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The Poor Man’s Livelihood

The Poor Man’s Livelihood

Why the Rebbe stopped the publishing of an important scholarly volume

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Photo: Sanja Gjenero
Photo: Sanja Gjenero

In 1965, on the eve of the anniversary of the passing of the fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Dovber Schneersohn (1860–1920), a sudden request was made of Rabbi Mordechai Schusterman, the owner of a printing press.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, asked that a series of Rabbi Shalom Dovber’s scholarly discourses on Chabad philosophy be published. The collection had been delivered orally over a period of two years, beginning with the High Holidays of 1905, and had never yet been published. In fact, the Lubavitch publishing house, Kehot, had never published any of the series of Rabbi Shalom Dovber’s discourses.

The discourses, known to Chabad scholars as Hemshech Samach-Vav, present an in-depth look at G‑d’s motivation for creating man. Rabbi Shalom Dovber explains the need for every individual to engage in intense study and to invest in creating a spiritual connection to G‑dliness.

Several weeks later, the printer was in for a surprise. The Rebbe requested that the printing of the discourses be canceled. The Rebbe asked Rabbi Schusterman to locate the most reliable copy of the text and work from there to set up the pages. “My son owned a mimeograph copy of the discourses,” recalled Rabbi Schusterman, “and I began to set up the pages that very evening. We worked to design the pages as quickly as possible, and a few weeks later the Rebbe gave me a bottle of wine in recognition of our work.”

Less than two weeks later, at the Passover meal, Rabbi Shmaryahu Gourary, the Rebbe’s brother-in-law, known as the Rashag, thanked the Rebbe for instructing the printer to publish the discourses, something he said he witnessed on the eve of Passover.

What did he see?

The Rebbe traditionally distributed matzah—the thin, cracker-like, unleavened bread—on Passover eve. Most people received a small piece, but those involved in communal activities would often be given an entire matzah or more. That year, the Rebbe gave Rabbi Schusterman an extra matzah for the “printing of the Samach-Vav.”

The Rebbe explained to the Rashag that in fact, the extra matzah was to encourage the printer in his continued efforts to lay out the pages in a speedy fashion, since as soon as he had received the request twelve days earlier, he had immediately begun working towards the printing. “Even though it was Sunday,” the Rebbe praised him, “and it was his day off, he still immediately began laying out the pages for printing!”

But several weeks later, Rabbi Schusterman was in for another surprise. The Rebbe requested that the printing of the discourses be canceled.

He immediately stopped laying out the pages.

Copiers and Printers

Manuscript of the fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Dovber Schneerson. (Agudas Chassidei Chabad Library)
Manuscript of the fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Dovber Schneerson. (Agudas Chassidei Chabad Library)
It was known and accepted in Chabad circles that discourses and talks of Chabad-Lubavitch leaders were to be published solely with the permission of the central publishing house, Kehot.

At the time, there was a Jew living in Jerusalem. He struggled financially and, apparently unaware of the directive, had begun making and selling copies of this particular series of discourses. When he heard that the Rebbe had ordered the printing of the discourses, he saw it as a blow to his livelihood.

He immediately wrote a letter to the Rebbe, and upon hearing the plight of another person, the Rebbe immediately instructed the printer to stop working. To the Rebbe, the most important thing at that moment was the livelihood of this Jerusalemite. He was not concerned with who actually owned the publishing rights.

A short while later, the poverty-stricken Jew in Jerusalem realized his mistake and wrote another letter to the Rebbe, this time apologizing profusely for his previous letter. He retracted his request and gave full permission for the printing to go ahead.

Nevertheless, the Rebbe still did not instruct the printer to continue working.

During the holiday of Sukkot 1965, the Rashag asked the Rebbe why he had called a stop to the printing.

The Rebbe explained that although the individual had later regretted writing the letter, the issue of his livelihood had not been resolved. The Rebbe added, “Had I received a letter from someone else for whom the publishing of the discourses would be extremely important, there might have been room to reconsider after the Jerusalemite retracted his request.

“Since there was no such request, but there was a letter from someone whose livelihood would be hurt by the publishing, I requested that the printing cease.”

The Suggestion

Laying out pages at the printing press in Kfar Chabad, Israel. (The Menachem Wolff Collection/Lubavitch Archives)
Laying out pages at the printing press in Kfar Chabad, Israel. (The Menachem Wolff Collection/Lubavitch Archives)
Meanwhile, a clever individual suggested to Rabbi Schusterman that he continue to lay out the pages, as the Rebbe had only instructed not to print. In this way, once the Rebbe would give the go-ahead to print, it would be a much quicker process.

And so, during times of low production, Rabbi Schusterman continued to lay out the many pages. From time to time he would ask the Rebbe if he could publish the volumes, and the Rebbe always answered, “The time is not yet right.”

But five years later, in 1970, the Rebbe unexpectedly asked, “Where are you up to with the layout?”

Rabbi Schusterman told the Rebbe that he had continued to lay out the pages at the suggestion of a certain individual. Upon hearing this, the Rebbe exclaimed, “Blessings should be bestowed upon him.”

When the printing was, at long last, completed, Rabbi Shusterman dusted off the bottle of wine the Rebbe had given him more than five years previously, and distributed the wine among all those who had toiled at the printing of the volume. He wrote a letter to the Rebbe listing the names of everyone who had worked on the printing, and the Rebbe responded, “Great is their merit, and may it stand by them now and in the future.”

Sources: Rabbi Mordechai Schusterman’s memoirs in Hebrew, Lemaan Yeid’u; the newly published transcript of the Rebbe’s Passover meal of 1965 (Torat Menachem, vol. 43, p. 102); transcript of the Rebbe’s Sukkot meal of 1965 (Hamelech Bimesibo, vol. 1, p. 98); Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak’s letter of 14 Kislev 5708 (Sefer Hamaamarim 5711, p. 286); and interviews with those involved.

Much of the material for this article has been freely translated from the original Hebrew or Yiddish.

Dovid Zaklikowski is a freelance journalist living in Brooklyn. Dovid and his wife Chana Raizel are the proud parents of four: Motti, Meir, Shaina & Moshe Binyomin.
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Larry Payne McKinney, Texas August 11, 2011

Jerusalemite's livelihood. I am sure that the Rebbe, of righteous memory, still held the livelihood of this Jerusalemite in his concern for him, and would still have not published this without knowing for certain that he was not causing this person harm. Reply

Anonymous North Miami Beach, FL August 5, 2011

Jerusalemite? But what happened to the Jew in Jerusalem? Does anyone know if he had livelihood? Reply

Yisroel Mendelson Drohobych, Ukraine August 5, 2011

thank you for posting real chassidishe stories! i beileve all of us can intake and appreciate mature content! Reply

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