Page 74 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 19

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great “Lubavitcher” academies in which rabbinic learning and
hasidic intensity were harmoniously fused.
Soon thereafter he accompanied Rabbi Menahem Mendel,
the leader of White Russian Hasidism, to Wilna, on an un­
successful mission to seek an audience with the great opponent
of Hasidism, the Gaon Elijah of Wilna. It was their hope to
end the ideological battle which was particularly bitter in White
Russia and Lithuania, where the Hasidim were a small minority.
In 1776 Menahem Mendel left for Palestine with a number
of his followers, and Shneor Zalman became second-in-command
of the White Russian Hasidim. We may still read Menahem Men­
del’s pastoral letters to his flock urging them to fear the Lord,
to dwell in unity, and to rally around his beloved Shneor Zalman
who, it seems, was still somewhat reluctant to assert himself as
a leader.
When Menahem Mendel died in 1786, Shneor Zalman became
the acknowledged leader and was soon able to prove it by
running a triple gauntlet. In common with other hasidic leaders,
he was attacked by rabbinic opponents for initiating separate
prayer meetings and other practices which might tend to en­
croach upon their prerogatives. He was denounced to the Czarist
authorities and imprisoned on the charge that his “sect” was
seeking “innovations,” a word which the government dreaded.
Finally other hasidic groups claimed that Shneor Zalman’s brand
of Hasidism was too intellectual, insufficiently devoted to simple
“faith” and therefore encouraged theosophic speculation.
The Grand Old Rabbi (as he is called among his Hasidim)
withstood all attacks. Twice imprisoned in St. Petersburg, he
proved his innocence each time and finally emerged with a
grant of full autonomy in synagogue and communal affairs. But
he was destined for only a few years of “quiet” work. When
the armies of Napoleon invaded Russia, Shneor Zalman and his
family were among those who fled into the interior. There he
died in December, 1812.
In repartee to the arrogant Rabbi Baruch, who expected
special deference as the grandson of Israel Baal Shem Tov,
Rabbi Shneor Zalman remarked that he considered himself the
spiritual son of Rabbi Dov Baer and, therefore, the spiritual
grandson of Israel Baal Shem Tov.
His school, Habad Hasidism (so called because of the initials
of the three divine emanations
Hokhmah, Binah
Wisdom, Discernment and Intuitive Knowledge) is, as the
founder himself puts it, an interpretation of the Hasidism of
Israel Baal Shem Tov and of his successor Rabbi Dov Baer, in
the spirit of Lurianic Kabbalah.
While he has written voluminous commentaries on the Bible
and on the Zohar, most of his doctrines are to be found in the
which is considered the most systematic of hasidic