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Marriage: A Union of Souls - 1928

Marriage: A Union of Souls - 1928


Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak emerged from the Soviet Union as an internationally recognized symbol of Jewish resilience in the face of communist oppression.1 Though exhausted and ailing from his ordeals, he worked more urgently than ever to galvanize moral and material support for the continuing struggle for Judaism in an increasingly oppressive Stalinist Russia. In the first weeks following R. Yosef Yitzchak’s arrival in Riga, Rabbi Menachem Mendel (“the Rebbe”) aided him in a secretarial capacity, penning letters on his behalf, keeping track of correspondence and attending relevant meetings.2

By this time, R. Yosef Yitzchak routinely referred to R. Menachem Mendel as “my designated son-in-law.” For Chabad-Lubavitch, his marriage to Chaya Mushka would be a step towards a new future, extending beyond the Russian context and into the wider community of Eastern European Jewry. But extant correspondence reveals two concerns that led their marriage to be postponed for another year. “A month earlier or a month later, the wedding must take place. But with what?”R. Menachem Mendel’s parents, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and Chana Schneersohn were still trapped in Russia, and it was yet hoped that permission could be obtained for them to leave. There was also a dire lack of funds. “A month earlier or a month later,” one of R. Yosef Yitzchak’s confidantes wrote, “the wedding must take place. But with what?”3

Over the course of the next year R. Menachem Mendel made several trips to Berlin, some of them extending over a period of months. During his first stay in the city he enrolled in the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary and gained ordination (smichah) from its head, Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg.4 While in Berlin R. Menachem Mendel represented his future father-in-law on various communal matters,5 continued his correspondence with the Rogatchover Gaon,6 and penned letters to his future mother-in-law describing some of his encounters and impressions of the city.7 On the last trip to Berlin before his wedding, R. Menachem Mendel was officially registered as a student at the city’s prestigious Frederick William (Humboldt) University.8

On Sunday, October 28, 1928, R. Yosef Yitzchak wrote from Riga to his uncle and aunt, Rabbi Moshe and Chaya Mushka Horenshtein in Warsaw, informing them that he had decided to hold the wedding ceremony in their city, “in the building and courtyard of the Yeshiva Tomchei Temimim Lubavitch.” This venue, he explained, would be a cause of special gratification, recalling the atmosphere of the original Yeshiva, which had been the center of his father’s court in Lubavitch. The groom’s parents, he wrote, had not been able to obtain papers allowing them to attend, and he asked the Horenshteins to “escort” the groom to the wedding canopy in their stead.9 R. Menachem Mendel’s parents held a parallel celebration in far off Yekaterinoslav.10

“Before me stands Mendel son of Leivik... he is complete in his self, spirit and soul... I clearly see a young man of precious worth..."

Held on the 14th of Kislev, November 27, 1928, the wedding was a truly memorable event. Many of Poland’s great rabbinic luminaries were in attendance, and thousands of chassidim traveled from far and near to participate. In honor of the occasion, R. Yosef Yitzchak wore his father’s fur shtreimel for the very first time.11

R. Eliyahu Chaim Althoiz accompanied R. Menachem Mendel from the Warsaw train station to his hotel and remained at the young man’s side throughout the two intervening days as he prepared to marry. Althoiz subsequently penned a long letter to his family members and co-chassidim who yet remained in Russia, richly recording his impressions of this historic event. Most poignant and discerning are his impressions of the groom himself, the young man who had just registered at the University in Berlin:

“Before me stands Mendel son of Leivik... he is complete in his self, spirit and soul... In the truest truth, I clearly see a young man of precious worth; a great scholar, girt with a silk sash, fasting, studying Reishit Chochmah throughout the day, immersing and praying with true intention for the sake of heaven. By his nature you surely know that his great stubbornness distances him from doing anything for external show… Though he also knows that which is external to him in the mundane realm, with acumen he certainly knows to differentiate between the sacred and the secular; in him the sacred is not profaned even the slightest hairsbreadth… In these thoughts I ascended higher than him generation after generation... and I did not find better than he.”12

A wedding is a cosmic occasion... to be approached with seriousness as much as it is to be celebrated with joy.

In Chabad a wedding is a cosmic occasion, a mystical union of souls, and it is to be approached with seriousness as much as it is to be celebrated with joy. In a discourse delivered before the ceremony, R. Yosef Yitzchak described the relationship between the bride and groom as a process in which each is completed by the other. It is only through the intimate integration of another into your personal life that the full spectrum of selfhood can be realized.13 While a man’s role in marriage is traditionally seen to be that of provider, R. Menachem Mendel would later emphasize that ultimate blessing is uniquely the purview of a woman; it is the husband’s privilege to facilitate the achievements of his wife.14

In October 1928, for example, JTA reported that Anatol Lunatcharsky, Soviet Commissar of Education had delivered a speech attacking “Schneersohnovschina… referring to the religious activities of Lubawitsche (sic) Rebbe Schneersohn, who is now in exile in Latvia.”
See Levine, Igrot Vol. 1, Introduction pages 5-7, and Degel Israel Monthly Magazine Vol. II, no. 3, page 10.
See Levine, Igrot ha-rayatz Vol. 2, Introduction page 10.
See the Rebbe’s critical notations to a halachic treatise by Rabbi Weinberg, Reshimot, Issues #127 and 128. Zushe Wolf, Rabboteinu Nesi’ainu Umedinat Germania, pages 103-106. Testimony of Chaim Nachman Kovalsky , and sources cited by Marc B. Shapiro, Responses to Comments and Elaborations of Previous Posts III, note 4.
See for example his report to R. Yosef Yitzchak on a meeting of Agudat Yisrael in Rabboteinu nesi’ainu umedinat germania, pages 232-235.
See Igrot Vol. 1, pages 1-2. Although the Rebbe’s record of this letter is marked with the word “Riga,” his passport indicates that he was actually in Berlin on the date it was written.
See Rabboteinu Nesi’ainu Umedinat Germania, pages 101-103.
Rabboteinu Nesi’ainu Umedinat Germania, page 105.
Igrot Ha-rayatz Vol. 16, page 277.
In her memoirs Rebbetzin Chana discribed this celebration in detail, recalling how her husband danced together with his brother and her father for a long time, while all present stood around them crying tears of bitter-sweet joy.
Letter of R. Eliyahu Chaim Althoiz, as printed in Kovetz Lechizuk Ha-hitkashrut #9(23), pages 21, 29 and 31
Letter of R. Eliyahu Chaim Althoiz, Ibid., pages 24-25.
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, Lecha Dodi - Pei Tet, in Sefer Hamaamarim 5689, pages 81-82.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Lecha Dodi - Yud Daled, in Sefer Hamaamarim Melukot (new edition) Vol. 4, page 238.
Eli Rubin studied Chassidic literature and Jewish Law at the Rabbinical College of America and at Yeshivot in the UK, the US and Australia. He has been a research writer and editor at since 2011, focusing on the social and intellectual history of Chabad Chassidism. Through his writing, research, and editorial work he has successfully participated in a range of scholarly interchanges and collaborative endeavors.
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Twenty-eight articles, each encapsulating a period of the Rebbe’s life, and highlighting key themes that distinguish his ideas.