1As I pointed out in the attached letter, this essay is merely the raw material from which a proper treatise on the history of Chassidus may be composed (with G‑d’s help). In the chapters so far, we have discussed the stages by which Chassidus developed and matured during the first two generations our master the Baal Shem Tov’s generation and the Maggid’s generation and the beginning of the Alter Rebbe’s generation.

In order for us to have some appreciation and perception of the Alter Rebbe’s holy avodah in formulating the teachings of Chabad, we must first understand the condition of the Torah scholars of those days in the territory of Reissin. This was the place where the Alter Rebbe had chosen to live and to disseminate his approach to the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov the approach known as Chabad.

We must also be aware that at that time there were already visible a few blossoms that had sprouted from the seeds sown by the Baal Shem Tov and his contemporary hidden tzaddikim, and later by his disciples and their disciples, headed by our master the Maggid. These factors the condition of the Torah scholars of those days in Reissin, and the fruits of the labor of the Baal Shem Tov, his disciples, and their disciples together facilitated the Alter Rebbe’s task.

I will now insert here several stories that I have written in my diary, which I heard at various times. They illustrate the general condition of the Torah scholars in Reissin, the campaigns of the Baal Shem Tov and his contemporary hidden tzaddikim, the greatness of the personalities of the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid, their broad knowledge of the Torah, the lofty nature of their avodah, and their utter dedication to the task of disseminating the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezritch.


These teachings were very gradually brought to the region of Reissin (also called “White Russia,” by which we mean the three counties of Minsk, Mohilev, and Vitebsk). These three counties possessed large Jewish populations. Some lived in the county seats, some in towns, some in small villages, and some in rural settlements.

Because the soil in these three counties was for the most part inferior to the soil in the Ukrainian territories, most of the residents of these counties were poor. They were forced to work very hard to support themselves and their families.2

However, at the beginning of the fifth century of the sixth millennium [about 1640] the light of Torah began to manifest itself in these counties too. It was imported by travelers who came from the Vilna region in one direction, the Zamut region in another direction,3 and the Kiev region in a third direction.

Within twenty years, glimmerings of the light of the Torah were evident even among natives of the three counties of Reissin. Many of these were young scholars who had become sons-in-law of wealthy Jews who were patrons of Jewish institutions in the local cities.

The Torah scholars were supported by their in-laws while dedicating themselves exclusively to Torah study. They began to disseminate the light of the Torah in their hometowns through various means. Some established societies for the study of Aggadah, Midrash, and the basic laws. What was more important, they established Torah educators and yeshivos to teach the bochurim who wished to study Torah.

Within a very few years, the competition between the scholars improved the level of Torah study. Also, competition between those who were engaged in these tasks increased the number of excellent students with superior abilities.

In those days people generally remained at home, and rarely traveled about from one place to another much less making a long journey from one county to another. But, the Torah scholars who founded and administered the yeshivos also strived for the academic success of the students. Because of this, much effort was spent encouraging the best students to go to study in the yeshivos of the Vilna, Zamut, and Kiev regions.

Typically, a student would spend three to five years at the yeshivah. While at the yeshivah, each student would (in addition to his diligent study of Torah) keep his family in mind, attempting to find appropriate husbands for his sisters. Thus, in time, many hundreds of Torah scholars came to settle in the three counties of Reissin.

During the second half of the fifth century [after 1690], the city of Minsk was the provincial capital of White Russia, and one of the largest centers of Torah and education. In its yeshivos, many hundreds of students of superior ability were trained, some of whom were considered to be illuyim. Through them, many smaller yeshivos were founded in various villages throughout the province.


Within forty years of the introduction of Torah scholarship to the cities of Mohilev and Vitebsk counties by the students of the Minsker yeshivos, institutions of Torah learning were already established (by the grace of G‑d) in every town, village, and hamlet. This was all thanks to the elevated spiritual status of the Jews of that time, and their love of Torah and all things holy.

During the decade of 5480-5490 [1720-1730], one could find, throughout the province of Reissin, thousands of laborers cobblers, carpenters, agricultural workers of field and garden, businessmen in stores and markets all of whom were Torah scholars of high degree. They had once been yeshivah students, and now continued to study Torah, each according to his abilities. Most of them could repeat several orders of the Mishnah and several hundred pages of Gemara, fluently, by heart.

Our master the Baal Shem Tov and his contemporary colleagues, the hidden tzaddikim, would visit these yeshivos whenever the opportunity presented itself. They would thus sow the seeds of the light of Toras HaChassidus, and demonstrate how one could serve G‑d through ahavas Yisrael. Later, our master the Maggid and his disciples the Holy Society took over this task.