In 5723, Israeli President Zalman Shazar commissioned a graphological analysis of the handwriting of the Alter Rebbe, and printed it in ‘Sefer HaKan’. The essay is presented here translated into English in honor of Chai Elul.
In 5723, Israeli President Zalman Shazar commissioned a graphological analysis of the handwriting of the Alter Rebbe, and printed it in ‘Sefer HaKan’ – a special collection of essays published for the 150th anniversary of the Alter Rebbe’s histalkus.
In a letter to President Shazar in 5719, the Rebbe expressed his amazement at the results: “Had I not known that the graphologist wasn’t at all familiar with the Alter Rebbe, and if I would not know you personally, I would not have believed this could be possible.” The Rebbe also expressed his regret that he had neglected to suggest that they use a different sample of the Alter Rebbe’s handwriting from which more can be gleaned about his character.
Editor’s note: We present here a translation into English of the Hebrew translation as we were unable to locate the original as of yet.
Mrs. Ruth Zucker, the author of this graphological analysis of the handwriting of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, is a researcher whose opinion has, for many years, served as a basis for decisions by courts and tribunals in Israel. She studied graphology with Professor G.A. Magnat, President of the Graphologists’ Association in Geneva. Several of her graphological studies on famous authors, both current and ancient, were published in professional foreign scientific journals and earned her much fame.
At the time I commissioned her to prepare this graphological analysis, she knew no Hebrew at all except for the shape of the letters and did not understand the meaning of the words. I also examined her carefully and was convinced that, at the time, she had no idea about the personality of the Alter Rebbe and his biography, nor his role in the spiritual sphere of Judaism. This study was based exclusively on the analysis of the letters and she only told what she was told by the letters.
The research was conducted on the basis of a photocopy of an authentic manuscript [of the Alter Rebbe], which was provided to me for this purpose by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who also read this analysis and agreed to publish it.
When translating her study from English to Hebrew, I did not attempt to translate her terms into equivalent terminology that can be found in the literature of the Chassidic philosophy, rather I took caution to keep the terms in their simple sense, as she intended them to mean.
Schneur Zalman Shazer
A graphologist who faces this wonderful handwriting finds himself in great bewilderment. He does not know how to find in his modern dictionary the appropriate terms to properly describe the personality revealed to him through the letters written in this facsimile under study, due to the enormous gap in mentality, time, and greatness.
Another difficulty in this analysis is the lack of original written material. The current research is not based on an original manuscript but on a photocopy of a certificate. Therefore, it will be impossible to encompass all the greatness of the writer’s personality. Please let these disclaimers serve as a kind of explanation and apology.
The first impression gleaned from studying the manuscript is that before you stands an enormous, sublime, and astounding figure. One is strongly moved by — and discovers intense admiration for — a personality that was very steadfast and yet capable of being in a state of constant awe and reverence of a manifestation of transcendental forces [within him]. The author, apparently, was able to face the confrontation of the two parallel ambitions that prevailed within his soul, a confrontation that would perhaps have brought a man of a lesser mental capacity to the brink of madness.
The first aspiration – was to develop all of his talents and all of his personal and physical energies into a powerful and complete force, such that they would serve him as a firm and solid base.
The second aspiration – is to pitilessly elevate all of the elements that sprout and flow from that base and designate them exclusively to the spiritual. To raise all of these strengths, of acute original inborn senses, from their “lowly nature” and to devote them – with rarefied passion – to the service and authority of spiritual goals.
SUBLIME YET TERRESTRIAL
By this sublimation, he still did not relieve himself of his terrestrial gravity and the responsibility that terrestriality imposed upon him. And he, as it were, reached a deeper perception through the arousal of his impassioned desires, which lifted him above the earthly level in which they were ignited. However, he never forgot their origins and accepted this origin from a place of humility and regal simplicity.
He was humble enough to recognize this [terrestrial origin] as well as dynamic and bold enough to fly upward away from it and leave it behind, but he would return to it like to one’s roots and [he did so] naturally, not as one might assume out of a sense of limitation on his upward flight or a sense of falling, Heaven forbid.
This irrational passion that comes to the fore in the handwriting, born from providing his entire being to serve spiritual goals was, apparently, constantly balanced by very powerful rational intellection and by a power of judiciousness that knew no mercy.
He appears to have lived constantly under severe orders, practically a supernal command, to bring down to earth the transcendental meditation, which was not – as one might assume – granted to him from above as a gift but was a personal conquest on his part through massive struggle. And it was incumbent on him to fill this contemplation of his with content that was tangible, compelling, and pithy, due to his love for people and all of existence.
The manuscript testifies to the warmth of his unceasing interest, which probably pushed him to seek and find the strongest possible connection between humanity, that is, between the universe as a whole and his observation into the noble [sublime] world. It is probably due to this successful conquest that his quiet and steadfast pride arose, which in this manuscript is associated with a degree of humility and with a simplicity devoid of all [external] mannerisms, and since his tendency was alert towards illustration, he also strove to get to know the world; to understand it with a systematic and precise understanding, without fear of encountering contradictions, secrets, and inexplicable things, all with the daring of simplicity. And if, despite all his careful research, he came across something impossible for him to explain, he probably accepted it in humility as a Divine dictate from above, without rebellion. His ultimate confidence lay, probably, in his humility more than in his wisdom.
Yet, it is very plausible that his strong leadership skills forbade him from appearing in public only as a humble person. He apparently aspired to act — in an ever-growing manner — as a “pillar” for his community and a solid support for others [as well]. The manuscript reveals an absolute firmness and proud sturdiness which allowed him to achieve this.
More than he had the desire to extend his hand to help his fellow man and to lead him – he had the desire to protect his fellow man. Both tendencies were very strong and instinctive within him, and he felt within himself the fateful command to stand firm, as a solid example for all those loyal to him. But the mission to “serve as an example” could not remain a passive measure within a dynamic personality like his. The fact that he was a spiritual giant forced him to bear actual fruit in the form of giving advice, extending generous assistance, and active public advocacy.
It appears that sometimes he would secretly struggle with the desire to “come down” to the level of the people around him. And sometimes, with his grace, he also was inclined to come to terms with this desire and express it with the poetic sweetness unique to him. But always, as well, this was conditioned with a commitment to immediately return to his infinite vastness. His moving away was like a diver diving into an abyss, illuminated by the glow of revelation and by happiness that has no end.
The fact that he was inclined toward relationships with people around him does not mean that he always identified with them. In some way, he maintained a clear dissonance from them, barring him from getting too familiar with them. And yet, he was always imbued with great love for them and understanding of their souls. His love for his fellow man caused him to apply a large degree of patience and tolerance toward others which amounted to the level of intolerance he applied towards himself.
He strictly behaved towards himself according to principles set and accepted upon himself. These rules were determined according to all his brutally honest researches and quests, and he lived by them with his full characteristic diligence, and at the same time, [always] with all that shock-filled initial excitement.
His handwriting reveals that in all his research and inner quests, he took it upon himself to maintain a high-level and strict watch over his fertile and intense imagination. All the energy and fertility of his imagination (which any other person of lower caliber would certainly direct towards literary or artistic work, perhaps being important in their own right) forced him to treat his visions with serious reservations.
He had a great talent for the experiences of poetry. Very rarely did he allow himself to indulge in pleasant, “sleepy” moods. Instead, by his own will, he became completely “sold” to holy asceticism; he devoted himself to it with all his heart and soul, and hardly allowed himself to part with it even for a short while.
It is difficult to determine (due to the lack of material) if his endless strive towards the real truth was self-driven, or if he acted on it by a stern Divine decree.
Apparently, both are true: at different periods of his life he was probably full of longing for further perfection, and he was gripped and disturbed by an inner ambition to reach this perfection. In other periods, as his handwriting shows, he was subject to an inner calling that condemned him to dare, and not to settle for a less perfect spirituality than what a human being can achieve on his terms.
NOT OVERLOOKING EVIL
The author was overflowing with a desire for a positive faith, yet he was by no means quick to believe nor was he comfortable with optimism. More than the ordinary person, he saw the dark side of the human psyche and nature and did not block his eyes from seeing reality as it is with all its blemishes, eliminating all illusions. But nothing was more distant to him than an easily-attained faith of belief. Whatever his broad and great mind grasped, was always put to the test of contrast, [he made sure to view] both the good and the bad. In this confrontation between the two of them, he was ready to take on any test and face any struggle. And so, while his enormous vitality used very actively all good traits – his justness, steadfastness, seriousness, and honesty with himself, defeated all the dark and evil. This confrontation between good and evil was not just a theoretical war within his soul. It was an inner edict that called on him not to accept evil, but to always perfect the existing, to elevate and illuminate it; this was one of the fundamental traits of his character.
THE DRIVE TO DO THE IMPOSSIBLE
This trait seems to have made him dare and try things, which sometimes seemed impossible even to himself. He accepted this pure and innocent attitude as a matter of law, [i.e.,] if a given matter was proven to him at a certain point to be virtuous, religious, and crucial to be accomplished, [it had to be accomplished no matter what]. In these efforts of his to master the impossible, he was able to bypass the impossible, or cancel it and ignore it. Another, less great than he, would certainly have recoiled from these impossibilities or would have even failed under them.
This suprarational daring he possessed was the result of his constant sense that he lived under the dominion of the supreme Divine law, a law that he not only accepted unconditionally but also worshiped persistently and happily. Accepting the yoke of the law and believing in it protected him from any skepticism. His handwriting is quite solid, indicating that he felt himself insured under the wings of a superior regime, which was also understandable to him, thanks to his comprehensive intelligence.
But what is it that caused this constant struggle, the traces of which are preserved in his handwriting?
This struggle, it appears, was caused when encountering irrational matters beyond human comprehension while being driven by the strength of his spirit to understand even the most sublime. And with all the strength of his deepest desires, he strove for the light by utilizing all the might of his reasoning and all the power of his contemplation, while displaying a distrust for imagination and blind faith. He always made an effort to dive in and reach an understanding of the depths of the essence of things and ideas.
Despite these traces of a struggle, the handwriting displays a very strong inner self-discipline, which probably took the place of that struggle during the years of his maturation. What in the days of his youth served as a passion-filled motion, later became acceptance of the yoke and [thereby] a [source for] fruitful creativity. What was once in his heart attached to ambition and constant action, was later brought to understanding and inner silence, quiet listening, a love of tradition, and the patience for creativity based on firm foundations.
Within the author’s mature personality, there was no longer any need to deal with those desires, but the ability to stand resolutely against external opposition apparently remained with him. The author’s personality was strong enough not to surrender to the whole outside world.
Naturally, the manuscript itself cannot solve the enigma of what force within him was greater – his desire to give of his own to others and to provide them with his vision and the nobility of his enthusiastic observation, or his wondrous virtue to infinitely devote himself to infinity itself…