By Blair Donner
The life of Rebbe Shneur Zalman, founder and first Rebbe of Chabad, was studied and remembered this past Tuesday at the Chabad at Rutgers. At the weekly Tuesday night dinner, in addition to the usual meal of meats, vegetables, and fresh fruit, the Chabad community shared a toast of wine in the founder’s memory. Rabbi Baruch Goodman also gave a toast relating Rebbe Zalman’s story and the meaning of being a part of the Jewish people. “We are all of one body,” he reminded the students, “No one Jewish person is greater than another, we’re all part of one family.”
In a brief summary, the Alter Rebbe is the founder of the Chabad movement and was born in Liozna, Russia on September 4, 1745. From a young age, beyond excelling in his Jewish studies, he also excelled in a wide range of subjects from mathematics to geometry to philosophy. Upon reaching adulthood, the Alter Rebbe was a renowned scholar of the Talmud, who focused on interpreting Kabalah and Hasidism with rationality and intellectualism. Despite opposition, the Rebbe Zalman was a leader and cultivated a community of Haisdic followers. Furthermore, he actively fundraised for meaningful causes such as providing funds for Jewish emigrants to what is now present-day Israel.
The festival on Tuesday was in celebration of a particular memory of the many that consist of Rebbe Zalman’s fulfilling life. On this day in 5559, or 1798, on the 19th of Kislev, he was released from his fifty-three day long imprisonment in Saint Petersburg. In the eyes of Jewish people throughout the world, this day is not only joyous because of Rebbe Zalman’s release, but also because it begins a new revelation of Talmud study
So why was Rebbe Zalman arrested in the first place? The answer takes place in two parts. First, he was arrested for an earthly reason, which is perceived treason. Second, spiritually his arrest is seen as a response from Heaven because he was teaching the secret complications of Jewish thought too widely and openly. The common parable to demonstrate this crime involves the parable of a king melting a royal crown and abdicating in hopes that a drop of the melted crown will cure his sickly son. In the same way, the Rebbe’s open teachings resemble that of the melted crown and the sickly son resembles the Jewish people. Thus, Rebbe Zalman’s release is interpreted as a new decree in heaven to lift prior limitations in spreading Jewish teachings.
After being set free by the Russian authorities, Rebbe Zalman returned to Liadi, Russia and continued to grow the Chabad and Hassidic movement. On December 15, 1812, he died while freeing the French invasion to escape to Poltava and was buried in Hadiach. Subsequently, the Rebbe Zalman’s son Rabbi Dobcer Schneuri succeeded him in leadership. Today, his established movements continue to grow and develop on an international basis. The Chabad at Rutgers welcomes Jewish students of all background to come and learn more about the Rebbe Zalman and the Chassidic movement.