Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi — also known as "The Alter Rebbe," "Baal HaTanya" and "The Rav" — was born in the White Russian town of Liozna on Elul 18, 5505 (1745) — the 47th birthday of the founder of Chassidism, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov. In 1764 he traveled to Mezeritch to study under the tutelage of the Baal Shem Tov's successor, Rabbi DovBer. Despite his youth, he was accepted into the inner circle of the great master's pupils.

Upon his return from Mezeritch, there gathered about him a group of disciples whom he instructed in the ways of Chassidism. It was during these years that he formulated his distinct "Chabad" philosophy and approach to life. For twenty years he labored on his magnum opus, Tanya, in which he outlined the Chabad philosophy and ethos; first published in 1796, Tanya is the "bible" of Chabad Chassidism, upon which the hundreds of books and thousands of maamarim (discourses) by seven generations of Chabad Rebbes are based. Soon Rabbi Schneur Zalman's influence had spread throughout White Russia and Lithuania, where a significant part of the Jewish population regarded him as their Rebbe and leader.

In late summer of 1812 Rabbi Schneur Zalman fled the approach of Napoleon's armies, which were advancing through White Russia in their push toward Moscow (Rabbi Schneur Zalman actively supported the Czar in the war against Napoleon). After many weeks of wandering he arrived, in the dead of winter, in the town of Pyena. There he fell ill and on Tevet 24, Motzaei Shabbat (Saturday night) following Shabbat Parshat Shemot, at 10:30 in the evening, he returned his soul to its Maker.

Today, the Chabad movement he founded is regarded as the most vibrant force in contemporary Jewish life, bringing the warmth of Chassidism and the profundity of its teachings to Jews, and to humanity as a whole, in every corner of the globe.

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