1. He Was Named for His Two Great-Grandfathers

Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch (known by his acronym, the Rebbe Rashab) was born on 20 Marcheshvan, 5621 (1860). He was named after two of his illustrious great-grandfathers:

a) Rabbi Sholom Shachna,1 father of the third Chabad rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn of Lubavitch.

b) Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch, the second Chabad rebbe, known as the Mitteler Rebbe.

2. He Was the Fifth Rebbe of Chabad

In 5643 (1882), upon the passing of his father—Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn of Lubavitch, known as the Rebbe Maharash—Rabbi Sholom DovBer assumed the mantle of leadership. He maintained this position for over 37 years, until his passing on 2 Nissan, 5680 (1920), when he was succeeded by his only son, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, known as the Frierdiker Rebbe.

Read: Biography of Rabbi Sholom DovBer Schneersohn

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn—the Previous Rebbe, of righteous memory—in his younger years.
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn—the Previous Rebbe, of righteous memory—in his younger years.

3. He Began Guiding Followers at Age 21

When his father passed away, Rabbi Sholom DovBer was a young man of 21. For the next 11 years, he refused to officially assume the title of “Rebbe,” explaining that he felt it necessary to first spend time improving his character and delving into the teachings of Chassidism. Nevertheless, he immediately began delivering Chassidic discourses (known as maamarim) and advising his followers in spiritual matters. Finally, on Rosh Hashanah, 5654 (1893), he began acting as Rebbe in all aspects.

4. He Attained Herculean Achievements Despite Poor Health

It is difficult to find a Jewish leader who accomplished so much despite such poor health. Rabbi Sholom DovBer suffered from tuberculosis, a weak heart, and other ailments, necessitating yearly visits to health spas for months at a time in places such as Yalta (Crimea), Vienna (Austria), Marienbad (Czech Republic), Wurzburg (Germany), and many others.2 Notwithstanding his weak disposition, Rabbi Sholom DovBer proved himself a valiant warrior on behalf of Russian Jewry in a myriad of affairs, only a sampling of which appear below.

Read: A Rebbe Goes Shopping

A garden in the resort area surrounding Yalta
A garden in the resort area surrounding Yalta

5. He Founded Yeshiva Tomchei Temimim

Perhaps Rabbi Sholom DovBer’s most seminal accomplishment was the founding of the yeshiva Tomchei Temimim, in 5657 (1897). Until then, yeshivas focused on teaching Talmud and Jewish law, preparing their students for their careers as future rabbis. However, winds of change were blowing through Europe, and a large percentage of yeshiva students were swept away in the excitement of the Enlightenment, secular Zionism, and other movements. Observing this, Rabbi Sholom DovBer concluded that the only way to ensure the future of authentic Judaism was to establish a yeshiva which would focus on the spiritual character development of its students, the future leaders of world Jewry. To accomplish this goal, the study of Chassidism was included in the yeshiva’s curriculum—a revolutionary concept at the time.

Read: History of Tomchei Temimim in 11 Images

The home of the Rebbe and the yeshivah campus in the city of Lubavitch.
The home of the Rebbe and the yeshivah campus in the city of Lubavitch.

6. He Is Known as the “Maimonides of Chassidism”

Rabbi Sholom DovBer posthumously acquired an interesting moniker: “The Rambam [Maimonides] of Chassidism.” Rabbi Sholom DovBer’s chassidic discourses stand out for their clarity and presentation of complicated topics in an organized fashion, much like the systematic arrangement of Jewish law achieved by Maimonides in his magnum-opus, the Mishneh Torah.

Rabbi Sholom DovBer’s vast array of chassidic teachings have been published in dozens of volumes, and are studied in Chabad yeshivas and homes across the globe.

Study: A classic discourse from Rabbi Sholom DovBer

7. He Actively Championed for the Rights of Russian Jewry

Rabbi Sholom DovBer never ceased battling for his brethren to be considered full-fledged citizens of the czar. In 1882, the Russian government drafted the May Laws, severely curtailing where Jews could live and which jobs they could have. Utilizing whatever means and connections he had, Rabbi Sholom DovBer sought to ease these restrictions as much as possible. For example, he successfully attained the release of 300 Jews charged with illegally living beyond the Pale of Settlement.

Read: Giving Chabad New Life

8. He Worked Closely with Non-Chassidic—and Non-Religious—Leaders

To accomplish these goals, Rabbi Sholom DovBer did not hesitate to partner with leaders who shared different, or even opposing, worldviews to his own. Among the many Torah scholars with whom he joined efforts were Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik, rabbi of Brisk; Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, rabbi of Vilna; Rabbi Shmuel Weinberg, Rebbe of Slonim; Chacham Chaim Chizkiyah Medini, Sephardic rabbi of Chevron; and Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Breuer, son-in-law of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and Orthodox rabbi of Frankfurt.

Rabbi Sholom DovBer even enlisted the efforts of Baron David Gunzburg, despite the vast ideological and religious gap between them. One example was their joint efforts to provide matzah to Jewish soldiers sent to the Far East during the Russo-Japanese War.

Read: The Chinese Matzah Campaign of 1905

Chacham Chaim Chizkiyah Medini, Sephardic rabbi of Chevron, depicted while living in Crimea.
Chacham Chaim Chizkiyah Medini, Sephardic rabbi of Chevron, depicted while living in Crimea.

9. He Worked Tirelessly to Support the Jews of Israel

Rabbi Sholom DovBer took an active role in bolstering the Jewish community in Israel, both materially and spiritually. He was involved in the management of the Chabad-Israeli charity institution Colel Chabad, ensuring funds would be distributed honestly to the appropriate recipients, and arranged additional funding and housing for Jews living in Hebron. He also established a sister branch of Tomchei Temimimin Israel called Torat Emet.

At the same time, he vehemently opposed the secular Zionistic approach of substituting religious life with atheistic nationalism.

Read: Chabad and Israel

Beit Romano, a large campus purchased by Rabbi Shalom DovBer in the holy city of Hebron.
Beit Romano, a large campus purchased by Rabbi Shalom DovBer in the holy city of Hebron.

10. He Promoted Authentic Education for Jewish Children

The late 1800s saw increased interest in advancing culture and enlightenment among Russian Jewry. One of the leading activists in this area was Baron Horace Gunzburg (Baron David’s father), who worked to open schools throughout Russia where Jewish children could receive a secular education. Realizing that the teachers in these schools shared heretical outlooks with their students, and seeing the large number of youngsters being led astray as a result, Rabbi Sholom DovBer fought tooth-and-nail against these efforts. When he heard that the Paris-based JCA promised one million francs to aid the Baron in his endeavors, he began a massive campaign to portray the true plight of Russian Jewry to the donors. This led to a significant part of the donation being redirected to help build a factory in Dubrovna, which provided ample livelihood to almost 2000 Jewish workers.

Rabbi Sholom DovBer also founded Ha’ach, a weekly newsletter for children, with stories and other engaging material transmitting proper Jewish values, which circulated from 1910 to 1914.

11. He Extended Spiritual Aid to Distant Sephardic Communities

Rabbi Sholom DovBer was the first Chabad Rebbe to send emissaries to bolster distant Jewish communities. In particular, he sent followers to the remote communities in Buchara (Uzbekistan) and Georgia, where religious observance had seen a decline. Although his followers were Ashkenazic and the locals were Sephardic, their efforts met with tremendous success.

Read: The Rebbe Rashab and the Mountain Jews

Mountain Jews in the Quba district of Azerbaijan learning Torah.
Mountain Jews in the Quba district of Azerbaijan learning Torah.

12. He Fled to Rostov During World War I

As the Germans advanced into Russian territory during World War I, Rabbi Sholom DovBer was forced to make the difficult decision to leave Lubavitch, the seat of the Chabad movement for 102 years. He moved his court to the city of Rostov, where he remained until his passing in 5680 (1920).

There, he continued his communal activities, including the opening of the Ezra print house, with the goal of publishing prayer books and other basic Jewish literature for the large influx of Jewish refugees. He also assisted in the efforts to resettle Jewish communities at the war’s end.

Read: Resolution in a Time of Revolution

The Rebbe Rashab's and Rebbe Rayatz's residence in Rostov. (Photo: בתוך הגולה (אלישיב קפלון), חיש תשע"ב)
The Rebbe Rashab's and Rebbe Rayatz's residence in Rostov. (Photo: בתוך הגולה (אלישיב קפלון), חיש תשע"ב)

13. He Constantly Worked on His Service of G‑d

Rabbi Sholom DovBer did not allow the time devoted to his communal efforts to affect his personal service of G‑d. He kept a rigorous daily schedule that included many hours of prayer and Torah study, and he was extremely scrupulous in Jewish law. He often spent many consecutive hours contemplating a single Chassidic concept, and he constantly sought to improve his character and increase his devotion to G‑d. He demanded the same from his followers, and indeed, perhaps this was his greatest achievement—he succeeded in raising a generation of Chassidim who subsequently kept the flame of Judaism alive in Communist Russia and spread Judaism across the globe.

The final lines of Kuntres Eitz HaChaim (The Treatise of the Tree of Life), a booklet written for yeshivah students by Rabbi Shalom DovBer.
The final lines of Kuntres Eitz HaChaim (The Treatise of the Tree of Life), a booklet written for yeshivah students by Rabbi Shalom DovBer.