Known as the "Rebbe Maharash," Rabbi Shmuel of Lubvitch was the fourth link in the chain of Chabad leadership. In a career that was cut short all too soon, Rabbi Shmuel strengthened Chassidus, combatted anti-Semitism, and prepared the ground for Chabad's global reach.

The Early Years

Fourth in succession to the leadership of Chabad was Rabbi Shmuel, son of the Tzemach Tzedek. Rabbi Shmuel continued to spread the teachings of Chabad among the Jewish people, and at the same time to engage in communal activities to improve the spiritual and material conditions of the Jewish masses within and beyond the ranks of the Chassidic movement.

In 5615 (1855), at the age of twenty-one, Rabbi Shmuel’s father requested him to participate actively in communal work. Together with a colleague, Rabbi Shmuel traveled to the Russian capital in order to take part in a conference called by the Russian Government to discuss the problems connected with the publication of textbooks with a German translation for use in the instruction of Jewish children.

This conference was under the chairmanship of one of the assistants of the Minister of the Interior. Despite his youth, Rabbi Shmuel voiced his opinion clearly and vigorously to the officials of the Czarist Government.

Between the years 5616 and 5626 (1856-1866) he traveled extensively throughout the country and abroad, in order to meet and influence important Jewish leaders. The friends that he made and the confidence he inspired at these meetings were to be of great assistance to Judaism in later years.

After the death of the saintly Tzemach Tzedek in the spring of 5626 (1866), Rabbi Shmuel was elected to succeed him as head of the Chabad Chassidim. His leadership, which lasted from 5626 to 5643 (1866-1882), coincided with one of the stormiest periods of anti-Semitism in Russian history, originating in the highest circles of the Czarist court in St Petersburg. Many princes were among the violent Jew-baiters who constantly schemed to cause trouble to the Jewish communities and to instigate pogroms.

Rabbi Shmuel, keenly aware of his great responsibility, was among the foremost fighters in the battle for the survival and defense of the Jews. He was the moving spirit in all actions taken to save the Jewish masses or defend them against the vicious attacks from Government circles.

In 5629 (1869) Rabbi Shmuel organized a permanent council of leaders of the St Petersburg Jewish community. The council’s task was to be well-informed in all matters concerning the Jewish people and to be on constant guard to defend their interests and rights. From 5630 to 5640 (1870-1880), Rabbi Shmuel again made many trips to various parts of the Russian Empire and abroad, with complete disregard for personal safety.

Anti-Semitism and the Russian Government

During 5639 and 5640 (1879-1880) there was a considerable rise in anti-Semitism throughout Russia. In many cities and towns the enemies of the Jewish people incited the local populations to carry out pogroms against the Jewish communities. Rabbi Shmuel again traveled to St Petersburg to try to stop this new wave of persecution.

He had many personal friends and acquaintances among government officials, princes and nobles. They assured him that the anti-Semitic campaign would be stopped, but pogroms broke out again in 5640 (1880) in Kiev and Nieshin.

Rabbi Shmuel had just returned from a visit abroad in connection with the problems of the Jewish communities, when the sad news reached him. He at once set out for the Russian capital, and with the aid of Professor Bertenson, court physician to the Czar, he was able to obtain an immediate audience with the Minister of the Interior.

Filled with sorrow because of the desperate situation, the Lubavitcher Rebbe went so far as to reproach the Minister for not having kept his word to suppress the anti-Semitic outbreaks. He made it clear that continued failure to do so would create a very bad image of the Russian government among the highest circles in foreign countries.

In the course of his meeting with the Minister, Rabbi Shmuel mentioned that he had received letters from many personalities and bankers in other countries who had international influence. They all wanted to know what attitude they were to take, in view of the sad news concerning the plight of the Jews in Russia, and what they could do to protect the lives and property of the Jewish population in Russia.

The Minister asked: “What was your reply?”

“I have delayed my reply till I receive positive assurances in this matter from the Russian government," answered Rabbi Shmuel.

“Rabbi of Lubavitch,” said the Minister, “do you dare to intimidate the Russian government with threats of the power of foreign capitalists? Are you threatening a revolution in this country?”

“Your Excellency does not have to interpret my words as an attempt at intimidation,” replied the Lubavitcher Rebbe. “Regard them, rather, as a serious fact to be reckoned with, for this concern is shared by capitalists and great men even of the non-Jewish world, who are shocked by such barbaric and inhuman outbreaks as have occurred here. As to the second question, it appears to me that it is the negligent and weak conduct of the Imperial Government in the past that could now bring about a revolution in this country.”

That very evening, on returning to his hotel, Rabbi Shmuel was informed by the government that he was under arrest. Two policemen stood guard at the entrance to his room for two days. On the third day, however, he was called before the Minister of the Interior and given a positive reply to his request.

This is but one example of the numerous occasions when Rabbi Shmuel turned to the Ministers and princes of Russia on behalf of the Jewish people, displaying complete disregard for any threats of punishment to himself.

Leadership and Communal Work

Such was Rabbi Shmuel's conduct in all his communal work. He was not deterred by the rich capitalists or the sophisticated Intellectuals of the “Haskalah” movement, who wanted to secularize the Jewish religion, nor was he intimidated even by the highest Government officials. He voiced his views clearly, forcefully and with dignity on every occasion that it was necessary to do so in the interests of the Jewish people and his outstanding leadership was reflected by the respect shown for his pronouncements and interventions. During this time the adherents to Chabad increased in number and like the leaders of Chabad since the inception of the movement he ministered to their individual needs and enquiries, strengthening their devotion to Torah in the especially difficult times in which they lived. He was the author of many volumes of Chassidic literature.

Rabbi Shmuel’s short but vital and purposeful period as leader of Chabad also heralded the next phase of its work, which is characterized by the campaign to spread the knowledge and study of Torah and the spirit of tradition and G‑dliness among the Jews of the world.

This world-wide activity was spurred by the growing mass emigration of Russian Jews. While concentrating on Russia, including its outlying provinces of Georgia, Uzbekistan and Caucasia, Chabad activities spread to the land of Israel, Poland and the Baltic countries and, more recently, to the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Australia, North Africa, South America, Africa and elsewhere.

It is noteworthy that these activities have been carried out with equal zeal and determination whether the Jews concerned have been of Oriental, Sephardic or Ashkenazi origin, once again emphasizing the all-embracing character of the Chabad movement as one belonging to the whole People of Israel.