Weekly Chasidic Story #787 (s5773-16 / 11 Tevet 5773)
The Orthodox-Jewish International Grandmaster
The chess prodigy was known a descendant of the rabbinic genius, Rabbi Yonasan Eibshitz, who descended from the great Kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac Luria, the Arizal of Tzfat.
Samuel Herman (Sammy) Reshevsky (1911-1992) was a famous chess prodigy and later a leading American chess Grandmaster. He was born in Ozorkov, Poland in 1911, to parents who belonged to the Gerrer Chassidic dynasty. When he was nine years old his family moved to the United States, where he later became a contender for the World Chess Championship from about the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s; coming equal third in the World Chess Championship 1948 tournament, and equal second in the 1953 Candidates Tournament. He was also an eight time winner of the U.S. Chess Championship
Reshevsky was famous for his slow and thoughtful moves, contemplating every move and strategizing every step, sometimes for hours. At the age of six, he already could play against as many as 30 players at a time, moving quickly from board to board and could remember and repeat all 30 games afterwards, move by move. At the age of eight, he competed against older contestants and won. He was featured in newspapers and branded as a chess prodigy. He was known as “Shmulik der vunder kind”-Samuel the wonder child. He was a descendant of the rabbinic genius, Rabbi Yonasan Eibshitz, who descended from the great Kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac Luria, the Arizal of Tzefat.
Sammy Reshevsky grew up in an observant home, and throughout his life and fame, remained faithful to his Judaism and Torah, refusing to ever play chess on the Sabbath or Holidays.
In the years before his marriage, Reshevsky developed a relationship with the sixth Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn.
Reshevsky once asked Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak for his blessing for success in a particular chess match. The Rebbe responded that he would grant his wish if he would resolve to study Torah every day. Reshevsky readily agreed, and indeed, the blessing the Rebbe granted was fulfilled.
Living in Crown Heights in the 1940’s, Sammy prayed in the central Lubavitch synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, NY. Once, at a Sabbath gathering (farbrengen in Yiddish), in 1948, the Rebbe, in recognition of his presence, explained the spiritual meaning behind the chess game (see link at bottom of article).
Later in Life
Upon turning 70 and no longer on top of his game, Sammy Reshevsky asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schnnersohn, if he should retire. The Rebbe advised him to continue playing because it was a“Kiddush Hashem”-a sanctification of G-d in the world, a proud demonstration of a Jew succeeding without compromising his spiritual ideals and values. Reshevsky complied and shortly afterwards, he traveled to Russia and upset the world champion at that time, Vassily Smyslov. He received a standing ovation from the thousand-member audience who were enchanted by his brilliance.
On a side note, here is a interesting tidbit: in 1984, the Lubavitcher Rebbe requested Reshevsky to try and help his colleague Bobby Fischer get out of his world-famous depression and isolation, and also to help him in relation to his Judaism. Bobby had already been out of public life for a few years, and was known to be living reclusively in Los Angeles. Soon after Reshevsky received the Rebbe’s letter, he traveled to Los Angeles to play at a tournament. As soon as he arrived, he phoned Bobby and related the Rebbe’s request to him. Bobby immediately agreed to see him. This was very unusual, since he did not often receive visitors. Their meeting lasted three hours, during which Bobby asked many serious questions about Judaism.
Original article written by Rabbi Y. Y. Jacobson (//yeshiva.net). Supplemented by Ascent from an article on // chabad.org (528301) by Dovid Zaklikowski.
Link to full article on Ascent site, with Chasidic interpretation of chess symbolism.
Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). 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.