(1765) R. Schneur Zalman travels to Mezeritch

When Rabbi Schneur Zalman neared his twentieth year, he decided—with the consent of his wife, Rebbetzin Sterna—to travel to a center of Torah learning and service of G‑d. Two centers of Jewish learning and leadership competed for his attention: Vilna, the main seat of Talmudic scholarship, and the fortress of the opposition to the young yet rapidly growing chassidic movement; and Mezeritch, the seat of Rabbi DovBer, the famed Maggid of Mezeritch, heir to the ideology of Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov and to the leadership of the chassidic movement. Rabbi Schneur Zalman related, “I knew that in Vilna one was taught how to study, and that in Mezeritch one could learn how to pray. To study I was somewhat able, but of prayer I knew very little. So I went to Mezeritch.”

Read The Fork in the Road.

(1769) Birth of Napoleon Bonaparte

(1770) R. Schneur Zalman begins work on the Shulchan Aruch

At the instruction of Rabbi DovBer, the Maggid of Mezeritch, R. Schneur Zalman began work on a new Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law). The result was an innovative work, which comprehensively explained the legislative underpinnings of each law. In addition, he skillfully arbitrated between the diverse opinions that had accumulated since the publication of Rabbi Yosef Caro’s Shulchan Aruch several hundred years earlier.

Read Systematization, Explanation and Arbitration: The Unique Legislative Style of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi’s Shulchan Aruch.

(1772) The first partition of Poland; Belarus becomes part of the Russian empire

(1772) Intense persecution by the mitnagdim

In 1772 an anti-chassidic pamphlet titled Zemir Aritzim was published by Rabbi Aryeh Yehudah Leib, the scribe of Brody. The pamphlet included edicts of excommunication issued in Vilna against the chassidic movement. At around the same time, the chassidic prayer group in Vilna was forced to disband. The disciples of the Maggid of Mezeritch—including R. Schneur Zalman—gathered in Rovno to formulate their response. R. Schneur Zalman advised that no act of retaliation should be perpetrated, and that they should continue to live and teach the chassidic path while ignoring the assault.

Read Immanent Transcendence: Chassidim, Mitnagdim and the debate about tzimtzum

(1772) The passing of Rabbi DovBer, the Maggid of Mezeritch

On Tuesday, the 19th day of Kislev 5533 (1772), Rabbi DovBer, successor to the Baal Shem Tov, leader of the chassidic movement and teacher of Rabbi Schneur Zalman, returned his soul to his Maker, and his earthly remains were interred in Annopol. Shortly before his demise, the Maggid had said to Rabbi Schneur Zalman: “Yud-Tet Kislev (the 19th of Kislev) is our yom tov (festival).” [The Maggid was apparently alluding to the future liberation of Rabbi Schneur Zalman on the 19th of Kislev 5559 (1798).]

Read The Passing of the Maggid.

(1773) Birth of Rabbi DovBer, R. Schneur Zalman’s oldest son

During the last decades of Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s leadership, Rabbi DovBer was appointed to instruct the younger chassidim in the service of G‑d. He was also one of the most active scribes responsible for the transcription of Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s teachings. In 1813 he succeeded his father, and settled in the town of Lubavitch.

(1775) The American War of Independence begins

(1776) Passing of R. Abraham “the Angel”

Rabbi Abraham (1740–1776) was the son of Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch, and the study partner of Rabbi Schneur Zalman. He passed away on the 12th of Tishrei 5537 (1776). He was known as “Rabbi Abraham the Angel” for his saintliness and asceticism.

(1777) Alexander I of Russia is born

(1777) First chassidic aliyah

The first Chassidic aliyah (“ascent”—immigration to the Holy Land) was led by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, Rabbi Abraham of Kalisk and Rabbi Yisrael of Polotzk. They were all disciples of Rabbi DovBer, the Maggid of Mezeritch, and colleagues of Rabbi Schneur Zalman. Initially, Rabbi Schneur Zalman was part of the group. But when the caravan reached the city of Mohilev on the Dniester River (Mohyliv-Podilskyi), Rabbi Menachem Mendel—whom Rabbi Schneur Zalman regarded as his teacher and mentor after the Maggid’s passing—instructed him to remain behind to serve as the leader of the chassidic community in White Russia and Lithuania. Subsequently, Rabbi Schneur Zalman retained close ties with the chassidic settlers in the Holy Land and labored to raise funds for their support.

(1777) Birth of R. Chaim Avrohom, second son of R. Schneur Zalman

(1779) Birth of R. Moshe, youngest son of R. Schneur Zalman

For more about Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s activities during this period, read The Third Generation.