By R’ Nison Gordon, z’l
Translated by P. Samuels
Note: This article is a translation from a biography of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, written in 1962 by R’ Nison Gordon, z’l. It is based on interviews with the Rebbe’s mother, a’h, which first appeared in Der Yiddishe Heim. They were dedicated to Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson on the occasion of the Rebbe’s 60th birthday.
On his father’s side, the Rebbe is a descendant of the oldest son of the Tzemach Tzedek, Reb Boruch Sholom, the only one of the Tzemach Tzedek’s sons who did not become a Rebbe, as we read in the previous chapters.
On his mother’s side, he is descended from one of the greatest chassidim of the Tzemach Tzedek, Rabbi Avrohom Dovid Lavut, z’l. He was a giant in Torah and Chassidus who left a legacy of three important sefarim, the most renowned of which is the sefer “Shaar HaKolel” which explains the Alter Rebbe’s Siddur.
The Rebbe’s mother, Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson, is a daughter of the Nikolaiever Rav, Reb Mayer Shlomo Yanovski, a son of the Ramonovker rosh yeshiva, Reb Yisroel Leib Yanovski.
Reb Yisroel Leib Yanovski was a son in law of the previous Nikolaiever Rav, Reb Avrohom Dovid Lavut. When Reb Yisroel Leib passed away while his father-in-law was still alive, the grandfather took his young grandson into his home and raised and educated him like his own son. Before his demise, Reb Avrohom Dovid left instructions that his grandson, Reb Mayer Shlomo, should assume his role as rav in Nikolaiev.
Reb Avrohom Dovid’s great-great grandson, the current Rebbe, has many traits of his great-great grandfather, who, besides being a great scholar and knowledgeable in Chassidus, was also a researcher. He liked to dig deep into, and find the source of, any law or custom which the Alter Rebbe mentions either in his Shulchan Aruch or in his Siddur, which differs from the accepted practice. He was also blessed with an encyclopedic mind and he composed a sefer Bais Aharon Vehosofos with annotations which show where any pasuk of Tanach is mentioned in Yerushalmi, Midrash, Zohar, Kabbalah, or in the Tanya or other sefarim of the Alter Rebbe.
Anything he ever saw in a sefer evoked an association with something similar, which he had once seen elsewhere, and he often sent his readers (those who are studying his sefarim) to another source. The Torah that he knew was organized in his mind, and he knew precisely where each word was to be found in the Torah, as if “to reach it by stretching out his hand.”
The indexes and commentaries on the Tanya and other Chassidic sefarim that the Rebbe composed have a strong similarity to the sefarim of his great-great grandfather, who had the entire Torah at his fingertips.
You can see how deeply immersed Reb Avrohom Dovid is in the spiritual treasures of Chabad by the following. For the first yahrzeit of the Rebbe Reb Yosef Yitzchok, z’l, on 10 Shevat 5711, the publishing house Kehot published a new edition of Rabbi Lavut’s first sefer, Kav Venaki on the laws of Gittin (divorce), and in the introduction, the Rebbe writes that shortly before the demise of his father-in-law (Reb Yosef Yitzchok) he asked him to prepare a new—fourth—edition of that sefer.
Kav Venaki is a sefer by which Reb A. D. Lavut appears as the great rav and posek who is concerned that rabbis should be protected from grave errors while arranging a get (Jewish divorce). It was written in the form of commentaries on the sefer on Gittin by the Maharam Ber Ri of Krakow. It is a great work on its own merit, and the Gaon Reb Yosef Shaul Natonsohn of Lemberg is among those who wrote an approbation when it was first published in 5628 (1868).
The Keiltzer Rav, the Gaon Reb Moshe Nochum Yerushalemski, in his approbation written for the second edition in 5674 (1914) in Pietrikov, writes, “The greatest rabbis refer to this valuable sefer when preparing gittin, which is organized according to the halachah in a pleasant and clear language.”
It’s more than a simple coincidence that one of the first two approbations for the sefer came from the pen of none other than Reb Boruch Sholom, the Tzemach Tzedek’s oldest son, with whom Reb A. D. Lavut merited to share a special great-great grandson.
The beginning of Reb Boruch Sholom’s approval letter is symbolic of future developments. He writes, “Hashem sent me on the way via the city of Nikolaiev. While there, Reb A. D. Lavut showed me the manuscript and I feel that the sefer should be published and I am appealing to the public to help him disseminate this very important sefer.”
In the edition of Kav Venaki that was published here by the Rebbe, the Rebbe added in the introduction a biography of the author, based on what he had heard from his mother and from other sources.
Rabbi Avrohom Dovid Lavut was born in 5575 (1815) and he was niftar at the age of 75 in 5650 (1890). First he was rav in Ramonovka, one of the colonies in the Kersana area that the Mitteler Rebbe founded to help Jews find a livelihood in peace. Around 5505 (1845) when he was still a young man of around thirty, the Tzemach Tzedek founded a kollel in Ramonovka and he appointed Reb A. D. Lavut as administrator. Five years later, he was appointed rav in Nikolaiev and he kept this post for 40 years until he died.
He was active in improving the lot of the Jews in the colonies, and he continued this activism even after he left for Nikolaiev. In “Bais Rebbe” it’s recounted that Reb A. D. Lavut convinced the Tzemach Tzedek to send the renowned chassid Reb Hillel Paritcher to visit the towns and colonies of Mala-Russia (Ukraine) to help the Jews spiritually and also to advise and to bless them for materialistic success.
The great chassid Reb Hillel Paritcher thought highly of the young chassid, Reb A. D. Lavut. After the petirah of Reb Hillel, Rav Lavut helped his grandson, Reb Pinchos, organize his grandfather’s writings and prepare them for publication, as the Sefer Pelach HaRimon, Part I (published for the second time by the Rebbe here in America in 5714, 1954, with additional commentaries). Reb A. D. Lavut wrote a warm approbation letter for the sefer, and in the letter he writes that as Reb Hillel traveled among the colonies in the Kersana region, he was often with him and he witnessed how his berachos helped many Jews in materialistic issues such as children and livelihood.
Reb A. D. Lavut wrote a sefer Bais Aharon Vehosofos in 5639 (1879) with an approbation from the Rebbe Maharash. To compose this sefer, the author had to do a lot of research, digging deep into various sources. Not only did he write about new sources which he had discovered, but he also published charts showing the pages in the sefarim where he quotes in Bais Aharon Vehosofos.
The poverty that marked his existence forced him to try to prevent anyone from reprinting his sefer without permission. Right after the title page, he writes that he had to borrow money to print his sefer, and he issued a warning that any sefer found without his signature is probably stolen.
As mentioned above, by chassidim, Reb A. D. Lavut is best known as the author of Shaar HaKolel explaining the Alter Rebbe’s Siddur and Nesiv HaChaim about the Lisser Rav’s Sefer Derech HaChaim.
He appears here both as a rav and also as a chassid at the side of his Rebbe, defending the Rebbe against those who say that the Siddur of the Alter Rebbe contradicts how he rules in his Shulchan Aruch.
“I worked very hard on every single detail in order to understand his holy words and their sources. I searched and I found what I was looking for.”
He goes through the Alter Rebbe’s Siddur Nusach Ari line by line, and shows why in some places the nusach (style) is altered, the source of the change, and on what the difference is based.
At the beginning of Shaar HaKolel, he quotes Reb Hillel Paritcher that the Alter Rebbe was once asked how to conduct oneself when there is a conflict between the poskim and mekubalim.
When the Alter Rebbe answered that one must follow the ruling of the mekubalim, someone pointed out that he himself in his Shulchan Aruch ruled to follow the poskim. The Alter Rebbe answers that this is what the poskim claim, but the mekubalim feel differently.
He states firmly that in his Shulchan Aruch, the Alter Rebbe ruled according to the poskim, while in his Siddur he adopted the rulings of the mekubalim. The Alter Rebbe also wrote a second edition of his Shulchan Aruch where he rules, in many cases, differently than he ruled in the first edition. But only four chapters are left of the second edition.
In his sefer Shaar HaKolel, Reb A. D. Lavut proves that even that which is attributed to the mekubalim has a source in Chazal no less than those rulings attributed to the poskim.
In the new edition of the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch, which the Rebbe began publishing, with the first volume already printed, he quotes his great-great grandfather’s Shaar HaKolel wherever appropriate.
The Rebbe’s Haggadah shel Pesach with “a compilation of explanations and customs” is similar in style to the Shaar HaKolel, though here and there you see where the Rebbe does not agree entirely with his great-great grandfather. The concise, clear explanations of the Chabad nusach and customs of the Alter Rebbe are in the style of the Shaar HaKolel.
Perhaps it is a reward from above for Reb A. D. Lavut’s position at the forefront of those who defended the customs and rulings of the Alter Rebbe that he merited to have one of his progeny assume the throne of Chabad leadership once held by the Alter Rebbe.