Rashbatz From HaTamim, Issue No. 1, pp. 67-79; 12-13 Tammuz 5695. The editors of HaTamim inserted the following introductory remarks at the beginning of this article: In today’s first issue of HaTamim we present a biography of the chassid, HaRav Shmuel Betzalel, son of Reb Shalom Shabsi Sheftel, of blessed memory, known universally as “Rashbatz.” This biography of Rashbatz was written by one of our fellow students of Tomchei Temimim, based upon what he himself heard from Rashbatz while he lived in Lubavitch.by one of the students of Tomchei Temimim[In the editorial introduction to the original article, and in the Table of Contents, the author was listed as “one of our fellow students of Tomchei Temimim.” There is abundant evidence, however, that the actual author was none other than the Previous Rebbe himself. See Translator’s Introduction.]

Rashbatz was born in the city of Szventzian, in the county of Vilna. His father spent all his time in the beis hamedrash, never engaging in any sort of business, while his mother headed the household and earned their livelihood. His father was a very G‑d-fearing person, the descendant of a distinguished family. Though he was a misnaged, he heeded the prohibition against slander, and never spoke ill of the chassidic “cult.” He died before the age of fifty, leaving Rashbatz an orphan.

When the mother remarried, her new husband insisted on a prenuptial stipulation concerning Rashbatz: he would only be allowed to come home for his meals, and would have to spend the rest of the day in the beis hamedrash; there he would also sleep.

After some time passed, the stepfather realized that Rashbatz was a gentle lad, not likely to cause trouble; moreover, he studied with great diligence. Therefore he began to treat him more cordially, and revoked the stipulation, allowing the youth to sleep at home. He also provided him with a companion with whom he could study. In this way, nearly four years passed.

When Rashbatz reached the age of fifteen, he could already comprehend the Gemara and the commentary of Tosafos very well. He studied with diligence, spending almost all his time in the beis hamedrash. The leading misnagdim, especially Reb Hershelle (the Rav of Szventzian), became his close companions. The Rav set aside time each day to study Gemara and Tosafos with him in depth. He continued studying in this manner for over a year and a half; during this time he managed to study the three Bavos and the tractate Shabbos with the rabbi.

Nearly thirty chassidim3 of the Alter Rebbe lived in the town of Szventzian. Once on a summer’s day between Minchah and Maariv time, Rashbatz happened to pass by the beis hamedrash of the chassidim. Upon entering, he discovered a gathering of people sitting and studying from a small sefer, each perusing his own copy of the text. He felt a great desire to remain for a short while and listen to their discussion.

He approached one of the men seated there, looked into his text, and listened to the study. As he did so, one of the participants noticed that a stranger, one of their mortal enemies, was present. He began to scream at him, “What are you doing here? If you suckle the milk of the misnagdim, you will never become a chassid. Get out of here!” Thus, he expelled him from their midst.4

Being expelled upset him greatly, and as he walked he reflected on what it meant. Though he himself was a misnaged, he respected these chassidim in his heart. After all, he knew several of them to be Torah scholars and G‑d-fearing individuals, who suffered greatly from persecution by the misnagdim. They also went to great expense to maintain a chassidic shochet who would slaughter with a finely-honed knife. The misnagdim, as you know, maintained a shochet who slaughtered with a knife that was comparatively blunt.5

Nevertheless, they were not intimidated by the persecutions and the excessive financial burden; on the contrary, they seemed to grow stronger all the time. This suggested to him that they were people of honor and virtue who deserved his respect. But now that they had expelled him and accused him of “suckling the milk of the misnagdim,” he began to question their integrity. Nonetheless, he was aware that the words of the chassid who had driven him away were not simply spoken in anger; his words had been spoken deliberately, and they expressed the chassid’s true sentiments.

Rashbatz was especially attracted to the chassidim by two admirable characteristics which he discerned in them. First, their great humility: they treated each other as equals. No one attempted to assume the leadership over others, and they were always in complete agreement and harmony. Second, their attachment to the Creator: they were totally devoted to Him and to His Torah, even while they conducted business. For example, Reb Yitzchak, the tailor, would constantly repeat words of Torah as he worked. Even their merchants were constantly discussing Torah as they traded in the marketplace, and this impressed him very much.

On the other hand, he was aware of various faults in the misnagdim. Foremost among these was the fact that each tried to show himself to be greater than the others. They always appeared to treat one another with deference. In their hearts, however, each felt himself superior to his fellow misnagdim.

As Rashbatz walked along, he recalled several occasions when the Rav, Reb Hershelle, had revealed his haughty nature. Once, Reb Hershelle had rejected Rashi’s commentary on a passage in Bava Kamma, insisting that his own understanding of the subject was superior to Rashi’s. He would often make comments like, “Rashi didn’t understand this Gemara,” or “Tosafos missed the point!”

Rashbatz decided to investigate the chassidim and find out all their good and bad points; he would do likewise with the misnagdim. Then he would decide which way he preferred. Deep in his heart, he was already more attracted to the chassidim, but he was deathly afraid that their ways might not be the true path. He planned to begin his investigation by listening to the manner in which the chassidim prayed, for he had heard that davening was the main feature of their avodah.

Several days later he visited the chassidic minyan while they prayed. He himself was unable to daven with them, for the chassidim wound the tefillin straps (around the left arm) from right to left, while the misnagdim wound them from left to right.6 He positioned himself behind the door, confident that he would be able to hear the davening, for a window was open.

He stood there for more than an hour, emotionally overcome by the fervent sounds of their prayers, which were recited aloud and were accompanied by weeping. Unable to control himself, he went inside and found the chazan standing at the lectern and reciting, “Yours, O L-rd, is the greatness….”7 This was accompanied by great excitement and much weeping, while the chazan beat his forehead with his fists.

They all davened together, with great deveikus and devotion. At the core of his being, Rashbatz realized that they were following the proper path, and that their form of prayer was acceptable before the Holy One blessed be He. He observed that several chassidim became completely oblivious to all physical reality while davening, even forgetting where they were.

Their emotional involvement reached its peak during the blessings of Kerias Shema. On that occasion, however, he was unable to remain until the end of the prayers, for he was afraid that his Rebbe and his uncle would learn of his visit to the beis hamedrash of the chassidim.

From that day on a change came over him. He began to concentrate more on his prayers, and to translate the words of the prayer to himself as he davened. It now distressed him when he observed that several of the prominent citizens of the town who were considered scholarly and G‑d-fearing men arrived at the beis hamedrash after the davening had already started. They would then begin their prayers at whatever place the congregation was up to.

This was the exact opposite of the sort of concentration that he had noticed among the chassidim during their davening. In addition, the misnagdim would not pronounce the words audibly. He therefore began to investigate the misnagdim in earnest, to find out exactly what they were made of.

The main subject of his inquiry was the Rav, Reb Hershelle, who lost no opportunity to praise his own virtues and boast of his prowess in Torah study. As he put it, he was like one of the Rishonim, who had no use at all for the commentaries of the Acharonim. He was able to find everything in the original Talmudic text;8 he could swim across the “River of the Rambam ” with a single stroke, while Piskei HaRosh and Tosafos were like his own two eyes.

He would often say of himself, “I Reb Hirsh use the Talmud and Tosafos for a pillow under my head, and the Yerushalmi, Sifra, and the Rambam for cushions under my sides. Is it for nothing that for thirty years (thank G‑d), I have studied with great diligence, more than eighteen hours a day?”

Reb Hirsh made it a point to get the davening over as quickly as possible. His prayers never took more than a half hour, even on Yom Tov. When the davening was over, his face would take on an expression of delight, as though he had rid himself of a heavy burden. Nevertheless, Rashbatz’ studied with Reb Hirsh ever more persistently, for he had a great craving to study; diligent Torah study was his one and only desire.

The Rav, for his part, found Rashbatz to be an apt pupil. He therefore became even more friendly to him, devoting to him many hours of the day. He took great delight in studying with the lad in depth, all day long and part of the night.

Rashbatz’ visit to the chassidic minyan produced one permanent result: he was now more concerned with his davening. Though there was not much he could do about it openly, deep in his heart he harbored a great desire to pray with more concentration. As time went on, he became repelled by the misnagdim because of the rapid pace of their davening, and the way they always boasted about themselves.

One day, as he studied a certain Aggadah with Reb Hirsh, the conversation turned to the topic of prayer. He then asked the Rav, “What is the meaning of praying with concentration?”

“That’s not for us!” replied the Rav. “Only the greatest among Israel are capable of that.”

To this Rashbatz remarked, “But you, my Rebbe, are a giant and a prince among Jews. And so, why don’t you spend more time davening ? Why do you hurry through it so?”

“When it comes to Torah study,” said Reb Hirsh, “I am (thank G‑d) one of the greats among Israel, unique in this generation. But I have nothing to do with the things you mentioned. Only members of ‘the cult’ [daven at length. But they] are all liars and charlatans, engaging in their strange practices. May G‑d save us from them!”

Hearing this answer, Rashbatz became very upset. He then inquired whether the Rav had ever spoken or debated with members of the cult. Had he investigated them at all, to find out whether what people said about them was true? Or had he simply made up his mind about them without looking into the facts? Were his opinions based upon hatred passed on from one person to the next? Did he also harbor this hatred without bothering to find out what the chassidim were? If he did pursue a rational investigation, perhaps he might discover that the rumors he had heard were untrue. Or [even if true], perhaps the chassidim had since changed their ways.

When he heard these arguments, the Rav had no idea that they were the result of carefully-planned research into the subject. He ascribed it to the fact that the lad though highly gifted was young and inexperienced, and unaware of the wicked deeds of the chassidim. Since no one had ever explained to him exactly what chassidim were, or what their aims were, his questions stemmed from simple innocence.

Nevertheless, the Rav was pleased to discover that Rashbatz possessed such acute mental abilities. He resolved to take upon himself the holy task of educating the boy in the secrets of the chassidim, their philosophy, and their early history. He began repeating to him a little at a time disparaging stories about the chassidim and their great Rebbe (the Alter Rebbe), which he had heard “from eminent people.”

These stories continued over many days. On one occasion the Rav boasted that he had eaten lunch with an informant who had betrayed the Alter Rebbe [to the government]. Rashbatz begged him to relate the whole story of how this denunciation had taken place. Reb Hirsh told him everything he knew about the affair. Whenever he mentioned one of the informants by name, he added an honorific title such as “gaon,” “tzaddik,” and the like. Rashbatz then asked, “Isn’t it forbidden to hand a Jew over to gentile authorities?9 And if so, why do you honor such people with the titles tzaddik and gaon ?”

Reb Hirsh replied that one of the foremost disciples of the Gaon Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna had ruled that it was permitted by law. He then began to praise the Vilna Gaon and his disciples with superlatives, all however materially [rather than spiritually] oriented. The lesson to be learned from all of this, he told Rashbatz, was that he must not even look at the chassidim. Even more so, he must never visit their congregation (G‑d forbid), for their ways bordered on apostasy and heresy (may G‑d preserve us). He warned him against this in the strongest terms.

This conversation was a revelation to Rashbatz. Most of what the misnagdim said against the chassidim stemmed from secret hatred and jealousy, passed on from one person to the next, unsupported by any real evidence. On the contrary, it appeared to him that the chassidim could easily prove their innocence. They had committed no sin, for they were following the path of holiness. He decided to visit them while they studied between Minchah and Maariv. He would find out just what they were studying, and what this subject matter was all about. After seeing all this, he would be able to decide for himself which path to follow.

The day arrived when he resolved to carry out his plan, and visit the chassidic minyan to see what sort of subject matter they were studying. He decided to take precautions to avoid being expelled as on the previous occasion. The best way to do this, [he thought,] was to confide in one of the chassidim and tell him everything: since he now knew a little about the chassidim and their ways, he desired to visit their congregation, for in his heart he was attracted to them.

Just before sunset, he approached one of the chassidim and told him the story. He begged him to give him protection so that he would not be expelled. This chassid was very friendly to him, and advised him not to come during the study session. Instead, he himself would set aside some time to teach him what the subject was about, what Chassidus was based on, and what the origins of the chassidim were. Then he would know what to do, and could make whatever decision he chose. Rashbatz agreed to this plan.

This chassid, who was an employee of Reb Yitzchak the Tailor, met with Rashbatz each evening at a designated place. He told him that there had once lived a great and exalted person called the Baal Shem Tov. He described several of the Baal Shem Tov’s wonders and miracles, adding that initially everything had been carried out in total secrecy. Then he described how the Baal Shem Tov had gradually revealed himself. He told him about the Baal Shem Tov’s disciples, and that after his passing he was succeeded by our great Rebbe, the Maggid of Mezritch, followed by his eminent disciple Reb Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk. Later, Reb Mendel departed for the Holy Land, and he was succeeded by the Alter Rebbe.

He described the feud and the denunciation of the Alter Rebbe, and the miracles by which he had been saved. Over a period of several days, he enlightened Rashbatz and informed him of the entire history. Through these stories, he demonstrated to him the greatness and holiness of the Alter Rebbe’s personality, the essential features of the teachings of Chassidus, and the avodah of the heart which constitutes the chassidic way of life.

Among the original misnagdim, [the chassid explained,] there were many personalities of importance; alas, they fell into the trap of “harboring suspicions against the innocent.” The misnagdim of later generations merely followed in the footsteps of their predecessors, and none of them knew for certain exactly what the chassidim were or what they stood for.

Rashbatz was very attracted by the stories he heard from the chassid, and his desire to join the chassidim and to follow their ways grew ever stronger. He told the chassid that he wished to investigate the study of Chassidus further. The chassid complied, and took him along to the next few study sessions. He allowed Rashbatz to sit next to him, and he explained to him each topic that was being studied.

Among the misnagdim, no one was aware of these visits. Once, while they were studying Tanya, Rashbatz found the subject quite difficult, for he was still a young lad. The chassid advised him to take a copy of the text with him and review the lesson at his leisure. This suggestion made good sense to him, and that is what he did. He went to his own beis hamedrash, and sat down to review the lesson once or twice; this became a regular habit with him.

One night, as he sat alone in the beis hamedrash and reviewed his studies, a misnaged entered. He was quite gratified to see a young fellow studying with such great diligence and intensity. Approaching the lad, he noticed the small volume in which he was engrossed; he sat down nearby to listen, and was pleased with what he heard. Rashbatz was completely unaware that anyone had entered, and he continued studying.

Eventually he raised his eyes. Discovering the man seated opposite him, he grew very frightened. In confusion and terror he cried out, “Oy! Oy! ” (for now his secret was discovered, and an unpleasant future awaited him). He seized the text and hastily thrust it into his pocket.

His confusion aroused the man’s suspicions and prompted him to inquire about the subject he had been studying, saying that it had sounded like a very interesting topic. Rashbatz, however, suspected that the man was humoring him so that he would not deny what he had really been studying.

The longer the man continued to praise what he had heard, the more reluctant Rashbatz became to discuss it. Since he refused to reply, the man suddenly overpowered him and confiscated the text. He examined it, but had no idea what it was until he came upon the words “tzaddik, rasha, beinoni.” Now he knew that it was the handbook of the chassidic cult. That was why Rashbatz had become so frightened and confused, refusing to show him the text.

The man went to Reb Hershelle and reported to him that early in the morning, at three or four o’clock (it was summertime), he had discovered the boy in the beis hamedrash intently studying a textbook of the cult.

“I arrived at the beis hamedrash before sunrise and discovered this lad studying with great diligence and depth. I caught only a few isolated phrases:

Even regarding interpersonal relations, he should suppress every sort of bias, anger, and grudge; not only does he accept suffering at the hands of his fellow Jew, but he even rewards him for it.10

“I was overjoyed to hear this young fellow studying so early in the morning, and with such diligence. But when he noticed me, he became very agitated and began to scream. He then grabbed the sefer and hid it in his pocket. It was then that I realized he must have been subverted by heresy, and was studying a sefer of the cult. Calling upon the Name of the Holy One (blessed be He), I gathered all my strength and wrestled with him until I managed to take the sefer from him. Here it is!”

“The Creator has bestowed a great privilege upon you,” said Reb Hirsh. “You have managed to save a Jewish soul. As for the sefer, we must show it to his uncle. Let him see for himself what sort of upbringing the boy has received in his house. Since you began the mitzvah, you may have the privilege of finishing it.11 Go at once and tell his uncle to come to me!”

When the uncle was brought before Reb Hirsh, the man related to him all that he had seen with his own eyes, and showed him the textbook of the cult that he had found in his possession. Reb Hirsh warned the uncle that studying such subject matter can easily lead to heresy (G‑d forbid).

Rashbatz, meanwhile, was afraid to remain in the beis hamedrash; at first he had planned to attend the chassidic minyan, but he was afraid to do that too. Finally, he concealed himself on the roof of the beis hamedrash, where there was a skylight through which he could hear everything that happened below. When he saw that the sunrise minyan had finished and departed, he went downstairs and entered the beis hamedrash to daven. He was greatly relieved that no one had spoken of the affair, and he decided that it would be best if things remained so.

After davening, he went to his mother’s house for breakfast, as he did every morning. But as he entered the house, while still crossing the threshold, his uncle struck him a severe blow to the head with a length of wooden board. Without saying a word, he proceeded to beat him with his fists until the lad fainted from the pain. Seeing him faint, his mother began to cry out bitterly; her screams restored Rashbatz to consciousness.

The uncle began to yell at her, “Should I keep an apikores in my house? You’d be better off if he were dead! I would have left him unconscious until he died. You’re only a woman, so you take pity on him. But remember: if he survives and becomes an apikores, you’ll wish he had died now, while he’s still a religious Jew.”

A few days later, when Rashbatz had recovered from the beating, he went to the beis hamedrash as he had always done. But instead of studying with him, the Rav began to admonish him for his terrible sin. He told him that he had fallen into a trap and been brainwashed by “them.” He went on and on in this vein, but Rashbatz remained silent, offering no reply. Then the Rav began to badger him about doing teshuvah :

“Will you commit such foolishness again, or will you take pity on your own soul and promise never again to visit their congregation?”

To this too, Rashbatz made no reply. Instead, he began to refute the Rav’s arguments, insisting that the chassidic way was the true way, and it was the misnagdim who were wrong. “When they realize they are mistaken, they too will mend their ways.”

The Rav saw that Rashbatz knew more about the history and the events of the controversy than he did, and he therefore despaired of inspiring him to do teshuvah. He notified the uncle that it was a lost cause, and that the lad had fallen into a trap from which there was no escape. When the uncle heard this, he swore that he would evict Rashbatz from his house; he would not allow him to remain another minute.

The Rav cautioned all his congregants that the boy had been subverted by the cult, and they must be wary of him. After this, they all subjected him to a great deal of abuse, hoping that this would prompt him to repent.

Since his uncle had thrown him out of the house, he went to the beis hamedrash. Though the congregants didn’t expel him, each chastised him, calling him “apikores” and other names. He was forced to go hungry on the first day. Then, over the next three or four days he remained inadequately fed, for his mother brought him only some dry bread to still his hunger. This situation continued through Shabbos.

On Shabbos after davening, he went for a walk beyond the city limits, where he began to cry. “Master of the Universe! I wish only to follow the true path of holiness. If the path of the misnagdim is the true one, I will follow it unswervingly; if the path of the chassidim is the true one, I will join their congregation and follow in their ways.” He then wept bitter tears.

When he returned to town he set a sign for himself: if the first person he met was a chassid, he would join the chassidim; if he was a misnaged, he would join the misnagdim. He resolved to obey this sign, and implored G‑d the Father of orphans to take pity upon him and show him the correct path. As he entered the town and walked along the first street, he met no one. Most of the common folk were asleep, while the Torah scholars were busy studying, either at home or in the batei hamedrash.

Continuing a bit farther, he saw Reb Hershelle walking with two other people. This sight saddened him, for deep in his heart he had been certain that he would be joining the chassidim. Now, however, he spied Reb Hershelle walking in the distance. But wait a minute there was still hope! He was still some distance away, and he might yet meet a chassid first. As he walked further, he rejoiced to see several chassidim emerging from their beis hamedrash; unfortunately, they turned the other way and disappeared, without his meeting them.

A moment later, to Rashbatz’ great relief, two men emerged from the chassidic beis hamedrash; one of them was the chassid he had originally approached. He was very happy to see them, especially since they were walking toward him, and their gestures indicated that they were talking about him. One of the chassidim pointed him out to the other.

The whole town was already repeating the story of the lad to whom the Rav had devoted so much energy, and who had studied with such diligence and aptitude, but had later fallen into the hands of the cult. He had been caught studying one of their textbooks, and his uncle had beaten him and driven him from his home. Within a few minutes the chassidim reached him and he wished them “Good Shabbos!

“What shall we do with you?” asked the first chassid, “you’re a lost cause. If you deny what has happened to you, you will remain a misnaged. It seems that you don’t deserve to become a chassid. Woe to you in that case! Even if all the wisdom in the world enters your head, you will never be any better than you are now.”

In reply, Rashbatz related all that had happened to him since the day the man had discovered him studying. He described all his suffering, and told of the sign he had set for himself. Now, he was ready to become a member of their society, and to do whatever they required of him. The chassid took him to his home and gave him food and drink, though he himself was quite poor.

The following Monday the Rav and the uncle discovered that Rashbatz had remained with the chassidim. The uncle began to torment the lad’s mother, causing her much pain and anguish. Being a clever woman, she sent for her son to hear his side of the story. He explained it all to her, and she was forced to admit that he had chosen the correct path and should continue to follow it.

The chassid studied Chassidus with him daily; at first they studied Tanya, reviewing each chapter four or five times. They also studied Shaarei Orah by the Mitteler Rebbe, which Rashbatz studied with diligence and great relish. Each subject he studied was reviewed several times; there were occasions when he would review the same passage twenty or thirty times.

During one of his farbrengens [after he became a mashpia] Rashbatz admonished the students of Tomchei Temimim : “When I was a young lad, if we heard a teaching from the elder chassidim we would kiss the soles of their feet. On the other hand, you young fellows are spoon-fed like fattened calves, but you pay no attention. I used to sit for five or six hours reviewing a single passage that the chassid Reb Moshe had taught me.

“This Reb Moshe advised me that after thoroughly reviewing the lesson verbally, I should review it three or four times in my mind. Thus, I accustomed myself to concentrate on a single thought for more than three hours.

“[The manner in which the chassidim studied Nigleh, the revealed teachings of Torah law, was also unique.] Had I not seen it with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears, I would never have believed that chassidim could study Gemara in such depth, or that they were capable of developing such logical and novel insights. Three times a week, the chassidim held in-depth study sessions of Talmud. I was in for quite a surprise when I attended my first such session.

“I then learned that the Alter Rebbe had instructed each congregation and community of chassidim to study the entire Talmud every year. For this purpose, each individual would choose one tractate to study by himself. In this way, they could collectively complete the entire Talmud. In addition, they chose one tractate which all studied together in depth; this study session was held only three times a week. Each time I attended this lecture I learned something new. My study of Chapter 5 in the Tanya created a great desire within me to study Torah even more intensely than before.”

One day Rashbatz happened to meet Reb Hirsh, and he greeted his former teacher with Shalom Aleichem! At first Reb Hirsh turned away without answering, but a moment later he called Rashbatz by name and inquired whether he had repented his wicked ways. Rashbatz changed the subject, posing a serious question concerning the Talmudic subject he was then studying that had disturbed him.

Reb Hirsh pondered deeply into the question and then proceeded to explain the entire topic with a deep and complex pilpul, during which he refuted Rashi’s commentary. Rashbatz responded by reciting his own understanding of the topic. Reb Hirsh was amazed, declaring that this was an excellent approach to the subject, and that the lad had apparently made much progress in Talmud since they had last met.

Rashbatz then began to explain to Reb Hirsh and the other dignitaries of the beis hamedrash what the essential features of the teachings of Chassidus were: the mitzvos of believing in G‑d, declaring His Oneness, loving Him, and fearing Him. Without a knowledge of the teachings of Chassidus, it is impossible to fulfill these mitzvos properly. Even ordinary Torah study, and the mitzvos governing interpersonal relationships, are on a far higher plane when understood in the light of Chassidus.

Suddenly, right in the middle of his speech, one of the young misnagdim struck him such a powerful blow to the cheek that his head snapped from left to right and back again, and his whole body reverberated. His hat flew off his head, but before he could pick it up blood began to pour from his mouth and nose, and he fell unconscious. When he came to, he discovered that he was lying on the floor in the shul where the chassidim prayed. They then told him what had happened.

After he had fainted, the misnagdim had continued to beat him mercilessly. Some of them suggested that he should be beaten to death, but Reb Hirsh and a few other prominent scholars had opposed this. Being no match for the assailants, they sent for the chassidim, all of whom immediately came. With the help of Reb Hirsh and the prominent scholars, they managed to rescue him and carry him to the chassidic shul.

They worked very hard to bring him out of his coma, but he remained lying there inert as a stone, burning with fever, his eyes shut, and his mouth open. The doctor declared that he was suffering from both swelling of the brain and pneumonia. He administered various medicines and tried different procedures, but it was three weeks before the patient finally opened his eyes and gradually began to recognize people.

For a long time he had no idea how he had become sick. He had no memory at all of his meeting with Reb Hirsh, his learned discussion, his speech about Chassidus, or the beating he had received. After he recovered fully, the chassidim would not let him go outside by himself, for they were afraid that the misnagdim would beat him again. He therefore spent his days studying in the home of the chassid Reb Moshe, and would go to the beis hamedrash only in his company. Thus, he continued to study the revealed aspects of Torah as well as Chassidus until the middle of the month of Shvat.

The time he spent living among the chassidim from midsummer until Shvat passed very quickly, for it was a period of joy and delight to his soul. Each individual chassid made a strong effort to befriend him and demonstrate to him that the ways of the chassidim represented the true path. He absorbed everything he was taught, for to him the words of the chassidim were fragrant oil and life-giving dew. He was particularly impressed by their complete dedication and devotion to instructing him in the true path of the teachings of Chassidus.

During this time, the chassidim came to appreciate his superior intellectual abilities and his unique powers of concentration. The more astute among them predicted that the lad would have a glorious future in the study of Chassidus. He was also remarkably persevering, never retreating from pursuing any goal he set for himself, even in the face of great obstacles and impediments. He followed whatever path he chose, with complete self-assurance, acting as if there were no objection, and as if all were in agreement with his choice.

The chassidim advised him that he could proceed further in achieving his goal if he traveled to one of the renowned chassidim and became his apprentice. After he spent some time there, he would be qualified to travel to Lubavitch, where the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek lived.

One day the chassidim held a convention in Szventzian to explore ways of improving the situation of chassidim and Chassidus in their vicinity. One of the topics on the agenda was finding a proper place for their developing student Rashbatz to study.

After carefully considering several suggestions, they decided to send him to Reb Michel Opotzker, who had been one of the foremost chassidim of the Alter Rebbe, and who was known to possess ruach hakodesh. Under his guidance, the lad would achieve his goal in studying Chassidus and would become accustomed to davening, which constitutes “avodah of the heart.” This chassid, Reb Michel Opotzker, would teach him and prepare him for his eventual trip to Lubavitch.

One day, the chassid Reb Moshe told Rashbatz that at their recent convention the chassidim had discussed his current situation, and what they thought he was capable of achieving in the end. They had concluded that it would be best for him to travel to Lubavitch, where he would attend the senior yeshivah. In Lubavitch he could continue to study Chassidus and he would hear chassidic discourses from the Rebbe.

However, in order to gain admission to the Lubavitcher Yeshivah, one needed advance preparation in both studying and davening, under the tutelage of a chassid who was well known for both his scholarship and his avodah. They had therefore chosen to send him to Reb Michel Opotzker. If he agreed, they would take the necessary steps to put this plan into action.

Of course, Rashbatz consented to the plan. Although he did not understand the suggestion totally, he was sure that they had his best interests at heart.

Sometime during the month of Adar, one of the chassidim had occasion to travel to Lubavitch. He offered to take Rashbatz with him, for the route they traveled in those days passed by the city where Reb Michel lived. He would deliver the lad to Reb Michel as they had agreed, and request that Reb Michel accept him and teach him whatever he needed to know about the teachings of Chassidus. He would also ask Reb Michel to keep an eye on him during his training, so that he would follow the correct path and eventually become a full-fledged chassid, and a proper “vessel” to absorb the teachings of Chassidus.

This would constitute payment for the suffering and persecution the chassidim had experienced at the hands of the misnagdim on his account. The chassidim readily agreed to this, for it was obviously preferable to send him with one of their brethren than to let him go by himself.

Those days were a period of inner turmoil for Rashbatz. At first he planned to depart at once with the chassid, without bidding farewell to the misnagdim who were his former friends and acquaintances. Although he was very warm and loved truth and strict etiquette, he was reluctant to visit the misnagdim. When he compared them to the chassidim, and recalled the suffering and persecution they had subjected them to, he could not bear to have anything to do with them.

“It is the forbearing nature of the chassidim that allowed all this to occur,” thought Rashbatz. Possibly even they would be unable to endure it in silence, were it not for the oft-repeated warning of the Alter Rebbe to the chassidic communities (printed in Iggeres HaKodesh, Epistle 2, beginning with the words “I have become small…”). Because of this warning, the chassidim feared even to engage the misnagdim in conversation, and they unanimously resolved to accept whatever happened to them, without protest.

Upon reflection, however, he decided that he would do the reverse, and take leave of his former companions. After all, he was about to depart for an indefinite period; who knew when he would ever see them again? He owed them thanks for all the kindness they had shown him before he joined the chassidim. When would he have another chance to express it? He did not tell even his teacher Reb Moshe about his decision to bid farewell to the misnagdim, for he was afraid they would not let him go.

Actually, he was also a bit afraid that the misnagdim would beat him as they had already done before. But his sincere desire to see them again spurred his decision to go and say goodbye to them, especially to Reb Hirsh. He and a few of the Torah scholars had opposed the beating, and had even sent for the chassidim to come quickly and rescue him; in fact, they themselves had assisted in saving him. Therefore, he would visit Reb Hirsh first.

At an opportune time, Rashbatz went to Reb Hirsh and found him sitting with two others, discussing a pilpul on a certain Torah subject. Fortuitously, Rashbatz had only recently made a thorough study of that same topic, and he thus had a ready excuse for joining their conversation. At first the Rav reacted toward him as though he were a former Torah student who had gone astray, but it was nevertheless evident that he still loved him in his heart.

Within a few moments Rashbatz had joined the discussion circle, and his logical arguments gratified the Rav who now turned to him and inquired into his spiritual well-being. After a brief conversation he satisfied himself that the fears he had entertained when Rashbatz had joined the chassidim had been groundless.

When the other scholars departed, and Reb Hirsh and Rashbatz remained alone, they began to debate the subject of misnagdim vs. chassidim. Rashbatz recited a long list of deeds and attributes in which the chassidim were superior, along with a list of the misnagdim’s shortcomings. He demonstrated to Reb Hirsh that in most cases the chassidim were right, and that the misnagdim had gained the upper hand only because of the great devotion of the chassidim to the Alter Rebbe. Otherwise, the chassidim would have long ago proved they were the real tzaddikim, and that they deserved credit for their great forbearance and humility.

Reb Hirsh was forced to admit that Rashbatz was right about several of his main points. In addition, he had no reply or excuse for many of the questions Rashbatz posed concerning the behavior and customs of the misnagdim.

This conversation greatly elevated Rashbatz in Reb Hirsh’s estimation, and he began to inquire further into his spiritual status. Rashbatz then told him of the decision of his chassidic mentors to send him to one of the prominent chassidim, with whom he would study for a while, until he became worthy of making the trip to Lubavitch. The reason he had come here now was to bid him farewell for an indefinite period.

When Reb Hirsh heard this, he became very upset and declared that in spite of the fact that he had heard the Lubavitcher Rebbe was a great gaon in his opinion Rashbatz would be better off remaining at home and studying with him. He tried to convince him to remain in Szventzian and continue to study the revealed aspects of Torah for at least two or three years then he could go where he wished.

Rashbatz replied that his chassidic teachers feared that without studying the chassidic approach to Torah, he might forget who the Giver of the Torah was, and therefore they had decided he must leave. The chassid to whom they were sending him would set him on the right path. When he finished speaking, they began saying their goodbyes. The Rav’s eyes almost overflowed with tears as he begged the lad at least to remain a Torah-observant Jew.

Rashbatz was quite moved by these last remarks. They proved that the chassidim were correct when they said that the misnagdim still held on to the foolish notion that the study of Chassidus detracts from studying the revealed aspects of Torah. Any sensible person could see that just the opposite was true: Chassidus only enhances the Torah, as evidenced by many instances where chassidim were more scrupulous in their religious observance than the misnagdim. As the Alter Rebbe explains, it was the measure of chumtin [sandy soil, containing certain mineral substances which preserves many more measures of grain].12 With these emotions, he took his leave.

A few days later, the time arrived for him to depart with the chassid. The chassidim assembled to wish him a successful journey. He departed in the chassid’s company, with both joy and sadness in his heart. Once they were on their way, Rashbatz began to beg the chassid to take him along to Lubavitch, for he greatly desired to see the holy Rebbe. However, the chassid refused, saying that he had no authority to undertake such a thing without permission from the whole chassidic congregation. Moreover, he himself also felt that he ought to take him first to Reb Michel; only after he spent some time there would he be worthy of traveling to Lubavitch.

Rashbatz then begged to be allowed to make at least a short visit to Lubavitch only for as long as the chassid remained there then he would go with him [to Reb Michel] on the return trip. The chassid explained that it would be much better for him to go straight there. Eventually Rashbatz agreed, and three days before Purim they arrived at Reb Michel’s home.

Upon their arrival Reb Michel wished them both Shalom Aleichem! and exclaimed, “Is this one of the ‘souls that you have acquired’13 in Szventzian? Fine! Very good!” He greeted Rashbatz warmly and began to explain to him what Chassidus was all about. He told him that it is an exceedingly difficult system of avodah, and one needs the assistance of Heaven to follow it successfully.

The main feature of this avodah is that everything must be done with truth, without deceiving oneself. He taught Rashbatz about the new approach to the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings that the Alter Rebbe had initiated. In general, he addressed him in the way one would speak to a prospective convert to Judaism.

Reb Michel’s customs were unique; he spent all his time studying and davening in the attic, admitting no one except his new apprentice. He davened with intense fervor, and spent all day and night in constant study. He never traveled to Lubavitch, but he had once visited the Alter Rebbe, author of the Tanya, in Liozna. He had spent four years there, and after that he had never visited any other Rebbe.

A favorite expression of his was: “I am unable to rise to their level, and they are unable to limit their radiance [to my level]. The Alter Rebbe, on the other hand, knew how to reveal his splendor, but at the same time he could also limit its intensity.”

Whenever a chassid passed through Reb Michel’s town on his way to Lubavitch, Reb Michel would carry his baggage for him and accompany him for two of three miles. Other than that, he never left his hometown. Though he was a great Torah scholar, he refused to accept a position as a Rav, for he despised the very idea of it. He avoided conversation with other people as much as possible, preferring to remain in seclusion.

Rashbatz remained there for a year and a half, constantly studying Torah and Chassidus under Reb Michel’s guidance. “Under Reb Michel, I acquired the fundamental principles of Chassidus and the ability to conceive of abstract concepts which Chassidus teaches,” Rashbatz related. “There, I clearly perceived the Divine radiance. Reb Michel would often say, ‘This is what I heard from our Great Rebbe.’ I was constantly overjoyed at my good fortune in being a student of Reb Michel.”

One day, Reb Michel Opotzker informed Rashbatz that he no longer wished to have him as a pupil, and advised him to travel to Lubavitch. He explained that Rashbatz had already achieved the purpose for which he had come, and there was nothing more to be gained by remaining with him.

Hearing this, Rashbatz’ eyes filled with tears of joy. He immediately agreed to follow this advice, on condition that Reb Michel grant him one request: to teach him what he should ask the Rebbe for. The chassid Reb Michel answered all his questions, and also taught him what he should request of the Rebbe (Rashbatz never revealed what Reb Michel told him in this regard).

Rashbatz remained with Reb Michel during the High Holy Days, and after Sukkos he began to prepare for his trip. He had come from Szventzian to Opotzk on foot, and on foot he traveled from Opotzk to Lubavitch. He arrived in Lubavitch on Friday of Parshas Mishpatim, the first day of Rosh Chodesh Adar I, 5608 [February 4, 1848], thus attaining his heart’s desire, for which he had waited so long.

Upon his departure, Reb Michel gave him a letter of reference addressed to the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek, cautioning him not to read it. It goes without saying that [at the outset], out of respect (and even more, out of fear) he did not dare to read the note. Eventually, however, his curiosity got the best of him; he unfolded the sheet of paper, but to his great amazement it was totally blank; not a single word was written on it!

Thursday, Erev Rosh Chodesh Adar I, he left the town of Dobramisl, and on the same day he managed to reach the inn in Berezovne, about seven miles from Lubavitch. The innkeeper served him supper, and at six o’clock in the evening he lay down to rest. The innkeeper woke him at about one in the morning, for one of the butchers was going to Lubavitch, and Rashbatz was to go with him.

When he arrived in Lubavitch it was still several hours before daybreak; he entered the Rebbe’s shul and positioned himself near the stove. Upon entering the shul he found a few of the young men sitting and studying. They greeted him with Shalom Aleichem! and inquired where he came from, but he made no reply. Sitting next to the stove, he soon fell asleep.

He awoke suddenly, to the sound of someone loudly calling out the name of Reb Michel Opotzker. One of the elder chassidim was crying “Where is the fellow who came here with a note from the chassid Reb Michel Opotzker?”

Approaching the elder man, Rashbatz said, “It is I who brought the note from Reb Michel Opotzker.”

“Why didn’t you answer me the first time,” rebuked the vintage chassid, “I’ve had to call you three times without a reply. Follow me! The Rebbe has summoned you to his chamber.”

With fear and apprehension he entered the Rebbe’s room, all his limbs trembling. The Rebbe reprimanded him severely for disobeying Reb Michel’s instructions and reading the note he had given him.

Whenever Rashbatz recalled the words spoken to him by the Tzemach Tzedek on that occasion, he would break into bitter weeping and say, “Someone who was born a misnaged must undergo a special kind of refinement [in order to become a chassid].”

He was about nineteen years old when he arrived in Lubavitch, and it was then that he began to feel an irresistible urge to study the revealed aspects of Torah. He would frequently describe this overwhelming desire to study Torah which he experienced on the first day of his arrival in Lubavitch, as a “burning fire.” Though he was thoroughly exhausted from his long trip, and he felt his whole body falling apart, he could not restrain himself: he took a Gemara, and sat down to study all day.

What pleasure and bliss he felt on that first day! He recalled all his past aspirations, which were now fulfilled. He had now achieved the purpose for which he had abandoned his birthplace and his family, including his own mother who was dearer to him than anything in the world. Reflecting on this, his eyes filled with tears. But he made a firm commitment, then and there, to dedicate his life and his fortune to the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek. He would forget his family and even his own mother, for the Rebbe would now be his father. He would view this day as the day of his birth, and Lubavitch would be his new family.

The day passed and evening came. After Kabbalas Shabbos, many chassidim began to assemble in the minyan room. There was a great deal of crowding and jostling, and Rashbatz himself found himself crushed against the wall. When he inquired what was happening now, they told him that this was the appointed time for the Torah discourse, and the Rebbe would arrive shortly to deliver his public address.

After about half an hour, several imposing men entered and took their places next to the platform, which stood in the center of the beis hamedrash. They were the Rebbe’s sons, and they were dressed in silk, and wore round sable fur hats on their heads. They were accompanied by a few dignitaries, who went up onto the platform. The entire audience then began elbowing their way closer to the platform, for the beis hamedrash was filled wall-to-wall with people.

In the midst of the tumult, silence suddenly prevailed and the crowd parted, leaving a wide path in the middle. The Rebbe entered, wearing white silk garments and a white shtreimel on his head. Ascending the platform and sitting in his place, he began to speak about the verse,14 “If you lend silver to My people….” [The Tzemach Tzedek explained]:

“Silver” refers to the soul, which constantly desires and aspires to ascend upwards,15 as is written,16 “The spirit of Adam (man) constantly ascends.”

“Adam ” refers to the souls of the Jewish people, as is written,[Yechezkel 34:31.] “You are Adam.” Our sages explain[Yevamos 61a explains that “you” refers to the Jewish people. They are called “Adam,” and no other nation is called “Adam.”] that “You,” [i.e., the Jews exclusively] are called Adam. The soul is given to man as a loan, as is written,[Tehillim 139:16. We have translated the verse as appropriate to the context of this teaching. Within the chapter of Tehillim, other translations are suggested.] “The days are parceled out,” i.e., [each person is granted] a finite number [of days]. If one squanders a day, he forfeits one of his [spiritual] garments.

This teaching made a mighty impression on Rashbatz and it excited his spirit, for he was already well versed in Chassidus. When the Rebbe finished his lecture, he departed, and his sons also went home. Rashbatz went to look for a place to stay, and one of the residents of the town, Reb David Czerkes, invited him to eat at his home that Shabbos, and gave him a place to sleep.

After Shabbos, he desired to enter the Rebbe’s room for a private audience. He presented this request to the butler, Reb Chayim Dov, who flatly refused him. A few days later, however, Reb [Yehudah] Leib,20 one of the Rebbe’s sons, became acquainted with him and promised to try and get him admitted on the following week, which he did.

Rashbatz never revealed what the Rebbe told him in private (unlike many other famous chassidim, who disclosed details of their yechidus). All he would say was that the Rebbe had told him “You know how to study, so you may study in my yeshivah together with the local young men.”

To this, he had replied, “But Rebbe, I came here to learn how to daven!21

The next day the custodian informed him that he had been allocated an allowance of forty pennies a week, which he would deliver to him. After that, he remained there to study Torah and daven. He became a close friend of all the Rebbe’s sons.

For two years Rashbatz studied Torah and Chassidus undisturbed. The Rebbe’s son Reb Yehudah Leib suggested to him a match with the daughter of one of the residents of Lubavitch, to which he agreed. The wedding took place in the year 5610 [1850], and his father-in-law undertook to support him for several years.

Rashbatz often said, “I spent seven rich years in Lubavitch, the seven years from 5608 to 5615 [1848-1855], constantly studying the revealed Torah and Chassidus. Thank G‑d, I came into the good graces of the Rebbe’s youngest son Reb Shmuel, the Rebbe Maharash. He would review with me the discourses I heard from the Rebbe, and he also repeated to me the explanatory remarks he himself heard privately.”

A complete biography of Rashbatz describing everything that happened to him during the next half century, 5615-5665 [1855-1905] would represent a very long chapter in the history of Chassidus and chassidim. Such a complete biography is beyond the scope of this periodical, and a short outline will have to suffice. We hope to be able to print from time to time supplementary articles with brief stories of his life and reviews of his talks.22

In the year 5615 [1855] he went into business as a dealer in seforim. This business was very profitable, giving him ample income to cover his household expenses.

During that same year, a son was born to him. When the child was a year old, he became very ill (may All-Merciful G‑d preserve us). Rashbatz went to see the Rebbe [the Tzemach Tzedek] and give him a pidyon. Upon entering, he began to weep, but the Rebbe said to him, “Put your pidyon down here.”

It was well known that whenever the Rebbe declined to take a pidyon from a petitioner’s hand, but instructed him instead to put it down on the table, it was not a good omen. All of Rashbatz’ begging did him no good, and he had no choice but to lay it on the table. The Rebbe then replied, “it’s too late!” Rashbatz returned home in tears, to discover that the child had died.

In the year 5625 [1865] the Rebbe assigned him the task of printing Torah Or with the supplementary remarks, and in 5626 he was given Likkutei Torah to print. Before he departed, the Rebbe gave him a pidyon to take to Mezhibuzh, to the gravesite of the Baal Shem Tov.

Several wondrous things happened to him during this journey. He related that when he arrived in Mezhibuzh, he somehow became aware that much mercy was needed, and he began to weep from the depths of his heart. He later revealed what the contents of that pidyon had been: [the Rebbe petitioned that] G‑d would grant him a long and peaceful life, that he would derive spiritual joy from his sons and his family, and that G‑d would elevate the fortunes of the Torah and the Jewish religion….

While he was in Zitomir, attending to the printing of Likkutei Torah, he learned of the passing of the saintly Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek.23 He remained there until just before the festival of Shavuos 5626. During the month of Elul, he was traveling near Lubavitch; on the way, he discovered that the holy Rebbe Reb Yehudah Leib was then in Kapust, and so he decided to spend Shabbos Selichos with him.24 He arrived in Lubavitch for Rosh HaShanah of 5627.

In the year 5629 the Rebbe Maharash appointed him a shadar, and in that capacity he traveled throughout the counties of Minsk, Vitebsk, Chernigov, and Poltava until the year 5631. [Wherever he went,] he would review chassidic teachings generously.

During the entire year 5631 he remained at home in Lubavitch. At that time he would study Chassidus with the [future] holy Rebbe Rashab, twice a week before the morning prayer, from four to six o’clock. On several occasions the Rebbe [Rashab] spoke at length praising the great pleasure he had taken in studying with him, and the many sound interpretations he had given.

This study program lasted for three months. However, since the [future] Rebbe also davened at great length, and was very diligent in his other studies, [his father] the Rebbe Maharash was afraid that his health would be adversely affected. He therefore instructed him to cease studying with Rashbatz.

After that, Rashbatz resided in Kremenchug, and would come to Lubavitch once a year, or once in two years, to visit his family. In the year 5642 [1882] he came for Rosh HaShanah. On 13 Tishrei [September 26, 1882] the Rebbe Maharash passed away, and so Rashbatz remained in Lubavitch until Chanukah. He comforted and consoled the Rebbe’s family, for they were all heartbroken and in deep mourning over the great tragedy and disaster that had occurred when the crown of their head (and the jewel of the eye of the entire Jewish people) was taken from them.

In 5644 [1884] he moved to the settlement of Bulhakov along with his family. There, he had twelve students with whom he studied Gemara and Poskim. On Shabbos, he would review chassidic teachings for the local residents.

In 5651 [1891] he moved from Bulhakov to the city of Nicholayev. There too, he studied with the local young men, and some young folk who came there to be with him. [During the week] he taught them Chassidus from the printed word, and on Shabbos he would review it for them by heart.

In 5653 [1893] the Rebbe [Rashab] requested him to come to Lubavitch and tutor his son.25 He arrived before Rosh HaShanah of 5654, and remained as his tutor until about 5660 [1900]. Their study was in great depth.

In 5660 he assumed the duties of head mashpia of the Chassidus curriculum for the class of bochurim studying in the Yeshivah Tomchei Temimim in Lubavitch. He retained that position for the rest of his life.

Rashbatz passed away at 11:45 P.M. on Motzoei Shabbos, the eve of Sunday, 15 Sivan 5665 [June 18, 1905] and, according to his request, was buried [in Lubavitch] near the burial sites of the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek, and his son, the Rebbe Maharash (may their souls be bound up in the bond of eternal life).