"Was The Cell Big Enough For Three People?"
Compiled by Binyamin HaLevi

This is what the Rebbe Rashab asked his son, the Rebbe Rayatz, after the latter reported to him about his visit to the cell where the Alter Rebbe had been incarcerated. * A compilation of stories for Yud-Tes Kislev


Before the histalkus of the Maggid of Mezritch on Yud-Tes Kislev 5533 (1772), he took the Alter Rebbe’s hand and said, "Yud-Tes Kislev is our hilula." The meaning of this statement is that the teachings of the "fathers of Chassidus," the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid, were like the wellspring itself, whereas the teachings of the Alter Rebbe explanations of Chassidus that can be grasped by the intellect effected a dissemination of the wellspring. The union of the wellspring itself with the wellsprings on the outside ("yafutzu maaynosecha chutza"), required a special effort. This union was accomplished on Yud-Tes Kislev, and this is what the Maggid was alluding to when he said, "Yud-Tes Kislev is our hilula" – our union.

(See Likkutei Sichos vol. 25 p. 212.)



After the Alter Rebbe was incarcerated, the Chassidim discovered a note in the Rebbe’s handwriting citing the verse, "sarim ridafuni chinam, u’midvarcha pachad libi" (princes chased me for naught, yet my heart feared Your word).

The verse has two meanings: 1) The fear of the "princes" is "for naught," for the true fear is of "Your word." In his humility, the Alter Rebbe thought that perhaps he had been arrested because he hadn’t completed some aspect of his avoda. 2) The reason why the matter is as naught to me, even though the "princes" chase me, is because my heart feared "Your word."

This is the lesson the Alter Rebbe taught his Chassidim, and to all Chassidim of future generations. There is no reason to fear the gentile, but if something like an arrest takes place, one must examine his deeds.

(Sicha 19 Kislev 5734)



When the Alter Rebbe was in jail, his teacher the Maggid and the Maggid’s teacher the Baal Shem Tov came to him from the World of Truth. They came as souls within bodies. The Rebbe Rayatz once visited the cell (when he was in Petersburg in the summer of 5671- 1911), and when he returned, his father asked him if the cell had enough room for three people!

This question proves that they came as souls in bodies. And we know that when a soul is revealed in a body it is a far greater revelation than that of a soul without a body.

(Sicha 19 Kislev 5711)



This is how the Alter Rebbe responded to the question posed to him by the interrogators about where he had gotten the information which he conveyed in his sermons:

"It is known that even though all wisdom is written in s’farim, nevertheless a person must first learn from a teacher and only then can he learn from the books on his own. That is what happened with me. When I was about twenty years old, while in Vitebsk, I traveled to Mezritch and began learning Kabbala from Rabbi Ber of blessed memory, who passed on over 25 years ago. Since that time I learn on my own from many respected books, from mekubalim, Rishonim, and Acharonim, according to my intellect and understanding. The style of the sermons I deliver are for the most part based on the obvious and the revealed, so that the listeners will understand it well. It is only infrequently, by chance, that I say something simple from the wisdom of Kabbala that can be understood and explained to someone who learned just a little of the Kabbalistic works which are readily available. [I teach] that from which one can derive some benefit in love of G-d and fear of Him, to keep His mitzvos and to pray with concentration from the depths of one’s heart."

(Igros Kodesh vol. 2 p. 137)



When they brought the Alter Rebbe to Petersburg, the interrogator who was the minister’s assistant and who happened to be thoroughly proficient in Tanach by heart asked the Rebbe the meaning of G-d’s asking Adam, "Ayeka?" (where are you?) after the sin [of eating from the Tree of Good and Evil], for obviously G-d knew where he was.

The Rebbe answered by quoting Rashi’s commentary on the verse, but the minister said he was familiar with Rashi. Then the Rebbe told him the famous response (that Hashem asks each one of us where we stand, what we’ve accomplished in the world, etc.).

The Rebbe Rashab related this story at a Yud-Tes Kislev farbrengen in 5648 (1887), and he added: Saying this prevented the Alter Rebbe from klos ha’nefesh (soul expiration). For when he was brought to the Petropavlovskaya fortress and locked in the room, he contemplated the prospect of being moser nefesh (having self-sacrifice) for the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid, and as a result of this thought he nearly expired. The above story prevented this, however, for it reminded him that he still had a job to do in this world.

(Seifer HaSichos 5698, p. 249-250)



Among the questions that the Alter Rebbe was asked in prison, all of which he answered, there was a question about something quoted at the end of chapter one of Tanya ("all the good the nations do they do for themselves," and as it says in the Gemara on the verse, "v’chesed l’umim chatas" [the kindness of the nations is a sin], for all the acts of charity and kindness the gentiles do they do only for the sake of self-aggrandizement"). The Alter Rebbe did not answer this question; he just smiled. By not providing an answer based on intellect, and instead dismissing the question without offering an explanation, and even laughing at it the person sees and understands that the question itself is not appropriate.

(Sicha 19 Kislev 5729, 5739)



When the Alter Rebbe left prison he was mistakenly brought to the home of a Misnaged (one opposed to Chassidus), who caused him to suffer with his questions, etc. (Afterwards, he said that the three hours he spent at the Misnaged’s home were more difficult than all the time he had spent in prison.)

When the Chassidim realized the mistake, they came to fetch the Alter Rebbe, but he asked to be allowed to remain there and drink a cup of tea, as the man had prepared it for him.

In this way he expressed the idea of "tov la’briyos" (good for mankind; literally: created beings). Briyos are those who have no good quality other than that they were created by G-d. The Misnaged had made the Alter Rebbe suffer, and wanted him to feel as he had before being released, something which is completely irrational. Furthermore, the Misnaged even thought he was doing a good thing, which is the idea of those who confuse darkness for light, and nevertheless, the Alter Rebbe treated him in a manner of "tov la’briyos."

(Sicha 19 Kislev 5738)



Yud-Tes Kislev in the year 5560 (1799) was the first year the Alter Rebbe publicly celebrated his redemption. A large crowd of Anash gathered in Liozna, and the Alter Rebbe said a maamer Chassidus which began with the words, "Baruch sh’asa nissim lavoseinu, ha’Baal Shem Tov v’Rabbeinu HaRav HaMaggid, ba’yamim ha’heim, Purim V’Chanuka, bi’zman ha’zeh, Yud-Tes Kislev."

(Likkutei Dibburim 1, p. 41)



Among those participating in the Yud-Tes farbrengen of 5653 (1892) with the Rebbe Rashab, was a Chassid who had particularly enjoyed one of the thoughts the Rebbe had expressed about chibuv mitzvos (love of mitzvos).

On Yud-Tes Kislev it is customary to eat kasha. (In Lubavitch they called it "black kasha" and they explained that it was to remember the food the Alter Rebbe ate in prison. The Rebbe Rayatz related in the name of the Chassidim who brought the Alter Rebbe a bucket of water and bread, that this is what he ate. On Shabbos they brought him beer or mead.) Every country has its favorite food, and in Lithuania it was kasha.

When the Jew heard about a love of mitzvos with taanug (pleasure), he ate the kasha with gusto. When the Rebbe noticed that the enjoyment of what he had said had been transferred to the food, which was eaten with pleasure and not the way a Chassid is supposed to eat, he said, "You forgot you are eating kasha."

He explained that the brain of that individual had enjoyed the explanation of chibuv mitzvos, and this led to a natural pleasure in eating kasha. But the person eating did not sense it since he was occupied with what he had heard. That’s why the Rebbe reminded him to remember he was eating kasha.

(Seifer HaSichos 5698, p. 250-1)



This is how they celebrated Yud-Tes Kislev in Lubavitch in 5663 (1902):

They assembled a special arch in honor of the Rebbe Rashab. They lit 613 candles and placed them by all the windows. When the Rebbe left his house and was on his way to the beis midrash, the large zal, for the farbrengen, they pulled a special string and immediately all the candles were ignited.

The Tamim, R’ Nota of Pahr, sat above the arch. In the middle of the courtyard stood HaRav HaTamim R’ Shaul Dov Zislin as the conductor. On the other side stood HaTamim Shmuel Katzman, who signaled the singers to begin. Then R’ Nota sang his famous song.

(Seifer HaSichos 5705, p. 42-43)



The Rebbe Rayatz relates in his journal about a Chassid by the name of R’ Aharon Shlomo, a Chassid of the Alter Rebbe, who lived in Zhlobin in the Mohilev district. This Chassid was replete with blessings for his righteousness in general and his upstanding ways in particular, so they nicknamed him R’ Aharon Shlomo der Libber (the Beloved), for he was good to all and kept away from any position of authority; he busied himself with Chassidus and davened at length. They said about R’ Aharon Shlomo that he was one of the singular individuals among the Alter Rebbe’s Chassidim who fulfilled his will and warning to speak neither good nor bad with regard to the Misnagdim, for he never spoke of this.

On Yud-Tes Kislev, R’ Aharon Shlomo would provide huge meals for all the shuls in town, and thanks to his good and upstanding conduct, some Misnagdishe families in Zhlobin became Chassidim and took on the nusach of the Alter Rebbe. In the Chassidim HaChadashim Shul they held a huge meal on Yud-Tes Kislev.

(Beis Moshiach issue #64, p. 12)



The Chassid R’ Nachum Goldschmidt, a’h, described the Yud-Tes Kislev farbrengen of the gaon and mekubal, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Schneerson, in Yekaterinaslav. R’ Levik would expound his teachings throughout the night. A large crowd came to hear him, and he would speak for hours without a break about deep matters, and would connect them to kabbala, nigleh, and Chassidus. He would drink a great deal of mashke, and would explain, for example, why, according to kabbala, the Alter Rebbe was freed on specifically this day and not another.

Even the children of Yeketrinislav would have a feast on Yud-Tes Kislev, but it was held on a different night so as not to interfere with the Rav’s farbrengen. A few days before Yud-Kislev, they collected money for their farbrengen. The Rebbe shlita was in charge of the money. He was the leader of the children, as he was the firstborn. They cooked kasha and arranged a meal; it was a great celebration.

This was the only day of the year that the Rebbe shlita would do something other than learn Torah.

(Yemei Melech, p. 152)



In 5658 the Rebbe Rashab said there were three versions of the Alter Rebbe’s maamer about Yud-Tes Kislev, where he refers to those who will rejoice in his rejoicing:

Version one: I will remove him from meitzar (straits) to merchav (expansion).

Version two: I will remove him from the realm of the material to the realm of the spirit.

Version three: I will remove him from hell.

The Rebbe Rashab said that all these versions are true. The first refers to going out from Bria to Atzilus, the second refers to going out from Yetzira to Bria, and the third from the world of Asiya.

The Tzemach Tzedek explained that by saying, "samach b’simchasi" (rejoice in my rejoicing), the Alter Rebbe was referring to anyone who "halt zich an dem Rebben’s kliamke" (holds on to the Rebbe’s doorknob). And this refers to Torah and avoda.

(Seifer HaSichos 5699 p. 315)



Among the early emigres of Anash to New York was a Jew by the name of Shmuel Eliezer Katznelson (who later shortened his name to Nelson), who was a grandson of the famous gaon, R’ Boruch Mordechai of Bobruisk, a great Chassid of the Alter Rebbe. R’ Shmuel Eliezer was well-to-do, and every year he was involved in arranging the Yud-Tes Kislev celebration in a restaurant this being America with meat and fish, etc., for he said that he had heard in the name of his grandfather’s father, the gaon, R’ Baruch Mordechai, that the Alter Rebbe had said: Whoever participates in my simcha, will merit to see nachas from his descendents.

(Zichron Livnei Yisroel p. 119)



At the Yud-Tes Kislev celebration of 5702 (1942), the Rebbe Rayatz said:

We Chabad Chassidim have a custom, a custom of the Alter Rebbe’s Chassidim, that on Yud-Tes Kislev we say, "gutt Yom Tov" before and after Maariv, and throughout Yud-Tes Kislev when Chassidim meet in shul or on the street.

In 5703 the HaYom Yom was printed for the first time. At the end, the entry for 18 Kislev says: "Gutt Yom Tov, l’shana tova b’limud ha’Chassidus v’darkei ha’Chassidus teichaseivu v’seichaseimu" (Good Yom Tov, may you be written and sealed for a good year in learning Chassidus and the ways of Chassidus.)


The Alter Rebbe
The Rebbe noticed that the enjoyment of what he had said had been transferred to the food, which was eaten with pleasure and not the way a Chassid is supposed to eat...

The Petropavlovskaya Fortress, the place of the Alter Rebbe’s incarceration.
A prison cell presumed to be the cell of the Alter Rebbe
"This question proves that they came as souls in bodies."


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