A new exhibit in the central Chabad-Lubavitch library in New York is displaying priceless manuscripts and handwritten notations by the successive Lubavitcher Rebbes. Some of the artifacts also provides a rare public glimpse into some hitherto unknown aspects of the life of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory.

Inside the Library of Agudas Chassidei Chabad-Lubavitch, adjacent to Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn, NY, Rabbi Efrayim Keller, an archivist at the library, leads tours through the newest exhibit. It consists of seven display cases gracing the walls and five additional glass-encased tables scattered throughout the room. There is a minimal recommended fee for visitors to the library.

Part of a rotating series of exhibits, the current display is the first time original manuscripts written in the Rebbes' own handwriting have been shown to the public. Previous exhibits have featured first prints of the Talmud and pages of the first known Jewish book to be printed, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki's commentary on the Scriptures.

"The Mitteler Rebbe," says Keller, referring to Rabbi DovBer, the second leader of Chabad, "was known for his quickness of writing and his tiny handwriting."

He points to a page of a manuscript behind thick protective glass. "If you look at the document, you can see the small letters. A hand-writing expert estimated that the text contained on one page would fill three pages of average handwriting."

This particular book, says Keller, was housed in the Polish government's archives until 1978. It was left in Poland by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Chabad Rebbe, when he fled Nazi-occupied Warsaw in 1940. After World War II, Polish authorities collected many of the manuscripts left behind by Jews fleeing the Nazi onslaught. When the book was properly identified, it eventually made its way to New York in a story of extraordinary international intrigue, along with cases full of volumes belonging to Lubavitch.

Keller then gestures to the bottom left corner of the page, which contains the beginnings of lines of script that apparently disappear into the surrounding space.

"The Mitteler Rebbe's mind worked so fast and he wrote so quickly, that he continued to write on the table," relates Keller. "Many of the pages are missing words."

Stories Behind the Books

The Agudas Chassidei Chabad library is one of the largest private Jewish libraries in the world, possessing more than 250,000 individual volumes and tens of thousands of pages of manuscripts.

The institution's chief librarian and archivist, Rabbi Shalom Ber Levine, who has authored and edited more than thirty books and compilations, seems to possess an encyclopedic knowledge of every document and book in the library's collection. He points out details that an average visitor might miss. Like a calendar, written primarily in Hebrew but bearing headings in French, belonging to the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, who came to America after leaving France in 1941.

"In November 1940, the Rebbe was fleeing the Nazis," explains Levine. He points to a certain set of calendar entries. "If you take a close look at these entries," he says, "you can see where the Rebbe marked for himself the fasts of the Monday, Thursday and Monday – known as baha''b – after the holiday of Sukkot that year."

The series of voluntary fasts following some major Jewish holidays are not widely observed nowadays. The calendar, though, confirms what had always been conveyed by word of mouth, that the Rebbe did keep these fasts, even in the midst of war.

With the Rebbe's arrival to the United States, his father-in-law, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, appointed him to direct the Chabad-Lubavitch publishing house. In this role, the future Rebbe edited and compiled many books, despite the fact that at the time most of the Chabad library lay scattered throughout war-torn Europe.

In the quest to publish little-known Chabad texts, the Rebbe would go out of his way to track down a document or manuscript. Levine holds a copy of a book on Jewish law written by Rabbi Yehudah Leib, the brother of the first Chabad Rebbe. In the 1940s, explains Levine, the Rebbe had in his possession a printed volume, while the original manuscript sat in the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in Manhattan's Lower East Side.

"The Rebbe sat there and filled-in the paragraphs and sentences missing in the text he had, and then printed the corrected text."

Markings on other books on display show the Rebbe's painstaking attention to detail when preparing new volumes for publication.

Further on in the exhibit, a collection of three volumes illustrates the tremendous dedication of the Rebbe's parents. The books' margins are filled with glosses on an array of Torah topics, in different colors of ink.

"This is the Rebbe's father's handwriting," says Levine, referring to the esteemed Kabbalist Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, who died in 1944 in Kazakhstan. "It was written while he was exiled by the Soviets to the remote province of Chile, with ink that his wife, Rebbetzin Chana, home-manufactured from grasses and roots that she painstakingly gathered in the fields."