1 During the year 5552 [1792] a resident of Zamut named Shimon arrived in Vilna. He had studied science and mathematics, and Hebrew grammar under students of the leading maskilim. His knowledge of Tanach was outstanding, and he met with the approval of the Gaon Rav Eliyahu’s brother Reb Yissachar, and his son Reb Avraham. They became very close to him, and appointed him the general supervisor of all Tanach teachers in Vilna.

Since this Shimon pretended to be a rabbinic scholar and G‑d-fearing person, the Gaon Rav Eliyahu invited him to write a review of his own work on grammar. No one imagined that Shimon was secretly a member of the maskilim. But the truth was that his sole aim was to gain converts to the Haskalah Movement.

He separated the elementary school pupils into classes according to their abilities. Among the students who had graduated to study Gemara in yeshivah, he chose those with the best aptitudes, and arranged for them a program of study in Tanach with additional commentaries besides Rashi. And when he was satisfied that he had already poisoned their minds, he would send them away to various cities in Germany. His pretext was that he was sending them to one of the yeshivos in Minsk, Slutzk, Smorgon, or Brysk.

He assisted the most outstanding young students financially, giving them huge stipends. Thus, he pursued his work energetically and in orderly fashion. Most of the students whom he chose to send away came from poor families. Once they were gone, they were quickly forgotten, and no one spoke of them again.

Shimon, the secret corrupter of minds, worked for four years capturing souls for the Haskalah Movement. Twice a year, he would select some of the best students and send them away to schools that were under the influence of the maskilim in Galicia and Poland. He managed this under the pretext that [the students were fulfilling the advice of the Sages], “Exile yourself to a place of Torah.”2 Besides Yosef Peseles (who was secretly one of the maskilim, and supported the maskilim with large sums of money) no one knew — or even suspected — that Shimon held heretical views.

During the years that Shimon lived in Vilna, he sought to deceive the leaders of the chassidim through flattery. In community affairs, there were sometimes differences of opinion between the community officials who were misnagdim and those who were chassidim. Since he was neither a chassid nor a misnaged, Shimon’s opinion was often the deciding factor.

His most clever achievement was to deceive those who stood at the head of the chassidic community, Reb Baruch Mordechai and Reb Moshe Meisels. Since they were masters of Hebrew grammar and enthusiasts of the Holy Tongue, they were very friendly to him. Reb Moshe Meisels had a weakness for writing poetry, and so he gave honor to Reb Shimon, who was an expert at rhyming.

As mentioned, by this time the Alter Rebbe’s text of the prayers had already been disseminated in handwritten form among the chassidim. Some of them wrote his revisions into [the margins of] the Siddur Shaar HaShamayim3 of the Shaloh,4 for this text was closer to the Alter Rebbe’s text. But most of them wrote the Alter Rebbe’s revisions into the margins of the ordinary Siddurim of the Ashkenazic liturgy from which they prayed.

Now it is true that the idea of a special prayer text for the chassidim aroused the anger of the misnagdim against the chassidim. Nevertheless, without exception, they acknowledged that the exact wording of the text of the Alter Rebbe’s Siddur had been polished to absolute perfection. Even in the passages where he had made no changes in the wording, the Alter Rebbe had edited the vowel points to comply with the rules of grammar and syntax. This amazed even the expert grammarians.

Shimon, continuing to hide his true intentions, praised and extolled the Alter Rebbe’s Siddur. He would often say, “I can offer no opinion about the wording of the text or the order of the prayers, for I have never studied mysticism. But where the grammar is concerned, I say in all sincerity that I have never seen anything that so exactly accorded with the science of grammar.” He would also express wonder at the fact that the chassidim did not study grammar and linguistics.

The chassidim of Galicia were the first to suffer from the campaigns and oppressions of the maskilim. Next, came the chassidim of Vohlynia and Poland. The Chabad Chassidim were the last of all. The reason for this was that some of the Berlin maskilim happened to meet the elite Chabad Chassidim at the fairs in Leipzig; these were the geonim Reb Yosef Kalbo, Reb Pinchas Schick, Reb Binyamin Kletzker, and other chassidim from Shklov. They discovered that the Chabad Chassidim possessed broad knowledge of theology and the mystic aspects of the Torah. Additionally, they engaged in the avodah of the heart and in refining their middos. Thus, people of unusually great aptitude would be needed to defeat them.

The maskilim labored for five years, 5551-5556 [1791-1796], in battle against the chassidim of Lita and the Ukraine. They sent special agents to the places where chassidim lived, to stimulate them to study the Hebrew language and grammar. But wherever these agents went, the chassidim distanced themselves from them. Even when they came to shul, they would not be called up to the Torah for an aliyah, and when one of them had to recite Kaddish, the chassidim would not answer Amein. Often, they would literally expel them from the chassidic shuls.

The centers of the Haskalah Movement received reports from these secret agents who had been sent to the Chabad chassidic communities to capture souls for Haskalah. They described the troubles they had encountered on the way, the abuse and humiliation they had endured, and the actual expulsions. Not only had they accomplished nothing with the chassidim, but they had even become objects of ridicule among those misnagdim who wrote books on grammar!

Because of the opposition of the chassidim, and the publication of the shocking story of the events in Ponievitch,5 the agents resigned from their posts, and no longer worked for the Haskalah Movement. The campaign committee in the Haskalah center then assigned Shimon the task of visiting the chassidic communities, including their leader’s capital city of Liozna. At the end of his journey, he was to submit a report, with suggestions about how they could battle the chassidim and overcome them.

Shimon was well acquainted with chassidic attitudes, for he had often engaged the chassidim of Vilna in intellectual debate. He therefore took it for granted that he was the appropriate agent for this task, and expected to succeed at it. Thus, he accepted the commission of the campaign committee. With the pretext that he had to attend to some “family business,” he took a three-month leave of absence from his employment — until the end of the semester. He then made his way to the chassidic communities, and their capital city.

About the month of Elul, the geonim and chassidim Reb Baruch Mordechai and Reb Moshe Meisels received a letter from Liozna. It was written in the name of the Alter Rebbe, and referred to this Shimon, whom they had described as a G‑d-fearing person who loved the Alter Rebbe’s Siddur and praised it expansively. The letter warned them that he was really a secret member and agent of the maskilim, sent to capture souls and convert them to the idolatry of Haskalah. They were instructed to keep him under surveillance, to spy on him, and to follow his every step. And when they succeeded in catching him red-handed, they were to expose him for what he was.

The success of the Vilna chassidim in electing two additional community officers who were chassidim lifted their spirits — not only in Vilna itself, but in the entire district. Through the efforts of these chassidic officers, the income of the community treasury increased. After only one month, impressive sums were coming into the treasury — substantially more than before. But this only served to upset the more fanatic misnagdim, and their hatred grew very strong. Defamation and slander added fuel to the fire, so that the feud (which had been dormant for the past three years) was now resurrected.

The chassidim decided to post spies in the council of those who fought against them. Especially, they wished to spy on Mr. Yosef Peseles, for the leaders of the dispute used to meet in his home.

This decision proved very useful to the chassidim. A particularly successful spy was Betzalel Baruch “the Dwarf,” who was in fact related to Mrs. Peseles. Outwardly, he appeared to be a simpleton; he had a hunchback and he stuttered, he was half blind and half deaf, with bushy eyebrows and a pronounced limp. But in fact, he was clever and perceptive. He would appear at crucial moments, as if by accident. Thus, he was able to overhear everything, and to read the correspondence addressed to Mr. Peseles, while spying for the chassidim.

The first key to unlocking Shimon’s secret was obtaining a copy of a letter he had sent to Mr. Peseles. In this letter, he wrote that he was now in Krakow, delivering a report of his visit to the towns where the chassidim lived. He reported that he had also visited the capital city of the chassidim.

After he had been there for about a week (he had been sick for a few days) he had been granted an audience with their leader. But eventually, he had been found out. Perhaps (he suggested jokingly), he had been detected by his smell. The holy Zohar tells of a youngster who could detect people who had not recited the Shema, by their smell.6 He, in fact, had not put on tefillin that day, but the Rebbe had not detected that; he had merely detected that he was an agent of the maskilim. He had departed that same night.

While traveling through the towns of White Russia, he had seen that the chassidim there were in a very strong position. Thus, it appeared doubtful that he would succeed in penetrating their defenses. He and his colleagues were now exploring ways and strategies to overcome the chassidim. He wrote:

We are all of the opinion that “He was not, He is not, and He shall never be.”7 It is all the same to us whether they say Nakdishach and Keser8 or they say Nekadeish and Na’aritzecha.9 All of them follow obsolete practices, and it is up to us to enlighten them.

You did not hear what the agents reported to me, and you did not see all that I saw. If you had, you would know that all the oppressions and persecutions by the Vilna council against the members of this movement do not constitute even a small fraction of what ought to be done against the chassidim of the Liozna Rebbe. When I arrive in Vilna, I will report everything at length.

Reb Baruch Mordechai and Reb Moshe Meisels were shocked when they read this letter. They instructed Betzalel Baruch to be careful not to tell anyone about it, or even to speak of it. He should henceforth pursue his assignment with much thought and careful planning, and with great patience.

Reb Baruch Mordechai and Reb Moshe Meisels had very often heard Shimon utter the praises of his relative, Reb Aizik’l Frumales, who lived in Polotzk. His knowledge of Hebrew grammar was both broad and deep, but he had married into chassidic families, and he davened in their beis hamedrash. Thus, he had persuaded the chassidim to teach their children Hebrew grammar and the Hebrew language. He was a wealthy businessman, and had dealings in several towns in the vicinity of Polotzk. Wherever he went, he managed to influence them to adopt his ideas.

Reb Baruch Mordechai and Reb Moshe Meisels suggested that one of the chassidim should disguise himself, and visit Reb Shimon at his home, pretending to be a relative of the businessman Reb Aizik’l Frumales. Then he should search any possible hiding places, to find all of Shimon’s letters and bring them to them. For this mission, they chose the chassid Reb Zalman Leib of Szventzian, known as “Reb Zelmele the Tinsmith.”

Reb Zalman Leib succeeded in his mission, bringing back many bundles of manuscripts, letters, notes, copies of letters Shimon had written to his friends and acquaintances, and letters he had received from them. He also found books of Haskalah, written in Hebrew, German, Italian, French, and Greek. In short, Reb Zalman Leib brought to Reb Baruch Mordechai and Reb Moshe Meisels everything that had been secreted in Shimon’s hiding place.

They found much correspondence between him and several named individuals who were leading figures of the Haskalah Movement. This demonstrated that Shimon was one of the leaders of the Haskalah, and that he had taken upon himself the task of running the campaign to capture souls for Haskalah from among the best students of the yeshivos and Torah academies of Vilna. Among these papers they found:

i. A list of the young men whom Shimon had sent to study in the schools run by the maskilim. [In Poland,] the city of Warsaw; in Galicia, the city Krakow; in Germany, the cities of Berlin, Breslau, Dessau, and Königsberg;

ii. Copies of certificates he had given to each student, describing their special aptitudes, reporting what subjects they had studied under him, and suggesting programs for their future study;

iii. An accounting of the money delivered to him by messenger from Berlin and Königsberg, the amounts he had received from their honored comrade, Lord Peseles, and the amounts he had spent;

iv. Detailed information on the status of each student. Correspondence between him and the students’ teachers, suggesting that they be taught to read French and Greek; thus, they would advance in the study of classic works of philosophy in the original;

v. A list of books they should read; these included books that ridiculed religion and the belief in angels, the evil eye, demons, and evil spirits; so that they would purge their minds of all the foolishness that their ignorant teachers had previously taught them.

All this material clearly demonstrated Shimon’s true identity — he was one of the leading maskilim, an atheist who denied the existence of G‑d, did not believe in the Torah and mitzvos, and mocked the words of the Sages. He possessed an exceptional talent for capturing innocent souls, corrupting and subverting them to the idolatry of Haskalah.

Reb Baruch Mordechai and Reb Moshe Meisels arranged these papers in order. They copied the most important ones in a format suitable for publication when the opportunity would present itself. The presentation was arranged so that Shimon would be completely unable to offer any defense, to attempt to deny the charges, or even to offer some rationalization. Mr. Peseles would also be implicated, and this would besmirch his honor (which was very important to him).

On Tzom Gedaliah, Betzalel Baruch informed Reb Baruch Mordechai that Shimon had returned from his travels on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. Shimon and Peseles had conferred during the days of Rosh Hashanah and Tzom Gedaliah, and Reb Betzalel Baruch transmitted everything he had overheard.

Shimon had reported to Peseles about his visit to the capital city of the chassidim, and that he had been granted an audience with the Alter Rebbe. He had also described his conversations with the princes — the Alter Rebbe’s sons and his brothers; the teachings the Rebbe had delivered, his manner of prayer and his customs; the customs of the elder chassidim, their prayer, their study, and their casual conversation; the lifestyles of the younger chassidim; their love for one another and their brotherhood; and their strict discipline in following the program that was set for them.

When he arrived in Vitebsk, a distance of thirty or forty kilometers from the chassidic capital [of Liozna], Shimon already heard much news of what was happening in the “Citadel of the King”; [as the Sages say,]10 “King” refers to the rabbis. He was amazed by the respect reverence that the chassidim displayed when speaking of the sons or brother of their prince. The brother was called “the gaon Maharil” [מהרי"ל, Moreinu HaRav Yehudah Leib]. The sons were also called “Moreinu,” and an abbreviated form of their names; the full names were never pronounced. Thus, the eldest was called “Maharad” (מוהר"ד, Moreinu HaRav Dov Ber); the second was called “Maharcha’a” (מוהרח"א, Moreinu HaRav Chayim Avraham); the third was called “Maharam” (מוהר"ם, Moreinu HaRav Moshe). Even the Nasi’s grandson,11 who was then a child of six or seven, was called “Ramam” (רמ"ם, Rav Menachem Mendel), and they would speak highly of him as a young genius with outstanding abilities.

During the three weeks he spent in Vitebsk, he visited many shuls and study houses. There, he discovered groups of people sitting and studying unbound printed booklets [of Chassidus]. They argued among themselves in scholarly debate, with the excitement that Torah study generates. The elders sat, while the younger ones stood crowded together, all occupied with their study.

He discovered that these unbound booklets were sections of their Nasi’s text, which had only recently gone to press in Slavuta. So great was the chassidim’s desire and thirst for their Rebbe’s teachings, that they contracted with the printer to send them individual signatures, as soon as they came off the press. About five thousand such unbound booklets had already arrived in the city and the surrounding area. In fact, he had already seen such booklets in Vilna, before his departure.

He entered one of the shuls at about five in the afternoon, and found a group of chassidim who had just finished Minchah and were now preparing a feast in honor of a mitzvah. A towel had been spread over the table at the southern wall, and on it lay a loaf of bread, some salt, two herrings, a few cucumbers, a bottle of whiskey, and some cups.

[Here is the story as Shimon himself reported it]:

One of the elder chassidim was named Reb Nachman. He had a wide forehead and a serious expression on his face, and appeared to be the leader of the group. He washed his hands first, after which the rest of the company did likewise, and they sat down at the table. When they noticed me sitting on a bench at the northern wall and looking into a sefer, they invited me to join them at the table. I replied that I was fasting because it was my father’s yartzeit,12 and so I was unable to partake of their food. However, with their permission, I agreed to join their celebration, and I sat down at the end of the table.

One of the younger chassidim filled the cups. Reb Nachman then stood up; all the participants did likewise, and I too got up from my seat. He then declared:

LeChayim! to our Lord, our Master, our Rebbe, and to the entire family of our Rebbe’s court. May G‑d (blessed be He) fulfill all the desires of our Rebbe’s most holy heart. May he succeed in everything he undertakes. May G‑d (blessed be He) help us and all our fellow chassidim to adhere to the teachings of our Rebbe, so that we may observe, fulfill, and keep them. May we be wholly dedicated and devoted to the will of our Lord, Master, and Rebbe, for it is the will of G‑d.

To this, everyone answered Amein! They wished one another LeChayim, and that G‑d would fulfill the blessing Reb Nachman had just spoken. Then, they began to sing. When the niggun ended, Reb Nachman began to relate the latest news of the chassidic capital. Because of the great success of the chassidim in Shklov — and especially the two “great luminaries,” Reb Pinchas Reizes and Reb Binyamin Kletzker — many new people had been attracted to the teachings of Chassidus. Many of these converts had come from the foremost young scholars, and the most prestigious families of the misnagdim. Reb Nachman then declared:

When our Lord, Master, and Rebbe was still at the court of his own Rebbe, the Maggid of Mezritch, he would study together with the holy Malach,13 the Maggid’s son. Once, when our Rebbe was about to depart for home, his colleague the Malach went along to see him on his way. When the coachman arrived with his carriage to transport our Rebbe, the holy Malach and our Rebbe went outside.

The holy Malach then turned to the coachman and said, “Whip the horses until they cease to be horses!”

When the Rebbe heard the holy Malach’s words, he turned back and remained in Mezritch for some time longer. He explained that the holy Malach’s instructions to the coachman, “Whip the horses until they cease to be horses,” opened up for him an entirely new approach to serving G‑d.

When Reb Nachman finished speaking, all present continued looking at him. His face shone as he began to sing. Those present joined their voices with his for quite some time. Apparently, they were all familiar with this niggun. When they finished singing, Reb Nachman said that he would now explain this new path that the Alter Rebbe had learned from the Malach’s words to the coachman, thirty-five years earlier, in Mezritch:

[Reb Nachman’s speech, as quoted in Shimon’s report]:

It is written:14 “A whip for a horse, a bridle strap for a donkey, and a stick for the back of fools.” Ibn Ezra15 explains that these are the three who deserve to be beaten.

Who are these three? The “horse” refers to the misnagdim who oppose the teachings of Chassidus. The “donkey” refers to the hedonists who indulge in the pleasures of this world. The “fools” are the maskilim, the polluted offspring of Mendelssohn and company, the original source of uncleanness.

The order in which these three (the horse, the donkey, and the fools) are listed is deliberate. Someone who refuses to study Chassidus is a horse (especially, those who oppose the teachings of Chassidus are like horses). Why are they like horses? Because a horse never sees the heavens. He never lifts up his head to notice that there is a Heaven above him.16 So too, these misnagdim have no desire to know that there is a Heaven above their heads.

Two additional categories are derived from these horses. One is the category of donkeys, who gorge themselves on the pleasures of this world. At first, they partake only of things that are permitted. But as the Rebbe writes in his kuntresim,17 even things which are permitted are totally evil if they are done through lust. Later, they graduate from doing permitted things to forbidden things. They operate on the principle that [in a state of doubt] a ruling which advocates leniency is favored [over one that advocates stringency].18 What the Shulchan Aruch rules as acceptable only after the fact, becomes their first choice.

The second category is the maskilim — the fools and heretics, may their name and memory be erased forever.

The Torah teaches us how to deal with these three, to bring them back to the correct path: “A whip for a horse” — the horse must be beaten with a whip until he becomes aware that he is only a horse. That is the old way of looking at it. But the holy Malach discovered a new way of looking at it. The horse must be beaten until he ceases to be a horse, that is, he ceases to behave like a horse.

These are the two ways of dealing with the misnagdim who oppose the teachings of Chassidus. The first way is to demonstrate to them that without studying Chassidus they remain horses. But the new way that the Alter Rebbe learned from the Malach’s holy words to the coachman is that we must explain to the misnagdim the teachings of the Torah and the ways of worshiping G‑d, until they quit their boorish ways.

“A strap for a donkey” — for those who follow the lust of their desires, we must put a bridle strap and harness on them, to muzzle their desires so that they behave as required by the Torah, without looking for ways to permit things, or to be lenient with the law.

Now these two categories, the misnagdim and the people with the lusts, still have hope of being refined, through the whip and the bridle strap. On the other hand, the “fools,” meaning the accursed maskilim (may their name be erased) have no hope of refinement. They are like an earthenware utensil that has absorbed something non-kosher. There is no way of repairing such a utensil except to break it. This also applies to the maskilim, who have been poisoned by the venom of heresy. There is no way to repair this; only breaking them and removing them from this world will repair this. This is the “stick,” a staff made from a strong wooden branch, for the back of these fools. They must be beaten and expelled from the midst of the Jewish nation.

[This Ends Reb Nachman’s speech. Shimon’s report now continues]:

The chassidim began to sing. But my blood began to boil, and my heart burst at hearing the words of Reb Nachman.

For a moment, my impulse was to stand up and do battle with them. I would shower them with sayings that are the opposite of their teachings, and with statements of the philosophers that totally disprove their fantasies of a G‑d in Heaven who creates and rules the world. I assumed that they were intellectually weak, and would be unable to debate me rationally. I imagined that even religious philosophy such as Moreh Nevuchim19 and Kuzari20 were foreign to them. But I immediately changed my mind, remembering that my most important mission here was to gain first-hand knowledge of this company of our mortal enemies. Thus, I overcame my impulse and forced myself to remain silent. Instead, I bent my ear to listen to every word that escaped the mouths of these ignorant folk, and to scrutinize carefully their way of life and their customs. When they finished singing, Reb Nachman resumed speaking:

“We beat the horses among us according to the first way, informing them that they are horses. We lack the skill to follow the second way,21 because we do not adequately engage in Torah study and avodah of the heart. On the other hand, the chassidim of Shklov do occupy themselves with diligent study of Chassidus, and with the avodah of praying at length. Especially, Reb Pinchas Reizes, of whom the Alter Rebbe says that he is ‘a cemented cistern that does not lose a drop’;22 and Reb Binyamin Kletzker, of whom the Alter Rebbe says that he is dedicated to public service, and very incisive. Their avodah is of the second kind, for they can extricate horses from their horse-like natures.”

Reb Nachman then delivered a lengthy dissertation on how one evolves from being a misnaged to being one who indulges in pleasures. He reported several incidents, some of which are undoubtedly lies, the result of the chassidim’s overactive imaginations. Some of them were quite comical, causing us all to laugh so hard that our faces became wet. Even those who told the stories admitted that they were meant to ridicule; indeed, the rule is that all jesting speech is forbidden, except that which mocks idol worship. Then, they drank LeChayim again, and resumed their singing. I must admit that their niggunim captured the heart.

When the niggun ended, Reb Nachman turned to one of the company and said, “Peretz, give us your yarmulke.” Raising his hat and removing the yarmulke from his head, Reb Peretz set it upside-down on the table.

Reb Nachman next turned to another member of the company and said, “Betzalel Chayim, you write the list.” Turning to one of the young scholars, he said, “Eliyah Moshe, bring paper and ink.”

He then turned to Reb Betzalel Chayim again, saying, “Be careful to write clearly, with no extraneous thoughts while writing. This list will be sent in to the most holy chamber, to be read by the Holy of Holies, our Lord, Master, and Rebbe.”

When the young scholar Reb Eliyah Moshe brought the paper and the writing implements, Reb Betzalel Chayim stood up from his place at the table, went over to the wash basin, washed his hands, rubbed them together and dried them. Then, he adjusted his gartel and his hat and returned to his seat. After some further preparation, he wrote about two lines. I was unable to see what he was writing, but his face had a very serious expression, and his color went from pale white to deep red, as he looked at Reb Nachman.

Reb Nachman removed a linen cloth from his pocket, and a sheet of paper with writing on it. From this paper, he read the names of a number of people, along with the amounts they had contributed — it came to more than a thousand gold florins! The gold coins were placed into the yarmulke, while Reb Betzalel Chayim copied the names of the contributors.

When Reb Nachman finished reading his list of contributors, four or five other men did likewise: they read their own lists of contributors and the amounts they had contributed. They deposited the coins in the yarmulke, while Reb Betzalel wrote everything down. The final list filled four or five sheets of paper.

When they finished reading the lists, Reb Nachman produced a gold coin and put it in the yarmulke, while Reb Betzalel Chayim recorded his name. Afterwards, the others did the same. Most of them gave not less than three coins, and a few even gave five or nine gold coins. One of them amazed me very much — when his turn came, he took out a linen kerchief, removed a large stack of gold coins and gave them to Reb Nachman, who counted them twice. Reb Nachman then declared to Reb Chayim, “Chayim Zundel ben Beila bas Reb Yochanan donates seventy-two gold florins.” This Reb Chayim Zundel was dressed in plain clothes that were obviously very old, and wore torn shoes. I looked in wonder at this person who was so poor, and yet contributed so large a sum.

When the entire collection was finished, they emptied the coins from the yarmulke and put them into a cloth sack. This was given to one of the assembly, Reb Shlomo Eliezer. They then drew lots to determine who would have the privilege of transporting the collected sum. The winners were Reb Chayim Zundel, and one of the elders, Reb Nachum Moshe.