Tzemach Tzedek And The Czar
By E. Lesches
all started one day when the Chassid of the Rebbe Maharash was summoned before
the Rebbe. A shochet living in Petersburg, he was visiting the Rebbe in
Lubavitch and had just arrived a few days earlier.
need you for a special mission," the Maharash said as the shochet
entered. "I must have the official government transcript of the
interrogation of the Alter Rebbe during his imprisonment." The Rebbe then
went on to describe the government library building in precise detail – the
location of the archives, the exact room where to find the file, the placement
of the bookcase, the exact shelf and file.
receiving the instructions, the Chassid left Lubavitch and returned to
Petersburg. With feelings of trepidation and anxiety, he made inquiries as to
the location of the government library, the watch schedule of the guards, and
the various entrances to the grandiose building.
Chassid waited for an appropriate time and slipped through the main gate just as
the guard disappeared around the side of the building. He entered the cool,
quiet interior and found the layout to be just as the Rebbe described. He made
his way through the various hallways, up the prescribed staircase, and into the
great hall that held thousands of manuscripts. He found the exact bookcase,
located the needed file and took it off the shelf.
a government official appeared and clapped a firm hand on the Chassid’s
shoulder. "Miserable vermin!" he sputtered in rage. "What nerve
you have! Who gave you the authority to enter this place and remove such highly
classified information? Stealing from the government library is a grave crime.
You will be sentenced to hard labor in Siberia for your meddling."
sent you here?" the official fumed. "Give me all the details or your
end will be bitter. I’ll send you to Siberia for ten years – no – for
twenty. Who told you where to find this file? Only someone with inside
information could have directed you here. Why are you interested in this file?
What’s the name of your group? Tell me the truth, the whole truth, and I will
minimize your punishment to the lowest extent."
Chassid paled, and shook in fear. "I’ll tell you the whole truth,"
he said. "I won’t hide anything from you."
is a village called Lubavitch, and a holy sage lives there. He is called the
Rebbe. He is a grandson of the individual whose file I hold. I am a follower of
the Rebbe. He had asked that I do everything possible to obtain this file, as he
is interested in the entire interrogation endured by his grandfather during his
imprisonment. He described the exact location of the library and where I could
find the file. I almost completed my mission when you, honored sir, entered and
the official looked appeased. His anger vanished and his tone became almost
conciliatory. "Well, that certainly changes things," he said quietly.
"If Rabbi Schneersohn sent you — well then, I will set you free and not
hand you over to the authorities."
shochet was intrigued by the sudden change of his interrogator. Taking
note of the official’s respectful attitude, he seized the opportunity to ask
for an explanation. "You must be acquainted with the Rebbe," he said.
"Your tone changed drastically when I mentioned his name. Probably you are
aware of his saintliness, his holy way of life."
at all," the official brushed his theory aside. "I have never met the
Rabbi Schneersohn who lives now in Lubavitch. I do, however, remember his father
when he attended the conference known as the Commission of Rabbis. [See
"the Tzemach Tzedek and the Haskala movement (Kehot, 1969) for a detailed
account of this conference.] The government proposed sweeping changes in the
Jewish education, and the rabbis, with your rabbi among them, debated the issue
Czar at that time enjoyed disguising himself in the clothes of a commoner,"
the official continued. "He would walk the streets and enter different
gathering places to gather first-hand information. The conference was no
different, and the Czar, disguised as a notable, appeared at some of the
Uvarov led the conference. It was he who decided the agenda; it was he who
harassed the rabbi for his steadfastness in not changing a single iota in the
Jewish educational system. Though the rabbi used only Yiddish, he had two
interpreters at his command [namely, Israel Chaikin and Shmarya Feitelsohn. At
times, the maskil Stern, would assist in translating the Rebbe’s
words.] At one point after the Rebbe had spoken, his interpreter rose and
translated the Rebbe’s words into Russian. ‘You did not translate everything
I said,’ the Rebbe interrupted.
once more,’ Uvarov demanded sternly. ‘Translate everything he said.’ The
interpreter repeated the speech and, once more, the Rebbe expressed displeasure.
‘You missed something,’ he protested.
games are you playing with us?’ Uvarov roared at the interpreter. ‘Translate
every word the rabbi said, without exception.’
interpreter turned white in fear. ‘There is a sentence I did not translate,’
he stammered. ‘The rabbi says that if the government will force the Jewish
community to adopt the changes put forth by the Enlightenment and apostates
regarding Jewish education, then a powerful revolution will rock Russia in fifty
Czar immediately made a motion with his finger, and Uvarov, who recognized the
Czar, ordered the Rebbe arrested and executed for treason. I was an ordinary
soldier at the time, one of the many guards in the conference hall. For whatever
reason, I was the guard chosen to arrest the Rebbe and carry out the Czar’s
had I taken the Rebbe out when he turned and asked if I could render him a
favor. I gave my assent. ‘Let me pray,’ Rabbi Schneersohn said. ‘Let me
recite the confession reserved for those about to die.’
agreed, stepped back, and let the rabbi pray. Suddenly an order from the Czar
arrived, commanding me to release the rabbi. I was hardly surprised; the Czar
was known for his fickle nature and often reversed his decrees as soon as he
implemented them. I released the rabbi and as he left, he blessed me. ‘May you
go up in rank,’ he said kindly.
then," concluded the official, "I have been promoted ever higher. I
attained the status of general, and now – in my old and weakened state – I
was appointed as chief officer of the library. Now do you understand? Though you
well deserve punishment for your gall, I shall set you free. Leave
officer took the file, replaced it on the shelf, and the Chassid fled for his
Reshimas Dvarim I, p. 125)