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Translator's Introduction

The Alter Rebbe

Reb Baruch's Secret Studies

Reb Gershon Dov Of Pohor

The Previous Rebbe's Ancestral Tree

Founders Of Chassidism & Leaders Of Chabad-Lubavitch


Geographic Terms

Branches Of The Chassidic Menorah - Volume Two
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

Translator's Introduction

Translated by Shimon Neubort

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 Misnagdim And Maskilim  

Shortly after the publication of Vol. 1 of this text, an acquaintance who follows one of the Galician chassidic Rebbeim asked me: "I understand that all chassidim believe their own Rebbeim and their paths to be superior to everyone else's. That is how chassidim should feel; they would hardly be chassidim if they did not feel this way. But from your book, it appears that not only do Chabad Chassidim feel this way, but that this was also the Rebbe Rayatz's attitude! Is it right for a Rebbe to teach his own followers to look down upon others?"

In reply, I called his attention to these excerpts from the Previous Rebbe's introductory letter (Supplement B):

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....

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 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!"

I heard those same sentiments spoken thirty-seven years ago, when I first came to 770. The elder chassidim would emphasize: We do not look down on what is holy to others. Nonetheless, we praise G-d for what we have. "Fortunate are we" - that we are Jews and not otherwise; "How good is our portion" - that we are chassidim and not misnagdim" "How pleasant our lot" - that we are Chabad Chassidim, and not chassidim of other camps. Let others keep what is theirs; we will focus on what is ours.

The Previous Rebbe's essay "Fathers of Chassidus" serves precisely this purpose, highlighting the unique nature of the Divine service that characterizes Chabad-Lubavitch. The essay, first printed in HaTamim, was written in reply to the Rebbe's question about the Baal Shem Tov's ways and teachings, their apparent similarities to those of the Rebbeim of Vohlynia-Poland-Galicia, and their apparent differences from those of the Nesi'im of Chabad.

The first portion of the essay (Vol. 1) describes the history of the first three generations of Chassidus - the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid of Mezritch, and the Alter Rebbe, outlining their respective contributions to the formulation and dissemination of Toras HaChassidus. It paints a portrait of several generations of Jewish life in the counties of Minsk, Mohilev, and Vitebsk, enabling us to appreciate the contributions Chassidus made, and why there was hesitation and even opposition to their acceptance.

The second portion of the essay (the present volume) focuses on the story of Reb Gershon Dov (a prominent chassid of the Tzemach Tzedek, the Rebbe Maharash, and the Rebbe Rashab), illustrating how the principles for which the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid, and the Alter Rebbe labored became ingrained in the lives of the chassidim. The differing approaches to Divine service of chassidim and are contrasted in the accompanying stories of Reb Baruch ben Yosef, and Reb Gershon Dov's uncle, Reb Abba, and Reb Yitzchak Shaul.

The supplements to Vol. 1 focussed on the Alter Rebbe's campaigns in overcoming the opposition to his approach by the misnagdim and by his opponents among his chassidic colleagues, and his campaigns to attract young gifted Torah scholars to Chassidus. In the present volume, the focus shifts to the Alter Rebbe's campaigns to combat the maskilim and early reformers who sought to erode the Torah foundation of the Jewish community. Perceiving the Chassidic Movement - and its Nasi the Alter Rebbe - as the greatest threat to their attempts at reforming Judaism and the traditional system of Jewish education, the maskilim sought allies among the misnagdim. Through stealth, deceit, and subterfuge (and outright slander of the chassidim and their leaders), they enlisted the misnagdim and their leaders (including the greatest of them) in their war against Chassidus. The narratives highlight the Alter Rebbe's ruach hakodesh and foresight in recognizing the danger, and the firm efforts he took in thwarting the inroads they sought to make within the Jewish community.

The Previous Rebbe divided the first half of the essay into sequentially-numbered sections. Since he evidently considered the order to be important, we struggled to preserve the sequence in our translation. But in the portions translated here, the numbering of sections was abandoned by the author. Therefore, we allowed ourselves the liberty of rearranging the text to make it easier for the reader to follow the narrative flow.

Explanatory footnotes and references have been added in brackets. Footnotes without brackets appeared in the original text, and were inserted either by the Previous Rebbe himself, or by the editors of HaTamim. Family trees, a glossary, and a table defining non-standard geographic terms were added to complement the translation.

I am once again indebted to the editors and readers of Beis Moshiach Magazine for their constant advice and encouragement, and to the staff of Sichos in English - Rabbi Yonah Avtzon, who directed the project; Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, who edited the manuscript; and Yosef Yitzchok Turner, who prepared the text for printing. I also thank Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Paltiel for lending me his copy of the manuscript of Shimon HaKofer, and Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Keller for enlightening me on the historical and bibliographic background of the material.

Today, the undesirable dimensions of the factionalism that plagued the Torah community in previous centuries has faded into history. The damage done by the maskilim has largely been repaired. Now, everyone - misnagdim, Chabad Chassidim, and the chassidim of other schools - strive, each with their own approach, toward common goals: studying Torah, performing mitzvos, disseminating Judaism and Jewish education, and increased acts of goodness and kindness.

May all this enable us speedily to attain the ultimate goal we all share: the end of our exile and beginning of our redemption, with the immediate revelation of Mashiach, NOW!

Shimon Neubort
15 Adar - Shushan Purim 5759
Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York

Editor's Jottings

We're used to hearing Chassidim speak almost endlessly in praise of their Rebbeim, but for the Rebbeim to glorify chassidim is less common. In that vein, the Previous Rebbe's conclusion of his essay "Fathers of Chassidus" stands out as unique.

I was seventeen years, three months, and fifteen days old last Motzoei Shabbos, when I heard the story and recital of the chassid Reb Gershon Dov. I saw many chassidim during my childhood; I have seen many chassidim, masters of intellect, masters of avodah, and men of good character, during my youth. I listened to their stories, and observed their conduct.

For the past three years, I have been privileged to be close to my holy father, the Rebbe. He drew me close with his righteous right hand, and related to me a large store of previously unknown facts about the lives of the greatest chassidim who are now in Gan Eden, and (may they be spared in life) those who are still alive and famous today (may G-d bless them). But only in the chassid Reb Gershon Dov did I discern a heart broken as a piece of pottery, and a person who held himself as humbly as the dust of the earth.

A Rebbe was marveling at a chassid! Indeed, this is the theme of the entire second portion of the essay. The first portion of the Previous Rebbe's manuscript highlights primarily the direction given us by the Rebbeim. This portion relates how chassidim took these directives to heart, becoming models of Divine service.

Herein lies a lesson for us: The guidelines given us by the Rebbe - and the previous Rebbeim - are clear. What is necessary is for us simply to take them to heart. And then with Mashiach's coming, the Rebbe can point at us and proudly say: "See the crop I have produced."

May this take place in the immediate future.

Eli Touger
Pesach Sheni, 5759

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