The Origin of "Rosh HaShana L’Chassidus"
By Menachem Ziegelboim

"Gutt Yom Tov! Gutt Yom Tov!" happy voices called out in the hall of the yeshiva gedola in Lubavitch the night of Rosh HaShana L’Chassidus 5662 (1901), that year a Friday night. Candles were lit and tables were royally set, just as eyes shone and hearts raced, for this was a special holiday for Chabad chassidim, a holiday for Toras HaChassidus - actually a holiday for all of Creation.

The joy reached the heavens, but not many know that this joy was almost eradicated…

* * *

Kislev, the Month of Holidays and the Month of Geula. Chassidim look forward to the Festivals of the Liberation of the Alter Rebbe and the Mitteler Rebbe. Yud-Tes Kislev was always celebrated in the great hall of the yeshiva in Lubavitch with great pomp and joy, the Rebbe Rashab farbrenging at the head of the table. Aside from hundreds of T’mimim who learned in the yeshiva, hundreds of chassidim and baalei battim came to participate in this farbrengen with the Rebbe Rashab.

How magnificent was the Rebbe! His face shone with a G-dly light, a light of joy, radiating from his pure face. The Rebbe said a maamer chassidus and many sichos kodesh, which the heart and neshama enjoyed. Gashmius was not lacking, but who paid attention to trivialities?

In Kislev 5662, enemies of the Jews in Russia raised their heads and began persecuting Jews. The pretext: allegations that the chassid R’ Mendel Horenstein, brother-in-law of the Rebbe Rashab, burned down his own factory in order to damage merchandise belonging to a gentile. The charge was baseless, yet R’ Mendel was imprisoned to await trial.

The Rebbe Rashab suffered greatly. "A heavy cloud rested upon my father’s face," related the Rebbe Rayatz. On 5 Kislev, the Rebbe suddenly left Lubavitch for Moscow on R’ Mendel’s behalf, hiring a top lawyer in an attempt to obtain R’ Mendel’s release.

The trip was sudden and unexpected. Everyone thought the Rebbe would return in time for Yud-Tes Kislev, but as days passed, the chassidim and T’mimim began to doubt whether this would indeed be so.

Doubt became certainty following a committee meeting of T’mimim with the Rebbe Rayatz, menahel of the yeshiva, officially informing them of the improbability of his father’s celebration with the yeshiva. The menahel told the talmidim to celebrate on Yud-Tes Kislev as they did every year: students of the yeshiva gavoha and yeshiva ketana would eat together with the mashpiim, mashgichim, roshei yeshiva, magidei shiurim, and even those who worked in the yeshiva offices. Moreover, to add to the celebration, this seuda was set to take place in the spacious yeshiva hall, as opposed to the yeshiva dining room where the students usually ate.

However, when the committee, composed of the oldest and most serious bachurim in the yeshiva, heard what the Rebbe Rayatz had said, they were stunned. They all yearned to be with the Rebbe Rashab at this farbrengen, to see him and to hear every word he uttered, and now… it simply wasn’t going to happen.

For the rest of the week preceding Yud-Tes Kislev, preparations went on as usual with the hope and faith that perhaps the Rebbe would return to Lubavitch after all. A special committee of bachurim was established to organize the farbrengens and festivities. Many guests streamed to Lubavitch for the big day, among them famous ziknei ha’chassidim, such as R’ Dovid Tzvi Chein from Chernigov (the Radatz), and the outstanding chassid Rav Dov Zev Koznikov, the rav of Yekaterinaslav. People were full of anticipation, for who knew? Just maybe…

The yeshiva’s hanhala convened to discuss the upcoming event, deciding that although the Rebbe wouldn’t be there, everything would carry on as usual. The mashpiim also agreed that the T’mimim from other cities, who had already received permission to come to Lubavitch for Yud-Tes Kislev to be with the Rebbe, should still come.

Thursday, the 17th of Kislev. The grand farbrengen would be taking place the following evening. Although little time remained, chassidim still hoped the Rebbe would make a last-minute appearance, but as time passed, "the cloud of gloom intensified," as the Rebbe Rayatz put it.

At 8:00 a.m., the two great chassidim, the Radatz and the rav of Yekaterinaslav, met and discussed the possibility of asking the Rebbe to come back especially for Yud-Tes Kislev, and whether all the talmidim could go to him. In the evening they went to Rebbetzin Rivka, the Rebbe Rashab’s mother, with the request that she ask the Rebbe to come to Lubavitch even for one day.

The Rebbetzin answered, "I am certain that if he could come, he would certainly do so." Then she added, "I cannot ask of him something which his holy daas doesn’t agree with." The two chassidim left her, heavyhearted.

* * *

At 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, the mailman knocked on the office door of Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim and delivered a letter. The Rebbe Rayatz opened the door and saw it was a letter from his father. This was a fundamental letter explaining the significance of Yud-Tes Kislev. It had been written especially for the grand farbrengen that would take place the next night, as a substitute for the Rebbe Rashab’s presence.

The Rebbe Rayatz rejoiced. He rushed to the hall of the yeshiva gedola, went up to the podium, and amidst the mashgichim and mashpiim he joyfully announced: "We have just merited to receive a holy letter from my holy father, my teacher and Rebbe. The letter explains the significance of the upcoming holy day. With Hashem’s help, tomorrow at the farbrengen, the letter will be read to everyone."

Many of the bachurim were uplifted and the heavy spirit was somewhat alleviated, even as they understood that a letter could not replace the Rebbe himself.

In the meantime, the members of the committee worked around the clock to ensure that all was prepared before Shabbos. The yeshiva’s hall was washed and decorated. Long tables and hundreds of chairs were arranged. Beautiful vessels were brought from the home of the Rebbe Rashab and placed on the tables.

Many talmidim worked for hours setting up candles on the walls. Rows upon rows of candles were arranged. 1,668 candles were set up to correspond to the words "Chag Rabbeinu ha’gadol v’ha’kadosh nishmaso Eden." The hall was flooded with light, a marvelous sight to behold.

On the notice board of the yeshiva was hung a sign with the day’s order of events:


The Chagiga on Motzaei Shabbos [In Kerem Chabad, it states that the main celebration was on Motzaei Shabbos, whereas in most sources it appears that it took place on Friday night. Possibly the celebration was held on both nights, as seemingly indicated in the writings of the Rebbe Rayatz.]

Maariv is 5:00 in the heichal beis ha’t’filla.

At 5:30 the large hall will be opened and all are invited to enter.

Hot drinks.

The menahel [Rebbe Rayatz] will read the letter from the Rebbe and founder, which discusses the significance of the day.

At 6:30 the gaon from Yekat[erinaslav] will read the letter "Katonti" in Tanya, and ten students from the yeshiva will distribute to each visitor a volume of Tanya to follow along in while listening. All this will take a half an hour. (Everybody is asked to sit in their places and not disturb the program.)

At 8:00, drinks and l’chaim and refreshments and niggunim, until 9:00.

From 9:00 until 10:00 - break.

Seuda from 10 until 1:00 a.m., and until 3:00, singing and dancing.

The door is open to all who wish to attend, but the honored kahal is requested to follow the instructions of the house staff and of those appointed to keep order.

* * *

The Shabbos Queen spread her wings over Lubavitch. It seemed as though not only an extra neshama had descended upon the hundreds of talmidim and guests, but a double and redoubled neshama - double for Shabbos and redoubled for the Chag HaChagim, Yud-Tes Kislev.

Everyone gathered in the yeshiva. There is no better way to begin this holy day than by learning chassidus. Hundreds of talmidim sat and learned. The sound of Torah echoed loudly, extending beyond the windows of the zal.

After an hour and a half of learning, the gabbai announced a break for Kabbalas Shabbos. When davening was over, the gabbai announced that the Rebbe’s letter would be read.

With measured steps, the Rebbe Rayatz walked over to the podium with the two mashgichim (of the sidrei chassidus and sidrei nigleh) at his right and his left. The sight was reminiscent of the Rebbe’s t’kias shofar, when the Rebbe stood at the lectern surrounded by chassidim. All rose, as is befitting for chassidim who are being addressed by their Rebbe.

The tension was palpable and the inner joy was boundless. Silence reigned as the only sound heard was the rustling of the letter. The Rebbe Rayatz began reading aloud. Each word was golden, each letter a sparkling jewel. "My children, sh’yichyu," he began, and the loving voice of the father could be heard throughout the hall.

B"H. Yom Dalet, 16 Kislev 5662 Moscow

My sons, gather together on Yud-Tes Kislev, which comes upon us for good - those who learn, their leaders and their teachers and their mashgichim - and rejoice with the joy of the holiday which redeemed our souls in peace, and the light and life of our souls was given to us. This day is the Rosh HaShana for chassidus that our holy fathers bequeathed to us, and this is the Torah of the Baal Shem Tov, z’l.

This day is the beginning of Your work, the completion of the true intention of the creation of man on earth, to further draw down the revelation of the inner light of our holy Torah, which was drawn down on this day in a general way for the entire year. We must arouse our hearts on this day with desire, and inner, essential will with the true [innermost] point of our hearts, which will illuminate our souls with the light of the inner part of His Torah.

From the depths I call out to You, Hashem, to draw the aspect of the depth and pnimiyus of Toras Hashem and the mitzvos of Hashem from the aspect of the innermost and essential Ohr Ein Sof Boruch Hu, so that it illumine the inner part of our souls, so that our entire essence (i.e., our entire beings, the essence and its expressions, etc.) will be [directed] to Him, blessed is He, alone - so that He banish from us every evil and disgusting trait of the natural traits, so that all our deeds and affairs (whether in avoda, i.e., t’filla, Torah and mitzvos, or in matters of the world which are necessary to sustain the body) are in accordance with the true intention, for the sake of Heaven, as per the desire of Hashem, etc. May Hashem, Father of Mercy, have mercy on us and enliven us in the proper and straight path; forthwith they shall see His countenance, etc.

Concluding the reading, all the students sat and began singing an old chassidic tune, a tune that pierced the heart and reached to the neshama. The niggun poured forth sweetly, emanating from the hundreds of students in unison.

It turned out that it was at this farbrengen that the chassidim first merited to hear the unique appellation with which the Rebbe Rashab termed Yud-Tes Kislev in his holy letter, calling it "Rosh HaShana L’Chassidus,"as it has been known ever since.

At 6:45 p.m., R’ Dov Zev rose to relate the story of the arrest and geula. In vivid tones he described the pain experienced by the chassidim when the Alter Rebbe was taken from them - the agony, the sorrow, the tears. He recounted the entire story up until the release of the Alter Rebbe from jail. He described the chassidim somersaulting in the snowy streets of Petersburg, and the tremendous joy they all experienced.

At this point R’ Dov Zev took a Tanya and began reading the famous letter the Alter Rebbe wrote entitled "Katonti." The talmidim leaned over the volumes of Tanya in front of them, reading the holy letters, learning from the teachings of the Baal HaGeula. All listened in utter silence. The only sound that could be heard was the sputtering of thousands of candles.

When the reading was concluded, an old chassid by the name of R’ Shmuel Betzalel (the Rashbatz) stood up. He had seen many Yud-Tes Kislevs in his time, but this was the first time he heard the wondrous phrase the Rebbe Rashab wrote designating this day as "Rosh HaShana L’Chassidus," elevating it over other holidays.

The Rashbatz raised a cup for l’chaim and his voice shook with emotion. The talmidim gazed upon him, always in awe, for he had merited to see the Tzemach Tzedek.

"Our day of celebration is extremely lofty," the Rashbatz began. "If not for this day, the day of redemption and freedom of our great and holy Rebbe, we wouldn’t know Hashem, Who gave the Torah, for Rabbeinu HaKadosh taught us to know Hashem, our Maker. We ought to rejoice on this day of light, and included in this are the words of our luminary the Rebbe shlita, that this day is the Rosh HaShana for chassidus and the day of revelation of pnimiyus ha’Torah. We must offer thanks and praise to Hashem, who did not deprive us of descendants of Rabbeinu HaGadol, the Alter Rebbe.

"T’mimim! We have the Rebbe, who stands and serves before Hashem to teach knowledge of Torah and Hashem, Who gave the Torah - our Nasi and teacher, the crown of our glory, who shows us wonders like in the days of the Alter Rebbe, to return the heart of beloved children to their Father in Heaven. I raise my cup to the life of our Rebbe, and with all the strength of my soul I call out: "Yechi Rabbeinu l’olam! May Hashem bolster his strength and power to carry the tower of light to illuminate the earth and its inhabitants upon it, until the coming of Moshiach!"

A resounding voice could be heard from one end of the hall to the other: "Amen! Amen! Yechi Rabbeinu L’olam! May the members of Tomchei T’mimim and all its administrators live forever!"

These were special moments, not just for the younger chassidim, but also for the older chassidim who sat at the head of the main table. They all raised cups for l’chaim and wished each other heartfelt brachos for the new year, the new year for chassidus for all the Jewish people, for good and blessing.

After a brief break, the meal began, which continued until 2:00 a.m. It was a royal feast fitting for the Holiday of Holidays, Yud-Tes Kislev. At the end of the meal, all danced, and Lubavitch was "ora v’simcha v’sason v’yikar."

At 3:00 a.m., the Rebbe Rayatz rose and blessed all present, and with great love he left the guests and talmidim. He turned to leave, the talmidim preceding him, all of whom stood in the doorway of the building in two long, straight rows. When he left they began singing, "Ki b’simcha tzeitzeiu u’v’shalom tuvalun," and they accompanied the Rebbe Rayatz to his home.

"All the invited guests took enormous pleasure from the splendid celebration, and their hearts rejoiced and expanded… The talmidim were positively affected by this celebration, for they were brought close to avodas Hashem, and they increased their diligence in Torah with faith and sincerity."

These lines concluded the account of Rabbi Moshe Rosenblum, secretary to the Rebbe Rayatz.

* * *

Since the great revelation of Kislev 5662, the chassidim began calling Yud-Tes Kislev "Rosh HaShana L’Chassidus." In later years the traditional phrase became "Gutt Yom Tov. L’shana tova b’limud ha’chassidus u’b’darkei ha’chassidus tikaseivu v’seichaseimu." The HaYom Yom begins and ends with Yud-Tes Kislev, as the Rebbe Rayatz wrote, "based on the holy letter of the Rebbe about the Chag HaChagim, which is the Rosh HaShana l’Toras Chassidus Chabad." (In a copy of the manuscript of the HaYom Yom, the Rebbe MH"M wrote "Gutt Yom Tov," and the Rebbe Rayatz added in his own handwriting, "for a good year in learning chassidus and the ways of chassidus.")

Chassidim who lived in Brisk received the letter from the Rebbe Rashab making Yud-Tes Kislev into a chassidic Rosh HaShana, and they wanted to establish a day of joy on Purim Katan as a substitute for the previous Yud-Tes Kislev. When R’ Chaim Brisker heard about this he said, "Don’t mix one simcha with another. The Yom Tov of Yud-Tes Kislev is deserving of a bracha in its own right."

However, the chassidim in Kremenchug established three days of simcha (the 16th, 17th and 18th of Shvat), and the rabbanim associated with the chassidim of Poland, such as R’ Yisroel Yaakov and Rabbi Terechinski, danced without jackets and said, "Chabad, baruch Hashem, lives. May Hashem make Chagas (chassidim of Poland) live, too."

The chassidim in Vilna had a huge seuda as soon as they received the letter. One of the rabbis in Vilna heard about the meal the chassidim were making and how they regarded Yud-Tes Kislev as Rosh HaShana. He reported this to R’ Chaim Ozer Grodzensky, mocking the chassidim because the Mishna enumerates only four Roshei HaShana, while the chassidim had five. The gaon responded: "They are adding - we are diminishing."

Sources: Seifer HaToldos Admur HaRashab, pp. 752+, Kerem Chabad, Vol. 3, pp. 45+


The Rebbe Rashab



It turned out that it was at this farbrengen that the chassidim first merited to hear the unique appellation with which the Rebbe Rashab termed Yud-Tes Kislev in his holy letter, calling it "Rosh HaShana L’Chassidus," as it has been known ever since.



The Rebbetzin answered, "I am certain that if he could come, he would certainly do so." Then she added, "I cannot ask of him something which he doesn’t agree with."



I raise my cup to the life of our Rebbe, and with all the strength of my soul I call out: "Yechi Rabbeinu l’olam!"




He recounted the entire story up until the release of the Alter Rebbe from jail. He described the chassidim somersaulting in the snowy streets of Petersburg, and the tremendous joy they all experienced.


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