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].1 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’2 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,3 “If you lend silver to My people….” [The Tzemach Tzedek explained]:

“Silver” refers to the soul, which constantly desires and aspires to ascend upwards,4 as is written,5 “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,9 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!10

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.11

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.12 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.13 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.14 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).