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Publisher's Foreword

"Fathers Of Chassidus"
The First Three Generations

Reb Yitzchak Aizik Of Vitebsk

The Debate In Minsk

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

Letter By The Previous Rebbe

Translated by Shimon Neubort

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


BH, 24 Teves 5692 [January 3, 1932], Riga: the grand hilula of our glorious, holy, and great Rebbe [the Alter Rebbe]:

Greetings and Blessing:

Your letter arrived, and I was pleased to hear that you are well....


In reply to your question: "What is the relationship between the path and teachings of Chassidus taught by the Alter Rebbe and the other Holy Rebbeim, the Nesi'im of Chabad, and the path and teachings of Chassidus taught by our Master the Baal Shem Tov?"

At first glance, the path and teachings of Chassidus taught by the Rebbeim of Vohlynia-Poland-Galicia seem closer to the path and teachings of the Baal Shem Tov's Chassidus than the teachings of Chabad. This applies especially because of the emphasis [placed by Polish chassidim] on miracle-working.

A reply to your question would require me to compose an involved dissertation, lengthy in content and requiring much editing. I simply do not have the time for this, and so I will merely write a few lines of general summary.

It is true; if we were to judge from material published by the Rebbeim who were the Baal Shem Tov's disciples, (and, in turn, their disciples) - the tzaddikim and geonim who were leaders of thousands of Jews (may their merits protect us) - your profound question is certainly valid. However, we must first study the matter fully, and discover the fundamental principles that lie behind each aspect of the subject. Only then can we properly understand it.

As we know, the Alter Rebbe referred to himself as the Baal Shem Tov's spiritual grandchild. As he himself put it, the holy Rebbe and tzaddik Reb Baruch "is a biological grandchild, but I am a spiritual grandchild."

My saintly father [the Rebbe Rashab] told me that he once heard from his father, my saintly grandfather [the Rebbe Maharash], who heard it from my great-grandfather, the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek, who heard it from the Holy of Holies, the Alter Rebbe, himself: "I had genuine mesirus nefesh to avoid deviating in any way from the Baal Shem Tov's slightest gesture, even for the briefest moment, or even merely to appear to do so."


In my library of handwritten manuscripts, there is a note written by the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek's holy hand, recording three stories of the Alter Rebbe. The content of this manuscript is a vast treasure. From the handwriting, I judge that it was written during the years 5568 or 5569 [1808, 09]. Apparently there once were more such manuscripts, but for various reasons they were lost.

I obtained this manuscript from an elderly chassid from Vydz, who used to travel to Liadi to the holy Rebbe Reb Yitzchak Dov Ber, son of my great-great-uncle.[2] He related to me that his grandfather had been a "sitter" in Liadi for about five years, until the war[3] broke out in 5572 [1812]. As a young man, he had slept in the Tzemach Tzedek's home. His father had once possessed various papers found among the grandfather's effects, but these were later lost.

One of the three stories mentioned above was the following: when [the Alter Rebbe] was denounced to the government in the well-known incident, it was alleged that during his prayers, the Baal Shem Tov would regularly exclaim, "Af! Af! Af!" The accuser interpreted this to mean that he was praying for G-d to send down His wrath[4] upon the government; it was further alleged that the Alter Rebbe used to do the same.

When the Alter Rebbe was questioned about this in the Tainy Soviet prison, he was greatly distressed, for he would now have to reveal the inner meanings of the Baal Shem Tov's prayer, and to explain the Baal Shem Tov's ways to the gentile ministers.

Indeed, he could have dismissed the accusation by resorting to all sorts of misleading deceptions. But he was unwilling to deviate from even a single gesture of the Baal Shem Tov, or even merely to appear to do so,[5] even for the briefest moment. And if the Alter Rebbe adhered to the Baal Shem Tov's ways with such mesirus nefesh even in that instance,[6] then how much more so was this true when it came to the Baal Shem Tov's teachings!

All of the forgoing serves to reinforce your question[7]...

3., 4.

Here, the Previous Rebbe inserted an involved discussion of the different kinds of teaching, and the different kinds of teacher-pupil relationships.


To summarize the above discussion: there are two very different types of study - that of a teacher who transmits his subject to a pupil, and that of a Rebbe who transmits his teachings to a chassid.

It is told in the name of the Alter Rebbe that when he made up his holy mind to exile himself to a place of Torah (i.e., to go to a place where he would receive some guidance[8]), he could not decide where to go. He had heard that there were two different centers of Torah: in Vilna, they taught how to study, but in Mezritch, they taught how to daven.

For quite some time, he weighed and judged the matter in his mind, to determine which direction he would take. Various factors went into his final decision - made in the middle of his journey - to go to the place where they taught how to daven.

I have told this story here in brief, including only those details necessary for our discussion. The whole story is very long, and it mentions many things that are important for us to know, but this is not the place for it....


Now, I give you the essence of the reply to your profound question. It all comes down to the metaphor of the grandfather and the grandchild.[9] The two are bound together and joined into a single unit.

Our Master the Baal Shem Tov revealed a new path in serving G-d, and opened the channels of mesirus nefesh with this avodah. Our Master the Alter Rebbe then paved a broad highway for this path of avodah taught by the Baal Shem Tov, and he risked his life over it.

To put it succinctly: the Baal Shem Tov taught us how we should serve G-d; the Alter Rebbe taught us how we can serve G-d.

The broad highway paved by the Alter Rebbe, "How we can," in fact has only two lanes: intellect and emotional. But within these two courses, he explains in detail numerous methods and techniques, eventually assisting even one who has rebelled against G-d, to do teshuvah so that G-d may show him mercy.

The Alter Rebbe invested himself completely in working for the benefit of any Jew, no matter how coarse and sinful. He admonished and reproached him, aroused him [to do teshuvah] and prescribed remedies and cures for him. He comforted him, inspired him, and set him upon the true path with a program of teshuvah and avodah appropriate for his status. Thus, he removed him from the dunghill and the rubbish heap, bathed him and cleansed him, and set him in the King's palace.


The Alter Rebbe says that ahavas HaShem implies ahavas Yisrael, and ahavas Yisrael implies ahavas HaShem.

The Alter Rebbe's saying is based on what is written elsewhere. But the main thing is that the Alter Rebbe emphasized the deed, not merely the word. Anyone can repeat that which is written, but the Alter Rebbe put it into actual practice, and he did it with mesirus nefesh. It was upon this foundation that he built the principles of Chabad Chassidus.

The Sages of blessed memory stated a fundamental principle:[10] "it is not the study [of Torah] that is most important, but the deed." This principle applies to the study of the Torah and the fulfillment of its mitzvos, as well as to good deeds in general.

The Alter Rebbe took this rule and transformed it from a theory into practical application in our life in this world. He used to say, "Anyone can study the Torah. Anyone can serve G-d, recognizing the living G-d who [controls existence] through Divine Providence. Everyone is obligated to serve Him through his own efforts, each person according to his abilities."

The Alter Rebbe made it possible for even the average person to serve G-d. He dedicated his whole life to opening the doors of the Torah's light, even for those who dwell in the darkness.

The Alter Rebbe began his holy work - bringing the hearts of Israel closer to their Father in Heaven - amidst the anguish and suffering caused when he was denounced to the authorities. The situation came about because of the disciples of the tzaddik Reb Avraham of Kalisk , as we will discuss in detail later.

In the face of the blazing fire and hailstones of the misnagdim, our Rebbe went around discreetly investigating the situation. Like a mighty warrior, he risked his life for the sake of his brethren, the members of his people.

At that very time, "when the whole world boiled over," the Alter Rebbe went about - both openly and in secret - trying to discover the means by which he could initiate his campaign of disseminating the Baal Shem Tov's Torah in an accessible and systematic way.


The Alter Rebbe called for benevolence toward the misnagdim. At the assembly in Rovna, he reported - to his master the Maggid and to his holy colleagues the disciples - the condition of the Jewish communities in the counties of Lita. He spoke highly of the Torah scholars - concerning not only their Torah knowledge, but also their comprehensive G-d-fearing qualities.

In a report included in one of his letters, he concluded that what we needed were outstanding Torah scholars of our own, who would have the skill to uncover - through keen analysis, broad knowledge, and scholarly dissertation - the light that lies hidden within the revealed aspects of Torah. Thus, they would win and capture the hearts of the geonim who were truly G-d-fearing, but who had no notion of the light that is hidden within the Torah.

A lengthy discussion once took place between the Alter Rebbe and the tzaddik Reb Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl, concerning the difference between the people of Vohlynia and those of Lita. The tzaddikim Reb Levi Yitzchak [of Berditchev] and Reb Meshulem Zusia [of Anipolia] were also present at the time. From the Alter Rebbe's remarks, we see how dear and precious he held Torah scholars, and what mesirus nefesh he had in introducing them to the light of Toras HaChassidus.

To these three colleagues of his, the Alter Rebbe could express sentiments that he could not speak of in the presence of his Rebbe the Maggid, and certainly not in front of his other colleagues, the holy disciples. The latter were utterly opposed to anything that might be said in favor of the misnagdim. But to these three, the Alter Rebbe revealed everything that was in his heart. With the permission of their master and Rebbe, and with the powers and merits of the Baal Shem Tov, he was ready and able to risk his soul to undertake this work.

As we see, the Alter Rebbe was fully aware of the difficulty of this task. As he himself said to the holy Reb Meshulem Zusia, "In the beginning, it will be necessary to conceal the inner light [of Chassidus]; it will require patience; it will require fortitude of heart; it will require mesirus nefesh."

With the permission of his holy Rebbe the Maggid, the Alter Rebbe undertook several journeys in pursuit of this work. In the holy letters that he wrote to the Maggid, and to the Maggid's son, the tzaddik Reb Avraham, we may read a journal of his travels, describing the debates he held on scholarly issues, all dealing exclusively with the revealed aspects of the Torah.


The Alter Rebbe began his holy work with total self-dedication. He began building the structure of Chassidus through his mesirus nefesh for the benefit of others, bringing them closer to the light of truth. And he demanded no less from his followers. His labors were dedicated to the ideals of Chassidus; Chassidus and chassidim were his life's work, and they constantly occupied his thoughts.

The Alter Rebbe firmly believed that through the Baal Shem Tov's teachings, and those of his own mentor the Maggid, it was possible to bring even dried-out bones back to life. It was this belief of his that he explained in detail in the teachings of Chabad. Thus, he illuminated and revived all living souls.

The Alter Rebbe made it possible to follow the ways of Chassidus. He paved the broad highway, the road of living light, even for those who were bent low and down-fallen. Through kindness and mercy, he inspired those who were spiritually infirm; with exceeding love, he extended to them his helping hand.

It was this that he demanded of our holy Rebbeim who succeeded him. Anyone who studies the intellectual history of Toras HaChassidus, and its development and expansion by the "golden chain" of our successive holy Rebbeim, will surely appreciate how much toil and exertion they put into the construction of this divine edifice. By the grace of Al-mighty G-d, each of them revealed to us wonderful insights into the Torah, which contains G-d's wisdom, His divine will, and instruction for serving Him.

The "Chassidic Menorah" has seven branches: i) our Master the Baal Shem Tov; ii) the Maggid; iii) my great-great-great-grandfather the Alter Rebbe; iv) my great-great-grandfather the Mitteler Rebbe; v) my great-grandfather the Tzemach Tzedek; vi) my grandfather [the Rebbe Maharash] and his holy brothers; vii) my father [the Rebbe Rashab] and my holy cousins. They illuminated all the earth with the light of Chassidus.


Every one of our saintly ancestors - the holy Rebbeim, each in his own generation - governed his flock of chassidim according to the system of leadership instituted by the Alter Rebbe: involving himself personally in working for the benefit of every individual, without regard to that person's spiritual standing. The seeds of the Baal Shem Tov, sown in the orchard that the Alter Rebbe planted, eventually grew into a giant tree, producing the choice fruit of Chabad.

I remember hearing in my youth that in the year 5627 [1867], my tutor Reb Shmuel Betzalel ben Sheftel[11] was a shadar for my saintly grandfather [the Rebbe Maharash], and used to travel through the towns of "Little Russia": Nicholaiev, the Cherson settlements, Kremenchug....

At the time, there lived in Kremenchug, several famous Chabad Chassidim known as the "Beralach," because they all happened to be named Dov: the chassid Reb Dov ben Moshe, known as "Berel Moshe's"; the chassid Reb Dov Masiev; the chassid Reb Dov Vilensky; and three or four more who were named Dov.

There was a term used in those days, "the Kremenchuger Beralach," referring to these gentlemen, who possessed superior intellect and strong will. They used to daven at length, with emotional excitement and with lyrical voices; all of them could repeat chassidic discourses. All the chassidim in Kremenchug - even those who had come from Poland - held them in great awe and esteem.

I once heard the following from the elderly chassid Reb Tzvi Chanoch Hendel Cunin of blessed memory, who was a "sitter" in Lubavitch during the years 5627-5631 (the story of his arrival in Lubavitch in 5601 [1841], and everything that happened to him at various times, has a separate chapter devoted to it in my diary):

Several young scholars came from Kremenchug and took up residence in Lubavitch. Once, when [Reb Tzvi Chanoch Hendel] went in for yechidus, my grandfather said to him, "those who converted out of fear of the lions (meaning the young scholars who had been students of the Beralach)[12] are growing (thank G-d), and are progressing in their knowledge of Chassidus. But avodah is still lacking. May G-d, blessed be He, help them to serve G-d."

When my tutor Rashbatz was in Nicholaiev in 5627 (as mentioned above), he was supposed to travel from there to Kremenchug. He was forewarned that he would find there many Polish chassidim of great stature, who were in the habit of deriding anyone who was not one of them. Therefore, he must remain mindful of their honor, to avoid becoming the subject of their verbal abuse.


Upon his arrival in Kremenchug, the "Bears" received him with great honor, out of respect for the holy Rebbe who had sent him. There also lived there a Chernobyler Chassid named Reb Pinchas, who had a sharp mind and a very strong will. But even he came to hear a lecture on Chabad Chassidus from Rashbatz.

Now the chassidim of Vohlynia-Poland-Galicia were in the habit of comparing pedigrees. Each of these chassidim was always prepared to state that his own Rebbe was superior to someone else's. The practice of Chabad Chassidim is different: we do not dismiss what others consider holy; we simply hold our own to be dear and precious. We maintain friendly relations, even as we remain conscious of our own qualities.

During the farbrengen, this Reb Pinchas was unable to restrain himself and exclaimed, "Chabad Chassidim! What are you so proud of - your Alter Rebbe? Where we come from - Poland - there lived the Baal Shem Tov himself, the Maggid, and all the Maggid's disciples. So our pedigree is greater than yours."

The following is a parenthetical story, but very important to understanding this discussion:

Chassidim tell a story of the tzaddik Reb Shlomo Karliner's visit to the Alter Rebbe in Liozna in the year 5551-52 [1791]. (Reb Shlomo visited Liozna twice: in 5551-52, and in 5555-56; later, he also visited Liadi three times.)

When Reb Shlomo departed, the Alter Rebbe instructed three of his young disciples to accompany him on the road until they reached a certain point near Vitebsk. There, chassidim from Vitebsk would come to receive him.

One of these young scholars was the chassid Reb Binyamin Kletzker. The tzaddik Reb Shlomo greatly desired to have him for his own disciple. He proposed this to him, and during the journey he even performed a miracle for him (exactly what this miracle was is recorded somewhere in my diary).[13]

When they arrived at their destination, the young men went in to take their leave. Reb Shlomo then detained the young Reb Binyamin and tried to persuade him to go with him; he promised that if he did so, he would elevate him to such stature of holiness, that he would remain head-and-shoulders above the rest.

The tzaddik Reb Shlomo occasionally preferred to speak in Polish. No doubt, the reason for this was as is explained in Chassidus: speaking of a holy topic while using a vernacular tongue refines and elevates the letters of that language.[14] The holy tzaddik Reb Shlomo's every gesture was made with the holiest of intentions. Thus, the young chassid Reb Binyamin answered him in Polish:

Pan to pan, to nie mj;
Chlopiec to chlopiec, to nie twj.

"The master is a master, but not for me;
the servant is a servant, but not for thee."

[End of parenthetical story.]


My tutor Rashbatz became angry, but he concealed his fury and replied calmly, "Reb Pinchas, are you wearing a shirt?"

"Certainly!" replied Reb Pinchas.

"Is it made of linen?" asked Rashbatz.

"Of course it's made of linen!" replied Reb Pinchas again.

"Do you know how linen is made?" asked Rashbatz. "Reb Pinchas, are you aware that the flax is grown by the peasants of this country? Nevertheless, the raw flax is later shipped abroad, to a country where there are craftsmen who turn it into fine linen.

"We chassidim of Chabad do not compare pedigrees. Our Rebbe tells us that even the most simple Jews tower above the most high, and this is even more true for tzaddikim, who are 'the foundation of the world.'[15]

"To us, all the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov are 'all of them... beloved, all are pure, all are mighty....'[16] They all possess the power to speak the word of G-d, blessed be He, so that Jews may become aware of G-dliness.

"You, on the other hand, prefer to compare pedigrees, claiming that the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid, and all the great tzaddikim lived in your country. In other words, you claim that the flax plant is native to your land. In that case, let me inform you that the craftsmen who make finished linen garments out of the raw flax, are to be found among the Chabad Chassidim."

This reply was a convincing argument for the chassid Reb Pinchas, and it had a great effect upon him.

Yes, it's true; the words of my tutor Rashbatz were correct. During the five generations of my ancestors, the holy Rebbeim, Toras HaChassidus succeeded (thank G-d). By the grace of Al-mighty G-d, it has developed into a complete Torah system, crowned with the adornments of Chochmah, Binah, and Daas.

I trust that you now have an answer to your question about the relationship of the Alter Rebbe's teachings to those of our master the Baal Shem Tov.


Now, let us discuss the ways of Chassidus taught by the Alter Rebbe. They differ from those of the Baal Shem Tov, in that the Baal Shem Tov worked and performed many miracles, both openly and in secret. This was also the way of the Rebbeim of Vohlynia-Poland-Galicia.

It is true. There are all sorts of seforim available to us, filled with good contents. They deal with the study of the Divine, awareness and interpretation of the evolutionary progression of G-dliness, serious contemplation of G-d's Oneness, creation ex nihilo, methods for avodah of the heart and for refining one's emotional attributes, belief in the tzaddikim, fervent and total fear of Heaven, and arousal to the service of G-d (blessed be He).

The aforementioned seforim were written by the great chassidim - both Chabad Chassidim and the chassidim of Vohlynia-Poland-Galicia. In these seforim they wrote down the teachings of their Rebbeim; things that they themselves understood and interpreted, based upon the teachings of their Rebbeim, and of our Rebbeim; transcriptions of the Rebbeim's lectures; and stories they had heard.

What we may deduce from all these seforim is that everything depends on one's main focus. The main focus of chassidim revolves around the roads paved by our holy Rebbeim, and by the Rebbeim of Vohlynia-Poland-Galicia.[17]


Our predecessors are the five generations of the holy Rebbeim [of Chabad]. They carried the banner of Chassidus during a period of about one hundred and forty years (may we be blessed with long life, until the coming of our righteous redeemer, speedily in our days):

  1. the generation of my great-great-great-grandfather [the Alter Rebbe], 5536-5572 [1796-1812];[18]

  2. the generation of my great-great-grandfather [the Mitteler Rebbe], 5572-5588 [1812-1828];

  3. the generation of my great-grandfather, the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek, 5588-5626 [1828-1866];

  4. the generation of my saintly grandfather and the holy tzaddikim, his brothers, 5626-5643 [1866-1882];

  5. the generation of my saintly father and the holy tzaddikim, his cousins, 5643-5680 [1182-1920].

The cornerstone of the teachings of Chabad is the study of Chassidus through intellectual concentration, rational contemplation, and understanding. Thus one's davening is accompanied by abundant meditation and studious reflection. This brings blessing into the actual performance of one's avodah.

The elder chassidim had a favorite expression, which they had heard from the original chassidim: "We abandoned our inborn middos on the doorstep of the Rebbe's beis hamedrash; the door posts of the Lower Gan Eden[19] created in us an intense longing to have love and fear [of G-d]."[20]

My saintly father related that the elder chassidim - before entering for yechidus - would affirm the following resolution: "Anything that - by nature - I desire to do, I will avoid doing."

The above factors constitute the maternity bed upon which chassidim of the first generation were born. Space does not permit me to describe here at length the Alter Rebbe's system of teaching his young disciples: the first cheder and the second cheder. But it is all elucidated in full detail in my diary.[21]


No doubt, you are aware of the famous saying of the original chassidim, "Tolk is without tolk," meaning that the kind of avodah common in the year Tolk - 5530 [1770] - is not in order.[22]

The tzaddik Reb Avraham of Kalisk was a man of powerful emotions. Upon his return from Mezritch, he gathered a society of young scholars around himself, and taught them the teachings of his Rebbe, our master the Maggid. He also arranged for them a program of avodah that featured fervent prayer and rejection of their own egos.

He studied with these disciples for two years. A fundamental principle of this study was to teach them how to belittle themselves and humiliate themselves. He taught them to conceal their own qualities, to dress in the clothing of common people, and to jump and shout during their prayers.

By the year 5530, they had become a society of about thirty-five members, all with keen minds, strong wills, and lofty abilities. Their entire avodah was dedicated to kindling their hearts with fear of Heaven; but it was done in a frenzied manner, and they intentionally offended the dignity of the scholarly misnagdim, humiliated and belittled them, and pointed out their coarse attributes and their oversized egos.


During the year Tolk - 5530 [1770] - something happened that was partly to blame for the feud that occurred in 5532. One of the young scholars, who possessed an especially emotional nature, arrived in Shklov. Pretending to be a traveler who just happened to be passing through, he approached the rav and requested permission to deliver a lecture. The rav and the communal officials examined the visitor, and discovered that he was filled with knowledge of the Talmud and Poskim, Midrash, and Aggadah. Therefore, they agreed to allow him to speak in public.

At the appointed time, a large crowd gathered, including the officers of the congregation. As the speaker lectured, teachings flowed from his mouth. For over an hour, he explained numerous sayings of the Sages of blessed memory, in a wonderful fashion. His speech kindled the hearts of the listeners, and all were delighted with it.

Then, a few moments before concluding his lecture, he turned to the large assembly standing in the holy place and said to them: "I see that I found favor with you (thank G-d), and you have enjoyed my lecture. Now, let me tell you something: I did not come here as a preacher or missionary, nor have I come to be paid for my speech. I am here to open your eyes to the truth, and to kindle your hearts to serve the Creator, blessed be He. Let me prove to you that this is true. I will explain to you one more teaching of the Sages, and then I will come down from the pulpit without accepting any payment for the lecture I have just delivered."

He chose a teaching of the Sages that speaks about one who is "a fool, wicked, and arrogant."[23] He then proceeded to speak about a deceased Sage whose name had been widely known and respected, and several other famous rabbis, belittling them and shaming them. While doing so, he used barbed expressions, which had such an effect on the ears of the listeners that they remembered them. The assembled audience was thrown into an uproar and confusion, so that he managed to escape without being torn to pieces.

The city was now in utter turmoil. On the one hand, everyone had been astounded by his keen mind and encompassing knowledge, his oratorical skills, his excellent manner of preaching, and the arousal to teshuvah and pious fervor that he generated in his listeners. On the other hand, [all were enraged by] his great effrontery in humiliating Torah scholars.

It was after this that the first committee was formed in Shklov to coordinate a campaign against the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and his disciple, the Maggid of Mezritch. They also traveled to Minsk and to Vilna to consult about these arrangements.


When our master the Maggid learned of this, he summoned most of his disciples - the tzaddikim who were already established in various communities in Vohlynia - to an urgent meeting. Their unanimous decision was to summon the tzaddik Reb Avraham to participate in this meeting, and to admonish him about his strange ways.

The more tolerant members of the Society - the holy tzaddikim Reb Levi Yitzchak and Reb Meshulem Zusia - interceded with their colleagues to temper their judgment. They persisted in begging their colleague - the holy tzaddik Reb Menachem Mendel of Horodok - to persuade the others to acquit Reb Avraham.

These negotiations were successful, and imposition of the heavy penalty was delayed. Later, when the full Society met, the whole situation was discussed at length and in full detail. The tzaddik Reb Avraham resolved to change his way of teaching disciples in the future.

All his colleagues then unanimously selected the Alter Rebbe to speak [to the Maggid] as Reb Avraham's advocate. At that assembly, they resolved that the practice of avodah which involved emotional excitement and frenzy would be utterly eliminated.

This is the meaning of the expression "Tolk is without tolk": the kind of avodah common in the year Tolk - 5530 - was not in order.


Now, we come to the crossroads, where the path of Chabad Chassidus and the path of Vohlynian-Polish-Galician Chassidus diverge. The body follows the head,[24] but every river follows its own course.[25]

The five generations of chassidim and men of good deeds who followed the light of Toras Chassidus Chabad, traveled the chassidic path that accords with Toras HaChassidus taught by each holy Rebbe [of Chabad] in his respective generation.

And the chassidim of Vohlynia-Poland-Galicia - among whom there were geonim, tzaddikim, and men of good deeds - each generally recorded in his seforim what he heard from his own Rebbe, and events he witnessed. There are whole libraries, filled with interpretations of Scripture, teachings of the Sages, and stories of various miracles.

To summarize: it all depends on one's main focus. The main focus of the Vohlynian-Polish-Galician chassidim was their Rebbeim's lifestyles, their stories, and their deeds.

Chabad Chassidim also wrote down the teachings of their Rebbeim. For example: the tzaddikim Reb Aharon [of Strashelle], Reb Pinchas [Reizes], and Reb Shlomo Freide's, in the first generation; Reb Yitzchak Aizik [of Homel] and Reb Hillel [of Paritch] in the second generation; and so on, in succeeding generations.


In each generation, the leaders of the chassidic community - each in his own hometown - would convene public gatherings to illuminate the people with Toras HaChassidus. They would also speak at length about the avodah of the heart, which is to recite the prayers slowly and with patience. The elder chassidim would guide the younger scholars by telling them of their own experiences when they themselves were young, and by teaching them good character traits.

Everything revolves around this one axis: Studying Chassidus, davening at length, improving one's character traits, adherence and subjugation of one's mind and heart [to the Rebbe], ahavas HaShem, and ahavas Yisrael.

The fact remains, however, that our own young scholars also desired to hear stories of miracles. But the elder chassidim would reprimand them, for the leading Chabad Chassidim considered stories about miracle-working to be beneath the dignity of Chassidus. Such miracles were regarded as insignificant and inferior, and no one paid attention to them.

I heard the following story: Once, when the tzaddik and chassid Reb Leib of Turkish Mohilev ended a lecture on Chassidus, one of the gifted young scholars was stimulated by this lecture. Afterwards, he dedicated himself to the study of Chassidus. A while later, he also began to pray at length, and to behave in the chassidic manner of Chabad.

The young scholar's companions and contemporaries - who were chassidim of Vohlynian Rebbeim - envied him. At a farbrengen held in honor of one of their joyous occasions, they said to their friend (our young scholar), "Your Rebbe is certainly great and awesome. But if you want a miracle, you can only get it from our Rebbe."


The young man was very distressed by this remark, and for some time he debated whether he should mention it to Reb Leib. After two or three weeks, he decided not to tell Reb Leib anything about it, but he remained very troubled by it.

Meanwhile, there arrived an agent of the Alter Rebbe, bearing Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess charity funds,[26] which were to be sent to Eretz Yisrael. He also brought a letter that the Alter Rebbe had sent to Reb Leib, acknowledging receipt of his written report about the way he was guiding the young scholars. Reb Leib had in fact been appointed by the Alter Rebbe to guide and to lead the young folk, and Anash in general, in that vicinity.

Among the Alter Rebbe's replies [to Reb Leib], there was also a reply concerning our particular young man: "It would be proper to draw him closer, and to assuage his grief. For him, this will be a sign, and for others it will be a miracle."

When the young man heard from his mentor that the Alter Rebbe had written about him, he began to weep. When asked why he was crying, he repeated the entire conversation he had had with his young contemporaries. To this, Reb Leib replied, "Now I understand what the Rebbe meant. And indeed, what greater miracle can there be than to take a block of wood and turn it into a human being?"


This is how the elder chassidim regarded miracles. Even famous and important stories are told very discreetly by Chabad Chassidim. Thus, Vohlynian-Polish-Galician chassidim wrote stories and described incidents, presenting us with whole seforim filled with tales of wonders. But Chabad Chassidim presented us with whole seforim filled with Toras HaChassidus, transcriptions of the Rebbeim's lectures, and long dissertations and commentaries filled with profound scholarship.

Generation followed generation, and the scarcity of miraculous stories became ever greater. As my great-grandmother, the saintly Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka[27] told her daughter-in-law, my grandmother, the saintly Rebbetzin Rivka,[28] "At my father's[29] court, miracles lay scattered about, and no one bothered to pick them up."[30]

It is not proper - nor do I have any desire - to compare one society to the other. We do not possess the proper yardstick with which to measure and compare the two lofty mountains, the G-dly princes, my saintly ancestor the Mitteler Rebbe, with his in-law, my saintly ancestor the Rebbe of Chernobyl[31] of blessed memory; nor can we make such comparisons regarding succeeding generations.

Let us rather give praise to the Master of All, and recognize the kindness done to us by Al-mighty G-d. For today, we have (thank G-d) a complete set of teachings, the teachings of Chassidus, a G-dly edifice. "Fortunate are we! How good is our portion, how pleasant our lot!"[32]


I will not deny it! I often regret the fact that the Chabad Chassidim in each generation did not also record in their seforim the stories and happenings, involving thousands of supernatural miracles. Nevertheless, I still prefer their seforim and writings - commenting on the subjects they heard, each in his own era - to those that merely relate wonders.

The truth is that we greatly desire (and it would be very dear to us) to know even the smallest detail about the lifestyles of our holy ancestors, the Rebbeim. We know that even their slightest gesture teaches us some guiding principle for our conduct. But still, we must remain aware of what is of primary importance, and what is secondary.

Our faith in the servants of G-d - our holy ancestors the Rebbeim - does not need to be supported by miracles and wonders. But it would be pleasant to know this also, and even this would contribute to the main goal, which is the concerted study of Chassidus, and engaging in the avodah of the heart. Thus, even our life in this mundane world would follow the teachings of Chassidus....

If, at some future time, G-d grants me an opportunity to supplement this outline, it will be easier for me to do so, having already arranged the topics in order.

As for you, go forth on the path of truth; there is no truth other than the whole Torah. With blessings, I remain your loving father-in-law,

Yosef Yitzchak.



  1. (Back to text) From a letter written to the Rebbe, as an introduction to the essay "Fathers of Chassidus. First printed in HaTamim, Vol. 2, pp. 150-159, with the heading, "Copy of a letter by the Rebbe, Shlita, written to his son-in-law, the rav (long may he live)." The letter was subsequently reprinted in Igros Kodesh of the Rebbe Rayatz, Vol. 2, pp. 361-377 (No. 552), with the notation - copied from the Previous Rebbe's bibliographic remarks - that it was written to the Rebbe. The notation reads:

    Schneerson, Rabbi M.M. - Berlin: 24 Teves [56]92: Chabad vs. Poland, and their relevance to the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid.

  2. (Back to text) [Reb Yitzchak Dov Ber was the son of Reb Chayim Schneur Zalman of Liadi, third son of the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek.]

  3. (Back to text) [Between France and Russia.]

  4. (Back to text) [Af means "anger" in Hebrew.]

  5. (Back to text) [By misrepresenting the inner meaning of the Baal Shem Tov's practices to the ministers.]

  6. (Back to text) [I.e., when it involves only outward gestures.]

  7. (Back to text) [I.e., if the Alter Rebbe was so careful with the Baal Shem Tov's teachings and practices even when they placed him in danger, then why do the Alter Rebbe's own teachings and practices seem (outwardly) to be so different from those of the Baal Shem Tov?]

  8. (Back to text) [The word "Torah" also means "instruction" or "guidance."]

  9. (Back to text) I.e., our master the Baal Shem Tov, and the Alter Rebbe.

  10. (Back to text) [Avos 1:17; Siddur, p. 213.]

  11. (Back to text) [Known as "Rashbatz." For a brief biography, see Links in the Chassidic Legacy, pp 1-35.]

  12. (Back to text) [After the king of Assyria exiled the Jews of Samaria from the Holy Land, he brought non-Jewish people of several foreign nations to settle there. These continued to worship the idols of their native lands, and G-d sent lions to attack them and eat them as punishment. Out of fear of the lions, they converted to Judaism (Melachim II, 17:24-27). They converted out of fear of the lions. Similarly, these young scholars converted to Chassidus out of awe of the "Bears."]

  13. (Back to text) [See Likkutei Dibburim (English), Vol. 1, Kehot Publication Society, Brooklyn, 1987, pp. 309-313.]

  14. (Back to text) [See Torah Or, p. 77d.]

  15. (Back to text) [Mishlei 10:25; see also Chagigah14b.]

  16. (Back to text) [Paraphrased from the Shacharis prayer, Siddur, p. 43.]

  17. (Back to text) [I.e., chassidim of each faction focused on the same theme that was the main focus of their Rebbe.]

  18. (Back to text) [This appears to be a typographical error. In most sources, the date of the Alter Rebbe's passing - and the beginning of the Mitteler Rebbe's leadership - is given as 5573, not 5572.]

  19. (Back to text) The elder chassidim called the room where they would await their turn for yechidus, "the Lower Gan Eden." [The Rebbe's inner chamber, where he actually received chassidim in yechidus, was called "the Upper Gan Eden."]

  20. (Back to text) [I.e., they longed to have love and fear that were derived from "intellectual concentration, rational contemplation, and understanding," rather than from their "inborn middos."]

  21. (Back to text) [See above, "Third Generation: the Alter Rebbe," and "Torah Scholarship in Reissin."]

  22. (Back to text) [A play on words: The Hebrew letters ToLK, stand for the year 5530; the Yiddish word tolk means "orderly." See The Making of Chassidim, pp. 5-7.]

  23. (Back to text) [Quoted from Avos 4:7; Siddur, p. 222, concerning one who "aggrandizes himself by [eagerly] issuing legal decisions."]

  24. (Back to text) [Eruvin 41a. I.e., though each organ of the body has its own unique function, all follow the central commands of the head. So too, each member of the Holy Society had his own agenda and his own approach to Chassidus, but all obeyed the central authority of the Maggid.]

  25. (Back to text) [Chulin 18b; 57a. I.e., all rivers have their origin in the Divine source of earthly waters, and flow toward the same sea, but each one follows its own course going from source to sea. So too, each member of the Holy Society aimed to carry out the Maggid's teachings, but each followed his own path in doing so.]

  26. (Back to text) [Rabbi Meir "the Miracle-Worker"; traditional name for charity funds collected in the Diaspora, for the support of Jewish communities and institutions in the Holy Land.]

  27. (Back to text) [Wife of the Tzemach Tzedek.]

  28. (Back to text) [Wife of the Rebbe Maharash.]

  29. (Back to text) [The Mitteler Rebbe.]

  30. (Back to text) [An example is quoted below, in Supplement D.]

  31. (Back to text) [The Mitteler Rebbe's daughter, Rebbetzin Devorah Leah, was married to Reb Yaakov Yisrael of Cherkassy, son of Reb Mordechai of Chernobyl. Their daughter, Rebbetzin Chanah was married to Reb Yosef Yitzchak of Avruch, son of the Tzemach Tzedek. Their daughter, in turn, was Rebbetzin Sterna Sarah, wife of the Rebbe Rashab, and mother of the Previous Rebbe.]

  32. (Back to text) [Quoted from the Shacharis prayer; Siddur, p. 17.]

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