ב״ה

Mesiras Nefesh

Here is part of one powerful story of Mesiras Nefesh, which was told by the Rebbe Maharash:

For many years in Russia, there was a terrible decree called the decree of the Cantonists. Young Jewish boys were captured and taken to serve in the army for many years. Even though they never had much chance to learn Torah, these precious boys knew that they were Yidden.

The Tzemach Tzedek would often visit groups of these brave soldiers to encourage them. In one of his speeches, he said, “A person should give up his life so as not to give up his Yiddishkeit. Even if the Czar himself personally tells you to change your religion, you should sacrifice your life rather than listen to him.”

One of the soldiers listening to this farbrengen was a sailor named Shimon Levin, who had been taken away to the army when he was very young. He was an excellent soldier, and enjoyed his job as sailor. Everyone was impressed by him, and his fellow soldiers called him Semion Bodri — Shimon the Brave.

Shimon was given a high job as an officer in the Russian navy, at an army base near the Black Sea. One day, his base was given important news — the Czar himself was coming to tour the base! The Czar was the most powerful person in the entire country, and the soldiers were very excited and scared.

In honor of the Czar, the soldiers cleaned and prepared every part of the base. They even planned a special performance! As part of the performance, the base commander announced that one of the officers would do something to show tremendous bravery, in honor of their special guest.

As everyone watched, holding their breath, Shimon Levin stood at the bottom of the tallest ship mast on the sea. Without stopping, he climbed up to the very top, and dove into the sea! He swam back up to the shore, and bowed before the Czar.

The Czar was thrilled! “Semion Bodri, I want to reward you at a celebration tomorrow!”

The next day, with many officers and important guests watching, the Czar announced: “Semion Bodri! Because of the bravery you showed us yesterday, I am promoting you to general in the Russian Navy!”

Shimon said quietly, “But I am Jewish, and according to the Russian law, I am not allowed to have any position higher than an officer.”

The Czar was surprised and embarrassed. “So you will change your religion, and become a general NOW!”

Shimon responded quickly, “I must first do the same act of bravery I did yesterday.”

He ran up to the tall ship mast, and climbed to the top. Shouting so that everyone could hear, he announced: “Your majesty, for twelve years I have served in the Russian navy, and I love my job. But more important than all of this, I am a Jew! I have always kept Shabbos and kosher all of these years. I will never stop being a Jew. I will never leave Hashem. Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad!”

He dove again into the deep sea, but this time he did not swim up out of the water. He had given up his life Al Kiddush Hashem, so the Czar could not force him to give up his Yiddishkeit.


See story as told by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton of Ohr Tmimim