During one of his journeys, Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch stopped at an inn near the city of Smargon. It was summer, the weather was pleasant, and the Rebbe decided to stay for a week.

When Rabbi DovBer’s decision became known, many people from the Smargon area converged at the inn, wishing to be received by the Rebbe and to consult with him. The Rebbe began to receive each one in turn, in a private audience known as yechidut.

A few days later, while hundreds of people still crowded the courtyard waiting to be received, the Rebbe suddenly stopped the yechidut and locked his door.

His chassidim assumed that the many visitors of the past few days had tired the Rebbe, and that he had taken a short break to recoup his strength. But after half an hour the Rebbe’s secretary, Reb Zalman, emerged from the Rebbe’s room extremely distressed, his eyes red from weeping, and whispered a few words into the ears of the leading chassidim who had accompanied the Rebbe on his journey. These chassidim became greatly alarmed, their faces turning red and white and red again, and a wave of horror spread through the crowd. All were at a loss as to what had happened.

An hour or two later, several of the elder chassidim entered the house and listened at the Rebbe’s door. They heard the Rebbe pouring out his soul, weeping and saying chapters of Psalms from the depths of his holy heart. Some of them fainted in distress. No one had an inkling as to what might have caused the Rebbe, in the middle of an ordinary weekday, to interrupt the yechidut and to be moved to such heart-wrenching prayers. Soon the distressing news seeped out to the anxious crowd, which broke up into groups and began to tearfully recite Psalms.

When the Rebbe finished reciting Psalms, he began to prepare for the afternoon minchah prayers. But he was so weakened from his earlier efforts that he was forced to first rest in bed for over an hour to recover his strength. Then he prayed minchah in the manner that is customary during the Ten Days of Repentance.

After minchah the Rebbe came out to the courtyard, seated himself on the platform which had been prepared for him, and delivered a lengthy discourse on the verse, “Wall of the daughter of Zion, let flow a tear as a stream.” The Rebbe spoke of how tears cleanse the soul of harmful words and thoughts, and expounded on the merit of saying words of Torah and Psalms. The discourse greatly moved the audience, and reverberated throughout the Chabad chassidic community. Years later, chassidim remembered that day.

The next day the Rebbe was very weak and confined to his bed, but on the day after he resumed the yechidut. Still, no one knew what had so greatly distressed the Rebbe and caused his fervent prayer and address.

Rabbi Pinchas of Shklov, who had accompanied the Rebbe on this journey, was among the distinguished Chassidim yet in the time of the Rebbe’s father, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. A few days later, Rabbi Pinchas asked the Rebbe what it had all been about.

A great sadness descended upon the Rebbe. Then he said: “When a chassid enters into yechidut, he reveals to me the inner maladies of his soul, each on his own level, and seeks my assistance to cure his spiritual ills. To help him, I must first find the same failing—be it in the most subtle of forms—within my own self, and strive to correct it. For it is not possible to direct someone else in cleansing and perfecting his character unless one has himself experienced the same problem and undergone the same process of self-refinement.

“On that day,” continued the Rebbe, “someone came to me with a problem. I was horrified to hear to what depths he had fallen, G‑d forbid. Try as I might, I could not find within myself anything even remotely resembling what he told me. But Divine Providence had sent this man to me, so I knew that somewhere, somehow, there was something in me that could relate to his situation.

“And then it occurred to me that it must be something embedded so deep within me that it was way beyond my conscious reach. The thought shook me to the very core of my soul, and moved me to repent and return to G‑d from the depths of my heart.”

Biographical notes:

Rabbi DovBer Schneuri of Lubavitch was the son and successor of the founder of Chabad Chassidism, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. Rabbi DovBer was born in Liozna, White Russia, on the 9th of Kislev, 5534 (1773). He assumed the leadership of Chabad upon his father’s passing in 1812. In 1813 he settled in the town of Lubavitch, which was to serve as the movement’s headquarters for the next 102 years. Rabbi DovBer was known for his unique style of “broadening rivers”; his teachings were the intellectual “rivers” to his father's “wellspring,” lending breadth and depth to the principles set down by Rabbi Schneur Zalman. In 1826, Rabbi DovBer was arrested on libelous charges of disloyalty to the Czar put forth by his opponents; after several weeks of investigation, he was exonerated. The day of his release, 10 Kislev, is celebrated to this day as a chassidic holiday. Rabbi DovBer passed away less than a year later, on 9 Kislev 5588 (1827), his 54th birthday.

Rabbi Pinchas of Shklov, also known as “Reb Pinchas Reizeh’s” (Reizeh was his mother-in-law), was among the first Chassidim of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, as well as a follower of his son and successor, Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch. Rabbi Pinchas passed away in Lubavitch in approximately 1825.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880–1950) was the sixth rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch and a great-great-grandson of Rabbi DovBer.