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Another installment about the special shlichus performed by R’ Zalman Chanin and R’ Laibel Zajac, to print the Tanya in Russia. * Two extraordinary private audiences with the Rebbe. * Part 5

Prepared for publication by Avrohom Rainitz


After we finished printing the Tanya in the Peter and Paul Fortress, we thought of printing it also in the Tiyenem Soviet detention center which was over the river. We just had to cross a small bridge.

But after a phone conversation, they told R’ Wagner that the person in charge was not in the office and he would return in several hours. We decided that instead of waiting around, we would print the Tanya somewhere else.

R’ Avigdor Parnas was able to contact one of the occupants of the Rebbe Rayatz’s house, and he asked her for permission to print the Tanya there. She did not quite understand what he was talking about, and fortunately she agreed.

We arrived at her house and when she saw the machines and printing equipment and understood what it was about, she was unhappy. To bring a printing press into her house? In Russia that was a non-starter. It was only after protracted discussion and showing her that the machine was small and not a monster that she gave her consent.

Since she was Jewish, the first thing we did was put up a mezuza. At first, she was very nervous about putting up such an obviously Jewish sign on her door. It was only after we explained that a mezuza protects the house that she was willing to let us do it.

We also explained to her what the Tanya is, as well as who lived in her apartment many decades ago. She was very happy about the great privilege she had in taking part in printing a Jewish book in Russia. Ah, one just can’t measure the power of a Jewish neshama!

As for getting the printing press up to the first floor, oh, what troubles we had. The steps were dark and we had to illuminate our way with a torch that we made out of newspaper rolled up into a cone. I won’t get into all of our adventures that passed until we managed to get the machine upstairs.

After we managed to set everything up and began printing the Tanya, the woman was flying high. She said she did not know why she was so excited but that’s the way it was. She felt as though she was in another world entirely, on a spiritual high.

As we printed, I told her about the uniqueness of this home. And she said that there were eight tenants and they all used one kitchen and bathroom. I followed her for a tour of her floor and the entire original apartment and I got an idea of what she was talking about.

While we were there, my friend Leibel Zajac wanted to buy her a gift to thank her for allowing us into her apartment, but there was no place to buy a house gift. So when we finished printing, we left some cookies with her and she wasn’t ashamed to take them with great joy.


After completing the printing of the Tanya, we wanted to go to the Tiyenem Soviet, but it was too late and nobody was there. That was that.

From there, we went to the main shul in Leningrad and we printed the Tanya in the school there.

I did not print the Tanya in the shul even though that would generate a lot of publicity, because once, when they wanted to print the Tanya in 770, the Rebbe wrote, “Is it permissible to print it there?” So when they printed the Tanya in 770 they did so in the yard and not in the shul itself.


When we took the train back to Moscow, I couldn’t help but recall what occurred when we traveled in the other direction.

When we reached the train station, we went to the cashier to buy tickets for a special two-person compartment. We were surprised to hear there were no more available. R’ Leibel couldn’t get over it: What does that mean, there are no more tickets? I never heard of such a thing that you go to a train station and there are no more tickets!

R’ Wagner began to laugh and he said: You forgot you’re in Russia! Over here, they are always sold out, but you can always get some anyway. You have to know how.

Within a few minutes, two men came over to us and asked how they could help us. We told them we wanted to travel to Leningrad but the cashier said there are no more tickets. They said: Don’t worry; we’ll get some for you. Which section do you want? We told them we wanted two rooms, one for two people and another room for four people. They asked us to wait and a few minutes later they returned with tickets for just what we wanted.

Then R’ Wagner explained that there are people who buy all the tickets and then sell them at double the price. That’s how they make a few dollars.


When we arrived in Moscow, we began working on binding the Tanyas. Our first plan was to take all the printed pages and bind them in New York. But since we were going to return to New York during Chanuka, and we really wanted to give the Rebbe the completed Tanyas as “Chanuka gelt,” we looked into the possibility of binding the Tanyas before we arrived in New York.

On our way home, we were going to stop off in Eretz Yisroel, but we would only be there over Friday-Shabbos-Sunday. So our only option was to try and bind them in Moscow.

We decided to bind at least one book from each location where we had printed, so that immediately upon arriving in New York, we could give the Rebbe the bound volumes.

Since it is not possible to obtain a binding machine in Moscow that would bind the books quickly, we reverted to the binding method used in the time of the Alter Rebbe. We found some elderly Jews who had worked as bookbinders in their youth, sat them down in our hotel room, and got to work.

First, we had to fold the pages into booklets and arrange them in order. Then the old men sewed them by hand, as in the olden days. They used strong liquid glue and put the book into a press to hold it firmly. The press was comprised of two boards that were placed under the heavy beds. As the pages were being pressed into book shape, they prepared the bindings and then glued the bindings to the ready book.

Most of the work was done in the hotel room which was spacious. Some of the work was taken home to be completed by the old men.

Boruch Hashem, we were able to bind a copy or two of each book, but we were unable to emboss in gold print the names of the locations on the covers of the books because our bookbinders did not have Hebrew letters, just Russian ones. We made a few copies with a Russian stamp, and the rest were left without any name stamp.

By Friday we had managed to bind at least one copy from each place we had printed Tanyas, a total of 62 new Tanyas. Before we left Moscow, we started to lay the groundwork for additional printings in Russia. We knew that the Rebbe would not allow us to rest on our laurels and surely we would have to continue printing more Tanyas.


We arrived in New York on Tuesday night. On Wednesday we had an aliya and said the HaGomel blessing in the Rebbe’s minyan. Since the Rebbe was going to the Ohel that day, we arranged with R’ Leibel Groner that we would bring the Tanyas after the Rebbe returned from the mikva and he would give them to the Rebbe before he left for the Ohel. We assumed that the Rebbe would want to take these special Tanyas with him to the Ohel.

Everything was ready and we waited upstairs in 770, together with some other Lubavitchers, for the Rebbe to leave for the Ohel. At three in the afternoon, R’ Groner came out of Gan Eden HaTachton and looked for me and R’ Leibel Zajac. When he saw us, he said: The Rebbe wants to see you in the yechidus room right away. He wants you, and not a go-between, to give him the Tanyas you printed in Russia.”

We were flabbergasted. We had not imagined that such a thing would happen. We were sure that the Rebbe already had the Tanyas, and yet now the Rebbe wanted us in yechidus! Remember, this was 5752, after nearly ten years without any private yechidus!

We immediately put on our gartels and ran to Gan Eden HaTachton. We waited for a few minutes and then the door opened to Gan Eden HaElyon, the Rebbe’s room, and we saw the Rebbe standing in the doorway and waiting for us to give him the 62 Tanyas.

The Rebbe was wearing the silk sirtuk that he wore to the Ohel and the bags of pidyonos were ready. R’ Groner stood on the side and showed us where the Tanyas were so we could submit them to the Rebbe.

I had never seen the Rebbe so close up. It was literally face to face. His holy face was fiery and shone brightly. I have never seen an angel, but in that moment, I felt as though I had seen an Angel of G-d. There is no other way to describe it.


While we were busy getting the Tanyas, the Rebbe was occupied with matters in his room. I saw how the Rebbe moved items from here to there very quickly and it looked as though he was quite involved and even a bit hunched over.

All this took very little time for when the Rebbe noticed us, he motioned to R’ Groner to go out to the next room. We remained alone with the Rebbe, near his room, and suddenly the atmosphere changed. The Rebbe stood up straight and had a big smile which conveyed endless love (I have no other words with which to describe this wondrous sight). In this way, the Rebbe conveyed his great pleasure in the printing of the Tanya.

Then the Rebbe motioned to us to enter his room and he asked: Where are the s’farim that you brought?

The s’farim were on the small desk on the side of Gan Eden HaTachton in three packages. My friend Leibel Zajac took one package and I took two.

The Rebbe smiled broadly, it was mamash moiradik, ah! He stretched out his hand to take the package. My friend Leibel wanted to give the package to the Rebbe so that the Rebbe could bring them into his room and put them where they belonged. I looked at the room and didn’t know where it was possible to put them. At that time, the Rebbe slept in this room but the bed was full of s’farim and letters so that there was no place. You could barely see the desktop and so the only place to put the s’farim was on the empty chair on the right, right behind the door to the room.

As the Rebbe stood there and R’ Leibel wanted to hand him the s’farim, I whispered: Leibel! Put the s’farim in the room. It’s a heavy package!

The Rebbe heard me and said: A Tanya isn’t heavy.

And he took the package from Leibel. I did not hand over the two packages I had, but entered the room and asked where to put them. The Rebbe motioned toward the chair and then put the package he had taken from Leibel on the chair too.

Then the Rebbe said: Thank you very much.

Since we had given the Tanyas in three packages, the Rebbe asked: It’s all one thing, right? Once again, thank you very much. This is the best Chanuka gelt that a Jew can get. The Rambam paskens that the mitzva of Chanuka is to be happy, “Yemei simcha,” so that there will be joy all year and joy for all Jews and good news.

The Rebbe usually gave $20 toward each Tanya. In connection with this, the Rebbe smiled at R’ Leibel and said, “As for the money, you’ll work it out with him (gesturing toward R’ Groner that he should come to the room because the door remained open) – how much is still owed to you, eh?”

R’ Leibel Zajac made the calculation and then said: We’ll work it out between us.

The Rebbe repeated: This is the best Chanuka gelt that a Jew can get, a freilichin Chanuka and good news.

We left the room and the Rebbe closed the door. This yechidus was an experience that I could not have imagined even in my rosiest dreams. I was so emotionally overcome by the look on the Rebbe’s face that I couldn’t calm down. The great lights were difficult to absorb.

I stood outside and thanked G-d for the tremendous privilege of being able to enter the Rebbe’s room when so few were that fortunate.


Not even five minute elapsed and we were still standing in the corridor when R’ Groner came out from Gan Eden HaTachton again, came over to us, and said, “The Rebbe wants you back!”

R’ Groner opened the door to the Rebbe’s room and we walked in with the door remaining partially open. The Rebbe asked me: Perhaps you know which Tanya was printed last?

I said that the Tanya that was printed in the Rebbe Rayatz’s home in Leningrad was the last number. The Rebbe asked: Do you know which volume it is?

R’ Groner, who had been standing outside, walked in and said to the Rebbe: I’ll find it right away.

The Rebbe said to him: By the time you move, he will have found it already. He packed it!

I told the Rebbe I knew precisely which package it was in and it would take me a minute to locate it.

The Rebbe said: Please find it.

When I found it, I gave it to the Rebbe and he asked me to show him where the number of this edition was printed. I turned to the place where a list of the editions was printed and showed the Rebbe the number of this Tanya.


The Rebbe turned the pages of the Tanya this way and that and as he did so, he asked me: This was actually printed at 22 Mokhovaya in Petersburg?

I said yes, and the Rebbe asked: Where in the apartment, in which room did you print it?

Since I saw that the Rebbe was interested in the details, I said that after the communists had confiscated the Rebbe Rayatz’s home, since it was large and spacious. They divided it into five or six units. Each family slept in one room and shared the kitchen and facilities.

Among the tenants was a Jewish woman and we received permission from her to print in her home. Before printing, we explained to her what it was about and how much we appreciated her letting us in. We had put up a mezuza, and she had been very moved.

I told the Rebbe that the people with me during the printing in Leningrad told me that their tradition is that it was from this room that Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka told the Rebbe about the arrest of her father on 15 Sivan 1927.

The Rebbe said: It was a large room. How many windows were there?

I said there were two and the Rebbe asked: Did the windows face the big street or the yard? I said they faced the main street and the Rebbe said, yes, correct.

Then the Rebbe asked: When did you print in the Peter and Paul fortress?

I said we began on the 18th and continued a little into the night of the 19th and then in the Rebbe Rayatz’s apartment on the night of Yud-Tes Kislev.

The Rebbe said: You surely had a permit.

I said yes; I added that at the time, I had faxed it to the offices of the Vaad L’Hafatzos Sichos so they would give it to the Rebbe.

The Rebbe asked: Where in the fortress did you print?

I saw that the Rebbe wanted to hear all the details, and I said that when we entered the fortress, we had to pass a small bridge and then turn left where the former prison was, which is now a museum. I mentioned that it was difficult to get in with the vehicle with the printing press but after we bribed the guard, all was well.

I told the Rebbe about the visit to the room where they claim the Alter Rebbe was incarcerated and how it did not fit with the details of the story as we know it, and how after inquiring of the guide we were told that it was an entirely new building and only at the other end were buildings from that period.

I wanted to shorten the story, but the Rebbe wanted to hear all the details. So I continued to tell him everything that had occurred at the military printing house (as I related in the last installment).

When I told about the printing, the Rebbe asked: How much time did it take to print the Tanya in the fortress?

I said that the printing itself took about four hours due to the cold which interfered with the printing. Also, the electrical fuse had broken a few times due to being overburdened, for the wires were very old and had never been used for so much electricity.

What about their printing press, asked the Rebbe. I said that their machines were from the times of Methuselah and did not even work with electricity but were manual. I thought that the machines in Lubavitch in the early years of the twentieth century, referred to as kopir, were much more advanced that the machines in the military printing house, but the place was called a military printing house.

The Rebbe said: According to what you are saying, it seems that the buildings are remnants from that time.

As I told all the details, the Rebbe turned the pages of the Tanya this way and that, as he scrutinized the pages, but he mostly looked at the portion that lists all printings of the Tanya.

I thought to myself: Why are you bothering the Rebbe with all your stories? But now and then the Rebbe reacted to what I said and seemed to be listening to all the details and wanted to know more.


When I finished telling the Rebbe about the printing, the Rebbe looked up at us, for he had been looking into the s’farim until then, and said: The number of this Tanya is 3889. That means, another hundred plus are needed until (four) thousand. It would be worthwhile completing this by the end of Chanuka.

I was taken aback. How could a hundred Tanyas be printed in a few days in Russia of those days and under those conditions?

The Rebbe knew what I was thinking and he asked with a smile: Is it possible?

I said we would try and (I don’t know where I got the strength to say this), “Omar Malka, Okar Tura” (when the king says, a mountain is uprooted).

I told the Rebbe we would try, but I had no idea how it was possible. I had just arrived from Russia and we had so many adventures with each printing of the Tanya! Now the Rebbe wanted us to print more than 110. We would have to bring everything from New York, the paper and ink and all the printing necessities. How would everything get there and who would do it? Even those who helped us until now were not knowledgeable in printing and now everything would have to be done quickly in order to finish 110 copies in a few days.

I was thinking and the Rebbe continued: There are probably more than 100 cities in Russia where the Tanya wasn’t printed yet and it can be printed there. If not, it is worth building an entire city so that a Tanya can be printed there! There are a number of days until the end of Chanuka (and he began counting on his fingers). Today is Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Sunday, and on Monday it is Zos Chanuka and still Chanuka. So there are five days (and he said this with a big smile).

The Rebbe continued with a big smile: There is no need to print in all the places by Chanuka; just make a list of all the cities in Russia, where it will be printed, G-d willing, and decide now that they will print it. Make a list until 4000 and submit the list here before I go to my father-in-law (at the Ohel).

He said again: Don’t forget the p’sak of the Rambam that the days of Chanuka are days of joy, so nobody will have complaints. A freilichin Chanuka and good news from the entire family and everyone should be well. This is the greatest Chanuka present a Jew could get, and this is a Tanya. A freilichin Chanuka!

The Rebbe took the Tanya which was printed in the Rebbe Rayatz’s home and said: I am taking this with me to the Ohel, to my father-in-law, and the rest I’ll look over afterward. G-d willing I will learn in all the Tanyas, systematically, and I will look at all of them, G-d willing.

At the end of the yechidus, the Rebbe asked us whether we had a video as a memento of the trip. Fortunately, R’ Wagner recorded our trip on video. However, the videos were not with us since I did not think the Rebbe would be interested in them. We answered yes, and the Rebbe asked that we submit them to him. Then the Rebbe took the bags of panim and gave them to R’ Groner and all he held was the Tanya that had been printed in the Rebbe Rayatz’s home. He left for the Ohel.

We rushed to submit the videos to the Rebbe even before we made copies. Two nights later, after Maariv, the Rebbe sat in Gan Eden HaTachton and watched the videos that documented the printing of the Tanya in Russia. Until today, neither I nor my friend has a copy. Perhaps one day a copy can be found, but meanwhile, the loss is a shame.

Before the Rebbe went to the Ohel on Zos Chanuka, we handed in a list of cities where the Tanya would be printed. The printing of these Tanyas took several months until all the Tanyas arrived back at the Rebbe.



The Shabbos we spent in Moscow was a special experience. It began with the lighting of candles at 3:15 in the afternoon. Since our hotel was far from the main shul of Moscow, a three hour walk, we opted to daven in the Poliakov Synagogue, just an hour and a half away. At least we were able to take a taxi there before the onset of Shabbos.

About forty people were present for Mincha and Kabbalas Shabbos. The bitter cold outside was countered by warm, Chassidishe davening inside, led by members of Aguch, mainly R’ Shlomo Cunin who added a special chayus. After “Bo’i B’shalom,” everybody danced around the bima.

Many of the people came to shul in anticipation of the Shabbos meal that followed the davening, because as I described in the previous article, in those days people were always hungry. Even someone who had money was unable to buy basic food items. This is why members of Aguch arranged for a container of food from Eretz Yisroel to come each week, to be distributed to the Jews of Russia. They also used this food to prepare a lavish Shabbos meal, and dozens of hungry Jews came to the shul for this reason. Many of those who came just for the portion of fish and soup also ended up getting involved in Judaism.

On Shabbos morning, on my way from the hotel to the shul, it was freezing. I had never experienced such cold in my life. I saw a line of thousands of people standing near a McDonald’s store. Although I usually refrained from revealing that I know Russian, so people would think I’m an innocent tourist who doesn’t understand anything, I couldn’t refrain from asking a woman with two small children, “How long are you standing here?” She said, “Since the morning.”

“When do you think it will be your turn?” I asked.

“About 12,” she said.

I asked her, “Who guarantees that by the time it’s your turn there will be anything left? Maybe it will be sold out?”

The woman answered confidently, “There is no such thing. It’s a store from America. Over there, there is food for the entire world. And if something is finished, within hours it comes here by plane. Despite this terrible cold and it being hard to stand here with children, what can you do? You can’t eat rubles and they are not satisfying. The food from America is eatable and satisfying and you can buy as much as you want. You just need to wait on line.”

On Shabbos morning the davening started at ten. There was no minyan yet; there were barely three men, but R’ Cunin began on time. He was experienced and he knew that by Barchu there would be a few dozen people. By the reading of the Torah there would be over 100; after the davening, at Kiddush, the shul would be full of hundreds of people.

After Kiddush, R’ Cunin said some ideas from the Rebbe’s sichos and a Russian speaking bachur translated it. Apparently, the bachur did not understand what R’ Cunin said and R’ Cunin did not understand what the bachur said, but I, who understood both, noticed that R’ Cunin said deep ideas of Chassidus and the bachur said a completely different sicha with an idea that could be understood even by hungry people.

After the sicha, they took out the food and the bachurim began to sing with the crowd. It was very pleasant, for after the people had eaten their full, they enjoyed sitting and singing and dancing. There were also older Jews who told very interesting stories of their early memories.



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