Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn of Lubavitch (known as the Rebbe Maharash) was the fourth Rebbe of Chabad. A brilliant Torah scholar, wise sage, and fearless leader, he served as a golden link in the chain of Chabad leadership. The following vignettes serve to give a small glimpse into the life and legacy of this great man.

1. He Was the Youngest of Seven Brothers

Rabbi Shmuel, born in 1834, was the youngest son of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, the prolific, brilliant and divinely-inspired leader of the chassidic movement in Russia and beyond. Rabbi Menachem Mendel and his wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, had seven sons, each of whom was an accomplished Torah scholar and chassidic leader in his own right.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, known as the "Tzemach Tzedek."
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, known as the "Tzemach Tzedek."

Although Rabbi Shmuel was born after his eldest brothers had reached adulthood and achieved leadership positions, it was he who was ultimately chosen to lead as the next Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe after his father’s passing in 1866.

2. He Was Born in a New House

There were several fires that ravaged the town of Lubavitch. After the devastating fire of 1832, a new house was built for Rabbi Menachem Mendel and his family, a gift from a local squire. Although the family had not fully moved into the new house yet, the first order of business was to bring in a new bed for the upcoming birth of Rabbi Shmuel. (It’s interesting to note that this bed had previously been used for sifting flour for matzah baking.)

At Rabbi Menachem Mendel’s express wishes, the midwife immersed in a mikvah before receiving the child and swaddled him in a special white cloth given to her for this purpose.

3. He Was Named for a Water-Carrier

At his circumcision, his father revealed that he had been named Shmuel, not after the Prophet Samuel, but in honor of a simple water-carrier in Polotzk. Like many of his father’s children and grandchildren, he was known by the acronym of his title and name, MaHaRash, for Moreinu HaRav (“Our Master, the Rabbi”) Shmuel. Among chassidim, he is commonly referred to as “the Rebbe MaHaRash.”

Read: A Water-Carrier Named Shmuel

4. He Enjoyed Crafting

Gifted with skilled hands, Rabbi Shmuel enjoyed carpentry. As a child, a disciple of his father once promised him, “I’ll give you a pocket knife if you can tell me where G‑d is.” Without skipping a beat, the youngster replied, “And I will give you a pocket knife if you can find a place where G‑d is not!”

Part of a Megillah written by Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch (credit: Library of Agudas Chasidei Chabad)
Part of a Megillah written by Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch (credit: Library of Agudas Chasidei Chabad)

In his later years, due to his frail health, he was advised by medical specialists to take a break from the intensity of academic rigor and engage in crafts. He built several tables and other wooden creations, and also wrote Megillah scrolls, which he then gifted to his children.

Read: His Special Talents

5. His Date of Birth Was Significant

Rabbi Shmuel was born on 2 Iyar, the 17th day of the Omer count, corresponding to the Kabbalistic emotional attribute of tiferet shebetiferet, “beauty within beauty.”

A kippah worn by Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch (credit: Library of Agudas Chasidei Chabad)
A kippah worn by Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch (credit: Library of Agudas Chasidei Chabad)

Even as a young child, Rabbi Shmuel displayed remarkable studiousness, retention and devotion to his studies. When he was seven years old, he was tested by his father in his teacher’s presence. Seeing how well his student had performed, the teacher exclaimed, “Hah, what do you say, he does well!” Rabbi Menachem Mendel replied: “What is the excitement when tiferet shebetiferet does well?”

6. Widowed at Age 14, He Then Remarried

At the age of 14, Rabbi Shmuel married his niece, Shterna Schneersohn. Tragically, the bride became ill within a week of the wedding and passed away three months later. As a consolation for the crestfallen adolescent, Rabbi Menachem Mendel arranged that his son be given a room next to his own study, and that the young man be allowed to enter whenever he wished. During this period, Rabbi Shmuel was allowed to see manuscripts of previous rebbes and other precious writings.

At the suggestion of his grandmother, Rebbetzin Shaina, he married his cousin, Rebbetzin Rivkah, with whom he had four sons and two daughters.

Rebbetzin Rivkah lived a long life and was an influential figure in the childhood of their grandson, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, the sixth Rebbe of Chabad.

Watch: Rebbetzin Rivkah

7. He Was Politically Active

From when he was just 21 years old, Rabbi Shmuel traveled extensively in order to better the lot of his Jewish brethren. He knocked on the doors of government officials in Paris, Berlin, Kyiv, Petersburg and beyond on behalf of the downtrodden Jews in the Russian empire. He worked tirelessly to shield the Jewish people from restrictive discriminatory laws, pogroms and forced expulsions.

Read: For the Public Benefit

8. He Was Fluent in Many Languages

Widely read, Rabbi Shmuel was fluent in several languages (Russian, French, Latin, etc.) and disciplines, including medicine. In fact, he often used his worldly knowledge to hide his Torah greatness, going so far as to purposely cover his table with German newspapers when people would come to visit, giving off the impression that he had been reading them prior to their call.

Read: The German Newspapers

9. He Became Rebbe at the Age of 31

When Rabbi Shmuel was 31 years old, his father passed away. Many chassidim were at a loss as to which of his sons to choose as their rebbe. Indeed, several sons set up chassidic courts in the towns of Kopust, Lyadi, Nyezhin and Ovrutch, Yet, over time, the bulk of the chassidic community realized that the youngest son, the one in Lubavitch, was to be the next rebbe.

The home of the Rebbe and the yeshivah campus in the city of Lubavitch.
The home of the Rebbe and the yeshivah campus in the city of Lubavitch.

10. He Lived by the Motto Lechatchila Ariber

Rabbi Shmuel was wont to say: “The world says that if you cannot crawl under an obstacle, try to leap over it. However, I say, leap over it in the first place!” The phrase “leap over it in the first place” in the original Yiddish is lechatchila ariber.”

This was how he lived his life, never settling for second best or looking for an easy way out. In terms of communal engagement, he “went to the top,” marshaling barons and magnates to petition the highest government ministers, and fearlessly and wisely advocating for his people.

The maxim also applies to spiritual pursuits, encouraging us to strive higher than we thought ourselves capable of and to “think big” in terms of what we can accomplish.

Read: What Does Lechatchila Ariber Mean?

11. He Would Often Sing

Rabbi Shmuel had special melodies for every occasion, including when he would change into his Shabbat finery every Friday, and when changing into his weekday attire after Shabbat. Similarly, there was a tune he would sing when watching his wife light Shabbat candles and even a tune for changing his hat.

Listen: Three Melodies of Rabbi Shmuel

12. He Taught Deep Chassidic Concepts

Rabbi Shmuel would teach his chassidic discourses (maamarim) with his eyes closed. In the middle of the recitation, he would open them for a short while and then close them again.

A collection of wedding-themed teachings by Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch (credit: Library of Agudas Chasidei Chabad)
A collection of wedding-themed teachings by Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch (credit: Library of Agudas Chasidei Chabad)

Many of his teachings have been collected into the multi-volume set known as Likkutei Torah-Torat Shmuel. This includes the chassidic discourse traditionally said by Chabad chassidim upon attaining bar mitzvah.

Read: The Bar Mitzvah Maamar

13. He Was Fully Devoted to Helping Others

On nights when he would receive visitors, he would often change his undershirts, as they would very quickly become soaked with sweat. He explained that it took much exertion for him to “invest” himself into the particular situation of each visitor in order to relate to their challenge and then “divest” himself in order to give them unbiased, sage advice.

Read: A Change of Clothes

14. He Passed Away at Age 48

Plagued by illness for much of his life, he fell ill and passed away three days after Yom Kippur 1882 (5643). He was succeeded by his son, Rabbi Shalom DovBer of Lubavitch.

The fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom DovBer Schneersohn.
The fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom DovBer Schneersohn.

Read: 13 Facts About Rabbi Shalom DovBer

15. His Biographer Was the Rebbe

The seventh rebbe of Chabad—known as the Rebbe—was Rabbi Shmuel’s great-great-great -nephew, as well as his great-grandson through marriage. The Rebbe authored a biography of Rabbi Shmuel, which included large portions of the personal notes of his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, the sixth rebbe.

Read: The Rebbe’s Biography of Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch