Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi - The Alter Rebbe Book Cover

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi -
The Alter Rebbe 

This book tells the story of the life of the Alter Rebbe, as originally described in the Chabad Heritage Series tapes by Rabbi Shloma Majeski.

It is the only comprehensive and authoritative history of the Alter Rebbe in English.

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About the Book

This book, which has transformed the Chabad Heritage series tapes into written form, will provide the adult reader with the history of the Alter Rebbe and Chabad in a way which is entertaining, informative, and easily referenced.

Explanatory footnotes, references, a glossary, chronology, maps and more are added to enrich the reader’s experience of the first Lubavitcher Rebbe. From the Rebbe's birth, to his bar mitzvah and marriage, through his arrest, liberation, and finally his histalkus the reader will gain an invaluable view into the fascinating life of the founder of Chabad Chassidus. This book will serve as an invaluable reference as well as an entertaining biography for anyone who has a connection to Lubavitch Chabad, whether expert or novice.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi - The Alter Rebbe Map

The Rebbeim of Chabad

Family Tree

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi - The Alter Rebbe Family Tree

Table of Contents

  1. The Alter Rebbe – Birth, Childhood
  2. The Alter Rebbe – Childhood, Marriage
  3. The Alter Rebbe – Marriage, Arrival in Mezritch
  4. The Alter Rebbe – By the Maggid the First Time
  1. The Alter Rebbe Returns to Mezritch
  2. The Alter Rebbe Visits Shklov
  3. After the Histalkus of the Mezritcher Maggid; The Great Debate in Minsk
  4. The Dialogue with other Chassidic Rebbes; Reb Shlomo Refoel's Statement
  1. Many Misnagdim Become Chassidim
  2. The Miracle with the Kos Shel Brocho
  3. How Reb Meir Refoels Became a Chassid
  4. Emunas Tzaddikim
  1. Reb Boruch Mordechai, The Gra, Reb Zundel Volf's Letter
  2. The Campaign to Settle in Russia
  3. Rebbetzin Devorah Leah – Part I
  4. Rebbetzin Devorah Leah – Part II

17. The Printing of the Tanya – Part I
18. The Printing of the Tanya – Part II
19. The Printing of the Tanya – Part III
20. The Opposition to Tanya and the Passing of the Vilna Gaon

  1. The Arrest of the Alter Rebbe – Part I
  2. The Arrest of the Alter Rebbe – Part II
  3. The Arrest of the Alter Rebbe – Part III
  4. The Alter Rebbe Released from Jail
  1. After the Alter Rebbe's Redemption
  2. Yud Tes Kislev – Chag HaChagim
  3. The Alter Rebbe Released from Prison the Second Time in 5561, Relocates in Liadi
  4. The Opposition from Other Chassidic Camps
  1. The Difference Between the Alter Rebbe and Other Rebbes
  2. The Alter Rebbe and the Haskalah Movement
  3. The Story Behind the Alter Rebbe's Picture; the Alter Rebbe's Children
  4. The Histalkus of the Alter Rebbe – 24 Teves, 5573

Yud Tes Kislev

(book excerpt)

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi - The Alter Rebbe PrisonThe actual arrest took place on Isru Chag in the year 1798, the day after Sukkos. The Chassidim said that already from Rosh Hashanah, a few weeks before, that they sensed that something was going on. They felt from the Alter Rebbe’s davening and from the maamarim that the Alter Rebbe said that something frightening was going on. They ordered the Alter Rebbe into the wagon. There were armed soldiers on guard and they were taking the Alter Rebbe to Petersburg, the capital where the czar himself lived. Before he left, the Alter Rebbe’s brother-in-law, Reb Yisroel Kozik, asked the Alter Rebbe what he should do. The Alter Rebbe told him to go right away, immediately, to Petersburg. The Alter Rebbe also instructed that another person should go immediately to Berditchev to give a pidyon nefesh to Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev.

When the Chassid came to Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev and he told him what had happened to the Alter Rebbe, Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev was so overwhelmed he fell on the floor and he was screaming and crying and shouting in anguish. Then he said to the Chassid, “Tell me, when the Alter Rebbe was arrested was he deeply upset from this?” The Chassid responded, “No, only superficially.” The reason for his answer was that he saw that the Alter Rebbe forgot to take his slippers but he didn’t forget to take his tallis and tefillin. Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev was very impressed with this answer and he said, “The Litvak kooked gut.” – meaning that the Alter Rebbe had a good perception, he observes things well.

Then Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev asked the Chassid for the Alter Rebbe’s mother’s name but he realized that he had forgotten to inquire. He was so overwhelmed by what had happened that he had forgotten to ask what the Alter Rebbe’s mother’s name was. However, on Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev’s table there was a Chumash and he opened the Chumash to parshas Miketz to the posuk וירא יעקב כי שבר במצרים . Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev said that the word שבר stands for Schneur ben Rivka. Naturally, the"ר" could stand for any name that starts with a"ר" but a tzaddik of the caliber of Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev saw the truth that it stood for Rivka. Even though the Alter Rebbe’s full name was Schneur Zalman there were times that the Alter Rebbe used to sign his name Schneur ben Rivka.

The Alter Rebbe also said that during the time he was sitting in jail he had visitors: his rebbe, the Mezritcher Maggid, and the Baal Shem Tov. When they came the Alter Rebbe said to them, “Why do I deserve this? What is it they are demanding of me in heaven? What is my sin? What did I do wrong?” They answered him: “There was a kitrug against you because of the fact that you spread Chassidus and you spoke about the concept of Chassidus in such an open way.” So, the Alter Rebbe asked them, “If that’s the case, when I leave from here should I stop?” They said to him, “No. Now that you started not only shouldn’t you stop but on the contrary, when you go out you should actually spread Chassidus even more than before.” In fact, that’s what happened. After the Alter Rebbe went out of jail he spread Chassidus in a way that was greater than before his imprisonment.

At the end of the conversation the Baal Shem Tov said to the Alter Rebbe, “Say over a maamer.” The Baal Shem Tov wanted to hear the Alter Rebbe say a maamer of Chassidus. The Alter Rebbe said a maamer of Chassidus that began with the words “ומראיהם ומעשיהם” – (and their appearance and their work). When the Alter Rebbe finished the maamer the Baal Shem Tov turned to the Mezritcher Maggid and he said, “This is truth. Every word he said is exactly the way you received from me – word for word.”

Then the Baal Shem Tov told the Alter Rebbe, “When they will bring you before the judges, you will answer everything, with HaShem’s help, in a proper way. They will accept your answers and you will find favor in their eyes and eventually you will go free.” Then the Baal Shem Tov gave the Alter Rebbe a brocho.

The Alter Rebbe publicized that he was notified that he was going to be released from jail in the middle of saying tehillim. He was up to kapital נה , the 55th chapter, and he was saying the posuk padah v’shalom nafshi, which are the words of Dovid HaMelech where he is saying that HaShem saved me from my enemies. As he said those words that's when he was notified that he was going to be freed. As a result of this the words padah v’shalom nafshi became synonymous with Yud Tes Kislev (the 19th day of Kislev) as well as Yud Kislev.

There are so many maamarim of Chassidus that were said by all of the Rebbeim, starting from the Alter Rebbe, the Mitteler Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzeddek, every Rebbe in his generation elaborated on Yud Tes Kislev (the 19th day of Kislev) with a maamer that began with these words padah v’shalom nafshi. The time of Yud Tes Kislev (the 19th day of Kislev), in fact the whole month of Kislev, is a very festive month and there is so much that was written and was said about the greatness of Yud Tes Kislev (the 19th day of Kislev).

Not only is it a day that we rejoice because the Alter Rebbe’s life was saved and not only do we rejoice because on that day permission was given in heaven that Chassidus could be revealed on a new level, on a level that was unprecedented, but there is much more that is written about the greatness of Yud Tes Kislev (the 19th day of Kislev). It was a time of great celebration. Both the days of Yud Tes Kislev (the 19th day of Kislev) and Chof Kislev (the 20th day of Kislev) are observed as yomim tovim (holidays). The 19th day of Kislev is the day that the Alter Rebbe was released from jail and the 20th day of Kislev is the day that he was released from the home of the misnagid. The Alter Rebbe when out of jail Mincha time and by the time he got out of the home of the misnagid, three hours later, it was already night, the 20th of Kislev. Both days are yomim tovim.

Chai Elul, the 18th of Elul

(book excerpt)

The Alter Rebbe was born on Chai Elul, the 18th of Elul, תק"ה (1745), in a small village near the city of Liozna. Named after his paternal grandfather, Reb Schneur Zalman, the first Rebbe of Chabad is known in the world by various names. He is known as the Baal HaTanya v’HaShulchan Aruch, because he wrote the sefer (holy book) Tanya and a Shulchan Aruch. He is also known as the Maggid of Liozna, the city he originally lived in, and as the Rav of Liadi, the city where he lived at a later point. However within Lubavitch Chabad itself, he is known as the Alter Rebbe.

On Chai Elul, it was the custom of the Baal Shem Tov to make a seudah (a special meal) to celebrate his birthday. The day of Chai Elul, the 18th day of Elul, in the year 1745, on a Wednesday, was the day the Alter Rebbe was born. They named the Alter Rebbe Schneur Zalman after Reb Boruch’s father, who had passed away when Reb Boruch was only 14 years old. At the same time that the Alter Rebbe was born in the small city near Liozna, in the city of Mezibush where the Baal Shem Tov was, there was a lot going on. Naturally, there were no telephones and no ways of communication as we have today. However, the Baal Shem Tov, with his ruach hakodesh, knew that the Alter Rebbe had been born and on that day he celebrated in the city of Mezibush even though no one knew why there was a celebration.

The Baal Shem Tov went to the mikveh (ritual bath) and when he came back from the mikveh his talmidim saw that he was in exceptionally uplifted spirits, and he was very b’simcha. Nobody was able to ask him what this was all about. Then the Baal Shem Tov said that he would daven (pray) himself, leading the davening, which was totally unusual. When he led the davening it was full of happy niggunim (Chassidic melodies). He didn't say tachanun (supplication prayers) that day, meaning it was some sort of a Yom Tov (holiday). So the Chassidim knew that it was a Yom Tov and there was tremendous simcha that day but they didn't know what it was all about.

After the davening the Baal Shem Tov asked all the students to sit down to a meal. Again, the Baal Shem Tov was in a tremendous simcha. The meal was customary because it was the Baal Shem Tov's birthday and he always had a meal on his birthday but at the meal he revealed what was going on. The Baal Shem Tov quoted a Gemora which says: “On Wednesday, the fourth day of creation, the luminaries were suspended in shamayim (Heaven).” The sun and the moon are the two things that give light to the world. The Baal Shem Tov said that on Wednesday of this week, the week of Kumi Ori (“Stand up my light”), a neshama chadasha came down to this world. This neshama is going to bring light to the world in the revealed part of Torah and in the inner, hidden part of Torah i.e. Chassidus. This neshama chadasha will have mesirus nefesh (self-sacrifice) for the path of Chassidus, but will succeed until Moshiach (Messiah) will come.

This all took place on Chai Elul.

Pesach Glaser

Pesach Glaser Alter RebbeBorn and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio,  Reb Pesach did not grow up as a Lubavitcher Chassid.  In fact, it wasn’t until he had completed his B.A. at the University of Chicago and his M.B.A. at Northwestern Kellogg Graduate School of Management that he met Rabbi Meir Chai Benhiyoun at the Chabad House of the Loop in downtown Chicago, began putting on tefillin, and started learning Chassidus.

He became a Baal Teshuvah, attended Yeshiva in Morristown, New Jersey, got married and has seven children, kinehara.  Throughout the process of returning to his faith he was fascinated by the stories of the Rebbeim of Chabad.  He also saw that when he told these stories to his children their eyes lit up with interest.

As Reb Pesach put it: “A number of years ago, I called Rabbi Majeski to ask him on which one of his tapes I could find a certain story.  He knew the answer off the top of his head but he remarked that he wished that someday one of his students would create a written version of his tapes so that such answers would be easier to find and be publicly available.”

Although I was never officially his student I always considered Rabbi Majeski to be my teacher as I listened to his tapes over and over, told them at farbrengens and eventually wrote this book.”

May it be G-d’s will that by publishing this book I will be making a small contribution to spreading the teachings and light of Chassidus.  As we know, a little bit of light can dispel much darkness like lighting one candle in a dark room can brighten the entire room.  May it happen immediately that the darkness of golus will be dispelled by the greatest light of all with the coming of Moshiach.”

Reb Pesach is a C.P.A. and has worked as Senior Staff Accountant in the Enforcement Division of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission for over 30 years.

He and his wife, Sarah, were recently honored as Parents of the Year at the Seymour J. Abrams Cheder Lubavitch Hebrew Day School.