The original Yeshivah Tomchei Temimim Lubavitch was established by the Rebbe Rashab in the summer of 1897, in the village of Lubavitch itself. The Rebbe Rashab was forced to leave Lubavitch in 1915; about two years later, the central yeshivah was disbanded, and the Temimim went into exile. Various branches were established throughout Russia and the Ukraine, and eventually the central yeshivah was also reestablished in Rostov, where the Rebbe Rayatz was then living (the Rebbe Rashab passed away in Rostov in 1920), and later in Leningrad.
The Rebbe Rayatz left the Soviet Union in 1927, living first in Riga and then in Warsaw. When the central yeshivah was established in Warsaw, many young students of Polish and Lithuanian yeshivos - who had become attracted by the Lubavitcher Rebbe's emissaries and by the Chabad style of avodah - came to study in its halls. They joined the few Soviet refugees of the earlier yeshivos who had managed to escape to Poland.
Thus, the pre-World War II Temimim fell into four categories: i) the original Temimim who had studied in Lubavitch under the Rebbe Rashab; ii) the students who had studied in Rostov or (later) in Leningrad under the Rebbe Rayatz; iii) the students of "Lubavitch-in-Exile," who had studied in the various Soviet branches, most of whom had never met the Previous Rebbe; iv) the "Polish" students of the yeshivah in Warsaw (and later, Otwock, a suburb of Warsaw).
In 1930's Warsaw, the Students' Organization of Yeshivah Tomchei Temimim carried on regular and extensive correspondence with students and alumni throughout Poland, with those still in the Soviet Union with whom correspondence was possible, and with those who had emigrated to the United States, Canada, Israel, and elsewhere.
The periodical HaTamim was published in Warsaw by the Students' Organization of Yeshivah Tomchei Temimim Lubavitch, during the period Tammuz 5695-Kislev 5698 (July 1935-December 1937). Besides sections devoted to Toras HaChassidus and to the revealed aspects of Torah, HaTamim regularly featured a section called "History of the Chassidim," devoted to biographical sketches of "famous chassidic personalities" in the history of Chabad Chassidus.
Many articles in this series of HaTamim do not bear the name of a specific author. However, elder chassidim who were students in the yeshivah at that time, have assured me that several of these articles were either authored by the Rebbe Rayatz, or compiled from his notes, diary, and letters. "For certain reasons" (which they declined to discuss), the Rebbe's authorship was not acknowledged in print. But those who are familiar with the Previous Rebbe's unique narrative style will recognize that same style in much of this writing.
Only eight issues of HaTamim were published; material was collected, and work was begun, for Issue No 9, but the impending outbreak of World War II prevented publication. Yeshivah Tomchei Temimim of Warsaw was disbanded, and its students went into exile, many of them in the Far East. Other Polish students escaped to the eastern republics of the Soviet Union, where they were united with their brethren of the Russian and Ukrainian branches.
The Temimim who (with G-d's help) managed to survive the war, remained scattered afterward. Some of them were trapped in the Soviet Union for decades. The Previous Rebbe, after his escape from Warsaw on the eve of the Nazi invasion, settled in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. There, the central Yeshivah Tomchei Temimim was reestablished. Unfortunately, publication of HaTamim was never resumed, and the final story in this series remained unfinished. This material was subsequently discovered in the Previous Rebbe's library.
When I first came to "Seven-Seventy" thirty-five years ago, the purpose of my coming was (of course) to see and hear the Rebbe. But the Rebbe could be seen only during the formal public prayer services, and he could be heard only at the (in those days) monthly farbrengens. And being admitted to his holy presence for yechidus was a very rare privilege. But, as the Rebbe instructed us explicitly, we sought supplementary sources of inspiration and guidance.
At that time, numerous elder chassidim of the original Temimim were still living. Some lived in Crown Heights, and I had the opportunity to see them regularly, engage them in conversation, observe their davening, and listen to their stories and farbrengens. Others lived elsewhere in the United States and Canada, and would come to 770 to be with the Rebbe for festivals and other special occasions. Some lived in Europe and Israel, and would come only once a year (or less frequently), usually during the month of Tishrei.
During a farbrengen - or even a casual conversation - with these elder Temimim, you could catch a glimpse of Lubavitch as it had once been. They told stories of the Rebbeim of old that they had personally witnessed, or that they had heard from elder chassidim during their own youth.
To us American youngsters, the idea of mesirus nefesh was somewhat foreign; our greatest trials consisted of such things as getting up in time for Kerias Shema after a late night farbrengen, the occasional dip in an icy ritual bath (because someone had forgotten to turn on the heat), or traveling to some far-away place in summertime, to do Lubavitch outreach work, on a bus that lacked air conditioning.
Now, we met chassidim whose mesirus nefesh was on another plane entirely. Many had risked torture and death at the hands of the agents of the Czar, and later, Stalin's agents and the Yevsektzia. Some had suffered poverty and hunger. Many had suffered ridicule and beatings. Others had suffered disinheritance by their families, and were shunned by friends and neighbors, simply for the "crime" of adopting and disseminating the chassidic way of life. The Rebbe became their father, and Lubavitch became their mother.
Listening to these elders tell of their own experiences, and those of their companions and their own mentors, gave us some insight into how great Chassidus really is, and what a long way we still had to go before we could call ourselves chassidim.
But who were the "elders" that these original Temimim had looked up to? Who had inspired them, when they were youngsters? Before there was a formal yeshivah in Lubavitch, there had been the "sitters": advanced students who had come to Liozna, then to Liadi, then to Lubavitch, to pursue advanced study while basking in the glory of the Holy of Holies, the Alter Rebbe, the Mitteler, Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek and the Rebbe Maharash. They then became the mashpiyim of succeeding generations. In these pages, we find the stories of a few of those "famous chassidic personalities."
Many disciples of these earlier mashpiyim went on to become mashpiyim themselves, and developed their own disciples. But by no means all of them - not everyone is suited by nature, aptitude, or inclination to become a mashpia, Rav, rosh yeshivah, mashgiach, or even a shochet. Some remained private citizens - ordinary chassidic Jews - who combined their business activities or manual labor with Torah study, worship of the Creator, and intense love of their fellow Jews, all in the chassidic style. In these pages, we find a few of these "typical chassidic businessmen" too.
The present English translation was originally published in my weekly column "Biographical Sketches," in Beis Moshiach Magazine. It follows in the same spirit as our earlier translation of the Previous Rebbe's historical and biographical narrative, The Making of Chassidim. Once again, I wish to express my gratitude to the editors, publishers, and especially the readers of Beis Moshiach Magazine for their constant help and encouragement.
I am grateful to Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Keller for providing me with the text originally prepared for the conclusion of the final chapter, "Reb Yitzchak the Tailor's Father." My profound thanks also to the staff and administration of Sichos In English: Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, who effected the final editorial review; Rabbi Yonah Avtzon, who managed the entire project; and Yosef Yitzchok Turner, who prepared the text for printing. I have added some explanatory footnotes and bibliographic references; these are enclosed within brackets. Footnotes without brackets appeared in the original text.
The "sitters" have been gone for a full century; Tomchei Temimim in Lubavitch is no more; Tomchei Temimim of Warsaw is gone; nearly sixty years have passed since the last issue of HaTamim was printed. In the interval, 770 became the central focus of Yeshivah Tomchei Temimim. Here, multitudes gathered, and the stories were retold. Here, new generations of chassidim were born or made, and here they were inspired. Our younger generation is rapidly assuming the role of elder chassidim, faced with the task of inspiring the coming generations. Are we up to it? Perhaps reading the biographies in this series will help. Let us study the biographies of these famous chassidic personalities; let us strive, if possible, to emulate their ways.
The last theme that the Rebbe shared with us was the imminent advent of the Messianic Age and the awakening of "those who dwell in the dust." Let us fervently pray and hope that very soon, we will meet the sitters and the Temimim of Lubavitch once again, together with Rashbatz and Rashdam, the Vilenker Brothers and Reb Yitzchak the Tailor, with the Rebbe and all the Rebbeim at our head, at the coming of Moshiach, immediately, NOW.
Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York
24 Teves 5757 [January 3, 1997]
In 5735, for several weeks, the venerable chassid Reb Avraham Mayor would come to the yeshivah at Lubavitch Headquarters in 770 and farbreng with the students each Thursday night.
One evening, Reb Avraham focused on the difference between his days in Lubavitch and the present time: "We barely saw the Rebbe," he told the students. "He would appear in public only several times a week. Even then permission was not always granted for the yeshivah students to be there.
"Today, you daven with the Rebbe twice a day, three times a day on Shabbos. There are frequent farbrengens. It's a different world."
Reb Avraham continued to explain - without minimizing the good fortune of the present age - what had sustained him as a youth: "We had vintage Chassidim from whom we would learn. From them, we received far more than intellectual knowledge. We would watch the way they davenned, the way they observed mitzvos, the love and closeness they shared between each other. All these were lessons that we devoured."
The vintage chassidim of my student days in 770 are passing. Reb Avraham - Reb Mendel Futerfas, Reb Peretz Motchkin, Reb Nissan Nemenov and many other of the models to whom we looked up are no longer among us. I am reminded of the words of the song: "Who will be the zaidy if not me?"
Some might say that such thoughts are presumptuous: "Can we really expect to live up to the image of a chassid?"
Honestly, the proposition is bold. But it is the kind of boldness which is considered a positive characteristic of a "rash people." We cannot afford spiritual timidity, nor is false modesty in place. We must know our limitations, but we must also know our strengths. And we must appreciate the need to employ those strengths immediately.
Mashiach is coming, and we should be prepared to greet him. And that means prepared spiritually. Chassidus is Toraso shel Mashiach, the teachings of Mashiach. The way we should make ourselves ready to greet Mashiach is by internalizing Chassidus and making it part of our selves.
In this endeavor, the portraits in this book are fundamentally important, for they provide us with images and examples to emulate. I don't mean that we should copy them - for the settings in which we live and the challenges of our time are different. But what was unique about these people was their capacity for spiritual renewal, that they knew how to reach into themselves and summon up spiritual strength. And that is something appropriate in all times and all places. It is a lesson which we can - and must - learn.
May this book provide us with models and enable us to become models for others.
Rarely was I ever able to sit down with several vintage chassidim together. It was difficult enough finding the opportunity to spend time with one. This book enables a reader to sit down with several Chassidim all at once. Some of the stories were written by the Previous Rebbe, others came from Chassidim. There are different tones and nuances. It's one large farbrengen.
May our appreciation of this farbrengen lead to the coming of Mashiach and the fulfillment of the prophecy: "You who repose in the dust, arise and sing." And then we will join together with these chassidim in an actual farbrengen; may this take place in the immediate future.
The history of the chassidim goes hand-in-hand with the history of Toras HaChassidus. In every generation, Chassidus gave rise to individuals who were unique among chassidim in devoting their whole being - heart, soul, and material resources - to Toras HaChassidus and the chassidic style of avodah. Because of this, their names are remembered with praise and renown, and have been recorded permanently by succeeding generations.
Many chassidim achieved fame even outside the circles of Chabad Chassidus. Others were known during their lifetimes only among their fellow chassidim, and we have had to expend much time and effort in order to gather the research material needed for a proper review of the stories of these unique personalities.
The editorial board of HaTamim intends to spare no effort in gathering the materials needed to produce this section on "Life Stories of Famous Personalities." We look forward to contributions of material by elder members of our society and by students of Tomchei Temimim. We appeal for your assistance, so that we may raise the subject of the history of the Chabad Chassidim to the high level it so rightfully deserves.
HaTamim, Issue No. 1, p 35a, 12-13 Tammuz 5695
- (Back to text) Shabbos 88a.
- (Back to text) Yeshayahu 26:19.