Weekly Chasidic Story #1082 (s5778-51/ 23 Elul 5778)

Foiling the Third Decree

A hush fell on the room as the Tzemach Tzedek entered. A path miraculously appeared. The Rebbe made his way to his place, and Rosh Hashana evening prayer began.

Connection: Seasonal -- Erev Rosh Hashana (2): 1- The story begins on Erev Rosh Hashana; 2-Erev Rosh Hashana is the birth date of the Tzemek Tzedek.

Foiling the Third Decree


In the little town of Lubavitch, the month of Elul was drawing to a close. The wind of teshuva had blown through the village for thirty days, aiding everyone in perfecting their spiritual service. More Tehillim (reciting Psalms), more Tzedakah (charity), more Torah study. The frenzied preparation reached its climax.

The setting sun signaled the beginning of a new year when the Creator sits in judgment and decides the affairs of every individual. Many thousands of chasidim poured into the village, eager to spend Rosh HaShana with the Tzemach Tzedek. They crammed into the Rebbe's shul, filling the huge interior until nary an empty inch remained.

A hush fell on the room as the Tzemach Tzedek entered. A path miraculously appeared. The Rebbe made his way to his place, and Rosh Hashana evening prayer began.
It was an unusual Maariv. The Tzemach Tzedek appeared drawn, worried. His prayers were imbued with extraordinary fervor, as though - if it were possible - they were more fervent than an ordinary Rosh HaShana.

Fear and dread gripped every heart. This is the time when "the angels tremble, terror seizes them, and they exclaim: 'The Day of Judgment is here.'" The chasidim redoubled their concentration, desperately trying to arouse divine mercy. Everyone felt that something unusual was in the air.

That night after the prayers, the Rebbe joined his family for the holiday meal. Though the Lubavitch Rebbes generally minimized all talk on Rosh HaShana, the Tzemach Tzedek distinctively made it a point to speak during the meal every Rosh HaShana. He discussed current events in the capital, the names and ranks of different ministers and the political situation in general. Reb Yehuda-Leib, one of the Rebbe's sons, would remark, "He is performing Baalshem'ske (Baal Shem Tov style) wonders in Petersburg right now."

This year was no different. The Tzemach Tzedek related all the goings-on in the capital and focused on certain ministers and their roles. In fact, he seemed more specific, more detailed, than in other years. His sons listened quietly, as they always did, taking notice of the Rebbe's particular emphasis in the discussion.

The day of Rosh HaShana dawned and throngs of Chassidim streamed toward the Rebbe's shul. Again the Rebbe's prayers were permeated with emotion. After the morning prayer was completed and the Torah reading was finished, everyone prepared themselves for the great mitzvah of shofar.

A feeling of awe enveloped the large synagogue as the seven sons of the Tzemach Tzedek took their places around the platform, each in his designated place. The Tzemach Tzedek himself finished his preparations, readying himself to blow the thirty notes. His face burned brightly as he sang softly to himself, his eyes closed in deep concentration. Suddenly his voice resonated throughout the shul, "Ay, sertzeh, LaMnatzei'ach…" ("Woe! My heart! A Psalm…").

Panic gripped the congregation and tears flowed from every eye. Some evil decree prompted the Rebbe's unusual outburst, no doubt, and a great wailing filled the shul. Everyone's heart was open, raw and receptive. The congregation recited Psalm 47 seven times as required and the Rebbe began the required sounds.

* * *

Minister Suvorin, governor of Petersburg, the capital, studied his reflection in the ornate mirror gracing the walls of the czar's antechamber. He was waiting somewhat impatiently for his scheduled appointment with His Majesty. In his hand lay the document in which he had invested so much work. It concerned the so-called great rabbi, M. M. Schneersohn, the one they called "Tzemach Tzedek."

A flicker of annoyance crossed his face. It was intolerable that a rabbi should have all that power, what with all his followers and students spread across White Russia. His seat of power lay in his choice of residence, a small village far away from prying eyes and government informers.

No more. The rabbi would now be forced to move to either Petersburg or Kiev. His followers would think twice before visiting their rabbi in such a large city. They would be too easily followed, easily questioned, easily inspected. He had the official document in his hand now: all it needed was the czar's signature.

Suvorin crossed the magnificent antechamber and stared pensively out the window. A fair portion of Petersburg was visible from here. There had been some trouble lately - anger was brewing among the populace, and he knew he was mostly to blame. His two new decrees had raised the ire of Petersburg's residents, but they were just a mob of common folk anyway. After all, his intentions had been pure.

He turned from the window and paced the room, smiling as he recalled the new decrees. No smoking was allowed on city streets. It was untidy; too many cigarette butts were allowed to litter the city. No more meat would be sold within the city. Whoever wanted meat would have to go out of the city and buy it there. No longer would the beautiful capital carry the smell of rotting flesh. With these two decrees, he, Minister Suvorin, had launched his campaign to make Petersburg the most beautiful capital in the world.
A liveried servant entered the antechamber and bowed. "Minister Suvorin," he said. "His Majesty will see you now."

Suvorin straightened his uniform and followed the servant, beads of perspiration forming on his forehead. He entered the dazzling audience chamber and bowed low before the czar.

The czar was in a foul mood. "What is news in the city?" he asked.

"No news," responded Suvorin. "All is well."

The czar stared at him savagely, and then at the document in his hand. "I know some news," he finally said. "You passed two decrees, banning both the sale of meat and outside use of cigarettes. The population is angry; the decrees are intolerable."

"B-But I did it for the good of the city," stammered the minister. "Our streets will not be dirtied by cigarette butts and the smell of meat will not…"

"Idiot!" roared the czar. He tore the document out of the minister's hand and hurled it angrily on the floor. Suvorin turned white with fear, bowed low and quickly left the audience chamber.

The minister stood once again in the antechamber, his mind whirling with confused thoughts. His dream had been shattered. Gone was his goal of restraining the influential rabbi. For such was the accepted law: any document that had been thrown away by the czar was automatically negated and it was illegal to present the request again. His plan had been shattered; the rabbi would stay in the village of Lubavitch after all.

* * *

Far, far away in the village of Lubavitch, the Tzemach Tzedek finished blowing the shofar. He returned to his place and the congregation began the special Musaf (Additional) prayer of Rosh Hashana.

Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the well-written translation of E. Lesches in "Beis Moshiach Magazine" #295 (which is based on HaMelech B'M'sibo p.143; Seifer HaSichos 5704, p. 4.)

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 secret aspects of Torah.

Rabbi Yehudah-Leib of Kopust (1811- 3 Cheshvan 1866), an elder brother of Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch (the fourth Rebbe of Chabad), established an independent branch of Chabad Chasidism in Kopust after the death of his father, R. Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, the Tzemech Tzedek. Following his death in the same year, he was succeeded by his son, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman of Kopust, although many of the chasidim returned to Lubavitch.

Connection: Seasonal -- Erev Rosh Hashana (2): 1- The story begins on Erev Rosh Hashana; 2-Erev Rosh Hashana is the birth date of the Tzemek Tzedek.



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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