Shneur Zalman Levin., Beis Moshiach
Rabbi Shmaryahu Gurary, known to all by his acronym Rashag, was born on Rosh Chodesh Kislev 5658/1897 in Kremenchug, Russia (now part of Ukraine). His father was Rabbi Menachem Mendel Gurary, one of the great Chassidim of the Rebbe Rashab, and his mother was Mrs. Shaindel Mushka of the Kushansky family. He was a descendant of the wealthy Gurary family that traced its genealogy to the Maharal of Prague.
He was sent to learn in Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim that the Rebbe Rashab established in Lubavitch. The Rebbe Rashab is the one who gave his consent to his shidduch with his oldest granddaughter, Chana. However, the wedding itself took place three months after his passing, on 12 Tammuz 5680.
In the period before the wedding, Rashag ran the branch of the yeshiva in Rostov. The government claimed he did something illegal and jailed him for several weeks. After much political wrangling and pressure, he was released in time for the wedding.
At that time, the communist ideal had become a bitter reality. Private property throughout the country was nationalized and many wealthy families became poor. The general situation in Russia deteriorated rapidly which impacted the situation in the home of the Rebbe Rayatz.
In Sivan 5681, the Rebbe Rayatz married off his oldest daughter to Rashag. The grinding poverty that was felt all around them due to the tremendous economic crash and from which the Rebbe’s home also suffered, was evident at the wedding that took place in the courtyard of the house in Rostov. Only a few guests, from the family, were invited. Among those present were R’ Zalman Gurary (who would always testify with a tone of gratitude to Hashem that he merited to be present at each of the weddings of the Rebbe Rayatz’s three daughters) who later related that the refreshments served at the wedding consisted of cookies and water with some seltzer mixed in.
After he married, Rashag lived in Rostov and he began dealing in business. When he was 24, he opened a factory that manufactured tobacco but the factory did not last.
For nearly all his life, he lived near his father-in-law, the Rebbe Rayatz. Under the latter’s guidance he began being involved in communal work. He was later appointed as the chairman of the steering committee of what became known in America as the United Lubavitcher Yeshivos. He filled this role with dedication for many years until his final day.
INVOLVED IN SAVING THE REBBE RAYATZ
On that terrible night of 15 Sivan 5687/1927, the police entered the home of the Rebbe Rayatz and arrested him. When they finished ransacking the house, before they took him to prison, there was a moment of distraction when Rashag was able to ask, “What should we do? Tell us what you think should be done now.”
The Rebbe answered, “First and foremost, to inform at the ohel of my father in Rostov and at the holy resting places in Lubavitch, Niezhin and Haditch. Likewise, ask Anash to say Tehillim in the shuls during the early days.”
After recovering somewhat from the great travesty, Rashag went to Moscow to meet with the Chassidim and senior askanim in order to align positions with them and come up with a clear course of action in the necessary efforts to free his father-in-law, the Rebbe, for the askanim in Moscow were more familiar with the government ministers who had power and influence.
The Rebbe was released from prison on 3 Tammuz and sent to exile in Kostrama. Few traveled with the Rebbe to exile. Among them were Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka and Rashag.
When Rashag returned from Kostrama the Shabbos after the release, he sat after mincha in the zal and told the others a little of what he heard from the Rebbe about his interrogation and imprisonment. He said that when the Rebbe was asked his age, he did not want to say the age in his passport. He said, “It is a golden chain which extends for over a hundred and fifty years. Every generation another link is added; a more important or less important link but a link in the golden chain …”
After the final release on 12-13 Tammuz, the Rebbe had to leave Russia together with his family. They left at the end of Tishrei 5688 for Riga, Latvia. Rashag joined him.
A year later, Rashag joined the trip the Rebbe Rayatz made to Eretz Yisrael and then his visit to the United States, where he helped with the Rebbe’s meetings with various people.
Throughout the years, Rashag helped his father-in-law in in a long list of activities on behalf of Russian Jewry and world Jewry. The Rebbe sent him on various assignments, some of them diplomatic, requiring great skill. For example, when the Rebbe lived in Riga, he worked on arranging the baking of matza and sending the matza to Russia, in financing the broad spectrum of activities and the material support of rabbonim and klei kodesh (rabbis and other religious public servants).
The space is too limited here to contain and describe the multifaceted public works of Rashag who worked energetically for his father-in-law for Russian Jews and Jews in general. Rashag, as a respected man of intelligence was able to form many personal connections and friendships with men of influence and accomplished much on behalf of the general public.
In 5694/1934, Rashag traveled to Eretz Yisrael to help save a group of Lubavitcher Chassidim from Russia by bringing them to Eretz Yisrael according to the plans of the Joint “to take out 200 families and bring them to Eretz Yisrael.” Regarding the trip, the Rebbe Rayatz wrote warmly in Iyar 5694, “The only one who can do this is my son-in-law, Rashag, who even in matters that I deal with personally is called upon to some extent to carry out my missions, and then there are the matters that he must carry out himself, and all of this involves the expenses of traveling to Paris, London, and also the Holy Land and to be present on the scene.”
After the Rebbe Rayatz moved to Warsaw, he appointed Rashag as a meishiv in Chassidus in the Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim in that city.
SAVED WITH THE REBBE RAYATZ
With the outbreak of World War II, he and his family were together with the Rebbe Rayatz during the German bombing. After a worldwide push, the Chassidim were able to extricate the Rebbe and his family. They were able, miraculously, to leave Europe for the United States.
On 9 Adar I 5700/1940, Rashag entered the United States with his father-in-law.
A few months passed until the 770 building was bought for the Rebbe Rayatz. When the purchase was completed, the Rebbe Rayatz settled on the second floor of the building. The first floor was designated for the offices of the organizations he founded, along with the shul and yeshiva. The third floor was for Rashag and his family and he lived there till his final day.
As soon as the Rebbe Rayatz arrived in the U.S. he started a network of Yeshivos Tomchei Tmimim. He appointed Rashag as its acting administrator. He also appointed him to the position of chairman of the international Agudas Chassidei Chabad.
In 5706-7, many Chabad Chassidim in Russia were able to leave that country. At first, they lived in refugee camps and DP camps. Their material circumstances were difficult and the Rebbe sent Rashag to seek out their welfare. The Rebbe also sent Rashag to start a Chabad settlement in Eretz Yisrael, Kfar Chabad.
As the Rebbe told him to do, every Shabbos Rashag would review a maamar Chassidus during the third Shabbos meal. It was then that his great proficiency in many maamarei Chassidus became known.
BITTUL TO THE REBBE
A new chapter in his life began after the passing of the Rebbe Rayatz on the morning of Shabbos, 10 Shevat 5710. The shock was tremendous and Anash did not know what to do with themselves.
The secretary, Rabbi Leibel Groner, relates that about two hours after the passing, the Rebbe called for his brother-in-law Rashag, held him under his arm, and began walking with him in the corridor on the second floor. Although nobody was there, they did not speak. They just walked back and forth for about half an hour with the Rebbe grasping his brother-in-law’s arm the entire time.
After the histalkus, Chassidim began discussing who would be the next Nasi of Chabad. Some naturally inclined toward the oldest son-in-law Rashag, especially when many did not know Ramash due to his modesty and low-key demeanor. However, in the end, Chassidim decided to crown our Rebbe as Nasi.
Naturally, this choice wasn’t easy for him to take but as time passed, Rashag accepted his brother-in-law, the Rebbe’s authority as Rebbe and leader, and bowed his head before him in extraordinary bittul.
Rashag continued in the role the Rebbe Rayatz had assigned him as administrator of Yeshivos Tomchei Tmimim. Already by Kislev 5712, Rashag brought the donors of the yeshiva for yechidus and the Rebbe said a sicha for them in his room and spoke to them about personal matters.
At the farbrengen of Acharon shel Pesach 5713, Rashag said to the Rebbe, “It is clear to me that you will lead us toward Moshiach! I am hereby giving over all the ‘kochos’ that I have as the older son-in-law. I said this at the Ohel and I am saying it now in public, on condition that you treat me as our father-in-law treated me.”
From then on, Rashag showed complete deference with utter subservience and made hardly any move, small or large, without asking the Rebbe for his view, on communal and private matters.
Rashag began attending the Rebbe’s farbrengens and the Rebbe seated him at his right side, the only one at that table. The pictures of Rashag sitting on the side of the Rebbe’s farbrengen table demonstrate more than anything else what bittul Rashag felt for the Rebbe. Despite the difficulty and great effort involved, he was utterly mekushar to the Rebbe. This hiskashrus was seen in his regular attendance at the Rebbe’s farbrengens. He tried not to miss even one farbrengen until his final days, trying to grasp any hint or directive and carry them out as a mekushar and genuine Chassid.
The Rebbe always showed him special signs of closeness and preserved Rashag’s honor and position as the Rebbe Rayatz’s son-in-law and the Rebbe’s own brother-in-law.
One of the peak moments in which the Rebbe honored him was during hakafos on Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, when they would go together for the first and seventh hakafa.
Whoever crowded in among the thousands who celebrated Simchas Torah in the central beis medrash of Lubavitch, will never forget the high point of the Simchas Torah experience. Hakafos in Lubavitch are known for their over-the-top fervor, the zenith being during the first and last hakafa when the Rebbe himself went to circle the bima. The masses were witness to the Rebbe’s dancing with the Sefer Torah in one hand and his other hand on the shoulder of his brother-in-law, Rashag, and then, there was no limit to the intensity and the ecstasy in the big beis medrash. All eyes were focused on the raised platform in the center, on which the royal dance took place, which took everybody to a state of divestment from physicality.
It was during those moments that all present saw the strength of Rashag’s hiskashrus to the Rebbe. With self-sacrifice, he exerted himself to keep time with the furious pace of the heavenly dance. He would mobilize every remaining drop of his bodily strength in order to carry out his role. The Rebbe would stop dancing when he saw that Rashag could no longer go on. This sight repeated itself for nearly forty years.
Rashag had a set place during tefillos, to the left of the Rebbe and to the right of the chazan, on the east side of the shul. Every time the Rebbe left the shul, he nodded a greeting and wished him a “gut Shabbos,” “gut Yom Tov,” etc.
Space does not allow me to lay out the copious materials demonstrating this bond, but from letters on the subject, we can learn what the bittul and hiskashrus of a Chassid toward his Rebbe are about.
It was 5726 when Rashag traveled to Eretz Yisrael to visit his mother. He planned on also visiting Chabad communities and mosdos there as well as rabbanim and public figures. For this purpose, he asked the administrator of the yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael, Rabib Efraim Wolf, to help him prepare a tight schedule:
“In connection with the visits I will make in Eretz Yisrael,” he wrote him, “on Monday in Kfar Chabad and Lud. On Tuesday at Toras Emes and Shikun Chabad and with Rabbi S.Y. Zevin, and if necessary then also with Rabbi Unterman.”
But the Rebbe especially instructed him to treat this visit exclusively as a private matter and not to use the trip to visit mosdos and communities. Two days later, Rashag wrote to R’ Wolf again, canceling the plans:
“According to instructions from my brother-in-law the Rebbe, I am to remain in Eretz Yisrael only until Wednesday of parshas Mattos-Masei; my trip to Eretz Yisrael is only for personal matters and therefore, I cancel what I wrote you previously … and to stress that when I am in Eretz Yisrael, I won’t visit anywhere … and this by order of my brother-in-law, the Rebbe.”
The special relationship between the Rebbe and Rashag can also be seen in Rashag’s letters to the Rebbe, from which we can learn much about his hiskashrus and bittul toward the Rebbe.
ADMINISTRATOR OF TOMCHEI TMIMIM
Rashag’s main job was Tomchei Tmimim. For forty years, he worked on developing, supporting and expanding it, in quantity and quality, while being faithful to the original spirit of its origins in Lubavitch and carefully preserving its unique character.
There is a fascinating personal conversation that took place with the Rebbe on Shabbos parshas Shelach 5714, when Rashag asked the Rebbe for a bracha for the dinner that would be taking place for the yeshiva. It seems that at that time, Rashag was overwhelmed by the pressures of the job and he refused to accept additional talmidim into the yeshiva and the Rebbe blessed him, “If students will be accepted, an increase in students, there will also be an increase of influence with success.”
Rashag presented his request, “Rebbe, give a bracha that is unconditional,” but the Rebbe responded in uncharacteristic language, “I am only giving over to you what was told to me.”
Over the years, he dedicated himself body and soul for Tomchei Tmimim around the world. He did not just serve in an administrative capacity but went on extended trips to raise money.
He saw his work as administrator of the yeshivos as a holy mission, as he once wrote to Rabbi Shneur Zalman Gurewitz of Montreal, “Without a doubt or shadow of a doubt, all those who are in the upper world in Gan Eden are delighting in the expansion of Tomchei Tmimim in the United States. As you can see with your own eyes when you come from time to time to visit my brother-in-law, the Rebbe – may Hashem send him a complete healing and an imminent healing, speedily, and fulfill all his heart’s requests for good and blessing mamosh, for length of good days amen, – the talmidim-tmimim, who stand crowded in all corners of the beis medrash and they give their all to listen to the words my brother-in-law, the Rebbe says, and are attentive to every utterance that leaves his holy mouth, and are always ready, with literal mesirus nefesh, to spread the wellsprings of Torah and Chassidus outward in all corners of the earth.”
One of his trips in the period after the Rebbe accepted the nesius, was to Chicago. R’ Shneur Zalman Hecht, one of the shluchim in Chicago, accompanied him for his return to New York. They were supposed to arrive on a Thursday but R’ Hecht was surprised when Rashag told him that they would not arrive in New York before Shabbos.
R’ Hecht asked Rashag how he knew this. Rashag said, “Today, I spoke with my brother-in-law, the Rebbe on the phone and at the end of the conversation he wished me a good Shabbos from which I conclude that we won’t arrive for Shabbos.”
That’s what happened. On their way there was a storm which forced them to remain in the city until after Shabbos.
Another story from his fundraising trips which demonstrates Rashag’s genuine hiskashrus to the Rebbe was told by the Chassid, R’ Pinye Altheus. It was in 5720 when he traveled with Rashag to Venezuela to raise money for the yeshiva from a certain wealthy man. Before they left, the Rebbe warned them against talking about money matters before the man committed to something in Torah and mitzvos.
They followed this instruction and met with him again and again, each time, trying to inspire him to add something, even something small, but he refused. At the same time, they could not tell him up front that they would not accept his donation until he committed to something. Despite the enormous psychological hardship involved, they avoided soliciting any donation from him and they returned to New York empty-handed and disconsolate.
Rashag’s hiskashrus to the Rebbe left R’ Pinye astounded. Rashag consulted with the Rebbe about everything having to do with the yeshivos. From letters that he sent to the Rebbe, we note how involved the Rebbe was in every detail of the running of the yeshiva over which he was placed in charge, as well as the help that Rashag received in dealing with the problems and debts.
For example, he wrote on erev Rosh Hashana 5732, “ … I ask that Kevod Kedushaso mention me in his prayers and that Hashem grant me great success this year so that I can do away with all the debts of the yeshivos and so I can run the yeshivos in peace and expansiveness and without any aggravation ..”
On erev Rosh Hashana 5738, he wrote to the Rebbe and asked, “… May Hashem grant outstanding success in the running of the yeshivos in tranquility and absolute expansiveness, and that I pay all the yeshivos’ debts and that we have more students in our yeshivos, and that the yeshiva have success both spiritually and materially … and that I be among those who help carry out the holy work in spreading Torah and fear of Heaven which is run by my brother-in-law the Rebbe with outstanding success for length of days and good years.”
When Rashag visited Eretz Yisrael in 5729, he gave a rare interview to Panim el Panim about Tomchei Tmimim. What stands out are the following lines that show his admiration and love for the Rebbe:
“The scope of the work of Chabad has grown and deepened in the last nineteen years, the period of rule and leadership of my brother-in-law, the Rebbe. Thousands of young people around the entire world have become integrated into the ideological/spiritual web of Chabad, and have learned to bear with strength and pride the spark of mesirus nefesh that is passed down in Chabad from generation to generation!”
One year, the Rebbe urged Chabad schools to raise the salaries of the teachers. Rashag wrote to the Rebbe that there had recently been a meeting of the Central Tomchei Tmimim administration in which they decided to raise the salaries, but now, considering the Rebbe’s new instruction, he decided on an additional raise (even though this was for many employees and entailed a large sum). He expressed his hopes that the Rebbe would be pleased.
AT THE KING’S TABLE
One of Rashag’s great privileges, as far as the Chassidim were concerned, was the fact that he got to serve as “middleman” between the Rebbe and the Chassidim during the holiday meals that took place between 5710 and 5731.
These meals took place in the Rebbe Rayatz’s apartment. A handful of elder Chassidim, led by Rashag, attended holiday meals with the Rebbe. A few tmimim and Anash decided to take advantage of this auspicious time and would mostly ask him to present their questions on various matters in Nigleh and Chassidus, halacha and Chabad customs, and even the Rebbe’s customs, to the Rebbe. The Rebbe would respond as only he could.
Rashag did so faithfully and in the final years, the Rebbe would even ask Rashag directly, “Did they like the answer?” and he would add and clarify a detail.
There were many interesting conversations during those meals (which are quoted at length in two volumes called HaMelech B’Mesibo). Here is one instance:
It was at the end of the first seder in 5729 when Rashag got up the courage and said to the Rebbe, “C”K Admor shlita should lead us toward Moshiach Tzidkeinu.”
The Rebbe asked, “Ah?” and Rashag repeated what he said with a slight emendation, “May C”K Admor shlita with C”K my father-in-law Admor lead us toward Moshiach Tzidkeinu.” The Rebbe answered, “Amen.” Then Rashag went on to request that they, “bring me also into the circle.” The Rebbe said, “We are sitting together at the seder, so we will eat the Korban Pesach together too.”
THE FINAL DAYS
In his final years, Rashag lived entirely alone, with the Rebbe and Rebbetzin seeing to all of his needs and that he receive the necessary care from the finest doctors. Every day, the Rebbetzin would call his house and speak with the bachur who was there to assist him, questioning him and making certain of the well-being of her brother-in-law. One of the times, the Rebbetzin even gave the bachur the direct line to her house, which was unlisted, so he could update her about any developments.
Once, when Rashag was hospitalized, the Rebbe finished a Shabbos farbrengen, wrapped a piece of cake in a napkin, got up and took his siddur and the cake to where he stood for mincha. During the Torah reading of mincha, when R’ Zalman Gurary went over to perform gelila on the Sefer Torah as was his custom, and passed the Rebbe, the Rebbe placed a hand on his shoulder and said, “Most likely you are going this evening to my brother-in-law. Take this and please give it to him.”
It was not for nothing that after the passing of the Rebbetzin on 22 Shevat 5748, Rashag gave a rare interview to the Algemeiner Journal in which he burst into tears and said, “I feel like an orphan who lost his mother.”
Rashag gave his final speech on Tuesday, erev Chai Elul 5748, in the yard of 770 when the cornerstone was laid for the new shul. The Rebbe delivered a sicha and then gave Rashag (and Mr. David Chase) the honor of saying a few words.
Shabbos morning, 6 Adar I 5749, Rashag passed away. That same day, at the farbrengen, the Rebbe mentioned this and spoke of the privilege that he had that the “Nasi of our generation” appointed him to the administration of the yeshiva and the tremendous results of his work that could readily be seen by everyone.
His funeral took place the next day and the Rebbe led the way and accompanied the bier until the grave was fully covered. Rashag was buried to the right of the Ohel, near his father-in-law, the Rebbe Rayatz. After Shabbos, the Rebbe said to print a new edition of Tanya even before the end of the shiva.
Throughout the sheloshim, the Rebbe davened in his brother-in-law’s home on the third floor of 770, an exceedingly rare occurrence.
Right after the shiva, the matzeiva was erected. It was a Sunday afternoon, close to the time that the Rebbe went to the Ohel, since the Rebbe expressed the desire to be present for the unveiling of the stone.
The Rebbe turned toward where the stone stood and despite the narrow passageway between the graves, pushed in very close to the place of the stone. During the event, a number of chapters of Tehillim were recited.
For the third yartzeit, the Rebbe mentioned him in a sicha, saying, Today is the yom hilula of the chairman of the steering committee of Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim, including all the branches that were added after that…” The Rebbe went on to mention that he filled this role for the main part of his life as well as the end of his life in this world, for many decades, and that he also has “his children are alive” in the form of the students of Tomchei Tmimim. He concluded with the main thing being the Resurrection of the Dead, since the Tzaddikim get up first “especially when they are coming with a great legion, their students and students’ students…”
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