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Translator's Introduction

The Alter Rebbe

Reb Baruch's Secret Studies

Reb Gershon Dov Of Pohor

   Prologue

Reb Gershon Dov

Reb Meir Zalman And Reb Abba

Reb Shlomo The Coachman And Reb Yitzchak Shaul

Epilogue

The Previous Rebbe's Ancestral Tree

Founders Of Chassidism & Leaders Of Chabad-Lubavitch

Glossary

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


Prologue

Translated by Shimon Neubort

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  Reb Baruch's Secret StudiesReb Gershon Dov  

[1]

43.

As I mentioned previously,[2] these notes merely form the raw material from which [a full essay] may be constructed. Therefore, the stories to be presented below do not appear in chronological order. I now wish to transcribe a few entries from my diary, in which I describe events related to our subject.

Thursday, 25 Tishrei 5658 [October 22, 1897], Lubavitch, 2:00 A.M.

For the past five hours I have been writing and compiling a chronicle of the recent Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah festivals. It is very extensive work, though I have not yet even attempted to transcribe the two chassidic discourses delivered by my father on Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah (the one beginning "On the eighth day it shall be a day of restraint,"[3] and the one beginning "The L-rd is high above all nations"[4]).[5]

My first task has been to record the events that took place during the festival, the stories and other talks that Father discussed with me, and especially the stories and talks discussed during the meals. Most especially, [I wish to record] the public addresses that he delivered during the Kiddush, both on the eve of Simchas Torah and during the day.

So far, I have been busy writing for two days. It is only a brief synopsis of things that stand out in my memory, in outline form, so that not a single precious pearl of the holy addresses will be lost (G-d forbid). After I finish arranging the outline, I will fill in the complete details, in proper order, describing each event exactly as it happened.

(Now, the attendant Reb M.M.K.[6] has just knocked at the door to inform me that Father has summoned me and requested my presence. As I mentioned yesterday in my diary, I have not seen the mail [addressed to my father] since the day before Sukkos. He has given me a vacation from this work until the coming Monday, in the week of Parshas Noach. Now that Reb M.M.K. has called me to go to my father, I assume that Father has opened his mail, and discovered matters of public concern that need to be attended to immediately. That is probably why he has sent for me at this hour.)
When I entered Father's room, he inquired what I was doing now. I saw many opened letters lying on the table in front of him. This reinforced my previous assumption that he was going to give me the mail dealing with matters of public concern, and would instruct me to put it in order and decide which letters are the most urgent.

This caused an inner conflict in my mind: On one hand, I had very much hoped that I would be free from my duties as Father's private secretary for public affairs, until after I finished recording the discourses, talks, and stories. On the other hand, I was quite aware of the spiritual obligations incumbent upon me, and my responsibility to attend to all matters of public concern in a timely fashion.

For a moment, I stood there confused by the thoughts that raced through my head. However, the Divine grace that hovered over my father's holy presence, and the patient expression on his face, restored my composure. I replied that I was busy recording the stories and talks that I had been privileged to hear in recent days.

Father was interested to know exactly what I was recording just then. I had just finished writing down the story about my uncle - Father's brother - the saintly illuy Reb Avraham Sender (whose soul is in Gan Eden), who passed away at the age of eight. My saintly great-grandfather the Tzemach Tzedek said that Reb Avraham Sender possessed [a reincarnation of] the soul of the Alter Rebbe. I informed Father that I had just finished recording that story (Father had graciously consented to tell me the reason why the Alter Rebbe's soul had been revealed [again]).[7]

Seeing that things were going favorably for me (thank G-d), I asked for clarification on several points in the talks that were unclear to me. I was extremely happy, and I gave thanks to G-d from the depths of my heart for all His goodness and kindness in allowing me to find favor with my father. Father had been inordinately gracious to me in revealing to me the deepest secrets of his most holy heart, which I am forbidden to record here even by allusion.

"The reason I have sent for you," he said, "is to tell you that when the chassid Reb Gershon Dov arrives (he was one of the elder chassidim, who received the innermost teachings of our holy ancestors the Rebbeim), you should try hard to be in his company as much as possible. Listen carefully; observe him well as he davens. Visit him at his lodgings, and invite him to visit you. Lend an ear and listen intently to everything he says and relates."

Father went on at length, reciting the praises of the chassid Reb Gershon Dov, saying that his intellectual abilities were outstanding, and his thinking was very profound. He also spoke highly of Reb Gershon Dov's avodah: in him one could see a living example of the wish, "If only a person could spend the entire day in prayer."[8] Father then continued speaking at length about Reb Gershon Dov's great attribute of sincerity, and explained his achievements in the areas of avodah and intellectual pursuits.

When I returned from Father's room, I immediately wrote down everything I had been privileged to hear from him. At eight in the evening I went to visit the chassid Reb Gershon Dov at his lodgings in the home of Reb Moshe Zev.

When I arrived, I found him reciting the Shemoneh Esrei of the Maariv prayer. A few other chassidim were present, including my second cousin Reb Baruch Schneur,[9] a grandson of my great-uncle, the tzaddik Reb Baruch Shalom,[10] who was also staying there. They told me that Reb Gershon Dov had been davening Maariv for two hours already.

When Reb Gershon Dov finished davening, he requested the other chassidim to give us some privacy. For the first hour, my cousin Reb Baruch Schneur remained present. Afterward, he retired to his own room and I remained alone with Reb Gershon Dov in his room. Our conversation about the subjects [recently discussed by the Rebbe Rashab] and the talks lasted about three hours.[11]

44.

Thursday, 2 MarCheshvan 5658 [October 29, 1897], Lubavitch, 11:00 P.M.

I first met the chassid Reb Gershon Dov of Pohor[12] when I was still very young. For several years, he has lived in the town of Nevel (Vitebsk County). During the past four years - since the end of 5653 - he was very friendly to me whenever he visited Lubavitch, and he told me many stories of my ancestors, the holy Rebbeim.

The stories told by Reb Gershon Dov deal with events that he himself witnessed, or those that he heard of directly from their holy mouths, as well as from the holy mouths of the tzaddik Reb Chayim Avraham (son of the Alter Rebbe), Reb Menachem Nachum (son of the Mitteler Rebbe), and my holy great-uncles, the tzaddikim, the sons of the Tzemach Tzedek. They also included tales he had heard from the elder chassidim, and subjects transmitted to him by his master and mentor, the chassid and tzaddik Reb Hillel [of Paritch]. During these years - especially since 5655 - he repeated to me several chassidic discourses that he heard from my saintly great-grandfather the Tzemach Tzedek and my saintly grandfather the Rebbe Maharash.

He also showed me even greater favor by relating to me matters discussed in yechidus between him and the holy Rebbeim, the Tzemach Tzedek and the Rebbe Maharash. I recorded most of these things in my diary at the time (Thank G-d).

However, this time Reb Gershon showed me even greater favor. Last Thursday, after I visited with him at his lodgings for three hours (when he related to me what he had heard from the chassid Reb Yitzchak Aizik of Homel,[13] as mentioned above), he honored me by coming to visit me on Motzoei Shabbos at seven o'clock. He remained until two in the morning.

When Reb Gershon Dov first arrived at my quarters, my tutor Reb Shmuel Betzalel[14] was with me. But after a while, my tutor Rashbatz departed, and we remained all alone. He then told me briefly about his education, a story he had related to me once before at length. He also told me about his first visit to Lubavitch to see the Tzemach Tzedek.

On Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, he honored me with a visit each evening, remaining about four hours each time. He told me many wonderful things, among them the things he had heard from his master and mentor Reb Hillel, when he had first come to him in the year 5609 [1849].

   

Notes:

  1. (Back to text) From the Previous Rebbe's essay, "Fathers of Chassidus," HaTamim, Vol. 5, pp. 461-463. The Previous Rebbe divided that essay into numbered sections. Sections 1-42 appeared in Vol. 1 of this translation. We continue here with sections 43, 44. After section 44, the Previous Rebbe no longer numbered subsequent sections.

  2. (Back to text) [Vol. 1 of this translation, pp. 1-2, 45, 138.]

  3. (Back to text) [Bamidbar 29:35; from the Torah reading for Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, Siddur, p. 381; these verses introduce the discourses.]

  4. (Back to text) [Tehillim 113:4; from the Hallel prayer, Siddur, p. 241.]

  5. (Back to text) See the footnotes to the Publisher's Introduction, and the Table of Contents, in Sefer HaMaamarim - 5658.

  6. (Back to text) Reb Menachem Mendel Kantor. [Though widely thought to be an exceedingly simple person, he was privileged to serve as the Rebbe Rashab's gabbai and personal valet for many years.]

  7. (Back to text) [Cf. Sefer HaSichos, Kayitz 5700, p. 99ff.]

  8. (Back to text) [Berachos 31a.]

  9. (Back to text) [The Rebbe's paternal grandfather.]

  10. (Back to text) [Eldest son of the Tzemach Tzedek.]

  11. (Back to text) The remainder [of this entry from the Previous Rebbe's diary] has not been made available [for transcription].

  12. (Back to text) A village in Chernigov County.

  13. (Back to text) [Translator's note: this appears to be a printer's error; the text apparently should read "Reb Hillel of Paritch."]

  14. (Back to text) [Known also as "Rashbatz." See Links in the Chassidic Legacy, 1997, pp. 1-35.]


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