Wircburg, Wednesday, Parshas Vayishlach

11th of Kislev, 5666

([The following] story was told by the chassid Reb YeshayahuMeckler of Vitebsk, related in the name of his father, who was a chassidof the Mitteler Rebbe. [Reb Yeshayahu] was present [throughout] the time, and had knowledge, of all the details relating to the slanderous [accusations made against the Mitteler Rebbe and the activities undertaken by the chassidim to counter them.)

The members of the family1 of the Mitteler Rebbe were very wealthy. They were respected members of the Vitebsk community because of both their Torah knowledge and their charitable donations. However, they were extremely haughty and jealous of the honor rendered to the Mitteler Rebbe. They also harbored a grudge against the Mitteler Rebbe, since he had no desire to enter into shidduchim with them, although they were ready to give staggering amounts of money for a dowry. Consequently, when they came in contact with [a certain] malicious individual of Shklov2 [who slandered the Mitteler Rebbe] — as related in Beis Rebbe — they assisted him, as they had a good deal of influence in the office of the important minister, Governor-General Chavansky.3

On the second night of Chol HaMoed Sukkos, [related Reb Yeshayahu,] we were in the sukkah of Reb Beirach, celebrating Simchas Beis HaShoeiva. Reb YitzchakZeligsuddenly appeared while we were in the midst of the festivities and related that while on the other side of the river, he had heard that [the above individuals] had slandered the Mitteler Rebbeand passed [incriminating] information [to the Czarist authorities]. We were alarmed and distressed upon hearing this, but we refused to believe it. However, after an additional two days had passed, the matter became common knowledge. On Shemini Atzeres, which fell on a Monday, a delegation visited the Governor-General’s secretary, who informed us that the formal papers of indictment would be presented to [the Governor-General] for review and approval.

On Thursday, we became aware that the minister had decided to bring the Mitteler Rebbe to Vitebsk. Thereupon five distinguished chassidim visited the minister and succeeded in persuading him that the Rebbe should not be taken [to Vitebsk] as a prisoner. Rather, the minister should send a delegation of high-ranking officials who would inform the Mitteler Rebbe that his presence was requested in Vitebsk. Several gentile landowners also participated in this appeal.

The news about the Mitteler Rebbe’s having been slandered became quickly known in all the surrounding cities and towns, even to the gentiles in the [surrounding] villages. For they, too, greatly revered and exalted the name of the Mitteler Rebbe. Within the brief span of but several days, a great uproar arose in the entire region.

When we were informed that the delegation had left on Shabbos with orders to bring the Mitteler Rebbe to Vitebsk, all the members of our congregations decided to greet the Rebbe. We departed on Sunday morning, Parshas Noach. By two in the afternoon, we arrived at the inn in Kashina where Reb Aharon the milkman lived, a little over 12 miles from Vitebsk. It was there that we awaited the arrival of the Rebbe.

Towards evening, arrived Yerucham Yisrael — one of the emissaries we had sent to Lubavitch to convey the information that we knew. He then returned in order to update us about what was transpiring in Lubavitch.

He related to us that on that Shabbos, the Rebbe’s routine in Lubavitch was the same as every other Shabbos of the year. [He also informed us] that several hundred guests had arrived from nearby cities for that particular Shabbos. They already knew that a defamation had been perpetrated against the Rebbe. Several individuals were also aware of the arrival of Gavriel Yaakov — the emissary we had sent on Thursday night — and his report that the Governor-General had decided to call the Mitteler Rebbe to Vitebsk, but that select members of Anash had succeeded in ensuring that the journey would be in an honorable manner.

That evening, we were informed that high [government] officials had arrived in Lubavitch and had visited the Rebbe’s home that night, staying there for about an hour. They spoke to the Rebbe with great respect for several minutes through an interpreter, telling him that they had come to request that he accompany them to the Governor-General in Vitebsk. Moreover, he could determine the pace of the journey so that it would be accomplished in a manner which would not be detrimental to his health.4

As related from the Rebbe’s home, the Rebbe was to travel on Sunday until Liozna, where they would spend the night. On Monday, they would journey on to Vitebsk. However, the roads were in disrepair and the weather was inclement. According to the doctor’s orders, the Rebbe should not be outdoors in such weather. Therefore, he would journey on Sunday until Dobromsil, where he would rest for the night and arrive in Vitebsk on Tuesday. Late that night, the courier returned with the news that the ministers agreed to this itinerary.

It was reported from the Rebbe’s home that an additional four people arrived last night — presumably spies — and among them were Jews or Germans who spoke Yiddish. The officials also called on the landowners in the vicinity of Lubavitch to inquire about and investigate the Rebbe and his manner of conduct. I made up with Gavriel Yaakov that once the Rebbe traveled to Dobromsil and the Rebbe’s itinerary would be definitively known, he would return to us and inform us of the Rebbe’s travel plans. I told Ephraim that he should travel to Liozna, and when he had solid knowledge of the Rebbe’s travel plans from Liozna, he should hasten his journey to us to notify us of all the news.

The news that Yerucham Yisrael conveyed gave us new life, as we saw that the intercession of Anash with the Governor-General to send officials of stature was successful. Our hopes were strengthened that in the future as well, Anash would succeed in demonstrating that the Rebbe was a victim of pure and simple slander.

Reb Yerucham Yisrael, a talented melamed with an excellent power of recall, repeated for us the maamorim that he had heard [from the Rebbe] in Lubavitch, and Reb Aharon Tzvi gave us dairy dishes with which we sated our hunger, eating with the firm hope [that we would soon be hearing glad tidings]. Monday, after davening, Yerucham Yisrael traveled to Vitebsk to inform Anash of all that had transpired.

* * *

At three o’clock on Monday afternoon, Gavriel Yaakov arrived and told us that many people had gone to the officials on Sunday morning and requested permission to escort the Rebbe on his journey. The officials responded that they appreciated the fact that the Jews know how to honor their Rabbi, an individual honored by the government as well, and all who wish to escort him may do so.

The Rebbe left Lubavitch at 11 a.m. It is impossible to describe what transpired the previous night in the Rebbe’s courtyard — crying, screams and fainting. The Rebbe himself, however, was the picture of tranquility, receiving people and writing Chassidus. Very early in the morning, he called in his son-in-law, Rabbi Menachem Mendel,5 and they were closeted for two hours. When the Rebbe sat down in the wagon, he did so with a slight smile on his holy lips. When the wagon began moving, the entire camp of people escorting him began to move as well. Many wagons traveled along with the Rebbe and hundreds of people went along by foot. At three in the afternoon, we arrived in Dobromsil.

When the Rebbe passed through the village of Berezavkeh — the first village after Lubavitch — all the [gentile] villagers came out to greet him with bread and salt,6 with the village elder at their head. This repeated itself in the second village (Tshernitzeh) and the third, which was close to Dobromsil. The gentile inhabitants of Dobromsil, with the village elder at their head, stood waiting with bread and salt in hand about two miles from the village. They say that the officials were very moved, seeing that the entire populace was extremely fond and respectful of the Rebbe.

Upon entering Dobromsil, the Rebbe’s son related the Rebbe’s words: that they should go straight to the large shul. The Rebbe entered the cheder sheini, [the small, adjacent room,] and directed that the prayer of Minchah should commence. He then entered the shul and delivered a discourse on the words, “Raging waters cannot consume the love.” [The Rebbe also said that] today, after davening, he would travel to Liozna. All the inhabitants of Liozna and many guests from nearby cities were awaiting the arrival of the Rebbe.

Gavriel Yaakov’s reports calmed us. We told him to make haste and travel to Vitebsk to report the news to Anash. He should also see to it that the honored members of Anash make an effort to influence the Governor-General to allow the Rebbe to lodge in a private individual’s home and permit him to receive Anash and recite Chassidus. We were in very good spirits, expectant and hopeful to joyfully receive the Rebbe and to verily see that the chassidim would emerge victorious. We prayerfully thanked G‑d.

It had been three hours since Gavriel Yaakov departed for Vitebsk, and we were preparing ourselves for sleep. Suddenly Ephraim appeared with a thunderstruck countenance. As soon as we saw him, our hearts thumped mightily with fear and trepidation. “What has happened?” we asked him with great agitation and pounding hearts.

“The Rebbe is fine,” he responded. “But there has been a turn of events. After the Rebbe delivered the discourse entitled Rishpeha (“Its Flames”), an elucidation on the previous discourse entitled Mayim Rabbim (“Raging Waters”) that he had delivered in Dobromsil, a command came from the officials that the Rebbe and his son should quickly come to the lodging that had been prepared for him during the two hours since our arrival in Liozna. [Moreover,] no one was to visit them, except for three people that the Rebbe and his son would choose. They were to travel in a special wagon, together with their possessions, and no one was to accompany them, neither by wagon, nor on foot. Those who would not obey this edict would be harshly punished. A rumor had been circulating that about a half-hour before this order had been issued, a special messenger had arrived and handed over a sealed letter to the officers. When I heard about all that had transpired, I hired a wagon and came to notify you about all that occurred.”

* * *

The unfavorable tidings were truly shocking. We waited till four in the morning, at which time we returned to Vitebsk. During the early morning, we gathered together to decide what to do.

We were, after all, aware of the sudden change; that the extreme ire of the Governor-General had been aroused by the malevolent individual from Shklov with the aid of the slanderers. They had falsely asserted that the government notables [sent by the Governor-General to escort the Mitteler Rebbeto Vitebsk] were also siding with the chassidim, and that as a result of the tremendous bribes they had received from the chassidim, permitted the Rebbe to receive Anash. [Indeed,] the Rebbe was being accorded honors befitting a king. As a result, the Governor-General had decreed that the Rebbe be brought directly to jail and placed in a specific room where all prisoners were held [until they were transferred].

[This being the case,] only a small glimmer of hope remained [that we would succeed] through natural means; that hope lay in the intercession of the expert doctor, Inspector Heibenthal,7 who held the Rebbe in great esteem. He had said that he would get the Governor-General to allow the Rebbe to be housed under guard in the government center.

* * *

Hundreds of people — from Horodok, Nevel, Beshenko­vich, Polotsk, Velish and other locations — arrived in Vitebsk and were waiting to greet the Rebbe.

The news spread throughout the city that hundreds of people were escorting the Rebbe; in all the villages and cities through which the Rebbe passed, he was received with great honor; that in Liozna and Dobromsil he said Chassidus; that masses and masses of people had streamed to the highway that led from Liozna to Vitebsk in order to greet the Rebbe.

Thousands of people were hubbing together around the roads and walking between Vitebsk and Liozna, and hundreds of people were waiting outside the city on the road that leads to Liozna. The Rebbe had yet to come, and those waiting had already started to become agitated. We, knowing that the Rebbe would be coming with only three people, and that the sun was already setting and he had yet to arrive, were sorely aggrieved.

Three hours passed and the Rebbe had not arrived. A rumor circulated that the Rebbe had been arrested with his son in Liozna. They would be under house arrest the entire night under heavy guard, and the guards would not permit anyone to approach the home. In the morning, after davening, the Rebbe and his son, together with two or three other individuals, left in two wagons accompanied by armed guards, and proceeded onward to Vitebsk.

At nine that evening, we were informed by Dr. Heibenthal that he succeeded in getting the Governor-General to agree that the Rebbe be housed in the central government center. He, himself, had seen the Rebbe and had given him medication for the fever that resulted from his catching a cold along the way.

* * *

For about two weeks, we had no idea what was happening with them, only that twice a day, one of us would bring food up to the place where the armed guard stood at the door. Then one of the three people would go out, escorted by an armed guard. He would take out the empty dishes from the day before and receive the food that had been brought, without even a word being exchanged.

Anash begged Inspector Heibenthal to make an effort to secure permission for the Rebbe to establish a minyan of ten people and say Chassidus. Heibenthal seemingly ignored their petition, although the petitioners were acquaintances of his and he would honor their requests.

On Thursday, the 16th of MarCheshvan, Heibenthal called several distinguished individuals of Anash with whom he was close, and related to them that there was a party held by the Governor-General the previous Tuesday which had been attended by many ministers and dignitaries, among them the young prince Lubamirski8 and the younger Tzekret,9 both of them extremely good friends of the Governor-General. As per his request, they spoke to him about the Rebbe and his manner of conduct: how he is loved by Jew and gentile alike, with the gentiles calling him “the holy Rabbi. Yesterday, they had spoken to him again and he responded that he would order that the Rebbe be permitted to have a minyan three times a day, but no more than twenty people could attend at a time. Additionally, he would be permitted to say “Torah” twice a week, with the condition that no more than fifty people be in attendance. Today, [continued Heibenthal,] he had seen the Governor-General, who told him that Lubamirski and Tzekret attested to the forthrightness of Rabbi Schneuri,10 and that he had directed his secretary to provide Rabbi Schneuri with some leniencies.

On Friday, the 17th of MarCheshvan, the interior ministry gave notice that: a) Rabbi Schneuri and his son would be allowed to establish a minyan in their residence in the central government office, together with a Sefer Torah and twenty attendees, three times a day; [and] b) Rabbi Schneuri would be permitted to say “Torah” before fifty attendees twice a week.

An hour after permission was given, Anash cast lots to decide who would be the twenty people to attend the minyan. Twenty other individuals attended the Minchah Service. A third group of twenty went for Kabbolas Shabbos and Maariv, and so too for Shacharis and Minchah of Shabbos Parshas Vayeira. Following Minchah, the Rebbe delivered a discourse titled, “And he planted an eishel in Be’er Sheva, and he called there in the name of G‑d, Keil Olam.” This pattern continued throughout the three weeks and three Shabbasos of Chayei [Sarah], Toldos and Vayeitzei until finally, thank G‑d, he was released with great honor and grandeur on Sunday, Parshas Vayishlach, the 10th of Kislev, 5587.11