Anyone who merited to attend a farbrengen
by the Rebbe was privileged to witness the revelation of a great light. And though every word and gesture of the Rebbe holds vast significance, each individual chassid found some particular feature that made a special and lasting impression.
One of the things that caught my attention during the first farbrengens I attended was the awe and respect with which the Rebbe would refer to the Rebbeim who were his predecessors. In my earlier years, I noticed this especially with respect to his father-in-law, the Rebbe Rayatz. In later years, I was struck by the Rebbe's evident emotion whenever he mentioned the Rebbe Maharash, or referred to the Rebbe Rayatz's remarkable physical resemblance to him.
Who can forget the singing of the Rebbe Maharash's Niggun near the conclusion of many of the Rebbe's farbrengens! The Rebbe's eyes would be tightly shut, and he would lead the singing by nodding his head slowly to the rhythm of the solemn melody - especially one stanza, which he would signal (by silent gesture of his head) to be repeated again and again, often ten times or more.
The Rebbe often referred to this niggun - and indeed, to the Rebbe Maharash himself - by the name Lechatchilah Ariber. He explained this by quoting a characteristic motto of the Rebbe Maharash:
Di velt zogt: az men ken nisht arunter muz men gehen ariber; un ich zog az men darf gehen lechatchilah ariber.
People say that if one can't go underneath, one has to go over the top; but I say
that one must go lechatchilah ariber
Lechatchilah Ariber! This concept is so typical of the Rebbe Maharash's approach to all things, that the Rebbe would often use the phrase as a substitute name when referring to the Rebbe Maharash. And yet, in Sefer HaToldos Admur Maharash - one of the Rebbe's earliest published works, first printed in 5707 - this phrase is not quoted even once. But, as the reader will quickly discover, the whole biography of the Rebbe Maharash features example after example of lechatchilah ariber. Indeed, the very date of his bris, Netzach ShebiNetzach signifies the ideal of lechatchilah ariber. And the fact that he - the youngest son - was evidently favored by his father over his elder sons, and succeeded his father the Tzemach Tzedek as Rebbe, bypassing his elder brothers who were themselves all great and learned tzaddikim, manifests the idea of lechatchilah ariber. Another example that comes to my mind is the manner in which he disarmed a would-be assassin simply by reminding him that he was a Jew:
"A Jew must not have the 'hands of Esav.' Give me what you have with you." The young man then took a revolver out of his pocket and gave it to [...the Rebbe Maharash], who threw it out the window.
The present English translation first appeared in serial form in my regular column, "Biographical Sketches" in Beis Moshiach Magazine, continuing the series of historical and biographical narratives culled from the writings of the Rebbe Rayatz. I remain indebted to all my dear friends, readers of Beis Moshiach Magazine, for their unrelenting support and encouragement.
This English edition is supplemented with a diagram of the Rebbe Maharash's family tree which includes those family members mentioned in the text; excerpts of sichos printed elsewhere, which are merely listed by source and page number in the Hebrew edition; "Her Husband's Crown," a biography of the Rebbe Maharash's wife, Rebbetzin Rivkah; and the six stories about Rebbetzin Leah Golda, referred to in the biography, as told by Rebbetzin Rivkah's sister Tziviyah Gittel.
"Her Husband's Crown," is translated from newly-discovered excerpts of the Rebbe Rayatz's diary. The original Hebrew text was prepared for publication by Rabbi Sholom Yaakov Chazan, editor of Beis Moshiach Magazine, where these excerpts were first published. For various reasons, certain passages in the diary were omitted from the published version; in this translation too, those passages are omitted. Such omissions are designated by [...], while illegible words in the manuscript are designated by [?].
The Rebbe Rayatz's Hebrew and Yiddish style, especially in narrative text, contains numerous parenthetical insertions, which become confusing to the reader when translated into English. I have therefore chosen to relocate most of these passages to the footnotes, along with the footnotes that appeared as such in the original texts. These are printed without brackets; explanatory footnotes and references inserted by myself or the editors appear within brackets. I have also taken the liberty of inserting chapter breaks and titles to make the text more readable to the English audience.
I take this opportunity to thank the staff of Sichos In English: the administrator, Rabbi Yonah Avtzon; the editors, Rochel Chana Schilder, who reviewed the style of the text, and Rabbi Aharon Leib Raskin, for his painstaking review of its contents; and Yosef Yitzchok Turner, who prepared the text layout for printing. My gratitude also to Rabbi Sholom Yaakov Chazan, and to Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Keller, for enlightening me with regard to the historic and bibliographic background of some of the stories.
This biography was one of the first themes the Rebbe shared with us. The latest theme has been the Rebbe's constantly repeated promise that Mashiach's immediate arrival is now at hand - we are to be the last generation of the exile and the first generation of the redemption. May we merit to see the Rebbe and Rebbetzin, the Rebbe Maharash and Rebbetzin Rivkah, together will all tzaddikim and tzidkaniyos, immediately NOW, in the manner of lechatchilah ariber!
2 Iyar, 5761
Birthday of the Rebbe Maharash
Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York
On 23 Teves of this year, while this work was undergoing its final revisions before printing, my father, Reb Lemel B'Reb Shimon, passed away. I dedicate my efforts in preparing this translation to his memory and merit. It is my hope and fervent prayer that the readers will find inspiration in the deeds and sayings of the Rebbe Maharash and other tzaddikim and tzidkaniyos mentioned in this text; may this hasten the moment of "Awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust," and he among them.
- (Back to text) One must go over the top to begin with, as the first choice. I.e., ordinary people expect to encounter obstacles, and they look for ways to get around them. But the Rebbe Maharash acted as if obstacles did not exist in the first place.