By E. Lesches
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
I am so young," she sobbed. "Why am I doomed to remain single my
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.
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
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?
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?
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.
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.
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."
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.
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."
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
being informed of the tragic find, the aguna was immediately permitted to
remarry, to heal the broken stands of her life and begin afresh.