Weekly Chasidic Story #1062 (s5778-30/ 1 Iyar 5778)

Birth on a Sifting-Bed and an Unexpected Name

The Tzemach Tzedek stood immobile with his face to the wall during the entire time of the delivery of his son, the Maharash.

Birth on a Sifting-Bed and an Unexpected Name


After the great fire that ravaged the town of Lubavitch, the Tzemach Tzedek decided to purchase a plot of land and build an imposing residence which would house within it a beit midrash--a house of study. The noble who owned the town, Count Lubarmisky, instructed his steward to supply from his own forest, and free of charge, all the timber necessary for the construction of the Rebbe's house.

The Tzemach Tzedek wanted to wait until the festival of Shavuot before dedicating the house. The Rebbetzin Chaya-Moussia, who had set her heart on giving birth in their new home, had other ideas, and made her way there as soon as her labor pains began. In this new house, so far unlived-in, were already stored for future use all the Pesach utensils, together with a wooden bed on which flour was sifted from which the special shmurah matzah would be baked. Stubble and straw were brought and laid out on the bed, upon which the Rebbetzin now laid herself down.

Word reached the Tzemach Tzedek, who rushed to the new house, took his place in the chamber and, during the entire time of the delivery, stood with his face to the wall. He instructed his three oldest sons, Rabbi Baruch Shalom, Rabbi Yehuda Leib and Rabbi Chaim Schneur Zalman, to gather in one of the rooms of his house and say the following chapters from the Book of Tehillim: 1, 2, 3, 4, 21, 22, 23, 24, 33, 47, 72, 86, 90, 91, 92, 93, 104, 112, 113, then to the end of the book. The midwife he instructed to immerse herself in the mikveh "before you deliver the child," and to receive the baby in a special piece of white linen which he had brought for that purpose.

The Rebbetzin was ever after fond of saying: "I gave birth to my son on a sifting-bed!"

This date, the 2nd of Iyar, corresponds to the Sefira Tiferet of Tiferet (splendor of splendor). On this day, one hundred years after the Baal Shem Tov revealed himself, Rebbetzin Chaya Moussia had her sixth son.

* * *

On the eighth day following the birth of the Rebbe Maharash, the Tzemach Tzedek issued instructions for Shacharit to take place at first light.

By the hour of ten, all the members of the family were already present for the brit. At their head, was Rabbi Chaim-Avraham, the middle son of the Alter Rebbe [uncle of both the Tzemach Tzedek and the Rebbetzin].

They waited until two in the afternoon and still the Tzemach Tzedek had not emerged from his office. The room began to stir, and Rabbi Chaim Avraham's voice was heard: "It seems he is preoccupied with guests more exalted than ourselves," and he sighed.

Half an hour later, the Tzemach Tzedek emerged from his room, his face glowing and his eyes reddened from crying, holding a red handkerchief in his hands. He announced that the brit would in fact take place that day, was silent for a moment, and then disappeared into his room.

Rabbi Chaim Avraham rose from his chair and went to the window; he rested his head on his hands and was lost in thought.

The sons of the Tzemach Tzedek spoke on subjects of Torah and Chasidus, to the growing excitement and admiration of the other guests. Now the Rebbetzin sent to inquire after the reason for such a protracted delay, telling someone to go to her husband and get a response. Rabbi Chaim, however, detained the messenger.

Towards three, the Tzemach Tzedek again emerged from his room, his face radiant, telling the guests to lift up their spirits, for the brit would definitely take place that day. With this he again returned to his room. Another hour went by. For the third time the Tzemach Tzedek came out of his room, ordering the guests not yet to say the afternoon prayer as the brit would take place momentarily. A little later he went to consult with his wife over the choice of a name for the child. He then ordered that the baby be readied, made his way to the synagogue, and the circumcision ceremony began.

During the course of the brit milah the infant was crying a great deal. At a certain point, the Tzemach Tzedek, who was the sandek holding the baby on his lap, removed his left hand from under the cushion and placed it on the tiny head. In that instant the crying stopped.

During the meal that followed, Rabbi Yehuda Leib, the son of the Tzemach Tzedek, asked his father: "For whom is the child named? As far as I know, no one in our family was ever called Shmuel. Does it concern the prophet Shmuel?" His father answered him: "He bears the name of a water-carrier from Polotsk who was called Shmuel - "A sage is superior to a prophet."

[Some say the water-carrier was one of the (36?) hidden tzaddikim.]

Elsewhere it is told that the Tzemach Tzedek said to the Rebbetzin:

"Shmuel the prophet came and asked me to give his name to the child, for 'I asked G-d for this child,' just as Chana, his mother, asked for Shmuel."

Source: Edited and supplemented by Yerachmiel Tilles from Days in Chabad (2 Iyar, 13 Tishrei) by Yosef Y. Kamenetzky, as translated by R. Yosef Cohen.

Biographical notes:
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn [of blessed memory: 29 Elul 5549 - 13 Nissan 5626 (Sept. 1789 - April 1866)], the third Rebbe of Chabad, was known as the Tzemach Tzedek, after his books of Jewish Law responsa and Talmudic commentary called by that name. He was renowned not only as a Rebbe, but also as a leading scholar in his generation in both the revealed and hidden aspects of Torah.

Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn [of blessed memory: 2 Iyar 5594 - 13 Tishrei 5643 (1834-Sept. 1882 C.E.)], the fourth Lubavitch Rebbe, known as the Rebbe Maharash, was the seventh and youngest son of his predecessor, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, the Tsemach Tsedek.

Connection: Seasonal -- 2 Iyar --Tiferet sh'b'Tiferet--is the 184th anniversary of the birth of the Rebbe Maharash.

Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.

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