My name is Mr. Y.M., and I am the son Reb Leib M., who was born in the city of S., and was one of your grandfather’s chassidim. During my childhood and adolescence, I studied in cheder, and was taught by the finest melamdim, who were chassidim and men of good deeds. The chassidim would assemble in my father’s home on every chassidic festive occasion, and I was, of course, one of the first to attend.

Eventually, however, my father moved from S. to Petersburg. It is true that even there his lifestyle was based on the principles of Torah and Chassidus, and even there chassidim regularly gathered in his home. However, I was influenced by the children of our various neighbors, and began to follow in their ways.

One day toward the end of summer, while we were living at our vacation home in a suburb of Petersburg, Father told me that when he traveled to Lubavitch for the coming Rosh HaShanah, he planned to take me with him. I was then about fifteen years old, and I had already sampled the lifestyle of the neighboring youths, who accepted no restrictions to indulging their appetites. Obviously, I had no relish for Father’s plans to take me to Lubavitch.

When the time came, my father set off for Lubavitch along with two other chassidim, taking me along too. About ten other people, members of the well-known chassidic A., A., and T. families, joined our party. Five or six others, whose expenses were paid by the wealthy K. Brothers, also traveled to Lubavitch.

Seeing the face of your grandfather the Rebbe made an indescribable impression on me. When I entered his chamber together with my father for yechidus, he gave me an explicit blessing for success in everything I did. But he cautioned me to remember that I was a Jew, for the company I was presently keeping was quite hazardous.

The impressions of my trip to Lubavitch affected me for a long time after our return to Petersburg, and stopped me from associating with the sons of our gentile neighbors. To their great surprise, I even refrained from joining their festivities and games during their holiday season, which I had done in previous years. This situation continued until the next summer, when we again moved to our vacation home.

When we were in our summer home, I was already a high school student, and little-by-little I began to associate with my young contemporaries. Some of them were scholarly and possessed refined qualities, while others sought a life of pleasure. But all of them influenced me to estrange myself from the lifestyle followed in our home.

On one occasion I came home late, and failed to daven Minchah and Maariv. Another time, being in a hurry to join my friends in swimming, I skipped Shacharis. On a third occasion, I ate with them. Thus, over the summer months, I abandoned the religious way of life to which I had been accustomed in my father’s home.

When we returned to the city from our country home, Father began to prepare for his annual Rosh HaShanah trip to Lubavitch, but I remained at home. I remember it as if it were today: when I went to shul during Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, the whole scene seemed foreign to me.

During the gentile holiday season, I spent all my time with my non-Jewish friends, rarely coming home. Once, when I did come home, it was to see my mother and ask her to give me a few hundred rubles. Twice, I visited my father’s office to ask his cashier for some money that I needed.

When the holiday season ended and I returned home, Father admonished me and said that he was ready to give me as much money as I needed. But he demanded that I sever all my ties with my young friends, the delinquent schoolboys. I replied that I was already grown up, and would live as I myself chose, for my parents had no right to interfere with my private life.

To demonstrate my independence, I left my parents’ home, and found myself an apartment of my own. Thus, the next six years passed. I finished high school, got married, and led the totally secular life I had chosen for myself, almost completely forgetting my former lifestyle in my father’s home.

At that time, a society was founded, called the “Young Progressives.” The goal of this society was to champion the cause of the oppressed and the downtrodden, to look into their well-being, and to afford them moral and material support. A major part of the society’s efforts was devoted to the economic situation of our fellow Jews.

One day, in December 1881, I met an acquaintance who told me that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was visiting Petersburg, and had gone to see several high government officials with whom he had discussed the economic situation of the Jewish people.

Being a member of the Young Progressives (as I have mentioned), I was curious to find out what your grandfather had accomplished in the community’s behalf. For this purpose, I went to Hotel Serapinsky in Zablakonsky Street, where your grandfather was staying.

When I arrived at the hotel, I met numerous chassidim whom I had not seen for many years since leaving my father’s house. They were overjoyed at seeing me; for the first time, I became aware of the warm love chassidim have for their brethren, even for those who have gone astray.

I then remembered the uproar that had ensued in Father’s home during the first few days after I moved out and went to live in my own apartment in Pushkinsky Street with a few of my young friends. Before my eyes I saw once again as though it were happening at that very moment two of my father’s friends, who had visited me and entreated me to return to my father’s home. I had been overcome by their display of love and affection toward Father and me, as they had wept passionate tears in sympathy with father’s distress.

I had no doubt that over the years they had spoken of me from time to time, and had inquired about my lifestyle. I am certain that knowing my lifestyle caused them inner pain. Nevertheless, when they met me at the entrance to the hotel, they greeted me with open arms and warm regards, as if I was one of their number.

The chassidim possess a unique quality: love for their fellows, without regard to rank or standing. It makes no difference to them whether one is poor or rich, elderly or young. This quality places them on the highest ethical level. More than once, we nonobservant young folk spoke among ourselves about this quality of love for one’s fellow, and how we ought to take an example from the chassidim in this regard.

This meeting in Hotel Serapinsky affected me greatly, and left me with a warm feeling that words cannot describe. As I stood there daydreaming about the old days, I was startled by the sudden sound of voices crying, Baruch A-donai hamvorach leolam vaed.1

At first I had no idea what this was, but I quickly realized that they had begun to daven Maariv. Your grandfather the Rebbe emerged from his room and recited the last Kaddish following Aleinu, because that day happened to be the yahrtzeit of the Alter Rebbe, author of the Tanya.

It took three days for me to calm the emotions aroused within me by that meeting with my old acquaintances from the days of my youth. I was even more overcome by the Kaddish I heard your grandfather recite, for it reminded me of the time I had spent in Lubavitch.

On January 4, we members of the Young Progressives discovered that the Minister of Internal Affairs had hinted to the governors of Kiev, Czernigov, and other territories, that they were to instigate pogroms against the Jews. We knew that your grandfather had come to Petersburg on communal business. The main focus of his trip was the pogroms that had begun in the southern regions, and the wave of anti-Semitism that was then sweeping the country.

We were also aware of his great influence in government circles, and that he had explicitly and forcefully demanded that the Jewish citizens of the country be defended. We therefore decided to send several of our members to share our information with your grandfather.

However, we also knew that your grandfather was reserved, and that he was not fond of (to put it more accurately, he despised) the secular youth. Therefore, it was quite likely that he would refuse to listen to us, or he would require us to reveal the sources of our information and to present him with convincing proofs of it. Since I was a leading member of the Party, and the head of the Jewish Affairs Division, I was selected to visit your grandfather accompanied by one other member, and to reveal to him what we knew.

When we arrived at Hotel Serapinsky we could think of no excuse for requesting an audience with your grandfather we couldn’t reveal the purpose of our visit in advance, and we were sure that we would not be admitted without stating our purpose. However, we learned that it was your grandfather’s habit to take a walk at nine thirty every morning. Therefore, we decided to wait for him in the hallway; when he passed by, we would hand him a note stating that we had an important matter to discuss with him, and wished to make an appointment.

The next morning we arrived at the hotel at nine o’clock as we had decided. To our disappointment, we discovered that he would not be taking his walk that day, for two high officials of the Ministry of Internal Affairs had an appointment to see him at eleven. We were glad to learn of this meeting, for your grandfather could make good use of our information when he spoke with them. But we still had no plan for obtaining an audience.

As we stood there bewildered, the door suddenly opened and your grandfather emerged, accompanied by the wealthy chassid N. H. They began to pace back and forth along the hotel corridor, while my colleagues and I remained in the far corner. A few moments later your grandfather happened to raise his eyes, and he noticed me. Though he had not seen me for eight years (and I don’t have to tell you that my appearance had changed considerably during that time), he immediately recognized me. He inquired about my welfare, and asked whether I still remembered the chassidic discourse I had heard in Lubavitch.

I was so surprised, that I became flustered and was unable to utter a word. Seeing my confusion, my companion said, “We have an urgent matter to discuss with you, Rebbe.” Your grandfather returned to his room, and ordered the wealthy chassid N. H. to invite us to enter.

I will never forget the penetrating gaze that your grandfather fixed upon us; such a glance leaves an everlasting impression. From that morning on, my companion and I became your grandfather’s aides in his endeavors to quell the anti-Semitic sentiments that were then spreading among the government officials and ministers.

There is much that I could tell of your grandfather’s activities during the month he spent in Petersburg; through his great influence, he succeeded in suppressing several evil decrees against the Jews.

One day, while I was visiting your grandfather, he suddenly turned to me and asked, “How long has it been since you stopped putting on tefillin ? Don’t try to deny it! I don’t need anyone to inform me about it. I can tell you everything you’ve ever done, and exactly when and where you did it.”

As I sat there in amazement trying to think of some reply, he began to recite to me, incident by incident, everything that had happened to me, and the steps by which I had gradually abandoned the Jewish religion. I was struck dumb, my head began spinning, my heart palpitated, and rivers of tears ran from my eyes.

For the next several days, I was too ashamed to appear before your grandfather, but eventually I received a note from the wealthy chassid N. H., informing me that your grandfather had asked about me several times. I then went to visit him, and he assigned me several tasks of public service to perform.

The previous conversation with your grandfather had such an effect upon me that the following morning I obtained a pair of tefillin (I had left my own tefillin in my father’s house when I moved out). Keeping it a secret from my family, I began to put on tefillin and daven, and I avoided eating anything but bread and tea.

During the first week I offered various excuses, saying that I was sick and unable to eat. But eventually I was forced to reveal to my wife that I had resolved not to eat unkosher meat anymore. With great difficulty I managed to stick to a kosher diet, and to adopt a few other features of the Jewish way of life.

Your grandfather left Petersburg and returned home to Lubavitch. After that I began to live a more religious life, but I didn’t visit my father, nor was he aware of the changes in my lifestyle. In the middle of April I moved to our summer home in the Petersburg suburbs together with my wife and my oldest son.

A few days later my father came to visit me; this visit astounded me, for I had no idea why he had come. To my great surprise, Father handed me a letter written to him by your grandfather. The letter contained an invitation to the wedding of one of his sons; in the margins, he had included a note of greeting to me, indicating that I too was invited to the wedding. “Did you have to trouble yourself personally?” I asked Father. “You could have had it delivered by one of your office workers.”

“When the holy Rebbe writes a letter to someone, we chassidim do not entrust it to workers; such a mission must be carried out promptly and precisely,” Father replied. “I have no idea why or in reward for what good deeds you have been privileged to receive greetings from the holy Rebbe, and an invitation to join his joyous celebration. But since the Rebbe did in fact write to you, who will dare to question the king? I received the letter today, and I immediately set out to fulfill my mission. Having done so, I now bid you goodbye!” he concluded, as he prepared to return home.

It took a great deal of effort for my wife and me to convince him to remain for a few hours, so that we could have a cup of tea and take a walk in the woods together. Father told me about the forthcoming wedding of the Rebbe’s son, and I in turn filled him in on the highlights of my conversations with your grandfather when I had seen him during his visit to Petersburg the previous winter. I described the zealous and unyielding manner in which he had dared to address high government officials, while expressly demanding justice and fairness in no uncertain terms.

We had been in conversation for three hours when we suddenly heard someone calling, Shalom Aleichem! and saw the chassid Z. R. walking toward us. He greeted Father very warmly, and also greeted me with a big smile. He then recited the blessing of Shehechiyanu. Father and I looked at him in surprise, for we could not guess why the chassid Z. R. had recited the blessing.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” asked Z. R. “In the Alter Rebbe’s Seder Birchos HaNehenin, it clearly says that whenever something causes a person some special joy, he must recite Shehechiyanu, mentioning G‑d’s Name and Majesty. Now, when I saw you, my dear Leible, strolling lovingly with your son Y. and having heard from Avraham the butcher that for the past half year he purchases his meat from him exclusively I was overjoyed at seeing him, and so I said the blessing Shehechiyanu.”

The three of us continued walking silently for a short while, until Z. R. broke the silence saying that many of the chassidim were planning to travel to Lubavitch for the wedding celebration. Finally, we returned to my home, where my wife had prepared supper. Father wanted to return to the city, but the chassid Z. R. begged him to eat something with us. He too joined us for supper; we ate with much enjoyment, and from then on, peace was restored between my father and myself.

On June 20, your grandfather arrived in Petersburg and remained there for two weeks. He worked diligently and accomplished much for the public benefit. On August 6 the central committee of the Young Progressives met to discuss the poor economic status of the Jews in the southern towns. It was decided that a special emissary should be sent to your grandfather to inform him of the present situation and to request his aid; this mission was assigned to me.

I arrived in Lubavitch early in the morning of August 8. Knowing that your grandfather was in the habit of rising very early, I immediately went to the Rebbe’s courtyard and handed the gabbai a note addressed to him. Within half an hour I was summoned to the Rebbe’s chamber. I gave him a full report, and he questioned me closely about every minute detail.

After about two hours he interrupted the meeting, saying that because of his poor health he had to take a ride in the country twice a day: at nine thirty in the morning, and at six thirty in the evening. Therefore, he was forced to interrupt our meeting, but we would meet again before eleven o’clock.

When I emerged from your grandfather’s room, I caught sight of his coach, to which two grand horses were harnessed. On the driver’s platform sat the coachman dressed in his uniform, with a red sash at his waist and a feathered cap on his head, like the coachmen of the nobility.

At ten thirty I reappeared at the Rebbe’s court, but he had not yet returned from his ride. I went to the beis hamedrash to wait for him, and hundreds of eyes gazed at me while my ears caught fragments of conversation concerning me. People were making all sorts of guesses about the purpose of my visit, but no one was bold enough to approach and speak to me, other that a few who wished me Shalom Aleichem!

Meanwhile, the door opened and a newcomer entered the beis hamedrash. Everyone present immediately became very excited, and all hurried over to the guest with exclamations of Shalom Aleichem! while many of them exchanged kisses with him. An atmosphere of friendship and love prevailed.

I was very intrigued by the expressions of love and joy on everyone’s face at seeing this man, and so I turned to one of the men and inquired who he was. I was informed that he was none other than the shadar, Reb Gershon Dov. “Don’t you recognize the shadar Reb Gershon Dov?” he asked innocently.

I must confess that at the time I had no idea what shadar meant, and I was about to inquire, when the gabbai Reb Leivik approached. I remembered Reb Leivik well from my first visit to Lubavitch with my father, but he apparently didn’t recognize me. “The Rebbe has sent for you,” he said, and with undisguised annoyance he added, “There are about five hundred guests waiting for audiences, including some who have been here since before Shabbos. Therefore, kindly do not take up too much of the Rebbe’s time.”

Your grandfather’s face appeared pale as he greeted me. “I have just come from the Ohel,” he said. “My father the holy Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek says that the situation is not so severe, but that we must nevertheless do something.”2

He spent over an hour with me, outlining a program of communal work for me to carry out, with whom I was to meet, and what I was to discuss with each. He requested that I take brief notes; when he saw that I was writing in Russian, he said, “That’s not such a good idea! Nowadays, young folk need to be more careful, for there are many eyes following every step they take.”

When he finished speaking, he wrote two letters in Russian: one addressed to Professor B., and the other to Lord Z. He asked me to check the grammar so that the recipients would not misunderstand the contents, and then he gave me the letters.

He was silent for a few moments, after which he turned to me and said, “When Moshe went up on High to receive the second set of Tablets, the Holy One said to him3 ‘Engrave for yourself ….’ Rashi interprets it to mean that ‘The residue will belong to you.’4 As you know, the residue left over from cutting precious stones in also quite precious, and one can become very wealthy from it. By this means, the Holy One taught us a lesson in life: if a person is occupied with doing good deeds, he must be rewarded for it. Now you are occupied with public service, and you too deserve a reward.”

He then began to explain to me what this means in spiritual terms. “When I said to you that I had just come from the Ohel, and that my father says that the situation is not so severe, I noticed that you laughed to yourself. Now this was not because you don’t believe in spiritual matters; it is because you are so immersed in the material world that you have lost all awareness of spiritual matters.”

Your grandfather continued speaking to me for a long time, and he told me many stories. In conclusion, he said, “bear in mind always that reward exceeds punishment. Concerning Yishmael who was an uncivilized person the Midrash Rabbah5 (quoted by Rashi on Chumash6) says, ‘If you throw a branch into the air, it will return to its place of origin.’ How much more so must this be said about a chassid who is a descendant of chassidim! He must surely return to his origins.

“How long can a person stray! Fifty, or perhaps fifty-five years. Hot blood and lust also have a limit. Remember who you are, and don’t forget from where you have grown. May G‑d watch over you and grant you good fortune. Tell your father that I wish to see him soon.”

When I left his presence, there remained an hour and a half until the train to Vitebsk and Petersburg was to depart from Rudnia Station. In the meantime, I would have to travel by coach from Lubavitch to Rudnia Station. I arrived at Rudnia Station ten minutes early, my limbs aching from the ride in the coach.7

The ticket agent refused to sell me a ticket for the full trip to Petersburg. He claimed that there was not enough time for him to calculate the mileage from there to Petersburg and the proper fare for it, and to write the ticket. He was not accustomed to figuring such large sums, and would sell me a ticket only as far as Vitebsk. No doubt the ticket agent in Vitebsk was used to calculating larger sums, and would sell me a ticket all the way to Petersburg.

“From here in Rudnia,” said the agent, “No one travels as far a Petersburg except the Lubavitcher Rebbe. And in such cases, they notify me several days in advance, and I prepare the ticket. When he arrives, I merely fill in the date, and stamp it.”

When I arrived in Denenburg, I got off the train and entered the station house to get a cup of tea. There, I discovered that the police were inspecting travelers’ papers, and even searching the baggage and the pockets of some of them. Stacks of papers lay piled on a table, and several officers sat there reading through them.

I remembered your grandfather’s words about taking necessary precautions, and I began to think of ways to avoid the inspection or at least to find an inconspicuous corner where I could tear up your grandfather’s two letters, and my notes on the communal activities he had assigned to me. But a moment later I made up my mind that I would behave like a veteran chassid; I remained confidant that they would certainly not search me. I summoned the waiter and asked him to bring me a glass of cognac to put in my tea.

There remained two hours until the train departed for Petersburg. During that whole time they continued searching the belongings and the papers of the travelers, including those who were seated at the tables. The only ones they skipped were several high officials who were in uniform. Although the policemen passed to and fro before me innumerable times, they never approached me. I was convinced that this must be a miracle.

When I took my seat in the train, I found out that several people had been arrested; some had been sent to the Denenburg prison, while others had merely been detained pending further investigation. No one knew the reason for all this, and I did not discover it until I arrived in Petersburg, where my friends were already worried that I too had been arrested.

At a secret meeting, I reported to my colleagues all that your grandfather had suggested, and his agenda for improving the economic situation of our fellow Jews. When I told them about the two letters, and all that had transpired in Denenburg, they were quite amazed.

The day after my arrival, I visited Father and told him (in total secrecy, of course) that I had visited your grandfather. I did not tell him what had been said to me about my personal affairs, but I told him that the Rebbe wished to see him as soon as possible. “Two weeks still remain until Rosh HaShanah,” said Father. “I had planned to travel to Lubavitch on Sunday of Selichos, but I will now make the trip a few days earlier, and arrive in Lubavitch before Shabbos Selichos. ”

The two letters to Prof. B. and to Lord Z. opened the doors of high government officials for me. Within three weeks we had completed all our work with total and unexpected success. Everything worked out exactly as your grandfather had predicted.

When I saw my father after Rosh HaShanah, he informed me that he had traveled to Lubavitch right after Shabbos, but the Rebbe had been sick when he arrived. He had spoken with him briefly several times, but his illness grew worse from day to day. Father planned to return the day after Yom Kippur to visit him again.

The painful news about your grandfather’s passing reached Petersburg on Tuesday, September 4,8 at noon, and it caused quite a storm among all segments of Jewry. Even the misnagdim and the nonobservant Jews bemoaned the loss of this great man. We members of the Young Progressives held a meeting where we too lamented the passing of the great prince of the Jews.

I remained under the impact of your grandfather’s spiritual influence for another year. The central committee of the Progressive Party was disbanded, and a Revolutionary Party was founded in its place. I was not as heavily involved in this party as I had been in the Progressive Party. But my sentiments lay with them, and I made financial contributions according to my means, and lent a minimal amount of personal assistance. Little by little I once again abandoned the religious way of life, until I was completely assimilated and behaved exactly like a gentile.

December 27 is my birthday; I always celebrate the day together with my friends and acquaintances, and I host a grand party in one of the fancy restaurants in Petersburg. But during the past five years since my wife passed away my circle of friends, and my wealth, have grown. I therefore decided to begin holding these parties in one of the resort places abroad, and to invite all my friends to travel together and have a good time.

This year I decided to travel to Monte Carlo, then to Nice for a few days, and then to Paris. My friends agreed, and we visited these places. Afterwards my friends returned home, and I remained in Paris for a few days.

The night before last, I left Paris on this train to return home to Petersburg. Yesterday, as I sat in the dining car, I raised my eyes and saw your face; I was immediately reminded of the face of your grandfather, just as he appeared when I last saw him. I recalled his words, “If you throw a branch into the air, it will return to its place of origin.”

This very year, I have reached the age of fifty-five. All evening and all night your grandfather’s words echoed in my ears: “For how long can a person stray! Fifty, or perhaps fifty-five years. Hot blood and lust also have a limit. Remember who you are, and don’t forget from where you have grown.” I was unable to sleep a wink. Today I have fasted not a morsel of food entered my mouth. I regret the lifestyle I have led until today.