The renowned chassid Rabbi Moshe Meisels of Vilna, youngest of Rabbi Schneur Zalman's disciples, once told Rabbi Eisel of Homel: "The aleph of Chassidism saved me from a certain death."
[In his Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi states: "By its very nature, the mind rules the heart." This axiom, known as the "aleph of Chassidism," is a cornerstone of the Chabad-Chassidic approach to life.]
Rabbi Moshe Meisels, an extremely learned man, was fluent in German, Russian, Polish and French. During Napoleon's war on Russia he served as a translator for the French High Command. Rabbi Schneur Zalman had charged him to associate with the French military officials, to attain a position in their service, and to convey all that he learned to the commanders of the Russian army. Within a short while Rabbi Moshe had succeeded in gaining the favor of the chief commanders of Napoleon's army and was privy to their most secret plans.
It was he, Reb Moshe, who saved the Russian arms arsenal in Vilna from the fate which befell the arsenal in Schvintzian. He alerted the Russian commander in charge, and those who tried to blow up the arsenal were caught in the act.
"The High Command of the French army was meeting," related Reb Moshe "and hotly debating the maneuvers and the arrangement of the flanks for the upcoming battle. The maps were spread on the floor, and the generals were examining the roads and trails, unable to reach a decision. Time was short. Tomorrow, or, at the very latest, the day after, the battle on the environs of Vilna must begin.
"They were still debating when the door flew open with a crash. The guard stationed inside the door was greatly alarmed and drew his revolver. So great was the commotion, that everyone thought that the enemy had burst in in an attempt to capture the French Chief Command...
"But it was Napoleon himself who appeared in the doorway. The Emperor's face was dark with fury. He stormed into the room and raged: 'Has the battle been planned? Have the orders to form the flanks been issued?'
" 'And who is this stranger?!' he continued, pointing to me. In a flash he was at my side. 'You are a spy for Russia!' he thundered, and placed his hand upon my chest to feel the pounding heart of a man exposed.
At that moment, the aleph of Chassidism stood me by. My mind commanded my heart to beat not an increment faster. In an unwavering voice I said: 'The commanders of His Highness the Emperor have taken me as their interpreter, as I am knowledgeable in the languages crucial to the carrying out of their duties...' "
Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, also known as the "Alter Rebbe" and "The Rav," was born in Li'ozna, White Russia, on the 18th of Elul 5505 (1745). He became a disciple of Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch (the second leader of the Chassidic movement) in 1764. In 1772 he established the "Chabad" branch of the Chassidism. For twenty years he worked on his Tanya, in which he outlined the Chabad philosophy and ethos. First published in 1797, the Tanya is regarded as the "bible" of Chabad Chassidism upon which hundreds of works and thousands of discourses by seven Generations of Chabad rebbes and their disciples are based. Rabbi Schneur Zalman passed away on the 24th of Tevet, 5583 (December 1812) while fleeing Napoleon's armies.
Rabbi Moshe Meisels was originally a disciple of Rabbi Eliyahu, the Gaon of Vilna, and a member of the opposition to the Chassidic movement. He later became a devoted chassid of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, and, after the latter's passing, of Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch and of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch. Rabbi Moshe served as the leader of the Chassidic community in Vilna until 1816 when he made aliyah ("ascent") to the Holy Land and settled in Hebron, where he passed away in 1849.