11 Cheshvan 5782 / Sunday, October 17, 2021 | Torah Reading: Lech Lecha
dot  Add to favorites   dot  Set as homepage  
    Create an account    |    Sign in
    My Account     Orders History     Help
  My Country:  
  United States   
   My Currency:  
  US Dollar   
Home Page Torah Portion Spirituality and Faith Foundations of Judaism Inspirational Stories Family & Daily Life Holidays and Fast Days Israel and Society
   Sukkot, Hoshana Raba, Simchat Torah     Chanukah     Tu B’Shvat     Shovevim             
HomeHolidays and Fast DaysShavuotThe Convert of Vilna
  Advanced Search

The Convert of Vilna    

The Convert of Vilna

Count Potocki was a Catholic priest who converted to Judaism. Avraham ben Avraham died a martyr's death on Shavuot in Vilna. Read his fascinating story!


One the wealthiest and most influential landowners in seventeenth century Poland was Count Potocki. Many members of the devoutly Catholic Potocki family held high offices in the church hierarchy of Poland, a country with a predominantly Catholic population.
Count Potocki, the owner of the city of Vilna and the surrounding province, had one son who was his pride and joy. From early on, the Count and his wife decided that their son would become a priest. At the age of 16 the parents enrolled him in the Catholic University of Vilna.
Young Potocki met a fellow student named Zarodny, the brilliant son of an impoverished family. With the passage of time, the two young men became close friends.
Early one morning Potocki commented to his friend, "I've had trouble sleeping for weeks."
"Is something on your mind?" Zarodny inquired.
"Yes," Potocki admitted. "I'm tormented by a baffling question."
"Why don't you tell me about it?" Zarodny suggested.
"There are three religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. The Christians believe their religion to be the true faith, but so do the Moslems and the Jews. I've been wondering ? which of the three is the true faith?"
[Potocki persuaded his parents to give him permission to travel abroad, seeking to learn about the various cultures and religions. He traveled to the Vatican to meet the pope, and then to Istanbul to meet the chief mullah of Islam. Finally, he ended up in Amsterdam where the leading rabbi of the generation was residing.
After long and serious reflection, Potocki became a convert to Judaism, and was given the name Avraham ben Avraham.]
A thought struck Potocki one day. "I am so happy with my newfound faith. But millions of people in Poland are living in darkness, without any awareness of the truth. I must go back to Poland and spread the knowledge of Torah to those who are living in ignorance."
Potocki decided to return to Poland. His beard had drastically changed his appearance, but it would still be too dangerous to go to Vilna. Instead he went to the village of Ilya, near Vilna, where he continued learning Torah in the local shul.
He became friendly with the rabbi of Ilya; to him alone, he confided his true identity. The rest of the Jews in Ilya knew only that the young man with the blond beard who learned so diligently in the shul was a convert...
[Once] a gentile happened to pass the shul; he overheard a few words, peeked inside ? and was dumbfounded at the sight of the blonde young man in the shul. He was certain that the convert was none other than the long-lost son of Count Potocki!
The next day he went to Vilna to report his exciting find. "Your son is alive and well," he told the aged Count and his wife. "He converted to Judaism and lives in the shul in Ilya."
Hope battled with despair: Could it be true? Had their lost son finally been found? Hardly daring to believe it, the parents nevertheless ordered a company of soldiers to go to Ilya, arrest the young man in the shul, and bring him to their mansion.
Countess Potocki immediately recognized her son. "Where have you been? We've been searching for years! Why didn't you let us know that you were in Ilya, so close to home? Oh, my son, look at you ? appearing like some savage! Go shave and get cleaned up!"
"Mother, I was a savage when I believed the Catholic teachings," Potocki said quietly. "Now I am a Jew; I know the true God of the Jewish people."
"Think about it, my son," his mother pleaded. "If you come home with us, you'll be one of the wealthiest people in the country. You are our only son. You will inherit our entire fortune! If you remain a Jew, you'll be nothing but a poor beggar."
"For the sake of the true God, I am willing to give up all the riches in the world," Potocki replied resolutely.
The count pounded his fist on the table. "You're refusing to listen to reason! I'll have you placed in jail. There you'll come to your senses."
The convert was placed in solitary confinement in a dark cell in the Vilna jail. Day after day his father's private Catholic priest came to discuss religion, trying to make him renounce Judaism. But he remained steadfast in his faith.
"Just say 'I'm sorry.' That's all it will take to release you from prison," the priest implored.
It was to no avail. The convert remained firm.
"Remember," the priest threatened, "if you refuse to confess your mistake, you will be tortured and put to death."
The convert remained silent.
Exasperated at Potocki's stubborn refusal to return to the Church, the bishop decided to take him to court, charged with abandoning the Catholic faith. A trial was held, and Potocki was quickly found guilty.
The sentence: Avraham ben Avraham was to be burned at the stake. The execution was scheduled to be carried out on the second day of Shavuot.
Some say that on the morning of the execution, the Vilna Gaon visited the convert in prison, where he comforted him. "You have the merit of the greatest mitzvah ? sanctifying God’s Name. You have reason to rejoice. God is the Father of those who have recognized the truth of His word."
"I am ready to meet my death with dignity and faith," the convert replied.
At the last moment, his mother sent a messenger with a letter, asking the court to pardon her son and set him free. The messenger was somehow delayed, and by the time he delivered the letter, it was too late. The death sentence had been carried out...
That Shavuot day, the Jews of Vilna lived in fear, afraid to leave their homes. The Catholic population of Vilna was seething with fury. Imagine, Count Potocki's only son had rejected the Catholic religion, sacrificing his life for the God of the Jews!
A few hours after the execution, a brave Jew, Reb Meir Sirkis, risked his life and gathered the ashes of the saintly martyr. The convert's remains were buried in the Vilna cemetery. With the passage of years, a tree shaped like a man grew at the gravesite, shading it with its outstretched branches. Today, only the trunk of the tree remains standing. [Prior to the Holocaust, all the synagogues of Vilna commemorated his yahrtzeit.]
Reproduced from Shavuot Secrets by Rabbi Dovid Meisels with permission from the copyright holders, Israel Book Shop Publications www.israelbookshoppublications.org.

New Comment    New Comment
   See More Articles By Rabbi Dovid Meisels
   Read more about Shavuot

Top of article    Top of article       Email This Article    Email This Article          Share to Facebook       Print version    Print version

 Join the distribution list Join the distribution list
If you would like to receive other related articles or Breslev.co.il features via e-mail, please enter your e-mail address here:


 Related Articles Related Articles

Our Covenant From Sinai               A Nation of Converts               It's Not My Money
 Our Covenant From Sinai  A Nation of Converts  It's Not My Money

  0 Talkbacks for this article     

Add Your CommentAdd Your Comment    Add Your Comment    

In Honor of:    In Memory of:
Like What You Read?
Help Breslev Israel spread the light of Rebbe Nachman
across the globe, and be a partner in making a better world.
Click here to support Breslev.co.il
 Products of the Day Products of the Day
Back  1 2 3  Next
Back  1 2 3  Next
 Most talked about Most talked about
Up  1 2 3  Down
 Most read Most read
Up  1 2 3  Down
 Facebook Facebook
 Mailing List Mailing List
Subscribe Here:   


open toolbar