The year was 1834, and there was much joy and celebration among the followers of Rabbi Menachem Mendel (the "Tzemach Tzeddek") of Lubavitch. A son, his seventh, had been born to their beloved Rebbe. Many of the chassidim who had come to spend the Passover festival in Lubavitch decided to stay on for the brit (circumcision), scheduled for the ninth of Iyar, the eighth day of the child's life.

Early in the morning1 of the appointed day, all was ready for the brit: the tables were set, the Chassidim had assembled, the mohel had laid out his instruments. All awaited the appearance of Rabbi Menachem Mendel. But the Rebbe's door remained closed. An hour passed and then another, and the Chassidim began to wonder if the brit was perhaps going to be postponed. Soon word came from the Rebbe that "The brit, G‑d willing, will be held today." But no more was said.

Morning passed, and the better part of the afternoon. Finally, late in the afternoon, the Rebbe emerged from his room and instructed that the brit commence. The only clue to his delay was the mysterious sentence that passed his lips, "Ay... the Polotzk burial society..." No one dared ask for further explanation.

Another mystery was the name given to the newborn — Shmuel. No one knew of a Shmuel in the Rebbe's family. When one of Rabbi Menachem Mendel's older children asked his father after whom the child was named, the white Russian town was again mentioned. "A water-carrier from Polotzk," was the Rebbe's reply.

Among the Chassidim present at the brit were several from Polotzk, who proceeded to investigate the matter when they returned home. It turned out that on the day that the brit was held, two townspeople had passed away: a rich and influential resident, as well as a simple, impoverished water-carrier by the name of Shmuel. The burial society devoted its attention solely to the departed "pillar of the community"; only after his heavily attended funeral was over did they begin taking care of the water-carrier's body, which was finally brought to burial late in the day. One of the Chassidim noted that the Zohar instructs not to name a child after one who has passed away before the departed has been buried. The Rebbe had delayed the brit so that he could name his youngest child and ultimate successor2 after a water-carrier from Polotzk.