The Rebbe Rashab – An Appreciation

by Dovid Caytak

We are celebrating this year, a momentous occasion, 160 years since the Rebbe Rashab was born. Below is an appreciation of some of the major contributions that the Rebbe Rashab gave us.

When one visits Lubavitch nowadays one is astounded at how small the village and indeed the Chatzer out of which Chabad Chassidus was based for 102 years is. This was the spiritual center for hundreds of thousands of Jews from across Eastern Europe and was where hundreds of Bochurim learned.

When one drives off of the main highway and turns into Rudnia, it itself a small town, the road becomes a country lane called Derech Lubavitch. The houses become far and few in between. They are old and made out of wood. One feels almost as if you are transported back 100 years in time.

After a fifteen-minute drive, you reach the Chatzer (courtyard) where the Rebbeim lived and the Shul and Yeshiva was located. After driving a few minutes more, you reach the Cemetary where the Tzemach Tzedek and the Rebbe Maharash are buried. Unfortunately over the years, the cemetery was destroyed, but Baruch Hashem we have found the original Matzeivos of the Rebbeim and have built an Ohel with an adjoining shul there.

This village was where the Rebbe Rashab lived most of his life. It was only in Cheshvan of 5676 (1915) That the Rebbe was forced to move to Rostov because of the approaching German army.

His Birth:

Almost a year before he was born, on the 10th of Kislev 5620, his mother, Rebbetzin Rivka, dreamt a dream. In it, she saw her mother and the Mitteler Rebbe. Her mother told her joyously, Rivka, you should write a sefer torah. The Mitteler Rebbe said, you will be blessed with a son and don’t forget my name.

After nine days, on the 19th of Kislev, the dream repeated itself, but this time there was also an older man who appeared.  After waking up, she told her father in law the Tzemach Tzedek her dream and said that she wants to write a Sefer Torah from kosher skins. He said to do it quietly in her room with only his sons present.

After almost a year, a great light was brought into the world. on the 20th of Cheshvan, Shalom Dovber was born. He was named after the Mitteler Rebbe and the first name of the Tzemach Tzedeks father, Reb Shalom Shachna. The bris had to be pushed off and took place on the 26th of Kislev.

Shalom Dovber, was the third of four sons. His older brother was Shneur Zalman Aharon and the younger, Menachem Mendel. He also had a brother, Avrohom Sender who tragically passed away at the young age of 8. He had two sisters, Devora Leah and Chaya Mushka.

He was 5 when his grandfather the Tzemach Tzedek passed away and received a tremendous amount from him.

There are many wondrous stories about that time period. When he was a child of four or five, he went into the Tzemach Tzedek on his birthday and started crying. When the Tzemach Tzedek asked him why, he said that he learned in the Parsha that Avraham Avinu merited to have a revelation of Hashem so why can’t I? The Tzemach Tzedek answered, when a Yid who is 99 years old, decides to give himself a bris, it is fitting that Hashem should reveal himself to him.

When the Rebbe Rashab was a small boy, the Tzemach Tzedek told Reb Hillel Paritcher, he will be a Rebbe, he is exactly like my father in law the Mitteler Rebbe. The night before he turned three, the Tzemach Tzedek slept with him in the same room. In the morning of the Upshernish, the Tzemach Tzedek had the Meshares wash his hands and then recited the morning Brachos with him and answered amen to his brachos. He then called in his parents and said, “the jug of spiritual oil that the Baal Shem Tov gave to the Maggid of Mezeritzch to anoint the Alter Rebbe for the Nesius of all the subsequent generations. With this power from this jug, my father in law was anointed Rebbe, and I with this power anointed you my son, (the Rebbe Maharash) and am now anointing my grandson the Rebbe Rashab.”

The Wedding:

On Yud Alef Elul 5635 (1874), the Rebbe at the age of fourteen got married.

He married his first cousin, Shterna Sara the daughter of Yosef Yitzchok of Avrutch. The wedding took place in the city of Avrutch. Unfortunately due to poor health, his father the Rebbe Maharash was unable to attend. The Tenaim (engagement) took place much earlier when he was four. The shadchan was the Tzemach Tzedek.

When Yosef Yitzchok asked, how can I be sure that when he gets older, he will still be fit for her? The Tzemach Tzedek replied, this small child will become greater than you!

The Rebbe Rayatz:

On Yud beis Tammuz 5640 (1880) the Rebbe Rayayz was born.

It was already five years after their wedding and they still had not been blessed with children. When the Rebbe Maharash blessed all of the women in the family, he somehow overlooked Shterna Sara. Even though they immediately rectified the mistake and she got the Brocha, she was very upset and burst into tears.

While crying, she fell asleep. In her dream she saw a holy man who came over to her and asked her why she was crying. When she said because she didn’t have children, he blessed her with a child, on condition that she give 18 rubles to tzedaka from her own money. He then returned with two other men, repeated the condition, and then blessed her. When she woke up and she told the Rebbe Maharash her dream, he said, the man who blessed you was my father the Tzemach Tzedek. The other two men were the Alter Rebbe and the Mitteler Rebbe.

That year on Yud Beis Tammuz she gave birth to their only child, Yosef Yitzchok.

The passing of his father:

On the 13th of Tishrei 5643, at the young age of 48, his father the Rebbe Maharash passed away. He was only 22 at the time.

Although many of the chassidim pressured him to become the Rebbe, he refused. He did say Chassidus. For 11 years there was no official Rebbe in Lubavitch. It was only when his older brother, Zalman Aharon moved to Vitebsk, that he officially accepted the Nesius upon himself.

The Nesius:

In the year 5650, (1890) the Rebbe Rashab started to accept people into Yechidus and in the year 5654 he started sitting in his father’s place.

He was very active in working for the betterment of the Yidden in those times. We have many records of meetings that he and his son the Rayayz attended together with many of the great Rabbonim of those times. Among them were the Chofetz Chayim, Reb Chayim Brisker and Reb Chaim Ozer. They all accorded the Rebbe Rashab great respect. At that time there was great unity between the Litvishe Rabbonim and the Chassidim, especially between Reb Chaim Brisker and the Rebbe Rashab.

The Rebbe Rashab sent shluchim to strengthen the Jewish communities of Gruzia and Samarkand. This was in addition to the many Rabbonim, Shochtim and melamdim that were sent to cities all over Eastern Europe.

The establishment of Tomchei Temimim:

Until that time, there wasn’t a yeshiva that taught the bochurim Chassidus.

In the times of the Tzemach Tzedek, there was a large Yeshiva run by his sons. However, in general, the serious study of Chassidus was only undertaken after ones marriage. The Rebbe Rashab decided that it was necessary to establish a Lubavitch Yeshiva dedicated to the study of Nigla and Chassidus.

On the fifteenth of Elul, in the Year 5697, the Rebbe Rashab changed the Jewish World forever and established Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim. Now, over a hundred years later, there are branches of the original yeshiva all over the world. The alumni of these Yeshivos number in the tens of thousands and they have changed the Jewish world for the better, setting up thousands of Chabad Houses and reaching millions of jews.

The first two Mashpiim of the Yeshiva were, Reb Shmuel Betzalel the tutor of the Rebbe Rashab himself and the Frierdiker Rebbe and  Reb Shmuel Gronem Esterman.

Eventually, there would be hundreds of Bochurim with many teachers.

In 5672 a branch was set up in Eretz Yisroel under the leadership of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Havlin. It was called Toras Emes and started in Chevron. After the massacre of 1929, it moved to Yerushalaim where it remains until the present day.

His Chassidus:

The Rebbe Rashab had a unique way of saying Chassidus. He is known as the Rambam of Chassidus. He arranged the maamorim into topics, where one can learn concepts in an orderly fashion.  He gave over long Hemshechim where many maamorim are said in a series.

The two most famous Hemshechim are Samech Vov and Ayin Beis, named after the years that they were given in. Samech Vov was said from the year 5661 until 5668 and encompasses 61 maamorim.  Ayin Beis was said and written from 5672 until 5678 and encompasses 144 discourses and then a third volume. It is nearly 1500 pages long!

Moving to Rostov:

In the year 1915 during the first world war, the Rebbe Rashab moved to Rostov.

At the time the German army was approaching and the Rebbe Rashab decided to leave Lubavitch so as not to be under their jurisdiction. At the time there was a group of bochurim from Rostov who were learning in the Yeshiva. When the community in Rostov heard this, they immediately sent an invitation for him to come to Rostov.

At first the Rebbe Rashab went to Urial, but after three weeks, when he saw that it was inappropriate for their needs, he came to Rostov. He was there for over four years until his untimely passing.

During the month of Adar in the year 5680, the Rebbe Rashab fell Ill, and on Motzoei Shabbos towards the morning, about twenty minutes after five o’clock, he returned his pure soul to Shamaim. He was only 59 years old.

The Rebbe Rayatz immediately accepted the Nesius to be the next Rebbe.

Before his passing, he told his son, “I am going to heaven and the writings I am leaving to you.”

We have over 1000 maamorim printed in tens of volumes. Until today, the majority of the Chassidus that is learned in Tomchei Temimim, are the Rebbe Rashabs maamorim.

Although he is no longer with us physically, he has left us with a rich legacy of Chassidus and Yeshivos.

His memory should be a blessing.