Reb Zalman Senders was one of the prominent Chassidim of the Alter Rebbe, having attended his Yeshiva as a young man. He was a very successful merchant who was generous in his philanthropy with family and anyone in need. He was a tremendously great and well-known Torah scholar and served G-d joyously.
It happened that his business dealings began to fail one after the other. Things
finally came to such a difficult point that he became completely bankrupt. His
debtors swarmed around him demanding payment, and his problems overwhelmed
him. To complicate things further, he had two daughters of marriageable age as
well as several poor relatives who also needed suitable matches and depended on
his generosity. What could he do?
He decided to go see his Rebbe and he set out for Liozna. He arrived late in the
evening and after reciting the prayers with a minyan, he sat down to wait his turn
for a private audience with the Rebbe. When he was finally ushered into the
Rebbe’s study he poured out his heart, relating all that had befallen him. He told the
Rebbe that his various business endeavors had failed and left him penniless.
“Rebbe,” he said, “if it is the will of Heaven that I be reduced to poverty, I am
ready to accept upon myself the decree. But if I am unable to pay off my debts, and
keep my word to my relatives, and marry off my daughters and the other young
girls who are looking to me for their salvation, then I cannot accept it. For in that
case it would be a desecration of the Divine Name (a chillul Hashem).”
Crying bitterly, he continued, “It is one thing if G-d has decided to punish me in
this manner, but why should He do it in a way that brings shame to His honor? The
one thing that I ask is that I be allowed to pay all of my creditors and find suitable
matches for my daughters and young relatives. After that, I am willing to live in
poverty forever, if that is the will of G-d.”
Searching for relief from his Rebbe, he concluded his plea saying, “Rebbe, I need
to pay back all my debts; I need to help all my close friends and relatives as I
promised them; and I need to marry off my two daughters!”
Rabbi Shneur Zalman was leaning on his holy hand, listening intently to all that his
chasid was saying and hearing his tearful requests.
After a while, the Alter Rebbe raised his holy head, and said with great insight,
“You say all that you need; but you say nothing at all about what you are needed
Hearing the Alter Rebbe’s words, which entered the depth of his heart, the chasid
fell down in a swoon. The Shamash who was standing close by, saw what
happened. He called over two of the Chassidim to come quickly. They took the
chasid out of the room and revived him.
When Reb Zalman regained consciousness, he did not speak to anyone. He was
suddenly infused with a new approach to life. Putting all of his troubles out of his
mind, he focused all his energy on learning Torah, both the revealed and the
mystical Torah. He sat down in the synagogue and attended every lecture that was
given and prayed with great fervor. All of his actions were infused with the deep-
felt happiness and contentment of a man who is at peace with himself.
On the second Shabbat after the chasid’s coming to Liozna, the Alter Rebbe
delivered a Chassidic discourse on the Kabbalistic concepts of Tohu (the spiritual
world of chaos and confusion) and Tikun (the spiritual world of order and
rectification). He further explained how one can effect change in this physical
world by seeing that the great light of Tohu fit into the spacious vessels of Tikun.
This is accomplished through transformation in worldly things.
This discourse appeared to be speaking to the chasid, Reb Zalman Senders. The
Alter Rebbe, who witnessed the change in his chasid, now used the occasion to
pray on his behalf.
The Rebbe’s prayers entered Reb Zalman’s heart even as they ascended to the
higher realms for in the course of his two week stay in Liozna, Reb Zalman
attained the strength to overcome all of his difficulties.
On Monday of that week, the Rebbe called for him and blessed him with much
success. He instructed Reb Zalman to return to his home and to his business
Within a relatively short time, Reb Zalman rebuilt his business and was thriving
even more than before. He repaid all his debts and kept his promises. He married
off his daughters and distributed even more charity than before.
When word reached Rabbi Shneur Zalman about the good fortune his chasid was
once again enjoying, he quoted a passage from his masterwork, the Tanya, in
reference to the subject of trials and tribulations:
“When one is at any time bothered by mundane worries…it is the appropriate time
to transform the sadness by becoming a ‘master of accounts’ (take a spiritual
accounting)…and to act on the counsel of the Sages to constantly excite the good
inclination against the evil inclination. In this way he will eliminate the melancholy
engendered by the mundane problems, and then, he will attain true joy.” (Tanya
Reworked from a previous MM story.
Thanks to my husband for the source of this story in Igros Kodesh of the Previous
Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi YY Schneerson zt’l (1880-1950)
Holy Letters – Book 3 letter # 801(dated 11 Tishrei 5696 Otwock)
* Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi 5505-5573 (1745-1813) was a student of the Maggid of Mezritch and considered himself the grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, as he passed on his teachings.
“Few luminaries in Jewish history have made as lasting and profound a contribution to our spiritual heritage as Rabbi Shneur Zalman. His teachings embrace the entire spectrum of Jewish thought – mysticism, philosophy, psychology, ethics, and law – and represent an expression of unparalleled creative genius. His works include the Tanya, Shulchan Aruch haRav, Torah Or Siddur, and Likkutei Torah amongst others.” (from Challenge)
He greatly expanded the Chassidic brotherhood as many young scholars were attracted to his unparalleled scholarship and piety. His love of his people was expressed from the time he was still a young man. He used his substantial dowry entirely to establish Jewish agricultural colonies thus enabling many of his downtrodden brethren to earn a respectable livelihood. He raised money from the Chassidim to support the impoverished Jewish community living in Israel under the leadership of Reb Menachem Mendel of Horodok.
He was arrested twice by the Czarist government because of libelous suits brought against him by the mitnagdim (those who opposed the Chassidic path) and both times he was exonerated. He was freed the first time on Yud Tet Kislev (this Shabbat); and the second time on Chanukah.
He passed away in the town of Pienna, while fleeing from Napolean’s army and was buried in Haditch. Jews from around the world travel to Haditch, Ukraine on pilgrimage to pray at the burial of the Alter Rebbe.