Chanukah in the Fields
Mordechai Gur Arye grew up in the Russian city of Yekatrinaslav. He was not an observant Jew,
but after befriending the son of the city's Rabbi, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, and frequently
visiting them in their home, he became strictly observant.
Mordechai was one of the top students in the city's government high school. His friends and teachers
who noticed the change in him began to harass him. In every conversation, his teachers made sure to
mention the baselessness of religion. But Mordechai remained firm, unafraid to display his
Mordechai was not alone in his difficulties, for with him was his mentor, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak who
supported and encouraged him.
Although Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was the official rabbi of the community, he was not permitted to hold
any discussion of Torah with his congregants. And he was also absolutely forbidden to influence the
younger generation to follow in their ancestors' ways.
But this did not deter Rabbi Levi Yitzchak. He used every opportunity he had to speak to the public
about strengthening and preserving Judaism, even though he knew there were informers present who
would repeat everything he said to government officials.
When Mordechai completed high school he decided to attend university, but was met with surprise;
he was not accepted. He could not
understand why the administration would not accept him even though he had excellent grades. He
tried to speak with the head of the
university, and was told: "Go ask Schneerson to help you, we can't help you in this matter."
Finally, Mordechai was accepted, but he was sent to a farm where the students worked and studied.
Mordechai kept in touch with Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, in order to find out how to properly conduct
himself in accordance with Jewish law in the various situations that arose.
The students at the farm were occasionally sent to the city to purchase supplies for the farm. All the
students used the opportunity in the city to sell the produce of the farm and make money for
themselves. But Mordechai had better use for his visits. He would inquire about the Jews of the city,
and check to see what religious articles they were lacking. Every time he went into the city he took
along his briefcase filled with mezuzot, tzitzit and prayer books. He distributed these to the Jewish
residents in accordance with the instructions of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak. Of course, Mordechai did all of
Each day Mordechai would don his tefilin and pray. While everyone else was asleep, Mordechai
snuck out to the fields. There, between the tall corn stalks, he'd pray quickly, covering his tefilin with
Mordechai kept the secret of his observance so well that the
authorities decided to transfer him to another agricultural settlement where they felt the intelligent
youth would enlighten the ignorant villagers.
As Chanuka neared, Reb Mordechai pondered over the question of how to kindle the Chanuka
lights without attracting the attention of the local authorities. He thought up a plan. He went out alone
to an empty field late at night when everyone else was asleep, and standing on the snow covered
ground in the freezing cold, he joyously performed the mitzva of lighting the Chanuka menora.
Unfortunately, a government inspector came through the village one night of Chanuka, and he
spotted some strange lights in a field. Looking closer, he realized what it was, and traced the menora
back to Reb Mordechai. Reb Mordechai was sent even further away to continue his medical training
Mordechai continued studying Torah and observing mitzvot. According to the law he was supposed
to re-enter the university to continue his studies under surveillance, which he did.
During those days, Mordechai would sneak to the home of Reb Levi Yitzchak to pray or hear some
words of Torah. One summer day, Mordechai went to a swim in the sea, and never returned...
The heads of the university wanted to make the funeral on the government's account. They sent a
messenger to Mordechai's sister, a sworn communist who held and important position in a
government factory. She excused herself by saying that her parents were
traditional and she could not intervene.
She then hurried to Reb Levi Yitzchak and told him: "Mordechai's will is your will, whatever you say
we will do."
The funeral was arranged in accordance with Jewish law. News of the tragedy spread, and people
flocked from all corners of the city to accompany Mordechai to his resting place. The university also
sent students and several teachers to the funeral, but they stood by the side.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak began his speech at the funeral: "Mordechai, in his short life, showed us the path
we should take. He did not care what his friends said or what the government thought. He paid no
attention to those who sought to harm him. Throughout everything, Mordechai stood firm in his faith
The crowd was greatly agitated by Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's words. They were surprised to hear of
Mordechai's self sacrifice in distributing religious articles, and how he prayed secretly between the
corn stalks. The rabbi roused the people, urging them to follow in Mordechai's path and not to forget
their Father in Heaven.
When Rabbi Levi Yitzchak stopped speaking, no one budged. The people were shocked that the
Rabbi dared to speak the way he did, heedless of the authorities and their threats. "After such a
speech, he'll no doubt be exiled for many years," they said to one another.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was not imprisoned at that time. Only three years later, in 1939, was he
arrested, tortured, and then exiled. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak passed away on the 20th day of the Hebrew
month of Av. But they never managed to break the spirit of the great man who was the father of the
From Journeys with the Rebbes, published by Ufaratzta Publishing
and L'chaim - Copyright © 1996 Lubavitch Youth Organization - L.Y.O.