Over centuries, the Jewish community in Spain had flourished and grown in numbers and influence, though anti-Semitism had surfaced from time to time. During the reign of Henry III (1390-1406), Jews faced increased persecution and were pressured to convert to Christianity. Many Jews were killed, and those who adopted Christian beliefs – the conversos (Spanish: “converted”) – faced continued suspicion and prejudice. In addition, there remained a significant population of Jews who had professed conversion but continued to practice their faith in secret. Known as Marranos, those nominal converts from Judaism were perceived to be an even greater threat to the social order than those who had rejected forced conversion. After Aragon and Castile were united by the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella (1469), the Marranos were denounced as a danger to the existence of Christian Spain and a formal Inquisition was established to deal with them.

The Ramban writes about the mitzvah to listen to our Torah Sages: “Its intention is that in accordance with their opinion does Hashem give us the Torah. Even if it is in your eyes like replacing the right with the left – and all the more so, when they say about the right that it is right – you must think that the Spirit of G-d is upon them ... ‘He will not leave His pious ones, they will always be protected,’ from erring and from stumbling. And the language of the Sifrei is: ‘Even if they show to your eyes about the right that it is the left and the left that it is the right, nevertheless, listen to them.’” 

Toward the latter half of the 19th century, two of the greatest chasidic rebbes were also the greatest of friends. As youngsters, R’ Avraham Twersky, zt”l, (Maggid of Trisk), son of R’ Mordechai (Mottel) of Chernobyl, zt”l, and R’ Menachem Mendel Kalish, zt”l, son of R’ Yitzchok of Vorka, zt”l, formed a pact of friendship that was to last a lifetime; indeed, they died just a few months apart. As the two boys grew older and eventually inherited their respective chasidic dynasties, maintaining contact became all the more difficult. R’ Mendel lived in Vorka, Poland, while R’ Avraham lived in Trisk, Ukraine. The distance between the two was a half-day’s wagon ride and it often took weeks for letters to reach one another. R’ Mendel’s personal attendant, a caring young man by the name of Moishele, saw his Rebbe’s distress and offered to travel every week back and forth to deliver correspondence between the two.

From all over Europe, thousands of Yidden would come to visit the holy Rebbe of Rizhin, Rav Yisroel Friedman zt”l. For a young boy named Pesach, an orphan who had been taken in by the Rebbe’s family, it was an amazing sight of which he never tired of observing. Each and every day, so many people, with so many kinds of troubles, would come to the Rebbe in the hopes of receiving a blessing for a better future. “The Rizhiner is a tzadik,” he was told. “All these people come to him for a blessing, and when he gives it, he can see what will happen to them many years from now.”

The gaon R’ Yaakov Krantz, zt”l, known throughout the world as the Dubno Maggid, was a brilliant scholar and an unrivaled orator. Possessed of great eloquence, he illustrated his sermons with unique stories taken from human life. With such parables, he illuminated the most difficult passages in the Torah and Talmud and answered numerous questions in rabbinical law. He was also an eminent rabbinical scholar, and on many occasions was consulted as a halachic authority.

The following story was retold recently at a pidyon ha’ben by Rav Nissan Kaplan shlita, the well-known maggid shiur in the Mirrer Yeshiva, who was discussing the effect that kiddush Hashem has on a Jew, even a tiny baby. He recalled how on a recent trip to America during the summer, he was scheduled to return from Newark Airport on Thursday at 3:30 p.m., arriving Friday morning in Ben Gurion Airport at 7:00 a.m. It was the summer, and since sunset on Friday afternoon in Israel was at 7:15 p.m., he felt he had a reasonable amount of time to make it home before Shabbos.