Letter from
the Tzemach Tzedek
with remarks by
the Previous Rebbe,
and excerpts from his diary1

Excerpt from the Diary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita:

Monday, 16 Teves, 5688 [January 9, 1928], Riga.

Today, I received by post a gift from the estate of the late renowned chassid Reb Avraham Abba Persan of Königsberg: some holy handwritten letters and chassidic discourses.

As soon as I arrived in Riga I began to inquire about the estate of the gracious chassid mentioned above. Today (thank G‑d), I have succeeded in obtaining handwritten manuscripts by: my great-grandfather the holy Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek; the holy rabbis and tzaddikim, my great-uncles, sons of the Tzemach Tzedek; my grandfather, the holy Rebbe Reb Yosef Yitzchak;2 my grandfather, the holy Rebbe Reb Shmuel,3 and my saintly father the holy Rebbe [Rashab]. A detailed list is attached.

Bibliographic Remarks

Wednesday, 25 Teves, 5688 [January 18, 1828].

A letter written in the holy handwriting of my saintly great-grandfather the Tzemach Tzedek. He wrote it to the well-known chassidic magnate, Reb Zev Volf Vilenkes. The chassid Reb Zev Volf once ran many business enterprises in the city of Vitebsk, and owned a very large store. He was also involved in the forestry business. The entire managerial staff of his commercial establishment was made up of chassidim and men of good deeds.

The chassidic magnate Reb Zev Volf was very involved in communal affairs, and his name was familiar to the most important civic leaders. He was very wise, and strong-willed. He was frequently summoned to the government offices by the governor-general [of Vitebsk], who would reprimand him and warn him about the conduct of the Jews who resided in the city, or in the whole district.

I first learned of the existence of this letter from Reb Avraham Abba Persan during the summer of 5661 [1901], when we happened to meet in Warsaw (as described in my diary of 5661). He told me that the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek wrote the letter in the year 5605 [1845], two years after his first summons to a Rabbinical Convention in Petersburg in 1843 5603. The letter was written in great secrecy, because they were very afraid of the government officials. That was the fourth year that a high-ranking police official had been stationed in Lubavitch (which was, after all, only a small hamlet among other rural villages). His orders were to keep an eye on the activities of the Rebbe and those who visited him.

In the year 5602 [1842], the governor-general of Vitebsk was informed by Yisrael Yosef, the snatcher of Bichev that my holy great-grandfather the Rebbe had sent the outstanding young scholar Reb Aharon of Bilinycz as his agent to all communities in the counties of Mohilev and Vitebsk. Most of the leaders of these communities were chassidim. He instructed them that they were to expel the snatchers from their midst and excommunicate them, for they had resumed their child snatching after a two-year interruption.

The governor of Vitebsk informed the Minister of Internal Affairs about this, and for that reason the Rebbe was summoned to Petersburg for the first time, during the summer of 5603. Their intention was to indict him for high treason. But in order to disguise their intentions, they resorted to a ruse, summoning three others in addition: the gaon Reb Y. of Volozhin, Reb Y. Halperin, and the Maskil Betzalel Stern. The proceedings of that Rabbinical convention are well known, and are recorded elsewhere. From that time on, the government kept a closer watch over the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek.

All this did not affect the Rebbe, who simply ignored it. He continued his practice of sending his emissaries to encourage those who were in military service to observe the Torah and its mitzvos, and he sent his agents to ransom the cantonists.4 He also took part in a plot to eradicate the snatchers. Alas, during the year 5605 a misfortune occurred: the chassid Reb Chayim Yehoshua of Kalisk was caught red-handed, ransoming a few cantonists for a large sum of money in the village of Kastoreve, near Kazan, in central Russia.

The present letter was sent by my great-grandfather, the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek, to the chassid Reb Zev Volf. It refers to the matter of Reb Chayim Yehoshua, and his rescue. I saw the letter in the possession of the chassid Reb Avraham Abba Persan, when my family and I were living in Königsberg during the summer of 5668 [1908], as mentioned in my diary.

The following is what Reb Avraham Abba related to me in connection with this holy letter:

“When we happened to meet in Warsaw during the summer of 5661, I told you about this letter. It was written by the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek to my father-in-law’s father-in-law (that is how he always referred to his wife’s maternal grandfather), the chassid Reb Zev Volf Vilenkes. Now that we have it in our possession, I will explain it word by word, exactly as I heard it and as [the commentary] was transmitted to me.”

A collection of sacred handwritten letters by my saintly great-grandfather, the Rebbe
the Tzemach Tzedek (of holy and blessed memory)

Translator’s note: As mentioned previously, “The letter was written in great secrecy, because they were very afraid of the government officials…” Therefore, the letter does not mention Reb Chayim Yehoshua by name, nor does it refer specifically to his arrest or rescue. On its surface, the letter seems to be an appeal for financial assistance in behalf of “the bearer,” Reb Sender Yechiel. Thus, if the letter were to fall into the wrong hands, it contains nothing to implicate the Tzemach Tzedek (or anyone else) in a plot to rescue an accused traitor.

Text of the Tzemach Tzedek’sletter (footnotesto this text represent the Previous Rebbe’s commentary,as he heard it from Reb Avraham Abba Persan):

To my beloved staunch and intimate comrade,5 namely the outstanding rabbinic personality, the veteran man of intellect…, the honorable Rabbi Zev Volf (may your brilliance shine forth):

I make a great request of you, and beg you [to act] in behalf of one whom I love as my own soul,6 as a friend and brother, the bearer of this note7 (may his brilliance shine forth). Look after him with an open eye,8 with all your heart9 and soul. Come to his aid with acts of charity.10 Do this for my sake…11 remembering the friendship of our youth.12 May the Father of Mercy13 invoke His mercy upon us, and may the Source14 of All Blessings bestow upon you the blessing of the three-stranded thread:15 children, long life, and sustenance; as you yourself desire, and as I desire, who have loved you from the very beginning, seeking your welfare as the desire of my own heart and soul. I beg this favor of you from the depths of my being.

[signed]: MenachemMy saintly great-grandfather the Tzemach Tzedek used five different forms of his signature: i) “Menachem Mendel ben Devorah Leah”; ii) “Menachem Mendel ben Devorah Leah, grandson of my saintly grandfather, the G‑dly gaon, of blessed memory”; iii) “Menachem Mendel”; iv) “Menachem Mendel,” with loops appended to the signature; v) “Menachem,” with loops appended to the signature. My saintly grandfather Reb Shmuel [the Rebbe Maharash] explained the significance of these different forms of his signature, as I have written in detail in my diary. Here, there are five loops, consisting of ten half-circles.

[P.S.]: Please convey my greetings to one whom I love as my own soul, the outstanding rabbinic personality, the wealthy, prominent, and philanthropic Reb Gavriel, (may his brilliance shine forth).