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The 19th of Kislev

Written by Rabbi Yehoshua Alt, 30/12/2019

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The 19th of Kislev

R’ Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Rebbe of Chabad, also known as the Alter Rebbe and the Baal HaTanaya, was arrested on charges of supporting the Ottoman Empire by urging his followers to send money to Eretz Yisrael.[1] At the time, Eretz Yisrael was part of the Ottoman Empire, which was at war with Russia. He was charged with treason but was released from prison[2] on Tuesday, the 19th of Kislev,[3] in the year 1798.[4] The 19th of Kislev[5] falls out by Parshas Vayeshev, where it says ויט אליו חסד ויתן חנו בעיני שר בית הסהר.[6] This can be interpreted as on the 19th (יט) of Kislev, a Chessed was done to the Baal HaTanya in that he found favor in the eyes of the prison warden and was freed.


R’ Yaakov of Marvege and Korebil[7] wrote a sefer called שו"ת מן השמים, in which he recorded Halachic responsa he heard from Heaven. Rarely does he mark the date when he received the answer or record the day of the week. However, he writes in one answer “Tuesday, the 19th of Kislev.”[8] Another unusual part of that letter is that he writes at its conclusion,[9] for no apparent reason, “A day (19th of Kislev) that will herald good tidings.” On this R’ Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994)[10] commented, “Throughout the generations that addition puzzled scholars. What were the “good tidings” received on the 19th of Kislev? Scholars of the later generations concluded that the phrase must refer to the Alter Rebbe’s liberation. No other event occurred on the 19th of Kislev that would cause the day to be labeled a day which ‘will herald good tidings’.”[11]

[1] This was "evidence" of his alleged rebellious aspirations. The truth is that the money was sent to support poor Jews.

[2] It is told that after the Baal Hatanya’s release, Chassidim asked him to write a “Megilla of the 19th of Kislev” to commemorate his incarceration and release. He declined but said this day should be celebrated as a holiday annually where the name of Hashem would be elevated and thousands of souls aroused to repentance and proper service of Hashem, for what is engraved on the ‘heart of Israel on high’ is written on the ‘heart of Israel in this world below.’

[3] The 19th of Kislev in 1744 is considered the day upon which the Baal HaTanya was conceived, since he was born exactly nine months later, on the 18th of Elul.

[4] The 53 days of his imprisonment are said to correspond to the 53 chapters of his sefer, Tanya.

[5] On the 19th of Kislev in 1772, the Maggid of Mezerich, the successor of the Baal Shem Tov, passed away.

[6]  Breishis 39:21. The simple meaning is Hashem endowed Yosef with appeal and He put his favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 

[7] He was one of the Baalei Tosafos that lived in the 13th century.

[8] שו"ת מן השמים, Siman 5.

[9] The content of the letter deals with davening and studying Torah while ritually pure.

[10] As the leader of Chabad, he took a group that almost came to an end with the Holocaust and transformed it into one of the most influential movements in religious world Jewry. Today there are 4,900 Chabad-Lubavitch emissary families, or shluchim. There are shluchim in all of the 50 US states, in over 100 countries and territories and 1,000 cities around the world, totaling more than 3,500 institutions including some 300 in Israel. R’ Menachem Mendel received semicha from the Rogatchover Gaon and R’ Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, author of the Sridei Aish. In 1923, he visited the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, R’ Yosef Yitzchak, for the first time where he met the Rebbe’s daughter Chaya Mushka whom he later became engaged to. However, they didn’t get married until 1928. They were married for 60 years and were childless. In 1941, they arrived in New York after escaping Europe. In 1942, he launched the Merkos Shlichus program where he would send pairs of yeshiva students to remote locations across the country during their summer vacations to teach Jews in isolated communities about their heritage and offer education to their children. As Rebbe, he would receive visitors for private meetings, known as yechidus, on Sunday and Thursday evenings. Those meetings would begin at 8 pm and often continue until five or six in the morning. He was able to speak to many types of people since he spoke many languages including English, Yiddish, Hebrew, French, Russian, German and Italian. Politicians and leaders from across the globe came to meet him, but he showed no preference to one person over another. His secretary once even declined to admit John F. Kennedy because the Rebbe was already meeting 'ordinary' people who had requested appointments months previously. Those meetings were discontinued in 1982 when it became impossible to facilitate the large number of people. Meetings were then held only for those who had a special occasion, such as a boy and his family on the occasion of a bar-mitzva. During his four decades as Rebbe, he would deliver regular addresses, centered on the weekly Torah portion and on various Mesachtas. These talks, delivered without text or notes, would last for several hours, and sometimes went for eight or nine hours straight. During the talks, he demonstrated a unique approach in explaining seemingly different concepts by analysis of the fundamental principle common to the entire Mesachta, and referenced both classic and esoteric sources from all periods, citing entire sections by heart. In 1953, he sent his first emissary to Morocco and established schools and a Shul for the Moroccan Jewish community. In 1958, he established schools and synagogues in Detroit, Milan (Italy), and London. Beginning in the 1960s, he instituted a system of “mitzva campaigns” to encourage the observance of ten basic Jewish practices, such as Tefillin for men and Shabbos candles for women. His campaign brought the concept of Tefillin to Jewish men everywhere, as until then, Tefillin was largely the domain of the meticulously observant. During his life, he had great influence on numerous political leaders, many of whom would seek his advice. He was visited by Presidents, Prime Ministers, Governors, Senators, Congressmen, and Mayors. Notable among them are John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr., Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Jacob Javits, Ed Koch, Rudy Giuliani, and Joe Lieberman. Just before the outbreak of the Six-Day War, he called for a global Tefillin campaign, to see that Jews observe the mitzva of wearing Tefillin as a means of ensuring divine protection against Israel's enemies. Speaking to a crowd of thousands of people on May 28, 1967, only a few days before the outbreak of the war, he assured the world that Israel would be victorious. In 1978, he became the only rabbi to have a U.S. national day proclaimed in his honor, when the U.S. congress and President Jimmy Carter designated the Rebbe’s birthdate as “Education Day USA.” The Rebbe is recognized for his scholarship and contributions to Talmudic, Halachic, Kabbalistic, and Chassidic teachings. His teachings have been published in more than two hundred volumes, not including the tens of thousands of letters he penned in reply to requests for blessings and advice.  

[11] The following are some significant events that occurred on the 19th of Kislev in recent history: On the 19th of Kislev in 2003 Sadaam Hussein was captured. On this date in 2011 the Iraq War ended and in 2017 (8:07 P.M. Israel Standard Time), the President of the United States, Donald Trump, publicly and formally announced that Yerushalayim is the Capital of the Nation-State of Israel, and declared that the US Embassy will be relocated to the city.

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