Thursday, January 15, 2015

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi

While Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745 - 1812) did not come from a family of Chassidim, he would become not only a follower of the new movement, but also the founder of what is today known as Chabad/Lubavitch Chassidut. Born in Liozna, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (today Belarus), Rabbi Shneur Zalman was a great-great grandson of the Maharal of Prague (Rabbi Judah Loew). In his youth, he was noted for his Talmudic scholarship, but he also spent time studying mathematics, geometry and astronomy.

Although Rabbi Shneur Zalman had studied some Kabbalah (mysticism) in his youth, it was nothing compared to that which he would learn as a disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch, who was the successor of the Baal Shem Tov.

By the end of the 18th century, Rabbi Shneur Zalman had become an established Chassidic leader, with thousands of loyal followers. At the same time, there were many who opposed the burgeoning Chassidic movement, and some of these people reported Rabbi Shneur Zalman to the Russian authorities. In 1798, Rabbi Shneur Zalman was arrested. He remained in prison for several weeks on charges of trying to form a new religion and other trumped up charges. The Hebrew day of his release, 19 Kislev, is celebrated to this day as a holiday by Chabad Chassidim.

Two years later, further false charges of rebellious acts against the Russian government led to a second arrest.  That summer, a few months after his release, the rabbi moved his court to the town of Liadi, where it remained until Napoleon’s troop invaded Russia. Although the French promised “freedom,” Rabbi Shneur Zalman recognized the underlying threat to traditional Jewish life that was posed by Napoleon’s army. On 24 Tevet 1812, while fleeing the French, Rabbi Shneur Zalman died. He was succeeded as rebbe by his son, Dovber Shneuri.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi was the author of Tanya (Likkutei Amarim), Shulchan Aruch Harav and Siddur Torah Or.

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