The Rebbe Rashab’s European Tours




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    The Rebbe Rashab’s European Tours

    From Beis Moshiach Magazine: Under the guise of health-related trips, the Rebbe Rashab spent many months a year out of Russia visiting many European cities for reasons mainly associated with the Rebbe’s public work on behalf of Klal Yisrael. We collected stories and anecdotes from these European tours which included places like the Parisian Louvre Museum, the “Wiener Riesenrad” — Vienna’s famous ferris wheel, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany’s gardens, and the Old Jewish Ghetto of Prague, just to name a few of the destinations… • Full Article

    By Ari Rubin, Beis Moshiach Magazine

    There were long stretches of time in the life of the Rebbe Rashab in which he traveled around Europe. This was often for communal matters as well as visits to doctors and spa towns since his health required particular supervision. Sometimes, the Rebbe was not in Lubavitch for months. On all these trips, the Rebbe also accomplished things unknown to most.

    There were times that, on these trips, the Rebbe visited some interesting places. Sometimes, these were places that Chassidim would not normally visit. The Rebbe Rashab always learned lessons in avodas Hashem in these places. There were also times that the Rebbe accomplished hidden matters or helped a Jew in distress. The following incidents are taken from Igros Kodesh and the notes of Chassidim from that time.


    On these trips, the Rebbe Rashab would take many sefarim that he needed. Each time, before leaving Lubavitch, he would watch how they loaded the sefarim on the wagon. Tmimim and Anash took this opportunity to see the Rebbe for another few minutes and then parted from him.

    One time, the Rebbe went over to the wagon driver and spoke with him. Then he stood and watched how the sefarim were being loaded. The Rebbe himself related, “I noticed that the wagon driver was smearing tar on the wagon wheels while the wagon was loaded. I said to him: When the wagon is loaded and heavy, it’s harder to smear the tar. Why don’t you do that when the wagon is empty?

    “He said: Right, now it’s heavier, but the smearing adheres better when the wagon is heavy and it’s very worthwhile.”

    The Rebbe learned from this: When the avoda is difficult, it lasts longer.


    This seems to have happened in 5644. The Rebbe Rashab spent most of that year in France and once visited the famous Louvre, one of oldest and largest museums in the world which is located in the center of Paris. The museum is  in a huge palace that was built hundreds of years ago.

    The Rebbe walked around the paintings and artwork on display, examining them one by one. There were some huge, detailed creations, paintings on the wall, and many other works of art. Despite his time being precious to him, the Rebbe was interested in three large paintings which were creations of the famous artist, Raphael, an Italian who lived at the time of the expulsion from Spain. His paintings were alive and busy with hundreds of details.

    Nobody could possibly plumb the Rebbe’s deep intentions, but he stood there for hours and looked at them. As he said afterward, he not only learned lessons in avodas Hashem but these paintings also “gave birth” to many ideas in the teachings of Chassidus. Not surprisingly, after this lengthy contemplation, the Rebbe shared many insights even down to the smallest details.

    He described the paintings to his son, later the Rebbe Rayatz. The extraordinary descriptions take the reader on a journey of the imagination and a highly developed artistic sense. From these descriptions, we can get a glimpse of the extent of the contemplation of the Rebbe Rashab as he took note of so many details, large and small.

    The following are descriptions by the Rebbe Rayatz:

    “The first picture showed a large a battlefield with soldiers fighting one another. On a high place stood officers watching with telescopes, how their soldiers fought against their enemies.

    “This painting literally instills fear! On this side are streams of blood and the people’s faces are inflamed with bloodlust like wild animals. On the other side lie the wounded without legs and broken arms. Here and there the injured are crawling and merciful medics carry three wounded on one stretcher with a doctor walking alongside. Suddenly, a bullet explodes and tears one of the medics and the doctor to bits. The stretcher falls and the injured topple into a deep pit. One of the cavalrymen is riding on a powerful steed and they are hit by a cannonball that rips them to shreds and sends them flying. As the bodies of the rider and horse fly through the air, a second rider races on a galloping horse. In his right hand he is waving his sword and in his left he holds the horse’s reins. His mouth is open, apparently issuing directions and orders to the combatants and after him race other riders. In the distance, a unit of riders can be seeing charging towards them, and even before they reach each other, smoke arises from the space between them.

    “This picture was critiqued by many military men who all agree that this is what actually goes on. One of the visitors of the painting, after gazing upon it for hours suddenly collapsed in a faint on the floor. A doctor who was called in explained that the painting was so realistic that the man had fainted in fright; he imagined himself in the war.”

    A description of the second painting:

    “A field of grain, part of it sown with wheat and part with barley. The grain is ripe. The sky is clear and the sun is shining brightly. There is a path on the side of the field. In the field sown with barley there is a light breeze and it appears like a wave rippling across the tops of the barley. In the wheat field there is no indication of the breeze because all of the grain stalks are standing upright. On one stalk is perched a little bird. At the end of the field there is a tree with many branches and a black raven sits on a branch. Under the tree is a mound of fallen bits from the tree made by ants and about three steps away from the tree there sits a lizard, sunning itself.

    “While [the Rebbe Rashab] pondered the painting and imagined to himself the field of wheat in Shtzerbene, the village where they cut the wheat for matzos in Lubavitch, a simple farmer arrived who said the painting was nice and all but was not accurate. The art experts scoffed and mocked his ignorance but the farmer ignored them. He gathered a group of people around him and began to lecture. Artists and many experts gathered round and listened closely to the farmer who explained that since there was a bird on one of the stalks, the stalk should have bent, while in the painting, it stood tall like the others. This demonstrated that the painting was not as realistic as it seemed.

    “Hearing this, the group of experts were very impressed when they realized his attention to detail as simple as he was.”

    The Rebbe described the third painting:

    “The third painting depicts a Roman court: The court jail where the prisoners are kept, bound in iron shackles, the hall of judges and their place of repose, those up for judgment standing while they await their fate, the witnesses, the prosecutor and defense, and the people gathered to hear the judgment rendered. Among the crowd stands family of the prisoner, who have fainted from the words of the prosecutor, in his quest to render a harsh decision on the fate of the judged.



    “A small child stands beseeching the judges, begging to say a few words on behalf of his father before he is sentenced to death. The child stands on a chair, his arms outstretched, his right arm points to the gathered crowd while his eyes stare at the judges, as if to say, ‘You must know, judges, that you will need to give an account on High for every word you say, and you also need to reckon with the views of all those gathered at the court, who think that a false accusation has been aimed at my father who is innocent of any crime.’

    “The one being judged sits with his head between his knees. The defense lawyer stands with his mouth open, signs of joy etched into his face as tears drip from his eyes. The prosecutor with an angry face and eyes closed as all listen and the judges sit, their mouths open and their eyes full of tears, and silence has fallen over the entire court despite the crowds so that even a fly or mosquito can be heard.”

    When the Rebbe Rashab stood facing the painting, he found it hard to tear himself away for quite some time. Afterward, he even brought a chair and continued to sit facing the painting for a long time until the museum was closing.

    The Rebbe went back to the museum in the days that followed in order to see the painting additional times. He said that it made a powerful impression on him. Later, he taught the Rebbe Rayatz lessons in avodas Hashem from every painting.


    In 5663, the Rebbe Rashab visited Vienna. While he was there, he visited an amusement park in Prater Park including a giant Ferris wheel, the first of its kind and size in the world.

    The Rebbe Rashab later described it in yechidus:

    “A large wheel, high above the ground. On its sides hang wagons made of glass and decorated with metal trimmings so that the one riding is able to see from all angles. When the wagon is lifted off the ground, he is also lifted. And when he reaches the highest point, he is able to see very far. The wheel turns and the wagons begin to descend, and in this way the turning of the wheel brings about the ascent and descent of the wagons.

    “Chazal say, ‘This world is a turning wheel.’ There is a time when the person is on top, and there is a time when the person is on the bottom. The nature of man is that when he is on top, he feels uplifted and laughs. But he is a fool because his wagon is hanging on a turning wheel. When the wagon descends, he cries and he is nothing but a fool because his wagon is attached to the turning wheel.” The Rebbe Rashab concluded the yechidus, “Hashem will help and that good day will come when the wagon will ascend.”


    On one of his visits to Paris, the Rebbe Rashab went around with his son not far from the hospital. As they passed it, they noticed a Jew standing and sobbing. When they asked him what was wrong, he said his wife was having a hard time in labor and her life was in danger. The Rebbe said he wanted to speak to her and after some efforts they were allowed to enter the birthing room. The Rebbe asked the woman whether she committed to lighting Shabbos candles every erev Shabbos. Because of her difficult situation, she could not reply but she nodded. The Rebbe immediately blessed her, and a short time later she gave birth to a healthy child.


    The Rebbe Rashab’s routine when traveling was to rest on the couch after lunch. He neither lay down nor sat but inclined on the couch. He called this, valgeren zich (lit. wandering about).

    One time, Rayatz noticed his father resting in this way but it was taking more time than usual. In addition, his father’s eyes looked somewhat different and he was inclined on his side. Rayatz did not know whether his father was awake or asleep. He was afraid to wake him but he was also afraid to leave him as he was. He began walking around, making some noise; perhaps this would wake his father. When this did not help, he began to drag furniture in the room but this did not help either.

    After many hours, the Rebbe suddenly woke up and asked his son, “What day is it? What parsha is it today?”

    Rayatz answered his questions but his father still seemed confused. The Rebbe got up from the couch and began getting ready for Maariv. He davened at great length like on Rosh Hashana and he even sang the Alter Rebbe’s niggun which was reserved for special days.

    The next morning, the Rebbe Rashab said he wanted to walk to several places. Since he didn’t say his son should go with him, his son understood he should remain at the hotel.

    Not long afterward, a messenger from some store knocked at the door with a package in his hand and asked: Does Schneerson live here?” When Rayatz said he did, the messenger gave him the package and said that a certain gentleman had bought it and asked that it be delivered.

    As the hours went by, more and more messengers arrived with packages from stores. What all the packages had in common was they were from companies that operated women’s clothing stores. Rayatz thought his father was buying presents for his [Rayatz’s] daughters.

    The Rebbe returned to the hotel in the evening and told his son to get ready to travel. Rayatz packed their belongings and within a short time they were on a train to Pressburg. Upon arriving there, Rayatz wanted to order a wagon to take them from the train station into the city but the Rebbe said he wanted to walk.

    As they walked, they met a young man who was rushing. The Rebbe stopped him and asked where the hotel and restaurant of R’ Avrohom Bick was. The young man said, “I have no time. Go straight and ask over there.” But the Rebbe persisted, “Is this how you fulfill the mitzva of hospitality? You see that strangers have arrived. We are walking from the train station!”



    The young man realized he hadn’t behaved politely and he began to patiently explain the way to the hotel. He added that the hotel owner had recently passed away and his family was sitting shiva. Apparently, the man had passed to the next world while the Rebbe had been lost in his thoughts…

    Upon arriving at the hotel, they took a room and put down their suitcases. After a short rest the Rebbe said his son should join him in a walk around the city. As they walked, they arrived at a yeshiva where the Rebbe spoke with some bachurim in learning, including the bachur they had met earlier. There was another bachur with whom the Rebbe spoke in learning a lot and then highly praised him.

    Then the Rebbe went to console the widow of the owner of the hotel and her three daughters. The Rebbe steered the conversation in a such a way that they got on the topic of efforts to marry off her daughters.

    Hearing this, the woman began to complain about the poor state of her finances which had only gotten worse after her husband’s passing, about the cost of clothing, and about how suitable shidduchim were not being suggested.

    When she finished, the Rebbe calmed her and suggested that she marry her first daughter to the yeshiva bachur he had talked in learning with earlier, and her second daughter with the bachur they met on the street. He told her not to worry about clothing and a dowry since he had taken care of that. He handed her the packages of clothing that he bought the day before.

    Five years later, the Rebbe Rayatz went back there and inquired about the three daughters. He was happy to discover that the three of them were living happily with the husbands that the Rebbe had suggested for them who served in various rabbinic positions.


    One year, the Rebbe Rashab went with Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Schneerson, the Rebbe’s father, to the place where Maharam, Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg (1215-1293) was imprisoned and died. He had been imprisoned by Rudolf I after he tried escaping from Germany. After being imprisoned in the fortress of Ensisheim, the Jews of Germany wanted to redeem him for a large ransom. Maharam refused to allow this, saying captives should not be redeemed for more than their value. After seven years he passed away and another seven years passed before his holy body was redeemed and brought to burial.

    When the Rebbe Rashab visited the city, he wanted to see the place where Maharam was held prisoner in the fortress. At that point, the Rebbe bent down to the window of the cell which was at ground level, such that he had to stretch out on the ground and stretch his head toward the window in order to look inside.

    Despite this not being dignified, it did not faze the Rebbe. At a later point, R’ Levi Yitzchok related how difficult it was for him to see the Rebbe stretched out on the ground. He even tried to prevent the Rebbe from doing this, saying it was difficult and the Rebbe shouldn’t exert himself. The Rebbe said, “I want to see the place where Maharam of Rothenburg zt’l passed away.”

    R’ Levi Yitzchok said that they also visited the shul of the Maharal in Prague. According to tradition, the golem made by the Maharal was in the attic of the shul. The Rebbe Rashab asked for a ladder to climb up to the attic. Although he was told that nobody had the nerve to climb up there due to the tremendous fear, he climbed the ladder until his head was inside the attic space. When he came down, his face was white. The Rebbe said he also thought nobody had permission to enter there.


    In 5666, when the Rebbe Rashab was in Berlin with Rayatz, they went to talk in the “Kaiserlicher Garden.” This garden was part of the palatial grounds that surrounded Emperor Wilhelm’s palace, called Sanssouci. When the emperor wasn’t in the garden it was open to visitors on condition that they wore a sort of slipper over their shoes so as not to dirty the garden. Because of shatnez concerns, the Rebbe was unwilling to use these slippers. Rayatz bribed a guard who turned a blind eye and they wore regular shoes which were wrapped in their white handkerchiefs so as not to be noticeably different.

    They walked here and there when they suddenly noticed a small sitting room reserved for Kaiser Wilhelm. When he would visit the garden he would go inside to rest. There was a regular guard there whose job was to make sure nobody entered. The Rebbe said he wanted to go in.

    The park had tables and benches and servants were available to assist visitors. The Rebbe and his son sat on a bench and continued talking. At some point, Rayatz rang for a server who came over to them. Rayatz asked for mineral water and gave him a large coin and said he should keep the change for his efforts The man was surprised by the tip and this created a friendliness between them. Rayatz asked whether it would be possible to enter the kaiser’s sitting room. The man, realizing his reward would be even larger, said he would check. In the meantime, he suggested that they stay where they were. A few minutes later he returned and said they should wait until fewer people were about the garden and then they could enter.

    That’s what they did. They waited until the garden emptied and then they went over to the outer opening of the palace. Two guards motioned to the Rebbe to enter as they continued standing guard for unexpected surprises.

    The Rebbe went in and stood next to a table. Next to him was an upholstered royal chair. On the desk were paper, a pen and an inkwell. The Rebbe sat on the chair and said, “Ah kluge shtul” (a clever chair). He took a fresh piece of paper and began writing the maamar “Vayeilech Ish Mi’Beis Levi” 5666.

    The Rebbe said that he experienced a “wondrous opening of the senses” caused by the entire incident.

    On the last Purim of the Rebbe’s life, in 5680/1920, at the end of the meal, he went to his room followed by his son. The Rebbe took a sheet of paper from his drawer and asked, “Yosef Yitzchok, do you recognize this?” Without waiting for an answer, he took a match and burned it. Those were the pages from the kaiser’s room on which he had written the maamar.

    Rayatz cried out, “Tatte, Tatte!” His father said, “Tatte… a father knows what he’s doing.”

    A similar thing happened in another room of the kaiser in the city of Würzburg.


    When the Rebbe Rashab was in Germany in 5674, he noticed signs hung all over advertising tickets for a horse race that would take place somewhere. The sign also said that Kaiser Wilhelm would be attending the race.

    The Rebbe Rashab sent for tickets to be bought for him and for Rebbetzin Sterna Sarah. The Gurary family, who were close with Beis Rebbi, were Chassidim and men of deeds and it did not occur to them to go to a horse race, but when they heard that the Rebbe would be attending, they also bought tickets.

    At the race, the Rebbe spent a lot of time looking at Kaiser Wilhelm’s face. Chassidim then said that the horse race was the preparation for World War I which began at the end of that year, and the Rebbe certainly had a hidden intention for going there.


    Erev Shabbos, parshas Vayeitzei, 6 Kislev 5674, the Rebbe went from where he was staying in Vienna, to Rome. This was after he heard that the vessels of the Mikdash were in the Vatican. The Rebbe wanted to enter the Vatican and check things out for himself.

    The Rebbe went to Rome with his aide, R’ Avrohom. Since it was erev Shabbos, the Rebbe planned on going to the rav of the city who was in his shul in order to arrange entry to the Vatican.

    However, the Rebbe then found out that in that shul where the rabbi davened, there was a choir and the place was like a church. People went to this shul more for the performance than to daven. Therefore, he did not go there but walked a long distance to get to the rav but the rav was not there. The Rebbe was very bothered by the whole thing but since he did not want to remain in the city any longer, he said they should leave Sunday morning.

    A few days later, he wrote to his son from Menton in France, “If I had thought of going there previously, I would have made arrangements in advance from Vienna or Budapest, because according to my assessment, vessels of the Mikdash are there but they do not display the precious things. We didn’t lose any time in our travel, but the exertion involved was greater than if we had traveled by way of Milan.”


    In 5671, the Rebbe and his son were in Menton. They took a walk along the beach, near magnificent scenery as the Rebbe Rayatz described:

    “In a corner of amazing views, between the sea and a forest, my father showed me a bench among the trees.”

    What was special about this bench? The Rebbe told his son that in 5645, about three years after the passing of the Rebbe Maharash, the Rebbe Rashab went alone to this very place when he suddenly heard a familiar voice singing a yearning, captivating niggun. The Rebbe looked toward the bench and saw the Chassid, R’ Zalman Zlatapolsky deep in his thoughts while singing with great deveikus. This went on for hours, with R’ Zalman’s eyes closed and tears on his cheeks. The Rebbe did not want to disturb him and continued walking.

    The Rebbe described this scene to his son and said, “Looking at R’ Zalman one could see reflected the life of yearning of a Chassid who lost his Rebbe a few years earlier, but in his spiritual form it was as though he was standing before him.”

    This niggun became known as “Niggun of R’ Zalman Zlatapolsky” and is in the Sefer HaNiggunim. At the Simchas Torah 5712 farbrengen, this niggun was spoken about and all present sang it.


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    1. Yossi

      The picture shown at the top of the article showing the “Rebbe Rashab’s passport” is inaccurate. The passport belongs to “Chatche” Fegin the Frierdiker Rebbe’s secretary.
      It’s a Latvian passport, issued in 1933 way after 2 Nissan 5680.

    2. Ma Rabbi

      The story about seeing the Golem is not accurate.
      It was the Friedeker Rebbe who went up to the attic to see the remains of the Golem. After he returned to his father, the Rebbe Rashab said to him ” you dont know what I went through to keep you alive.”

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