| 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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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