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Thursday, November 29, 2007


The Maggid and the Rav Baal HaTanya

Tonight and tomorrow, Yud-Tes [the 19th of] Kislev, is the 235th yahrzeit of the Maggid of Mezritch, who succeeded the Baal Shem Tov as the leader of the Chassidic movement. We previously posted about The Maggid's Niggunim here.

It was also on this date, in the year 1798, that the founder of Chabad Chassidus, Rebbe Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), was freed from his imprisonment in Czarist Russia. I’d like to present some interesting anecdotes that transpired between these two great Rebbes.


In return for a favor, Rebbe Schneur Zalman of Liadi once asked the Maggid to reveal the Baal Shem Tov's essence. After careful thought, he commented, "Had he lived in the times of the Tanaim [authors of the Mishna], he would have been a wonder; in the era of the Prophets, an innovation; and, in the period of the Patriarchs, noteworthy."
Had Rebbe Schneur Zalman not heard it from his Rebbe the Maggid, he wouldn't have believed that the Baal Shem Tov was mortal.


One night, Rebbe Schneur Zalman of Liadi knocked on the Maggid's door.
"Who's there?" asked the Maggid.
"It is I," said Rebbe Schneur Zalman.
"Who?" Rebbe Dov Ber repeated.
"It is I," Rebbe Schneur Zalman replied.
"Who?" the Maggid inquired again.
"Schneur Zalman," he answered. With that, he was finally admitted.
At the Maggid's request, the next day Rebbe Schneur Zalman went to a bris mila [circumcision] held in a nearby village. Seeing Rebbe Schneur Zalman's old and tattered clothing, it was assumed that he was a beggar, and he was seated at the end of the table.
When a silver spoon was found missing after the seuda [festive meal], the "beggar" was immediately suspected of theft. Denying the charge, he shouted, "It was not I!"
His accusers began to beat him. "It was not I," he repeated.
Eventually, it was discovered that an attendant had taken the spoon, and Rebbe Schneur Zalman was exonerated. When he returned to Mezritch, the Maggid was waiting for him.
"How many times did you have to shout, 'Not I'?" he asked his astounded student.
"Two times you announced to me, 'It is I,' he continued. "There is only One in the universe who may say this. If we are aware of Hashem's presence, how can we, mere mortals, pride ourselves on being 'I'? We must strive for total bitul, self-effacement.
"Twice you called yourself 'I,' so two times you had to announce, 'It is not I.'"


"Before I came to Mezritch," said Rebbe Schneur Zalman of Liadi, "my main means of worship was intellectual contemplation, for I dared to think it would arouse love and fear [of G-d] within me. In Mezritch I learned that on the contrary, love and fear arouse the intellect!
"When the Maggid opened his mouth," he said, "the Shechina [Divine Presence] spoke through him and he was not in this world...." Another time he declared, "What do we know of Ruach HaKodesh [the holy spirit, a form of prophecy], or of wonders? In the Maggid's house we drew Ruach HaKodesh in full measure; the miracles rolled under the benches, and there was no time to pick them up."


When Rebbe Schneur Zalman once came to Berditchev, long after the passing of the Baal Shem Tov, all the scholars there marveled at his Torah genius. "Mine is nothing compared to that of my master, the Maggid, and his son, the Malach. And both of them followed in the footsteps of the holy Baal Shem Tov, whose genius was incomparable," he said.
What else did the author of the Tanya gain from the Maggid? "Elsewhere one learns how to master the Torah. In Mezritch, one learns to let the Torah master you."


The Passing of the Maggid
A Premonition of Death
In the summer of 1772, Rebbe Schneur Zalman of Liadi came to Rovno, where the Maggid was living. When Rebbe Zusia told him that Rebbe Dov Ber had asked that he come, Rebbe Schneur Zalman sighed deeply and fainted. Even after he revived, he was feeble and bedridden. Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk and the Rebbe Reb Zusia went to tell the Maggid what had occurred. His reaction: "Rebbe Zalmanyu," for thus did he refer to his beloved Talmid, "has the feelings of a son. I was like a son to my Rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov, and he is like my son."
His pupils did not understand Rebbe Schneur Zalman's weakness and their Rebbe's reaction to it until that winter, in the month of Kislev. At that time, looking at the mournful faces of his disciples, who realized that their master was nearing death, the Maggid told them: "What you feel now, Rebbe Zalman felt last summer."


When the Maggid was on his deathbed, 18 Kislev 1772, the Maggid's son, Rebbe Avraham the Malach, was by his side, along with Rebbe Yehuda Leib HaCohen and Rebbe Schneur Zalman...

...He then turned to Rebbe Schneur Zalman. "Zalmanyu," he said, "give me your hand. You will remain alone, you are for yourself - you have your own way. You will need a lot of help from Heaven. I will yearn for you very much, and G-d willing, I will save you from all your troubles."
According to the Chabad tradition, he also said to him before his passing: "This day is our Yom Tov (festival)."


The Final Rites
The news of the Maggid's passing caused a dispute between the local chevra kadisha (burial society) and the Maggid's followers as to who should bury him. The latter claimed that they should serve him in death as in life. They soon arrived at an adequate compromise: Disciples who were members of the chevra kadisha in their home towns would take priority in the burial. Those pupils then cast lots to see who would bear which part of the Maggid's body. Rebbe Schneur Zalman was privileged to hold his head. When the time came for the Tahara rites (which include immersion in a mikveh), Rebbe Schneur Zalman said, "Our Sages say that Tzaddikim are greater in their death than in life. It is not fitting, therefore, for us to tilt our Rebbe's head and immerse it - he himself should do so." He then released the head, and it immersed itself three times.

Zechuso yagein Aleinu v’al Kol Yisrael – May the Maggid’s merits protect us all!

"Before I came to Mezritch," said Rebbe Schneur Zalman of Liadi, "my main means of worship was intellectual contemplation, for I dared to think it would arouse love and fear [of G-d] within me. In Mezritch I learned that on the contrary, love and fear arouse the intellect!

I don't see how this quote could possibly be accurate. Almost every chapter of the Tanya is about how intellectual contemplation arouses love and fear. Hence the name of the Chassidus: Chabad. This quote says that this was his rejected hava amina!? Do you have a source for that quote?
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