18 Nissan – the birthday of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, father of the Rebbe

How do you bake kosher matzot in a country where bread allowance is only 30 grams a day? A unique story of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, told by his wife, Rebbetzin Chanah.

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… That year (year 5699) government certified matzoh was baked for Passover. They were matzoh in appearance only because they were not kosher at all.

This situation allowed my husband no rest.

He took it upon himself to make kosher matzoh available to anyone who wanted to obtain them. He set himself to work—he koshered the two largest mills, acquired new sifters, and set up Passover supervision using many supervisors.

My husband sent a letter to the Ispolkom (organ of local executive and regulatory power in the Soviet Union) detailing ten requirements to be implemented at the baking and selling of the matzoh, along with the demand that everything he—or the rabbis he had appointed—would instruct, must be followed. They replied that all his requirements would be met, and that regular flour from the market would not be used.

During that time, the population was fed using ration cards. Every citizen was given a mere thirty grams of bread per day, and new sacks couldn’t be obtained by even the highest institutions. But in Dnepropetrovsk, in order to provide the Jews with kosher matzoh, the government provided thousands of brand new sacks and white flour, while everyone else was given only black bread.

The outcome was that people from all over Ukraine and White Russia—and from Moscow and Leningrad as well—traveled to Dnepropetrovsk to obtain matzoh. All the synagogues were stocked with crates waiting to be filled with the matzoh.

On Friday afternoons, all the bakeries would telephone to ask what time they must finish baking before Shabbos, and what time after Shabbos they could fire up the ovens again. They would also inquire on the procedure to be followed when drawing mayim shelanu (the water used in Passover matzos must be drawn before nightfall and left to rest overnight before use).

All this took place, let us not forget, during a time when a private individual who wished to follow a religious lifestyle, to keep Shabbos as much as possible, was forced to hide in total secrecy so that no neighbor or anyone else would notice.

Once, a supervisor reported that a dough made of four pood of flour (about 36 US pounds, or 16 kilograms) had been left on the table for five extra minutes (beyond the eighteen minutes after which dough rises and becomes leaven). My husband immediately instructed that it be sent to chometz bakeries, and they supplied new flour for those matzos.

All the sanitary supervisors repeatedly inquired how to do everything so that the matzos would be of the strictest kosher for Passover standards.

Even under the old [Czarist] regime, when religious observance was strong, no other Jewish community managed to accomplish what my husband achieved under the communist regime!

For the Jews who appreciated it, this was a true joy, and for my husband it was a true spiritual pleasure. It cost him much of his own health to ensure that other Jews would enjoy the festival. He himself, however, would experience no Passover Yom Tov joy of his own. By then, he was already under lock and key. For the eight days of Passover, he managed with just water and the small package of matzoh he had taken along with him. He even left a few pieces over for Pesach Sheni (see the Rebbe’s letter, Igrot Kodesh vol. 2, p. 352).

My husband achieved this all by travelling several times to Kharkov, where he pressed to obtain the approval of the Narkom (Council of People’s Commissars; the regional government authority of executive power), and then of Kalinin (Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet) in Moscow…

Excerpted from the “Memoirs of Rebbetzin Chana”. Find more here.

For more, see the Rebbe’s talks of 18 Nissan 5743 and 5744; 6 Tishrei, 5750. Torat Menachem—Hitvaaduyot 5743 vol. 3, p. 1295 ff; ibid. 5744 vol. 3, p. 1493; ibid. 5750 vol. 1, p. 62 ff.


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