The Strength of a “Schneerson”
By Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Ginsberg


In connection with Chaf Menachem Av, the yom hilula of HaRav HaKadosh R’ Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, father of the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach, shlita, I bring you the following stories and anecdotes that typify what Reb Levik stood for. Some are famous, others are less well known. But all contain a powerful moral lesson for the especially trying times in which we live.


We begin with a story that the Rebbe once related (Shabbos Parshas Sisa 5745, non-edited; Toldos Levi Yitzchak, Vol. 1, pp. 155-6), which goes back to the very earliest days of his father’s rabbanus, under the Czar (free translation):


When my father, of blessed memory, ascended the throne of rabbanus in the city of Yeketerinaslav, taking over from the gaon and Chassid, Rabbi Dov Zev, there were some who were not very pleased that they had (again) chosen a Chassidic rav, especially a Lubavitcher, and they began to search for ways to get rid of him.


They did not have to look too far, as his being a Lubavitcher offered them a tried and true precedent: slander!


And so, one fine day the police chief showed up at our house and asked to speak with the rabbi privately.


It is not hard to imagine how frightening this was. In those days, under Czar Nicholas, a personal visit from a police officer was truly cause for concern.


Later, after he had left, my father told us that a complaint had been leveled against him with the authorities, accusing him of being unfit to be rav of such an important city. His crime was as follows: He had been seen drinking mashkeh, arms linked with a shoemaker, and actually dancing with him!


The slanderers had explained to the police chief that in a city as noteworthy as Yeketerinaslav, it was simply not fitting to have a drunken rav who dances with shoemakers in a position of authority. (Under the Czar, a shoemaker was on the bottom rung of society!) Surely, they appealed to him, the first thing to do was to remove him from his position.


In truth, their slander had a basis in fact. Even many years before, the charges that had been leveled against the Alter Rebbe, that he was a rebel who wished to be king, etc., had also been somewhat truthful. Did not the Alter Rebbe possess an extreme love and yearning for HaKadosh Baruch Hu (malchus, kingship), and an overwhelming desire to unite with Him? Similarly, the slander against my father also had a basis in fact.


This is what had happened: The particular shoemaker in question was not just any old shoemaker; he was a Chassid who was very learned in Chassidus and devoted to avoda. However, for reasons of livelihood, he had been forced to become a shoemaker to support his family.


(In those days, not all Chassidim were affluent, or even moderately well to do. Halevai that in this country all the Chassidim will be wealthy!)


In any event, whenever it was Yud-Tes Kislev or Purim or the like, and a Chassidic farbrengen was held, the shoemaker would always attend.


On these occasions a little mashkeh would be imbibed by all, in keeping with the Chassidic saying, “The wheels must be greased.” Also, in the course of these farbrengens the Chassidim would naturally get up and dance. So, in effect, my father really did dance with a shoemaker after drinking mashkeh, which is what he was accused of…


On another occasion the Rebbe described a later and more difficult period in his father’s life, after the Communists had taken over. By then the charge of dancing with a shoemaker wouldn’t have been so terrible, as in the Soviet paradise, being a shoemaker - a respectable member of the proletariat - was an honored profession. No, this time he was accused of even greater offenses.


On 18 Nissan 5743 (Hisvaaduyos, Vol. 3, non-edited; Toldos Levi Yitzchak, Vol. 1) the Rebbe related (free translation):


I would like to tell a story about an event connected with my father, which for various reasons is not so well known. The story reveals the true capacity of the Jew if he only resolves to stand strong - not in the sense of “my power and the strength of my hand,” G-d forbid, but empowered with the strength and courage of “And behold, G-d stands over him,” with which he strives to fulfill G-d’s command and Divine mission in life.


The event in question involved flour and matzos for Pesach, and my father’s stance against even the slightest possibility of chametz.


It was in the early years of the present Soviet regime, when all commerce and business throughout the country had already been nationalized. Accordingly, all of the mills and matza bakeries were run by the government and supervised by its representatives.


When it came time to collect all the flour in a central location prior to transport to the bakeries, the government turned to my father. First of all, he was one of the few rabbanim left, and the authorities knew about him and were aware that he had given his hechsher to the flour in previous years. Furthermore, the city in which he lived was in southern Russia, where most of the wheat was grown.


Thus, when it was time to ship the wheat and they needed a hechsher certifying that the flour had been milled under the strictest supervision and was kosher for Passover, they asked my father. He would be allowed to send his own mashgichim into the factories to make sure that it did not come into any contact with water.


This arrangement had existed for many years. That year, however, when the government representatives explained to him that as everything was now under central control, if a certain portion of the flour was not sold because it lacked his approval, it would be interpreted as a declaration of war against the state. The government stood to lose a great deal of revenue from the flour, especially kosher for Passover flour, which was so expensive.


My father replied that it was already understood that if they allowed him to post his own mashgichim whose instructions would be strictly obeyed, he would certainly certify the flour as kosher. If they did not allow him his own supervisors or would not follow their instructions, he would not comply. And not only that, he would make sure to publicize that he was in no way connected to any of it.


The representatives reiterated that they would surely permit him to install his own supervisors. If they approved the flour, it was all fine and good. If they did not, and on their say-so my father refused to give his hechsher, he should know that he would be considered a revolutionary against the government!


At that point my father declared that he was ready to travel to Moscow and meet with the president of the Soviet Union, Kalinen, to discuss the matter. Indeed, he would tell him that it is impossible to certify flour for baking matzos if that flour is not kosher for Passover. If they wished to punish him, surely they had the power to do so. But he absolutely refused to give his hechsher to something that did not deserve it, as it was against Jewish law and against G-d.


Again they tried to apply pressure and threaten him, but they soon found out that they were powerless. The matter was referred to the highest authorities (maybe even Kalinen or his advisors - it is impossible to know for sure), after which a directive was issued to the effect that obtaining my father’s hechsher was an absolute necessity. Not only would he be permitted to post his own supervisors in the mills, but everything that he said must be followed to the letter.


Indeed, that is what happened that year, and the next year and the next. In all of the government-sponsored matza bakeries throughout the Soviet Union, only the flour approved by my father was used.


This contains a powerful teaching for each and every one of us, even children - that when a Jew stands firm and declares that his strength is derived from G-d’s command, the Creator of heaven and earth, and that a Jew cannot act contrary to G-d’s command, nor is he willing to do anything against Jewish law and the Shulchan Aruch even if the government tells him to, he will ultimately succeed. As illustrated in the above story, the government ordered that the mashgichim be posted in all of the mills, their instructions obeyed, and the flour produced in accordance with the Shulchan Aruch.


It is understood that not every individual can demonstrate such strength. But it is also true that not everyone must face such a trial, to oppose an entire government ruling over 200 million people. All that most of us need to do is to take a stand against his own evil inclination, even when it tells him that the gentiles won’t allow a Jewish child to conduct himself as he should. He should tell the evil inclination that it is simply not true; it is a falsehood and a lie!


As the Jew is empowered with the strength of “And behold, G-d stands over him,” i.e., that Hashem is always beside him, helping him overcome all obstacles and hindrances, in the end he will be successful. And he will have, as in those days, a kosher and happy Pesach, and so shall we - when we resolve even now to conduct ourselves with the abovementioned strength, which will carry over and influence the entire year, rendering it kosher and joyful, bringing with it the redemption of Moshiach, speedily in our days.




Here are several more anecdotes from Toldos Levi Yitzchak:


Reb Mendel Futerfas related that there was once a rav who sent R’ Levi Yitzchak the nusach of a gett three times for his approval. Each time Reb Levik declared it invalid. In exasperation, the rav finally begged him to approve it “for the sake of his honor.” To which Reb Levik replied, “I’m sorry, but your honor cannot compare with the honor of Heaven!”


Another time, Reb Mendel was present as a witness when Reb Levik was preparing a gett. When Reb Mendel accidentally leaned on the desk, Reb Levik ordered him, “Take your hands off the table!” (According to halacha, leaning is considered like sitting, and a person must be standing to be a witness.)


Reb Levik was also extremely scrupulous when it came to appointing shochtim. It wasn’t enough to be technically skilled; they also had to be sufficiently G-d-fearing to obtain his approval.


There was a time when there was a great shortage of shochtim in Russia. At Reb Levik’s urging, several Jews decided to devote themselves to learning Yoreh Deia, with all of the dinim associated with sh’chita.


One of these individuals was a Chassid who had removed his beard (due to the danger involved, etc.) When he finished his course of study and went to Reb Levik for his “kabala,” Reb Levik refused to give it. It was against his principle to endorse any shochet who did not have a beard. He did, however, direct the man to a different rav who was not so stringent on the matter.


The atmosphere in Russia in those days was totally antithetical to Torah. In fact, it was so pervasive that it filtered down into many religious circles. Some rabbanim went out of their way to ascribe logical reasons to the Shulchan Aruch in an attempt to make it more palatable. But not R’ Levi Yitzchak Schneerson! Proudly and without hesitation he declared halacha to be the word of G-d, and emphasized that no further explanations were necessary.


A woman once came to Reb Levik with a shaala about a chicken. After examining the bird and pronouncing it treif, Reb Levik told her, “You should know that the chicken is healthy. However, according to halacha it is still treif and forbidden to be eaten.”


In her memoirs, Reb Levik’s saintly wife, Rebbetzin Chana, o.b.m., mother of the Rebbe MH”M, describes the High Holidays of 5695 (1934), when her husband invited two chazanim to conduct the services in his shul in Yeketerinaslav.


One chazzan, Mr. Lieber, was a professional opera singer. Clean-shaven, without so much as a mustache, he dressed like a typical stage actor of his day. However, he boasted a very prestigious lineage as a descendant of the holy Malach, the son of the Mezritcher Maggid. The second chazzan worked as an auditor for a government institution, and was the grandson of the Rav of Slavita.


Reb Levik had arranged an early minyan on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur for those people who, unfortunately, had to work afterward. The davening ended by 8:00 a.m. On Yom Kippur, after work, they went back to shul for Ne’ila. The shul was completely filled. It was so crowded that many people had to stand outside.


Whenever Reb Levik spoke to them [about not working on Yom Tov] he wept bitterly, tears streaming down his face. At the same time, he would derive immense pleasure from their spiritual arousal. “Look and see what a Jew is!” he kept repeating to himself in wonderment.


(This brings to mind another of Reb Levik’s famous sayings: “Moshe Rabbeinu is very, very great, but he is no greater than a Jew. At the same time, the simplest Jew is very little, but he is no less than a Jew…”)


Reb Levik also saw to it that Ne’ila would not end too early (as was common practice in other shuls), thereby causing inadvertent desecration of Yom Tov. He instructed the shliach tzibbur to daven slowly, so that by the time they reached the end of Ne’ila there was no time for singing.


This caused many people in the shul to start grumbling. There was even an outburst from one fellow, a workman (who knew how to learn) accusing the rav of being “a grandson of the Alter Rebbe who sat in jail because of controversy, who behaves just like him!”


Reb Levik, of course, paid no attention to public opinion. He just did whatever he had to, to ensure that “Jews would not do what is forbidden,” as he used to say.


As the Rebbetzin relates, after the chazanim returned to Moscow she received a thank-you note from both of them. At the end of the letter they wrote that they had witnessed something wonderful in the rav of Yeketerinaslav, something they had never seen before: At the same time that Reb Levik was rejoicing and dancing on Simchas Torah, he was weeping bitterly - a sight that was impossible to describe in words. But the dancing, they hastened to add, had been more powerful than the weeping…


These stories, and the many like them, afford us a tiny glimpse into the amazing personality of Reb Levik.


On the one hand, he was an astounding gaon and scholar, proficient in all areas of the Torah. His very essence was Torah and avodas Hashem. At the same time he was a true communal leader, who overlooked his own needs and demonstrated mesiras nefesh for Klal Yisroel.


Reb Levik was thus an astounding dichotomy, unwilling to yield even a “thorn on a Yud,” insisting that the Torah not be sullied with rational explanations, invalidating gett after gett regardless of the rav’s honor, and refusing to give his personal approval to a clean-shaven shochet.


Nonetheless, he made sure that a frum shochet would be able to ply his trade for the benefit of the entire city, arranged a minyan for Jews who would be working on Yom Kippur, and brought in chazanim who were not quite up to par in their personal lives in order to arouse Jews to t’shuva.


Reb Levik would cry bitter tears over the spiritual degradation all around him, yet he felt the greatest simcha and awe in the face of a Jew’s essential Jewishness. And as the chazanim wrote in their letter, his dancing was more powerful than his weeping…


Baruch Hashem, we no longer live under the same circumstances as Reb Levik. Most of us enjoy the luxury of abundant gashmiyus and ruchniyus, and there is no one stopping us from keeping Torah and mitzvos. On the contrary, the gentiles even help us in many ways.


The Sitra Achra must, therefore, seek new and modern methods to keep busy. The evil inclination will sometimes even hide behind the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach’s own words, taken out of context, in an attempt to entrap us.


“Of course you can do whatever you want…” the yetzer ha’ra whispers. “No one will tell you otherwise. But why do you have to be so fanatical? Why must you always stick out of the crowd and irritate others, especially friends and relatives who might not see eye-to-eye with you? Even if you believe in all that Moshiach stuff, didn’t the Rebbe insist on ‘ofen ha’miskabel,’ ‘keilim d’tikkun,’ etc.?”


Of course, the Evil Inclination conveniently forgets to mention the main point of the above sicha, which was the explicit directive to bring the “oros d’Tohu” into the “keilim d’tikkun.” Furthermore, the oft-repeated quote of “ofen ha’miskabel” was said in the context of fulfilling “the only thing that remains in the service of shlichus - to greet Moshiach Tzidkeinu in reality.” On that occasion, the Rebbe emphasized that the Frierdike Rebbe (of course, the Rebbe was speaking about himself) is the “only Moshiach of our generation,” who must be accepted and acknowledged so he can take the Jewish people out of galus. As everything we do from now on must be thoroughly flavored with Moshiach and Geula, every single individual, shliach and layman alike, is obligated to explain to others “b’ofen ha’miskabel” the concepts involved, especially as illuminated by Chabad Chassidus.


On Shabbos Parshas Chayei Sarah 5752, the Rebbe commented on the saying of our Sages, “One must do everything the baal ha’bayis tells him to, except leave.” In other words, even if the true Baal HaBayis of the world, Hashem, were to tell us to stop (praying for Moshiach), He does not really want us to, as His true desire is that we continue to implore him for the Geula.


The Rebbe gave another example on Shabbos Parshas Dvarim 5751, when he explained that the despite G-d’s explicit command to Moshe, “Do not speak to Me anymore about this matter,” we see that in actuality, Moshe Rabbeinu had mesiras nefesh and continued davening. Why? Because “One must do everything the baal ha’bayis tells him to, except leave.” No one is going to be left out from the true and complete Redemption.


Unfortunately, there are still some people who are influenced by quotations taken out of context and are embarrassed to say “Yechi” (after davening, during leining, after “Lecha Dodi,” etc.), despite the fact that these things are minhag Lubavitch, endorsed and encouraged by the Rebbe shlita. Similarly, they refrain from printing “Yechi” on their invitations and the like, in an attempt not to offend.


The desire to avoid being offensive is commendable and praiseworthy. We are obligated to love our fellow Jews and draw them near. Sometimes, however, the Torah demands zealousness over being nice, especially when it comes to the recent chiddushim that are so critical to our present era, when we are standing virtually on the threshold of Redemption. For as the Rebbe said, all we have to do is “open the door and drag it in…”


The key to overcoming the challenge of our times is found in the first paragraph of the Shulchan Aruch, where we are counseled, “Do not be embarrassed in the face of those who mock.” Inspired by the example of Reb Levik, we must strive to emulate his mesiras nefesh and the obstinacy that was derived, as the Rebbe put it, from his “being a Schneerson.”


Undaunted and with pride, we will bring the Rebbe shlita to all corners of the world, and bring all the world’s inhabitants to the Rebbe shlita. For as the Rambam writes in connection to the mitzva of hakhel (Hilchos Chagiga): “Even though [at the hakhel assemblage] there are people who speak foreign languages, and converts [who do not understand what the king is saying], we must prepare their hearts and ears to listen to his words in awe and fear, rejoicing and trembling, as on the day the Torah was given at Sinai. …Even one who cannot hear should concentrate on the king’s reading, as its sole purpose is to strengthen the religion of truth. One should regard himself as if he is just then receiving the command and hearing it from G-d Himself, as the king is G-d’s emissary through whom G-d’s word is made known.”


“Yechi Adoneinu Moreinu V’Rabbeinu Melech HaMoshiach L’olam Va’ed!”


His crime was as follows: He had been seen drinking mashkeh, arms linked with a shoemaker, and actually dancing with him!




When a Jew stands firm and declares that his strength is derived from  

G-d’s command, the Creator of heaven and earth...he will ultimately succeed.




These stories, and the many like them, afford us a tiny glimpse into the amazing personality of Reb Levik.






Proudly and without hesitation he declared halacha to be the word of G-d, and emphasized that no further explanations were necessary.




We are obligated to love our fellow Jews and draw them near. Sometimes, however, the Torah demands zealousness over being nice...


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