Rabi Shalom Dovber Schneerson ztz”l
“I am now ascending to Heaven and I am leaving you my writings.” With these words, Rabi Shalom Dovber Schneerson, known as the Rebbe Rashab, completed his mission in this world.
The Rebbe Rashab was born in the little town of Lubavitch on the twentieth of Marcheshvan in the year 5621 to his father Rabi Shmuel, the Rebbe Maharash, and his father was his main teacher of Torah. He also spent a considerable amount of time in the house of his grandfather. When he was four years of age, the young granddaughter of the Tzemach Tzeddek came to visit him, accompanied by her father Rabi Yosef Yitzchak of Horovitz. As soon as the Tzemach Tzeddek saw the young Shalom Dovber next to this granddaughter, he pronounced, “Chosson and Kallah” – and so it was. The two grew up and Rabi Shalom Dovber married his cousin, the Rebbetzin Shterna Sora.
After their marriage, Rabi Shalom Dovber dedicated himself to the study of chassidus, with the guidance of the Rashbatz, Rabi Shmuel Betzalel Sheftil. The untimely passing of his father came as a sharp blow to Rabi Shalom Dovber, and he shut himself up in his room for the entire year of his mourning, and even became ill as a consequence. Despite the fact that he was not the eldest son of the Maharash, the chassidim saw in the young Shalom Dovber the successor to his father, but he refused to accept this task upon himself, out of reverence for his elder brother. Although he would compose ma’amarim on Toras haChassidus in the manner of a Rebbe, he would not conduct himself as the Admor in any other respect.
On Rosh Hashanah of the year 5654, eleven years after the petirah of his father, his brother left the town of Lubavitch, and only then did he formally accept upon himself the leadership of the chassidus. In his capacity as Admor, he began to give instruction and guidance to the chassidim, both to the scholars and to the simple folk, whom he would encourage in their avodas Hashem – he even devoted a ma’amar to a discussion of the elevated status of the poshute Yid.
It was during this period that the Haskalah was spreading over Europe and causing many talmidei yeshivah to stray far from their roots. On the fifteenth of Ellul 5657 the Rebbe Rashab announced the establishment of a yeshivah for exceptionally gifted talmidim, to be called “Tomchei Temimim”. He organized a gathering for the students, known as the “Temimim”, at which he compared them to foot soldiers in battle, who must be ready to give their entire being for the service of their Creator.
With the opening of the yeshivah, the student body numbered just ten talmidim between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one. When additional classes were opened for younger talmidim in ‘cheder’, with the older talmidim in the ‘zal’ (main hall), the yeshivah grew to have thirty talmidim.
The most exceptional of the talmidim were sent to Chevron to learn in the branch of the yeshivah there, which was called “Yeshivas Toras Emes.” However, the outbreak of the First World War disrupted this, and Yeshivas Toras Emes was re-established in Yerushalayim in the year 5682.
Despite his weak physical condition, he was always active for the benefit of the community, and this involvement only increased over the years of his leadership. When the Jews of Moscow were expelled from there in the year 5652, he gave his assistance in resettling them in new locations. One of his projects was a plan to set up a weaving industry in the town of Dobrovna, where some thousand Jews could find employment, a project which was also supported by Rabi Chaim Brisker and Rabi Chaim Ozer Grodzenski of Vilna.
During the famous Beilis trial he gave much assistance to the defence counsel. The lawyer, Oskar Grizenberg, summed up his defence of the accused, according to the request of the Rebbe Rashab, with ‘Shema Yisrael’ on the lips of Beilis, who was to stand proudly as a Jew with this declaration, even if the court would find him guilty.
In the context of his communal activities, he also kept close contact with other great rabbonim of his generation. At the “Conference of Rabbonim” that the government organised in St. Petersburg in the year 5670, he was one of the most prominent leaders present, and formulated a policy together with Rabi Chaim Brisker, that they would not accept any alteration to their traditional ways in custom or education. With passion and refinement he even managed to persuade the more progressive rabbonim to support this position. During the Russo-Japanese war, he concerned himself that the Jewish soldiers should be provided with sufficient kosher food, especially matzos on Pesach. He founded the “Ezra” printing press which published sifrei kodesh, including the siddur Tehillas Hashem both in nusach Ashkenaz and nusach Ha’Ari.
|Tzemach Tzeddek [צלם]|
One of his greatest achievements in communal affairs was the establishment of the “Machzikei HaDas” organisation in Russia and Ukraine. The movement was founded according to the principles laid down by the Admor Rabi Shmuel Weinberg of Slonim, and was intended to serve as an alternative to the secular and zionist parties which were attracting the hearts and minds of the youth of the generation. This movement eventually emerged as the precursor of the world Agudas Yisrael movement, which was established several years later.
The only son of the Rebbe Rashab was born, to the great delight of his parents, after many years of marriage that had been filled with their prayers that they merit to bear children. One year prior to his birth, when the Rebbe Maharash was still alive, many women came to him to receive his blessing for children, but he declined to bless his own daughter-in-law Shterna. When she saw that the Rebbe was not about to bestow his brachah, the Rebbetzin dissolved in despondent tears to the extent that she dropped from exhaustion. As she slept, she dreamt that a man of refined appearance stood before her, and asked her why she was crying. She told him of her desperate desire to bear a son, and he promised her that yet that year she would bear a son, on the condition that she would distribute eighteen rubles (the number being the gematria of ‘life’) to tzedakah from her own money. Two others then joined this man, and after hearing the conditions, they agreed with him, blessed her, and departed. When the Rebbe Maharash heard of the dream, he said that the man had been his father, the Tzemach Tzeddek, and that the other two men who had accompanied him had been the Rebbe Dovber and the Alter Rebbe. The Rebbetzin fulfilled the stipulated condition, and her son Rabi Yosef Yitzchak was born nine months later.
The ma’amarim on matters of chassidus from the Rebbe Rashab elucidate and elaborate on concepts brought in sifrei chassidus. When one ma’amar was insufficient to explain a particularly complex topic, he wrote an entire series of ma’amarim, known as the ‘Hemshech’ (series). Two ‘Hemshechim’ which are especially known for their length are called the ‘Hemshech of the Yom Tov of Rosh Hashanah’ and the ‘Hemshech of the topic already under discussion’ in which he explains the fundamentals of Toras haChassidus. The Rebbe Rashab would write down his ma’amarim before delivering them orally – but no sefer of his works was published during his lifetime, excepting the pamphlets which he published himself. His son Rabi Yosef Yitzchak began this work, but the majority of his works were published during the lifetime of Rabi Menachem Mendel, the seventh Rebbe of Chabad.
Many of his ma’amarim were lost and never reached printed – all together, it is known that he authored at least 1173 ma’amarim, including; a series of twenty-nine volumes called ‘Sefer Ha’Ma’amarim; Igros Kodesh – a series of five volumes of his letters; a compilation of his talks known as ‘Toras Shalom’; ‘Kuntres haTefillah’ on the subject of tefillah according to the Chabad shita; ‘Kuntres Eitz haChaim’ which he authored in his early years when he first established the Tomchei Temimim yeshivah, on the necessity of the study of chassidus and including guidance for talmidei yeshivah; and others.
When the Germans neared the town of Lubavitch towards the end of the First World War, he left for the town of Rostov on the Don, and considered making his way to Eretz Yisrael. To this end, he even prepared all the necessary documents, including a visa, which contained within it his photograph, the only one that exists of him – since ordinarily he refused to be photographed. But this plan did not come to fruition.
On the second of Nissan in the year 5680 his illness grew worse. A beis din of three was convened to add the name Chaim to his name, and each one of the dayanim even donated a half year from their own lives to him. His wife the Rebbetzin wished to give a tenth of her own life. But none of these efforts helped, even though they were accompanied by many tefillos and copious tears from his many chassidim. “I am now ascending to Heaven and I am leaving you my writings,” said the Rebbe Rashab, a short while before he was niftar. He was interred in the old cemetery in Rostov, and when it was destroyed, he was transferred to the new cemetery.
In his tzava’ah he requested of his only son that he continue to lead the chassidim, and already on the day of his passing his son was crowned as the new Rebbe, and the leadership of the Chabad chassidus passed to him.