At the urging of the holy Rav Avraham Chazan of the Breslov shul, Rav Bender and all the rest allowed brazen sinners (including a murderer) and vulgar boors to attend shul davening.
Good Jews throughout the area disparaged them for this.
But neither Rav Bender nor Rav Avraham Chazan took offense. They understood the opposition while understanding the underlying spiritual dynamics regarding the sinners in their midst—unrefined Jews who, for some reason, still wanted to come to shul.
Yet after everyone witnessed—and even benefitted from—the blazing transformation of the murderer, the Jews of Uman realized the righteousness of the path trod by Rav Bender and Rav Avraham Chazan:
“Those who bring Jews close as long as the title Jew is called upon them. Those who preach that there is no giving up, and no outcast shall be pushed away.
Even total reshaim can be transformed into complete tzaddikim—as we saw with our own eyes many times.”
“Concerning murder, there is no difference if someone murders the biggest tzaddik or the biggest rasha. For both crimes, he is equally called a murderer. Punishment is equal for both.”
And if you think about that lack of discrimination, it’s very interesting.
The halachically prescribed punishment is exactly the same, whether someone murdered a tzaddik or whether someone murdered a sinful boor. For example, halacha doesn’t demand an extra painful execution for the murderer of a tzaddik. Nor does halacha say that the murderer of a sinful boor can make do with a flogging and a whopping fine.
The punishment is equal for both.
Why is that?
Rav Bender explains:
“For in root, all are equal. So relate to all Jewish souls equally—like small, like great. Who is able to assess the tremendous value of a Jewish soul? Even if outwardly, it looks empty.”
He created a mikvah on his own premises despite the horrific punishment possible if the KGB would discover it. (And after being informed by Jew-haters, the KGB did come to his home to search for the mikvah.) He also fed all the needy and poor who came to him, including the very people who originally rejected him and disparaged Rav Bender’s community for tolerating his presence during davening.
Despite the goodness and dedication of the Jews in that area, no one displayed the same courage and dedication as this former hitman after he made complete teshuvah.
“For in root, all are equal. Who is able to assess the tremendous value of a Jewish soul? Even if outwardly, it looks empty.”
The True Story of How a Murderer did Teshuvah