The Chabad-Chassidic movement was founded in 1772 by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. Upon Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s passing in 1812, the leadership of Chabad was conferred upon his eldest son, Rabbi DovBer.
When Rabbi DovBer passed away fourteen years later, another of Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s children, the venerable chassid Rabbi Chaim Avraham, was still among the living. Rabbi DovBer also left two sons. Nevertheless, the Chabad community instead chose Rabbi Menachem Mendel (the “Tzemach Tzedek”) as their third Rebbe. Rabbi Menachem Mendel was a grandson of Rabbi Schneur Zalman—the son of his daughter, Devorah Leah. He was also a son-in-law of Rabbi DovBer, having married his first cousin, the Rebbetzin Chayah Mushka.
Many years later, the chassid Rabbi Peretz Chein related the events of that crucial time in Chabad history:
“At a conference held by the elder chassidim of Rabbi DovBer, it was decided to place the crown of leadership upon the head of his son-in-law, Rabbi Menachem Mendel. The conference appointed a delegation of chassidim to notify Rabbi Menachem Mendel of its decision.
“The delegation consisted of eighteen chassidim, including Rabbi Hillel of Paritch, Rabbi Yitzchak Aizik of Vitebsk, Rabbi Yitzchak Moshe of Jassy, and myself.
“When we came to the Rebbe to tell him of our decision, he refused to accept the leadership. So passed many months of uncertainty. Finally, on Passover of 5590 (1830), it was decided that the elder chassidim would all converge on Lubavitch for the festival of Shavuot to press for the Rebbe’s acceptance.
“When I arrived in Lubavitch some two weeks before Shavuot, I found many of the guests already there. Within a few days, Rabbi Yitzchak Aizik of Vitebsk, Rabbi Hillel of Paritch, Rabbi Yitzchak Aizik of Homel and the others had arrived, and the conferences and delegations began. Still, the Rebbe refused us, suggesting that we choose Rabbi Chaim Avraham or Rabbi Menachem Nachum, the son of Rabbi DovBer. The community of the chassidim was in great distress.
“On Tuesday, the first of the ‘Three Days of Preparation’ before Shavuot, I was inspired by a spirit of G-d. Standing with Rabbi Hillel and Rabbi Yitzchak Aizik as we pleaded with the Rebbe in the name of thousands of chassidim that he accept the leadership, I said to the Rebbe that I had a clear proof from a saying of the Sages that he, as the grandson of Rabbi Schneur Zalman, was the one for whom the leadership is designated.
“To this, the Rebbe said: ‘One does not play around with a saying of the Sages. Say what is in your mouth and I will hear you out.’
“I then said: ‘It is written: “If a woman shall give seed, and give birth to a male…” From this, the Sages derive: ‘If the woman gives seed first, she gives birth to a male; if the man gives seed first, she gives birth to a female.” It therefore follows that your mother was born from the first seed of your grandfather, and you were born from the first seed of your mother. As his daughter’s son, you are the most fitting heir of our first Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman. As such, you must fulfill the will of the chassidim and accept the leadership.’
“The Rebbe thought for a while, and then said: ‘Agreed, on the condition that I will not be bothered by those seeking advice on material matters.’ ‘Chassidim want to hear Chassidus,’ responded Rabbi Hillel.
“A short while later, the Rebbe appeared dressed in white garments—inherited from his grandfather—sat down on the podium, and began delivering the discourse, The World Stands on Three Things.”
Based on the writings of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber
. Leviticus 12:2.
. Talmud, Niddah 31a.
. Traditionally, a Chabad Rebbe’s delivery of a discourse (maamar) of Chassidic teaching indicated the formal assumption of leadership.
. HaTamim, no. 3, pp. 22-23 [254-255].