Next, Shimon reported on his visit to Liozna:

I arrived in Liozna on a Monday, about two o’clock in the afternoon. I entered the shul in their leader’s house, and in the side-room I discovered people still wearing their tallis and tefillin. They were still davening in melodious voices — one saying Pesukei DeZimra,1 another reciting the blessings of Kerias Shema. All of them were singing with pleasant voices, and snapping their fingers to the rhythm.

It took three hours for all of them to finish their prayers. After the davening, some recited chapters of Tehillim, others studied Mishnah or Gemara, and still others recited chapters of the Prophets or the Holy Scriptures by heart. When all was finished, some went home; those who remained washed their hands, ate some black bread dipped in salt, drank some water, and recited the Grace after Meals. They then lay down on the benches for an afternoon nap.

In the second side-room (the large shul of the Rebbe’s court has three side-rooms) I found a group of young scholars busy studying Gemara in depth. The Nasi’s brother, Maharil, sat at the head of the table and explained the subject matter to them, displaying broad knowledge of Gemara, Rambam, Rashba,2 and many works of the Acharonim. This group numbered about thirty young scholars.

In the third side-room sat another group of young scholars, about twenty-three in number. They were studying the same unbound booklets I had seen people studying in the shuls of Vitebsk. When I entered, a young man with a glowing face and a very serious expression sat at the head of the table. All those who sat or stood there paid close attention to what he was saying.

He was discussing the subject that they were studying in Chapter 8 of their Nasi’s text. It concerns one who inadvertently eats some forbidden food, intending it for the sake of Heaven — through the nourishment obtained from that food, he intends to serve G‑d by Torah study and prayer. Nevertheless, the life-force of that food is not integrated into the letters of his Torah study and prayer. The evil inclination that causes one to lust after forbidden things is a demon — one of the “gentile demons.”

The young scholar then gave a lengthy explanation of the difference between the impurity resulting from the sins of indulgence, foolishness, arrogance, and idle chatter, and the impurity resulting from the sin of studying non-Jewish philosophies. The former merely defile the heart, while the latter defile the brain. He then went on to defend the Rambam and Ramban, who did study these subjects, for they knew how to use them in serving the Creator.

I will not deny that his words had their effect on the audience. For the most part, his explanations and interpretations were logical. I later learned that this young scholar was their Nasi’s eldest son. He had a regularly-scheduled session twice a week, to study with two of the classes. Each class had about twenty-five men in it.

That same day, I purchased the first three booklets, which began with Chapter 1, and ended on page 12, at the beginning of Chapter 10. During the next three days, I perused them very carefully (as much as I was able to understand). Several elders also assisted me in understanding, though some concepts were beyond my comprehension.

A few of the subjects, such as the descriptions of the supernal sefiros, the unifications [of the sefiros] caused by Torah study and prayer, and the punishments of the Gehennom of fire and of snow, made me laugh to myself. Nevertheless, the rich metaphor, the lucid phraseology, the polished style, the flawless syntax, and the very concise language, all made a powerful impression on me.

During these three days, I also managed to become acquainted with their Nasi’s other sons. They sat in the beis hamedrash, each studying by himself. But occasionally, one of the elders or the young scholars would approach them at their seats.

The middle son, Maharcha’a, seemed to prefer being alone. While studying, he would think in depth more than he spoke. On the other hand, his younger brother Maharam, a lad of fourteen or fifteen, is a lively and handsome youth. His face radiates wisdom and self-awareness, and he loves to speak and to debate. They say of him that he knows the entire Talmud thoroughly, has an excellent knowledge of philosophy. He already knows Moreh Nevuchim, Kuzari, and Ikkarim3 by heart, for he has an incomparably quick grasp and memory. When I asked him whether he knows Hebrew grammar, he replied that it is a branch of the Torah, so how can one not study it? Without it, one does not know the meaning of the words of Tanach, nor can one have the proper intention during the prayers.

The chassidim have numerous ceremonies and a special lexicon of their own. For example: anyone who comes for an audience with their Rebbe must undergo an advance preparation lasting no less than three days. Some of them even prepare themselves for a week or longer. This preparation consists chiefly of taking stock of one’s spiritual status, and purifying one’s thoughts. During the day of their audience, a few hours in advance, they gather in one of the rooms of the beis hamedrash and study Torah. Another principal feature of their preparation is reciting Tikkun Chatzos with great bitterness of heart. They then daven with intense concentration, and recite chapters of Tehillim with tears and lamentation stemming from the depths of the heart.

Another distinctive practice of the chassidim: whenever someone who has had the privilege of a yechidus (that is what they call this audience) emerges from the yechidus, they begin a dance called the “yechidus dance,” or the “dance of purity.” They have a special niggun just for this dance. The person who had the yechidus begins to dance, while the others sing and clap their hands together.

The chassidim love music, and they sing special songs at various occasions. There are niggunim for prayer, niggunim for Torah study, niggunim for mealtimes, and niggunim for farbrengens. Generally, each niggun is appropriate for the occasion when it is sung, and makes an impression on the listener. I was especially impressed by three of the niggunim. These were: the farbrengen niggun they call the “Brotherly Love Niggun”; the meditation niggun they call the “Teshuvah Niggun”; and the yechidus niggun they call the “Niggun of the Sanctuary.”

I first heard the Brotherly Love Niggun in Vitebsk. It has five stanzas, each evoking the image of [two friends] embracing, kissing, and hugging; it is very lyrical and lively, and gladdens the soul. The joy increases from stanza to stanza, and along with it, the spiritual emotions are lifted.

The Teshuvah Niggun has three stanzas. The first stanza is a sound that arouses one to abandon the physical body and concentrate his thought process. The second stanza is a sound that arouses the conscience, with powerful sadness. The third stanza is a sound that arouses deep remorse, supplication for mercy, longing for comfort and closeness [with the Divine] through heartfelt entreaties.

The Yechidus Niggun has five stanzas. The first two stanzas are slow and drawn out, arousing one to meditate deeply. The third and fourth stanzas express thanksgiving and hope, with a soft, yet reassuring sound. The fifth stanza expresses strength of spirit with a lively and sound, arousing one’s feelings and while prompting one to move his feet and wave his arms to the rhythm of the music.

The chassidim are in the habit of remaining awake two nights a week: Thursday night, and Motzoei Shabbos. They study Torah during this time. Before midnight, they usually study Gemara and Poskim, and sometimes they hold a farbrengen, during which they toast one another with LeChayim over a cup of whiskey, accompanied by some cake, or cucumbers and cheese. After the Tikkun Chatzos service, they study their lessons in Chassidus until it is time for davening.

I entered the large shul in the Rebbe’s court Thursday afternoon at six o’clock. There, I found a group of men standing in a circle, from the middle of which there emerged the sound of a clear voice, speaking with great excitement, leading the study group.

I too bent my ear to listen, and heard the voice of a young boy, explaining the subject of a square exceeding a circle by one fourth.4 Tosafos agrees with Rashi’s explanation of the subject, concerning both the perimeter and the ratio.5 However, concerning the diagonal of a square being equal to one and two-fifths the length of each side,6 Tosafos disagrees with Rashi’s explanation in the first chapter of Sukkos, dealing with the subject of a circular sukkah. Rashi states that the diagonal exceeds the side of a square by exactly two-fifths, while Tosafos maintains that this ratio is not exact.7 The young lad explained:

“My holy grandfather the Rebbe taught me this subject, and he rescued Rashi from Tosafos’ criticism. Tosafos calculates according to the rules of mathematics and geometry, as they demonstrate by means of the figure drawn there. But Rashi maintains that since the Sages rounded it off to seven-fifths, the commandment that forbids us to depart from the words of the Sages8 obligates us to regard this number as if it was exact.”9

When his pilpul was finished, I finally caught sight of him, and saw a young boy, of average height for his age. He was Ramam [the future Tzemach Tzedek], their leader’s grandson. The young scholars had promised to take him for a walk and show him the place where his grandfather, the Rebbe, had been born. But first, they stipulated that he had to review in public the last subject he had studied that week. Therefore, he had been reviewing the subject of surveying the boundaries of cities, in Eiruvin, Chapter Keitzad Me’arvin.10

The Rebbe’s residence is called the Heichal.11 It stands in a large courtyard, with rows of trees and a vegetable garden. There are also several other buildings in the courtyard. The Heichal is about thirty-eight feet long and eighteen feet wide. It has an upper story about thirty feet long, and the same width as the lower story.

The lower story is divided into two apartments, separated by the entrance foyer. The apartment on the right is the Rebbe’s private residence, and the one on the left is the small shul that the chassidim call the “Lower Gan Eden.” That is where people wait for their turn to enter for yechidus. The upper story also has two apartments separated by a foyer. One is the room where the Rebbe secludes himself, and the other is where the Rebbe receives people for yechidus. The chassidim call this room the “Upper Gan Eden.”

During the week I was unable to see the Rebbe. I was informed that It is possible to see him only during the Torah reading (he himself usually reads from the Torah),12 while he delivers his Torah teachings in the Lower Gan Eden, or on Fridays, on his way to the mikveh.

I waited for the next Friday. Unfortunately, when I awoke Friday morning I came down with a fever. I remained sick and confined to bed for the next three days and nights. It was only on the following Monday (the fourth day of my illness), that I managed to get out of bed. Even this was due solely to the efforts of the landlord, who gave me various medicines to take, massaged my body with vinegar, and covered me with blankets and quilts to make me sweat. At first, I was so weak that I was unable to stand on my feet. On Wednesday, my turn arrived to be received by the Rebbe for yechidus in the Upper Gan Eden.

When I entered the Rebbe’s chamber, I was struck with fear and awe by his appearance of his face, his powerful and penetrating glance, and his mighty and deliberate voice, inquiring, “What can I do for you?” But I immediately recovered and calmed myself.

I said, “I am an elementary school teacher in my hometown, and I teach my pupils according to the rules of Hebrew grammar. But my fellow teachers oppose me and slander me for it, saying [with sarcasm], ‘Why don’t you teach the pupils the science of linguistics as well!’

“When I offered — as evidence [that a knowledge of grammar is important] — the Rebbe’s new text of the Siddur, which follows exactly the rules of grammar, they had nothing to reply. For the public benefit, I request that you give me a letter of reference, which I can use to demonstrate that it is good to teach young children according to the rules of grammar, to accustom them to read correctly, and to teach them Tanach.”

The Rebbe leaned on his forearms for about five minutes. Then, he raised his head, opened his eyes, and said, “You are correct — the hymns and Psalms in the prayers, and especially Kerias Shema, must be recited with great care, following the rules of grammar. But as for teaching grammar and linguistics as academic subjects, one must be very cautious about doing such a thing.

“In the Heavenly Yeshivah, there are separate halls for each kind of study. And right between the hall of grammar study and the hall of linguistics study stands the hall of those who deliberately misinterpret Scripture.

“Now when one’s soul ascends to Heaven each night to renew its life spirit, the soul rises to the study hall that corresponds to the subject he studied during the day. But occasionally, one may enter the wrong hall by mistake. Instead of entering the hall of grammar or the hall of linguistics, he may enter the hall of those who deliberately misinterpret Scripture. Therefore, one must be very cautious about studying the subjects of grammar and linguistics.”

When he finished speaking, he again leaned on his forearms, as before. Then, he raised his head, opened his eyes, and asked me how I explain to my pupils the verse,13 “And Yitzchak was siezed with very great trembling.”

“I explain it according to the first interpretation of Rashi, that it means he was astounded,” I replied.

“And why don’t you explain it to your pupils according to the second interpretation of Rashi, quoting the Midrash, that he saw Gehennom opened up beneath him?” he asked.

“In my opinion,” I replied, “one shouldn’t fill the pupils’ delicate minds with Aggadah in general, and especially with things that might frighten them, such as Gehennom and the like. Even less, should one teach small children things that they can’t even imagine. The pupil will wonder how the large and wide opening of Gehennom could enter into Yitzchak’s small room. And how could its fires, which have been constantly blazing for 5,555 years, enter the room, and yet Eisav and his father Yitzchak remained alive and were not burned to a crisp?”

“And how does the Midrash know that he saw Gehennom opened up beneath him?” he asked further.

I remained silent, making no reply. Obviously, I had no answer. Indeed, is this the first gross exaggeration found in the Midrash and Talmud?

When he saw that I remained silent, the Rebbe said, “When Eisav entered Yitzchak’s room, Yitzchak asked him, ‘Who are you?’ To this, Eisav replied, ‘I am Eisav, your firstborn son.’ But this was a lie, for he had already sold the birthright to Yaakov, in a legal sale with all the required formalities. Now Yitzchak knew this, and thus he was very frightened by this lie designed to annul something that is valid under Torah law. This caused him to tremble, for telling such a lie resulted in Gehennom’s opening up beneath him”

When the Rebbe finished speaking, he leaned on his forearms as he had done before. Then, he raised his head and opened his eyes. It is customary that whenever he receives people, even during the daytime, there are two lit candles, a Chumash, and a Zohar on the table. He now lifted one of the two candles and scrutinized me, after which he said:

You come here from Vilna, but you claim to come from Zamut; you convert little children to the idolatry of Haskalah, but you claim that you are a melamed. [Because of these lies,] Gehennom opens up beneath you. How many souls have you already destroyed? Yet, you continue to rebel. Yes, it’s true: you are a heretic, and anyone who goes down that road will never return.

I quickly fled his chamber — the Upper Gan Eden — intending to rush back to my lodgings, and then leave town. I realized that I had fallen into the trap, and feared that I might share the fate of several of our agents [who were caught]: the chassidim stretched them out on a table, pulled down their trousers, and whipped them the way a melamed would spank his pupils.

As I passed through the small shul — the one they call the Lower Gan Eden — five or six young men surrounded me. They dragged me to the shul that stands in the courtyard, to begin dancing the Yechidus Dance. I don’t have to tell you how frightened and agitated I was. Moreover, I was still weak from my recent bout of fever. I tried to get myself out of the circle two or three times, but my companions held me fast. One of them kept slapping me on my back to the beat of the niggun, in friendly fashion. He even kicked me from behind with his leg a few times. This too was meant as a sign of affection.

When the dance ended, I returned to my lodgings, almost crawling on all fours. With fear and trembling, I awaited the dawn. I placed a few coins on the table as a tip for the landlord (I had already paid the bill), took my belongings, and departed for the next village, about a kilometer away. There, I hired a carriage, grateful to have escaped in one piece.

I spent about six weeks traveling through the counties of Mohilev, Minsk, and Chernigov. After that, I hurried to Lvov, where I met with our comrades and gave them a detailed report. I informed them that the chassidic community already stands on a very firm foundation. And, they are using their brilliant strategy and methodical agenda to add the remaining villages to their conquest. Masses of Jews are joining them in huge numbers.

Our comrades decided that the first thing we must do is to reinstate the cheirem, and to make it stronger than before. The main thrust of this cheirem should be against those who join them or have anything to do with them. Such a cheirem will strike fear in the masses, and they will thus refrain from even associating with the chassidim.

It was also decided to send representatives to the Imperial Capital, to denounce the chassidim to the government. The charges would be that their leader is collecting huge sums of money and sending it abroad, to the Muslim countries.14 His plan was that when he amassed a sufficient sum, he would be proclaimed King of the Jews, just as the followers of Shabbatai Tzvi and Yaakov Frank had done.

Our comrades would also claim to have evidence that the leader of the chassidim has many influential people planted in Government circles, especially among the counts and dukes. They would point out that we still hope to succeed in overcoming their influence, by using our own influence with some of th French professors and educators who are employed by the households of the nobility and the government ministers.

[This ends Shimon’s report]

Betzalel Baruch now informed Reb Baruch Moshe that — as he understood it — Shimon had already prepared the text of the cheirem, and it only awaited the Gaon Rav Eliyahu’s signature. There was no doubt that Peseles and the Committee to Combat the Chassidim would soon attend to the matter.

On Motzoei Shabbos Teshuvah Reb Baruch Moshe and Reb Moshe Meisels convened a meeting of the elite chassidim who headed the defense committee. They reported everything they knew about the business of Shimon the Heretic. It was then decided that on Chol HaMoed Sukkos the committee would convene a mass meeting, where they would publicly expose everything they had found in the documents. Shimon would thus be unmasked, and all would know that he was converting Jewish children to the idolatry of Haskalah.

On Thursday, the day after Yom Kippur 5557 [October 14, 1796], the news spread like lightening that the Gaon Rav Eliyahu had proclaimed a cheirem against the chassidim and their leader. Under the terms of the cheirem, the Gaon Rav Eliyahu gave permission (in fact, he commanded it) to commit any and all acts against the chassidim. It was forbidden for any person to have pity on them or to do any kind act for them. Anyone having anything to do with them would be tied to the pillory and flogged.

This proclamation shocked not only the chassidim of Vilna, but also the more reasonable misnagdim. On the same day, a rumor spread that the cheirem had been proclaimed without the Gaon Rav Eliyahu’s knowledge. Because of his age — seventy and a half — the fast of Yom Kippur had weakened him exceedingly. It was alleged that the Committee to Combat the Chassidim, headed by Mr. Peseles and Shimon the Grammarian, had done it on their own. That was why the cheirem had been proclaimed at the crack of dawn, in the presence of only a privileged few.

On Friday, 12 Tishrei 5557, the day after the cheirem was proclaimed, the Community Chairman for that month — the chassid Reb Meir Raphael’s — made the following proclamation to all Jews living in Vilna and its suburbs:

i. The cheirem against the chassidim had been issued without the approval of the rabbinical court. They refused to give their approval, since it was not clear that it had come from the Gaon Rav Eliyahu himself.

ii. On Wednesday, the first day of Chol HaMoed Sukkos, there would be a public assembly. By order of the communal officials, attendance at this meeting was mandatory for all men, women, and children over the age of bar mitzvah.

On the very day that the cheirem was issued against the chassidim, a flyer containing the essence of the first paragraph of this proclamation was sent by special messenger to the congregations of Brysk, Shklov, and Minsk. This was sent by the officials of the Vilna Community Council — which included several misnagdim — requesting that its contents be publicized.

They sent an additional proclamation to the chassidim of Minsk, Shklov, Szventzian, Vitebsk, and Mohilev. In it they stated that there was a Mr. Shimon, who claimed that the Gaon Rav Eliyahu had spoken highly of him, and had promoted him to the position of chief of all cheder teachers in Vilna because of his outstanding knowledge of grammar, logic, and Tanach. But they had recently learned — through documents and letters the aforementioned Mr. Shimon himself had written — that he was in fact a total heretic. He was an agent of the maskilim, sent to capture innocent souls, to persuade them to abandon Torah study, and instead to study Haskalah subjects. During the four years he had resided in Vilna, he had sent many youngsters away to the schools of the maskilim in Galicia and Germany. Most of these had come to a bad end.

The public assembly was held on Wednesday, the first day of Chol HaMoed Sukkos, as proclaimed by the Community Council. In the presence of the rabbinical court, the officers of the congregation, and the dignitaries of the community, two very imposing men stood up and stated in loud voices that they bore witness against the person commonly known as Shimon the Grammarian. They testified that he was an agent of the maskilim, sent to discourage the yeshivah students from studying Torah, and to persuade them instead to go away to study at the schools of the maskilim in Galicia and Germany.

They had in their possession a list of the pupils he had corrupted during the four years 5553-5557 [1793-1797], and the sums he had spent on them. The witnesses were prepared to swear a solemn oath that their testimony was the truth, and that everything they had reported was written and signed in Shimon the Corrupter’s own handwriting, and that of his colleagues. They demanded that Mr. Peseles be questioned under solemn oath about what he knew of Shimon the Heretic’s foul deeds.

Shimon was stunned by the revelation of these facts. As he turned from side to side in confusion, two of the community constables and several of the younger chassidim surrounded him — as much to prevent the assembly from stoning him to death as to prevent his escape. The uproar among the assembly grew from minute to minute.

Many of the pupils’ parents had heard no word from their children since they had departed for the “yeshivos” (as Shimon the Corrupter had represented to them). Until now, they had consoled themselves with the reports of their children’s academic successes that Shimon had submitted to them. They had expected eventually to see the children return complete with diplomas granting them the title of Moreinu, and rabbinic ordination. But now, discovering that their children had fallen into the trap of the maskilim — who were a poison to Judaism — they tore the hairs from their head. The women, mothers of these children, lamented their evil fate, causing the whole assembly to sound like the wailing at the cemetery.

Because of the fracas resulting from the affair of Shimon, the Heretic and Corrupter, everyone forgot all about the cheirem. For the next three weeks the rabbinical court was busy reading the letters and documents confiscated from Shimon’s home. During this time, Shimon remained locked up under heavy guard in the community’s jail. Lord Peseles tried to intercede in his behalf, but to no avail.

In the middle of MarCheshvan, the verdict was issued: he and his family were to be expelled from the city, led away in a humiliating procession, as was customary in those days. But first, he would be placed in the stocks for three hours a day over the next three days, while all passersby would spit in his face. On Thursday, 23 MarCheshvan [November 24, 1796], the sentence was carried out; Shimon the Heretic and his family were led out of town in a humiliating procession.

Shimon’s misdeeds were an embarrassment to the misnagdim who had given him honor, and especially the gaon Reb Avraham, son of the Gaon Rav Eliyahu. They also left a black mark on the character of the wealthy activist Reb Yosef Peseles, exposing him as a member of the Berlin maskilim, who had become an abomination in Israel.

Meanwhile, the Gaon Rav Eliyahu’s health had steadily deteriorated. During Sukkos 5557 he had been unable to sit in his sukkah. His closest disciples, led by the mighty gaon Reb Chayim of Volozhyn, took turns attending to his needs. After Sukkos, he remained mostly in bed. Nevertheless, he wore his tallis and tefillin most of the day. He had lost his eyesight, and was so weak that he did not trust himself to recite the prayers in the correct order. Therefore, he begged them to say the prayers with him, word by word.

Ignoring his grave illness, he did not cease his Torah study, following his entire regular schedule in the revealed Torah and Kabbalah, by heart. His foremost disciples maintained their holy vigil, each at the time slot assigned to him.

When the extent of the Gaon Rav Eliyahu’s illness became public knowledge, the rabbinical court and the Community Council met to discuss the matter. They decided to issue an order that all shuls in Vilna and the vicinity should institute the public recital of Tehillim. All were to pray that G‑d (blessed be He) should send a full recovery to the Gaon Rav Eliyahu, granting him long life.

The shuls of the Chabad Chassidim in Vilna and the vicinity also instituted the public recital of Tehillim, including prayer and supplication for the Gaon Rav Eliyahu’s welfare. This greatly displeased the more fanatic misnagdim, especially members of the Committee to Combat the Chassidim.

One day, the gaon Reb Chayim of Volozhyn happened to be present at a feast in honor of a mitzvah celebrated by one of Reb Shlomo Dubna’s disciples. During the affair, the host’s father made a speech that the gaon Reb Chayim thought bordered on heresy. At the time, Reb Shlomo Dubna was already very old, and way past his prime. In his sermons, he would interpret sayings of the Sages according to principles of philosophy, partly contaminated with principles he had assimilated from the maskilim while he resided in Mendelssohn’s home. Now Reb Chayim and his brother Reb Shlomo Zalman had been among those who had approved of Reb Shlomo’s commentary [to Mendelssohn’s translation], and had greatly praised it. This now caused Reb Chayim much distress.

The printing of Likkutei Amarim was completed on 20 Kislev 5557 [December 20, 1796]. At the beginning of Teves 5557, the sefer arrived in Vilna. This was a very joyous occasion for the Chabad Chassidim of Vilna, and they proclaimed it a day of festive celebration. It just happened that on that same evening the Gaon Rav Eliyahu fell unconscious twice, because of his grave illness. The next morning, when this became known, the Committee to Combat the Chassidim spread the lie that the feast of thanksgiving had been held to celebrate the Gaon Rav Eliyahu’s illness. The greatest outcry in the city was made by the wealthy Yosef Peseles. He purchased several copies of Likkutei Amarim, and together with members of the committee he announced that the Gaon Rav Eliyahu had ordered the sefer to be burned publicly in the courtyard of the shul.

The members of the Vilna chassidic congregation suffered great anguish at seeing the holy sefer being burned. But ignoring their pain — at least in public — they made every effort to control themselves. They had been severely cautioned by their leaders and officers to overlook this heinous act, and this made a favorable impression on many of the misnagdim — especially Reb Chayim.

After the Alter Rebbe had succeeded (with G‑d’s help) in foiling the wicked plans of the evil Derzhavin, he had set up a special committee of chassidim to look after the public welfare. But Shimon of Zamut and his fellow maskilim were neither lazy nor idle. During the next full year, they planned a major offensive campaign against the chassidim.

They decided that the Maskilim of Berlin and Königsberg should publish lengthy essays in German and French. They would describe the philosophy of the chassidim, and their strange customs, and incite the intellectuals of Germany and France to exert their influence in Russian government circles. Thus, the cult of the chassidim would be eradicated from the Jewish people.

Soon, the Chabad Chassidim in Petersburg began to notice that their acquaintances among the nobility and government ministers had changed their attitude toward them. They began to ask the chassidim many questions concerning the various parties and factions among the Jews. From this, the chassidim understood that there was some unknown force involved, working against them. But after a full year had passed, they still had no idea who it was and exactly what he was doing.

On Sunday, the second day of Chol HaMoed Sukkos, a group of chassidim sat in the sukkah of the president of the congregation, Reb Meir Raphael’s, rejoicing in the Sukkos celebration. Since the Gaon Rav Eliyahu was now mortally ill, they had recited the Mi SheBeirach15 prayer in public.

Just then, several members of the Committee to Combat the Chassidim burst in screaming. They announced that the Gaon Rav Eliyahu was breathing his last, and accused the chassidim of rejoicing in this fact (G‑d forbid). They spread this rumor widely, and later — during the funeral — they spread shocking stories about the chassidim, and swore revenge. It took a full year for the fury to quiet down; meanwhile, Yosef Peseles and company enjoyed themselves immensely.16