Living Legacy: The Rebbe Rashab of Lubavitch, zt”l
By: Yehuda Alter
Rebbe Sholom Dovber Schneerson, the fifth Rebbe of Chabad—one of the most consequential figures of his time—was niftar on the second day of Nissan of the year 1920. His 102nd yahrtzeit will be marked Sunday.
He was born in Lubavitch in the year 1860 to his father, Rebbe Shmuel of Lubavitch. At the tender age of twelve, he began transcribing the deep and sophisticated ma’amorim of his father—covering all areas of Torah, the hidden and the revealed.
His grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek made his shidduch with Rebbetzin Shterna Sarah, who would live to survive the terrible suffering and upheaval, and make it to America... where she lived out her years in the court of his illustrious son, the Rebbe Rayatz of Lubavitch, who transplanted the Chabad-Lubavitch movement to America.
In a movement that is so well-known for its deep Torah and Chassidus, the Rebbe Rashab has by far the most extensive writings of any of the Rebbeim, giving over 2,000 ma’amorim over his lifetime. All of them were written in his own hand, which makes it all the more meaningful—but none were published in his lifetime. They would ultimately be brought to print by his son, Rebbe Yosef Yitzchok.
In the year 1897, the Rashab opened the network of Yeshivos called Tomchei Temimim, which continues to grow and thrive around the world to this day. It emphasized the study of chassidus, in addition to nigleh.
The Jews of Russia suffered greatly under the Russian Czar during the years of the Rashab’s leadership—and he took an active role, at great risk to himself, to alleviate their suffering. For example, in 1891, when the Jews were expelled from Moscow, Rabbi Sholom DovBer established a factory for knitting, giving thousands a source of livelihood. He also took a lead in assisting the Jewish soldiers in the Russian army, particularly during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05, helping them secure their religious and spiritual needs. Rabbi Sholom DovBer was also at the forefront of the fight against Jewish “reformation” and all the other movements and “isms” whose ideologies ran contrary to traditional Jewish values.
In the year 1915—as WWI was wreaking havoc on the Jewish people of Russia—he fled with his family to the town of Rostov, on the Don River. There he was at the time of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, and from there he started to wage a war against the Soviet Union’s attempt to squelch Jewish religious life. After his passing, this effort was continued and expanded by his son.
He was niftar there on 2 Nissan, and interred there. His kever draws many people throughout the year.
In recent years, a photograph (featured here) was unearthed, causing shockwaves among historians and among Chabad Chassidim. In it, a person greatly resembling the Rebbe Rashab stands with a satchel in his hand.
Noted Chabad historian remarked the following: Rabbi Berel Levine, Director of the Agudas Chasidei Chabad Library and an expert on Chabad history, was quoted on a Hebrew Chabad website as saying:
“There is a great resemblance. There’s no doubt using computer software we can determine with certainty whether the two images are of the same person. The Rebbe [Rashab] was in Moscow in 1908 only once, during the month of Iyar (this is according to his passport, and according to his letters). He traveled there for two weeks to raise funds for Tomchei Temimim, and perhaps the picture was for one of the wealthy donors. However, in Iyar (May) there would seemingly not be the need for a coat like that. At any rate, it is necessary to give this to experts to make a determination using computer software.”