The following story is told about the Rebbe's maternal grandfather, Rav Meir Shlomo Yanovsky, and my paternal great-grandfather, Reb Asher Grossman, best known as "Reb Asher of Nikolayev":

Reb Asher, who served as the shochet (ritual slaughterer) in Nikolayev, was chosen by the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom DovBer Schneersohn, to edit the Tanya for any typographical errors. The print he prepared is still in use to this day. Needless to say, he was good friends with the Rebbe's grandfather, who served as the city's Rav.

On the occasion of the future Rebbe's bris, which took place on 18 Nissan, 5662 (the fourth day of Pesach), Reb Asher went to wish Rav Meir Shlomo “mazal tov” but declined to eat at the meal, in keeping with his personal standard of not to eat anything outside of his own home on Pesach.1

One may have expected Rav Meir Shlomo to be upset by this, as he was the rav of the city and the food served at the bris was prepared to the highest standards of kosher and Passover observance. Rabbi Meir Shlomo said, “In truth, I should really take you to task for not eating here today. But what can I do to you since I owe you my life?”

Here is the story:

Many years prior, when typhus was raging through the region, Rav Meir Shlomo fell ill. The illness was highly contagious and had (and still has) no known cure. In an effort to contain its spread, the authorities ordered anyone who contracted the disease to be quarantined outside the city and essentially left to die.

Completely isolated from anyone not stricken with typhus—other than a lone doctor who delivered medication and food to the other side of a closed door each day—the gravely ill patients languished in depression and despair. Rav Meir Shlomo, too, was forced into this quarantine, where he watched hopelessly and helplessly as the people around him died one after the other, abandoned and alone.

When Reb Asher learned of his friend's illness he did not sit idly by. Determined to help Rav Meir Shlomo, Reb Asher would travel to the quarantine camp daily. Unable to enter, he would stand beneath a window and read loudly the 11th chapter of Iggeret Hakodesh, from the third section of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi’s famed work, Tanya, known colloquially as “Lehaskilcha Bina(“To enlighten you with understanding”).

The epistle is a somewhat mystical letter that describes how "…no evil descends from above and everything is truly good” so one should view their own sufferings as actual good that has been disguised as the opposite of good. In fact, if one works on oneself enough, one can come to view it as actual good!

“…No evil descends from above, and everything is good. And when man will contemplate his continually coming to exist truly every moment and absorbs this, how can he possibly think he has ever suffered or had any afflictions relating to children, life and sustenance, or any other kind of worldly sufferings…?”2

Although he was unsure if Rav Meir Shlomo could even hear him, Reb Asher returned every day for thirty days to read to him, hoping to encourage his good friend through those dark days.

Against the odds, Rav Meir Shlomo recovered and returned home. When he was able to meet Reb Asher, he thanked him profusely. "You gave me life! Every day, after hearing the Tanya I felt stronger and healthier. The Tanya you read encouraged and inspired me to stay strong and positive, it sustained my faith and enabled me not to succumb to illness.”