The meeting in Rovno was stormy and eventful. The disciples of Rabbi DovBer, the Maggid of Mezeritch, the successor to the Baal Shem Tov,1 were greatly agitated. They felt strongly that the mitnagdim, those Jews opposed to the chassidic movement, had overreached all bounds of legitimacy.

The Maggid himself kept silent. Though filled with empathy for his followers, he thought that it was nevertheless better not to answer or react to the events. “Truth stands, falsehood does not stand”; thus, surely time itself would contribute to the vindication of the truth and authenticity of Chassidism. He counseled patience and forbearance. Already in the days of the Baal Shem Tov, he had joined with his master in a declaration “to forgive fully and absolutely, as Scripture (Psalms 104:35) states, ‘Let sins be annihilated,’ not the sinners.”2

He taught his followers “an important rule: When people shame you concerning your form of worship or other good things, do not answer them anything, lest you become involved in an argument and are led to pride, which will cause you to forget the blessed Creator. Our sages taught that man’s silence leads to humility.”

In the midst of the proceedings, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev received a report vividly describing the personal harassments and sufferings his family was compelled to endure. His colleagues decided that Rabbi Levi Yitzchak should read out this letter in the presence of the Maggid, but even as he did so, Rabbi DovBer remained silent. The disciples interpreted their master’s silence as an indication that the matter was up to their discretion, and thus decided to act on their own.

They met secretly, and resolved that it was their legal duty to defend and guard the honor of their holy master and to combat the unjustified denunciations. It seemed there was but one thing they could do: to abide by the stipulation in Jewish law to meet an illegitimately proclaimed cherem (ban) with a counter-ban. Their meeting concluded with a quorum of ten men rising to proclaim a counter-anathema3 against the denunciators of Chassidism.

When the Maggid heard of this action, he was dismayed and admonished his disciples most severely. Upon their retort that they were no longer able to endure the persecutions and saw no alternative, Rabbi DovBer replied:

“Know that by the action you have taken, you have forfeited your head. However, at the same time, you have gained that henceforth, whenever there will be a conflict between the chassidim and their opponents, the chassidim will prevail.”

The Maggid’s disciples had achieved a victory—but at a costly price. Within half a year they would lose their head, the crown of Chassidism, Rabbi DovBer, the great Maggid of Mezeritch.

Some two months later, the Maggid lay gravely ill. Many of his disciples hurried to Annopol to be at their master’s bedside. On the last Shabbat of his life, the 16th of Kislev, he explained the first verse of that day’s Torah reading (Genesis 32:4), “And Jacob sent malachim,” to the disciples standing around his bed: “Rashi interprets (that malachim means) ‘angels mamash’ (real angels). That is, Jacob sent the mamash (the concrete reality) of the angels, but the spirituality of the angels remained with Jacob.”4

The next day, Sunday, the 17th of Kislev, the Maggid said to his disciple, Rabbi Shneur Zalman5 that in the last three days before one returns the “deposit” (i.e., the soul entrusted into man’s charge), one sees nothing other than the creative word of G‑d inherent in every physical thing; that is, one sees that the word of the Creator is the very essence and reality of matter.6

That night he instructed Rabbi Schneur Zalman in the procedure for the celebration to be conducted on the Shabbat eve preceding a circumcision, and the procedures for the ceremony the night preceding a circumcision as well as for the day of the circumcision itself. He added: “Chazon Ovadyah—the servant of G‑d sees.7 A son shall be born unto you, and you shall call him by my name; and on the night preceding the circumcision, remember and recall what I told you this night.”8

The following day, the Maggid told Rabbi Schneur Zalman privately: “Zalman, see to do whatever you can that my Avromenyu9 remain in my seat. If, Heaven forfend, he should refuse, then let it be Mendele the Litvak.”10

His son, Rabbi Abraham, recalled other things the Maggid said that day in the presence of himself, Rabbi Yehudah Leib HaCohen and Rabbi Schneur Zalman: “My children, hold together, and then you will overcome everything; you will then progress even further and not regress, Heaven forfend.”

Afterwards, Rabbi Zusya also came, and the Maggid asked who entered. Rabbi Zalman answered, “Rabbi Zusya came,” and the Maggid motioned with his finger that he should approach. He grasped him with his right hand and said to him as follows: “You, Zusya, you are mine in this world, and over there you will also be next to me, just as the body and soul [are joined].”

He then asked whether Rabbi Mendele of Vitebsk was present, to which Rabbi Schneur Zalman answered that he was not. He sighed deeply and asked whether Rabbi Yehudah Leib HaCohen was there, and Rabbi Zalman answered in the affirmative. The Maggid looked at him and said as follows: “You, too, will be in my compartment, ‘for the lips of the Cohen (priest) are to keep da’at—knowledge’ (Malachi 2:4), and I am of the realm of da’at.”

Thereupon he called out, “Zalmina, Zalmina,” and said as follows: “You will stand alone.11 However, I will see to drag you out of all your troubles, because for you I will truly long.”

Then he said as follows to his son: “And you, Avromenyu, you just keep silent and continue to conduct yourself as you have done until now. Listen to Zalminyu, and it will be well with you. Above all, do not afflict yourself, for a small defect in the body causes a large defect in the soul—and your soul is something altogether unique.”

He then wished his disciples a good night and went to sleep.

On Tuesday, the third day in the week of the Torah section Vayeshev Yaakov, on the 19th day of Kislev 5533 (1772), Rabbi DovBer, Maggid of Mezrich, Koretz and Rovno, successor to the Baal Shem Tov and leader of the chassidic movement, returned his soul unto his Maker, and his earthly remains were interred in Annopol.

Shortly before his demise, the Maggid had said to Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi: “Yud-Tet Kislev (the nineteenth of Kislev) is our yom tov (festival).” (The Maggid seems to allude to the future liberation of Rabbi Schneur Zalman on the 19th of Kislev 5559 (1798), which symbolized the vindication of the chassidic movement, and as such relates implicitly to the Maggid as well.)

For unto the righteous, the day they are able to restore their soul to G‑d in purity and sanctity is not a sad departure from one world, but a joyously anticipated homecoming to another. Like Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai of old, Rabbi DovBer, too, regarded the day of his passing as a yom tov for himself, and wished that his disciples and followers rejoice with him.