Chapter 8
The Passing of the Maggid

A Premonition of Death

In the summer of 1772, R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi came to Rovno, where the Maggid was living. When R. Zusia told him that R. Dov Ber had asked that he come, R. Shneur Zalman sighed deeply and fainted. Even after he revived, he was feeble and bedridden. R. Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk and R. Zusia went to tell the Maggid what had occurred. His reaction: "R. Zalmanyu," for thus did he refer to his beloved Talmid, "has the feelings of a son. I was like a son to my Rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov, and he is like my son."

His pupils did not understand R. Shneur Zalman's weakness and their rebbe's reaction to it until that winter, in the month of Kislev. At that time, looking at the mournful faces of his disciples, who realized that their master was nearing death, the Maggid told them: "What you feel now, R. Zalman felt last summer."


Each year on the first evening of Rosh HaShanah, Eliyahu the Prophet appeared to R. Elimelech of Lizensk, revealing something from Above. In the year 1772, he told R. Elimelech that the world exists because of the prayers of three Tzaddikim, and he identified them. R. Elimelech was amazed that the Maggid was not among them. He later understood why - the Maggid passed away shortly thereafter.

The Last Will

On the first day of Selichos in the autumn of 1772, he wrote his will:

Since one never know when his last day will be, I therefore write these words to my dear, beloved son, the holy Tzaddik Avrahaminyu:

  1. Daven Minchah and Maariv every day with a minyan.
  2. Learn halachah from [Rambam's] Yad HaChazakah each day, studying its sections in order.
  3. Between removing the Rashi Tefillin and laying those of Rabbenu Tam, eat something and learn afterwards.
  4. Recite at least four chapters of Tehillim a day, with the same intense concentration reserved for the four chapters that are said on Yom Kippur night.
  5. For the sake of Heaven, spend only one day per month in solitary meditation; but on that day, do not speak, even to the members of your household.
  6. Be generous: Whatever money left over after paying for absolute necessities should be given to charity.
  7. Each day, learn the manuscripts in which I recorded what I heard from our holy master, the Baal Shem Tov.
  8. On my Yahrzeit, do not fast; rather, enjoy a festive meal and give generously to charity.
  9. Use my Yom Tov tallis, a gift from the Baal Shem Tov, only on Yom Kippur.
  10. Daven from a simple Siddur that has no commentary.
  11. Visit my grave only once a year, on my Yahrzeit.
  12. If the misnaggdim provoke a quarrel, be silent - HaShem will rebuke them.
  13. Among my disciples, take advice from R. Mendele of Vitebsk, and cling to the holy virtues of R. Yehudah Leib HaCohen, and to the humility of R. Zusia. The initial deliberation of my faithful pupil R. Zalman is a minor form of prophecy; do whatever he says, for even in the generation of the Baal Shem Tov he would have excelled. Heed him in all matters, for his wisdom, understanding, and knowledge are unfathomable.
  14. Do not insist that my student R. Zusia become a leader of chassidim, for he has already risen above this path...

The will was signed by the Maggid and witnessed by R. Azriel Meisels and R. Shlomo of Lutzk.

A Tzaddik Leaves this World

Within three months, the Maggid was on his deathbed. On Monday, 18 Kislev 1772, the Maggid's son, R. Avraham the Malach, was by his side, along with R. Yehudah Leib HaCohen and R. Shneur Zalman. "My children, if you stay together, you will overcome everything. You will continually progress without backsliding, Heaven forbid, as it is written: 'He is unified, and who can turn Him back?' [Iyov 23:13]."

The Maggid then lapsed into a lengthy silence, closed his eyes, and appeared to doze. R. Zusia tiptoed into the room, and the Maggid awoke and beckoned him with a weak motion of his hand. As he approached the Maggid's bed, the master grasped R. Zusia's right hand, looked into his eyes, and whispered in a faint but clear voice: "You, Zusia, are mine in this world, and in the next world you will be next to me, as body and soul are joined." His head fell onto the pillow as his strength faded, but his eyes remained fixed on R. Zusia.

Again he drifted off into slumber. "Where is Menachem Mendel?" he asked upon awakening, his voice even weaker than before.

"Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk is not here," replied R. Shneur Zalman.

"Is R. Yehudah Leib HaCohen here?" the Maggid inquired, sounding like his end was very near.

"R. Yehudah Leib HaCohen is here," answered R. Shneur Zalman.

As R. Yehudah Leib drew near the bed, the Maggid lifted his head off the pillow and took R. Yehudah Leib's right hand. "You will also be close to me," he told him, "for the 'lips of a Kohen guard knowledge' [Malachi 1:7] and knowledge is my realm." His lips moved distinctively, his voice clear and sure.

He then turned to R. Shneur Zalman. "Zalmanyu," he said, "give me your hand. You will remain alone, you are for yourself - you have your own way. You will need a lot of help from Heaven. I will yearn for you very much, and God willing, I will save you from all your troubles."

After bidding his other disciples farewell, he cried, "Where's Avraham? Where are you, my son? I don't see you!"

They found him locked away in his room and brought him to the Maggid.

"Avraham," he said in an unmuffled voice that had regained some strength, "I don't have to tell you anything. Continue on your holy path. Listen to Zalmanyu and things will be good for you. But above all, do not afflict yourself, for a small hole in your body can leave a large hole in the soul, and your neshamah is unique." The Maggid stared intently at his son for a long while, awaiting a reply. But the Malach was silent.

At this point the Maggid said, "good-night," closed his eyes, and fell asleep. On the nineteenth of Kislev, wrapped in Tefillin, his face aflame, the Maggid returned his soul to its Maker.

The Final Rites

The news of the Maggid's passing caused a dispute between the local chevrah kadishah (burial society) and the Maggid's followers as to who should bury him. The latter claimed that they should serve him in death as in life. They soon arrived at an adequate compromise: Disciples who were members of the chevrah kadishah in their home towns would take priority in the burial. Those pupils then cast lots to see who would bear which part of the Maggid's body. R. Shneur Zalman was privileged to hold his head. When the time came for the Taharah rites (which include immersion in a mikveh), R. Shneur Zalman said, "Our Sages say that Tzaddikim are greater in their death than in life. It is not fitting, therefore, for us to tilt our Rebbe's head and immerse it - he himself should do so." He then released the head, and it immersed itself three times.

The Maggid was buried in Onipol. Chassidim say he traded places with R. Yaakov of Onipol, a protege of the Baal Shem, who was buried in Mezritch. Interestingly, it was R. Yaakov who mentioned the Maggid to the Baal Shem Tov before their first meeting. Later, R. Zusia and R. Yehudah Leib HaCohen were buried near the Maggid, in fulfillment of his promise to be with him in the next world. R. Mordechai of Chernobyl (1770-1837) once remarked that these grave sites had the fragrance of Gan Eden.

A New Wisdom

Before his demise, the Maggid promised that in the Upper World, he would do his utmost to nullify any evil decree against the Jews. During one troubled time, some of his disciples went to his grave to "remind" him of his promise to beg for mercy for the Jews. That evening he appeared to one of them in a dream and told him, "My oath notwithstanding, here in the Upper World I see that all apparent evil is full of comfort and salvation, and isn't evil at all. Everything is for the best. So how can one appeal for something good to be nullified? Therefore, I won't make any petition, for in truth there is only good for the Jews."

Final Service

The Maggid's attendant refused to appear before the Heavenly tribunal after his own death because he was still busy serving his master. He was acquitted.