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The 19th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev marks the “birth” of Chassidism: the day it was allowed to emerge from the womb of mysticism into the light of day, to grow and develop as an integral part of Torah and Jewish life.

19 Kislev

19 Kislev

The “New Year” of Chassidism

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The 19th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev is celebrated as the “Rosh Hashanah of Chassidism.” It was on this date, in the year 1798, that the founder of Chabad Chassidism, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745–1812), was freed from his imprisonment in czarist Russia. More than a personal liberation, this was a watershed event in the history of Chassidism, heralding a new era in the revelation of the “inner soul” of Torah.

The public dissemination of the teachings of Chassidism had in fact begun two generations earlier. The founder of the chassidic movement, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698–1760), revealed to his disciples gleanings from the mystical soul of Torah which had previously been the sole province of select Kabbalists in each generation. This work was continued by the Baal Shem Tov’s disciple, Rabbi DovBer, the “Maggid of Mezeritch”—who is also deeply connected with the date of “19 Kislev”: on this day in 1772, 26 years before Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s release from prison, the Maggid returned his soul to his Maker. Before his passing, he said to his disciple, Rabbi Schneur Zalman: “This day is our yom tov (festival).”

Rabbi Schneur Zalman went much farther than his predecessors, bringing these teachings to broader segments of the Jewish population of Eastern Europe. More significantly, Rabbi Schneur Zalman founded the “Chabad” approach—a philosophy and system of study, meditation, and character refinement that made these abstract concepts rationally comprehensible and practically applicable in daily life.

In its formative years, the chassidic movement was the object of strong, and often venomous, opposition from establishment rabbis and laymen. Even within the chassidic community, a number of Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s contemporaries and colleagues felt that he had “gone too far” in tangibilizing and popularizing the hitherto hidden soul of Torah.

In the fall of 1798, Rabbi Schneur Zalman was arrested on charges that his teachings and activities threatened the imperial authority of the czar, and was imprisoned in an island fortress in the Neva River in Petersburg. In his interrogations, he was compelled to present to the czar’s ministers the basic tenets of Judaism and explain various points of chassidic philosophy and practice. After 53 days, he was exonerated of all charges and released.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman saw these events as a reflection of what was transpiring Above. He regarded his arrest as but the earthly echo of a heavenly indictment against his revelation of the most intimate secrets of the Torah. And he saw his release as signifying his vindication in the heavenly court. Following his liberation on 19 Kislev, he redoubled his efforts, disseminating his teachings on a far broader scale, and with more detailed and “down-to-earth” explanations, than before.

The nineteenth of Kislev therefore marks the “birth” of Chassidism: the point at which it was allowed to emerge from the womb of “mysticism” into the light of day, to grow and develop as an integral part of Torah and Jewish life.

For more on Rabbi Schneur Zalman, his teachings, and the events of 19 Kislev, see the following articles and stories:

“Know that by the action you have taken,” said the Maggid, “you have forfeited your head . . . But this you have achieved: from now on, whenever there will be a conflict between the chassidim and their opponents, the chassidim will prevail . . .”
“Grind, mix, pour, squander the entire gemstone,” commanded the king. “Who knows? Perhaps a single drop will enter the mouth of my son, and he will be healed!”
Reb Shmuel reputedly said to the Rebbe: “If you are a true Rebbe, you have nothing to fear by being arrested. If you are not, you deserve whatever they will do to you”
“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?”
A battle is waged every day within every human being. And as is the case with conventional warfare, the battles are fought in many different arenas, each arena requiring a unique strategy, style of combat and ammunition.
Why does success evoke arrogance in some and humility in others?
What is the key to graciously accepting blessings in life while not growing callous because of them? Rabbi Schneur Zalman offers the answer, through a study of the words of Jacob, the archetypal beneficiary.
A Rebbe's choice: three words or 50,000 followers
The internal battle which we all experience can be largely avoided. One need only uncover the secret weapon which guarantees victory.
The truth about the Tanya
I'll let you in on a little surprise: Who says that yourself is the real you? Maybe the real you is not a subject, not an object, but a verb? Maybe the real you is to be found not in who you are but in those things you need to do?
The 19th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev marks the "birth" of Chassidism: the day it was allowed to emerge from the womb of mysticism into the light of day.
Video footage of 19 Kislev Farbrengens (Public Chassidic gatherings) led by the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
The “one size fits all” life manual
The Tanya compacts four millennia of Jewish wisdom to answer the great personal and existential questions of life. It has revolutionized the way we think about G‑d, the human soul, the world and our place in it.
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Discussion (9)
November 23, 2013
Jew
Understand that from Abraham we became the children of the Almighty. We have survived by his will and to teach and to save. Rabbi's must realize all the different paths are just but one.
Fleitman
Chonburi, Thailand
jewishthailand.com
December 3, 2012
A wonderful, informative article about a towering figure. I wonder if many Americans realize how rare it was that a Jew was released from a Russian prison -- no matter what the crime. Usually a Jew would either be executed or would die in prison. Such an inspiring story!
Ilil Arbel
New York
December 2, 2010
Why keep reminding yourselves of the misguided on?
Why do you celebrate this date rather than the date of the completion of the Tanya (surely you recognise how it creates attrition rather than achdus)?

Why do you call it the birth (or Rosh Hashanah) of Chassidus when no other Chassids celebrate this day or consider the Rabbi Zalman much to do with Chassidism other than Chabad?

I think Chabad are great and I prey that you will become like the rest of us so we can herald the messianic age together.
Alon Shmuel
JHB, ZA
November 23, 2010
from the womb of mysticism
There's no doubt in my mind, that the ecstatic joy of the Chassid is part of what we're supposed to experience, whether we are Chassid's or not. Life has this amalgam of the oy in joy, and it's so obvious to me that language itself carries the story.

I like to study the development of ways of being in terms of how we are religious because surely there is an evolution to this story, as there is in anything we study.

As there is love in the word evolution itself, just look, read backwards, I see that the Eve story, and all stories, seem deeply coded, wisely, within our very words. And that's why I feel we are moving towards something major in terms of human consciousness. As in dovetail the split, there is a story that fits together perfectly that's about love itself. Because to dovetail is to fit pieces together perfectly as in, carpentry.

yes, I can do this with English. Why not?
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
November 23, 2010
thank you for such a good work keeping us informed of the holy things and events.
Shalom!!!!!
Ariel ben Levi
riverside, CA/USA
November 18, 2010
Two ammendments
Hi Great article, two additions come to mind. Firstly it appears from the article that the Government had him arrested, rather as he was slandered by some of the misguided Rabbis of the time; the Government looked into their libel and found it to be false.

Secondly the reason he continued a new paradigm of teachings was more than just the "sign" that his vindication was a message from above, but he was visited in the cell by the apparitions of both the Baal Shem Tov and Maggid whom you refer to, whom he specifically asked, what his subsequent behavior should be and they told him that his vindication indicates the dissemination is correct, and furthermore he should increase it. It is for this reason that his style became lengthier more understandable and he promoted the unique Chabad philosophical approach.

Keep up the good work
M WQ
December 5, 2009
it was a beautiful story
bracha naparstek
December 20, 2008
you can be realy proud of your website-it's a good job!
how did you make it?
chany
November 21, 2007
full of great information!
thanks!
Anonymous
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