/ 26 Tishrei 5761)
TIMELESS TORAH EXACTLY ON
The high-ranking gentile
official was very impressed by his prisoner, Rabbi Shneur Zalman.
TORAH EXACTLY ON TIME
the Alter Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, was arrested in
his home in Liozna, White Russia, on the night following Simchat Torah in 5559
(1798) and brought to Petersburg, he was incarcerated in one of the secret cells
of the Fortress of Petropavlovsk. He was detained there for exactly fifty-four
days [which Chassidim point out corresponds to the number of chapters
in Tanya (including the Introduction), his classic work of Chassidic doctrine
published two years previously]. The first three weeks he was kept under
strict surveillance in a cell designated for traitors. This was because the principal
charge against him, treason against the Russian Empire for allegedly sending money
to the Sultan of Turkey (meaning the funds he annually collected and sent for
the poor of the Holy Land, which was under Turkish rule at the time). Afterwards
he was moved to a more comfortable place, in the same fortress.
time, a deputy minister of the police was assigned to interrogate him. This high-ranking
gentile official, who was a learned man and knowledgeable in the Scriptures, was
very impressed by the prisoner, who was obviously was no ordinary rebel. Interrupting
his list of official questions, he said to the Rebbe, "I have a question
on the text of the Bible and would be pleased if you could give me a satisfactory
"Ask whatever you like," the Rebbe told him, "and
with G-d's help I hope to be able to solve your problem."
is the meaning of the verse 'G-d called to Adam and said: Where are you?'"
the official queried. "How is it possible that omniscient G-d did not know
where Adam was?"
The Rebbe answered with the basic explanation that
it was G-d's intention to inaugurate the conversation with a question not related
to the sin, so as to not overwhelm the man who was in dread fear of punishment
The official, however, was not satisfied by this solution, surprisingly
saying, "I am aware of the basic rabbinical interpretations and the allegory
offered by Rashi. I had hoped for a deeper answer. Don't you have a more
The Rebbe responded to him with a question of
his own. "Do you believe that the Torah is forever relevant and true, in
every generation and to every individual?"
"Yes, I sincerely believe
that," replied the deputy minister.
The Rebbe was very pleased to
hear this affirmation of faith. If such a high-ranking official was a believer
in the Torah, perhaps the trial would be less of an ordeal.
you believe," said the Rebbe, "I will give you a deeper explanation.
Actually, the verse does not state 'G-d called to Adam,' for what is written is,
'G-d called to Ha'adam,' to 'the man.' This means that at
all times G-d is calling to every individual and asks him 'where are you',
meaning 'where do you stand in this world.' G-d allots to each person a certain
amount of days and years, each of which is to be utilized for the doing of good
in relation to G-d and in relation to mankind. Therefore, think and contemplate:
how many years have you lived already and how much good have you done and accomplished
during that time, You, for instance, have lived already xx years, (the
Rebbe stated the exact age of his questioner!); how have you used this time? Did
you accomplish something good? Have you benefited others?"
was thoroughly amazed and thrilled by the fact that the Rebbe 'guessed' his right
age. He put his hand on the prisoner's shoulder, exclaiming: "Bravo!"
Afterwards he continued his formal interrogation of the Rebbe, who showed profound
wisdom in his precise answers to every question, impressing the interrogator even
As further events unfolded, the admiration of the government minister for the
Rebbe turned out to be a significant factor. But that part of the story is for
The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe (1880-1950) related that the Alter Rebbe's response
saved him from kalos hanefesh, the soul's ecstatic and blissful expiration and
flight from the body. This was because the Alter Rebbe was in a state of great
joy and ecstasy for having merited to be imprisoned and to suffer martyrdom
for propagating the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, and his own master, the
Maggid of Mezritch. But when he considered that G-d asks each one of us, "Where
are you? Have you accomplished your mission - as a soul within a body - for
which you were placed on earth?" this kept the Alter Rebbe from kalos hanefesh.
For it impressed upon him that he must remain in this world and complete the
purpose for which his soul had descended here below.
[Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from Beis Rebbe and other written and
Rabbi Shnuer Zalman [18 Elul 1745-24 Tevet 1812], one of the main disciples
of the Maggid of Mezritch, is the founder of the Chabad-Chassidic
movement. He is the author of Shulchan Aruch HaRav and Tanya as
well as many other major works in both Jewish law and the mystical teachings.
is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of Ascent
Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He has hundreds
of published stories to his credit.
A 48 page soft-covered booklet
containing eleven of his most popular stories may be ordered on our store
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