You Grow Up, You Will Be Rebbe”
honor of Yud-Alef Nissan, the birthday of the Rebbe MH”M, we present a
compilation of stories about the Rebbeim in their youth.
ON THE CHUMASH
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.
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.
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
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.
the Alter Rebbe awoke from his dream, he was terribly distressed and
concerned, and he took upon himself a fast.
dreaming the same dream twice more, he burned his commentary.
Reshimos Lubavitch of the Rebbe Rayatz, printed in Bitaon Chabad)
MISHPAT AT AGE 11
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
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
HaSichos summer 5700, p. 57)
SUCCESS IN BEING MEKAREV THE SIMPLE JEWS
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.
HaSichos summer 5700; p. 127)
SADNESS – SILVER AND GOLD
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
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.
Kodesh; p. 102)
A MISHNA ACCORDING TO CHASSIDUS
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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
Dibburim, Vol. 1; pp. 85-86)
MADE OF POTATOES
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.
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.
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.
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.
Chassidim were amazed by the love and affection the Alter Rebbe
displayed for his grandson.
HaToldos Tzemach Tzedek; p. 74)
BRAIN IS ALREADY TIRED FROM LEARNING
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.”
the Rebbe Maharash: “My brain is already tired from my studies and I
learned what I was supposed to learn.”
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.’”
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.
HaSichos 5701; p. 44)
Rivka, the mother of the Rebbe Rashab, related:
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.
the tailor left, I said to my son, ‘See, you embarrassed the
tailor.’ The boy began to cry bitterly.
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?’”
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.
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.
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
HaSichos 5701; p. 30)
BEFORE MODEH ANI!
The Rebbe Rayatz related:
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.”
about a bracha on the cake and milk? Did he say a bracha before
saying Modeh Ani?”
mother answered, “The boy is trembling in fear.”
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?!”
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.
HaMaamarim 5711; p. 62)
WILL GROW UP AND BE REBBE
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.”
Chassidim I heard,” said the Rebbe shlita, “that he said,
‘You will grow up and be Rebbe.’ ”
Sichos, Vol. 1; p. 138)
GREATNESS OF LULAV RINGS
The Rebbe Rayatz relates:
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.
asked my father, “Where did they grow?”
answered, “In the wilderness.”
asked again, “What is wilderness?”
answered, “Similar to pasture land, like we have near Lubavitch.”
asked, “How did they get them?”
answered, “They sent an emissary and he brought them.”
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.”
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
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.
CAN NEVER KNOW”
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.
astounded guest asked R’ Levi Yitzchok whether the boy truly
understood what they were discussing. R’ Levi Yitzchok simply
answered, “You can never know.”
Levi Yitzchok; p. 181)
LEARNED IT FROM A DICTIONARY
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.
Rebbetzin Chana, “My oldest son [the Rebbe MH”M] translated the
article for him, and saved his job.”
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.
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.
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.
Chabad, Vol. 9, 5741; p. 4)
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.
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.”
Levi Yitzchok; p. 344)
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.
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.”
Yiddishe Heim; Kislev 5722)