There is a famous story told about Rav Mordechai Pogromansky (Reb Mottel, as he was universally known), who was a great Torah scholar and famous in the world of the Lithuanian yeshivos before the Second World War. Caught in the Nazi vise, he spent the war years in the Kovno ghetto where he was scrupulous in preserving a life of Torah in the ghetto with great devotion. Miraculously, he managed to escape and fled to Poland when Lithuania was annexed by Russia after the war. Eventually, he made his way to Czechoslovakia, and later into France, where he moved to Aix Les Bains and thereafter to Versailles, heading up the yeshivah there. The war took its toll on Reb Mottel and the state of his health was bad. The renowned Sternbuch family brought him to Switzerland, to be treated by the top doctors. In 1949, Reb Mottel passed away.
Shortly after World War II, Reb Mottel was traveling on a train and happened to be sitting next to another Jew who was a shochet and a mohel. They began talking and got involved in a deep discussion. They became so engrossed in the topic that they missed their stop. The train continued on to another city. It was Erev Shabbos, and they had no other choice but to get off the train in a strange location. By the time they disembarked, it was almost Shabbos, and they had no idea where they were!
Reb Mottel’s companion was horrified! What would they do? Shabbos was approaching, and they were nowhere near a Jewish community. But Reb Mottel reassured his friend, “A Jew is never lost! If we are here, it is not because we are lost; it is because we are meant to be here!” He proved his point from the story of Hagar, about whom the Torah writes that she was lost. Rashi comments that she was lost in that she returned to the house of her father and to a life of idol worship.
This didn’t seem to calm down the other man, who insisted, “Reb Mottel, mir zennen fort farblundget – we are still lost!”
Not one to give up hope, Reb Mottel inquired and discovered that there was indeed one solitary Jewish family in the small town. Hastily, the two travelers went to their home and knocked on the door. When the man opened the door, he was stunned to find two religious Jews on his doorstep. He could not believe his eyes.
“Are you Eliyahu HaNavi?” he asked the strangers in shock. Reb Mottel informed the man that he was just a Jew by the name of Mottel Pogromansky and he introduced his friend. The host invited them in and explained that his wife had given birth to a baby boy the Shabbos before. He was unable to take his wife and child to a larger city where the bris milah could be performed, and he could not arrange for a mohel to come to them for Shabbos to perform the bris.
“Would either of you happen to be a mohel?” he asked hopefully.
Reb Mottel smiled. He informed their host that indeed his friend was a mohel and – wouldn’t you know – he even had his circumcision equipment with him. Remarkably, the little baby merited to be circumcised on Shabbos, the eighth day!
This vignette was retold by Rav Mordechai Gifter zt”l, the Telzer Rosh Yeshivah, when he wished to highlight the emunah of Rav Mottel Pogromansky, a man who always felt that he was in the Hands of the Almighty. What a fortunate villager! Hashem sent him not only a mohel but also Rav Mottel Pogromansky – one of the great rabbinic personalities of his time – to be the sandek!