Friday, 5 December 2008

Yahrtzeit - 9 Kisleiv - Rabbi Dov Ber of Lubavitch - The Mittler Rebbe



Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch

The Second Chabad Rebbe

Born: Liozna, White Russia, 1773 (Kislev 9)

Died: 1827 (Kislev 9)

The second Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Dov Ber is commonly known as “The Mitteler Rebbe” ("the Middle Rebbe" - Yid.) He was born and died on the same day – something that the Torah speaks about in high praise as it signified an absolute completion. Moses, too, was born and died on the same day – the 7th of Adar, signifying an absolute completion and perfection of days.

Rabbi Dov Ber was the son and successor of his father Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi - Baal HaTanya (the Alter Rebbe), and both uncle and father-in-law of the Tzemach Tzedek. His very special sister, Devorah Leah (whose story including dying for the sake of her father the Alter Rebbe, will be told in another posting,) was the mother of the Tzemach Tzedek.

Some of the greatest Chassidim of the Alter Rebbe said of his oldest son, Rabbi DovBer, that when he was eighteen, he already had amazing powers.

Rabbi DovBer assumed the leadership of Chabad upon his father's passing in 1812. In 1813 he settled in the town of Lubavitch, which was to serve as the movement's headquarters for the next 102 years.

About the Rabbi Dov Ber it was said that he was so immersed in Chasidut that "if his finger would have been cut, it would have bled Chasidut instead of blood!" (a phrase subsequently used often when describing those whose true essence simply “oozes” true Chassidic teachings!) In 1826 when Rabbi Dov Ber was arrested by the Czarist government on slanderous charges (he was later released on the 10th of Kislev), even the governmental doctor, who was a prominent specialist, acknowledged that Chasidut was the Mitteler Rebbe's very essence and life. The doctor told the Russian authorities that they must allow Rabbi Dov Ber to give talks on Chasidut to his Chasidim, explaining, "Just as you provide food for prisoners to ensure their existence, so, too, must you allow him to teach Chasidut. His very life depends on it." The authorities saw that this was true when, while imprisoned, the Mitteler Rebbe's health waned. They agreed to let fifty Chasidim enter his prison room twice weekly to listen to a Chasidic discourse. But Rabbi Dov Ber was not only concerned about the spiritual life of his fellow Jews; he also worked to better their situation materially as well. He encouraged thousands of Jews, both his Chasidim and others, to settle on the land as farmers so that they would not have to be at the mercy of the anti-Semitic landowners or peasants. He established twenty-two Jewish farm settlements on land near the town of Cherson, which he had convinced the government to give for this purpose. Many of his Chasidim, however, were reluctant to move so far away from their Rebbe. Thus, Rabbi Dov Ber promised to go to the trouble of travelling to them so he could teach Chasidut to them there. The Rebbe spoke numerous times of the importance of celebrating the ninth and tenth of Kislev in a fitting manner, with gatherings that will foster brotherhood and lead to good resolutions. His day of release, Kislev 10 is celebrated to this day as a "festival of liberation" – Yom HaGeula, among Lubavitch Chassidim. In addition to the celebrations and gatherings that happen during these two days, it is also Chabad custom *not* to say any prayers that are normally not said of festive occasions i.e. Tachanun, Tzidkasecha (on Shabbos Mincha).

On the night of Kislev 9, the Mitteler Rebbe fainted many times. Once, they were unable to resuscitate him. The Chassidim came, as well as the Chevrah Kadisha (the burial society). The Chassidim and the family didn't give up hope; they tried and successfully revived him.

They asked the Rebbe, "Didn't you hear the shouting in the house? Why are you frightening us so much?" He answered, "I heard a heavenly voice asking what does such a Neshamah have to do in this physical world?"

The Rebbe asked that he be dressed in his white clothes. Colour returned to his face; he spoke of Zechusim - good things about Jews - that Jews are careful to do Mitzvot, especially Tzedakah, giving more than they can. He told his Chassidim and family to be happy; Simchah sweetens judgment. He began to say Chassidut. The Chassidim became happy, as if it were a wedding. All felt that now the Rebbe would regain his health.

He said Chassidut all night and often asked if it was morning. He finished just before dawn; as he said the words "with You is the source of life," he passed away and was united with HaShem. (
Sefer HaToldos)

The Tzemach Tzedek said there wasn't such a passing since R' Shimon Bar Yochai. The Zohar says he was saying Torah and passed on, saying the word "Chayim" - life.

Rabbi DovBer passed away on his 54th birthday in 1827, a day before the first anniversary of his liberation. The Rebbe was buried in Niezhen and that year the joyful day of redemption became one of mourning.

Among the students and scholars of Chabad Chassidism, Rabbi Dov Ber is known for his unique style of "broadening rivers" -- his teachings are the intellectual rivers to his father's wellspring, lending breadth and depth to the principles set down by Rabbi Schneur Zalman.

For an English translation on his teachings concerning praying at the graves of the Tzaddikim and the greatness of this, see Kuntres HaHishtatchus. It is by far one of the best available expositions describing the tremendous value of praying at the graves of the Tzaddikim – a must for everyone who feels the need to explore the power of prayer and the connecting to the Tzaddikim who have “apparently left this world.”

The Rebbe's Son and the Chassid

Once, when Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch, the son of Chassidic master Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, was a young man, he was visiting with his father-in-law in Yanovitch. There he met with one of his father's Chassidim. The Chassid noticed that the young "Rebbe's Son" was all too aware of his achievements in scholarship and meditative prayer, and felt that some "cutting down to size" was in order.

Said the Chassid to Rabbi DovBer: "Considering who you are and how you've lived, what's the big deal? Your father -- well, we all know who your father is. You were certainly conceived under the holiest of circumstances, and I'm sure that your father secured a most lofty soul to bring down into the world. Then you were raised in a Rebbe's home and great care was taken to mold your character and safeguard you from any negative influences. All your life you've been exposed to scholarship and sanctity, and to this very day you're preoccupied only with the study of Torah and the teachings of Chassidism. So you've amassed a certain amount of knowledge and you pray with fervour and devotion. Big deal.

"Now, take me, for example. My father was a simple man, and we can well imagine what was on his mind when he scraped out some dreg of a soul from the bottom of the barrel. My upbringing? I was raised as a goat and basically left to my own devices. And do you know what I do with my life? Let me tell you how I earn my living. I loan money to the peasants during the planting season and then, during the winter months, I make my rounds of their villages and farms to collect the debts before they have a chance to squander their entire harvest on vodka. This means setting out several hours before sunrise, well before the permissible time for prayer, equipped with a flask -- for without a drink one cannot begin to talk business with a peasant. After drinking to his health, one must share a l'chayim with the woman in the house as well -- otherwise she can ruin the whole deal for you. Only then can you sit down to settle part of the account.

"After three or four such stops I make my way home, immerse myself in the mikveh and prepare for prayer. But after such preliminaries, what sort of prayer would you expect...?"

The words of this Chassid, who was, in truth, renowned for his refined nature and soulful prayers, made a deep impression on Rabbi DovBer. The young man immediately travelled home to his father and poured out his heart. He bewailed his spiritual state, saying that his service of G-d is worthless, falling so short of what is expected from him.

The next time the Chassid from Yanovitch came to Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the Rebbe said to him: "I am most grateful to you. You have made a Chassid out of my Berl." (Told by Rabbi DovBer's great-grandson, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi Sholom DovBer Schneersohn)


The Mittler Rebbe was known for the deep sense of caring for each and every one of his Chasidim, especially the young people.

One summer, the Mittler Rebbe was travelling and he stopped in the village of Smorgon. He announced that he was going to spend a week there and receive people for private audiences known as “Yechidut”. For several days the throngs came to the inn where the Rebbe was staying. Suddenly, the Rebbe announced that he would receive no one until further notice. For several hours, people could hear the Rebbe saying Tehillim, Psalms, and weeping. The Rebbe was so weakened by the ordeal that he needed to rest for an hour before praying Mincha. The next day, he again did not receive visitors. Only the day after did he resume his normal schedule.

One of the older Chasidim was bold enough to ask the Rebbe the reason for his behaviour. The Rebbe replied that when someone comes to him to ask advice, he does not merely offer advice. Rather, he would have to put himself into that person's problem so that it became his problem. Once he saw from where the problem originated, he would put himself into the individual so that the solution would be acceptable.

"A young man came to me with a problem," continued the Rebbe. "But, as hard as I tried, I could not convince him of the solution to his problem. I then realized the problem was with me. I was not doing a good enough job of relating to him. Once I took upon myself the firm resolution to improve myself, I could once again relate to him."

(The above story is also told in the name of the Tzemach Tzedek. In addition, this concept is brought in the name of the Rebbe Rashab who taught this to his son the rebbe Rayatz, by explaining that the “changing of the garments” i.e. the complete nullification of oneself to another to make oneself like another and to view life from his own standing, is one of the hardest tasks a Rebbe must go through!)


Rabbi Pinchas Reizes was a chasid of the second Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Dovber. When Rabbi Pinchas passed away his only heir was a nephew, who unfortunately was a complete scoundrel.

Among the items that came into the nephew's possession was a letter written by the Mitteler Rebbe to his uncle, asking him to serve on a special committee to disburse funds for charity. The sum cited in the letter was 4,000 rubles.

The nephew saw this as a golden opportunity to blackmail the Rebbe. If the Rebbe did not give him money, he threatened, he would go to the authorities and tell them that the Rebbe was collecting funds for clandestine, illegal purposes. But the Rebbe was immune to his intimidations. "Not one penny will you get from me," he told him. "Do whatever you want, for I have done nothing wrong and am not afraid of your slander."

Incensed by the Rebbe's response, the nephew carried out his threat. With the help of some unsavory associates he forged the original letter to make it appear as if the Rebbe had 104,000 rubles instead of 4,000 -- a veritable fortune in those days. The Rebbe was accused of various criminal activities, such as trying to bribe the Turkish Sultan, and it was also alleged that the Rebbe's study hall had been built to the exact specifications of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

On Saturday night of the Torah portion of Noach 5587 [1826] investigators showed up at the Rebbe's house. They conducted a thorough search of the premises. Careful note was taken of all written materials, and anything else they considered suspicious. At the same time, a separate group of investigators measured the Rebbe's study hall; the astonished chasidim could not figure out what they were trying to find.

By that time a large crowd had gathered in front of the Rebbe's house, and everyone could hear the tearful pleading of the Rebbe's family with the police. The only one who seemed to be taking everything in stride was the Rebbe. As if nothing unusual were going on, he withdrew to his room to write a Chasidic discourse. A while later he announced that he would receive people for private audiences, which he did.

The following morning the Rebbe was ordered to accompany the police to their headquarters in Vitebsk. Word of the Rebbe's arrest quickly spread, and in every town and village along the way hundreds of Jews came out to greet him. Thanks to the efforts of several influential Jews, it was agreed that the long journey would be made in stages, with numerous stops to allow the Rebbe to rest.

When the carriage arrived in Dobromisl, the Rebbe asked to be allowed to pray the afternoon service in the local synagogue. Afterwards, to everyone's surprise, he delivered a Chasidic discourse on the verse from Song of Songs, "Many waters cannot quench love." The allusion to his present situation was clear.

The Rebbe was subsequently imprisoned in the city of Liozhna and placed under tight security. Sometime later it was learned that the formal charge against him was rebellion against the government.

The Rebbe was jailed for one month and ten days, but even from the beginning he was granted certain privileges. Three people were permitted to stay with him, and three times a day, 20 Jews were allowed inside to pray. The Rebbe was also permitted to deliver a Chasidic discourse twice a week in front of 50 people after the Rebbe's doctor testified that it was crucial to the Rebbe's health.

In the meantime, efforts to secure the Rebbe's release were being made behind the scenes. Several high-ranking government officials who had heard about the Rebbe and held him in great esteem tried to exert their influence. The Rebbe was interrogated numerous times, during which he proved that not only were his connections to the Turkish Sultan completely fabricated, but his designs on the Kaiser's throne were equally fictitious.

At the end of several weeks the results of the investigation were turned over to the Minister of the Interior. The Minister was very impressed by the Rebbe's responses to all the questions, and decided that a direct confrontation between the Rebbe and his accuser was in order.

On the designated day the Rebbe dressed in his white Shabbat finery. When he walked into the Minister's office, the official was so disconcerted by his angelic appearance that he ordered his servants to bring the Rebbe a chair.
The informer began to heap his invectives upon the Rebbe, but one by one, the Rebbe dismissed the accusations entirely. At one point in the proceedings the accuser addressed the Rebbe as "Rebbe," prompting the Rebbe to turn to the Minister and remark, "Did you see that? First he calls me a charlatan and a revolutionary, and in the next breath he calls me Rebbe!"

From that point on the accuser's allegations became increasingly illogical. The Minister was so irritated by his behavior that he ordered him to "stop barking," and he was led away in humiliation. The Rebbe was escorted back to his room with great deference, and informed that he would soon be released.

The Mitteler Rebbe was liberated on the 10th of Kislev, having been informed of the government's decision while reciting the verse from Psalms 55: "He has saved my soul in peace."

[Adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles –, from the rendition on (#647).]

Light a candle for the Mittler Rebbe.
Gather your friends and discuss some Chassidut with them.
It’s a time to take on new Hachlotos – new decisions to increase in acts of goodness and kindness, to increase in studying Torah and helping others.

May the merit of the Tzaddik Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch protect us all, Amen.

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