Shlomo Ezagui

Rabbi Shneur Zalman and the Czar

Between the years 1745 and 1812 lived a very Godly person, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, from the town of Liadi, in what was then imperial Russia. While most people have a “pre-owned” soul—in other words, it was once before here in this world and is now in your body to complete its mission — this Rabbi had a brand-new soul.

Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, known as the Master of the Good Name, called the parents of this Rabbi before he was born so they could get ready. The Baal Shem Tov also gave precise instructions on how to rear the child from birth.

He displayed extraordinary talent. By age eight, he had written a detailed commentary on the Bible. At his bar mitzvah, he gave a speech about the complicated laws of astronomy, which earned him the nickname “Grand Rabbi” from the people in his town.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman was wrongly accused of subversive activities and of helping the Ottoman Empire because he wanted money to be sent to help Jews living in Palestine, which was part of the Ottoman Empire.

He was arrested in 1798 on suspicion of treason and taken to St. Petersburg, where a secret commission questioned him.

It was a Friday when he was taken from his home to prison in the infamous chariot, the Black Mary. The Rabbi asked the wagon driver to stop for the Sabbath. The driver ignored his request but was forced to stop when the wagon’s axle broke. The axle was repaired, but then one of the horses suddenly died. In the end, the driver asked permission from the Rabbi to proceed to the edge of the road for the 25 hours of the Sabbath.

In the end, he was set free by Paul I of Russia, who went to the Rabbi’s cell disguised as a regular officer. The Rabbi knew it was the Czar because he could feel his presence.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman established the Chabad way of serving God: “The mind, by its very nature, has control over the emotions.” The Rabbi authored many teachings, guiding his students with knowledge, tools, and techniques to apply the teachings in practice to become more refined and Godlier.

Once, a student came to Rabbi Shneur Zalman for advice regarding a libel against him. Rabbi Shneur Zalman advised him to go to the market and buy the best horses and chariot so he could ride around the Czar’s palace. He should refuse to sell the horses at any price. However, if anyone asked to purchase the horses on behalf of the Czar, he should offer the horses for free as a gift to the Czar.

And so it went, and the Czar was incredibly impressed with the gift. The Czar looked into this person, discovered the libel was false and freed him from the accusations.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman later explained that everything the Bible tells us to do or not do is because God knows it is in our nature to hurt ourselves without the guidance of rules.

God tells us once a week to rest because otherwise, we would never know when to stop working. The Bible says not to steal because people tend to take what is not theirs. The Bible says to pray every day because people might forget where their blessings come from and not connect with their inner resources of strength.

The Bible says a king should not amass a great number of horses. Said Rabbi Shneur Zalman, “From this, I deduced that people in power lust for horses, and it is with this awareness that I derived the plan to access the Czar’s weak spot to help this individual.”

Chapter 168

About the Author
Rabbi Shlomo Ezagui is an author and lecturer. "A Spiritual Soul Book" ( & "Maimonides Advice for the 21st Century" ( In 1987, Rabbi Ezagui opened the first Chabad Center in Palm Beach County, Florida, and the first Orthodox Synagogue on the island of Palm Beach, Florida.
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