Divined Digging Delivers
By E. Lesches

The wife of the house did not think it unusual for her husband to leave home at midday. There was a major celebration in town, and all the men were feasting and dancing to their heart’s content. She did, however, begin to worry when her husband failed to return. Day turned to night, and the distraught woman spent a sleepless night waiting for her missing husband. When the new day dawned, she began walking through the town, searching the deserted streets for her husband.

Soon she recruited many neighbors and friends to assist in the search. Groups of people combed the town, knocking on doors and questioning passersby. The wife herself approached whoever she met. "Did you see my husband today?" she asked repeatedly. "He left to take part in the festivities yesterday and never came home."

Despite their best efforts, the search groups could not locate the missing person. He had simply disappeared. The incident quickly became the talk of town, as the missing husband had been known as a kind and sociable fellow, not prone to these sort of tactics. He had enjoyed a peaceful marriage, making it that much harder to fathom the reason behind his disappearance.

His wife, in effect, had become an aguna, trapped in the most unfortunate of circumstances. She mourned the loss of her husband for many days and mourned the loss of her future, doomed to remain forever alone.

Days passed into weeks, weeks into months, and the husband did not return. The wife fell into bitter depression. She became moody and bitter. Her once prosperous business foundered and collapsed, as she became incapable of managing its most basic affairs. Faced with bankruptcy, the woman packed her bags and left town.

Thus began a new phase for the unfortunate woman. She roamed the country roads, a tiny bundle of possessions in her hands, searching people’s faces for the image of her husband. She stopped whoever traveled the roads — businessmen, peddlers, housewives — to ask for exact descriptions of those they had met on the roads. She still held out hope that maybe someone, somewhere, had the information she needed.

Upon arriving in a village or town, the woman would set out for the house of the local rabbi. It was there that she would repeat her sorry story and beg for a heter (halachic leniency) to permit her to remarry. Yet there was nothing the rabbi could do. "The halacha (Jewish law) clearly stipulates the guidelines for such a situation," came the invariable reply. "You cannot remarry without information as to the whereabouts of your husband."

"But I am so young," she sobbed. "Why am I doomed to remain single my entire life?"

With painful hearts, the rabbis could do no more than sympathize, strengthen and console. She would leave and start out for the next village. There the scenario would repeat itself: meeting the rabbi, crying and begging for his intervention; leaving for the next town.

After many months of wandering, the unfortunate woman arrived in Lubavitch. She had heard so much about the Tzemach Tzedek assisting women sharing her misfortune, and though she truly hoped he could shed light on the mystery of her missing husband, it was difficult to secure an audience with the Rebbe. Many days went by until the Rebbe heard of her story and, to her surprise, he handed her a sealed envelope, instructing her to give the closed letter to the rabbi of her hometown.

"Coming, coming," the rabbi muttered as he made his way to the front of the house. Someone was pounding away at the door. He opened it a crack and saw the unfortunate woman who had disappeared from their village so long ago. He groaned inwardly — what help could he offer the unfortunate lady?

"Here!" the aguna thrust out her hand with the envelope. "This is from the Rebbe in Lubavitch." The rabbi took the letter reverently and withdrew to his study. He broke open the seal and read the solitary sentence on the paper: "When a person shall dig or uncover a pit and in it will fall [an ox or donkey]." The rabbi furrowed his brows. It was a verse from the book of Shmos (Exodus, 21:36) that dealt with monetary compensation for having injured another’s property. What could be the connection to the case of the aguna?

He quickly summoned the city’s elders and notable scholars. They pored over the cryptic letter, each offering an interpretation. Some were rejected outright; some merited deliberation. The rabbi sat through it all, pain evident on his face. The Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, was a complete tzaddik and his every word measured and meaningful. Here they all sat, the wisest men in town, yet none of the explanations being bantered about added up to making much sense.

The rabbi sent everyone home in a fit of rage and paced the room anxiously. There had to be a simple explanation, yet it eluded him even so. He spent a restless night, and suddenly, when day dawned, the answer became so obvious. He summoned a group of the strongest men in town and together they walked to the abandoned home which once housed the aguna and her husband.

The group made their way down to the basement. The rabbi watched as they searched through the rubble and looked vainly for a body. There was none. "I was wrong," the rabbi said morosely. "The Rebbe probably means something else. Just look around one more time." They flashed the lanterns once more across the dark walls. Suddenly the rabbi gave a cry of surprise. A door was visible on one of the walls, partially obstructed by a great mound of earth. "That door!" he shouted. "Open it and check inside."

The group approached the door and pulled at the rusted handle. It would not budge. "Picks and axes!" came the cry. Someone dashed outside and returned quickly with an assortment of heavy equipment. The basement shook with the noises of pounding as the men vented their strength on the sturdy door. Cracking under their heavy blows, the door finally splintered and gave way.

There, behind the broken door, lay the body of the missing husband. Behind him stood rows upon rows of beer barrels, some sealed, others open. Evidently, the man of the house had gone down to his wine cellar to get beverages for the celebration. Just as he closed the door behind him, the roof caved and fell in, sending a large mound of earth just in front of the wine cellar, blocking the door from swinging outward and reopening. The husband had died a slow, terrible death, having "fallen into a pit."

The rabbi could barely believe his eyes. "When a man will dig or open a pit and fall there," he repeated. So many rabbis had been consulted to solved this tragic case, yet only the Rebbe, off in Lubavitch, had seen the true circumstances and hinted to the "pit" that held the clue to the mystery.

After being informed of the tragic find, the aguna was immediately permitted to remarry, to heal the broken stands of her life and begin afresh.

(See HaOch #31)


"You cannot remarry without information as to the whereabouts of your husband." "But I am so young," she sobbed. "Why am I doomed to remain single my entire life?"


Home | Contents | Archives | Interactive |Contact Chat | Advertise

©Copyright. No content may be reprinted without permission.