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“When You Grow Up, You Will Be Rebbe”
In honor of Yud-Alef Nissan, the birthday of the Rebbe MH”M, we present a compilation of stories about the Rebbeim in their youth.


At the age of eight, the Alter Rebbe wrote a commentary on Chumash incorporating the three commentaries of Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and Ramban. When he was ten, the Alter Rebbe had a frightening dream. In the dream, the Alter Rebbe was learning in the Liozna shul’s second room, when R’ Reuven Baal Shem appeared and told the Alter Rebbe that he was being called to judgment. The Alter Rebbe was then instructed to enter the shul.

Upon entering the shul, the Alter Rebbe saw the beis din sitting near the southern table with three elders standing at a distance. The middle one of those seated motioned for them to approach, and R’ Reuven Baal Shem led him to the table. The judges of the beis din were wrapped in their talleisim and the elders were dressed in white.

When he approached the beis din, the judge in the center turned to the Alter Rebbe and said, “These three elders, Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and Ramban, are calling you to court because you would deprive them of being among those who bring merit to the many through studying their commentaries, as your commentary encompasses their three commentaries.”

The Alter Rebbe had nothing to say in his defense, and with sincerity and much sobbing he said he would burn his commentary. The elders placed their hands on his head and blessed him with success in his learning. They blessed him to be mechadesh chiddushim in Torah and avodas Hashem, which tens of thousands of Jews in all generations would follow, until the coming of the redeemer.

When the Alter Rebbe awoke from his dream, he was terribly distressed and concerned, and he took upon himself a fast.

After dreaming the same dream twice more, he burned his commentary.

(From Reshimos Lubavitch of the Rebbe Rayatz, printed in Bitaon Chabad)


The Chassid R’ Eliyahu Reuven related, “When the Alter Rebbe was eleven years old, his father, R’ Baruch, one of the great gaonim on Seider Nezikin, learned Choshen Mishpat with him. R’ Baruch said that he had acquired his knowledge of Seider Nezikin thanks to his father-in-law, the gaon R’ Avrohom HaGaon, who was an expert in Nezikin.”

“When the Alter Rebbe learned that his grandfather, the gaon R’ Avrohom, had learned with me in my youth for a number of years, he regarded me with respect. From time to time he would ask what his grandfather had said when he learned a particular topic with me. Many times, he was annoyed with me for not having asked his grandfather some question or another, when he asked me something for which I had no answer.”

(Seifer HaSichos summer 5700, p. 57)


When I was a small boy, related the Alter Rebbe to his grandson, the Tzemach Tzedek, I was filled with the feeling of ahavas Yisroel and I took pleasure in being mekarev my fellow Jews – not only Torah scholars, but simple people, too. Often I would have greater success in being mekarev the simple Jews, because they observe the Torah with simple faith.

(Seifer HaSichos summer 5700; p. 127)


Once when a group of Chassidim sat and farbrenged, and were feeling very dispirited, they asked the Mitteler Rebbe, who was a young boy at the time, why they were sad.

The Mitteler Rebbe answered, “There is an explicit verse, “Atzabeihem kesef v’zahav” (Their idols are of silver and gold). Their atzvus [i.e., a play on words, where “atzabeihem” is translated as sadness rather than idols] stems from silver and gold, from the fact that they want more rubles, rather than ahava and yira.

(Sichos Kodesh; p. 102)


At a farbrengen during the times of the Alter Rebbe, Chassidim explained the Mishna,Reshus ha’gavoha b’kesef, reshus ha’hedyot b’chazaka” (Property of the Divine [sanctified to the Temple] is acquired by means of money; property of the layman, through establishing ownership) as follows:

Reshus ha’gavoha” – When one wishes to be elevated, he does it “b’kesef” [meaning, with yearning], as in nichsof nichsafti, referring to doing so through love of Hashem. When one wants to go out of “reshus ha’hedyot,” it is done with force and strength, “chazaka,” meaning strength (chozek).

The Mitteler Rebbe was eight or nine at the time, and he noted that they hadn’t yet explained the end of the Mishna, “Amiraso la’gavoha ke’misraso la’hedyot” (One’s pledge to the Divine is as one’s handing over to a layman). The explanation: if only one’s pledge to the Divine, the desire to be elevated, were the same as one’s devotion to the mundane.

(Kovetz Lubavitch; Choveres 1, p. 5)


The Alter Rebbe declared that the seven-year-old Tzemach Tzedek should have a set time after he returned from school and ate supper to spend with the elder Chassidim. Three of them knew the Baal Shem Tov ever since he had revealed himself to the world, and they had received a great deal from the first great students of the Baal Shem Tov.

Years later, the Tzemach Tzedek had yechidus with his son, the Rebbe Maharash, a few times a week in secrecy (so as not to arouse jealousy among the brothers), relating various concepts to him.

(Seifer HaMaamarim 5708; p. 175)


The relationship between the Tzemach Tzedek in his youth and his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, was unique. The Alter Rebbe instructed that the boy’s bed be brought into his room and ordered that he sleep near the bookcase, within four cubits of Torah.

Once, when lying in his grandfather’s room, he awoke and began crying, “Mother, take me to you.” His mother calmed him, saying, “No, no, sleep peacefully. Grandfather is here.”

(Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. 1; pp. 85-86)


The Chassid and gaon R’ Yitzchok Isaac of Homil, related that when he first came to Liozna to the Alter Rebbe, his grandson (the Tzemach Tzedek), a young boy of three or four, was in his grandfather’s room.

Among the Chassidim it was known that when the Alter Rebbe davened, his little grandson would take two potatoes, cut them into the shape of tefillin, take strings for the straps, and tie the potato-tefillin to his arm and head. He would sway and sing various niggunim as one does while davening. When the Alter Rebbe finished his davening and wrapped up his tefillin, the boy would remove the potato-tefillin and run about the room, dragging the strings behind him.

The door to the Alter Rebbe’s room had many holes and cracks that the Chassidim had made in order to get a peek at the Rebbe. Although the door had a wide curtain on it on the inside, R’ Zalman, the assistant, would sometimes forget to close it. That is how the Chassidim were able to watch the Alter Rebbe daven while the boy ran around with his play-tefillin. When the Alter Rebbe removed his Rashi tefillin, he removed the tefillin shel Shimusha Rabba and put on the Rabbeinu Tam tefillin. The boy also removed his play-tefillin and ran back and forth in the room.

As he ran about, one of the strings of his play-tefillin got caught on a table leg. The Alter Rebbe, while wearing tefillin, bent down and freed the string from where it was wound around the table leg, and the boy ran around as before.

The Chassidim were amazed by the love and affection the Alter Rebbe displayed for his grandson.

(Seifer HaToldos Tzemach Tzedek; p. 74)


When the Rebbe Maharash was twelve years old, he had a study class after which he did other activities, such as copying maamarim. One time after concluding his learning, he went to his father (the Tzemach Tzedek) to ask him for a maamer to copy. His father asked, “What sort of work is this for you? So and so [mentioning the name of a scribe] could do it.”

Said the Rebbe Maharash: “My brain is already tired from my studies and I learned what I was supposed to learn.”

The Tzemach Tzedek replied, “When I was nine years old I had a shiur, and my grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, would test me. After the test, he gave me something to study. Once, I was tired from my earlier studies and I wanted some fresh air, so I postponed learning and went outside. When my grandfather looked out the window and saw me outside, he called me over and asked why I wasn’t learning the topic he had given me. I said that my brain was tired from its earlier exertions. My grandfather took his stick and lowered it on my shoulders, saying, ‘Here is chochma, here is bina, here is opening of the heart.’”

(Seifer HaToldos Admur Maharash; p. 65)


In his youth, the Rebbe Maharash asked his father, the Tzemach Tzedek, why Rashi explained the “hineini” (here I am) of Avrohom Avinu but not of Moshe Rabbeinu. The Tzemach Tzedek answered, “Moshe was a maskil, which is chochma, whereas Avrohom Avinu was an oveid. For an oveid there is an explanation, but not for a maskil.

(Seifer HaSichos 5701; p. 44)


Rebbetzin Rivka, the mother of the Rebbe Rashab, related:

“Once, when my son was about four years old, the tailor brought a garment he had sewn for me. While examining the garment, the boy innocently removed remnants of material from the tailor’s pocket. The tailor was greatly embarrassed [since he should have returned the material to Rebbetzin Rivka] and began excusing himself, saying that he had forgotten that he had remnants of material left from the garment he had sewn.

“When the tailor left, I said to my son, ‘See, you embarrassed the tailor.’ The boy began to cry bitterly.

“A few weeks later, he asked his father, the Rebbe Maharash, how he could correct the sin of embarrassing someone. When his father inquired as to why he was asking, he said he simply wanted to know, but he did not relate what had happened. I asked him why he hadn’t explained what had happened and he said, ‘It’s enough that I embarrassed someone. Should I compound the sin with rechilus and lashon ha’ra?’”

(Chanoch LaNaar; p. 7)


The Rebbe Rashab related, “When I was four years old, every day I would enter my grandfather’s (the Tzemach Tzedek’s) room, and he would tell me a story from the Torah. Once, he put me on his knees, took my hand, and combed his beard with it. This helped me to better absorb his maamarei Chassidus.

(Seifer HaSichos summer 5700; p. 99)


When the Rebbe Rashab was brought to cheider for the first time, his grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, threw candies, saying that the angel Michoel threw them. The boy took this seriously and didn’t want to eat the candies, for they were precious to him.

On Erev Pesach it was customary to check the pockets of the clothing of even small children. The Tzemach Tzedek asked his grandson what he had done with the candies, and he had no choice but to eat them at that time.

(Seifer HaSichos 5701; p. 30)


The Rebbe Rayatz related:

Once, my mother served me a light breakfast. My father entered the room and asked my mother if she had said Modeh Ani with me. Hearing the question, I burst into tears. “The boy was hungry,” my mother answered, “and I gave him a little milk and cake.”

“What about a bracha on the cake and milk? Did he say a bracha before saying Modeh Ani?”

My mother answered, “The boy is trembling in fear.”

“When you eat before Modeh Ani without saying a bracha,” said my father, “it’s all right to tremble.” Ignoring my tears, he took me to his room by the hand and said, “How could you eat before Modeh Ani and without saying a bracha?!”

I was heartbroken and could not answer. When I calmed down, my father said Modeh Ani with me. I had to stand straight, straighten my feet and my tallis katan, bend slightly and say the Modeh Ani word by word.

(Seifer HaMaamarim 5711; p. 62)


The Rebbe Rayatz cried at his bris, as children do. Said his grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, “Why are you crying? You will grow up and be ... and say Chassidus in a clear  manner.”

“From Chassidim I heard,” said the Rebbe shlita, “that he said, ‘You will grow up and be Rebbe.’ ”

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 1; p. 138)


The Rebbe Rayatz relates:

It was Erev Succos 5644 (1883). On the table was a box containing esrogim and lulavim. I thought they were apples and I wanted to play with them. My father said to me, “This is a mitzva,” and he showed me which was the lulav, the esrog, and the hadas, until I could identify them myself.

I asked my father, “Where did they grow?”

He answered, “In the wilderness.”

I asked again, “What is wilderness?”

He answered, “Similar to pasture land, like we have near Lubavitch.”

I asked, “How did they get them?”

He answered, “They sent an emissary and he brought them.”

Then my father went to the succa at my grandmother’s house and I went along, too. I asked for something from the box. My father gave me the rings. I refused to accept this, saying that I wanted something bigger. My father said, “The rings are bigger than anything else, because they hold together and support everything.”

On Succos, my father told me he would not allow me to eat until I said the bracha on the esrog. He gave me the esrog, held my hand, and recited the bracha with me. At that point, I already knew to fear Father’s orders.

(Seifer HaSichos 5699; p. 294)


In 5649 (1889), when the Rebbe Rayatz was nine years old, the Torah Ohr siddur was published. His father (the Rebbe Rashab) called him to his room and told him to daven with this siddur. The Rebbe Rashab tested his son on his reading and on the meaning of the words, and was not satisfied. He was mostly concerned about grammatical mistakes, such as where to place the accent in certain words and which letters should be emphasized in pronunciation. His father arranged that the melamed, R’ Yitzchok Gershon, should teach him the meaning of the words as well as grammar, twice a week.

R’ Meir Bershtelmacher, z’l, a Chassid from Yekaterinaslav and a student of the Rashbatz, was a great mekubal. He would visit R’ Levi Yitzchok [father of the Rebbe MH”M] from time to time, discussing Torah thoughts for hours. One time, while the two conversed, Rebbetzin Chana entered with her son, the Rebbe MH”M, and left him with his father. The guest sensed that the boy was listening to their conversation and was greatly impressed that he understood what they were saying.

The astounded guest asked R’ Levi Yitzchok whether the boy truly understood what they were discussing. R’ Levi Yitzchok simply answered, “You can never know.” 

(Toldos Levi Yitzchok; p. 181)


In Yekaterinaslav there lived a Jewish boy who worked as a translator for a company that operated outside the country. He was once given the task of translating an article from English to Russian, and since he didn’t know English, he was afraid he would be fired.

Said Rebbetzin Chana, “My oldest son [the Rebbe MH”M] translated the article for him, and saved his job.”

How did her son know English? The Rebbetzin said that he learned the language from a dictionary. That is also how he learned Italian, as well as other languages.

(Di Yiddishe Heim, Adar 5724; pp. 5-6)


One time when Rebbetzin Chana had guests, she wanted to present her son, so she called him to come to her room. The Rebbe MH”M entered the room and asked her what she wanted. She handed the Rebbe a Russian daily newspaper, and asked him to read the leading article, which was two columns long, and to tell them what it said.

The Rebbe glanced at the article and then repeated it word for word for his mother’s guests. Then he immediately returned to his room without saying another word.

(B’Reshes Chabad, Vol. 9, 5741; p. 4)


Rebbetzin Chana related, “A typhus epidemic broke out in the city, which led to many deaths. My son decided that this was no time to be silent, and it was necessary to work quickly to save Jewish lives. He threw himself into his work in bringing succor to the sick.

“This was quite dangerous since the contagious disease could affect him too, but the energetic youth ignored the dangers and continued his labors until he came down with the dreaded illness. The Rebbe’s body burned up with fever. Overcome with this illness, he did not cease to mumble about Atzilus, B’ria, and about man’s mission on earth in this physical world.”

(Toldos Levi Yitzchok; p. 344)


Rebbetzin Chana related an incident that occurred at her son’s bar mitzva: “After the bar mitzva boy’s speech, which made a tremendous impression on all who heard it, the boy burst into tears. Many of the guests, seeing his tears, began crying too.

“I knew that my husband had insisted that our son make a certain promise. I had no idea what it was about, but I remember that on Friday night Yud-Alef Nissan came out on Friday in the year 5675 (1915). When the boy finally agreed to promise, there was great joy in the house, and the dancing continued until late at night.”

(Di Yiddishe Heim; Kislev 5722)


When the Alter Rebbe davened, his little grandson would take two potatoes, cut them into the shape of tefillin, take strings for the straps, and tie the potato-tefillin to his arm and head.


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