Israeli and Jewish media are reporting on the unusual circumstances that faced Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar last Friday when his plane landed ten minutes before the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath forcing him to make an 18 mile, eight hour walk home.
Religious Jews abstain from all work and travel, including flying and driving, from Friday night through sunset Saturday night.
Rabbi Lazar had been invited by the Kremlin to participate in a ceremony along with President Vladimir Putin commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Prokhorovka during World War II.
According to COLlive.com, a website that reports on the Orthodox Chabad Lubavitch community, the Russian president, government officials and World War II veterans paid tribute at the memorial bell tower at the Prokhorovskoye Polye military-historical museum “to honor the Soviet tanks which stopped Nazi forces from breaking through the Soviet Army’s defense lines.” It was considered one of the largest tank battles ever fought.
Chabad Info reports that Rabbi Lazar at first refused the invitation due to the ceremony’s proximity to sunset, but later agreed after being assured he could fly back to Moscow in time to spend the Sabbath with his family and lead services at his synagogue.
At the agreed time, Rabbi Lazar boarded the plane for the hour and a half flight. But while on the tarmac, it became clear that the army planes for the ceremony were still in the air.
Rabbi Lazar asked that he be let off the plane. The pilot told him it was not possible and promised to get him to Moscow at least 10 minutes before Shabbos [Sabbath] which begins at 10:00 PM. The plane indeed landed as the pilot promised.
Rabbi Lazar phoned his home, notifying them about the debacle and started walking back to his home. A government official, seeing him walk, offered him a ride. “We’ll do it quick. No one will know…” the man said.
The rabbi declined the offer and proceeded to set out – on foot – for the eight hour, 18 mile walk home. He finally arrived at 6:00 a.m. the next day. Chabad Info reports that during Saturday morning prayer services at the Marina Roscha Synagogue, “the Rabbi could barely keep himself standing, however he gave a speech like he had slept the entire night.”
Israel’s Arutz Sheva reports, “Sources close to the rabbi told Arutz Sheva the incident was an example of the special connection between Rabbi Lazar and Russia’s president, explaining the rabbi chose to honor the wishes of the president although it was not required, and despite the great complexities involved in maintaining proper observance of the Sabbath.”