Publisher’s Foreword To The Bicentennial Edition
On Wednesday, Chai Elul [5505/1745 ,]…, the Baal Shem Tov returned from immersion in the mikveh in such lofty spirits and so joyful that his disciples were surprised.
As he led the morning prayers, they were all amazed by the lively, festive melodies that accompanied them…. This was clearly an extraordinary day.
After the prayers, the tzaddik invited them to participate in the kind of festive meal that celebrates a mitzvah. He was exceptionally joyous. It was then that he said: “On Wednesday, the luminaries were suspended [in the heavens]. And on [this] Wednesday, a new soul descended that will illumine the world with both the teachings of nigleh, the revealed insights of Torah Law, and the mystical teachings of Chassidus. That soul will have to sacrifice itself in [order to
champion] the path of Chassidus, [but] will prevail until the coming of Mashiach.
As is well known, the Baal Shem Tov was speaking about the Alter Rebbe, R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi, who was born on that very day in far-off Liozna. Indeed, his very name2 alludes to his life
mission — illuminating the world in those two realms of Torah scholarship.
A Lifetime of Challenge
Divine Providence works in ways that man’s wisdom cannot fathom. Instead of being granted the opportunity to spread his teachings unhindered, amidst comfort and ease, the Alter Rebbe was subjected to a lifetime of struggle. He faced challenges from within the Jewish community and was imprisoned and subjected to harsh treatment by the czarist authorities. Indeed, his very life was cut short by travail.
In 5572 (1812), Napoleon invaded Russia. The Alter Rebbe saw him as a disruptive force that would rock the spiritual tranquility that characterized Russia’s Jewish community, and therefore urged his chassidim to employ all their energies and resources to support the Czar in the battle against him.
As Napoleon’s armies advanced, the Alter Rebbe had to flee. He did not want to be under Napoleon’s rule for one moment. Weakened by the journey and the harsh Russian winter, on the 18th of Teves, 5573 (1812), the Alter Rebbe took sick. Six days later, on the 24th of Teves, as his sons record in their Preface to the present work,3 “he became bound with the Holy One, blessed be He, in a single bond.”
His Teachings: Our Life
In that Preface, the Alter Rebbe’s sons explain how they saw their father’s life and mission perpetuated in his works:
This, now, is our partial comfort. His teachings are our life; we live on his words even now, for they are alive and eternal, shining and illuminating….We have now come, therefore, to uphold the words of our father and to publish and circulate his wisdom and his teachings throughout the world.
With that intent, shortly after returning to White Russia and settling in Lubavitch, the Mitteler Rebbe began preparing the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch for publication, and in 5574 (1814), a little more than a year later, the first volume was printed.
Time Spirals Upward
Chassidus and Kabbalah perceive time as cyclic, but since the passage of time also entails advance and growth, time can be seen as an upward spiral. For that reason, the Alter Rebbe’s yahrzeit has always been viewed as a time to rededicate oneself to the intensification of the study and dissemination of his teachings. That said, when a year is obviously a milestone, it deserves — and receives — special focus. In that vein, from Chai Elul of 5722 (1962), some four months before the 150th anniversary of the Alter Rebbe’s passing, the Rebbe encouraged his listeners to intensify their study of the Alter Rebbe’s works, putting special focus on the Shulchan Aruch.4 And on the anniversary itself, he conducted a siyum5 of that work and urged that its study be invigorated even further.
How This Edition Evolved
In 5772 (2012), as the 200th anniversary of the Alter Rebbe’s passing approached, a small group of chassidim felt a pressing need. For the many who could not understand the text in its original, the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch was a closed book; a complete translation did not exist. True, ten years before, the translation of this Torah classic had been initiated and eight volumes had since been published, but the project had halted midstream and for several years, no new volume had been printed. A staff was soon gathered together and resources were found.
Two trusty patrons of Torah, Rabbi Yonah Mordechai Weiss of Los Angeles, California, and his brother, Rabbi Moshe Aaron Tzvi Weiss, shliach to Sherman Oaks, California, heirs to a family tradition of dedication to scholarship and to the Rebbe’s work, stepped forward at this point and undertook to help shoulder the financial burden of the project. Moreover, they were not mere absentee landlords. Rather, they focused their energies on improving both the text’s content and its graphic presentation.
This volume, the first fruits of those efforts, features a modernized layout planned and designed by the creative minds at Spotlight Design in Brooklyn, NY. Three significant features of the design:
1) The text on each page is presented in two facing columns that enable a reader to alternate more readily between the original and the translation.
2) The footnote markers keyed to the English notes were added to the Hebrew text as well, to enable a reader studying in Hebrew to access them.
3) In a reversion to the text’s initial layout, the glosses of the Kuntreis Acharon were placed at the back of the main body of the book.
Alter Rebbe Weiss Edition Vol. 1