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Rebbetzin Chayah Mushka Schneerson: Father’s Self-Sacrifice

Rebbetzin Chayahh Mushka Schneersohn was born on the 25th of Adar 5661 (1901) to her parents, the Rebbe Rayatz and the Rebbetzin Nechama Dinah, both grandchildren of the third Rebbe of Chabad, the Tzemach Tzedek. By instruction of her grandfather, the Rebbe Rashab, Chayahh Mushka was named after the wife of the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek. Rebbetzin Chayah Mushka married Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, who would become the 7th Lubavitcher Rebbe, on 14 Kislev 5689 (1928). The Rebbetzin avoided the limelight and performed many acts of kindness and aid for others, often anonymously. Rebbetzin Chayah Mushka passed away on the 22nd of Shevat 5748 (1988). Her husband, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, related to her passing as the end of an era and the preface of a new era of preparation for the coming of Mashiach. The Rebbetzin was laid to rest in the Jewish cemetery in Queens, NY.

In 5714 (1953), the 14th of Kislev, the 25th anniversary of the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin, came out on Shabbat. Reb Pinya Althaus approached the Rebbe and asked him to hold a farbrengen. In those days, the Rebbe did not hold a farbrengen every Shabbat. When the Rebbe asked him why he was asking him to hold a farbrengen, Reb Pinya, with his chasidic touch, replied, “I came to ask for the payment for making your match.” (Reb Pinya’s father had been the matchmaker for the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin). The Rebbe agreed to hold a farbrengen, which is described by one of the participants as follows:

After the morning prayers, at 12:45, the Rebbe entered the room and looked for Reb Berel Yunik, who was not there. Reb Leibel Gruner entered the Rebbe’s room and exited with a cup, wine, and some cakes and the farbrengen began. There was some commotion, and they began to organize tables, for they did not originally know that there would be a farbrengen. At the beginning, only five or six people sat down, for some of the congregation had already gone home, and the rest were still praying. Many had not yet begun their prayers. The Rebbe knew this, for in the middle of the farbrengen he said: “Those who have finished the morning prayers should make Kiddush (blessing on the wine prior to eating on Shabbat evening and morning). And those who are still before the morning prayer should say “LeChaim.” The Rebbe then made Kiddush, said LeChaim and instructed everyone to sing. After that, the Rebbe delivered the chasidic ma’amar (essay) “VeKol Banayich.”

After the main ma’amar, the Rebbe also spoke about weddings and said (in Yiddish): A wedding is a matter of the collective that takes place with a private person. But for me, it is a matter through which I was drawn into matters of the collective. Whether I am pleased with that or…but the matter has already been done. This is the day that they bound me to you and you to me. I will exhaust you and you will exhaust me, and together,  we will exhaust ourselves to bring the true and complete redemption. May God help, and we will see the good fruits of our labors.

Absolute Devotion

When the Rebbe cites the day of his marriage as the day that bound him to the chasidim, we can understand this in an almost technical way: If he had not become the son-in-law of the Rebbe Rayatz, he would not have become the next Rebbe. This is certainly true, but the bigger picture shows us that the Rebbetzin had a much more active role: For an entire year after his father-in-law’s passing, the Rebbe refused to succeed him as the leader of Chabad. The chasidim who were attempting to convince the Rebbe to succeed his father-in-law were at a loss.

It was the Rebbetzin who determined the outcome of this struggle with one sentence: “It cannot be that thirty years of my father’s self-sacrifice will fall into the abyss.” In this manner, to his obvious misgivings, the Rebbe, who had always remained behind the scenes, was drawn into public matters and became a leader.

Another well-known story again shows the deep connection that the Rebbetzin had to the bond between the Rebbe and his chasidim:

During the famous trial of the books, a police investigator asked the Rebbetzin who the books belonged to. The Rebbetzin assertively answered: “The Rebbe and the books belong to the chasidim!” [In other words, the life, work, and holy books of the Rebbe Rayatz were not private property that could be inherited by individuals, but were collective property that belonged to all his followers.]  This sentence made a deep impact on the judge and was an important factor in the ruling that the books should be inherited by the seventh Rebbe and the chasidim.

With these two sentences, the Rebbetzin expressed the absolute devotion of the Rebbe—both of her father, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, and her husband, the seventh Rebbe—to their life mission and leadership. This absolute devotion is alluded to in her name, Chayah Mushka. According to the Rebbe, these names refer to the two loftiest levels of the soul, the chayah (living one) and the yechidah (singular one). Chasidut explains that the revelation of the yechidah in the soul is at the time of absolute self-sacrifice—the sacrifice that the Rebbetzin demanded.

The Marriage of Intellect and Heart

The Rebbetzin fostered the connection between the Rebbe and his chasidim, the connection between her father and her husband, and most of all, her own connection with her husband, the Rebbe. In the Rebbe’s compilation of the Rebbe Rayatz’s teachings in Hayom Yom, the Rebbe Rayatz refers to the desired connection between mind and heart. It is a window to understanding a general and no less significant connection – the connection between husband and wife.

For the 12th of Shevat in Hayom Yom, the Rebbe wrote, “Intellect and excitement are two separate worlds. Intellect – a world cold and settled; excitement—a world seething and impetuous.” Despite our immediate inclination to identify with one of the worlds and to feel that the second is lacking and blemished, the Rebbe emphasizes that in each of them, there is a balance between the positive and the negative. The mind is settled, moderate and logical, but also cold and lacking life. Emotion touches everything and burns, but it lacks direction and self-control.

These are interesting definitions, but they are not enough. Hence the Rebbe continues, “Man's service of God is to combine them, unite them, so that the cold world will be warmed by the fire of the seething world, and the seething world will be calmed in the moderation of the settled.” Like God, who owns the heavens and the earth, we have to acquire these two worlds together in our souls, balance them, and transform them into one being with a marriage match that bears good fruit. The result is then that, “The impetuousness then becomes transformed into a longing, and the intellect into the guide in a life of service of God and action.” The inter-inclusion between the mind and the heart transforms the contradiction between a settled mind and a seething world into a triumphant combination: aspiration.

Just as a settled person may become rather fossilized and incapable of true progress, a person with a seething world may eventually lack a goal, being completely engrossed in the excitement of the moment. As opposed to both these states, a person with aspirations has a goal and destination and the aspiration toward that destination is infused with emotion and intensity, filling his life.

In this description, the person himself was and remains an overflowing heart, but now he has accessed a guide to direct him on his path to achieve his aspirations. In marriage, the man parallels the intellect while the woman parallels the heart. The rectification of the aspiration is the rectification of the woman, specifically. The woman is connected to process, prayer, and continuous ascent, as is expressed both in Chasidut and the history of the last centuries. The total devotion expressed by Rebbetzin Chayah Mushka is a distilled aspiration to hasten the rectification of reality with the true, complete redemption.


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