A libel against Rabbi Levi Yitzchak

Once, when I had been out, I arrived home to find a police officer together with a lower level policeman sitting and waiting. They had come to inform us of libelous charges against my husband, as follows:

The original “Schneerson”1—the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi]— had been imprisoned in the “Peter-Paul Fortress” [in S. Petersburg] for raising funds to send abroad,2 which was prohibited by the government. As his descendent, my husband was now being accused of fomenting disturbances among the Jewish population. Appended to the charges was a document describing my husband’s conduct during a visit to Chernigov [Ukraine], where he allegedly became so inebriated that he was seen in public without his frockcoat3—so egregiously had he behaved!

Hence, the charges continued, Schneerson ought to be expelled from the city. It was signed by a prominent member of the community, a wealthy man who was Torah learned but a vehement opponent of Chasidism.

A few months later, this individual collapsed while walking in the street and died of a heart attack. Some people commented that it was his “reward” for that libel…

His family asked my husband to attend the funeral.

It should be noted that the incident in Chernigov was when my husband attended the wedding of his brother,4 who married the daughter5 of Rabbi David-Hirsh Chein6 [Rabbi of Chernigov], which naturally was celebrated with lively farbrengens.

Episodes from the Rebbe’s youth
18 Nissan, 5711,
second intermediate day of Passover, Brooklyn

It’s Chol Hamoed [the intermediate days of Yom Tov], when perhaps it isn’t so appropriate to be writing,7 yet I have a strong desire to record a few recollections.

Indeed, I had several letters to write, but I postponed them until after Yom Tov. So I will write the following lines now.

On March 28, 1939, before Passover, my husband, of blessed memory, was arrested.8 I don’t remember the exact Jewish date9 because I used the Russian secular date for everything I did during that period.

We endured much during all those years. To some small extent I have already described the experiences of my husband, of blessed memory, as much as I was capable and according to what I remembered. I didn’t want them to be forgotten, particularly as no one besides me was with him during that time.

It’s already twelve years since then and almost four years that I’m living here.10

Praise and thanks to G‑d, and to my son Mendel, long may he live, that I have reached this point. Not for nothing is honoring one’s parents rewarded with long life.11 As recompense for the way my son relates to me and makes my life so much easier, may G‑d grant him long life and happy years, with good health and success, and may he never experience anything negative. Amen.

To state that my son is saintly and pure is no exaggeration.

I recall the years when he grew up, from early childhood onwards:12 When he turned two, he was able to ask the “Four Questions” [at the Passover Seder], although his mode of speech was like a child of that age.

When he turned three, he was, first of all, quite simply very beautiful, with long blond locks, which13 I stored away on leaving home [to join my husband] in 1940. They were lost, together with all our other possessions, [during the upheavals of World War II].

When I walked with my son in the street, people would notice him and stop to gaze at him.

During the 1905 pogroms in Russia, we were among a group of women and children who hid in a pharmacy. It was dangerous for us to be discovered. Other children of his age or even older were crying and making noise. But he controlled himself to the extent that not only didn’t he cause any problems but also influenced other children to be quiet.14

The people there, and the pharmacist, who kept on coming in to check on us, spoke about my son with amazement. He was just three years old at the time.

Before the pogrom, my son would walk around at home calling out [in Russian] “An end to the autocracy!”15 He had heard people mouthing this slogan, and seemed to understand that Jews, too, were suffering as a result. I remember how my father,16 of blessed memory, was fearful that he might be overheard, and told him to stop saying it.

Subsequently, he started his studies in cheder [Torah school], which continued until we commissioned special teachers to teach him at home. What a pleasure that was!

There was something special about him. At every turn, we seemed to find reason to take pride in him. Not that he desired to be noticed. On the contrary, he always tried to avoid that. But his personality just evoked respect.

The Rebbe’s Bar-Mitzvah

I believe he remembers what he spoke about at his Bar-Mitzvah.17 He gave two speeches, I think, one on a subject of the “revealed Torah” [Talmud-Halacha] and the other on a subject of the “concealed Torah” [Chasidut-Kabbalah].

A large number of guests were present, as we had many good friends. Additionally, it was at that time that the Chasidim triumphed in securing acceptance of a candidate of their own—my husband—as Rav of the city. Consequently, many guests attended even without an invitation.

The celebration was on Shabbat,18 and the farbrengen continued until after Havdalah.19

I wasn’t present in the room where our son delivered his talks. But everyone was indescribably overwhelmed by them. I recall how the above-mentioned engineer, Sergei Paley20—who possessed a sharp mind and was very Torah-learned—came over to me and said, “This is the first time in my life that I hear such scholarship from a boy of his age.”

At that point, the Bar-Mitzvah boy’s father—my husband—urged the boy to promise him something, but the Bar-mitzvah boy wasn’t so ready to make that promise.

It was evident on the faces of those coming out of the room—old or young, Torah-observant or non-observant—that they had been weeping. There was an atmosphere that I simply cannot describe. It took many hours before our son gave his father the positive response he asked of him.

Everyone then joined together in spirited dancing, their faces still showing signs of their previous weeping, but now combined with intense joy. They were all transported to a different world.21

Our son was a slim boy with a refined face reflecting an inner inspiration—of a caliber rarely encountered.