reappeared, Rabbi Nathan bowed before them and began to relate the reason for his mission.
Acquainted With The Case
"I am very well acquainted with this case," answered the official. "I was shown that this Jew was forging official government documents and stealing from the czar's personal warehouse. The king ordered me to arrest him."
With tears streaming down his face, Rav Nathan cried out, "I swear on all that is holy that this is untrue. The prisoner is one of the most honorable people in the country. Even your governor will testify to that fact."
The Gaonís sincerity impressed the official and he called in the governor who had accompanied them to the hotel.
"Yes, it is true," said the Governor. "Both the rabbi and the man accused are honorable people."
The official appeared convinced, "I agree with you that he may be innocent," he said, "but unfortunately it is now in the hands of the king and only he can free him."
"Very well," answered Rabbi Nathan, as tears continued streaming down his face, "Introduce me to the king and I will convince him, too."
The official looked at Rav Nathan with piercing eyes, whispered something to the governor and then said to Rav Nathan, "Never mind, you can go in peace, rabbi. I will take care of the matter personally with the king. Your friend will be free in the morning."
Before The Czar
Only then did Rav Nathan realize that he was standing before the czar of all Russia, Alexander I, and he began to tremble. "Will my master allow me to offer a blessing which our sages have prepared for such an occasion?"
"You may," was the answer.
Rav Nathan then arose, and with awe, uttered the blessing of one who meets the king, "Blessed is He who gives some of His glory to mortals!"
The following morning the order came through - signed personally by the czar - to free Benjamin Bainash and to return all of his possessions to him.
"Now I understand the words of Rav Chaim, who said that help from G-d will come momentarily," said the Gaon Rav Nathan.
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Page last updated - 07/03/2009