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Publisher's Foreword

"Fathers Of Chassidus"
The First Three Generations

Reb Yitzchak Aizik Of Vitebsk

The Debate In Minsk

   The Alter Rebbe's Adherents, And His Opponents

Preparations For The Debate

At The Debate

Letter By The Previous Rebbe

The Rebbe's Response To The Previous Rebbe's Letter

On The Subject Of Miracles

The Alter Rebbe's Later Years

The Previous Rebbe's Ancestral Tree

Founders Of Chassidism & Leaders Of Chabad-Lubavitch


Geographic Terms

Branches Of The Chassidic Menorah - Volume One
Biographical Stories Based On The Essay
Fathers Of Chassidus
By The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn
First published in the classical columns of HaTamim

The Alter Rebbe's Adherents, And His Opponents

Translated by Shimon Neubort

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  EpiloguePreparations For The Debate  


During that period,[2] the Alter Rebbe wrote a general letter encouraging the establishment of a charity fund to support the holy Rebbeim who had moved to the Holy Land. He chose three capable young scholars, whom he sent all over the land to set up the collections. Additionally, they were charged with the task of encouraging people to study Chassidus.

Almost every town already had at least one or two young scholars who had studied in Liozna. The Alter Rebbe's disciples were extremely dedicated individuals. The Rebbe's slightest command or request was carried out at once, with the greatest care and precision.

The Alter Rebbe designated six locations where young scholars who wished to come to Liozna could first be examined: Liepli, Dubravna, Smilian, Ulla, Szventzian, and Yanovitch. In each of these towns resided a representative empowered by the Alter Rebbe to examine the scholars and determine whether they met the requirements he had set forth.

At each location, no more than six or seven scholars were to be examined at one time. These candidates had to undergo an examination lasting no less than two weeks' time. Only then could they receive a document from the official, certifying that they were qualified.

Any young scholar who had once resided in Liozna during the years 5536 and 5537 [1776, 77] was now forbidden to visit Liozna more than once a year with the intention of remaining there [for an extended period]. But an exception to this rule could be made, if the officials (or the charity collectors) reported that a certain young scholar's Torah study and avodah entitled him to favored treatment. In that case, he would be permitted to make a second visit during the year.

At their request, the three emissaries were authorized to befriend any qualified bochur whom they met during their travels. If he wished to travel to Liozna, they could direct him to one of the young scholars who had formerly resided there. After he had studied with this scholar for a month or two, they could authorize him to come to Liozna.

Before the festival of Pesach arrived, the Alter Rebbe arranged a place and a curriculum of study for each student of the chadorim. Between Pesach and Shavuos, however, he remained secluded in his private chamber for most of the time.

By the time Shavuos arrived, the three scholars had collected a large sum of money for the support of the Rebbeim in the Holy Land. They had succeeded in their mission, and had established the charity funds. They had also won over the hearts of the Torah scholars, rabbonim, shochtim, and melamdim. Among these, they had discovered many highly capable individuals who desired to travel to Liozna. Thus, a large multitude gathered in Liozna for the festival of Shavuos.

A few days after Shavuos, the Alter Rebbe cast lots to determine which of the young scholars would have the privilege of transporting to the Holy Land the money collected for the support of the Rebbeim there. Two scholars were chosen by this lottery.

At the Alter Rebbe's request, his brother Reb Moshe established a course in Gemara-Rashi-Tosafos for the bochurim who had come to study. During the month of Tammuz, the first group of students who had come to Liozna (after Pesach) departed, and they were replaced by a second contingent. This complied with the rule that young scholars could remain in Liozna no longer than two or three months. The Alter Rebbe's brothers - the tzaddikim Reb Yehudah Leib and Reb Mordechai - directed the supervision and guidance of the scholars, and their course of study.

The town of Liozna now took on an entirely different face. The coarse and simple businessmen who were the local residents now followed the example of Zevulun, becoming supporters of the institutions where the followers of Yissachar studied.[3] Their young sons began to study Torah diligently, and their daughters expressed a desire to marry Torah scholars.

That summer, four more places were added to the above-mentioned towns where students were examined: Beshenkovycz, Kletzk, Kaidan, and Mohilev. During the summer, these towns were transformed into centers from which the Alter Rebbe's instructions were issued to the surrounding regions. The agents and the leading officials of each district filed written reports of what was happening in each place. All this was forwarded to the chief official, the Alter Rebbe's brother Reb Yehudah Leib.

On Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av, word was sent out by the agents and officials that visitors to Liozna could remain for no longer than one Shabbos. During the month of Tishrei, they could come for only one festival: either Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkos, or Shemini Atzeres. Even those who brought their own food - sufficient for their entire stay in Liozna - were nevertheless forbidden to remain longer than this. However, the managers of the charity funds and the minyonim, and other officials, could give someone special permission to remain longer, if his avodah required him to do so.

The Alter Rebbe's attention to order and strategy was evident in every detail. Each person participated by exerting his maximum efforts toward the success of his mission.

When Tishrei arrived, multitudes flocked to Liozna. Some came in wagons, and some came on foot. Among them were rabbonim, shochtim, melamdim, and ordinary folk; they included the young, the middle aged, and the elderly.

The chief official, Reb Yehudah Leib, appointed officers to insure that the rules concerning how long one could remain in Liozna were obeyed. In addition, they were to investigate each visitor's background, and determine what mission he could be entrusted with in his own hometown. It is therefore not surprising that the campaign among the throngs who had come from different places produced good results, in disseminating the teachings of the Maggid throughout Lita.

A proclamation was then issued that during the coming winter no one was to come to Liozna until after Pesach. The only exception was for bochurim who came to obtain a program for their studies. No one knew the reason, but no one dared to inquire what that reason might be. Even the Alter Rebbe's brothers unanimously deferred to his higher authority, as if they were actually his servants.

When MarCheshvan arrived, the Alter Rebbe issued various instructions to his brother Reb Yehudah Leib, and he arranged the programs of study for the students of the chadorim and the young scholars.

He then chose three young scholars to accompany him, and he set out on the road, saying that he would (with G-d's help) return home to Liozna for Pesach. This trip was associated with the Alter Rebbe's duties as General Coordinator of the Maggid's disciples. He therefore headed for Vohlynia, the place designated for the meeting of the Holy Society.

We do not know the details of this journey. What we do know is that at this meeting, members the Holy Society expressed complaints against the Alter Rebbe for embarking on a new path - setting qualifications for those who desired to come closer [to Chassidus]. He admitted only those who had attained certain achievements in Torah study, and even these were permitted to come only at specific times. They claimed that this departed from the practice of their master and Rebbe, the Maggid of Mezritch.

The chief critic was the holy Reb Shlomo of Karlin. His home was closer to Reissin, and so he was most familiar with the new procedures instituted by the Alter Rebbe. The Alter Rebbe gave a detailed report of everything he had instituted. He stated that he had been instructed by the Maggid that Torah study, with understanding and interpretation, was to be the supreme requirement. Without getting into a debate about his overall approach to this, he expressed his opinion that in Lita, his was the only approach that would achieve the desired results.

The Holy Society was not satisfied by the Alter Rebbe's reply, for in his conduct they saw a departure from the road that had been paved for them, as they understood it. They decided to write a full report of the matter, and send it to their colleague, the holy Reb Menachem Mendel of Horodok, in the Holy Land.

The Alter Rebbe was away for almost a half year during this journey, and he visited various places. From one of his letters, it appears that he was greatly distressed by the internal opposition to his above-mentioned approach. However, he found consolation in the fact that several of his colleagues - the holy Rebbeim, Reb Nachum of Chernobyl, Reb Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, Reb Zusia of Anipolia, his brother Reb Elimelech [of Lizhensk], and five or six others - supported his opinion. He was, however, distressed by the fact that the holy wellsprings were separating into divergent streams.

During this journey, he also visited the holy places, the tombs of our masters the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid. Many stories have been circulated among chassidim concerning these visits. He also visited the city of Mohilev on the Dnester during that trip. He had previously spent some time there when he had accompanied the holy Reb Menachem Mendel and his entourage on their way to the Holy Land.

This visit gave him much satisfaction, and it partially assuaged his grief over the above-mentioned controversy. He discovered that the seeds he had sown there during his first visit had borne good fruit. Therefore, he decided to establish a new center there. He chose one of the three young scholars who had accompanied him, and left him there, assigning him the task of governing that center.

On the return journey, he traveled through Baranovich, Vilna (without stopping there), Szventzian, Denenburg, Polotzk, and Vitebsk. When he arrived in Szventzian, he sent one of the two remaining young scholars back to Vilna, and instructed him to remain there in secret. He was to study with two of the local young scholars who had become adherents of the Alter Rebbe. He sent the second young scholar to Liozna, with a reply to a letter he had received from his brother Reb Yehudah Leib, describing the status of the resident scholars in Liozna, and summarizing the reports that had come in from the various centers.

From one of the Alter Rebbe's letters, it appears that the reports he received from his brother Reb Yehudah Leib gave him much pleasure. In this letter, he describes all the troubles that had beset him during his travels, concerning his public affairs (specifically, the Holy Society's resolutions), and the agreeable situation he had found in Mohilev. He states that the reports he received gave him satisfaction, and that his stay in Szventzian had assuaged his grief.

Through that young scholar's message, he informed his brother that he would not return home until a few days before Yom Tov. He urged him to send out the following replies: to the center in Dubravna, that he agreed to their establishing a secret center in Shklov; and to the center in Smilian, that he agreed to their establishing a public center in Disna. He also instructed him to publicize a proclamation that no visitors were to come to Liozna before the coming festival of Shavuos.

When he arrived in Liozna, he discovered that the status of the students of the two chadorim was good. They had adhered scrupulously to the program of study he had set out for them.

The news then arrived that the two scholars who had been sent as agents to take the money to the Holy Land were on their way home. They would arrive in Liozna by Shavuos, and were bringing a letter from the holy Rebbeim in the Holy Land. This news spread very quickly, and an order was issued to all the charity collectors that they were to try to collect the funds that had been pledged, and to bring the money with them when they came to Liozna for Shavuos. After Shavuos, a second group of agents would be sent out to the Holy Land.

The citizens of Liozna welcomed the Alter Rebbe with great joy. Many townsfolk then resolved in their hearts to take the scholarly young folk as sons-in-law. According to tradition, about forty such weddings were celebrated during that summer. They and their children were the heads of the chassidic families and the doers of good deeds of the later generations.

When the agents from the Holy Land arrived, they brought a letter[4] containing a blessing from the holy Reb Menachem Mendel, as well as a written program of conduct and guidance, and a statement of general support for the Alter Rebbe. Apparently, this referred mainly to his appointment as General Coordinator [of the Holy Society].

The agents related that when they had reached the shores of the River Dnester, they had met two men who were about to leave for the Holy Land. These two men had said that they were traveling as agents of the holy Reb Menachem Mendel, and that they were carrying funds collected in the territory of Vohlynia.[5]

[This represented a new development.] When they had taken their leave of their colleague Reb Menachem Mendel in 5537 [1777], the assembled members of the Holy Society had adopted the following resolutions:[6]

  1. each of them undertook the obligation of supporting the Rebbeim who were moving to the Holy Land, and their families;

  2. each member of the Society was to be the leader in his own territory;

  3. the Alter Rebbe was appointed the leader of Lita, and the centers of Horodok, Polotzk, Kalisk, and Lubavitch were put under his control;

  4. the Alter Rebbe was appointed the chief of all the leaders in matters pertaining to the support of the Rebbeim in the Holy Land; he was also appointed the General Coordinator of the Society for a period of five years.

When the first group of agents had departed - in 5538 - with the collected funds, they had made a side trip to visit the holy Reb Nachum in Chernobyl. The moneys collected in the territory of Vohlynia had been brought to him, along with a list of the contributors. From there, they had resumed their journey to the Holy Land.

Thus, the news that special agents had now departed separately from Vohlynia to the Holy Land, caused a great disturbance. Nonetheless, the process was not interrupted, and everything proceeded according to schedule. Many of the fund collectors arrived in Liozna in person, bringing the collected funds and the lists of contributors. Those who could not come personally, sent them with other travelers.

At the designated time, lots were cast, and the new travelers set out by way of Vohlynia, as had been done the year before. But when they arrived in Vohlynia, they discovered a shortage of donations. This situation that had arisen among the members of the Holy Society[7] caused the Alter Rebbe much distress, and he expressed his inner grief in writing to his colleagues, the tzaddikim Reb Menachem Nachum [of Chernobyl] and Reb Levi Yitzhak [of Berditchev]. The Alter Rebbe writes:

My heart is saddened by [those who take] the frail view that only a tzaddik can elevate anything. It is written,[8] "And I will dwell in your midst," and [it is also written,][9] "Your people are all righteous." It is my firm opinion that we are obligated to teach the right path to the multitudes. I trust in our Rock, and I will not depart from this. By the life of my soul, this is also the opinion of our master.[10]
Our master, the holy Reb Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl, wrote [to Reb Menachem Mendel] with bitterness about the division that had arisen among the members of the Holy Society, who were quarreling among themselves. He was expressing his own opinion, and that of about a dozen of his colleagues who shared the Alter Rebbe's opinion (with minor differences).

He begged the holy Reb Menachem Mendel to state his own opinion in the matter, adding that it would be worthwhile to send a messenger specifically for this purpose.

It appears from the letters[11] sent by the holy Rebbeim of the Holy Land that they immediately instructed the holy Reb Yisrael of Polotzk to travel to Liozna and to (the holy Reb Yissachar Dov[12] in) Lubavitch. These two were to join the Alter Rebbe and the other members of the Holy Society who shared the Alter Rebbe's opinion, and attempt to win over the minority who remained opposed.

The majority of people who came to Liozna for the High Holy Days were rabbonim, shochtim, melamdim, and other Torah scholars. Each brought with him several bundles of Halachic inquiries. Each also brought requests - both his own, and on behalf of others in his household - concerning their material needs.

The Alter Rebbe declined to respond to most of the inquiries [about material matters], saying that his chief occupation concerned Torah study and the paths of avodah. He instructed people to publicize this: those who sought advice about material concerns, should not waste their money on a trip to Liozna, for he would not answer their questions.

The Alter Rebbe gave his full attention to the young scholars. During the three years 5540 to 5543 [1780-83], he made several short trips to the nearby regions, remaining in each place about a week or a little longer.

In those days, the number of Jews living in rural areas, and those who kept inns at the crossroads, began to increase. The Alter Rebbe then sent agents to all the rural settlements to supervise the studies of the youth. He sent tens of young scholars to the villages and settlements to serve as melamdim. He gave them a program to follow in their work, and allotted them a salary, which he instructed the local residents to pay.

[For example,] by letter, the Alter Rebbe's brother, Reb Yehudah Leib, conveyed the Alter Rebbe's instructions to the manager of an estate. This property included two villages, three streams, and seven inns. The manager was instructed that he must lease the properties only to Jews. He must not be satisfied with the fact that the settlement boasted a minyan, a shochet, and a melamed. He was obligated to contract with the tenants that each settlement have a scholar who would study with the youths. The settlers were required to provide the scholar with a place to live, and to supply all his needs. In return, G-d would bless the estate manager (and if he did not obey these instructions, he could expect the opposite).

During these three years, the Alter Rebbe enjoyed success both at home and abroad. In Liozna, a large number of young scholars became "sitters," and followed the regular curriculum. The various centers were progressing at full speed with their work. There were rabbonim, shochtim, and melamdim living in many of the villages, rural settlements, and inns, each fulfilling his responsibility.

In that year, the Alter Rebbe already had several hundred young students, who took turns residing in Liozna, as described previously. This continued from the year 5536 [1776] through 5540. There were also many guests who came, though the Alter Rebbe refused to answer inquiries about material matters. He would, however, offer his holy opinion about spiritual matters, as described in his letter of 5540 to the community of Anash in the town of Ushatz.[13]

Several of these visitors had been chassidim of Reb Menachem Mendel of Horodok and Reb Avraham of Kalisk. They were accustomed to being shown favor by their Rebbeim, with the greatest attention being paid to the elders (the younger scholars had not even been admitted when the Torah discourses were delivered). They could not tolerate the Alter Rebbe's new system, where the younger scholars received the greatest favor.

These several visitors included several men of stature and knowledgeable individuals. Unfortunately, they misunderstood the intent, and inadvertently lent support to those who began to oppose the Alter Rebbe. One of these was a certain Reb Chayim, mentioned in the letter to Ushatz.

Meanwhile, relations between the chassidim and misnagdim became more strained. The charomim that had been proclaimed [against the chassidim] in Vilna, Zelevy (at the great assembly that had taken place there during the fair), Minsk, Brysk, Slutzk, Shklov, and other places had been publicized everywhere, and they began to take their toll.



  1. (Back to text) The material in this Supplement is taken from a collection of the Previous Rebbe's notes. This material was circulated among chassidim in typewritten form, as part of a collection known as "The Debate in Minsk." Portions of these notes have been published elsewhere by various authors. The story begins here exactly where the chapter "Third Generation: the Alter Rebbe" ends, and is written in the same style. It appears that that this material was prepared for publication in HaTamim, as a continuation of the series "Fathers of Chassidus."

  2. (Back to text) [I.e., shortly after R. Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk had moved to Eretz Yisrael.]

  3. (Back to text) [A reference to the two brothers Yissachar and Zevulun, sons of Yaakov. The descendants of Yissachar dedicated themselves to full-time study of the Torah and issuing rulings of law. Their material needs were provided by the descendants of Zevulun, who engaged in commerce. See Rashi, on Bereishis 49:13-15 and on Devarim 33:18.]

  4. (Back to text) [See Toldos Chabad BeEretz HaKodesh, ch. 2.]

  5. (Back to text) [I.e., they had begun collecting funds separate from those raised under the auspices of the Alter Rebbe.]

  6. (Back to text) [See Sefer HaSichos 5696, p. 101.]

  7. (Back to text) [I.e., that there was dissension and strife concerning his program of attracting the young scholars to Chassidus, and that this dissension had resulted in a schism in the Society to the extent that a separate collection of funds had been established.]

  8. (Back to text) [Zechariah 2:14, 15.]

  9. (Back to text) [Yeshayah 60:21.]

  10. (Back to text) [The Alter Rebbe here expresses his opinion that the multitudes of common folk (and not only the tzaddikim) are capable of Divine service on their own initiative, and that it is an obligation to share with them the teachings of the Maggid. He insists that this is also the Maggid's opinion, and not his own innovation. Thus, there is no reason for a schism in the Society.]

  11. (Back to text) [See Toldos Chabad BeEretz HaKodesh, ibid.]

  12. (Back to text) [Reb Yissachar Dov Kabilniker. See The Making of Chassidim, Appendix B.]

  13. (Back to text) [Igros Kodesh of the Alter Rebbe, Vol. 1, ch. 2.]

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