‘If So, I Would Rather Stay In Prison!’

After suffering in prison for over a year for not sending his children to secular schools, Reb Yisroel Nevler was released. But when he saw his daughter heading for the door with a knapsack, he threatened to go back there.

Reb Yisroel Levin was born in the year 5645 (1885) in the chassidishe town of Nevel. He studied for many years in Lubavitch and became a lamdan, as well as a great maskil in Chassidus.

After his marriage to the daughter of Reb Mordechai Pevzner, he settled in the city of Klimovitch. The Frierdiker Rebbe advised that he should be accepted as a melamed in order for “the children to know what a chassidishe melamed is.” Reb Yisroel was arrested twice for teaching Torah to children and each time was held in prison for many months.

During World War II, he fled to Tashkent where he continued to teach Torah, infused with chassidishe stories. He escaped Russia after the war but fell ill shortly after. He passed away on 9 Iyar 5709 (1949).

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Reb Yisroel once overheard someone telling his friend about a certain halacha where the Alter Rebbe writes in Shulchan Aruch that a baal nefesh should be machmir on himself. The friend responded, “I’m not a baal nefesh.” Reb Yisroel entered the conversation asking, “If you’re not a baal nefesh, then what are you? A ‘baal nefesh’ is a Yid who possesses a neshama. Someone without a neshama is called a ‘baal guf.’”

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There was a period of time when Reb Yisroel had a quasi-restaurant in his own home, where he would provide food for chassidim and travelers who looked for a meal of unquestionable kosher standards. Reb Yisroel would sit with his guests, listen to their troubles and problems, and advise them and comfort them.

During that period, he had a Yechidus with the Frierdiker Rebbe. He complained to the Rebbe that he didn’t have a single free moment to learn Chassidus or daven at length. He was occupied throughout the entire day, and by nighttime he was so exhausted that he barely had enough strength to read Krias Shema She’al Hamitah.

The Rebbe listened to his complaints, and then told him: “What difference does that make? If you are free at midnight, that is the time to sit and learn Chassidus! The first few hours will be difficult, but you will develop a geshmak as you proceed. What do you think? The time to learn Chassidus is only when you are well-rested and well-fed? No! Especially when you are tired and hungry — is a good time to learn Chassidus!”

During World War II, he fled to Tashkent where he continued to teach Torah, infused with chassidishe stories.

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The Frierdiker Rebbe instructed R. Yisroel Nevler to stay awake Leil Shishi (Thursday night, in preparation for Shabbos), but on condition that he would not sleep on Friday as a result, because the gain would then be drowned by the loss.

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In Elul 5698 (1938), Reb Yisroel was arrested by the NKVD and was held in prison for over a year, enduring painful interrogations. Friends of the family suggested to Reb Yisroel’s wife to send their little daughter to the communist schools, hopefully resulting in his release or a reduction of his sentence. The little girl began attending the school and a short time later Reb Yisroel was indeed released and he returned home.

The following morning, he noticed his daughter carrying a knapsack and heading for the door. He inquired as to where she was going, and the little girl responded, “To school. Friends told mother that if I go to school, you might be freed and that’s exactly what happened!”

Reb Yisroel replied firmly, “If this is the condition that warranted my release, I would rather stay in prison!”

For sources, visit TheWeeklyFarbrengen.com

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