History Repeats Itself: The Failed Mesira of 1826
On this day in 5587 (1826) the Mitteler Rebbe – Reb Dovber Schneerson- was released from his imprisonment in the city of Vitebsk. During the preceding Chol Hamo’ed Sukot it became known that the Mitteler Rebbe had been slandered (Mossered on). (Hayom Yom 10 Kislev)
At the time of his father’s death Rabbi Dovber was in Krementchug in Little Russia, and from there he went to settle in Lubavitch in White Russia.
En route, Chassidim provided him with means to establish himself in his new home. Upon his arrival, however, he decided to distribute these funds to the needy and wrote to a relative about forming a committee of three to supervise the allocation. In this letter he referred to a “considerable” sum.
Years later this letter came into the hands of the recipient’s heir, an unscrupulous and vengeful enemy of Rabbi Dovber. He harbored an implacable hatred of the Rebbe for some personal family “slight.” With judicious doctoring the figures in the letter, “three or four thousand rubles” became “one hundred and three or four thousand.” Indeed a “considerable” sum. What could be its purpose? And how did he gather such a sum on so short a journey? Obviously he was planning a revolution!
The money was destined for the Turks who then ruled the Holy Land. The regular remittances to needy scholars there lent an air of credibility to the charges. Other weird accusations were made concerning the dimensions of the Rebbe’s synagogue being similar to those of the Jerusalem Temple, and that meant that he intended to be king of Israel!
The similarity to the charges leveled against Rabbi Shneur Zalman in 5558 (1798) is striking.
In the autumn of 5587 (1826) Rabbi Dovber was instructed to appear in Vitebsk, the provincial capital. This was done in a most respectful manner through high-ranking officers and the arrangements were made to suit the Rebbe.
Hundreds accompanied him from Lubavitch, and at every village the elders met him with the traditional bread and salt. The honor accorded him by Jew and gentile deeply impressed the officials.
Governor-General Chavanski, a harsh man who had little affection for Rabbi Dovber, conducted the investigation. Important dignitaries interceded on his behalf. He was treated courteously and later he was permitted to worship publicly and to lecture on Chassidism.
The inquiry dragged on for several weeks. The Mitteler Rebbe was not worried, and he answered all of the questions. “The letter is a fake,” he explained. “These people made up lies about me.” The governor felt that he was telling the truth, but to prove everything 100 percent, he decided to bring the accuser and the Rebbe together. “When the two of them are in front of each other, whoever is lying won’t stay strong and the truth will come out,” the governor thought.
When the two met at the governor’s house, the Mitteler Rebbe was wearing his Shabbos clothes and he even came to the house in a carriage. The Mittelet Rebbe spoke calmly and clearly explained why all the charges were lies. But all the accuser could say was “But… but…,” and it was clear he had nothing to say. The governor lost his patience and angrily banished the accuser, who looked like a fool.
The Mitteler Rebbe was officially informed that he was completely exonerated of all suspicion and released on the tenth of the month of Kislev, a date which has since been a festival amongst Chassidim. [The date of his release, Kislev 10, is celebrated amongst Chabad Chassidim as a “festival of liberation.”]
His death, a year later, on the 9th of Kislev, 5588 (1827), exactly fifty-four years after his birth, marked the end of an important chapter in the history of Chabad.
Rabbi Dovber had plumbed the depths of his father’s teachings, explored their implications and developed the doctrines in detail and depth. His father was the creative, original thinker, the founder of a movement. Rabbi Dovber achieved its consolidation and advanced Chabad’s manifold activities.