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Translator's Introduction

The Alter Rebbe

Reb Baruch's Secret Studies

   Reb Baruch "The Silent"

At The Yeshivah

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

Reb Baruch "The Silent"

Translated by Shimon Neubort

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Reb Baruch ben Yosef was born in a small village near Vilna. At the age of fifteen, he went into exile in search of a place of Torah,[2] wandering from one yeshivah to another. Near the end of his life he became a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, and before he died he instructed his two sons that they too should travel to the Baal Shem Tov.

When the chassid Reb Baruch ben Yosef died, he was succeeded by a person named Reb Meir Shabsi, the son of a simple and unlearned man named Reb Zevulun Shimon, who had been known in Slutzk as a supporter and patron of rabbinic scholars, and a generous philanthropist.

This Reb Meir Shabsi was known in Slutzk and the surrounding area as an honest businessman, a philanthropist, and a person of good character traits. But he was also known as a simple person, incapable of understanding a learned discussion.

In the end, it was discovered that he was in fact a great scholar in both the revealed and the mystic aspects of the Torah, and that he was a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov.

The two brothers - Reb Baruch ben Yosef's sons - fulfilled the request and the last will of their father the chassid, and traveled to the Baal Shem Tov. Once, they brought the Baal Shem Tov with them, to attend the dedication of a mansion they had built in Slutzk. All the sick people who lived in Slutzk at the time were cured, and all the barren women conceived.

About the year 5430, while the gaon Reb Elchanan of Zalkve was living in Slutzk, two bochurim arrived (among others) to study Torah in Slutzk: Naftali Hirsh ben Yehonasan from Pinsk, and Baruch ben Yosef from a small village near Vilna. The bochur Naftali Hirsh was admitted to the yeshivah of the gaon Reb Elchanan, while the bochur Baruch sat in one of the batei hamedrash and studied with great diligence day and night.

All the students of the yeshivah, and the bochurim who studied in the batei hamedrash, were supported either at the community's expense, or by individual residents. But the bochur Baruch refused to be supported by others, and insisted on supporting himself by the labor of his own hands. He would go into the forest near the city, cut wood, carry it to town on his own shoulders, and sell it. In this way, he earned his livelihood.

This student Baruch possessed the finest character traits. He never lost his temper or got angry. Even when a customer offered a price lower than what was customary, he would accept it with love. He brought wood from the forest to widows and orphans, free of charge.

This bochur's lifestyle was rather strange. Each student of the yeshivah and each bochur who studied in one of the batei hamedrash lived as a guest in one of the homes in the city. But Baruch had no place to stay in the city, and instead he slept in the beis hamedrash.

The yeshivah students and the bochurim who studied in the batei hamedrash formed close friendships with one another, besides having acquaintances among the townsfolk. But Baruch formed no friendships among the scholarly bochurim, and he had no acquaintances. He generally kept to himself, and so he was called Baruch the "Silent."

The wealthy philanthropist Reb Avraham, second son of the prominent philanthropist Reb Baruch, related what he had heard from his father:

When he departed from his home to exile himself to a place of Torah, he headed for the city of the great king's citadel ("king" refers to the rabbis[3]) - the city of Vilna. His hometown was not far from the capital city, a journey of only a few days. Nevertheless, his trip took five or six weeks, for he remained several days (sometimes even a week or more) in each settlement and village that he passed through on the way.

When he arrived at his destination - the capital city of Vilna - he was overjoyed by the Torah study and the worship of the Creator that he discovered there. However, when about three months had passed, he found that the tumult of big city life disturbed him, even though he spent all his time in the beis hamedrash among Torah scholars. As the Sages of blessed memory said, "Dwelling in large cities causes hardship."[4] He longed to dwell in a small town, and so he left the capital city - the crown and the glory of the Sages and great geonim - and he made his way to a small suburb named Troky.

The village of Troky was small and peaceful, but its inhabitants were simple folk, with few Torah scholars among them. After dwelling in Troky for only a few days, he left, and wandered from town to town and from settlement to settlement. Finally, just before Pesach, he came to the town of Viazhyn, where the mighty gaon Reb Shaul lived. He was famous throughout the whole vicinity as a gaon who disseminated Torah to dozens of students who came to hear his lectures.

Reb Baruch continued to support himself by the labor of his own hands, as he had been doing since coming to adulthood. He found employment at the home of a widow who lived a few miles out of town and owned a dairy business. Twice a week he would deliver to town milk, butter, cheese, eggs, and other local produce. On his return he would bring whatever she needed for her store. This gave him an ample income, and he was even able to put aside a few pennies each week.

While in Viazhyn, he decided to begin separating ten percent of his income for charity. He divided this tithe into three portions: one third he deposited in the charity box where anonymous donations were collected; one third went to the fund that supported the yeshivah students; and one third was given to the fund of the communal kitchen [where the poor were fed].

He was quite pleased with himself - he managed to study Torah very diligently, he supported himself more than adequately by the labor of his own hands, and (thank G-d) he donated a tithe to charity anonymously, as this mitzvah should be done. He helped support Torah students, and he helped support the poor (among whom were several scholars). He was in excellent circumstances, and his happiness knew no bounds.

[Reb Baruch himself takes up the narrative]:

He remained in Viazhyn for two months, associating with the students of the gaon Reb Shaul, and studying with great diligence. There, he became acquainted with two very G-d-fearing Torah scholars, one from Brysk and the other from Pinsk; they became devoted friends.

There were four shuls in Viazhyn, besides the large beis hamedrash at the yeshivah. In each shul there were several Torah scholars and elderly folk who sat there night and day, studying the Torah and worshiping the Creator (blessed be He).

In one of the shuls there were several elders, one of whom was named Reb Lipa Zev. No one knew where he came from, for during the ten years since his first arrival in Viazhyn he had resided in the shul and eaten meals provided by the communal kitchen. Usually, he would spend the days fasting.

I once heard that the shammes, Reb Mordechai Pesachia (who had been sitting in the shul constantly for the past thirty years, while his grandson Shaul Zalman attended to the shammes' duties), had praised the elder Reb Lipa Zev greatly, lauding him as a hidden tzaddik.

During the time that I dwelt in the shul, the elder Reb Lipa Zev sat there reciting Tehillim in a pleasing voice, while tears ran from his eyes. This made a powerful impression upon me, and from then on I began to observe Reb Lipa Zev's behavior carefully. I had previously slept in a different shul, but I now switched my sleeping accommodations to the shul where Reb Lipa Zev resided, so that I could be near him every free moment that the yeshivah's study schedule allowed me.

Reb Lipa Zev's conduct captured my heart, especially the way he would recite Tikkun Chatzos - tearfully, and in solitary seclusion. I envied Reb Lipa Zev's conduct, and I was inspired to begin a program of self-inflicted physical torment, including fasting and other forms of deprivation.

During the month of Kislev, something very disagreeable happened to me, which embittered my life.[5] That event caused me to terminate my employment at the widow's home, where I had been working the entire time that I had been in Viazhyn. After that, I afflicted myself with even harsher forms of self-torment than before.

There were moments when I wished to unburden myself to the elder Reb Lipa Zev and confess to him all that had happened to me. But when I observed Reb Lipa Zev, and heard him reciting his chapters of Tehillim, I found that I was too ashamed to approach him and tell him what had happened.

A few days after I left my employment at the widow's home, I met Reb Eliyah Shlomo the storekeeper, who said to me, "Yesterday, when I returned to town with merchandise, I heard that you had quit your job at the widow's home. I assume that it was because the work was too hard for you - carrying packages on your shoulders.

"I will make you a proposition: come to see me two evenings a week. Early the next morning, I will send you to town with a wagon full of merchandise, and in the afternoon you will return to the village with goods that I need for my store. In return, I will pay you a generous salary."

This proposal by Reb Eliyah Shlomo the storekeeper seemed very agreeable, and so, twice a week I would go to the village, about four miles from the city. I would take the wagon with merchandise to the city; when I returned, I brought the goods that Reb Eliyah Shlomo had ordered. I did this twice a week: Sunday and Wednesday.

On Motzoei Shabbos and on Tuesday evenings, I would go to the village where Reb Eliyah Shlomo had his store, and spend the night there. Early the next morning, Reb Eliyah Shlomo would load the wagon, and give me lists of people who were to receive the merchandise he sent, and the things he needed me to bring back from the city. I would return that afternoon.

Once, when I spent the night at Reb Eliyah Shlomo's home, I awoke during the night and discovered him studying in depth, but I could not hear exactly what subject he was studying. Reb Eliyah Shlomo's conduct aroused my suspicions that he was hiding something.[6] I began to observe his behavior closely, but was unable to discover anything - all his overt actions were those of a simple person.

I spent three months working for Reb Eliyah Shlomo. I separated a tenth of my income for charity, and still managed to save a substantial amount.

My diligent Torah study failed to satisfy my soul. From day to day, my longing to worship G-d (blessed be He) grew stronger. One day, I obtained a copy of the sefer Avodas HaKodesh by R. Meir Ibn Gabbai. Though I was still quite young, this book opened my eyes.

My heart was inspired to undertake a regular and diligent study of this subject matter. I told my companions about the changes that had overcome me since I began studying this book Avodas HaKodesh. They envied me, and so they too began to study it. But after a while, they renewed their earlier interest in Gemara, and grew indifferent to the study of Avodas HaKodesh.

As for me, my thirst for this study grew from day to day. Since the subject matter was extremely complicated, I would study no more than a few lines each day, and review them many times. There were even times when I was stuck in one place for several days, until I had reviewed it sufficiently and knew it well.

It was then that I decided to search for a mentor and guide who would impart to me the knowledge, understanding, and wisdom needed for studying this subject, which was still very difficult for me to grasp. One day, I learned that in the famous city of Brysk there was a rosh yeshivah and gaon named "Reb Shlomo the Chassid and Porush." Therefore, I left Viazhyn and made my way to the holy city of Brysk.

When I arrived, I went straight to the yeshivah of the gaon Reb Shlomo the Chassid and Porush. There, I found about sixty students pursuing their diligent studies. Most of them were older than I was, and there were also a few young married scholars who were supported by their in-laws.

I hesitated for several days before going in to meet the rosh yeshivah and gaon Reb Shlomo. During this time, I reflected on the proper way to approach the rosh yeshivah and tell him of my desire, and the reason I had come to Brysk.

What more can I say? Before coming to the chassid and gaon Reb Shlomo in Brysk, I had never seen a person who had love of G-d and fear of G-d. Only then, did I discover what love and fear of G-d means. Day by day I grew more attached to the chassid Reb Shlomo, for whom I bore great love. But out of respect and awe for his glorious and elevated stature, I did not dare to reveal my desires to him.

At the yeshivah of the gaon Reb Shaul in Viazhyn, there had been a shortage of seforim; three or four students would crowd together to study out of a single sefer. On the other hand, at the yeshivah of the gaon Reb Shlomo in Brysk, seforim were plentiful, and we could study in pairs. There were even those who had the scholarly privilege of studying out of a sefer all by themselves.

At Reb Shaul's yeshivah, we had studied Torah in poverty and privation. But at Reb Shlomo's yeshivah, we studied Torah with affluence. There was an enormous bookcase, filled to overflowing with many seforim, besides sets of the Talmud, Alfas,[7] Rambam, the Turim, the Shulchan Aruch, and works of the Rishonim. There were also many seforim containing various novel insights, commentaries on the Torah, mussar, and philosophy.

I was very diligent, detested any waste of time, and had a great love for studying in seforim. During my early days in Brysk, at the yeshivah of the gaon and chassid Reb Shlomo, when I first saw the shelves filled with seforim, I scrutinized them carefully. I was very excited, for there I found seforim of whose existence I had previously been unaware. And so, I was constantly perusing them.

There, I discovered two seforim that intrigued me: Sefer HaMefouar by R. Yehudah Kolatz, and Reishis Chochmah by R. Eliyahu de Vidas. These seforim opened up a whole new world for me.

From the Sefer HaMefouar, I learned to be very precise when reciting the verses of the prayers, in view of the fact that each individual word has some special significance which requires that it be recited with perfect pronunciation and with a pure mouth, so that it may ascend and reach the L-rd of the Whole World (may He be blessed and exalted). From Reishis Chochmah, I learned how to purify my heart, and to acquire good character traits.

Two weeks passed, and I - as well as three other new bochurim who had come to the yeshivah - had not yet taken the entrance examination given by the Rosh Yeshivah Reb Chayim Uri. We simply listened to the lectures and reviewed them. I spent most of my time in the small room where the bookcase stood, constantly studying the two beloved seforim I mentioned above.

The library was a small room with two windows. One overlooked the courtyard, and the other opened to the garden behind the house. It was my habit to sit by the window overlooking the garden, perusing the seforim.

One day, as I studied Reishis Chochmah, my master and Rebbe, the gaon and chassid Reb Shlomo, entered the library to study some sefer. At the time, I was studying Chapter 14 in "Sha'ar HaYirah,"[8] dealing with the subject of the awe one should aspire to have. This was based on the elucidation of a passage in the Mechilta[9] which comments on the verse,[10] "And Moshe said, 'This is the thing that G-d has commanded you to do, so that the glory of G-d may appear before you.'" [The Mechilta comments]:

Moshe said to the Israelites: Purge the evil inclination from your hearts, so that you may all stand together in awe, with a single goal, to serve the Omnipresent G-d. Just as He is unique in the world, so should your avodah be unique before Him, as it says,[11] "You will cut away the foreskin [that has sealed up] your hearts ...." Once you have done this, the glory of G-d will appear before you.
The Reishis Chochmah comments on this passage, emphasizing the removal of the evil inclination from the heart, stating:

The heart has two chambers - one is the abode of the good inclination, and the other is the abode of the evil inclination. Thus, the evil inclination plays some role in each act of avodah that a person does. This is the "foreign god" that exists in the person's heart. Therefore, one must prepare himself to wage battle against the evil inclination and purge it from his heart completely.
This comment fascinated me very much, and my mind was so thoroughly occupied with it, that I did not notice my master and Rebbe Reb Shlomo entering the library. But suddenly, I heard his voice addressing me: "Who are you, and what sefer are you studying?"

For a moment, I was struck dumb and was unable to answer. Seeing my master and Rebbe, the gaon and chassid Reb Shlomo, face to face, paralyzed my tongue, so that I was unable to utter a sound.

Each new bochur who came to the yeshivah was addressed by his own name, coupled with the name of his place of origin. Since I had come from the Viazhyn Yeshivah, I was called "Baruch Viazhyner." When I had calmed down a bit, I managed to answer that my name was Baruch Viazhyner, and that I was studying the sefer Reishis Chochmah. My Rebbe Reb Shlomo looked at me with an expression of surprise on his face, but he made no comment.

That same evening, the shammes of the yeshivah, Reb Avraham Shaul, called me aside and informed me that our master and Rebbe had sent for me. I had been summoned to his chamber, but no one was to know of it.

When I had entered - and I stood before my master and Rebbe the gaon and chassid Reb Shlomo - he inquired about my level of Gemara study with Rashi, and how well I understood Tosafos. He tested me on my knowledge of three or four passages by heart, and I perceived that my master and Rebbe was pleased with me.

He then inquired whether I was supported by the yeshivah fund, or whether I took my meals at the private homes of people who supported Torah students. He also asked where I was sleeping. I replied that I was supported neither by the yeshivah fund nor did I have "eating days,"[12] but [instead, I was sustained] by whatever G-d's kindness provided for me. As for my accommodations, I was residing in the side-room of the beis hamedrash near the marketplace.

Seeing that my master and Rebbe was impressed with me, I became bold enough to reveal to him the purpose of my journey, and why I had come to the gaon's yeshivah in Brysk.

Reb Baruch's story
[told to his master and Rebbe]:

I abandoned my father's home and the city of my birth, and exiled myself to a place of Torah. I arrived in the glorious capital city of Vilna, where I feasted on the riches of the Torah, in the company of other students who were my superiors in age, in wisdom, and in piety.

While in Vilna I rejoiced with the joy derived from mitzvos, because a lad of fifteen (that was my age then) was privileged to dwell in the abode of Torah, in association with the "servants of G-d who stand in the house of G-d by night"[13] (as well as by day), studying Torah and performing their avodah.

But, the tumult of the big city disturbed me, and "for various reasons," I was compelled to depart from the Garden of Eden, and I made my way to the nearby village of Troky. (To my Rebbe, I did not divulge the real reason: that I had been unable to continue earning my living by the labor of my own hands, in a lawful manner, without intruding upon the livelihood of others.)

When I arrived in Troky, I realized that it was not a place of Torah. And so, after a few days I departed and went to the yeshivah of the gaon Reb Shaul in the town of Viazhyn. There, I spent a whole year, feasting upon the milk and honey of the Torah, in the company of other intellectually-gifted students who studied with diligence.

However, two months after my arrival there, my soul desired to ascend the ladder of avodah, which leads up to the house of G-d. I envied those who "stand guard at the Sanctuary," by reciting Tikkun Chatzos. I also longed to submit myself to deprivation and fasting, and other forms of self-torment, and to seclude myself from society.

I would go out into the field alone, where I spent long hours: sometimes after the Shacharis prayer, and sometimes before sunset. I would lie down among the grain stalks or upon a grassy lawn and gaze at the blue sky, while I wept and pleaded with our Father in Heaven that I might achieve perfection in worshiping the Creator.

During the next half year, I subjected myself to all sorts of self-torture, but I still managed to keep up my diligent study. Eventually, I became one of the foremost students of the second table. No lad of my tender age had ever succeeded in reaching this level, and my master and Rebbe bestowed titles of honor upon me.

Nevertheless, I found myself in very depressed spirits. I was disturbed by a yearning hidden deep within my soul - a great longing to worship the Creator. This gave me no rest, night or day.

When the month of Elul arrived, I began to torment my body even more. I would go into seclusion for whole days, studying Torah with very great diligence.

Two or three weeks after a certain terrible event happened to me, I came upon a sefer subtitled "Visions of G-d," which is the sefer Avodas HaKodesh by the gaon R. Meir Ibn Gabbai. When I discovered that the subtitle of this sefer was "Visions of G-d," every limb of my body began to tremble. I could not decide whether I should dare to read a sefer so holy, or whether I should refrain from "approaching the Sanctuary."

I felt a great battle raging within me. On one hand, I perceived that this sefer dealt with noble and lofty concepts regarding worship of the Creator. But on the other hand, I was afraid to "approach the Sanctuary" and study a sefer so holy; even its very name - "Visions of G-d" - indicated how awesomely holy it was. Scripture says explicitly,[14] "...for no man may see Me and yet live."

For several days I remained preoccupied by this dilemma - should I study this sefer, or should I refrain from doing so? I decided that I must first purify myself of all improper thoughts and personal inclination, so that my intentions would be solely for the sake of G-d, my Creator and my Rock, whom I desired to worship with my whole heart. Only then would I permit myself to study the holy sefer "Visions of G-d." Thus, this study would be sure to raise me up, so I could ascend the ladder leading up to the house of G-d.

That night, I was still fasting (I had taken upon myself to fast for two days and two nights, with a break in between). After reciting Tikkun Chatzos (while weeping profusely and imploring our benevolent G-d to have pity upon me, and to accept my desire to serve him with a full heart) I took the sefer and began to study it.

I first studied the beginning of the Introduction. There, I learned that the soul within me is a ray of light emanating from the holiness of the Creator (blessed be He). I began to tremble when I discovered that even now - while the soul resides within my coarse body - it remains connected and attached to its Source (blessed be He).

These holy words, which explained that the soul dwells within the body like a stranger in a foreign land, awoke in me a great desire to join the ranks of the spiritual giants who worship the Creator (blessed be He) while cognizant of G-d, by whose word the world was created. I spent more than a week constantly studying the Introduction. I managed to grasp the meaning of a few short passages here and there, but most of it remained beyond my comprehension. This caused me much distress.

Finding that I had accomplished little through studying the Introduction, I entertained the hope that I might find the text itself somewhat easier to understand. Alas, I found just the opposite: when I began studying this holy book, I understood not a sentence of the beginning. I therefore skipped to Part Two, dealing with the subject of avodah. Here, I did manage to comprehend a little.

I really hoped that I might obtain some assistance in understanding the sefer, for in the Viazhyn Yeshivah I had two companions who possessed lofty abilities. I showed them the holy book, thinking that they would teach me what I needed to know. For some time they did study with me, but later they lost interest and ceased studying this subject.

I, on the other hand, found that my desire to master this sefer grew from day to day. Since the day that the Creator (blessed be He) had presented me with "the light that is good"[15] ("good" refers exclusively to the Torah[16]), and allowed me to discover and begin studying the holy sefer Avodas HaKodesh, the worries that had beset me had vanished. My heart rejoiced, even with the little bit that I had managed to understand.

When I found that my desire to study this holy subject was overpowering, I decided to persist in searching for a teacher and guide to lead me along the paths of righteousness and the proper path of serving the Creator. After Purim of this year, I took leave of my master and Rebbe, the gaon Reb Shaul.

He blessed me, and gave me a diploma certifying that I was a senior graduate. I left the Viazhyn Yeshivah and wandered from community to community and from city to city, searching for a teacher and guide who would teach me the correct path for worshiping the Creator.

One day, I heard that the Rosh Yeshivah at the Yeshivah of Brysk was a mighty gaon, who occupied himself with worshiping the Creator, and was famous for his saintliness and asceticism. Hearing this, I thanked G-d for the good news, and hurried on my way.

After traveling only a few miles, I fell ill, and had to spend several days in bed before I recovered sufficiently to resume my journey. Finally, I arrived here. The whole purpose of my coming was to search for the proper path for worshiping the Creator (blessed be He) with a full heart, exactly as written in the holy sefer Avodas HaKodesh.

When I arrived here in Brysk and entered the holy yeshivah, I discovered the "light that is good," namely the two holy seforim, Sefer HaMefouar by R. Yehudah Kolatz, and Reishis Chochmah by R. Eliyahu de Vidas. I bound myself firmly to these two seforim, perusing them every free moment. But I was never so brazen as to approach the gaon, my esteemed master and Rebbe, until I merited the privilege of his sending for me, to stand before the Torah's "pillar of light," namely the gaon, my esteemed master and Rebbe.

[This ends Reb Baruch's story told to his master and Rebbe]



  1. (Back to text) From the Previous Rebbe's essay, "Fathers of Chassidus," HaTamim, Vol. 5, pp. 467-473; see also Lubavitcher Rebbe's Memoirs, Vol. 2, Chs. 67-78.

  2. (Back to text) [Cf. Avos 4:14; Siddur, p. 223]

  3. (Back to text) [Gittin 62a.]

  4. (Back to text) [Kesuvos 110b.]

  5. (Back to text) [I.e., the incident with the widow's daughter, to be described later in the story.]

  6. (Back to text) [I.e., the fact that he was a tzaddik and scholar.]

  7. (Back to text) [A collection of legal decisions from the Talmud, compiled by R. Yitzchak Alfasi (also known as Rif; 1013-1089).]

  8. (Back to text) [Lit., "the Gate of Awe," one of the major subdivisions of Reishis Chochmah.]

  9. (Back to text) [Toras Kohannim on Vayikra 9:6.]

  10. (Back to text) [Ibid.]

  11. (Back to text) [Devarim 10:16.]

  12. (Back to text) [It was the custom for yeshivah students from out of town to eat their meals at the homes of local families. Usually, a bochur was assigned to a different family for each day of the week. This arrangement was known as essen teg ("eating days").]

  13. (Back to text) [Tehillim 134:1; introduction to the Maariv service, Siddur, p. 106.]

  14. (Back to text) [Shemos 33:20.]

  15. (Back to text) [Bereishis 1:4.]

  16. (Back to text) [Avodah Zarah 19b.]

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