1 1. The disagreement between the two brothers-in-law2 and mechutanim3 – my great-grandfather, our Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek – and my great-grandfather, the tzaddik Reb Yaakov Yisrael (of Tcherkas) – lasted for several years, from 5609 to 5614 (1849 to 1854). The Tzemach Tzedek wanted my [maternal] grandfather, [his son] Reb Yosef Yitzchak [later of Ovrutch], to settle [with his wife] in Lubavitch, whereas Reb Yaakov Yisrael wanted the couple to live in one of the towns in Volhynia, where Reb Yosef Yitzchak would become a nasi, a Rebbe.4

2. Chassidim used to say that the Rebbe5 feared a clap of thunder that he never heard more than he feared the czar with his gendarmes. [By way of illustration:]

3. At the Rabbinical Conference in 5603 (1843),6 the Tzemach Tzedek addressed the ministers of state as follows: “Our father Jacob uses the phrase, ‘which I took from the hands of the Emorites with my sword and with my bow.’7 The classic Aramaic translation renders these words as with my prayer and with my request. While the Beis HaMikdash stood, the Jewish people had sword and bow with which to do battle. When they were sent into exile, G‑d took away that sword and bow from them, but left them with the sword and bow of prayer and request. And in fact, the sword and bow of prayer and request are even more powerful than the iron sword and bow.”

4. TheTzemach Tzedek also told the ministers the following: “When an individual is chosen by thousands of Jews as their rav, they thereby invest him with the power of the multitude.8 And when they endow him with the spiritual power of their souls, he becomes a nasi. And a nasi must have self-sacrifice for the fulfillment of the Torah and its commandments.”

5. The mesirus nefesh that is called for must resemble that of Avraham Avinu, not that of Haran,9 who first waited to see whether Avraham Avinu’s life would be saved.

6. Many fines, lasting several years, were imposed on the Tzemach Tzedek for his statements and speeches at that Conference, in which he defied the ministers on matters of Yiddishkeit and its classic works.10

7. In 5614 (1854), the czarist government decreed that: (a) schools [under its auspices] be established for Jewish children; (b) the Tzemach Tzedek serve as the titular head of all the schools for Jewish children throughout White Russia; (c) such a school be established in Lubavitch; (d) the Tzemach Tzedek be coerced to have two of his grandchildren enrolled in that school.

8. The two grandchildren – determined by lot – whom the Tzemach Tzedek was coerced to enroll were Reb Leib, son of the Rebbe the Rabash,11 and Reb Baruch, son of the Rebbe Reb Shneur.12

9. When that decree was issued, my great-grandfather, the Rebbe Reb Yosef Yitzchak, traveled with his wife to Hornosteipol to ask his father-in-law, my great-grandfather, the tzaddik Reb Yaakov Yisrael, to save his young children from attending that school.13

10. The maskilim14 toiled and labored for years to prepare the textbooks that had been decided upon at the Rabbinical Conference in 5603 (1843), and by various means the Tzemach Tzedek managed to defer their publication for about ten years. In 5613 (1853), when the maskilim renewed their efforts on the project, he again found ways to impede its progress. However, early in 5616 (1855), he was absolutely forced, under the threat of an armed gendarme, to sign the translationsof the textbooks, “as a member of the committee of the maskilim…”

11. In the circular letter which he then distributed by means of especially appointed couriers, he made it clear that his signature had been extorted under duress, that he opposed the use of the abridged versions, and that he suspected that the translations were intentionally fraudulent.

12. One of the maskilim, an informer by the name of Aharon Yonah, notified the authorities about that letter. As a result, in the summer of 5617 (1857), in the month of Tammuz, the Tzemach Tzedek was sentenced to house arrest for a month. Apart from those who lived in his house – at the time, that meant only the Rebbe Maharash and his wife – no one was allowed to step inside it, not even his children and their families, even to make up a minyan for davenen.

13. Every second year, from 5614 to 5618 (1854 to 1858), my grandfather Reb Yosef Yitzchak and his wife would spend half a year in Lubavitch and then return to Hornosteipol.

14. In 5619 (1859), my great-grandfather Reb Yaakov Yisrael forced his son-in-law, my grandfather Reb Yosef Yitzchak, to settle in Ovrutch as a Rebbe, against the deep desire of his father, the Tzemach Tzedek.

15. When he settled in Ovrutch, he found a number of Chernobyl chassidim who were connected with Reb Yaakov Yisrael. Some of the oldest among them were privileged in their youth to have been chassidim of [Reb Yaakov Yisrael’s father], my great-great-grandfather Reb Mordechai of Chernobyl, whose appearance they now discerned in my grandfather Reb Yosef Yitzchak.

16. One of the Hornosteipol chassidim [called Reb Levi Yitzchak] told my great-grandfather Reb Yaakov Yisrael that his father [called Reb Pinchas] had been a chassid of R. Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl.15 On several occasions Reb Pinchas had heard him speak in glowing terms in praise of the Alter Rebbe, of his Likkutei Amarim, and of his maamarim that would reach Volhynia from time to time.

17. One of the maamarim of Chabad Chassidus that left its impact on the whole of Volhynia was the one that begins with Vaeira and was popularly known as Der Frumer Vaeira.16

18. After the passing of R. Menachem Nachum, the above-mentioned Reb Pinchas connected with Reb Mordechai [of Chernobyl] and became one of his closest chassidim. And when Reb Mordechai and the Mitteler Rebbe became linked by the marriage of their respective children, Reb Pinchas was one of the chassidim who accompanied Reb Mordechai to the wedding in Zhlobin.

Reb Pinchas related the following to his son, Reb Levi Yitzchak: “In those days people used to say that most of the Litvakess,17 including even the chassidim [among them], belonged to a sect of prushim18 who undertake fasts and self-mortification, and wear a veil outdoors so that they will not be able to look beyond their immediate surroundings. Even though I had seen their Rebbe [i.e., the Alter Rebbe, and he did not match that description,] that didn’t prove anything about the chassidim at large. Then, when I finally arrived in Zhlobin, I saw that the chassidim are people just like us. Some of them were really cheerful, which I didn’t understand.

“So I asked the [Alter] Rebbe: ‘Your chassidim are G‑d-fearing scholars. They have studied many concepts in Chassidus and have worked hard to integrate them in their lives. But where does their great joy come from?’

“He answered: ‘The joy of chassidim comes from the light of truth. They know how they ought to be, and they know that they are not as they ought to be.’

“So I asked: ‘If they know that they are not as they ought to be, what’s this joy all about?’

“He answered: ‘Knowing the ailment is half of its cure. And that’s where their joy comes from, because they know how to cure it.’ “

19. In the winter of 5651 (1891), on Shabbos Parshas Terumah, my father delivered the maamar based on the verse,19 “They shall make for Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them.” One of the visitors in Lubavitch was Reb Meir Shlomo of Nikolayev,20 who also stayed in town for Shabbos Parshas Tetzaveh, when my father delivered the maamar that begins with the words, “And you shall make a headband.”21 Among the visitors on that day were Reb Asher [Grossman] the Shochet from Nikolayev, and the shochtim Reb Yehoshua and Reb Shimon from Kherson.

Sunday was Purim Katan. The farbrengen, which was held in the apartment of my grandmother Rebbitzin Rivkah,22 began after Minchah, was interrupted at midnight for Maariv, and then continued until daybreak. My uncle the Raza was also present, and that was the first time I heard him repeating a maamar – on the verse, Hateh Elokai Oznecha U’Shema.23 Notes of my father’s talks were duly made.

From the farbrengen, my father went to the mikveh, and apparently that was when he caught a cold, because on that day he had fever. For a few days he managed not to be confined to his bed, until on Friday,24 the nineteenth of Adar Rishon, it was found that he had pneumonia. He stayed in bed for about six weeks, until on Shabbos Parshas Tazria, the third of Nissan, he sat on a bedside armchair for the first time. Because of his illness he did not complete his written version of the maamar that he had delivered on Shabbos Parshas Tetzaveh.

During that time there were days in which he was dangerously ill. Yet although his mind and speech were clear even at that time, the elderly local doctor Bagaradesky with his Jewish assistant from Kharkov, and the doctor who had been summoned from Vitebsk, gave a fearful prognosis.

On Monday, the twenty-second of Adar Rishon, Mendel, my father’s attendant, came to the cheder in Reb Yeshaya Kastier’s home where I and two friends were taught by Reb Nissan, and told him that my father wanted to see him. On his return, he said that my father had told him that until he regained his health, he wanted me to be with him and to tend to his needs.

Throughout those six weeks my father related things that he had seen in the presence of his father, the Rebbe Maharash, and of his father-in-law – my grandfather, Reb Yosef Yitzchak, both during the times that [my grandfather] was in Lubavitch,25 and during the few days that my father had spent [with him] in Ovrutch.

My father also recalled how he himself had conducted his life both before and after his bar-mitzvah, every anecdote serving to teach a lesson in the awe of Heaven and in the refinement of one’s character.

I did not understand why he was recounting all of this. And knowing how my father always valued and closely monitored my classroom time with Reb Nissan, I was puzzled. This was my timetable at the time: Shacharis with the second minyan at 7:30;26 breakfast at 9:00; in class from 9:30 till 2:00; Minchah with the minyan at 3:00 (in winter); half an hour during which I could write; in class from 4:00 till 9:00; Maariv; and supper.

I had originally thought that my father had brought me there to be of service, so when I later saw that there was no need for my services, I was surprised.

Every day Reb Nissan would ask me what my father had told me. I loved him so dearly that I repeated everything, while often his tears flowed freely as I spoke. This was surprising, because the things I told him were not the kinds of things that generate tears.

Only many years later did I find out that my father had known at the time that his condition was critical. That was why he had risked his holy life by exerting himself to relay all those recollections – and in particular, all of their moral lessons – in order to guide me “along the paths of righteousness.”27

This closeness that my father showed me during those six weeks aroused within me an intense devotion to him. My teacher Reb Nissan also taught me to value the fact that my father was sharing with me matters that are usually shared with an adult, not with a boy of eleven.28 That comment itself made me yearn to be a man and not a boy.

From day to day my father gained strength, until on Tuesday, the sixth of Nissan, he walked about in his room, his right hand holding a cane, and his left hand holding on to me. Then on Shabbos, which was Shabbos HaGadol, he was called to the Torah for maftir. He read the regular haftarah for that week, not the one that begins VeArvah.29

On Shabbos Parshas Tazria, when he sat on an armchair for the first time since he fell ill, he told me to bring him a Gemara Chagigah, which he studied closely for a long time, and then added it to his daily schedule.

On Shabbos HaGadol, for the first time since he fell ill, he examined my memorization of mishnayos. By that time I had mastered as far as Tractate Challah, and he now instructed me to memorize Tractates Challah, Orlah and Bikkurim, within the three days remaining before erev Pesach.

20. Starting with the eighteenth of Nissan, the second day of Chol HaMoed Pesach, my father fixed a certain time every day, including Shabbos and Yom-Tov, to teach me30 classic works of Mussar, such as Shaarei Teshuvah by Rabbeinu Yonah, Chareidim, Orchos Tzaddikim, Chovos HaLevavos and Reishis Chochmah.

He would first list specified subjects that are discussed in those works, which I was to study alone. Then, at a prearranged time, I would go to him and he would explain the current subject, often adding related narratives concerning our forefathers, the Rebbeim, and various elder chassidim.

Within two months this study schedule changed my life. This gladdened him, and also raised the spirits of my teacher Reb Nissan, who related to me in a friendly manner.

21. At the table on the Second Day of Shavuos, my relative Reb Baruch Shneur31 described his grandfather, my great-uncle the tzaddik Reb Baruch Shalom,32 who was by nature broken-spirited.33

22. My father related that he knew my great-uncle Reb Baruch Shalom, because for about two years, when he was seven or eight years old, he used to visit him every Shabbos. His uncle would fondly share with him narratives and customary practices of the Alter Rebbe, who had taught him the cantillation signs34 for reading the Tanach, and the precise details of clear and correct pronunciation.35

My father added that his uncle Reb Baruch Shalom had once said [concerning the Alter Rebbe]: “My great-grandfather’s grueling final journey,36 and his illness, and his passing, broke my heart for all time.”

23. In the first week after Shavuos, my father drafted for me a course of study on the positive value of being broken of spirit. My father, so to speak, wrote out a prescription...

My study of the collected sources on that subject lasted about three weeks. At that time, my uncle the tzaddik Reb Nachum DovBer37 visited Lubavitch for Shabbos Parshas Shlach. My father then told me: “Your uncle Reb Nachum DovBer is genuinely humble and broken-spirited.”

24. On one of those days, on my way home from cheder at two-o’clock for lunch, I dropped into shul – “The Little Zal – and was stunned by what I saw. Reb DovBer, the barely literate father of the attendant Reb Mendel, was leaning over the table on which the Torah was read, saying Tehillim. And standing near a wall and watching him from the side was my uncle, Reb Nachum DovBer, his face disclosing anguish and envy, his eyes streaming with tears.

When I came home and told my father what I had seen, he said: “My brother-in-law is so humble that he envies Reb DovBer the yishuvnik. That is genuine brokenness of spirit.”

25. During that year my father used to teach Torah Or publicly in the winter, and Likkutei Torah in the summer.

In the week of Chukas-Balak he taught the maamar that begins, Al Kein Yomru HaMoshlim. [While teaching it, the Rebbe Rashab gave almost every word of Bamidbar 21:27-28 a series of associative interpretations, showing how remorseful introspection and humble meditation can ignite an ardent fire in one’s heart during davenen. The linguistic intricacies by which he conveys his message make it untranslatable.]

26. On Thursday, the tenth of Tammuz, I rose extremely early, as instructed by my father. At eleven, my father set out to the holy resting places of my great-grandfather the Tzemach Tzedek, and of my grandfather the Rebbe Maharash, and took me with him. That was the first time that he took me with him on a visit to the Ohalim.38 He showed me where to stand and told me which chapters of Tehillim I should read. He then handed me a pidyon nefesh that he had written, told me to read it, and told me what to do with it after it had been read.

On that day, the tenth of Tammuz, as we stood at the Ohalim of our revered forebears, my father rested his holy hands on my head and blessed me.

When we returned home, he instructed me to complete the day’s fast, and that no one, even Reb Nissan, was to know of it.

27. At seven o’clock on Friday morning, erev Shabbos, the eleventh of Tammuz, my father called for me, and as I entered his study he told me to close the door. When I came nearer to him, he opened a drawer in his desk, took out a small pair of tefillin, and said: “These tefillin are my father’s. He used to put them on in the morning – both pairs, the tefillin of Rashi and the tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam – together.39 These are Rashi’s tefillin.’” With that, he told me to put them on, though without saying a berachah, and told me to read the whole davenen in his room.

Every day thereafter, from Sunday the thirteenth of Tammuz,40 I would enter his study and put on those tefillin, with a complete berachah that included the Name of G‑d. I would then proceed to shul to daven with the minyan (and as I walked, I would recite Mishnayos from memory). My father gave me an earnest warning that no one should know of this practice.

28. After the daytime meal of Shabbos Parshas Chukas-Balak, my father invited a number of chassidim to join him – Reb Chanoch Hendel, Reb Abba, Reb Shmuel Baruch and Reb Meir Mordechai Tchernin – and they farbrenged together, as chassidim do. My father also sent Reb Mendel the Meshares to tell my teacher, Reb Nissan that a farbrengen was in progress, because he appreciated his devotion in guiding me. He arrived immediately. Those chassidim were soon joined by the shochet Reb Shlomo Chaim, Reb Yaakov Koppel Zeligson, and Reb David the Rav.

My father davened Minchah with the festive melodies of Simchas Torah, and the farbrengen continued until late at night. (Half an hour before sunset they had paused to say the berachah following their refreshments.) My father spoke at length. And although his high spirits left everyone in wonderment, no one took the liberty of asking for an explanation.