Weekly Story: Creating a Portrait

by Rabbi Sholom D. Avtzon

In the parsha of two weeks’ ago, Rashi informs us of the importance of seeing the face or at least a picture of a tzaddik. When Yosef saw the image of his father, it gave him the strength to elevate himself to a higher level.

Indeed, we know that after Yud Shevat 5710, the Rebbe advised many to carry a picture of the Frierdiker Rebbe in their wallet. Seeing him or his picture adds vigor to the persons’ avodas Hashem.

If this is such an important aspect of a chossid’s life — and even necessary to some chassidim — why, when it comes to the Rebbe Maharash, are there no pictures of him[1] from which to become inspired?

This question can also be asked concerning the Mitteler Rebbe, of whom we don’t have a picture either.[2] The Rebbe explains in a sichah[3] that since the Mitteler Rebbe put himself into the Chassidus he taught, through learning his maamorim we can “visualize” him.

We can apply this thought to the Rebbe Maharash as well. Through connecting to his teachings, we can visualize him even without a picture.

It is said that a picture is a thousand words.  Envision the quality and beauty of the picture that is comprised by over one hundred thousand words. Yes, this comprehensive biography encompasses his entire life in many aspects: his teachings, actions and niggunim.

About the picture on the cover of the over 550 page book biography of the Rebbe Maharash , which is ready to go to print.

One of the most famous teachings of the Rebbe Maharash is his motto of lechatchilah ariber, which (as will be explained in the Overview) brings out his very essence. Therefore, the cover depicts the musical notes of his song of lechatchilah ariber as the background. Imposed on that is a copy of his handwritten manuscript of the maamar Mi Chamocha, which he said eleven times during his short nesius of seventeen years. This maamar explains his philosophy of lechatchilah ariber (as will be elaborated upon in the Overview). The cover also displays a picture of a golden pocket watch, representing his tremendous wealth, to the extent that he sometimes wore two such watches.

In honor of the auspicious days around Hei Teves, you have the ability to help it become published. Please feel free to contact me at avtzonbooks@gmail or at 6462357104 to discuss the sponsorship possibilities, which entitle you also to receive the book as soon as it comes from the printer.

Sponsorship begins with $100 for a single line with your name, and gradually goes up to $500 for a half page etc.

Thank you for your encouragement and support.

L’zechus  on the occasion of the birth of my granddaughter Aidela bas Chana l’arichus yomim v’shonim tovos.

Sholom DovBer Avtzon

Rabbi Avtzon is a veteran mechanech and author of numerous books on the Rebbeim and their Chassidim. He is available to farbreng in your community.

[1] I am aware of the picture on the Internet that is ascribed to be the Rebbe Maharash. However, that is incorrect: It is merely a black-and-white photocopy of an artist’s picture of the Frierdiker Rebbe, who looked extremely similar to the Rebbe Maharash, that portrait is hanging in the reading room of the Rebbe’s library.

When the Frierdiker Rebbe visited Eretz Yisroel in 5688 (1927), he traveled through Alexandria, Egypt. There he was met by an elderly chossid, who brought him some fruit. Upon seeing him, the chossid fainted. He later explained: “As a youngster, I saw the Rebbe Maharash, and the [Frierdiker] Rebbe looks exactly like him. That is why I fainted.”

The Rebbe notes that when one looks at a picture of the Frierdiker Rebbe, to a certain extent he can visualize the Rebbe Maharash as well.

[2] However, unlike the Mitteler Rebbe, who lived in a time when photography was not as prevalent, with the Rebbe Maharash photography was an option, and it was intentionally not done (or the pictures that were taken were not publicized).

[3] Toras Menachem 5744 vol. 1, p. 539.


  • Daniel Kaye

    I have seen TWO photos of the Rebbe Maharash, one with a bandage and one with a talis, I have heard a rumour that they were smuggled out of Barry Gurary’s house though I have not substantiated it

    • Anonymous

      It is said that the Rashag had two pictures hanging in his house of the Rebbe Maharash.
      If those are the two pictures who kows.

  • Zalmen

    Someone else who bore an incredible resemblance to the Frierdiker Rebbe was Reb Zalmen Serebryanski, or Zalmen Brahiner as he was known by his contemporaries in Lubavitch. Some pictures of the Frierdiker Rebbe without a hat look exactly like Reb Zalmen.

  • Milhouse

    How do you know that the absence of photos of the Rebbe Maharash was intentional? Photography existed, but it was a major production, people didn’t carry cameras around with them, and for a photo to have existed the Rebbe would have had to visit a studio, or else a professional would have had to be brought in. In other words, the fuss was the same as having ones portrait painted in the old days, the only thing that was quicker was the actual sitting, which could be done in half an hour instead of several hours.

    Surely the Rebbe Maharash never sat for a photo for the same reason none of the rebbeim, except the Tzemach Tzedek, sat for portraits. It was just not something one did. We only have the Alter Rebbe’s picture because a goy sketched him while he was in prison. We only have the Rebbe Nishmoso Eiden’s picture because he decided to move to Eretz Yisroel, a plan that got as far as applying for a passport. Even R Levik Schneersohn’s photo would not exist if the KGB had not had it made.

    The real question is why the Tzemach Tzedek consented to have an artist paint him, if indeed he did.

    • excher

      There exists at least one photo of the maharash.
      The tzemach tzedek was visited at his home on shabbos by a painter who captured the image in his mind and immediately went on to paint it. This is why the portrait is of him in white. The tzemach tzedek was not happy with this but took some comfort in the fact that the artist portrayed his robe as being closed left over right instead of right over left.

    • Milhouse

      Dov, if you meant that the source for R Avtzon’s contention that the lack of photos of the Rebbe Maharash was intentional is in the sicha referenced, then this is not true. There is not even a hint of such a thing, but rather a note that “some say there is an unpublished picture”.

    • Dov

      That note that some say was written by the Rebbe.
      It is a note in his sefer not in one of the booklets that are given out by individuals who may or may not know what they are talking about.

    • Milhouse

      Nu, so assume the note is by the Rebbe; what does it get you? It doesn’t confirm that there are pictures of the Rebbe Maharash, it just says that some say so. Big deal. And it certainly does not support R Avtzon’s contention that the lack of photos was intentional.

  • Dov

    The Tzemach Tzedek didn’t consent the non jewish artist studied him while he said a maamar and made three mistakes
    A. The kapota was not drawn right over left
    B. The sefer opened as a secular book does not as a Jewish book (meaning that the binding was on the wrong side).
    C. He drew that the glasses were sitting or placed on top of the sefer

    Concerning your point about passport pictures the Rebbe Maharash traveled more extensively than the other Rebbeim with perhaps the exception of the Frierdiker Rebbe so he had a passport picture.

    Also someone noted that the Rashag had two pictures hanginger in his house.
    So you want to know why he allowed the portrait to be taken so you have a question

    • Milhouse

      The Rebbe Maharash did not need a passport to travel. I have never seen any mention of his having one. But even if by some chance he did have one, it would not have contained a photo. So there was never any need for him to go to the effort of having his photo taken. By 1920, however, passports were required to travel, especially out of Russia, and they had photos.