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A New Manuscript -- Kuntrus Ger HaTzedek

The collected manuscripts, Kehillas Moshe of Arye Leib Freidland, today found in the Leningrad library, contain a nine-page kuntrus, which tells the story of the Ger Tzedek in more detail than was previously known. Undoubtedly, this manuscript is not the one Litwin had, because his was written in Yiddish and this one in loshon hakodesh. It was also not translated from Litwin's, because Litwin related details that it does not contain. These details themselves are unimportant, but they do determine that there are two entirely separate manuscripts.

The author's literary style is very nice. It seems, however, that he was not so educated, because his manuscript is strewn with blatant spelling mistakes and he undoubtedly skipped portions of the story. At the same time, there is no attempt to polish up the story and fill the gaps with details from the author's imagination. Perhaps this fact, as well, gives the manuscript a certain ring of authenticity.

In his aforementioned article, Litwin complains that there are not enough details about the Ger Tzedek. The manuscript before us also does not elaborate much about the Ger Tzedek, but it does speak about his friend Zarembo at length.

The Ger Tzedek's Ties with the Gra ztvk'l

In spite of all our traditions that speak about the Ger Tzedek's ties with the Gra, the manuscript does not say anything about it. It seems quite certain that Litwin's manuscript did not mention it either, because if so he would have cited it. Dik, as well, does not say anything about it.

Nevertheless, we believe the words of our rabbonim, which clearly indicate that there was a connection between the Gra ztvk'l and the Ger Tzedek.

We will discuss one point: Did the Gra ztvk'l himself visit the Ger Tzedek in prison?

In the sefer, Ruach Eliyohu, Rav Eliyohu Moshe Bloch relates that he heard from HaRav Aharon Kotler zt'l that the Chofetz Chaim told him that the Gra ztvk'l sent a message to the Ger Tzedek that "he is prepared to save him through a mofes, and he answered that he doesn't want that."

In the sefer, The Life and Deeds of the Chofetz Chaim, the author relates this very story in the name of HaRav Tzvi Hirsch Levinson, the Chofetz Chaim's son-in-law -- that the Gra ztvk'l sent a message -- implying that he did not meet him personally. The same is written in Shimusha shel Torah. The only one who wrote that the Gra did meet the Ger Tzedek in prison was Reb Chaikel Lunski in his aforementioned article, but he was careful with his words and prefaced the incident with, "The story goes." It seems that there is no reliable source for this detail.

The fact that the Gra was buried in the same ohel as the Ger Tzedek also proves that they did have ties with each other.

Rabbenu Menachem Azarya of Panno writes that there is a strong link between gerei tzedek and gedolei hador, in sefer Olom Koton. He says that the gedolei hador must take care of gerim like Moshe with Yisro and Naomi with Rus.

As far as is known, the story of the Ger Tzedek is not mentioned in the seforim of the Gra's disciples. Perhaps there is a hint in the sefer Toldos Odom, which says that Reb Zalman once mentioned the words of the gemora in Brochos: When they took Rabbi Akiva out to be killed, it was time for krias Shema. They raked his skin with iron combs and in spite of everything, he accepted upon himself the yoke of Heaven with love and happiness and was not affected by his body's suffering. And he concluded with the following, "In this golus as well, Yisroel does not lack chachomim who suffered tortures more bitter than death, with happiness and joy like one going out with a flute to celebrate a holiday."

The Ger Tzedek, Reb Avrohom ben Avrohom was burned al kiddush Hashem on the second day of Shavuos 5509 (1749). Until the Holocaust, all the batei knesses of Vilna commemorated his yahrtzeit le'iluy nishmoso.

In 5712 (1952), the Russian government destroyed the ancient cemetery of Vilna. Only seven graves were moved to the new cemetery, including the Gra's and the Ger Tzedek's.

A monument stands at the site of the old cemetery containing the following words in Yiddish:

Here were buried in the dust / Gedolei Yisroel / Including: / The Vilna Gaon -- / Eliyohu bar Shlomo Kramer / The Ger Tzedek -- / Graf Valentine Pototzki

Reb Chaikel Lunski Hy'd related that anyone who was in pain or suffering used to come to pour out his heart at the kever, to ask him to be a meilitz yosher for the nation for whose belief he sacrificed his life.

Ger Tzedek

One tradition brings the following account of an incident in the life of the Ger before he converted.

One day the two friends (Pototzki and Zarembo) went for a walk in the city, and they got very thirsty. They went into a vineyard to drink, saw a small hut and heard the voice of someone learning within. They went closer to see who was learning there and found an elderly man learning with a young boy. The friends went into the hut to see what he was learning. They looked at the sefer and could not understand anything.

The Duke's son asked his friend, "Can you read the book?"

The friend said, "I have never seen or heard this language until today."

They asked the old man, "Which book is this?"

The old man said, "This book is called Talmud Bavli and its language is loshon hakodesh."

They asked him to tell them what was written there. He told them a few paragraphs, explaining them well. And they liked this sefer. They asked the old man if everything written there is true. The old man answered, "It is very true."

And they said, "If it is true, why don't you teach us from this book; why do you read from it in secret?"

The old man answered, "You are Christian. The one who turns you from the proper path put a ban on anyone teaching his son from this sefer. Therefore, I learn in secret, and I'll learn our Shas with you from this sefer."

They urged the old man to learn with them from the sefer for some time every day and paid him well. He began to teach them from the sefer and [behold] after a half a year they learned the entire Chumash. The words of Torah entered their hearts, and they became different people. They also learned Tanach in this room. They didn't keep up with their academic studies and didn't go to pray. Their priest rebuked them and the Duke's son answered sharply.

One day, the two friends went for a walk in the field, with their servants following. They sat down and the Duke's son said to his friend, "Tell the servants to go away, because we need to speak in private."

The servants left. The Duke's son said to his friend, "I will reveal all the secrets of my heart to you, but do not tell any of these words to anyone."

"Heaven forbid that I should do such a thing."

"I decided to flee from here to Amsterdam to convert to Judaism, because their religion is the true one, as we know."

His friend answered, "I am like you, I will also do so if I have the means."

The two swore and made a treaty together and said, "G-d will be a witness between us." They got up and went back to the city.

They discussed it with each other, because they were still wavering from one side to the other -- to the G-d of Yisroel or the opposite chas vesholom. They decided to draw lots, and the lot fell that they should convert to Judaism. The Duke's son wanted to travel to Rome, and there in Rome he could discover for sure if there was anything to their faith. He wrote a letter to his father, the Duke, asking him to send a lot of money because he wanted to travel to Rome. And his father sent him a lot of money.

He came to Rome. They greeted him with much honor and the Pope taught him in their academy. Every week, he used to make a big feast for all the ministers and servants and he gave the ministers many presents. Once the Duke's son asked the Pope's attendant, "How does he go up to heaven?" He begged and pleaded that he should tell him the truth.

The attendant said, "If you give me a good present, I'll tell you the truth."

He agreed. The servant told him, "You should know that everything is a lie; he never went up to heaven. On their day, they say he sits in an inner room in great poverty and afterwards they say he went up to heaven, but it is not true."

He [Pototzki] investigated the matter and found that it was true.

He thought, now it is time for Hakodosh Boruch Hu to take me out of falsehood and bring me to truth. Blessed is Hashem Who led me on the true path.

He fled from Rome to the seashore, went onto a ship and came to Amsterdam, where he converted to Judaism. He lived there for a few months.

His friend (Zarembo) did not hear anything from the Duke's son; he could not write him letters in a way that no one would find out their secret. He stayed in Paris for thirty months, studying well, and then traveled to his father in Lithuania. He passed the palace of Tishkevitz, his father's friend, and the Tishkevitz ruler greeted him with great honor. He stayed there for a month and then wanted to travel to his father.

The Tishkevitz minister said, "I'll reveal my heart's secret to you. I want to give you my daughter for a wife because I like you."

And he bowed before him and said, "Why have I found favor in your eyes; my father is from the poorest of nations, Lithuania, and my master is great among the nations."

He said, "If you are small in your eyes, you are great in my eyes." He sent a letter to his father and his father came to Tishkevitz. They made a big feast and conducted the wedding, and he took the Tishkevitz daughter for a wife. The lad became great among all the ministers and officers of the kingdom. After a year, his wife gave birth to a son and they made a big feast for all his ministers and servants and the Lithuanian ministers for a month. And behold, due to his great success and happiness, he forgot the pact he had made with the Duke's son.

In those days, letters arrived from Poland saying that the Duke's son disappeared -- his name is Pototzki, who went to Rome, and no one knows anything about him. When his friend heard the news, he trembled greatly. He was very pained over the fact that he had forgotten about their promise and understood that he had definitely fled to Amsterdam to convert to Judaism there. He also had sworn to convert like him. He did not want to separate from his wife and son and all his glory; but he also did not want to break his promise, because he knew from what he and his friend had investigated that their religion was nonsense and empty. And he was very worried about this and he became depressed.

His father-in-law realized that he was worried and in pain and asked him what was with him. He said that he was not feeling well and asked for a horse and buggy. His father-in- law gave him two horses and a carriage and two servants, and he and his wife and son went to his father and stayed there for a month.

He wrote a letter to his father-in-law asking for money because he wanted to tour Konigsburg. They liked the customs of the people there, because their faith was much better than the officers of Lithuania. They stayed there a few months. He said to his wife, "Write a letter to your father that he should send us a lot of money and we'll buy property here."

The wife agreed and wrote to her father to send them a lot of money. When the money arrived, he said to his wife, "I want to travel to Holland for two or three days. Perhaps there is a boat to Holland from here."

She said, "I will also come with you and see the country's beauty." They boarded a ship and reached Amsterdam, where he rented a palace and lived there.

The next day, he went to the rov of the city and told him that he wanted to become ager. He gave them a special room to circumcise himself and his five-year old son. And his wife was waiting for her husband to come and he didn't come. In the evening, she and her servants went to find him and her son. He sent her a message that she should not look for him because he had converted.

When his wife heard this, she fainted. The women said to her, "What's with you?" She told them that her husband became a Jew. They said that there is freedom to do that here. She went and came and begged him and cried before him a great cry and said to him, "I will also convert like you."

Her husband said to her, "It is very good, but before you convert, you must learn (Judaism) and see how many mitzvos there are. It is not like the Christian faith where everything is permissible. And when you learn the Jewish religion, if you want to convert, I will accept you."

The matter found favor in her eyes. She went to wise, righteous women and they taught her the Jewish religion. Afterwards she went to a beis din and they informed her of the severity of the mitzvos, their punishments and rewards. They took her out to tovel and she became Jewish.

She came with great happiness and said to her husband, "Now I am like you."

He said, "You did a good thing, but one thing I want to tell you -- I want to marry another woman who knows more and could teach me Judaism, and you should marry another man who will teach you the Jewish religion."

When his wife heard this, she was very pained. She said, "I will tell you what I read in a history book. Two people were walking on one path and they wandered in the forest for three days and could not find the right way. They cried and davened to Hashem and He made a miracle for them and they found the proper path. When they were on the right path, one said to the other, "Now let us separate; I will go one way and you will go the other way."

The other answered, "Is it right that when we were lost in the forest we went together, and now that we found the right path we should separate? Is that right? Rather, let us go together and rejoice over the great miracle Hashem did for us."

When her husband heard her good words, he took her as a wife. They lived in Amsterdam for a long time and then traveled to Eretz Yisroel.

May his merit and the merit of all tzadikim help us and may we all be zoche to see the comfort of Tzion and Yerushalayim.

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