Weekly Chasidic Story #820 (s5773-49 / 6 Elul 5773)

Doubting the Young Rabbi

At a wedding, Rabbi Shneur Zalman asked rhetorically, “Why is there an orchestra at the wedding?”

Connections (2): Weekly Reading: Deut. 25:5-10; Seasonal — the following Shabbat is Chai (18) Elul, 268 years since the birthday of Chabad’s Alter Rebbe


Rabbbi Shneur Zalman, the first-Rebbe-to-be of Chabad, was still young when he became Maggid (the rabbi who gives sermons) in Liozna in 1783. Although no one questioned his Torah knowledge, some were unsure of how such a young man would deal with some of the halachic and communal situations that challenged even seasoned Rabbis.

Shortly after he became Maggid, however, all these doubts were solved after the following story took place.

At a wedding Rabbi Shneur Zalman was invited to participate in, he asked rhetorically, “Why is there an orchestra at the wedding?” Answering his own question, he said, “In order to play music.” Continuing, he asked, “And why do the two families buy certain items? Obviously to help the young couple set up their home.”

After mentioning a few other points, he said, “And why is the Rabbi invited? Because he has to ask certain questions that no one else would.”

With that, he turned to the kallah (bride) and asked, “Were you previously married?”

Shocked at his question, she quietly replied, “Yes, for a short time. My first husband tragically died days after the wedding.”

“Did he have any brothers?” asked R. Shneur Zalman.

“Yes, he had one who was extremely young.”

“Did he do chalitza* with you after he became bar mitzvah age?” prodded the rabbi.

“No, he was too young at the time. Then I moved away from the town and so did his family, and we lost all contact.”

“In that case,” concluded R. Shneur Zalman, “the wedding can’t take place yet and everyone can go home.”

Awed by his obvious Divine inspiration, the townspeople were reassured that Rabbi Shneur Zalman’s greatness could be relied upon in all areas. Once the story became widely known, his fame and the respect for him grew throughout the entire region.

*chalitza: See Deut. 24:5-10 (a ceremony, releasing a man from having to marry his childless dead brother’s widow).

Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from “The Alter Rebbe: Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi” (Kehot) by Sholom D. Avston.

Biographical note:
Rabbi Shnuer Zalman [18 Elul 1745 – 24 Tevet 1812], one of the main disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch, is the founder of the Chabad-Chasidic movement. He is the author of Shulchan Aruch HaRav and Tanya as well as many other major works in both Jewish law and the mystical teachings.

Connections (2): Weekly Reading – Deut. 24:5-10; Seasonal – 18 Elul (this Shabbat) is the anniversary of the birth-date of Rabbi Shneur Zalman (also, the most significant events in the development and emergence of the Chasidic movement took place also on this date, in 1698, 1722, and 1734).



Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.