The Chabad Lubavitch army lost one of its generals.

Rabbi Aryeh Leib Kaplan, chief Chabad Lubavitch emissary to Safed in Northern Israel, 50, was killed last month by a truck in Russia on his way to Minsk, Belarus, to attend the groundbreaking of a new Lubavitch center there.

Kaplan was born to his Russian emigre parents in Paris on October 3, 1947.

As a small child in Manchester, England, Leibel Kaplan stood out. Blessed with a prodigious mind, Kaplan excelled in his studies and conduct, and received special attention from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.

As a young yeshiva student in New York, Kaplan quickly became one of the oral scribes who would memorize and transcribe the Rebbe's lengthy analytical talks on the Sabbath and Holidays (which could go on for more than six hours). In addition to his brilliant memory, he was known for his deep grasp of Talmudic explication and Chassidic philosophy.

In 1967, Leibel Kaplan was selected by the Rebbe to lead a group of yeshiva students on a two-year learning and outreach mission to the Jewish community of Melbourne, Australia. The group proved to be the forerunner for similar groups sent to Lubavitch yeshivas throughout the world. The young Talmudic scholar developed a cadre of students who regard him as their mentor to this day.

Upon the group's return to New York, in 1969, the Rebbe showed Leibel Kaplan unusual attention, even inviting him to his Passover seder.

After his marriage in 1972 to Sara H. Liebermann, Kaplan received numerous requests from communities around the world to serve as their leader, but the Rebbe encouraged him to continue his studies. When one emissary asked the Rebbe about employing the talented young man, the Rebbe responded, "I am taking him for myself."

Finally, in 1973, Kaplan was summoned by the Rebbe's chief of staff, Rabbi Chaim Mordechai A. Hodakov. "The Rebbe wants to see you," Rabbi Hodakov said. It had been years since the Rebbe had personally selected an emissary, preferring instead that couples find their own places.

For some time Israeli officials had been asking the Rebbe to send someone to revitalize the northern city of Safed, not far from the Lebanese border.

When Rabbi Kaplan entered the Rebbe's chambers, the Rebbe told him that he would like him to go to Safed and restore the city's glory, but not before obtaining consent from his wife. Mrs. Kaplan willfully agreed.

Within a short time, Rabbi and Mrs. Kaplan, and their one year-old son, were on their way to Israel, complete with very specific instructions from the Rebbe about building a community, setting up educational centers and restoring a 19th century Lubavitch synagogue that had fallen in disrepair together with much of the city.

Shortly afterward the Yom Kippur War broke out and U.S. Ambassador Chaim Herzog came to the Rebbe to request that he send young chasidim to boost the country's morale. The Rebbe responded, "I've just sent you a young general..."

At first with no money nor support, but with boundless optimism and military precision, the Kaplans began building. They quickly revitalized full neighborhoods and set up an educational system that today includes 25 kindergartens, two elementary schools and two high schools, two yeshivas, two women's seminaries, a post-graduate rabbinical seminary, Chabad Houses and a world-renown learning retreat center.

The city of Safed was energized by Rabbi Kaplan. He was involved in every facet of city life, even serving as city councilman and vice- mayor for many years.

Rabbi Kaplan also served as chairman of the Lubavitch umbrella organization in Israel for many years, which brought him into contact with leading religious and political leaders, many of whom privately sought his advice and perspective on public policy matters.

But Kaplan combined his intense and successful activism with rare scholarly pursuit.

He authored three books (including a scholarly tome on Jewish law which he co-authored last year with his eldest son, a senior Talmudic lecturer at the Lubavitch Yeshiva in Houston), a quarterly journal, and numerous thoughtful essays on a wide range of Judaic study topics. Heeding the Rebbe's instructions, Rabbi Kaplan also held the position of dean and senior Talmudic lecturer in the post-graduate rabbinical seminary.

In the dark days of pre-glasnost Russia, Leibel Kaplan was one of the Lubavitch emissaries entrusted with clandestine missions to the former Soviet Union. Pursuant to his numerous visits there, he regularly delivered classes over the telephone to students there.

Many Lubavitch emissaries around the world used to seek Leibel's counsel as well. The emissaries in Minsk, Belarus, had secured his help of late in arranging funding for their activities.

When the Minsk institutions celebrated their groundbreaking last month (see separate story), they begged Kaplan to come as well. Despite his busy schedule, he acquiesced, bringing along on his flight to Moscow religious articles (like hand-written Tefillin and Mezuzah scrolls) that were unavailable in Minsk.

Two yeshiva students from Minsk came to meet him in the Moscow airport to drive him to Minsk. The 50 year-old Kaplan spent two hours with them in chasidic discussion - about his memories of the clandestine activities undertaken in the Soviet Union, the responsibility of a Lubavitch emissary, and so on. At 4:00 AM he read the traditional prayer of Shema Yisrael (Hear O' Israel) and went to sleep.

One hour later — and just 15 miles from the historical town of Lubavitch — a tractor trailer smashed into the car and Rabbi Kaplan was killed instantly. (The students survived and are fine now.)

Lubavitch emissaries in Russia made quick arrangements to have his body flown to Israel where thousands came to Lod Airport to pay their respects. His body was interred in the historic cemetery of Safed.

He is survived by his wife Sarah, nine children, and three grandchildren. Mrs. Kaplan and the older children have been appointed to continue the work he began.