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Shortly after the publication of Vol. 1 of this text, an acquaintance who follows one of the Galician chassidic Rebbeim asked me: “I understand that all chassidim believe their own Rebbeim and their paths to be superior to everyone else’s. That is how chassidim should feel; they would hardly be chassidim if they did not feel this way. But from your book, it appears that not only do Chabad Chassidim feel this way, but that this was also the Rebbe Rayatz’s attitude! Is it right for a Rebbe to teach his own followers to look down upon others?”

In reply, I called his attention to these excerpts from the Previous Rebbe’s introductory letter (Supplement B):

The chassidim of Vohlynia-Poland-Galicia were in the habit of comparing pedigrees. Each of these chassidim was always prepared to state that his own Rebbe was superior to someone else's. The practice of Chabad Chassidim is different: we do not dismiss what others consider holy; we simply hold our own to be dear and precious. We maintain friendly relations, even as we remain conscious of our own qualities....

It is not proper — nor do I have any desire — to compare one society to the other. We do not possess the proper yardstick with which to measure and compare the two lofty mountains, the G‑dly princes, my saintly ancestor the Mitteler Rebbe, with his in-law, my saintly ancestor the Rebbe of Chernobyl of blessed memory; nor can we make such comparisons regarding succeeding generations.

Let us rather give praise to the Master of All, and recognize the kindness done to us by Al-mighty G‑d. For today, we have (thank G‑d) a complete set of teachings, the teachings of Chassidus, a G‑dly edifice. “Fortunate are we! How good is our portion, how pleasant our lot!”

I heard those same sentiments spoken thirty-seven years ago, when I first came to 770. The elder chassidim would emphasize: We do not look down on what is holy to others. Nonetheless, we praise G‑d for what we have. “Fortunate are we” — that we are Jews and not otherwise; “How good is our portion” — that we are chassidim and not misnagdim” “How pleasant our lot” — that we are Chabad Chassidim, and not chassidim of other camps. Let others keep what is theirs; we will focus on what is ours.

* * *

The Previous Rebbe’s essay “Fathers of Chassidus” serves precisely this purpose, highlighting the unique nature of the Divine service that characterizes Chabad-Lubavitch. The essay, first printed in HaTamim, was written in reply to the Rebbe’s question about the Baal Shem Tov’s ways and teachings, their apparent similarities to those of the Rebbeim of Vohlynia-Poland-Galicia, and their apparent differences from those of the Nesi’im of Chabad.

The first portion of the essay (Vol. 1) describes the history of the first three generations of Chassidus — the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid of Mezritch, and the Alter Rebbe, outlining their respective contributions to the formulation and dissemination of Toras HaChassidus. It paints a portrait of several generations of Jewish life in the counties of Minsk, Mohilev, and Vitebsk, enabling us to appreciate the contributions Chassidus made, and why there was hesitation and even opposition to their acceptance.

The second portion of the essay (the present volume) focuses on the story of Reb Gershon Dov (a prominent chassid of the Tzemach Tzedek, the Rebbe Maharash, and the Rebbe Rashab), illustrating how the principles for which the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid, and the Alter Rebbe labored became ingrained in the lives of the chassidim. The differing approaches to Divine service of chassidim and are contrasted in the accompanying stories of Reb Baruch ben Yosef, and Reb Gershon Dov’s uncle, Reb Abba, and Reb Yitzchak Shaul.

The supplements to Vol. 1 focussed on the Alter Rebbe’s campaigns in overcoming the opposition to his approach by the misnagdim and by his opponents among his chassidic colleagues, and his campaigns to attract young gifted Torah scholars to Chassidus. In the present volume, the focus shifts to the Alter Rebbe’s campaigns to combat the maskilim and early reformers who sought to erode the Torah foundation of the Jewish community. Perceiving the Chassidic Movement — and its Nasi the Alter Rebbe — as the greatest threat to their attempts at reforming Judaism and the traditional system of Jewish education, the maskilim sought allies among the misnagdim. Through stealth, deceit, and subterfuge (and outright slander of the chassidim and their leaders), they enlisted the misnagdim and their leaders (including the greatest of them) in their war against Chassidus. The narratives highlight the Alter Rebbe’s ruach hakodesh and foresight in recognizing the danger, and the firm efforts he took in thwarting the inroads they sought to make within the Jewish community.

* * *

The Previous Rebbe divided the first half of the essay into sequentially-numbered sections. Since he evidently considered the order to be important, we struggled to preserve the sequence in our translation. But in the portions translated here, the numbering of sections was abandoned by the author. Therefore, we allowed ourselves the liberty of rearranging the text to make it easier for the reader to follow the narrative flow.

Explanatory footnotes and references have been added in brackets. Footnotes without brackets appeared in the original text, and were inserted either by the Previous Rebbe himself, or by the editors of HaTamim. Family trees, a glossary, and a table defining non-standard geographic terms were added to complement the translation.

I am once again indebted to the staff of Sichos in English — Rabbi Yonah Avtzon, who directed the project; Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, who edited the manuscript; and Yosef Yitzchok Turner, who prepared the text for printing. I also thank Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Paltiel for lending me his copy of the manuscript of Shimon HaKofer, and Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Keller for enlightening me on the historical and bibliographic background of the material.

* * *

Today, the undesirable dimensions of the factionalism that plagued the Torah community in previous centuries has faded into history. The damage done by the maskilim has largely been repaired. Now, everyone — misnagdim, Chabad Chassidim, and the chassidim of other schools — strive, each with their own approach, toward common goals: studying Torah, performing mitzvos, disseminating Judaism and Jewish education, and increased acts of goodness and kindness.

May all this enable us speedily to attain the ultimate goal we all share: the end of our exile and beginning of our redemption, with the immediate revelation of Mashiach, NOW!

Shimon Neubort

15 AdarShushan Purim 5759
Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York

Translated from the classic columns of HaTamim by Shimon Neubort
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