Weekly Story: The Frierdiker Rebbe

by Rabbi Sholom DovBer Avtzon

As many of you have commented to me, it is apparent that I am focusing on the biography of the Frierdiker Rebbe, and I am pleased to note that vol. 1 of his biography has already almost 300 unedited pages, and volume 2 has around 250 pages.

This week I am posting a few anecdotes of his life, that bring out one aspect of his greatness – in limud HaTorah.

The Frierdiker Rebbe became engaged when he was sixteen, at that time during one of the farbrengens during the week of his Tenaim in 5656 (1896), which as noted took place shortly before his seventeenth birthday, his father, the Rebbe, said to the mechutan, “My son, the chosson, wrote an explanation on Shaar HaYichud of the Mitteler Rebbe.
The Rebbe Rashab then turned to Reb Shraga Feivish (Feivel) Zalmanov and instructed him to say the entire story. Originally he demurred, but when the Rebbe repeated his request he said: The Rebbe instructed his son to learn various seforim of the Mitteler Rebbe, and did not include Shaar Hayichud in that request. However, HaRav Yosef Yitzchok began to learn it on his own.

He then became ill/sick and one of the things the doctors prescribed was additional rest. His mother, the Rebbetzin instructed him to go to bed earlier and to get up later. Obeying her he retired to his room at the prescribed time, and get up at the prescribed time. The Rebbetzin was thrilled that her son was following the guidelines given to him.

What she didn’t know was that he asked me, since I was his charvrusa (study partner), that I should enter his room at midnight (through the window) and we learned each night. One of the seforim we learned was Shaar Hayichud and he began writing an explanation on it. Every night, he would hide those papers.

One night he forgot to remove them from his writing desk, and his father the Rebbe found them in the morning. He took them to his room and some time later when he returned them he/the Rebbe said, “You can continue writing, as I enjoyed the thoughts you wrote.”

A few months later, in the winter of 5657 (1897) the RaYatz became extremely ill, he could not even sit up.

Accompanied by his parents he went to meet doctors in Moscow, and underwent an operation. He related that the pain was so excruciating, that all of his hair fell out.

In order to lift his spirits, his father would say for him Chassidus, and although he was bed-ridden, he wrote transcripts of what his father said. Boruch Hashem, the operation was a success and after a period of time he was able to sit up and walk without any difficulty.

However, the Rebbe Rashab didn’t go there just to be with his son, he also was acutely ill and was examined by the prestigious specialists there, and they somberly informed him, that there is nothing they can do for him, and they added, he has only a few months to live.

Hearing that, the Rebbe decided that he would move to Eretz Yisroel. When he returned to their temporary dwelling, he informed the Rebbetzin of what the doctor’s prognosis and what they said and his decision.

Rebbetzin Shterna Sarah asked/inquired, “And what will be with the chassidim?” she inquired.

We will leave our son here and he will lead them, he replied. And that was when the Rayatz was not even seventeen years old, and his father said he can be Rebbe!

Some time later when the Rebbe Rashab wasn’t in Lubavitch, his son Harav Yosef Yitzchok often led the farbrengen, as he was the menahel poel of the Yeshiva. However, it wasn’t just like another mashpia farbrengening with chassidim, it was the Rebbe’s only child, and therefore there were times that he was asked to say a maamar.

However, the interesting point is that there were times that he did not only repeat a maamar of his father (or another one of the Rebbeim), but that he said his own Chassidus. We see this from the following story that was related by Reb Chatsha Feigin hy”d.

Once during the mid 5680’s (1920’s) Reb Chatsha noticed that the Rebbe Rayatz was extremely exhausted. Being that he was the Rebbe’s secretary and felt that it was his responsibility to protect the Rebbe’s health, he wondered to himself, what caused the Rebbe to be on the verge of exhaustion.

Sensing my thoughts, the Rebbe said, it is from the fact that he said two maamorim.

The Rebbe then explained himself.

Once during my father’s lifetime, I was in Leningrad on behalf of communal affairs. The chassidim requested that I say Chassidus, and I refused. However, they persisted and wouldn’t let go, so I replied in an hour. And for the next hour, I was walking in the room mentally reviewing a concept.

A teacher in Lubavitch happened to be in Leningrad, and he memorized the maamar. When he returned to Lubavitch,  the Rebbe Rashab asked him if he saw his son? After replying, yes, he informed the Rebbe that he also said a maamar Chassidus.

The Rebbe Rashab asked, Do you know what he said?

Yes, he replied, and then fulfilling The Rebbe’s request, he began repeating it in its entirety.

The Rebbe Rayatz returned to Lubavitch a few days later and that Friday night, as customary, the Rebbe Rashab said a maamar Chassidus before kabbalas Shabbos.

When the Rebbe Rashab would conclude the maamar, his son would go to the room and when his father inquired if he understood the concepts, he would normally reply no, and his father would elaborate on some of the concepts explaining them/it in greater detail However, this time, he nodded his head in the affirmative.

The Rebbe Rashab asked, Why is today different than always?

[Father] discussed points that I am familiar with.

Motzei Shabbos, he would go to his father a second time. At that his father explained: The Maamar explains four levels in Taanug. The first two levels are discussed in many maamorim openly. The third level is mentioned in a comment that the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek noted in Likkutei Torah from there it seems that there is fourth level as well. I toiled to find a source

Ultimately, I found a manuscript of the Alter Rebbe’s that spells it. So I said it after I toikled and found it, but how did you know it?

The Rayatz replied, When you think about the concept, it is self-understood. In other words he figured it out himself.
Then his father inquired if he said Chassidus in Leningrad and he replied yes, noting that he prepared himself for an hour.

Is that how one says Chassidus, the Rebbe Rashab asked in astonishment, by taking a stroll back and forth, and that you are ready? In order to say Chassidus, one as to prepare eight hours!

[Eight hours of preparation, takes a lot of energy].

But in his tremendous humility, he tried to conceal his greatness.

Concerning last weeks story, I took it from a sefer that quoted Yahudus Hadimumuh. However, this week I looked it up in the original and I realize I made two mistakes.

First of all it wasn’t his Rebbetzin that came along, but it was his mother, Rebbetzin Shterna Sarah.

Additionally, being that at that time Russia implemented NEP (New Economic Program) that allowed some private enterprise, many Russians, Jews included became quite wealthy. Some of those Jews decided that they will enjoy the pleasures of nature and came to the Hot Springs.

Seeing these wealthy individuals, the Rebbe spoke to them and influenced them to use their new found wealth to build chadorim in their own towns and villages;

Rabbi Avtzon is a veteran mechanech and the author of numerous books on the Rebbeim and their chassidim. he can be contacted at avtzonbooks@gmail.com

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