The Revolutionary Rebbe
Rabbi Pinchas Reizes was a chasid of the second Rebbe of Chabad,
Rabbi Dovber. When Rabbi Pinchas passed away his only heir
was a nephew, who unfortunately was a complete scoundrel.
Among the items that came into the nephew's possession was a letter
written by the Mitteler Rebbe to his uncle, asking him to serve on
a special committee to disburse funds for charity. The sum cited in
the letter was 4,000 rubles.
The nephew saw this as a golden opportunity to blackmail the Rebbe.
If the Rebbe did not give him money, he threatened, he would go to
the authorities and tell them that the Rebbe was collecting funds
for clandestine, illegal purposes. But the Rebbe was immune to his
intimidations. "Not one penny will you get from me," he
told him. "Do whatever you want, for I have done nothing wrong
and am not afraid of your slander."
Incensed by the Rebbe's response, the nephew carried out his threat.
With the help of some unsavory associates he forged the original letter
to make it appear as if the Rebbe had 104,000 rubles instead of 4,000
-- a veritable fortune in those days. The Rebbe was accused of various
criminal activities, such as trying to bribe the Turkish Sultan, and
it was also alleged that the Rebbe's study hall had been built to
the exact specifications of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
On Saturday night of the Torah portion of Noach 5587  investigators
showed up at the Rebbe's house. They conducted a thorough search of
the premises. Careful note was taken of all written materials, and
anything else they considered suspicious. At the same time, a separate
group of investigators measured the Rebbe's study hall; the astonished
chasidim could not figure out what they were trying to find.
By that time a large crowd had gathered in front of the Rebbe's house,
and everyone could hear the tearful pleading of the Rebbe's family
with the police. The only one who seemed to be taking everything in
stride was the Rebbe. As if nothing unusual were going on, he withdrew
to his room to write a Chasidic discourse. A while later he announced
that he would receive people for private audiences, which he did.
The following morning the Rebbe was ordered to accompany the police
to their headquarters in Vitebsk. Word of the Rebbe's arrest quickly
spread, and in every town and village along the way hundreds of Jews
came out to greet him. Thanks to the efforts of several influential
Jews, it was agreed that the long journey would be made in stages,
with numerous stops to allow the Rebbe to rest.
When the carriage arrived in Dobromisl, the Rebbe asked to be allowed
to pray the afternoon service in the local synagogue. Afterwards,
to everyone's surprise, he delivered a Chasidic discourse on the verse
from Song of Songs, "Many waters cannot quench love." The
allusion to his present situation was clear.
The Rebbe was subsequently imprisoned in the city of Liozhna and
placed under tight security. Sometime later it was learned that the
formal charge against him was rebellion against the government.
The Rebbe was jailed for one month and ten days, but even from the
beginning he was granted certain privileges. Three people were permitted
to stay with him, and three times a day, 20 Jews were allowed inside
to pray. The Rebbe was also permitted to deliver a Chasidic discourse
twice a week in front of 50 people after the Rebbe's doctor testified
that it was crucial to the Rebbe's health.
In the meantime, efforts to secure the Rebbe's release were being
made behind the scenes. Several high-ranking government officials
who had heard about the Rebbe and held him in great esteem tried to
exert their influence. The Rebbe was interrogated numerous times,
during which he proved that not only were his connections to the Turkish
Sultan completely fabricated, but his designs on the Kaiser's throne
were equally fictitious.
At the end of several weeks the results of the investigation were
turned over to the Minister of the Interior. The Minister was very
impressed by the Rebbe's responses to all the questions, and decided
that a direct confrontation between the Rebbe and his accuser was
On the designated day the Rebbe dressed in his white Shabbat finery.
When he walked into the Minister's office, the official was so disconcerted
by his angelic appearance that he ordered his servants to bring the
Rebbe a chair.
The informer began to heap his invectives upon the Rebbe, but one
by one, the Rebbe dismissed the accusations entirely. At one point
in the proceedings the accuser addressed the Rebbe as "Rebbe,"
prompting the Rebbe to turn to the Minister and remark, "Did
you see that? First he calls me a charlatan and a revolutionary, and
in the next breath he calls me Rebbe!"
From that point on the accuser's allegations became increasingly
illogical. The Minister was so irritated by his behavior that he ordered
him to "stop barking," and he was led away in humiliation.
The Rebbe was escorted back to his room with great deference, and
informed that he would soon be released.
The Mitteler Rebbe was liberated on the 10th of Kislev, having been
informed of the government's decision while reciting the verse from
Psalms 55: "He has saved my soul in peace."
[Reprinted with permission from lchaimweekly.org (#647).]
Rabbi DovBer Shneuri [9 Kislev 1773 - 9 Kislev 1827] was the
eldest son and successor to Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of the Chabad
movement. The author of numerous deep, mystical texts, he is known
in Lubavitch circles as "the Mittler (Middle) Rebbe."
Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed,
and editor-in-chief of Ascent Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com
and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He has hundreds of original story-translations
and adaptations published all over the world and the Internet, and
many have been translated into other languages. His weekly mailing
of chasidic/kabbalist stories goes to tens of thousands of subscribers