The Orthodox-Jewish International Grandmaster
Samuel Herman (Sammy) Reshevsky (1911-1992) was a famous chess
prodigy and later a leading American chess Grandmaster. He was born in
Ozorkov, Poland in 1911, to parents who belonged to the Gerrer Chassidic
dynasty. When he was nine years old his family moved to the United States,
where he later became a contender for the World Chess Championship from
about the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s; coming equal third in the World
Chess Championship 1948 tournament, and equal second in the 1953 Candidates
Tournament. He was also an eight time winner of the U.S. Chess Championship.
Reshevsky was famous for his slow and thoughtful moves, contemplating
every move and strategizing every step, sometimes for hours. At the age
of six, he already could play against as many as 30 players at a time,
moving quickly from board to board and could remember and repeat all 30
games afterwards, move by move. At the age of eight, he competed against
older contestants and won. He was featured in newspapers and branded as
a chess prodigy. He was known as "Shmulik der vunder kind"-Samuel
the wonder child. He was a descendant of the rabbinic genius, Rabbi Yonasan
Eibshitz, who descended from the great Kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac Luria, the
Arizal of Tzefat.
Sammy Reshevsky grew up in an observant home, and throughout his life
and fame, remained faithful to his Judaism and Torah, refusing to ever
play chess on the Sabbath or Holidays. In the years before his marriage,
Reshevsky developed a relationship with the sixth Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi
Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. Reshevsky once asked Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak
for his blessing for success in a particular chess match. The Rebbe responded
that he would grant his wish if he would resolve to study Torah every
day. Reshevsky readily agreed, and indeed, the blessing the Rebbe granted
Living in Crown Heights in the 1940's, Sammy prayed in the central Lubavitch
synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, NY. Once, at a Sabbath gathering
(farbrengen in Yiddish), in 1948, the Rebbe, in recognition of
his presence, explained the spiritual meaning behind the chess game.
The Chess Game
There is one king. All of the other pieces revolve around him and their
entire mission is to protect and serve him. G-d is the King, all else
was created by Him, given the opportunity to connect to His truth and
to serve Him.
The queen represents the feminine manifestation of the divine, known
as the "shechinah," intimately involved with every aspect
of creation, granting vitality and substance to every existence. The queen
is the most practically affective piece, often sent into the lines of
fire, even placed in danger. Likewise, G-d risks His own dignity, as it
were, by investing Himself in every creature and existence, subjecting
Himself to the vicissitudes of the human condition.
Then there are bishops, rooks, and knights. They are swift, free, not
limited by the squares immediately surrounding them; they can "fly"
around freely, without constraints. These are symbolic of the angels-in
their three mystical categories we discuss in the daily morning services,
"seraphim," "chayot" and "ofanim,"
represented by the bishops, rooks, and knights.
In order for there to be free choice in the world, there are two teams,
the white and the black. One team representing G-dliness and holiness;
the other team representing everything antithetical to G-dliness and holiness.
The teams are engaged in fierce battle. And for the confrontation to be
meaningful each team contains, at least on the surface, all the properties
contained in the opposite team. Both teams pretend to have a king, queen,
bishops, rooks and knights.
Finally, there are the pawns. They are very limited in their travel, moving
only one step at a time, only in a singular direction, and they constantly
get "knocked off." But... when they fight through the "board,"
arriving at their destination, they can be promoted even to the rank of
the queen, something that the bishop, rook or knight can never achieve.
The pawn represents the human being living down here on earth. We humans
take very small steps, and we are so limited in every aspect of our journey
and our growth. We also constantly make mistakes and get "knocked
down." But when man perseveres, and overcomes the angst and despair
of his or her own failings and mortality, when we fight the fight to subdue
darkness and to reveal the presence of the "king" within our
own bodies, our own psyches and the world around us-the human being surpasses
even angels; the pawn is transformed into a queen! The human life reunites
with its source above, the queen, the Shechinah, experiencing the deepest
intimacy with the King Himself.
The bishops, rooks, and knights, though spiritually powerful and angelic,
are predictable, and limited by their role. There is no room for real
promotion, no substantive growth, no radical progression. Yes, they fly
around, but only within their own orbit. The angels on high, as well as
the soul alone on high, before entering the body, are powerful yet confined
by their own spiritual standing. It is the limitations of the human person
that stimulate his or her deepest growth. The limits of our existence
create friction, causing us to strain against the trials and disappointments
Later in Life
Upon turning 70 and no longer on top of his game, Sammy Reshevsky asked
the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schnnersohn, if he should
retire. The Rebbe advised him to continue playing because it was a "Kiddush
Hashem"-a sanctification of G-d in the world, a proud demonstration
of a Jew succeeding without compromising his spiritual ideals and values.
Reshevsky complied and shortly afterwards, he traveled to Russia and upset
the world champion at that time, Vassily Smyslov. He received a standing
ovation from the thousand-member audience who were enchanted by his brilliance.
On a side note, here is a interesting tidbit: in 1984, the Lubavitcher
Rebbe requested Reshevsky to try and help his colleague Bobby Fischer
get out of his world-famous depression and isolation, and also to help
him in relation to his Judaism. Bobby had already been out of public life
for a few years, and was known to be living reclusively in Los Angeles.
Soon after Reshevsky received the Rebbe's letter, he traveled to Los Angeles
to play at a tournament. As soon as he arrived, he phoned Bobby and related
the Rebbe's request to him. Bobby immediately agreed to see him. This
was very unusual, since he did not often receive visitors. Their meeting
lasted three hours, during which Bobby asked many serious questions about
Original article written by Rabbi Y. Y. Jacobson (//yeshiva.net). Supplemented
by Ascent from an article on // chabad.org (528301) by Dovid Zaklikowski