"'Batya, the group is leaving on the evening train," Rabbi Pinchas Sudak told his wife. He spoke to her in a whisper, even though there was no one else in their private home. In Soviet Russia in the 1940s, where spies, informers or the secret police could hide? A place where it is said that the walls themselves have ears? Caution and secrecy were part of their lives. There was no concept of "'too careful", especially when the subject was a dangerous subject. Batya was well aware of the significance of the emphasis in her husband''s words and the potential for hope that was embodied in her.
The Sudak family settled temporarily in Lwow, a town near the Polish border. They chose this location to plan their escape from the Soviet Union. They have recently obtained forged passports that will allow them to pose as Polish citizens and board a train that crosses the border into freedom. The group that Pinchas spoke of were the families of other Lubavitcher Chassidim, who together with him planned this daring escape.
If the group is apprehended and their documents examined more rigorously, this would mean immediate and very likely imprisonment, with each death sentence. It was a risk they felt they should take.
"'But it''s Saturday night," Batya protested. "'It''s life-saving," Pinchas replied briefly but firmly. Batya knew very well that desecration of the Sabbath was permitted if it was saving lives. She knew full well that this was a life-threatening situation, and that the journey in this situation was clearly permitted. "'Yes, of course," she replied in a trembling voice, "'but how can we go?" After all that we have gone through in order to preserve the holiness of the Sabbath and observe the commandments, will we be humiliated at this point? She paused uncertainly. We are liable to pay for it in our lives, "'she claimed.
"'How can we go to her on a holy Saturday?" "'No!" Batia said, and more determination now evident in her voice. "'We will not go tonight".
"'We will lose the train that goes with our group," Pinhas objected. "'Maybe there will not be another chance. I''ll go and tell them ". Before any doubt could seep into her determination, Batya hurried out the steps of their house toward the front door. But in her hurry, she tripped over the last step and fell to the floor with her foot very twisted. She screamed in pain, and Pinchas immediately felt at her side.
He helped her into the chair and lifted her leg. Within a few moments, the foot swelled into a swollen, painful lump. And so the decision was made for the Sudak family. With Batya''s swollen ankle, it would be impossible to make the journey. The Sudak family celebrated the Sabbath as they did every Shabbat? In an atmosphere of joy and calm as they could.
They tried not to allow their fears to harm the sanctity of the Sabbath. It was not until a few days later that the Sudak family became aware of the size of the others with whom they had almost set out.
That Friday night the families in the group boarded the train as planned with their false passports and all their possessions on earth. The older members of the group were relieved when the train crossed the border between Russia and Poland. But this sense of well-being did not last long, for a new danger awaited them. A group of armed highway robbers suddenly attacked the train. The passengers begged the robbers to spare their lives. "'Take all our money and possessions, just let us live," they pleaded. Fortunately for the passengers, the robbers did steal their money and property but agreed not to kill them all.
Many hours later the group finally reached their destination in Lodz, Poland.
They were grateful to be alive but were destitute, for they had lost all their savings. In Lwow, at the end of the Sabbath, the Sudak family began to plan again for their escape. They got news of another train coming in and out of town the next Tuesday night. Batya''s foot had fully recovered in the meantime, and the family had made preparations to board the train. Batya and Pinchas and their three children arrived in Lodz without any special events, and were grateful that they managed to escape from the Soviet Union and successfully complete this part of their journey to freedom.
Thanks to Batya''s damaged foot and the sanctity of the Sabbath, they were saved from a frightening and life-threatening experience and managed to keep their money and valuables, which would be so essential for their survival in a foreign country. Batya and Pinchas kept thinking, how true is the popular proverb that "'more than the people of Israel kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath kept the people of Israel". One of the girls who was on this train trip that was postponed to a later date was my mother Rebbetzin Bat-Sheva Shochat, the oldest of the three children of Pinchas and Batya Sudak.
Years later, she began working with her husband as the first Chabad emissaries sent to revitalize the Jewish community in Toronto. Like her brothers and sisters, the other children of Batya and Pinchas, she devoted her life to something her parents struggled so hard to preserve, helping other people discover the beauty and charm of Shabbat and other mitzvot.
Hanna Weisberg Ms. Hanna Weisberg is the director of a seminar in Toronto, Canada, and lectures on issues related to the Jewish woman throughout the world. She writes regularly for Chabad.