Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak emerged from the Soviet Union as an internationally recognized symbol of Jewish resilience in the face of communist oppression.1 Though exhausted and ailing from his ordeals, he worked more urgently than ever to galvanize moral and material support for the continuing struggle for Judaism in an increasingly oppressive Stalinist Russia. In the first weeks following R. Yosef Yitzchak’s arrival in Riga, Rabbi Menachem Mendel (“the Rebbe”) aided him in a secretarial capacity, penning letters on his behalf, keeping track of correspondence and attending relevant meetings.2

By this time, R. Yosef Yitzchak routinely referred to R. Menachem Mendel as “my designated son-in-law.” For Chabad-Lubavitch, his marriage to Chaya Mushka would be a step towards a new future, extending beyond the Russian context and into the wider community of Eastern European Jewry. But extant correspondence reveals two concerns that led their marriage to be postponed for another year. “A month earlier or a month later, the wedding must take place. But with what?”R. Menachem Mendel’s parents, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and Chana Schneersohn were still trapped in Russia, and it was yet hoped that permission could be obtained for them to leave. There was also a dire lack of funds. “A month earlier or a month later,” one of R. Yosef Yitzchak’s confidantes wrote, “the wedding must take place. But with what?”3

Over the course of the next year R. Menachem Mendel made several trips to Berlin, some of them extending over a period of months. During his first stay in the city he enrolled in the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary and gained ordination (smichah) from its head, Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg.4 While in Berlin R. Menachem Mendel represented his future father-in-law on various communal matters,5 continued his correspondence with the Rogatchover Gaon,6 and penned letters to his future mother-in-law describing some of his encounters and impressions of the city.7 On the last trip to Berlin before his wedding, R. Menachem Mendel was officially registered as a student at the city’s prestigious Frederick William (Humboldt) University.8

On Sunday, October 28, 1928, R. Yosef Yitzchak wrote from Riga to his uncle and aunt, Rabbi Moshe and Chaya Mushka Horenshtein in Warsaw, informing them that he had decided to hold the wedding ceremony in their city, “in the building and courtyard of the Yeshiva Tomchei Temimim Lubavitch.” This venue, he explained, would be a cause of special gratification, recalling the atmosphere of the original Yeshiva, which had been the center of his father’s court in Lubavitch. The groom’s parents, he wrote, had not been able to obtain papers allowing them to attend, and he asked the Horenshteins to “escort” the groom to the wedding canopy in their stead.9 R. Menachem Mendel’s parents held a parallel celebration in far off Yekaterinoslav.10

“Before me stands Mendel son of Leivik... he is complete in his self, spirit and soul... I clearly see a young man of precious worth..."

Held on the 14th of Kislev, November 27, 1928, the wedding was a truly memorable event. Many of Poland’s great rabbinic luminaries were in attendance, and thousands of chassidim traveled from far and near to participate. In honor of the occasion, R. Yosef Yitzchak wore his father’s fur shtreimel for the very first time.11

R. Eliyahu Chaim Althoiz accompanied R. Menachem Mendel from the Warsaw train station to his hotel and remained at the young man’s side throughout the two intervening days as he prepared to marry. Althoiz subsequently penned a long letter to his family members and co-chassidim who yet remained in Russia, richly recording his impressions of this historic event. Most poignant and discerning are his impressions of the groom himself, the young man who had just registered at the University in Berlin:

“Before me stands Mendel son of Leivik... he is complete in his self, spirit and soul... In the truest truth, I clearly see a young man of precious worth; a great scholar, girt with a silk sash, fasting, studying Reishit Chochmah throughout the day, immersing and praying with true intention for the sake of heaven. By his nature you surely know that his great stubbornness distances him from doing anything for external show… Though he also knows that which is external to him in the mundane realm, with acumen he certainly knows to differentiate between the sacred and the secular; in him the sacred is not profaned even the slightest hairsbreadth… In these thoughts I ascended higher than him generation after generation... and I did not find better than he.”12

A wedding is a cosmic occasion... to be approached with seriousness as much as it is to be celebrated with joy.

In Chabad a wedding is a cosmic occasion, a mystical union of souls, and it is to be approached with seriousness as much as it is to be celebrated with joy. In a discourse delivered before the ceremony, R. Yosef Yitzchak described the relationship between the bride and groom as a process in which each is completed by the other. It is only through the intimate integration of another into your personal life that the full spectrum of selfhood can be realized.13 While a man’s role in marriage is traditionally seen to be that of provider, R. Menachem Mendel would later emphasize that ultimate blessing is uniquely the purview of a woman; it is the husband’s privilege to facilitate the achievements of his wife.14