It is said that before his own histalkus, the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek told his son the Rebbe Maharash the following: Echad b’echad yigashu Nissan b’Tishrei.
This prophecy was fulfilled in all of its details. The Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek passed away on “echad” — whose letters in Hebrew are the numerical value of thirteen — on the 13th of Nissan, and the Rebbe Maharash passed away on “echad” (the 13th of) Tishrei. And they are buried next to each other.
The Rebbe Maharash was ill for many years. Even though he knew that it affected his health, he worked tirelessly for the betterment of the entire Jewish nation.
In the summer of 5642 , the Rebbe Maharash had the following conversation with his son and successor, the [Rebbe] Rashab: “After my father, the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek, named me Shmuel, [my older brother] the Maharil asked at the festive meal that followed the bris, ‘Who is the child named after? There is no one in the family with that name.’ He then added quietly, ‘Perhaps he was named after Shmuel HaNavi?’ “
My father, the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek, answered, ‘The child was named after a certain [wise] water carrier who lived in the city of Polotzk. A wise man is greater than a prophet. “My father then concluded, ‘The possuk (in Tehillim)3 says: “The days of a man’s life are seventy years, and if he is strong, eighty years.”’” He explained, “There are different numbers of years a person can receive. The average life span of a man is seventy years, and with strength it can be extended to eighty. Sometimes, [however,] a person only receives the years of בהם, and its letters.” Here the Rebbe Maharash paused, sighed and then continued: “My father said, ‘בהם, [which is the gematria of fortyseven], plus its letters [an additional three] adds up to fifty.’”
Three and a half months later, on Yud Gimmel Tishrei, 5643 the Rebbe Maharash was nistalek.
On Erev Rosh Hashanah of that year, two weeks before his histalkus, the Rebbe Maharash told his wife Rebbetzin Rivka, “I am going up thirty-one levels; you are staying here thirty-one levels.” (Hinting that she was going to live for another thirty-one years. Indeed, she passed away thirty-one years later in 5674 on Yud Shevat.)
In a trembling voice, the Rebbetzin said, “But the children are still very young.” The Rebbe Maharash did not answer.
At another time, Rebbetzin Shterna Sarah, the Rebbe Maharash’s daughter-in-law, related: “Before Rosh Hashanah of that year, the Rebbe Maharash said: ‘A professor (i.e., surgeon) has to be called and he will have to make an operation. And that is actually what the surgeon did. However, when the Rebbe [Maharash] said this, we didn’t realize to what he was alluding. Only later, at the time of his histalkus, did we understand.”
The Rebbe said at a farbrengen that although he heard this from Rebbetzin Shterna Sara herself over forty years after the histalkus, when she told him this, she still trembled.
I heard from chassidim that Rebbetzin Rivka said, “Medically it’s not possible that you have lived these past few years, so it must be that you have been living spiritually, so spiritually you could keep on living.” To this the Rebbe Maharash replied, “Yes…” .
HaRav Issur Tamarkin who was in Lubavitch at that time related: On the eleventh or twelfth of Tishrei, a prestigious medical specialist from Vitebsk came to examine the Rebbe Maharash. When this non-Jewish specialist came out of the Rebbe’s room, he entered the small Beis HaMedrash overwhelmed by what he had just experienced. The chassidim immediately brought him a comfortable chair and surrounded him, hoping to get some information on the prognosis of the Rebbe Maharash’s illness and the possibility of a cure. [They knew it was serious, since that year the Rebbe Maharash instructed that someone other than himself blow the shofar that Rosh Hashanah. It was also known that the Rebbe Maharash was in such great pain that he would often sleep in his chair and not lay down in a bed.]
The doctor sat down, faced the chassidim, and said: “You think you know who your Rebbe is!? I will tell you who he is. “When I arrived, the doctors who are treating the Rebbe gave me a detailed report concerning the nature and progression of the illness. Based on this information I then began to speak to the Rebbe, and in middle of our conversation I asked him if he would give me his hand, and I felt his palm.8 “Shortly after, I asked him if he would allow me to perform a small and minor operation by making a little incision behind the ear. I noticed a sign of unhappiness on his face, but he verbally gave me permission to do so. I had to do it in order to properly analyze the prognosis of the illness.
“After I finished my check-up, the Rebbe began explaining to me [the great specialist!] the entire prognosis and situation of his illness, and what I had done. “The Rebbe said, ‘The illness is a result of some pus that entered my veins and got mixed up with the blood. The reason you looked at and felt my hand was to detect something that would have enabled you to see the symptoms. 8. Author’s note: This was probably to feel the pulse, or the warmth of the Rebbe’s hand. This way he could ascertain how well the blood was flowing.
“‘The reason that you made the incision behind my ear was to see how far the illness progressed, if it had spread out, and also if it had reached and grown in the brain.’ “The Rebbe spoke to me about all the details of the illness and its prognosis for over an hour. During the entire time, I felt as if I were sitting in a university classroom and listening to a lecture in medicine from a medical professor. “The Rebbe’s illness is an extremely difficult one. Anyone who has this illness suffers terrible pain. When the illness reaches the brain, it immobilizes one’s ability to think clearly.
“When I entered the Rebbe’s room, I saw him sitting with a slight smile on his lips. After the examination, I realized that the illness had already spread to his brain. I was then shocked into the realization that sitting in front of me is a Rebbe, a patient with an incurable illness in a very dangerous situation (as noted before, this was a day or two before the histalkus) and he is (capable of) giving a medical lecture to the specialist who came to heal him! And [here I am] feeling as if I am a student, who is hearing from his teacher a report on medical advancements.” The doctor concluded, “Now you understand who your Rebbe is!”
This illness had begun four months earlier, in the middle of Sivan, and had developed very rapidly. In general, however, the Rebbe Maharash’s health was always a concern. As it is known, he was not well even during his father’s — the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek’s — lifetime [whose histalkus was sixteen and a half years earlier].
However, at the onset of a previous major illness, no one had informed the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek about it. Later on, after finding out about his son’s illness, the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek said, “If I would have known when there was still time, I would have been able to stretch it; I could have stretched it out so that he [the Rebbe Maharash] would have lived at least fifty-two years just as Shmuel HaNavi lived..
It is not known when this occurred. However, it is possibile that this was said when the [Rebbe] Maharash was 19 years old. At that time, he was seriously ill about it [earlier on], and needed two (or three) operations, from which his recovery took a few months. During these months of bed rest, his father the Rebbe would visit him daily for at least two hours — sometimes as much as four — and relate to him different things, stories about the Rebbeim, etc.
In addition, we should note that in general the Rebbe Maharash had to take extra precautions to preserve his health. For example, it is well known that the Rebbe Maharash made the round table that is now in the left corner of the Rebbe’s room and other wooden artifacts. On the advice of doctors, he began working with wood in his childhood, in the belief that this would enhance the blood circulation in his fingers.
The Rebbe Maharash told his gabbai some time before his histalkus, “I am now one hundred years old.” Noticing the gabbai’s bewilderment, the Rebbe Maharash said, “I am fortyeight years old, and on my ‘passport’ I have an additional fifty-two years. [“My passport” is a reference to his connection to Shmuel HaNavi who lived fifty-two years.]
Concerning the histalkus of the Rebbe Maharash, the Frierdiker Rebbe said: [The Rebbe Maharash suffered from terrible pains during his last days, to the extent that it was not possible for him to lie down. Therefore, during that entire period of time, he sat — and he was nistalek — sitting on his chair.
As is known, the Rebbe Maharash carried in his vest pocket a large, golden pocket watch, with its golden chain stretched across his vest.] “On the morning of Yud Gimmel Tishrei, at 11:26 a.m., the Rebbe Maharash took his large [golden pocket] watch out of its casing. He then cut off a piece of paper, moved the [hands of the] watch forward twenty-five minutes to 11:51 a.m., and put the paper under the hand pieces, so that the dials shouldn’t move. “He then told his gabbai, Reb Pinchas Leib, to call in his [the Rebbe Maharash’s] [holy] sons so he could tell them his will [and parting words].
“The first one to be called was the RaZa (Reb Zalman Aharon, the Rebbe Maharash’s oldest son) and the Rebbe Maharash spoke to him in the presence of Reb Pinchas. “After Reb Zalman Aharon left, my father, the Rebbe Rashab, entered. While the Rebbe Maharash spoke to him, my father broke out in a cry. This also was in the presence of Reb Pinchas. “After my father [the Rebbe Rashab] left, his younger brother, Reb Menachem Mendel, entered and was spoken to.
“At exactly 11:51 [a.m.] the Rebbe Maharash was nistalek.” The Rebbe Maharash wrote in his will that if he passes away in Lubavitch, he is to be buried right next to — on the left side of — his father, the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek. In order to fulfill his wishes, the fence that surrounded the tzion (gravesite) of the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek had to be removed and extended. Originally it was placed only around the tzion of the Tzemach Tzedek; now it had to surround the holy resting place of both of them. His older brother, the Maharil, who passed away only a half year after their father, the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek, is buried on their father’s right side.
According to Rav Dvorkin, the first one to enter was the Rebbe Maharash’s wife, Rebbetzin Rivka, and she left with her red eyes soaked in tears. Also, according to his notes, the Rebbe Maharash turned his watch a few hours ahead to 11:53. In Likkutei Sippurim, by Rabbi M. Perlow, he writes that shortly before his passing, the Rebbe Maharash called his youngest daughter, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, and told her, “I would have wished that, together with your mother, I would have been able to take you to the chuppah (she was then single), however Hashem does not wish it to be so…” And the Rebbe Maharash placed his holy hands on her head and bentched her.
Nine years later, in 5652 she married Reb Moshe HaCohen Horenstein. Their son, Reb Menachem Mendel, married the Frierdiker Rebbe’s third daughter, Rebbetzin Shaina HY"D.
It is not clear if this conversation was on the day of the histalkus or a few days prior. Twelve years later in 5655 the Rebbe Rashab revealed to his son — the Frierdiker Rebbe — what his father the Rebbe Maharash had told him before his histalkus. He then said, “My father told me one more point; however, I did not hear it clearly. [This was due to the fact that the many things that were said were said during a time of great trepidation and the pain that the Rebbe Rashab felt in those terrifying moments before his father’s histalkus.]
The gabbai Pinchas Leib did hear it but refused to repeat it even to me,” concluded the Rebbe Rashab. It was known that to chassidim, Pinchas Leib was like a sealed iron box, and that it was impossible for anyone to get any information from him. The Frierdiker Rebbe continued: “When I heard this, [that my father would have liked to hear this one point] I called in Pinchas Leib and I had twelve small coins, which at that time was a very large sum. I bought whiskey and gave him [some] to say a l’chaim. I then asked him to crow like a turkey [or rooster].
“At that time my father, the Rebbe, was in a joyous mood, and for some reason, some chassidim would crow when the Rebbe was in a joyous mood. Pinchas Leib excelled in crowing like a turkey, for which he had a special talent and enjoyment. When the bystanders would praise him that his crowing sounded exactly like a live turkey, this praise was more precious to him than any treasure.
“Without hesitation, he began to crow, and I began praising him — how his crow is better than that of all the other chassidim, and only his crow sounds like a real one. He was truly flattered and he was in a gracious mood.
“I then asked him to tell me what he overheard from what my grandfather said to my father, right before his histalkus, since there was a point which my father did not clearly hear. “He asked me, ‘How do you know about this?’ “I replied that my father had told me about this conversation and he mentioned that you were present and heard it.
According to HaRav Dvorkin’s notes, Pinchas Leib enjoyed hearing the crowing, and the Frierdiker Rebbe is the one who excelled in crowing. (Author’s Note: I was told by some that it doesn’t mean actually crowing, but rather that they danced in a certain manner.)
“He said, ‘If so, I will tell you.’ And he told me …” [One can understand that the Frierdiker Rebbe immediately repeated it to his father, the Rebbe Rashab, but what was said between them is not known.]
Note: some of the footnotes were incorporated in the text.