November 19, 2013
Beis Moshiach in #903, 19 Kislev, Alter Rebbe, Stories, Zohar

As Yud-Tes Kislev, Rosh HaShana L’Chassidus, approaches, we present a compilation of stories about the Alter Rebbe and about the Tanya which we start learning on this day • From the notes of R’ Avrohom Weingarten a”h, l’ilui nishmas his son, R’ Matisyahu Aryeh Leib, may Hashem avenge his blood.

Edited by Y Ben Boruch


When the Alter Rebbe fled Liadi during the war with the Napoleon, he promised his son, later to be the Mitteler Rebbe, that Napoleon would soon conquer Moscow and then he would have a downfall. He would not advance but would retreat through White Russia.

On Erev Yom Kippur 5573/1812, the Alter Rebbe and his family arrived in Vladimir (which wasn’t far from Moscow) and the Alter Rebbe told his son that he would learn with him and explain a maamer on the Zohar.

While the Alter Rebbe prepared to learn and explain the Zohar, his son, who was looking out the window, saw wagons with soldiers and members of the Senate fleeing from Moscow through Vladimir. Seeing their great flight, the Mitteler Rebbe began to cry. He ran to his father and pointed at the wagons and said: What about your promise that the enemy would have his downfall as soon as he arrived in Moscow?

The Alter Rebbe was wearing tallis and t’fillin and he hugged his son to calm him and said: You see that I am wearing t’fillin and will not speak falsely. I swear that Napoleon will not cross through Moscow but will soon retreat through White Russia in order to find food, but they will not let him. Believe me that he will soon have his downfall.

(As recorded in a letter of the Mitteler Rebbe to R’ M Meizlich which is printed in Beis Rebbi).

Afterward, when the Mitteler Rebbe calmed down, his asked his father to learn the Zohar with him. The Alter Rebbe said no, you missed out on that. For the Zohar you should have had mesirus nefesh.

Hearing this, the Mitteler Rebbe was very distressed and afterward, he said that as a result he experienced piercing pains in his side.

(R’ Moshe Dovber Rivkin)


Once, when the Alter Rebbe was in Prague and he went to the mikva, as he went down the steps he said: There were some questions on the Noda B’ Yehuda and the Noda B’ Yehuda had answers to all of them, except for his persecuting the Baal Shem Tov. For this he had no response.

When the Alter Rebbe entered the mikva, he said that the Noda B’ Yehuda had an answer to this too, for he maintained that his intentions were for the sake of Heaven.


It is known what the Noda B’Yehuda wrote in his Responsa about saying l’sheim yichud which the Chassidim had printed in their Siddurim. He ends his response with, “About this orphaned generation I say, ‘Yesharim darchei Hashem, tzaddikim yeilchu bam, v’Chassidim yikashlu bam.”

When his son printed a second edition of the book, he modified it to read as the verse says, u’poshim yikashlu bam.” 

The Alter Rebbe said about this (jokingly), “What he did wasn’t good, because his father made Chassidim out of poshim (willful sinners), while he made poshim out of Chassidim! He should have left it as it was.”

(R’ Yisroel Jacobson)


There is a saying that the Chassidim of the Alter Rebbe would say in his name: If it doesn’t go from below, you need to grab from above. Or in another version: If you can’t from below, then go from above. This is in reference to the avoda of t’shuva ilaa.


The Alter Rebbe had two types of maamarim that he would say to the Chassidim:

1 – Maamarim that were said for the younger Chassidim which were called yunge Chassidus.

2 – Maamarim that were said for the older Chassidim and the senior Chassidim which were called alte Chassidus. They would not allow the younger Chassidim to enter to hear the Chassidus of the elders, or the elders to hear the Chassidus of the young Chassidim.


The Chassid R’ Zalman Zezmer, who was one of the old-time Chassidim, yearned to hear the yunge Chassidus. He asked one of the young men to tell him when the Alter Rebbe’s emissary came to call him to come for the Chassidus for the young men. Then he would try to sneak in and listen.

The young Chassid waited two weeks or so but was not called to come and hear Chassidus. Without being called and given permission, the young men were not allowed to enter.

Then once, in the middle of the day, the emissary came to call him to hear Chassidus. The young man rushed to call R’ Zalman Zezmer. R’ Zalman was resting and the young man woke him up and said to hurry and come hear the maamer.

In his haste, R’ Zalman forgot to wash his hands (as the Alter Rebbe paskens that if you sleep sixty nimin [lit. breaths] during the day it is better to wash three times). He rushed out right away and secretly entered to hear the yunge Chassidus.

The Alter Rebbe had already started the maamer and while standing in the doorway, R’ Zalman managed to hear the Alter Rebbe say, “Emori means ‘one who says.’ He (the yetzer ha’ra) says ‘take a look over there,’ and he looks and makes tamei his eye.”

As R’ Zalman entered the room, the Alter Rebbe said (in the middle of the maamer), “What is this? What is this? Without negel vasser?”

Hearing this, R’ Zalman immediately understood and fled, but he was thrilled that at least he had heard what the Rebbe said about the klipa of Emori.

(R’ M. D. Rivkin)


The Alter Rebbe once said: Moshiach was born on Tisha B’Av, for Chazal say, “A man must remember (i.e. have relations with) his wife before he sets out on a trip.” So too, in galus, when Hashem removed Himself to the higher realms there was the idea of “remembrance” and Moshiach was born, and this is very deep.


R’ Shmuel Levitin said that the Chassid R’ Moshe Yitzchok of Iasi related:

I heard from the Alter Rebbe that when he was in Berditchev, he saw two torches of light (a term used in Zohar to describe lofty souls) and took great pleasure from them. This was because Rebbetzin Chava’le, the wife of R’ Sholom of Prochowice (the son of R’ Avrohom the Malach and the grandson of the Mezritcher Maggid) came with her two sons, R’ Avrohom of Prochowice who was older and R’ Yisroel of Ruzhin who was seven years old. She had come to ask him for a bracha for her two sons.

The Alter Rebbe said, “The younger son asked me: When we read the first line of the Shma, we need to be moser nefesh at echad which is bittul b’metzius (complete nullification of self), so how do we go on to say V’Ahavta which implies an awareness of self?

“I told him a deep answer. If all the seas were ink and all the forests quills and all people were scribes, they could not write an explanation of this in detail and this little boy understood it all!”

The Alter Rebbe concluded as he turned to his Chassidim, “Shame on you! A young boy from Poland asked me a question that even the elder Chassidim did not ask!”


A few years later, the Alter Rebbe said a maamer Chassidus on the verse, “Shir HaShirim,” which is printed in Likkutei Torah Shir HaShirim. In this maamer he states this question (that R’ Yisroel of Ruzhin asked him).

(There it says: How is it possible to love with all your heart after the mesirus nefesh of echad when, regarding love, it says to love Hashem your G-d because He is your life, but mesirus nefesh is about casting your life aside which is negating your very existence to the Ohr Ein Sof blessed is He mamash; and therefore, how is it possible, after the level of bittul of mesirus nefesh of echad to have the aspect of V’Ahavta when there is someone who loves?)

The Alter Rebbe then answers this question by explaining that this is the reason we insert “Boruch Sheim” between these two verses, but we do not know whether this is the answer he gave to R’ Yisroel of Ruzhin; it seems to be a different answer. The substance of the answer is brought by the Tzemach Tzedek in Shoresh Mitzvas HaT’filla in Derech Mitzvosecha. After the explanation, he writes “and with this it seems to me that it is possible to also answer the question that I heard that one of the grandsons of the holy Maggid, the Rebbe of Rabbeinu Z”l (the Alter Rebbe), asked of Rabbeinu Z”l when he was in Berditchev…

In the work Beis Rebbi (footnoted in the Rebbe’s notes and glosses on Derech Mitzvosecha) he mentions what the Tzemach Tzedek wrote, and writes that although he heard people say that it was one of these two brothers, in Berditchev he heard that in their tradition it was a different grandson of the Malach from his daughter.


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