In the days of my greatgrandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, the teachings of Chassidus crystallized in an orderly manner. By that time all its emendations and regulations — such as in the wording of the prayers and in the meticulous honing of shechitah-knives — had been widely accepted and the rulings of the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch came to be regarded as authoritative.

The chassidic world was infused with a spirit of life by the founding of the great yeshivah in 5591 (תקצ"א; 1831) * In the original manuscript of the Rebbe Rayatz the last letter [i.e., digit] of this date is unclear. and by the widespread appointment of its graduates as rabbis, judges in rabbinical courts, teachers, and functionaries in synagogues and communal houses of study. The incoming letters from the Torah giants of all countries which addressed halachic queries to the Tzemach Tzedek, and his learned responsa, intensified the loving devotion of the yeshivah students, and especially of the advanced longterm students, The advanced longterm students: In the original Yid., di sitzer (lit., “the sitters”). to Talmudic and halachic study.1

So many hundreds of advanced scholars found their way to the metropolis of Lubavitch year after year that eventually word spread even among the misnagdim that the chassidim were masters of the revealed plane of the Torah.2 Thus, for example, when the Tzemach Tzedek visited Petersburg for the Rabbinical Commission in 5603 (תר"'ג; 1843), the Torah leaders of the sect of the misnagdim whom he met there spoke in glowing terms of the impressive scholarship of many chassidim whom they had encountered in their hometowns.

The Tzemach Tzedek’s public activities and vigorous spirit in defense of anything that affected the spiritual life of the Jewish people, and likewise his concern for their economic welfare, generated positive attitudes between misnagdim and chassidim. This in turn profoundly affected all the chassidic communities which flourished and expanded throughout the country.

By this time Chassidus was already a clearly-defined school of thought. In scores and hundreds of townships throughout the length and breadth of the land, chassidim found themselves belonging to a widely-recognized movement that now played a leading role in communal life.

This third generation in the history of Chabad chassidim and Chassidus is exceedingly rich both in body and in spirit. In addition to its harvest of spiritual fields that had been sown and planted in earlier generations by the world’s patriarchs, the Alter Rebbe and the Mitteler Rebbe, the current endeavors of the Tzemach Tzedek also began to yield their own rich produce. It is interesting that the agricultural colonies which the Mitteler Rebbe had founded in his early years as Rebbe, in 5573-74 (תקע"ג-ע"ד; 1813-14), and also during his later journey to the steppes in the provinces of Kherson and Yekaterinoslav, developed and prospered during the time of the Tzemach Tzedek.

In 5600-01 (ת"ר-א;1840-41) the Tzemach Tzedek publicly encouraged his chassidim to seek employment as farmers and craftsmen. He bought * See The Tzemach Tzedek and the Haskalah Movement [by the Rebbe Rayatz, trans. Rabbi Zalman I. Posner]. a tract of land in the Minsk province where he built the agricultural village of Tchedrin, and helped support budding craftsmen.

In those days taleisim used to be imported from afar, from Volhynia or Galicia. The Tzemach Tzedek therefore convinced prospering lambswool merchants from the Kherson colonies to bring their goods to this area This area: I.e., the region of Lubavitch, in White Russia. as well, and located a new tallis-weaving factory in Dubrovna, the home of his relative and study partner, the saintly R. Nehemiah HaLevi.

The establishment of facilities of this kind encouraged many chassidim to seek employment further afield. Many settled in villages, or in the estates that sprang up around wayside inns which some of their wealthier brethren bought and developed into self-contained little rural communities blessed with shuls, mikvaos, and teachers for the local children.

The period of the Tzemach Tzedek thus added not only a rich spiritual chapter to the chronicles of Chassidus and chassidim, but also set up a guidepost for their economic life. In this work he was aided by the elder chassidim who had earlier been disciples of the Alter Rebbe and the Mitteler Rebbe and who now devoted themselves earnestly to the fulfillment of every directive uttered by his holy mouth.


At * See Sefer HaSichos, Kayitz 5700 [1940], pp. 39, 64ff.; cf. HaTamim, Vol. III, p. 22ff. for a variant version. the time of the passing of his maternal grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek was 23 years old. 23 years old: The Tzemach Tzedek was born in 1789; the histalkus of the Alter Rebbe was in 1812. At the age of three he had been taken to his home, because before he lost his mother [Devorah Leah]3 the Alter Rebbe had promised her that he would bring him up. At that time he told her: “Your son is called Menachem [lit., ‘consoler’]. He will be a consolation for me, a consolation for you, a consolation for all of Israel.”

* * *

An eye-witness account of an episode from that period has been handed down to us from the celebrated R. Aizik of Homil, in these words [till the end of Section 26]:

In my youth I was one of the younger chassidim of the Alter Rebbe. One day he delivered a maamar beginning with the words, Al Sheloshah Devarim HaOlam Omed, but because it was so profound we were unable to recall it fully. Thanks to the intervention of a few elder chassidim a promise was secured that after the morning prayers on Sunday about ten chassidim would be allowed to enter the Alter Rebbe’s study in order to reconstruct it from memory [with his assistance where necessary]. We young married students did not even hope to be counted among those who would be fortunate enough to be admitted to the Higher Gan Eden.

(These were the terms used by the longterm scholars at Liozna in those early years, 5538-5559 (תקל"ח-תקנ"ט; 1778-1799). Their study hall Study hall: In the original, beis midrash. was known as the heichal;4 the room in which waiting chassidim prepared themselves to be admitted to yechidus was known as the Lower Gan Eden;5 and the Alter Rebbe’s study was known as the Higher Gan Eden.)6

[R. Aizik resumes his account:] The Tzemach Tzedek, a little boy at that time, spent all day in the study of the Alter Rebbe, who taught him to recite the daily blessings. He spoke clearly, knew the Morning Blessings and Kerias Shema and the blessings over food by heart, read cursive and printed texts with the speed of a six-year-old, and was familiar with many narratives appearing in the Chumash and the Early and Later Prophets.


We all knew how fond the Alter Rebbe was of this grandchild. His mother had been a woman of profound understanding and awe of G‑d whose chassidic devotion to the Alter Rebbe equalled that of the loftiest chassidim. She was held in particularly high esteem because we all knew that the Alter Rebbe lived on from the year 5553 (תקנ"ג; 1792) thanks to her actual self-sacrifice on his behalf. Thanks to her, we new chassidim and our children and grandchildren were able to enjoy his ongoing radiance.


At that time Israel’s luminaries were dimmed by a number of circumstances: dissension, especially over issues involving the Holy Land; the correspondence between the chassidic masters there and the Alter Rebbe; and the scandalmongering that sought to cleave a rift between the Rebbeim of Volhynia and the Alter Rebbe. Satan’s work was thriving. Indeed, the Alter Rebbe thought that his time had come, time for his sun to set.

One day the Alter Rebbe described this situation to his saintly daughter. He sensed that this was a weighty time; the voices of the Accusing Angels The voices of the Accusing Angels: In the original, “the kitrug.” were insistent; he was deeply anxious over the state of the chassidic community and the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.

She understood that the situation was awesome and that her father’s life was in the balance. What she had heard threw her thoughts into turmoil for a number of days. Finally, she decided that she had an obligation to share her thoughts with a few select individuals and to consult with them, and resolved in her heart to surrender her life for his.

She therefore called for three distinguished elder chassidim — R. Moshe Maizlish, R. Pinchas Reizes and R. Moshe Vilenker — and demanded that they heed whatever she would direct them to do. Moreover, she demanded that they solemnly obligate themselves by a legally binding oath7 to maintain utter secrecy until the episode could be divulged.

Notwithstanding their accustomed composure of head and heart, these mighty lions were deeply agitated, and told her that they needed a day to decide together whether they could accept her conditions. At that period the Alter Rebbe had been closeted in his study more than usual; even the closest chassidim were not granted admittance. From this departure from custom they gathered that this was a time of grievous crisis; its nature and remedy remained a mystery.

The three elder chassidim met several times during the day and decided to consult through the night as to whether they could accept her conditions. Ultimately they concluded that they were obliged to do so because she was clearly more familiar with the situation than they were.

At the appointed hour she received them cordially and said: “We are all chassidim of our father, the Rebbe, and we are all obliged to literally sacrifice our lives — for his sake and for the sake of his teachings, which are the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.”

Her words were drowned by gushing tears.

Standing up in alarm, R. Moshe Maizlish declared with passion: “Why are you crying? Tell us what is going on! I will be the first to go to my death — in fire or in water for the sake of our Rebbe, for the sake of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov! Tell us what to do! I shall go happily, with a joy and gladness of heart greater than that caused by an abundance of all good things A joy... greater than that caused by... all good things: For the Rebbe’s interpretation of the Alter Rebbe’s allusion (in Tanya, Chapter 26) to this teaching of the AriZal on Deut. 28:47, see Lessons In Tanya, Vol. I, pp. 345-6. — just as our Rebbe has taught us!”

“First of all,” responded Devorah Leah, “I demand that you swear by an irreversible oath that you will fulfill what I am about to tell you. The oath will apply to what I alone have in mind, for you do not know what I am about to say. Moreover, the stern Scriptural sanction that upholds your oath will apply even to matters involving human life.”

With words like these, the emotions of even the temperate and cerebral R. Moshe Vilenker were excited. He would be afraid to proceed with such a proposal, he said, unless it had been weighed deliberately.

His two colleagues objected: “Have we not already decided to accede to all conditions? Why deliberate further?”

All three thereupon undertook an oath as prescribed in the Torah, and Rebbitzin Devorah Leah spoke up: “I hereby appoint you to act as a rabbinical court. You will undertake to do so and to pronounce a binding verdict as laid down by the laws of the Torah.

“The present state of affairs, in which unprincipled slanderers have incited crises between the Rebbeim of the Holy Land and of Volhynia and our father the Rebbe, is grievous indeed. From the words I have heard from my father it is clear that the consequences may be (G‑d forbid) grave.

“My father told me: ‘A good tree needs thirty years of hoeing and weeding until it yields its best fruit. The teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and of the Maggid of Mezritch, ever since they sprouted into a sapling, have grown into a Tree of Life. Now, however, this tree can be utterly uprooted by a harsh edict promulgated in the Heavenly Court by the malevolent Accuser. I want to live, for this is what the Torah obliges us to do. But even more than life I want to cultivate this tree, so that it will continue to yield its fruit until Mashiach comes. Until Mashiach comes: In the original, “until Shiloh comes”; see Rashi and Targum Onkelos on Gen. 49:10; cf. Tractate Sanhedrin 98b and Bereishis Rabbah 99:8. My mentor the Maggid warned me that dire times awaited me, and promised me that I would always be granted help. I saw my mentor and his mentor,8 but the gloom on their faces signifies that their teachings are in jeopardy. It also signifies that....’”

“Her sentence was interrupted by a torrent of tears,” R. Moshe Vilenker later related. “We all wept in alarm, not knowing what to think.”

“I have therefore resolved,” the young Rebbitzin Devorah Leah continued, “to give my life in exchange for my father’s. I want to serve as an atonement for him. I hereby give away the days of my lifetime to my father. I am going to die — and my father will continue on to a good and long life, so that he can preserve and tend the tree that he planted. And in this way I, too, will have a share in the merit of his teachings.”

A [few weeks] earlier the Alter Rebbe had sent a pidyon to R. Nachum of Chernobyl with a request that he intercede in heaven on his behalf. Whatever elapsed elapsed — and his daughter passed away. His daughter passed away: On the Fast of Gedaliah, the day after Rosh HaShanah of the year 5552 (תקנ"ב; 1791). Before she surrendered her life she asked the Alter Rebbe to personally bring up and educate her son, and from the age of three he was always in his study, Gan Eden HaElyon.

To this day chassidim mention her name in reverent awe, just as it was mentioned at the time by the three venerable chassidim who were involved in this episode, for everyone is aware that it was her self-sacrifice and noble spirit that saved the Tree of Life.


Little Reb Mendele passed his time playing with trifles, as toddlers do. While the Alter Rebbe was at his prayers he used shoelaces to tie toy tefillin made of potatoes on his arm and head. When the Alter Rebbe removed his own tefillin, his grandson would remove his too, and playfully drag them around the floor by their shoelaces as little boys might do.

On that day, while we chassidim were waiting in the Gan Eden HaTachton for the above-mentioned maamar (Al Sheloshah Devarim) to be soon reviewed9 from memory by a number of elder chassidim in the presence of the Alter Rebbe, we saw through a crack that one of the shoelaces of the potato-tefillin had got caught up aroung the leg of the table. The Alter Rebbe bent down and straightened it out, and little Reb Mendele ran and pranced around the room in delight.

When the Alter Rebbe had taken off his tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam, he opened the door and [the elder] chassidim entered his study. I remained standing in my place: I was afraid to walk inside.

At that moment, however, the Alter Rebbe asked: “Who is left outside?”

“A young man,” one of the chassidim answered.

“So let him come in, too,” said the Alter Rebbe. “After all, a young chassid can grow into an elder chassid.”

I was so overwhelmed that for the first few moments I saw nothing and heard nothing — except that those words of the Alter Rebbe shone before my eyes and filled my mind and heart. A little time passed before I fully regained my senses, stepped inside, and found a place in the back row.

At that moment I felt that the little boy was edging his way between us, perhaps in search of one of his toys. Anxious that he might disturb the proceedings, I looked down and saw that he was clutching his little potatoes and pressing his way forward so that he could hear. Is it possible, I thought, that he actually wants to listen?!

And I heard the voice of the Alter Rebbe: “He’s listening, he’s listening! You will yet know that he is listening!”

I was stunned. As soon as I calmed down, while I was still inside, I was vigilant about each thought I had, for I had patently seen that the Alter Rebbe saw every individual’s thoughts.

When we later left his study and returned to the beis midrash to jointly review the updated version of the maamar, the chassidim who had been present debated and queried each other: Whom did the Alter Rebbe have in mind and whom was he addressing when he said, “He’s listening, he’s listening! You will yet know that he is listening!” The solution remained an utter secret for over 45 years. * [See Sefer HaSichos — Kayitz 5700 (ת"ש; 1940), p. 103; reprinted in Sefer HaToldos — Rabbeinu HaTzemach Tzedek, ed. R. Avraham Chanoch Glitzenstein, p. 75ff.]

[R. Aizik of Homil’s eye-witness account of this episode, beginning in Section 23 above, ends here.]

* * *

[The Rebbe Rayatz concludes:] When my greatgrandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, was eight years old, he was already studying Gemara and the legal works of the poskim at intensive depth. His grandfather the Alter Rebbe once praised his talents and scholastic attainments to his son, the future Mitteler Rebbe, and suggested that he take him as a bridegroom for his daughter, Bridegroom for his daughter: Since the Mitteler Rebbe was Devorah Leah’s brother, he was the uncle of his future son-in-law, the Tzemach Tzedek. Rebbitzin Chayah Mushka.

According to an oral tradition handed down in the family, that was a remarkable conversation. The Mitteler Rebbe said that he was a man of distinguished lineage, because he had a father who was a Rebbe. The Alter Rebbe responded that he had more to be proud of, because he had a son who was a Rebbe. Moreover, he argued, it is written: “My Spirit which is upon you and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your children, nor from the mouth of your children’s children..., to eternity.”10 The Alter Rebbe concluded: “So take him as a bridegroom for your daughter!”

And that is exactly what happened.