#320 (s5764-11/ 8 Kislev)

The Second Alternative

Rabbi Dov Ber of Lubavitch said, "Now I will tell you secrets of the Torah which have never been revealed.


The Second Alternative

The journey of the second Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Dov Ber, to Haditch was unusually somber. The Rebbe, on his way to pray at the grave of his father and predecessor, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, was not merely meditative, but reclusive.

He not only refrained from delivering the accustomed Chasidic discourses for which his disciples thirsted, but he showed no interest or desire to converse at all with the chasidim who formed his entourage. When he wished to commit some of his Torah thoughts to paper he was unable to do so, and he indicated to his close followers that he felt the approach of some impending harsh judgment from Above.

He even intimated that he felt his own end approaching. He related to his chasidim that at the time of the arrest and imprisonment of his father, two alternatives had been offered from Above: suffering or death. Rabbi Shneur Zalman had chosen suffering. "It seems that he left the other for me," concluded the somber Reb Dov Ber.

When the entourage arrived at Haditch the Rebbe prayed at great length at his father's grave. He also delivered a number of Chasidic discourses in the study hall which had been erected at the site. One day, after having prayed for many hours, the Rebbe appeared to his followers, his face beaming with happiness. "My father has given me his promise that they will release me from my position as Rebbe," he told them.

The chasidim had long been aware of the Rebbe's desire to journey to the Land of Israel, and they understood his words to mean that he had finally decided to make the journey. "Rebbe," they cried out, "how can you leave us like that, like sheep without a shepherd?" But the Rebbe just turned to them and said, "Don't worry, you will have my son-in-law, Menachem Mendel, and he will be a faithful leader for you."

When the visit ended, the party began the homeward journey, passing through the town of Niezhin. But upon his arrival, the Rebbe fell ill and was unable to continue traveling. The most experienced physicians that could be found were called in, but none could cure the Rebbe.

They ordered complete bed rest, and even proscribed the Rebbe from delivering his customary talks to his chasidim. This advice was the most bitter for the Rebbe. For the very essence of a Rebbe is to give of himself to his chasidim. The relationship between Rebbe and chasid is a symbiotic one in which both benefit physically as well as spiritually.

His condition deteriorated steadily, until he finally lapsed into unconsciousness, evincing no apparent life force. The doctors were at a loss, when one of them said to another, "Do you want to see something very strange? If we permit the Rebbe to deliver a discourse to his followers, you will see him regain his vitality."

The scene which followed was truly amazing, as the Rebbe, fully vibrant, sat in his bed and spoke to the chasidim who crowded the house to hear his words. In the course of the talk, the Rebbe said, "Now I will tell you secrets of the Torah which have never been revealed." But just as he was about to continue, a chasid leaning forward on a bench behind the Rebbe fell. The tumult interrupted the Rebbe's thoughts and he remarked, "It seems that Heaven doesn't wish these things to be revealed."

The Rebbe's condition worsened on the night of the ninth of Kislev to the point that he could not be revived. People flocked to the house to be near the Rebbe. Suddenly the Rebbe sat up in bed, smiling and said, "I heard a voice saying, 'What need has a soul like this for this world?'"

The Rebbe requested that he be dressed in white garments. And then, for the first time since he had been so ill, he delivered a discourse in which he praised the Jewish people for doing mitzvot with such devotion. He bade his family and chasidim to be joyful, for joy breaks through all boundaries and bitterness. Then he continued revealing deep Chasidic philosophy. All those present were overjoyed to see that their Rebbe appeared to have recovered his strength.

The Rebbe then turned to one of his disciples and told him, "While I am speaking, watch out that I don't fall asleep. If I do, just touch me with your hand and I will wake up."
He continued delivering his discourse in a greatly heightened mental state, asking several times whether it was yet dawn. He expounded upon the words, "For with You is the source of life," and when he had finished saying the word "life" his soul left his body.

It is seen in certain select great tzadikim that the days of their lives are measured exactly to the day. Rebbe Dov Ber passed away, as did Moses, on the exact day of his birth, thus indicating complete fulfillment. He was 54 years old when he passed away, exactly the same age as was his father, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, when he was incarcerated in Petersburg and agreed to accept the yoke of suffering upon himself.

[Adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from the rendition on www.lchaimweekly.org (#244).]

Biographical note:
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."


Yrachmiel Tilles 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.

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