My saintly grandmother, Rebbetzin Rivkah bas Chayah Sarah (daughter of the Mitteler Rebbe) was born 10 MarCheshvan 5595,
and passed away 10 Shvat 5674. Thus, her life span was exactly seventy-nine years and three months.
Her father - Reb Aharon ben Moshe ben Sender ben Hirsh of Shklov - was born in the year 5569. He passed away 24 Iyar 5597. His ancestry was as follows:
Reb Aharon was the fourth son of his father, the chassid and scholar Reb Moshe, who was outstanding in Torah and fear of Heaven, and extremely diligent in his learning. Though Reb Moshe was a very wealthy businessman, his chief occupation was diligent Torah study. As soon as he came home from his store, before he even had a chance to put his garment down on his [?], he would begin learning.
In his old age, he taught himself the Six Orders of the Mishnah by heart, saying that when old age arrived, who could tell whether his eyesight might not fail. Nothing could be done about that, and it would result in a great loss of Torah learning. Even if he were to have a companion, he might sometimes be unable to study with him. Therefore, he taught himself the Six Orders of Mishnah by heart, as well as Tanach, and several tractates of Aggadah (for he loved Aggadah).
After he had taught himself all the foregoing, he would study by heart every Shabbos between Minchah and Maariv. His daily habit was to study until very late at night. When he began to doze off he would interrupt his deep study of Gemara and Poskim and begin reciting Mishnayos by heart, until he fell asleep in the middle of his studies.
My grandmother related: "Many times, he said to me, 'I took particular delight in studying Mishnayos by heart; one makes better use of the time, and one's thoughts become far more refined.'"
My saintly great-grandfather the Tzemach Tzedek held him in high esteem. Besides his great erudition in Torah and his piety, he possessed much profound wisdom and was also thoroughly versed in worldly matters. In those days, the town where he lived - Shklov - was the capital city of the Torah sages of this region. Its inhabitants included misnagdim who were great sages of the Torah; chassidim who were men of great accomplishments of the heart and of Torah learning; and fabulously wealthy men who traveled to Leipzig in Germany to sell or buy merchandise.
Public affairs were not conducted, nor were any decisions made, except with the participation and advice of both the sages and the magnates of Shklov. But he - Reb Moshe - was unique among all his contemporaries, in possessing both Torah and worldly wealth at once.
My saintly great-grandfather the Tzemach Tzedek would seek out Reb Moshe's advice and opinion. My grandmother the Rebbetzin told me that [her husband,] my saintly grandfather the Rebbe Maharash had once said to her: "It is a great delight for me to hear your grandfather Reb Moshe speak, even about worldly matters. Everything he says is very logical, profound, concise, and astute. He possesses very lofty abilities."
My grandfather the Rebbe Maharash had then continued: "My father [the Tzemach Tzedek] often spoke to me in praise of the intellect of [your father,] my father-in-law."
The Tzemach Tzedek said to my grandfather the Rebbe Maharash: "He [Reb Moshe] used to understand a subject deeply and correctly before he had even managed to digest it. Afterwards, we two would work hard at discovering exactly what it was that he had understood, and how he had understood it. It was very difficult to reach this goal, but eventually we succeeded in achieving it. It would always reflect true and pure intellect."
My grandfather told my grandmother that they studied together for many years. "My father said that your father's intellectual abilities were awesome. Now, I understand that it was inherited from your grandfather Reb Moshe. But if he had such a great head, how could his son have surpassed him? It is truly unfortunate that I never knew him. From the very fact that my father was unable to evaluate his intellect, we can understand how lofty it must have been."
Reb Sender ben Hirsh was Reb Moshe's father. Reb Hirsh had been one of the town dignitaries of Shklov, in the early days of the Alter Rebbe's leadership. When the Alter Rebbe visited Shklov for the first time on a matter of public affairs, Reb Hirsh was the first of the town dignitaries to become close to him. Being a very wealthy businessman, he gave the Alter Rebbe an enormous sum of money to use for the public benefit.
He became close to the Alter Rebbe with his whole heart and soul. And being an outstanding Torah scholar, he derived much pleasure from the Alter Rebbe's incisive genius.
I have no knowledge or aptitude in Chassidus
. If I were not so old, I would abandon everything I possess and travel to [the Alter Rebbe] wherever he might be, to hear him study a topic in the Gemara
. In actual fact, he opened up my eyes regarding a certain subject which I was studying for the fifth time since discovering the difficulty. Each time, I found that the difficulty had become stronger. I was in anguish over this for a long time. I had asked several of the local scholars in our town about it, but none could answer me. Henoch made some remark, but it was as obtuse as a sickle is bent. Then [the Alter Rebbe] came along, and I asked him about it. He was astonished by my lack of understanding of the subject as if to say, "Why do you have such a question? It is no question at all." He then studied the subject with me from the beginning of the Mishnah
through the approach of the Rosh
When he studied this with me, on the first day I imagined that it was good, for his manner of explaining it was quite superior. But I did not know what would become of the question that was bothering me, and how he would answer it. Then, on the second and third days I was quite bemused with pleasure, for I now discovered a whole new world, and so I forgot all about my question.
Later, when he had finished expounding the subject, I remembered that I had once had difficulty with this topic. I spent several weeks pursuing this subject, reviewing it according to the approach he had used in studying it with me. I then tried to rediscover my original question - and you can believe me when I say how ashamed of myself I was.
When [the Alter Rebbe] visited our town a second time, I put my fortune to use for his benefit, while he presented me with an approach to Torah study that truly refreshed my soul. I put my son (your father) Reb Sender at his disposal, with the express stipulation that he would teach him an approach to studying Gemara in depth.
When your father (my son Reb Sender) wished to study the Kuntresim, I would not consent to it until he knew [the following tractates of Gemara] in depth: the three Bavos, Kesuvos, Gittin, Kiddushin, and Chulin. But he would not listen to me, and he studied it without my knowledge. When I later discovered this, I pretended to know nothing about it, for I perceived G-d's blessing in him. He was good by his inborn nature, but once he became one of the Alter Rebbe's followers and he attached himself to the great chassidim, he held the time very precious, studying Torah by night as well as by day. His davening too was very pleasing, and he would pray at length. His middos now became very different. G-d's blessing was also manifest in his business dealings, and he earned huge profits.
Reb Sender was a zealous chassid; i.e., he would frequently debate with the giants among the misnagdim. No one could keep up with him in these debates, for he possessed an outstanding intellect and presented wondrous logical arguments and explanations. Furthermore, his heart was as big as the entrance to the antechamber of the Beis HaMikdash
, and he had a pleasant disposition.
Most of all, he was a true chassid, completely dedicated to the true essence of unadulterated Chassidus. Thus, his personality traits were free of any sort of blemish. By nature, he was very fastidious, and he carefully guarded his mouth from uttering any unclean word. Everything he said was arranged in order, in clear, pure, and lucid language. Even when arguing, he would never use any unclean expression.
It was this trait that lent him favor in the eyes of others, and they held him above those with whom he was arguing. The latter would often use uncouth expressions. Moreover, they would build their whole argument on weak foundations, based upon numerous stories told by people who had lived long before, in an attempt to anger Reb Sender, and to turn the argument to such matters.
He, however, never retreated, even in the face of this poisonous material. He showed with convincing proof that these were all lies - stories that had never happened. He always spoke slowly and with great patience.
He enjoyed and desired the debates with those who opposed the supernal wisdom and the deeds of the Alter Rebbe in general, and those who opposed Toras HaChassidus in particular. He clearly perceived G-d's blessing and aid in this. Following each debate, he would acquire one or two young scholars, who now joined his side. Concerning them, Reb Sender would make the witty remark, "[These are] 'the souls that I acquired in Charan'; do not read 'beCharan,' but rather 'begaron'; it was with my throat (i.e., my speech) alone that I acquired these souls."
Being an outstanding intellectual and a mighty scholar, he claimed that everything he said during the debates was merely a matter of words. That is, he did not use his intellect to teach those who differed with his views, or to explain the subjects in all their depth. They would be unable to assimilate this by means of their own intellectual tools, and would thus become null and void. It was only by means of speech [that he could debate them]. Therefore, he referred to "the souls that I acquired ... begaron," i.e., through speech. He attached himself to the Alter Rebbe with his whole heart and soul.
My saintly grandmother related that her grandfather Reb Moshe had related, that his paternal grandfather had told him that after his father died, the Alter Rebbe arrived in Shklov. He told Reb Hirsh that he was mourning his son because of his great love, but that in fact there was no reason for it. The Alter Rebbe said:
Consider a person who has an only son who is very dear to him, and for some reason it becomes imperative for the son to travel to a very distant country. Suppose that the father knows in his heart that the son's situation there is very good, and the only problem is that he (the father) is unable to see him.
Since the father loves the son so much, he need not worry about his son. On the contrary - he ought to have great pleasure from this, because of the good situation in which the son now finds himself.
The same thing now applies to you: you should know that your son is in a very good situation. Seeing him in such levushim is something I never imagined!
[Reb Hirsh] requested that they tell him something about [Reb Sender's] conduct, for he wished to know this. They told him a few stories. He then begged to be told more, until finally they told him the story about the informer. That story follows:
- (Back to text) [In HaYom Yom (entry for 10 Shvat) and supra, p. 20, note 4, the year of her birth is recorded as 5593.]
- (Back to text) I do not know the exact date, but the calculation that he was born in the year 5569 is exact. His wife, Rebbetzin Chayah Sarah, daughter of the Mitteler Rebbe, passed away in the year 5606, while her husband Reb Aharon had passed away nine years earlier, in the year 5597. At the time of his death he was 28 years old. Thus, he must have been born in the year 5569.
- (Back to text) In fact, he was already old.
- (Back to text) [Lit., "the Telling"; allegorical tales and other non-legal matter found in the Talmud.]
- (Back to text) [Reb Moshe and the Tzemach Tzedek.]
- (Back to text) She reported that he was then in a state of great excitement about some subject.
- (Back to text) This occurred after the great feud that the misnagdim waged against the chassidim. It was already common knowledge that their dispute with the chassidim was unjust; on the contrary - they attacked and persecuted the chassidim with false accusations, built upon foundations taken from the thin air of the polluted atmosphere.
- (Back to text) [Acronym for Rabbeinu Asher (ben Yechiel; c. 1250-1327), author of a compendium of Halachic passages from the Talmud with commentary, and the responsa Piskei HaRosh.]
- (Back to text) By heart, several hours a day, for a period of four days.
- (Back to text) I wished to use this topic that he had studied with me as a model, so that I would know how to use the same approach when studying other topics.
- (Back to text) [He now realized that when the subject was studied with the Alter Rebbe's approach, his original question was ridiculous.]
- (Back to text) [Reb Moshe is quoting what his grandfather Reb Hirsh said to him.]
- (Back to text) I.e., the Tanya; though it had already been printed, and bore the title Tanya - Likkutei Amarim, nevertheless the elders still retained the original title and continued calling it the Kuntres.
- (Back to text) The first ones to emerge in opposition to the Alter Rebbe's chassidim would tell strange stories, and they invented lies that caused a ringing in the ears of all who heard them. Reb Sender's heart ached at seeing Torah scholars and pious folk who insisted on telling such terrible lies.
- (Back to text) [Paraphrased from Bereishis 12:5. Reb Sender "captured souls" whom he converted to Chassidus, just as Avraham captured souls in Charan, whom he converted to the worship of G-d.]
- (Back to text) [A play on words: beCharan (irjc; "in Charan") and begaron (iurdc; "with the throat") sound similar.]
- (Back to text) [He could present to them] only a very small portion [of the subject], appropriate to their intellectual capacities.
- (Back to text) I.e., the grandfather's son, Reb Sender.
- (Back to text) [The Alter Rebbe had seen Reb Sender's soul in Gan Eden, attired in the spiritual garments derived from his avodah in this world. The glory of this sight amazed him, for he had not anticipated that Reb Sender was worthy of such levushim. Thus, he now reassured Reb Moshe that he need not mourn his son, who was now in an excellent situation.]
- (Back to text) So related [Reb Sender's] son Reb Moshe, repeating what he had heard from his grandfather Reb Hirsh.