Sixty years ago, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn נ"ע, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, sent a long letter to his daughter, Rebbetzin Chayah Mushka, describing the personal metamorphosis several individuals underwent as they accepted the chassidic way of life.

The letter is dated 16 Shevat 5695, and was apparently written while the Previous Rebbe was in Purkersdorf, a health resort near Vienna (where he spent the period between Chanukah and Pesach of that year), while the Rebbe and Rebbetzin resided in Paris.

Although it is a personal letter from father to daughter, the first 120 pages of the manuscript somehow became public under somewhat mysterious circumstances. Copies were then made and circulated among a select group of chassidim. This manuscript was known simply as “the Long Letter.” The conclusion of the letter, however, remained private.

The original Yiddish text and a Hebrew translation were published in Shemuos VeSippurim by the late Rabbi Raphael Nachman Kahan. According to rumor, the Lubavitcher Rebbe (son-in-law of the author) gave Rabbi Kahan permission to print the letter, but declined to make the remainder of the manuscript available. Subsequently, these 120 pages were reprinted in the Previous Rebbe’s collected letters, Igros Kodesh of the Rebbe Rayatz, Vol. 3, No. 750 pp. 156-279.

In this letter, we are treated to a glimpse into the lives of several early chassidim, who were instrumental in spreading chassidic teachings and the chassidic way of life in the regions where Chabad Chassidus originated. Foremost among these early pioneers were the three famous companions: Reb Mordechai Bayever, Reb Chayim Mazierer, and Reb Yissachar Dov Kabilniker. Referring to the present letter, the author writes (in No. 751):

The first person to bring the shining light of the Baal Shem Tov’s Torah into the province of White Russia ... was the young scholar, outstanding in Torah and fear of Heaven, possessed of superior intellect, Reb Mordechai of Bayev ... [together with] Reb Chayim and Reb Yissachar Dov ... the first to implant the Torah of our Holy Master, the Baal Shem Tov, in the four White Russian Counties: Minsk, Mohilev, Vitebsk (Polotzk), and Czernigov.1

In uniquely rich prose, the Previous Rebbe gives us a graphic portrait of the spiritual rhythms of life in the shtetl, what inspired the Jews of the era, and the focal points around which their lives revolved.

I have attempted to keep this translation faithful to the Previous Rebbe’s unique narrative style. Unfortunately, no one is able to tell a story the way he did, whether in Yiddish, English, or any other language.

I have taken liberties with the translation in only two instances:

a) Certain Yiddish idiomatic expressions make no sense when translated literally, and in these cases I have used what I thought were the closest English equivalents;

b) In several places, the original text narrates events out of their natural chronological order. To make the story flow more easily for the reader, I have rearranged the text to provide narrative continuity. The rearranged text was then divided into chapters. Neither the chapter breaks nor the titles appear in the original.

As mentioned, the conclusion of the letter was never made available to the general public. For this reason, I have added appendices which provide additional information regarding several of the personalities mentioned.

I am deeply indebted to the publishers, editorial staff, and readers of Beis Moshiach Magazine for their constant encouragement and invaluable suggestions while this translation was being written.

My thanks also to numerous elder chassidim who enlightened me about the historical background of these stories and the meanings of several non-standard Yiddish words and expressions. And I am grateful to the staff of Sichos In English, Rabbis Yonah Avtzon, Eliyahu Touger, and Yosef Yitzchok Turner who made final editorial corrections and prepared the text for printing.

May our appreciation of the saintly personalities whose biographies appear in these pages inspire us to attempt, in some small way, to emulate their ways. In their merit, may Almighty G‑d grant us the blessing of “Arise and sing, you who dwell in the dust,” with the Rebbe, the Previous Rebbe, and the Rebbetzin, at our head, leading us to the ultimate redemption by our righteous Moshiach, speedily, NOW.

Shimon Neubort

Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY

15 Av, 5755