Rashdam1 compiled by the editors of HaTamim
from the Previous Rebbe’s diary and letters

The chassid Reb Shmuel Dov Ber of Borisov was well known among Chabad Chassidim, both for his outstanding comprehension of Chassidus and his lofty avodah. I myself saw him when I was a young lad of seven, and I remember well his features, his appearance, his gestures, and his voice. My saintly father [the Rebbe Rashab] referred to Reb Shmuel Ber as “HaRashdam” (an acronym for “HaChassid Reb Shmuel Dov Ber MiBorisov”).

He was tall and thin, with a large head and wide forehead. His face radiated nobility of character; he had large, black eyes that expressed wisdom and strength. He possessed a low-pitched voice, and when he spoke, he would enunciate his words in an unusually pleasing manner. By the time I knew him, he had already grown old, and his hair and beard were white.

As I have mentioned, I first saw him when I was seven years old, during the summer of 5647 [1887] in Lubavitch. My father and I returned from our journey to Yalta, in the Crimea, on Rosh Chodesh Sivan 5647 [May 3, 1887], and on our return we found Rashdam in Lubavitch.

In the house of my father the Rebbe, there were two rooms whose windows opened to the garden behind the house; one was my room, and the second was a guest room used by Rashdam whenever he visited Lubavitch.

I saw how much honor my saintly father gave to the guest who was living with us in the room next to mine, and I was impressed by his stately appearance. I had already become familiar with numerous honored chassidim whom I had met in Kharkov, while we stopped over there on our way home from Yalta. Therefore, I was bold enough to request our honored guest to tell me some chassidic stories.2

Rashdam remained in Lubavitch for seven weeks, during which time I heard many stories from him. I remember most of them to this day. He left for Vitebsk on the day after the fast of the seventeenth of Tammuz;3 my saintly father traveled with him, and I accompanied them as far as the train station in Rudnia. From there, I returned to Lubavitch in the company of the butler, Mordechai Zilberbord.

The day of their departure remains engraved in my mind because of a certain incident that occurred. When I entered his room on the seventeenth of Tammuz to hear some stories from him, he admonished me for not fasting that day; none of my excuses did me any good. The very next day he left Lubavitch. I never saw him again, but father spoke to me often about Rashdam, praising him greatly each time.

As a child, I was always fond of listening to stories (as are all children). Being an only child, I had been brought up lacking nothing. Nevertheless, I was never mischievous, and at the age of three I already obeyed all instructions to the letter. There were two reasons why I had developed an uncommonly strong love of hearing stories.

[The first reason came as a result of the following incident]: One Shabbos night, when Mother was away from home in Vitebsk, I entered Father’s room and sat down on one of the chairs. I gazed into my saintly father’s holy face as he sat at his desk. Several seforim lay open in front of him, and his face beamed as he studied them. This sight aroused my jealousy, and I approached the bookcase, took out a few seforim, and began to leaf through the pages. But I had no satisfaction from this activity, and I closed the seforim, emitting a deep sigh.

I don’t remember the exact date, but I believe it was early in the evening of a winter Shabbos. My saintly father closed his seforim and instructed me to get dressed. He too put on his winter Shabbos cloak, lifted me in his arms, and carried me to the home of my grandmother, the saintly Rebbetzin Rivkah. Father exchanged a few words with her, but I was unable to understand what he said. Then, he turned to me saying, “Stay here with Grandmother, and listen to the stories she tells you. Sit quietly, and listen to everything she says. Remember, you’ve been warned!” He then turned and departed.

My saintly grandmother was then in the middle of reading a large volume, the Tz’enah UR’enah, and she read to me the following wonderful story:

Once upon a time, there lived a man named Terach, who made idols of stone, which he sold to people who would bow down to them. This man had a young son named Avram, who was a wise lad. The son broke all the idols with an iron axe, and then placed the axe into the hand of the largest idol of all. When Terach returned home, he was shocked to find all the idols destroyed. Upon investigation, he discovered that no one had been at home except his son Avram. Turning to Avram, he inquired what had happened.

“A certain woman came here,” answered Avram, “bringing a loaf of bread, some meat, and fish, as an offering to the idols. Being very hungry, the idols attacked one another, until the largest idol overpowered them all.”

Terach realized that his son Avram was responsible for the damage, and he referred the matter to the court. Since the child was still very young, he was imprisoned until he grew up. Avram remained in prison for ten years, and even there he admonished the idol worshipers for bowing to idols of wood and stone. He told them that there is only one G‑d, Who is the King over the whole world and everything in it.

In the land of Kasdim, Abram’s birthplace, there was a very large furnace. During the ten years of Abram’s imprisonment, this great furnace was continuously stoked, day and night; then they threw Avram into it. But Avram, who believed in the One G‑d Who created heaven and earth, strolled about inside the furnace among the flames, as though he were walking among fruit trees in a delightful orchard.

The story spread very quickly: the young Avram the one who had smashed his father’s idols and had been imprisoned for ten years had been thrown into the fiery furnace, but had remained alive and was walking around inside the furnace. Men, women, and children came by the thousands to see this marvelous sight. This Avram was the very first Jew in the world.

This story captured my heart, and from then on I would come every week after Shabbos candle-lighting to visit my grandmother the Rebbetzin. She would always read from her large text, and tell me wonderful stories.

[The second reason why I was so uncommonly fond of hearing stories was]: My first melamed was Reb Yekusiel the kindergarten teacher, who was a descendant of famous chassidim. He made it a rule that each day before dismissing the class, he would gather all the pupils and tell them a story about the Baal Shem Tov or his disciples, repeating each story several times. The stories told by my grandmother Rebbetzin Rivkah and my teacher Reb Yekusiel instilled in me a great desire to hear stories.

Rashdam used to say that it was thanks to the chassid Reb Mordechai Horodoker4 that he too became a chassid.5 At the age of thirteen, he was brought to Minsk to study. Being a child with great aptitude, he was admitted to the senior yeshivah and he was assigned “days,”6 to eat with families of Torah scholars. He studied in the Minsker Yeshivah for four years, and before he returned home (a small village near Borisov), his parents instructed him to stop over in Czasznyk and spend several weeks there visiting his maternal uncle.

When he arrived in Czasznyk, he discovered a large group of young men studying Chassidus with great diligence. This amazed him, for though he was already seventeen years old, and a descendant of chassidim, he knew nothing of the teachings of Chassidus.

Sunday, 12 Sivan 5659 [May 21, 1899], my saintly father the Rebbe repeated to me the first lesson in conduct that the chassid Rashdam of Borisov had heard from his chassidic mentor, Reb Mordechai Horodoker, the mashpia of Czasznyk; it was a lesson that had been taught by the [Mitteler] Rebbe.

“The [Mitteler] Rebbe once said: ‘What is forbidden, is forbidden. What is permitted, is not necessary.’7 We young folk lived with this lesson three or four years,” Reb Mordechai continued, “until this ideal had permeated every aspect of our lives. Only then did we go to the Rebbe for yechidus.”

Here I transcribe from my diary a story told by the chassid Reb Meir Mordechai Czernin, that he heard from Rashdam himself.

“When I arrived in Czasznyk,” Reb Shmuel Dov related, “I discovered a large group of young men, as well as some elderly men, studying Chassidus with understanding and diligence. After I had come to the large beis hamedrash a few times, to study Gemara in the Minsker style, some people approached me to discuss what I was studying. In those days my haughtiness was still quite evident whenever I discussed Torah studies, and I was eager to demonstrate my prowess with pilpulim.

“But the young folk soon made me sweat! They called me appropriate names, and within a week’s time they stripped off the gross hide that I had grown in the Minsker Yeshivah. Some young men began to befriend me and to study Chassidus with me. A new world opened up for me and I began laboring with my greatest abilities; every word was precious to me. Eventually I was admitted to the circle of Reb Mordechai Mashpia.”

Reb Mordechai originally came from Horodok, and had been sent to Czasznyk by the Mitteler Rebbe, who instructed the Czasznyk Chassidim to raise six paper rubles (two silver rubles) a month for Reb Mordechai’s salary, and to appoint him dean of the Czasznyk Chassidim.

“Reb Mordechai Mashpia was so impressed with me,” related Reb Shmuel Dov, “that he admitted me to his cheder, which was in a small space partitioned off from the side-room of the Lubavitcher shul. I spent a year and nine months under Reb Mordechai’s guidance.”

Rashdam related that once, during his stay in Czasznyk, a great desire arose among the young scholars to make a pilgrimage to Lubavitch. But Reb Mordechai Mashpia dissuaded them, saying that because the Mitteler Rebbe had been denounced to the government and in fact he had recently been in prison it was not a good time to travel to Lubavitch. A few weeks later, however, the rumor spread that the Mitteler Rebbe was traveling to the holy resting place of his father, the Alter Rebbe, in Haditch, and would be passing through the towns of Zhlobin and Homel. Consequently, ten of the young folk decided to travel secretly to one of these villages.

One night during the month of Av, they departed Czasznyk in stealth, arriving in Zhlobin a week later. There, they found several hundred guests from throughout the vicinity, all of whom had come to see the Mitteler Rebbe. To their disappointment, they learned that the Rebbe was spending the night at an inn near Zhlobin, and would remain in town for only one day. Moreover, being exhausted from the journey, he would not lecture on Chassidus, nor would he receive visitors for yechidus.

“I had the good fortune,” related Rashdam, “to find favor with Reb Meir Tzvi the butler. He permitted me to assist him in bringing water, and in other simple tasks.”

That evening, Rashdam had the privilege of hearing the Rebbe davening Maariv in his room. Later, when the butler Reb Meir Tzvi brought the Rebbe a glass of coffee, Rashdam caught a glimpse of his holy face. He waited up the whole night hoping for another chance to see the Rebbe’s face. At about three o’clock, the butler opened the windows of the Rebbe’s room. At that very moment the Rebbe emerged, and passing through the room where Rashdam stood he fixed a penetrating glance upon him.

Paradoxically, he was petrified, and at the same time captivated, by this. He knew that the Rebbe would have to pass through that room on his way back, but he lacked the courage to remain in his place. In great panic, he hid himself behind the door.

After the davening, Reb Meir Tzvi informed him that the Rebbe had inquired who he was. He had replied that Rashdam was from Czasznyk, an apprentice of Reb Mordechai Horodoker. He thought it possible that the Rebbe might request that Rashdam be brought to his room. Hearing this, Rashdam grew very frightened, not knowing what to do. He was completely unable to think coherently, for his mind had gone blank. But G‑d (blessed be He), gave him the good sense to say some Tehillim; once he began his Tehillim, rivers of tears began to flow from his eyes.

Later, when Reb Meir Tzvi informed him that the Rebbe had actually sent for him, he became very flustered. It was only with Reb Meir Tzvi’s assistance that he managed to enter the Rebbe’s holy chamber. Being completely overcome emotionally, all he could manage to say were the few words, “Rebbe! I want to be a chassid,” after which he began to weep.

The holy Rebbe replied, “Chabad demands intellectual activity, understanding, and concentration. If you work hard, you will become a chassid. May G‑d (blessed be He), grant you long life.” Reb Meir Tzvi cautioned him not to reveal to anyone that he had had the great privilege of going in to see the holy Rebbe.

During the day that the Mitteler Rebbe remained in Zhlobin, about two thousand chassidim arrived from the surrounding villages. Since it was Thursday, the chassidim made a great effort to influence the Rebbe to remain in Zhlobin for Shabbos, but to no avail. At two in the afternoon the Rebbe departed Zhlobin, after issuing an edict that no person except those who were traveling in his official entourage should dare attempt to follow him on the road.

After the Rebbe left, Rashdam went to seek his companions from Czasznyk, who were mingled among the great throng of people. With much effort he managed to find them, and with great regret at not having heard the Rebbe lecture on Chassidus, they returned to Czasznyk. On Monday, after Rashdam arrived home in Czasznyk, during a moment when no one else was present in the beis hamedrash, Reb Mordechai Mashpia said that he detected an aura of spiritual purity about him. Reb Mordechai commanded Rashdam to tell him what had happened to him, and he told him everything.

Rashdam married a Czasznyk woman his cousin, the daughter of his maternal uncle. During the five years following his wedding, he was supported by his father-in-law, while he continued under the tutelage of Reb Mordechai Mashpia. In 5592 [1832], when the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek visited Minsk, Reb Mordechai Mashpia traveled there to see him, together with many of the young scholars. On that occasion, he took Rashdam along with him, and that was the first time he saw the holy Tzemach Tzedek.

In 5594, Rashdam made his first pilgrimage to Lubavitch, but for personal reasons he was unable to remain longer that two weeks. Various circumstances prevented him from making another trip to Lubavitch until Elul 5596, but this time he remained in Lubavitch until Nissan 5597. He was then about thirty years old, and he had already achieved fame among the chassidim. The Rebbe’s holy sons gave him honor, and even the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek himself bestowed great favor upon him.

As the chassid Reb Chanoch Hendel tells, by the year 5603 [1843] Rashdam was considered one of the foremost chassidim.8 When the Rebbe returned home to Lubavitch from his trip to Petersburg during that year, Rashdam occupied a place in the first rank of the elder chassidim who went forth to welcome him.

In my library of original manuscripts which G‑d in His great kindness has given me the privilege of possessing there are numerous letters written by my saintly great-uncles, the Tzemach Tzedek’s sons, to Rashdam.

I herewith enclose a copy of one of the letters my saintly grandfather the holy Rebbe Maharash sent to the chassidim of Borisov.9 I have chosen this particular letter for several reasons. Besides the central theme dealing with the importance of business people setting aside time to study Chassidus, and the necessity of designating a specific person whose only task is to look after the spiritual needs of the chassidim, this letter gives a clear picture of the great stature of the chassid Rashdam.

Rashdam’s life story comprises a long chain of Torah, avodah, and involvement in the spiritual welfare of chassidim. He fulfilled the instructions given to him by the Mitteler Rebbe, “Chabad demands intellectual activity, understanding, and concentration. If you work hard, you will become a chassid.”

For His part, G‑d (blessed be He), fulfilled the Mitteler Rebbe’s blessing, and granted him long life. I don’t know the exact dates, but I infer from all the stories that Rashdam was born about the year 5568 [1808] and passed away in 5649 [1889], having lived more than eighty years.

Rashdam left many manuscripts; some are transcriptions of chassidic discourses he heard from the Tzemach Tzedek and the Rebbe Maharash, and others are his own compositions, explanatory remarks, and longer commentaries presented in orderly fashion. More importantly, he left behind a whole generation of apprentices and students, many of whom occupy lofty positions among Chabad Chassidim. Thus, he earned for himself a memorial of everlasting fame and adoration.