Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch • “the Author of Tzemach Tzedek”

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch • “the Author of Tzemach Tzedek”

His father was a Tzaddik, his mother the daughter of a Tzaddik, and he was a Gaon and Tzaddik in his own right – a pillar of the Chabad line of Rebbes – Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn. He was the grandson of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi and the son-in-law of the “Mitteler” Rebbe, Rabbi Dov Ber.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel was born to Rabbi Shalom Shachna on Elul 29, 5549 (1789). At a very young age he began to study with his maternal grandfather, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the first Rebbe of Chabad Chassidim. Once he realized that his grandson was destined for greatness, Rabbi Shneur Zalman devoted himself to watching over him like the apple of his eye. He was pleased with his grandson’s progress, and he taught him the best of his Torah.

Up to the age of Bar Mitzvah he studied only the revealed aspects of Torah, and on the advice of his grandfather he then began studying the hidden Torah as well.

At the age of 15 his illustrious grandfather made him responsible for various tasks for the good of the community. He taught him to be organized in his work, telling him: “Mendel, one must work more at being organized than at being learned, for order is one of the fundamental principles of everything that concerns knowledge and integrity.”

Menachem Mendel did not disappoint his grandfather. At a young age he began to write commentaries that his grandfather greatly complemented him on, and on his advice he married the daughter of Rabbi Dov Ber. After his wedding, he lived with his father-in-law and studied Torah and Chassidus in holiness and purity. “It was during that time,” Rabbi Menachem Mendel would say, “that I learned from my grandfather to place all my confidence in the Tzaddikim.”

The story of how that happened goes as follows:

One day the elderly Rav, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, asked him a question: “Mendel, how much is your dowry?”

“Two thousand rubbles,” replied Rabbi Menachem Mendel.

“And what do you plan on doing with this money?” asked the aged Rav once again.

“I will give it to a trustworthy wealthy man and earn a little off of it,” replied the grandson.

His grandfather responded: “What does it matter if he is now rich? It could happen that after a while he will become poor. I advise you to put your money in this box, a Tzeddakah box. The capital and profit will be completely secure.”

Rabbi Menachem Mendel slipped out of his grandfather’s room and gave the money to a man who was very rich and highly trustworthy. However after a few months, the rich man lost his money and became destitute.

As time went on, his grandfather eventually asked him: “Tell me Mendel, how much did you make with your money?”

The grandson told him the truth about what happened, so his grandfather said to him, “Why did you not listen to me when I advised you to give your money to Tzeddakah? Why did you not have more confidence in the words of your Rav than in those of a ordinary Jew?”

After the death of his uncle and father-in-law, the Mitteler Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel refused to take over the leadership of the Chabad Chassidim. This was because it was a heavy responsibility, and he wanted to be a simple Chassid like the others. His son Rabbi Shemuel recounted the following story about him:

“One day, I went to see my father the Tzemach Tzedek. I found him walking about in his room with a look of profound sorrow etched on his face. Naturally this frightened me, for I felt that some tragedy was about to occur. In response to my question about this, my father said: ‘Today marks 50 years since my first meeting with the Chassidim. I was then 20 years old, and the next day my grandfather called me. He spoke to me about the verse that states, “At the age of 20,” and he gave me his blessing that I should be successful in writing commentaries on the Torah, both revealed and hidden. Since that time, at every reunion I was present at, I was honored first as the grandson of the Rebbe, and then as the son-in-law of the Mitteler Rebbe. And since I took upon myself the yoke of leading the Chassidim some 30 years ago, I have not had the taste for a gathering of the Chassidim, for this gives great discomfort.’ As he said this, tears poured down his cheeks.”

However under the influence of those close to him, Rabbi Menachem Mendel assumed the leadership of the Chassidim after the death of his father-in-law. From near and far, people came to him to eagerly drink in his words. Rabbi Menachem Mendel worried greatly about his Chassidim. He purchased a parcel of land, founded the village of Shchedrin, and settled many Jews there. His renown spread around the globe, and people from every corner of the Diaspora addressed him with questions. Even though he was overloaded with work, he never stopped answering these questions. He assembled all his Halachic explanations in his book of responsum entitled Tzemach Tzedek, a four-part work.

In 5608 (1848), he was invited to a meeting in St. Petersburg that was organized by Prince Obrov, the Russian minister of education. The prince wanted to have the rabbanim accept that Jews learn Russian and secular studies, but Rabbi Menachem Mendel was determined in his opposition to this. Fearing that this view would cost him his life, he brought a burial shroud with him to St. Petersburg. Rabbi Menachem Mendel’s merit protected him, however, and he arrived there in peace and departed in peace.

In 5615 (1855), opponents began to denounce him, and his house was placed under government surveillance. He then personally went to see the governor of the region, who promised that he would pay no attention to what informers were saying about him.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel fell ill in 5620 (1860) and did not recuperate, dying on Nissan 13, 5626 (1866). He was 77 years old when his soul departed from the city of Lubavitch. He had left instructions that his gravestone should have no glorious titles on it, but only the mention that he contributed to the Teshuvah of many. His son Rabbi Shemuel, the Rebbe Maharash, succeeded him as leader of the Chassidim.




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