10.

Though writing in general is prohibited, prisoners are given a pencil and paper for an hour or two every day so that they can write requests to the highest official, the interrogator, the advocate, or the doctor.

Every Wednesday each prisoner can send clothes home to be washed and can return utensils in which food was brought. To the compulsory list of items sent he is allowed to add a word or two about his health, and overleaf he is also allowed to list the food or clothes that he needs.

These are brought to the prisoners every Friday and handed to him at the storeroom of his division after he has revisited Head Office which he remembers from the day of his admission. No sweets or treats are allowed, and no item may be sealed or whole. Even bread is cut into small pieces in case a note is hidden inside, and the seams of all clothes are checked for the same reason.

11.

When Friday arrives, all the prisoners who have relatives wait to be called to collect their packages from the chief of their division. Going to his storeroom and bringing back their packages is good for the morale. Even though the list of items brought remains in the divisional office, every prisoner is heartened by having caught a glimpse of the handwriting of his dear ones. Some families cleverly write the list on a piece of material which they sew on to the bag or sack, so that the sender’s handwriting remains in the hands of the prisoner.

Returning to his cell with his bundle, the prisoner clears the worthiest place of honor for it — his bed, of course, which he uses for almost 24 hours a day. There he sleeps at night, there he lies, there he sits, weeps, laughs, relaxes, and sleeps again even when he is not allowed to. There he now places his bundle lovingly and carefully, closely examining every stitch of the sack which contains it, and looking at it from all sides.

Slowly and deliberately he reads what is written on the piece of material which is sewn on to the sack. He takes careful note of every letter and searches for clues possibly hidden between the lines, perhaps by a missing or superfluous letter, or by differences in the sizes of the letters. As sole interrogator, he makes every letter undergo seven kinds of cross-examination. Why, he ponders, does this letter tzaddik end sharply while this otherwise identical letter does not? Why is this letter gimmel fatter than its brother? It cannot be that they were written by different hands, because he knows the handwriting. There must be a hint hidden here — but what is its message?

From there he proceeds to examine the sack. Last week, he recalls clearly, they sent his things in a sack that had been used for honeycomb; this week’s sack is of flour. Does this mean that his family has found out that he is to be accused, among other things, of trading in flour?

In this manner he masterminds a million investigations and endless cross-examinations concerning every item that was sent to him. For the next few hours silence reigns, for everyone is now sitting alone and mentally constructing edifices, marshaling all the accusations and libels that could possibly await him, and all the answers and explanations that he will have to provide — in response, for example, to the interrogator’s queries about his supposed dealings in flour, a commodity with which neither he nor his forebears have ever had any connection.

12.

To resume the list of prison routines: Once in two weeks all prisoners are allowed to write a postcard to their families. Since everything is obviously censored they restrict themselves to a few words about their health.

Once in two weeks they are also allowed to receive a letter from home — unless parts of it are held to be superfluous or otherwise displeasing to the censor.

Every two weeks any prisoner who has money in his account in Head Office can buy whatever he may desire (?) in Spalerno’s cooperative store. He must first specify exactly what he wants to buy on account of this money, and this request is forwarded for approval to the investigator and chief clerk at Head Office. If they grant their permission, he will receive his goods within two weeks.

These requests may be made only on the printed forms which are distributed on the first and the fifteenth of every month and collected by a special guard later in the day. The decision as to the permit is made known two weeks later.

Every two weeks prisoners are given two or three books to read, though not books of their choice. Most of the material is communist literature.

Once every three weeks a prisoner may shave or take a haircut, provided he gives a week’s written notice.

Every prisoner must bathe once a month, though he may do so every two weeks if he so desires.

There is a compulsory monthly visit to the medical clinic. In addition, a prisoner may ask for a doctor’s visit if this is called for, by means of a request addressed to the chief of his division. He forwards it to Head Office, and when the permit is received, the patient is escorted to the doctor or the doctor is dispatched to the patient. Experience teaches that this procedure takes no less than three days.

* * *

Once a prisoner is familiar with all these regulations and routines, and with the work habits and individual style of the various officials, he may be reckoned a seasoned inmate.

13.

Since the cells, as mentioned above, have no clocks, it is only the routine announcements that give a rough notion of the time. In summer prisoners are wakened between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m., bread is distributed at 7:30, hot water from 8:30 on, lunch from 1:00 p.m., porridge from 5:00, hot water again between 6:00 and 7:00, and lights go off at 10:30 p.m.

14.

The Midrash teaches: “From where did Moshe Rabbeinu know From where did Moshe Rabbeinu know: Cf. Midrash Tehillim 19:7. when it was day and when it was night? — When he heard the ministering angels saying Kadosh... — ‘Holy [...is the G‑d of Hosts],’1 he knew that it was day, and when he heard them saying Baruch... — ‘Blessed [be the glory of G‑d...],’2 he knew that it was night.”

15.

Before leaving the little office of the chief of the sixth division I asked him for the time. He was generous enough to allow me to read from the watch on his left hand that it was five to six.

[The author’s description of his imprisonment ends here.]

[Chronicles of the First Three Generations of Chabad Chassidism] 16.

Time is both long and short; it depends only on us. Sometimes many hours can pass like a few moments, and sometimes a mere three hours can appear to stretch over an extremely long period.

At that time I recalled an episode that had taken place when I was a child of just twelve, in Elul 5652 (תרנ"ב; 1892), when my aunt * See Sefer HaToldos: The Rebbe Maharash [compiled by the Rebbe], p. 22. My aunt: Chayah Mushka, sister of the Rebbe Rashab, was the younger daughter of the Rebbe Maharash. He had passed away when she was a child almost ten years earlier. married R. Moshe HaKohen Horenstein. The chuppah had taken place on erev Shabbos, 12 Elul, and at about nine o’clock after havdalah the bridegroom’s parents3 and many other chassidim came to drink tea, as is customary on Motzaei Shabbos, in the company of my father, the Rebbe [Rashab].

The atmosphere of celebration warmed the hot tea into a cup of joy as all those present sat down to a festive melaveh malkah. By eleven my father’s reception room and the adjoining entrance room, each of which was 35 by 30 feet, were filled with people and with palpable joy.

At 11:30 my father began to deliver the maamar beginning Kol HaNeheneh. His listeners who had come [to Lubavitch] for the wedding included chassidim who were deeply involved both in the understanding and in the avodah of Chassidus. The regular householders too were an authentically chassidic blend of intellection and action.

17.

There is a classic question that is often debated among chassidim who sit down together at a farbrengen: Is Chassidus an intellectual exercise, or is it guidance for one’s practical avodah?

This question arose only in the last thirty years; before that such questions were never asked. Everyone knew that Chassidus is a remedy for the glimmer of the soul which is garbed in the body, that it revives the soul from its state of faint languor, arouses it from its slumbers, and cleanses and purifies the body of its uncleanliness.

Chassidim in the days of the Alter Rebbe belonged to either of two fundamentally different categories.

There were those whose knowledge of the Torah was broad and profound. Most of them (in the earlier period) were proficient in the actual texts of the entire Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud, as well as in Sifra, Sifri, Rambam, all four parts of the Shulchan Aruch, and the classic works of the Kabbalah and of the medieval thinkers. The classic works... of the medieval thinkers: In the original, sifrei mechkar (or chakirah).

The other category comprised chassidim whose scholarship was moderate or less — but in all their mitzvos and in all their conduct they sought to be motivated for the sake of heaven according to the appropriate kavanos which were known to their more scholarly colleagues. In so doing they aroused within themselves the attribute of truth and the pure nucleus of their soul.

The well-known reason for this division is that the Alter Rebbe was appointed by his master, the Maggid [of Mezritch], to be the guide and mentor of the Jewish communities throughout the provinces of White Russia and Lithuania.

18.

The4 most intense opposition to the teaching and inculcation of the Baal Shem Tov’s path stemmed from Lithuania in general, and in particular from its capital, Vilna. It already appeared in 5515 (תקט"ו; 1755) or earlier, during the approximately six last years of the Baal Shem Tov’s lifetime.

When the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov first became widespread under the influence of his erudite and G‑d-fearing disciples, the offensive against them was heightened by the foremost Torah scholars from the sect of the misnagdim whose intentions were directed for the sake of heaven.

The fears of the misnagdim sprang from a variety of causes: the new-fledged philosophy of Spinoza; the circulation of miracles by exponents of practical Kabbalah; the detestable deeds of Shabbetai Zvi; and the Frankist sect. In addition, the leading Torah scholars of Lithuania were remotely isolated from the life around them, and hence believed those who spread lies about the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples. All these causes together sowed seeds of destruction within the House of Israel.

The legacy of the Baal Shem Tov and his passing united his disciples and fortified their spirits — to link arms and proceed together in the orderly guidance of their fellow Jews according to the teachings of their holy mentor.

The Maggid [of Mezritch] was appointed as his successor. His profound and encyclopedic scholarship and his innovative teachings in the revealed realm of the Torah; his novel insights, extensive for that era, in the course of revealing the mystical secrets of the Torah; his intense and prolonged devotion in prayer; — all these ignited the hearts of his colleagues, the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov. New saplings began to sprout in the vineyard of Israel.

As the newly-added disciples of those five or six years began to flourish, they yielded fruit whose sweet fragrance could already be savored by the Jewish communities of all those provinces.

19.

There is another major school of thought in divine service. Man’s main goal is not Torah study exclusively, but Torah study when joined with deeds Main goal... Torah study... with deeds: Cf. Tractate Avos 1:17. and with the service of the heart through prayer5 — for whoever says “I have nothing but Torah study6 alone,” does not have even true Torah study.

Torah study is true when the learner knows that it is the wisdom and will of G‑d, Whose supernal wisdom decreed that if Reuven should claim thus and Shimon7 thus, then such and such should be the verdict of the Halachah. The true student of the Torah cleaves to the sanctity of the Halachah and to the sanctity of the Torah’s letters. When with his mind he encompasses the Word of G‑d which he is presently studying, his mind is in turn encompassed He encompasses... in turn encompassed: Cf. ibid. by it, and in this way he becomes one with the infinite Ein Sof-light which is imbued in the Torah.

If a man with his physical brain is to approach the innermost reaches of sanctity, this may be achieved by “the service of the heart, which is prayer.” And this in turn springs from an awareness of G‑d’s sublime exaltedness, and from meditating and “gazing upon the glory of the King.” Gazing upon the glory of the King: Cf. Tanya — Iggeres HaKodesh, Epistle 24.

In every aspect and event and circumstance in the multifaceted life of man and of all other creatures, the Baal Shem Tov finds G‑d. For there is nothing in all the levels of creation (inanimate, vegetative, animal or human) and in all the Four Elements (Fire, Air, Water, Earth) that does not point at the omnipresence of Divinity.

The Baal Shem Tov’s school of thought is basically one teaching with two aspects: (a) Divinity is everything;8 (b) Everything is Divinity.9

On this foundation are based all the teachings and expositions with which Chassidus explains Torah and mitzvos as they relate to the entire life of man on earth.

Mortal man who lives on the earth which was created and formed by the Master of All is formed in the image of the Supernal Man of Whom it is written, “the likeness of the appearance10 of a man upon it, above.” It is because of this resemblance that this created being is called אָדָם (adam), as in the phrase, אֶדַּמֶּה לְעֶלְיוֹן — “I resemble the Most High.”11

Accordingly, in all his divine service mortal man can unite and bond with the infinite Ein Sof-light. What links them is the Torah and its mitzvos, as it is written, זֹאת הַתּוֹרָה: אָדָם — “This is the Torah: man....” This is the Torah: man: Num. 19:14, interpreted on the non-literal level of derush. For the Torah [parallel to man] includes 248 positive commandments 248 positive commandments: In the original, 248 mitzvos aseh, corresponding to man’s 248 organs. and 365 prohibitive commandments.12

And “this is the whole [destiny] of man”13 — that all his days should constitute a long chain of avodah and positive activity; that he should distance himself from that which is material and draw close to that which is spiritual by exerting himself in strenuous avodah; that in every entity he encounters he should spurn Matter14 and choose Form.15

20.

In those days it was already widely known that the disciples of the Maggid were gifted and studious men of stature who served their Maker with “the service of the heart”; they were men of refined character who chose paths of humble solitude.

At sixteen the Alter Rebbe was a towering sage who was also adept in the works of the Kabbalah and of the classical medieval thinkers. My greatgrandfather the Tzemach Tzedek said of him16 (this I heard from my saintly grandmother, Rebbitzin Rivkah): My saintly grandmother, Rebbitzin Rivkah: Wife of the Rebbe Maharash, mother of the Rebbe Rashab. “If my grandfather had lived in the time of the tannaim he would have been a great tanna; if he had lived in the time of the prophets he would have been a great prophet. ** R. Yehudah HeChassid [medieval pietist, author of Sefer Chassidim] was spoken of in similar terms; see Sefer Maasiyos. My grandfather was a tanna and a prophet, but because the generation was unworthy this was hidden except for those who were worthy.”

21.

The *** On the forthcoming passage see Rabbeinu HaZakein, by R. Avraham Chanoch Glitzenstein. Alter Rebbe once told his son, the Mitteler Rebbe: “The teaching of the Sages — ‘Whoever says I have nothing but Torah study does not have even Torah’ — caused me to take the path to Mezritch.

“I deeply yearned to enter the understanding of the Torah. Whatever I knew and understood appeared to me as nothing compared to my intense desire to know it. When I was thirteen I began to learn alone for most of my eighteen daily hours of study. For three years, on weekdays I studied Gemara and the early poskim for two-thirds of the time and spent a third of the time on Scripture, Aggadah, Zohar, Midrash, Kabbalah and chakirah; on Shabbos I spent a third of the time on Gemara and the poskim, a third on Scripture, Aggadah and chakirah, and a third on Midrash, Zohar and Kabbalah.

“One day I found myself vexed: Could I possibly remain without a mentor? What could this lead to? I decided that it was time to proceed to a place where Torah was taught, to a place where there was a mentor. I considered where I should go, for I had heard that there were two luminaries in the world.

“One was in Mezritch — the disciple of the Baal Shem Tov; the other luminary was in Vilna — a company of great Torah scholars. In Vilna they teach you how to study; in Mezritch they teach you how to pray.

“My intense desire to know the Torah impelled me to set out for Vilna, and for a few days I took that road. But as I walked I thought: I do know something about how to study, but I do not know how to serve G‑d in prayer. Let me therefore first go to Mezritch First go to Mezritch: The Alter Rebbe first went to study at the feet of the Maggid in the year 5524 (תקכ"ד; 1764), when he was 19 years old. to see what path they follow, and from there I will continue to Vilna.”

* * *

Within ten years the Alter Rebbe was one of the pillars upholding the House of Israel: by the year 5534 (תקל"ד; 1774) he was one of the leading figures in the steering committee of the chassidic movement (though there was no such title at the time).

At the meeting of the Maggid’s disciples in 5536 (תקל"ו; 1776), The meeting of the Maggid’s disciples in... 1776: The occasion was the impending departure of R. Menachem Mendel of Horodok (also known as R. Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk) for the Holy Land. The Maggid had passed away in 1772. the Alter Rebbe’s voice dominated in the allocation of countries and provinces in which they were to settle in order to disseminate the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov as expounded by their Rebbe, the Maggid.

The venerable lion of that august assemblage of disciples, R. Menachem Mendel of Horodok, demanded of the Alter Rebbe that he fulfill the Maggid’s instruction — to undertake the task of disseminating the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings and directives.

One of the decisions of that gathering was that the disciples, despite their accustomed humility, should henceforth not hide their Torah scholarship. Instead, whenever they addressed [nonchassidic] congregations from the pulpit, they were first to publicly debate and clarify legal issues on the revealed plane of the Torah, and after every such pilpul or halachic lecture they were then to proceed to explain its meaning in terms of man’s divine service of self-refinement.

When the Alter Rebbe returned to his home in Liozna he began to choose a number of young men of exceptional intellectual power and broad scholarship who had been drawn to him in the course of his journey, and taught them the paths of Chassidus. Further scholars of this caliber attached themselves to him in the course of the two journeys that he made to other towns that year, during which he lectured publicly and responded to all the queries with which his erudite listeners challenged him.

These scholars, the booty of his journeys, became the precious stones out of which the Alter Rebbe founded a study hall A study hall: In the original, cheder horaah. for the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. With G‑d’s help, within eighteen years there was a flourishing group of people called chassidim; his banner was followed by some ten thousand men.

At about that time the Tanya was published,17 and it brought tens of thousands of hearts close to our heavenly Father. From this point the prevailing opposition to Chassidism was no longer motivated leshem Shamayim, for the sake of heaven, but by envy. The unholy Calf that it spawned was the notorious libel;18 this was distressing even to the prominent scholars among the misnagdim.

Throughout the next 13 years the teachings of Chassidus became more widespread; the masses, too, now basked in its radiance. Though in the area of book learning their needs were limited, in the area of avodah and self-refinement they demanded a great deal of themselves. At the same time their more learned brethren were nourished by the wellsprings of wisdom — the maamarim and derushim of [the Alter Rebbe’s] Torah Or, Likkutei Torah, the Siddur, and Biurei HaZohar.

At that time the war with France threatened to topple the [Russian] eagle from its nest. On erev Shabbos mevarchim Elul, 5572 (תקע"ב; 1812), the Alter Rebbe left Liadi together with his family and some of his chassidim, sixty wagons in all, and went into exile with the protective escort of a Russian military unit.

The Alter Rebbe opposed Napoleon. He perceived him as denying G‑d, boasting that it was the strength of his own hand that secured him all his victories. For this reason he did not want to be under Napoleon’s jurisdiction even for a moment.

In the summer of 5574 In the summer of 5574: I.e., after the passing of the Alter Rebbe (at the end of 1812). (תקע"ד; 1814), the Mitteler Rebbe arrived at Lubavitch with his entire family, including my greatgrandfather the Tzemach Tzedek and all those who had set out with them or who had joined them during their stay in Kremenchug and its environs.

Rosh HaShanah 5575 (תקע"ה; 1814) was thus the first Rosh HaShanah which a member of the family of the Rebbeim observed in Lubavitch, the capital city of Chabad Chassidus.

For about 12 years Chassidus flared and flourished in the days of the Mitteler Rebbe. Most of his chassidim devoted themselves wholeheartedly to the study of Chassidus and to “the service of the heart,” praying at measured and meditative length day after day.

In the 50 years during which the two great luminaries, the Alter Rebbe and his son the Mitteler Rebbe, In the 50 years... the Alter Rebbe and... the Mitteler Rebbe: I.e., counting from after the above-mentioned meeting of the Maggid’s disciples in 1776 until the passing of the Mitteler Rebbe in 1827. blazed the trail for the dissemination of the teachings and spiritual directives of Chabad Chassidus, the Fifty Gates of Understanding were flung open.

During that period the teachings of Chassidus became the rightful possession of “the people of the G‑d of Avraham.” The people of the G‑d of Avraham: Ps. 47:10. A rich and profound understanding of Chassidus now enabled many tens of thousands to gaze upon the glory of the Supernal King. It enabled many tens of thousands to speak articulately about the pristine purity of the incorporeal worlds that exist on high within the space of the Infinite One.

22.

In the days of my greatgrandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, the teachings of Chassidus crystallized in an orderly manner. By that time all its emendations and regulations — such as in the wording of the prayers and in the meticulous honing of shechitah-knives — had been widely accepted and the rulings of the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch came to be regarded as authoritative.

The chassidic world was infused with a spirit of life by the founding of the great yeshivah in 5591 (תקצ"א; 1831) * In the original manuscript of the Rebbe Rayatz the last letter [i.e., digit] of this date is unclear. and by the widespread appointment of its graduates as rabbis, judges in rabbinical courts, teachers, and functionaries in synagogues and communal houses of study. The incoming letters from the Torah giants of all countries which addressed halachic queries to the Tzemach Tzedek, and his learned responsa, intensified the loving devotion of the yeshivah students, and especially of the advanced longterm students, The advanced longterm students: In the original Yid., di sitzer (lit., “the sitters”). to Talmudic and halachic study.19

So many hundreds of advanced scholars found their way to the metropolis of Lubavitch year after year that eventually word spread even among the misnagdim that the chassidim were masters of the revealed plane of the Torah.20 Thus, for example, when the Tzemach Tzedek visited Petersburg for the Rabbinical Commission in 5603 (תר"'ג; 1843), the Torah leaders of the sect of the misnagdim whom he met there spoke in glowing terms of the impressive scholarship of many chassidim whom they had encountered in their hometowns.

The Tzemach Tzedek’s public activities and vigorous spirit in defense of anything that affected the spiritual life of the Jewish people, and likewise his concern for their economic welfare, generated positive attitudes between misnagdim and chassidim. This in turn profoundly affected all the chassidic communities which flourished and expanded throughout the country.

By this time Chassidus was already a clearly-defined school of thought. In scores and hundreds of townships throughout the length and breadth of the land, chassidim found themselves belonging to a widely-recognized movement that now played a leading role in communal life.

This third generation in the history of Chabad chassidim and Chassidus is exceedingly rich both in body and in spirit. In addition to its harvest of spiritual fields that had been sown and planted in earlier generations by the world’s patriarchs, the Alter Rebbe and the Mitteler Rebbe, the current endeavors of the Tzemach Tzedek also began to yield their own rich produce. It is interesting that the agricultural colonies which the Mitteler Rebbe had founded in his early years as Rebbe, in 5573-74 (תקע"ג-ע"ד; 1813-14), and also during his later journey to the steppes in the provinces of Kherson and Yekaterinoslav, developed and prospered during the time of the Tzemach Tzedek.

In 5600-01 (ת"ר-א;1840-41) the Tzemach Tzedek publicly encouraged his chassidim to seek employment as farmers and craftsmen. He bought * See The Tzemach Tzedek and the Haskalah Movement [by the Rebbe Rayatz, trans. Rabbi Zalman I. Posner]. a tract of land in the Minsk province where he built the agricultural village of Tchedrin, and helped support budding craftsmen.

In those days taleisim used to be imported from afar, from Volhynia or Galicia. The Tzemach Tzedek therefore convinced prospering lambswool merchants from the Kherson colonies to bring their goods to this area This area: I.e., the region of Lubavitch, in White Russia. as well, and located a new tallis-weaving factory in Dubrovna, the home of his relative and study partner, the saintly R. Nehemiah HaLevi.

The establishment of facilities of this kind encouraged many chassidim to seek employment further afield. Many settled in villages, or in the estates that sprang up around wayside inns which some of their wealthier brethren bought and developed into self-contained little rural communities blessed with shuls, mikvaos, and teachers for the local children.

The period of the Tzemach Tzedek thus added not only a rich spiritual chapter to the chronicles of Chassidus and chassidim, but also set up a guidepost for their economic life. In this work he was aided by the elder chassidim who had earlier been disciples of the Alter Rebbe and the Mitteler Rebbe and who now devoted themselves earnestly to the fulfillment of every directive uttered by his holy mouth.

23.

At * See Sefer HaSichos, Kayitz 5700 [1940], pp. 39, 64ff.; cf. HaTamim, Vol. III, p. 22ff. for a variant version. the time of the passing of his maternal grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek was 23 years old. 23 years old: The Tzemach Tzedek was born in 1789; the histalkus of the Alter Rebbe was in 1812. At the age of three he had been taken to his home, because before he lost his mother [Devorah Leah]21 the Alter Rebbe had promised her that he would bring him up. At that time he told her: “Your son is called Menachem [lit., ‘consoler’]. He will be a consolation for me, a consolation for you, a consolation for all of Israel.”

* * *

An eye-witness account of an episode from that period has been handed down to us from the celebrated R. Aizik of Homil, in these words [till the end of Section 26]:

In my youth I was one of the younger chassidim of the Alter Rebbe. One day he delivered a maamar beginning with the words, Al Sheloshah Devarim HaOlam Omed, but because it was so profound we were unable to recall it fully. Thanks to the intervention of a few elder chassidim a promise was secured that after the morning prayers on Sunday about ten chassidim would be allowed to enter the Alter Rebbe’s study in order to reconstruct it from memory [with his assistance where necessary]. We young married students did not even hope to be counted among those who would be fortunate enough to be admitted to the Higher Gan Eden.

(These were the terms used by the longterm scholars at Liozna in those early years, 5538-5559 (תקל"ח-תקנ"ט; 1778-1799). Their study hall Study hall: In the original, beis midrash. was known as the heichal;22 the room in which waiting chassidim prepared themselves to be admitted to yechidus was known as the Lower Gan Eden;23 and the Alter Rebbe’s study was known as the Higher Gan Eden.)24

[R. Aizik resumes his account:] The Tzemach Tzedek, a little boy at that time, spent all day in the study of the Alter Rebbe, who taught him to recite the daily blessings. He spoke clearly, knew the Morning Blessings and Kerias Shema and the blessings over food by heart, read cursive and printed texts with the speed of a six-year-old, and was familiar with many narratives appearing in the Chumash and the Early and Later Prophets.

24.

We all knew how fond the Alter Rebbe was of this grandchild. His mother had been a woman of profound understanding and awe of G‑d whose chassidic devotion to the Alter Rebbe equalled that of the loftiest chassidim. She was held in particularly high esteem because we all knew that the Alter Rebbe lived on from the year 5553 (תקנ"ג; 1792) thanks to her actual self-sacrifice on his behalf. Thanks to her, we new chassidim and our children and grandchildren were able to enjoy his ongoing radiance.

25.

At that time Israel’s luminaries were dimmed by a number of circumstances: dissension, especially over issues involving the Holy Land; the correspondence between the chassidic masters there and the Alter Rebbe; and the scandalmongering that sought to cleave a rift between the Rebbeim of Volhynia and the Alter Rebbe. Satan’s work was thriving. Indeed, the Alter Rebbe thought that his time had come, time for his sun to set.

One day the Alter Rebbe described this situation to his saintly daughter. He sensed that this was a weighty time; the voices of the Accusing Angels The voices of the Accusing Angels: In the original, “the kitrug.” were insistent; he was deeply anxious over the state of the chassidic community and the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.

She understood that the situation was awesome and that her father’s life was in the balance. What she had heard threw her thoughts into turmoil for a number of days. Finally, she decided that she had an obligation to share her thoughts with a few select individuals and to consult with them, and resolved in her heart to surrender her life for his.

She therefore called for three distinguished elder chassidim — R. Moshe Maizlish, R. Pinchas Reizes and R. Moshe Vilenker — and demanded that they heed whatever she would direct them to do. Moreover, she demanded that they solemnly obligate themselves by a legally binding oath25 to maintain utter secrecy until the episode could be divulged.

Notwithstanding their accustomed composure of head and heart, these mighty lions were deeply agitated, and told her that they needed a day to decide together whether they could accept her conditions. At that period the Alter Rebbe had been closeted in his study more than usual; even the closest chassidim were not granted admittance. From this departure from custom they gathered that this was a time of grievous crisis; its nature and remedy remained a mystery.

The three elder chassidim met several times during the day and decided to consult through the night as to whether they could accept her conditions. Ultimately they concluded that they were obliged to do so because she was clearly more familiar with the situation than they were.

At the appointed hour she received them cordially and said: “We are all chassidim of our father, the Rebbe, and we are all obliged to literally sacrifice our lives — for his sake and for the sake of his teachings, which are the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.”

Her words were drowned by gushing tears.

Standing up in alarm, R. Moshe Maizlish declared with passion: “Why are you crying? Tell us what is going on! I will be the first to go to my death — in fire or in water for the sake of our Rebbe, for the sake of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov! Tell us what to do! I shall go happily, with a joy and gladness of heart greater than that caused by an abundance of all good things A joy... greater than that caused by... all good things: For the Rebbe’s interpretation of the Alter Rebbe’s allusion (in Tanya, Chapter 26) to this teaching of the AriZal on Deut. 28:47, see Lessons In Tanya, Vol. I, pp. 345-6. — just as our Rebbe has taught us!”

“First of all,” responded Devorah Leah, “I demand that you swear by an irreversible oath that you will fulfill what I am about to tell you. The oath will apply to what I alone have in mind, for you do not know what I am about to say. Moreover, the stern Scriptural sanction that upholds your oath will apply even to matters involving human life.”

With words like these, the emotions of even the temperate and cerebral R. Moshe Vilenker were excited. He would be afraid to proceed with such a proposal, he said, unless it had been weighed deliberately.

His two colleagues objected: “Have we not already decided to accede to all conditions? Why deliberate further?”

All three thereupon undertook an oath as prescribed in the Torah, and Rebbitzin Devorah Leah spoke up: “I hereby appoint you to act as a rabbinical court. You will undertake to do so and to pronounce a binding verdict as laid down by the laws of the Torah.

“The present state of affairs, in which unprincipled slanderers have incited crises between the Rebbeim of the Holy Land and of Volhynia and our father the Rebbe, is grievous indeed. From the words I have heard from my father it is clear that the consequences may be (G‑d forbid) grave.

“My father told me: ‘A good tree needs thirty years of hoeing and weeding until it yields its best fruit. The teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and of the Maggid of Mezritch, ever since they sprouted into a sapling, have grown into a Tree of Life. Now, however, this tree can be utterly uprooted by a harsh edict promulgated in the Heavenly Court by the malevolent Accuser. I want to live, for this is what the Torah obliges us to do. But even more than life I want to cultivate this tree, so that it will continue to yield its fruit until Mashiach comes. Until Mashiach comes: In the original, “until Shiloh comes”; see Rashi and Targum Onkelos on Gen. 49:10; cf. Tractate Sanhedrin 98b and Bereishis Rabbah 99:8. My mentor the Maggid warned me that dire times awaited me, and promised me that I would always be granted help. I saw my mentor and his mentor,26 but the gloom on their faces signifies that their teachings are in jeopardy. It also signifies that....’”

“Her sentence was interrupted by a torrent of tears,” R. Moshe Vilenker later related. “We all wept in alarm, not knowing what to think.”

“I have therefore resolved,” the young Rebbitzin Devorah Leah continued, “to give my life in exchange for my father’s. I want to serve as an atonement for him. I hereby give away the days of my lifetime to my father. I am going to die — and my father will continue on to a good and long life, so that he can preserve and tend the tree that he planted. And in this way I, too, will have a share in the merit of his teachings.”

A [few weeks] earlier the Alter Rebbe had sent a pidyon to R. Nachum of Chernobyl with a request that he intercede in heaven on his behalf. Whatever elapsed elapsed — and his daughter passed away. His daughter passed away: On the Fast of Gedaliah, the day after Rosh HaShanah of the year 5552 (תקנ"ב; 1791). Before she surrendered her life she asked the Alter Rebbe to personally bring up and educate her son, and from the age of three he was always in his study, Gan Eden HaElyon.

To this day chassidim mention her name in reverent awe, just as it was mentioned at the time by the three venerable chassidim who were involved in this episode, for everyone is aware that it was her self-sacrifice and noble spirit that saved the Tree of Life.

26.

Little Reb Mendele passed his time playing with trifles, as toddlers do. While the Alter Rebbe was at his prayers he used shoelaces to tie toy tefillin made of potatoes on his arm and head. When the Alter Rebbe removed his own tefillin, his grandson would remove his too, and playfully drag them around the floor by their shoelaces as little boys might do.

On that day, while we chassidim were waiting in the Gan Eden HaTachton for the above-mentioned maamar (Al Sheloshah Devarim) to be soon reviewed27 from memory by a number of elder chassidim in the presence of the Alter Rebbe, we saw through a crack that one of the shoelaces of the potato-tefillin had got caught up aroung the leg of the table. The Alter Rebbe bent down and straightened it out, and little Reb Mendele ran and pranced around the room in delight.

When the Alter Rebbe had taken off his tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam, he opened the door and [the elder] chassidim entered his study. I remained standing in my place: I was afraid to walk inside.

At that moment, however, the Alter Rebbe asked: “Who is left outside?”

“A young man,” one of the chassidim answered.

“So let him come in, too,” said the Alter Rebbe. “After all, a young chassid can grow into an elder chassid.”

I was so overwhelmed that for the first few moments I saw nothing and heard nothing — except that those words of the Alter Rebbe shone before my eyes and filled my mind and heart. A little time passed before I fully regained my senses, stepped inside, and found a place in the back row.

At that moment I felt that the little boy was edging his way between us, perhaps in search of one of his toys. Anxious that he might disturb the proceedings, I looked down and saw that he was clutching his little potatoes and pressing his way forward so that he could hear. Is it possible, I thought, that he actually wants to listen?!

And I heard the voice of the Alter Rebbe: “He’s listening, he’s listening! You will yet know that he is listening!”

I was stunned. As soon as I calmed down, while I was still inside, I was vigilant about each thought I had, for I had patently seen that the Alter Rebbe saw every individual’s thoughts.

When we later left his study and returned to the beis midrash to jointly review the updated version of the maamar, the chassidim who had been present debated and queried each other: Whom did the Alter Rebbe have in mind and whom was he addressing when he said, “He’s listening, he’s listening! You will yet know that he is listening!” The solution remained an utter secret for over 45 years. * [See Sefer HaSichos — Kayitz 5700 (ת"ש; 1940), p. 103; reprinted in Sefer HaToldos — Rabbeinu HaTzemach Tzedek, ed. R. Avraham Chanoch Glitzenstein, p. 75ff.]

[R. Aizik of Homil’s eye-witness account of this episode, beginning in Section 23 above, ends here.]

* * *

[The Rebbe Rayatz concludes:] When my greatgrandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, was eight years old, he was already studying Gemara and the legal works of the poskim at intensive depth. His grandfather the Alter Rebbe once praised his talents and scholastic attainments to his son, the future Mitteler Rebbe, and suggested that he take him as a bridegroom for his daughter, Bridegroom for his daughter: Since the Mitteler Rebbe was Devorah Leah’s brother, he was the uncle of his future son-in-law, the Tzemach Tzedek. Rebbitzin Chayah Mushka.

According to an oral tradition handed down in the family, that was a remarkable conversation. The Mitteler Rebbe said that he was a man of distinguished lineage, because he had a father who was a Rebbe. The Alter Rebbe responded that he had more to be proud of, because he had a son who was a Rebbe. Moreover, he argued, it is written: “My Spirit which is upon you and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your children, nor from the mouth of your children’s children..., to eternity.”28 The Alter Rebbe concluded: “So take him as a bridegroom for your daughter!”

And that is exactly what happened.