About three times during the summer of 5651 (1891), my father, the Rebbe (Rashab) visited a village called Mozinkes. It was about 25 viorsts (approximately 16.5 miles) from Lubavitch, via Babinovitch and surrounded by a pine forest. He would leave Lubavitch on Sunday, stay at the home of R. Shmuel Horovitch, and return on Thursday.
At that time, three friends and I studied under a teacher called R. Nissan Skobla. We studied Gemara (Tractate Bava Metzia) with the commentaries of Rashi and Tosafos; the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim; Mishnayos by heart (by that time I had memorized Zera’im and Moed) after I had mastered the commentary of Bartenura; and Torah with the commentary of Rashi. In addition, once a week my father would teach me a chapter of Tanya, and twice a week a passage from a maamar (Chassidic discourse) in Likkutei Torah.
R. Nissan the Melamed (teacher) was studious by nature. He had a scholarly understanding of the Gemara and was expert in the learned literature on several tractates in particular. Though unschooled in formal bibliography, he was familiar with a wide range of books and with the times and biographies of their authors. He often quoted from Seder HaDoros, Sifsei Yesheinim and Tzemach David, classicworks of Jewish chronology and bibliography.
R. Nissan never punished like other teachers do, nor did he ever complain about his pupils. Instead, whenever he observed that one of them lacked interest, he would not teach him, but concern himself with those who did show interest, especially with those who had industriously prepared their preliminary independent reading of the Gemara text to be studied. For us, his pupils, this was the severest punishment imaginable.
One day, my father asked R. Nissan the Melamed if he could take me on his next visit to Mozinkes. R. Nissan was not eager to agree, arguing that this would not only upset a week’s learning but might well weaken my studies in general.
I was still only a child, and perhaps just a little mischievous as well (though the manner of my education and the conditions under which I grew up from my seventh to my tenth year stripped me of any spoiled hankering after luxuries, as will be recounted at another time). Nevertheless, the changes that occurred in my life from the summer of 5649 (1889) until the summer of 5651 (1891) reassured me afresh that I was an only child, and that I too had a loving father and (May she live on for many good years!) a compassionate mother.
Though still only a child I understood that this journey had an aim apart from merely taking fresh air, but I could not determine whether this aim was for [my father’s] sake and ultimately for my sake, or whether it was for my sake and ultimately for his.In essence, father and son fuse so completely that they become indivisible. Accordingly, that which gladdens the father serves as a living Torah for the son, and a good son doubles his father’s years.
For whatever reason, my father deferred his journey to Monday morning. I had imagined that I would accompany him, but since I had been told nothing, I would obviously not dare ask to be taken for a vacation, especially after R. Nissan’s remark that this might dampen my enthusiasm for my studies.
As I now recall, when Monday came and my father set out for Mozinkes while I stayed at home, I found this painful and for brief intervals felt antagonistic to R. Nissan. In between times, I regretted feeling that way, for, after all, it was my good that he had in mind. Surprisingly, therefore, I studied that week with particular diligence.
In the two previous weeks during which my father had travelled to Mozinkes, he taught me that week’s chapter of Tanya on Friday, and Likkutei Torah on Shabbos before Minchah and on Sunday from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m.
On Shabbos, my father would pray at considerable length. In those days he used to pray in shul both on weekdays and on Shabbos. On Shabbos, he would go there when the congregational prayers began at about 9:30 a.m. (and begin his prayers and meditations at his own pace). When the congregation had finished at about 11:30 a.m., he would begin to say Baruch SheAmar, completing his private devotions at about three or sometimes four.
Usually, even those individuals who prayed at length had completed their prayers half an hour or at most an hour after the congregation had finished – except for R. Chanoch Hendel. He, however, used to daven in the adjoining room. The adjoining room in the original was known as the cheder sheni (second room).So thatthere was no one left in the main shul, but my father.
When I had completed my prayers with the congregation, I used to go home, and from there I liked to pay a visit to the home of my saintly grandmother (Rebbetzin Rivkah), to watch how all the members of the minyan made Kiddush, conversed and exchanged Chassidic stories. This would take half an hour or so. From there I would return to the shul to listen to my father’s supplications.
The Beis Midrash (House of Study), which was known as der kleiner zal, (the small hall) was eighteen meters long from east to west, fifteen meters wide from south to north, and five-and-a-quarter meters high. A door at the west near the northern corner led from a smaller hall four meters square; there were three large windows to the south and to the north; and in the northwest corner near the entrance there was a basin of water.
The Aron Kodesh (Holy Ark) stood in the middle of (the eastern wall of) the kleiner zal. To its right, on the southern side, had been the place of my grandfather (the Rebbe Maharash); the place next to it was vacant; the third seat was the place of my uncle, my grandfather’s son-in-law, R. Moshe Aryeh Leib; the fourth seat was the place of my uncle, R. Zalman Aharon; the fifth was my father’s place; the sixth was the place of my uncle, R. Menachem Mendel; and the seventh seat was vacant, awaiting the future husband of my aunt Chayah Mushka. The future husband of my aunt Chayah Mushka, R. Moshe HaKohen Horenstein later became the younger son-in-law of the Rebbe Maharash.
The first seat on the other side of the Aron Kodesh had (also) been reserved for my grandfather (the Rebbe Maharash). It was near a door that led to the Yechidus (private audience) room in which he (sometimes) prayed. On those occasions he would take this seat in the kleiner zal whenever he joined the minyan to listen to the Reading of the Torah. The Reading took place at the table in the middle of the room.
Between the two large stoves against the western wall a door led to the adjoining room, which was eleven meters long from south to north and four meters wide from east to west. This room contained an Aron Kodesh, a table from which to read the Torah, and a few benches.
For over two years, I had been accustomed to return to the kleiner zal every Shabbos in order to listen to the prayers that poured forth from my father’s otherworldly heart. Though on weekdays, too, he used to pray there at length, I was unable to be present because I was then sitting at my lessons in cheder.(children’s Jewish school)Following my daily schedule, I used to rise at 8:00, daven with the minyan in shul at 8:30 and have breakfast at 9:30. There were lessons from 10:00 till 2:00; lunch was at 2:00; from 3:00 till 4:00 I had time to write; studies again from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m.; and after that, in my room, my time was my own.
At this age, I recalled that when I had been a very little boy, still taught by R. Yekusiel, I used to run to shul to hear my father at his prayers. At that time, though, my heart was sad: Why didn’t my father daven fast like the whole congregation – like my uncles, for example? Once, in answer to my question, my uncle R. Zalman Aharon explained to me that my father wasn’t able to read all those letters so fast. This made me really sad.
From the year 5647 (1887) (the author was then seven years old) until 5649 (1889), I did not see my parents, because throughout this time they visited various health resorts abroad, partly for health reasons but more for domestic reasons. Only occasionally did they return home for a few days. My lifestyle during those two years made me forget my earlier memories of my father.
The warm closeness which my father showed me from the summer of 5649 (1889) onwards erased all traces of the suffering which I had undergone as a result of my wanderings and difficulties in the preceding two years, and once again I recollected everything that I had seen and heard in the years before that period.
Once, when I was little, I came to shul and found no one there but my father. He was facing the wall and entreating G‑d for compassion. I was utterly unable to grasp why he entreated more than all other worshipers and why he was more in need of compassion than other people.
Suddenly, my father wept intensely. My heart fell within me: no one was there in the House of G-d but my father, and he was weeping. I listened carefully and heard that he said Shema Yisrael and wept and said HaShem Elokeinu and wept. Then, still weeping, he said from the fullness of his heart and in an awesome voice, Hashem Echad.
This time I could contain myself no longer. I went and asked my mother tearfully: “Why does father daven longer than everyone else? My uncle R. Zalman Aharon says that father can’t pronounce the letters quickly, but why can’t he read quickly and properly? Besides, today I saw and heard him crying. Mother, come along with me and I’ll show you that father is crying!”
“But what can I do?” replied my mother. “Can I send him to a teacher? Go and ask your grandmother (the holy Rebbetzin Rivkah). Perhaps she will be able to do something about it.”
Hastening to follow my mother’s advice, I went to put my innocent question to my grandmother.
“Your father is a great Chassid and a Tzaddik,” she said. “Before any single word leaves his mouth he first thinks of its exact meaning.”
As I now recall, her answer set my mind at rest. From that time, I related differently to my father, for I now knew that he was different from all other people. At every single step I began to see just who my father was. My father would put on his Tefillin in the morning and say Kerias Shema, then go to make a cup of tea for his mother. I wanted to do the same but was told that the hot water might hurt me.
I observed that my father washed his hands for netilas yadayim (washing the hands before bread) in a distinctive way. Other people poured water on each hand twice; my father would pick up the dipper in his right hand, transfer it to his left hand, pour water three times consecutively on his right hand, then take another dipper of water which he would hold (with a towel) in his right hand and pour water three times consecutively on his left hand.
I observed that my father called on his mother every day for an hour before Minchah and again poured her a cup of tea.
Other people talked and talked excitedly; my father was silent most of the time, and when he spoke, he spoke softly.
Once a number of family members were sitting together waiting for tea to be served: my grandmother; my uncle R. Zalman Aharon; my uncle R. Menachem Mendel; my aunt Devorah Leah; my great aunt Gittel, who was my grandmother’s sister; and her son, Zalman Fradkin. The cups and sweets were on the table, but the samovar (hot water kettle) had not yet been brought in.
Meanwhile, I was playing with my cousin in the western corner of the room near the buffet which had recently been brought from one of the larger cities, perhaps Vitebsk or even Moscow, and we were enjoying its decorative carvings. Suddenly, we heard all the chairs move. Looking up I saw that my father had walked in, and everyone present had stood up out of deference to him.
“Your father’s here,” said my cousin. “You’d better watch out that he doesn’t punish you. I’m going to tell on you. I’m going to tell him that you didn’t say a blessing before you ate the candy that my mother gave you.”
I protested: “But I did say a blessing! You didn’t, but I did. Besides, Yosef Mordechai” – he was the elderly household help in my grandmother’s home – “heard me and even answered Amen. It was you who didn’t want to say a berachah (blessing). If you say such a thing to my father, you’ll be an informer and a liar.”
“But if I tell my uncle (the Rebbe Rashab) that you didn’t say a berachah, he’ll believe me and he’ll punish you. Besides,” my cousin added, “I’ll swear to him as I am a Jew that you ate without a berachah and he’ll believe me.”
For a moment, I did not know what to do. I was afraid of my father and was pained by the shame he would feel if he were to think that his only son ate without first saying a berachah.
“My father,” I told my cousin, “is a Chassid, and a Tzaddik, too. So, he knows the truth – that I did say a berachah.”
Before I had quite finished speaking, I ran off to seek refuge in old Yosef Mordechai: perhaps he would recall if he had answered Amen to my blessing. And how happy I was to hear him declare that I had indeed said the blessing of Shehakol and he had responded Amen.
I ran back and told my cousin: “I’m right! I told the truth! Yosef Mordechai answered Amen to my blessing. I’m not afraid of you anymore. My father is a Chassid, and a Tzaddik as well, and I’m a tzaddik, too – a tzaddik the son of a tzaddik. And what about you? You’re two years older than me, yet you did not say a berachah …., while I said a blessing out loud, and Yosef Mordechai even answered Amen!”
In the course of one month, in the summer of 5649 (1889), I became a different boy. My father showed me such closeness that I felt all the warmth of a father, all the love of a compassionate father. I went to sleep with the thought that now I, too, had a father and a mother to whom to say goodnight, and in the course of the following two years I completely forgot the bitter conditions under which I had previously lived.
In the course of those next two years, I attained understanding. I was now able to appreciate the great difference between my father and his brothers, that is, between his aspirations and theirs. For over a year now I had been listening to the discourses of Chassidus, standing behind my father as he delivered them. My father was expounding Chassidus and I was there to hear it.
In the course of those two years the Shabbosos were holy and the festivals were devoted to avodah (service – prayer) and joy. Every Shabbos I would listen to the Reading of the Torah while following attentively in a Chumash, and in the course of the day I would study the commentary of Rashi as well.
Rosh HaShanah of the year 5650 (1889) (the author had just turned nine), was the first Rosh HaShanah on which I did everything like an adult. On the eve of Rosh HaShanah after immersing in the mikveh I visited the resting place of my grandfather (the Rebbe Maharash); in the evening, I listened to my father as he prayed; in the morning I read all the prayers in the Machzor with due deliberation; I listened to the Sounding of the Shofar; I said Tehillim; I listened to (my father’s delivery of an original maamar of) Chassidus; and beginning with Maariv did the same the following day. And from that day I was a grown-up.
From Likkutei Dibburim Volume 4 Chapter 37 by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson – sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe – 1880-1950(Chapter 37: Originally appeared as Part IV of Reshimas HaMaasar.)
English translation by Uri Kaploun.
*Rebbetzin Rivkah – B. 10th Cheshvan, 1833 in Lubavitch. D. 10th Shevat, 1914 and buried close to her illustrious husband, the Rebbe Maharash in Lubavitch, White Russia. Rebbetzin Rivkah was orphaned from her esteemed father and illustrious mother (daughter of the Mitteler Rebbe) at a young age. She and her older sister Gitel moved in with their elderly grandmother. The Tzemach Tzedek saw her gentle and kind ways and her awe of G-d and chose her for a soul mate for his youngest son, the Rebbe Maharash. Their son, Rebbe Shalom DovBer grew up to become the next Lubavitcher Rebbe. His only son, the young Yosef Yitzchak would visit his grandmother every Shabbos afternoon and after cheder during the week and listen intently as she regaled him with stories of Chassidim of yore. Later he would write these down precisely and these were printed in book form for eternity. The famous Bais Rivkah school system established by the Rebbe Rayatz (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson) in France and America and around the globe continues to raise generations of dedicated young women in the spirit of Rebbetzin Rivkah – Chassidic women knowledgeable, selfless, kind, and leaders of communities and institutions for the benefit of Klal Yisrael