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Discover people, events and circumstances that helped chart the course of the Chabad chassidic movement.
A story with a living lesson
Once, in the middle of the night, one of the Mitteler Rebbe’s children fell out of bed. Entirely engrossed in his studies, he did not hear the child’s cries. However, his father, the Alter Rebbe, heard the cries, closed his Torah books, and went to comfort the child. The Alter Rebbe later said to his son: no matter how deeply immersed you are in holy pursuits, when a child cries you must hear it; you must stop what you’re doing and soothe their pain.
It happened once on Shabbos that in the midst of prayer, the Alter Rebbe removed his Tallis and went to the edge of the town. There, he found a woman who had just given birth. The Alter Rebbe had sensed that she needed help...
The Alter Rebbe would read the Torah in public. One year, he was away during the Torah reading of Ki Savo, and his young son and future successor, Rabbi Dovber, heard someone else read the portion, which includes G-d’s severe rebuke of the Jewish people. The son became so distressed that he fainted, and weeks later it was still questionable whether he’d be able to fast on Yom Kippur. The chasidim later asked him: “In previous years you didn’t faint; what happened this year?” The boy responded, “When father reads it, I don’t hear curses.”
Once, after Rosh Hashanah prayers, the Alter Rebbe asked his son, the Mitteler Rebbe, “With what meditation did you pray this Rosh Hoshanah?” He replied, “With the verse, ‘All mankind shall prostrate themselves before You’.” Then the Mitteler Rebbe asked his father, “With what meditation did you pray?” The Alter Rebbe responded, “I prayed with my lectern.”
“You speak of all that you need. But you say nothing of what you are needed for . . .”
But when the much-contested dish finally reached the table, he was unable to continue past the first spoonful.
Rabbi Yehuda Leib Schapiro heard Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik retell the story of the Alter Rebbe’s attempt to visit the Vilna Gaon, as it had been passed down through his own family, all the way back to the Gaon’s chief disciple.
“Do you believe that the Torah is eternal?” asked the Rebbe. “Do you believe that its every word applies to every individual, under all conditions, at all times?”
Matter before spirit?
“Fire consumes fire,” said the Rebbe. “The ‘fiery law’ of Torah will consume the fever induced by the frost . . .”
"What can I do?" replied the innkeeper. "This is my livelihood. There is nothing for me to do in the city."
"How many Jewish households are there in the city?" I asked
"In Vilna one was taught how to study," recalled the Rebbe. "In Mezeritch one could learn how to pray..."
Detractors to chasidism still point to the Vilna Gaon’s opposition as the basis upon which they rely. But would the Vilna Gaon count himself among them today? (from a 1963 encounter)
The life, teachings and works of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad.