Rabbi Schneur Zalman was born on the 18th day of Elul (which is also the birthday of the Baal-Shem-Tov), in the year 5505 (1745), in the town of Liozna, province of Mohilev, in White Russia, which was part of Poland at that time. His parents, Baruch and Rivkah, had three sons, all of whom were outstanding Talmud scholars and Rabbis.
When Schneur Zalman reached the age of Bar Mitzvah and, in accordance with custom, delivered his first public discourse on the Talmud, he was acclaimed as an outstanding Talmud scholar. He was thereupon elected as an honorary member of the local Chevra Kaddisha and entered into the pinkas (Register) of the community with titles and honors given only to mature scholars of exceptional merit.
The fame of the young iluy (prodigy of learning) reached Vitebsk, where one of its most prominent Jews, Yehuda Leib Segal, a man of considerable wealth and scholarship, and a leader in the community, desired to have him as his son-in-law
Being a very ardent student, and gifted with a brilliant mind, Rabbi Schneur Zalman had become proficient in the entire Talmudic literature, with all its commentaries and early and late poskim (codifiers), before he was eighteen years old.
When Rabbi Schneur Zalman was barely twenty-five years old, Rabbi Dov Ber chose him, the youngest of his disciples, to re-edit the Shulchan Aruch. It was 200 years since Rabbi Joseph Caro had written his famous work. During this time much material had been added to the Halachah literature, and it was Rabbi Schneur Zalman's task to examine and sift all the new Rabbinical material, make decisions where necessary in the light of the earlier codifiers and Talmudic authorities, and finally embody the results into the new edition of the Shulchan Aruch, thus bringing it up-to-date. Rabbi Schneur Zalman superbly accomplished this task, which gave him an honored place among the great codifiers of Jewish Law. The work became known as the "Rav's Shulchan Aruch," in distinction from its forerunner.
Several years later he began to work out his Chabad system of Chassidus, which he eventually published in his famous work Likkutei Amarim, or Tanya.'
On the 19th of Kislev, in the year 5532 (1772) , Rabbi Dov Ber passed away. His disciples resolved to continue spreading the teachings of Chassidus in their respective territories. Rabbi Schneur Zalman's task was to capture the very stronghold of the opposition, the province of Lithuania, with Wilno, the seat of the famed Gaon Rabbi Elijah. During the next three years Rabbi Schneur Zalman visited many important communities, where he preached publicly and won many followers. But the spread of the Chassidic movement only sharpened the opposition.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman established a school of selected disciples in his hometown Liozna. Under his wise leadership and guidance, many well-organized Chassidic communities were established. He was a lover of peace, and he urged his followers to refrain from debates and quarrels with their opponents.
In 5558 (1798) a group of extremists among the opposition denounced Rabbi Schneur Zalman and some of his leading Chassidim to the Russian authorities in Petersburg as traitors to the Czar. The false accusation was well timed. The territory had only recently been annexed from Poland, and Czar Paul was highly sensitive to any activities by Polish nationalists. Besides, Russia and Turkey had been at war for years. The fact that Rabbi Schneur Zalman collected funds to support the needy in the Holy Land (which was part of the Turkish empire) was used by these slanderers as "evidence" that Rabbi Schneur Zalman was an "enemy" of Russia.
On the day after Simchat Torah 5559 (1798), Rabbi Schneur Zalman was arrested and placed in the Peter-Paul Fortress in Petersburg. His life and the future of the whole Chassidic movement hung in the balance. A special commission was set up by the Czar to investigate the charges. Rabbi Schneur Zalman was able to convince his investigators that his movement was purely a religious one and had nothing to do with political matters. Favorable reports from the local authorities of Rabbi Schneur Zalman's district helped to convince the Czar that the prisoner was a peace-loving sage and scholar, and that all the charges against him and his teachings were false. Fifty three days after his arrest, Rabbi Schneur Zalman was informed that he had been found innocent, and that nothing wrong was found with his movement. He was released on the19th of Kislev. This day (Yud-Tes Kislev) became known as "Rosh Hashanah" of Chassidus, since on it, not only the leader, but the whole Chassidic movement received a new lease on life.
The news of Rabbi Schneur Zalman's release spread quickly and brought great joy to his many followers. Rabbi Schneur Zalman used the occasion to try again to bring about peace and harmony between the opposing camps. Immediately upon his return home, he wrote a special letter to all his followers. With humility and love he appealed to them to forget their grievances and seek to win over their opponents through friendliness and brotherly love.
In the meantime, the opponents of Rabbi Schneur Zalman were again busy plotting against him and against the Chassidic movement. False charges were again brought to the authorities in Petersburg, and once again Rabbi Schneur Zalman was summoned to the capital to defend himself and his teachings. This time it took over nine months until Rabbi Schneur Zalman won a complete victory over his slanderers. In the meantime Czar Paul was murdered, and the new Czar, his son Alexander the First, ordered the case dismissed.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman did not return to Liozna. At the invitation of Prince Lubomirsky, he took up his residence in the town of Liadi, which was one of Lubomirsky's possessions. It was in Liadi that Rabbi Schneur Zalman spent the remainder of his life. But he was not destined to end his life in peace. In 1812 Napoleon invaded Russia, and the invasion route led through White Russia. Rabbi Schneur Zalman, who had twice been accused of high treason, turned out to be a loyal patriot. He saw that if the French conqueror would conquer Russia, the economic position of the Jews might improve, but their spiritual position would suffer. He therefore opposed Napoleon and urged his numerous followers to give their all-out support to the Russian war effort against the invaders. Indeed, his followers, many of whom found themselves behind the enemy's lines, were able to bring very useful intelligence to the Russian generals. The Russians were grateful to Rabbi Schneur Zalman for it. When Napoleon approached Liadi, the Russian generals provided horses and wagons to evacuate the aging Rabbi and his family and many followers. It was in the middle of one of Russia's winters that the Rabbi and his family found themselves on the open roads, suffering hardships and perils. In a village in the district of Kursk, the Rabbi became seriously ill, and he died at the age of sixty-eight. His body was laid to rest in Hadiacz, in the district of Poltava.
Full version: chabad.org
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