Mashpia’s Question Inspired Series on Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch 

When mashpia Reb Meilech Zwiebel a”h raised a question during a hanhala meeting at the Morristown yeshiva, little did he imagine that it would lead to a series of in-depth seforim on the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch by Rabbi Shmuel Zajac.

From Anash Magazine – published by

Rabbi Shmuel Zajac (pronounced Zayentz), is a veteran maggid shiur in Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, NJ. In recent years, he published multiple seforim on topics in the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch. In a discussion with Anash Magazine, he relates how that came about, and the incredible depth he sees in the Shulchan Aruch.  


Anash Magazine: Rabbi Zajac, you serve as a maggid shiur in a Yeshiva Gedola. It is not very common to see a maggid shiur publish seforim on Halacha, yet you have published three large seforim on topics in the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch. Can you share when and how you became interested in learning and explaining the Alter Rebbe? 

Rabbi Zajac: Thankfully, I’ve been blessed by Hashem with the opportunity to both learn and impart Torah to talmidim for several decades. Whether in personal study or as a Maggid Shiur, I’ve often engaged with and delved into the writings of the Alter Rebbe in his Shulchan Aruch. 

There’s an inherent depth that always struck (and continues to strike) me – a profound layer beyond the superficial. No matter how much you explore on the surface, there are always deeper layers of profound significance to be found. Alongside the knowledge conveyed and imparted to us by the Alter Rebbe – characterized by his distinctive style and precise definitions that redefine and revolutionize our grasp of concepts – there persists an unmistakable sense and palpable feeling that there’s a deeper layer beyond what meets the eye.

While I’ve consistently delved into and occasionally analyzed various parts of the Alter Rebbe’s halachic works extensively in a broader scope, in the past decade I’ve felt compelled to venture even further, endeavoring to uncover underlying patterns and guiding principles within the Shulchan Aruch.

Once, during a staff meeting at Yeshiva, our beloved mashpia Harav Elimelech Zwiebel a”h raised a question about a specific halacha of the Alter Rebbe on the topic of Amiroh Lenochri, asking a goy to do melacha on Shabbos. I took it upon myself to explore and find an answer to his inquiry, a journey that led me to an in-depth exploration of the topic of Amiroh Lenochri, revealing previously undiscovered aspects of the Alter Rebbe’s work.

The Alter Rebbe’s treatment of Amiroh Lenochri stands as an outstanding example, unveiling concepts and ideas unlike any before. As a friend astutely remarked, that in this particular subject, the Alter Rebbe stands as the אבוהון דכולהו—the foremost authority—forging new paths and shaping our comprehension of this discourse.

More broadly, I began to discern a pattern: the Alter Rebbe introduces novel and groundbreaking ideas that permeate and transform the entire landscape of his work on a given subject, fundamentally altering the entire perspective. Moreover, his meticulous approach to individual cases stands out.

In the Alter Rebbe’s Kuntres Acharon (lengthy comments added later on), I observed a distinct approach and unique method of deriving his rulings, in which he draws his rulings from various Rishonim, diverging from how other Achronim had previously articulated them. Specifically, concerning Amiroh Lenochri, he introduces the notion of ‘shlichus’—the empowerment to designate a messenger—and ties this idea to the fundamental reasoning behind the prohibition of Amiroh Lenochri. This understanding supplements its general classification as also being a din d’rabbonon, similar to other issurim d’rabbonon.

This realization is an eye-opener, revealing how our understanding barely scratches the surface of the foundations upon which the Alter Rebbe arrived at his conclusions, leaving the core concepts insufficiently comprehended.

This was the motivation and inspiration that led to the inception of my first sefer “Yesoday Hashulchon,” focusing on Amiroh Lenochri, as well as his rulings concerning rabbinical prohibitions on Shabbos and more.

Anash Magazine: Fascinating! What other topics have you written on?

Rabbi Zajac: In my second Sefer, I focused on comprehending his rulings within the first two chapters and a substantial part of chapter 18 of Hilchos Shechitah. Although they pertain to the halachos of shechita, these sections primarily explore the fundamental principles of Ne’emanus B’issurim—trustworthiness and credibility associated with matters concerning prohibitions in Torah laws (such as relying on someone’s assertion about kashrus). Here too, the Alter Rebbe provides detailed rulings in various cases, while also establishing overarching guiding principles in dealing with uncertainties (safek) and other guiding rules used to determine the status of an item (such as its kosher or non-kosher classification).

In my latest Sefer, the third installment in this series, I undertook an extensive exploration and deep dive into significant aspects of the laws of Yom Tov. Within these intricate halachos, I grappled with numerous fundamental principles and definitions, uncovering essential principles and definitions. For example, I examined concepts like “Ochel Nefesh” and “Machshirei Ochel Nefesh,” wherein the Alter Rebbe initially defines these halachos in the “pnim” (main text) and then follows a detailed exploration through Rishonim in the Kuntres Acharon. This led to the establishment of two approaches in determining the accepted Halachic position.

For example, at the outset of Hilchos Yom Tov, the Alter Rebbe presents a concise Kuntress Achron where he defines the melacha of Hav’ara as ‘the creation and expansion of fire,’ as opposed to ‘the burning of material consumed by fire.’ Brief proofs supporting this stance are also provided. I elaborate and expand on these points, addressing many questions raised by various Talmidei Chachomim on the Alter Rebbe’s approach. The sefer elucidates how these queries are resolved, solidifies and clarifies these explanations, and affirms the strength and validity of the Alter Rebbe’s proofs.

Anash Magazine: What would you say sets the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch apart from other halachic compendiums? 

Rabbi Zajac: Much has been discussed about the Alter Rebbe and his Shulchan Aruch (a work he was tasked with by his teacher, the Mezritcher Maggid). Ultimately, the Alter Rebbe gained widespread acceptance as the authority, guiding thousands who adhere to his Halachic rulings in their daily lives. His influence extends not only among his Chassidim, but also among numerous devout Jews. Even those who don’t always follow his final Halachic decisions often seek his perspective to complement or guide their own. 

Clearly, despite all that’s been said, there’s still much more to uncover about the exceptional nature of this remarkable and magnificent work.

While the Shulchan Aruch of Alter Rebbe can be approached at varying depths by individuals of different knowledge levels and time constraints (as articulated in the Mittler Rebbe’s preface to the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch), there seems to exist a standard encapsulated in his introduction to the work. There’s a higher level of understanding that emerges when learning it alongside the Talmudic discussions upon which the Alter Rebbe based his decisions, delving into the likes of Tosfos, the Beis Yosef, and more. This method offers a more precise grasp of the Alter Rebbe’s intentions, a unified approach that threads through his entire work.

Based on the guidance of the Mitteler Rebbe and drawing from various rulings by the Alter Rebbe in different spheres, I propose a cohesive approach that threads through his entire body of work.

Anash Magazine: How would you describe the approach you take in explaining the Alter Rebbe’s statements?

Rabbi Zajac: Upon diving into this material and exploring certain sections, I’ve sensed and strongly believe in the magnificent fusion of the following two contrasting pillars (with which I have named the sefer):

“Yesodei HaShulchan”: The Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch is meticulously and methodically crafted in which it is traced and adheres to the roots of the Halacha, starting from the Mishna and Gemara, continuing through the classical Rishonim like Rashi, Tosefos, Ran, Rosh, among others, leading to the Tur and Beis Yosef, and culminating in the codification of the Shulchan Aruch of the Mechaber and Rema. The Alter Rebbe frequently references subsequent commentators like the Magen Avraham, Taz, and at times, others such as the Levush. This approach vividly illustrates the development of the Halacha across generations, firmly rooted in tradition, as most of his rulings directly quote these esteemed sources.

“Zikukai Orosav”: Simultaneously, within each citation, the Alter Rebbe not only sheds light but also illuminates these sources in a manner that appears “new” and “fresh” to someone who hadn’t perceived this depth. These beams of light, akin to dazzling fireworks, brilliantly illuminate the sources, and offer a fresh perspective to those who might have overlooked or missed this radiance initially. In this way, the Alter Rebbe innovates and sheds transformative light on the very Halachos and statements penned by predecessors, infusing them with new insight and perspective. 

This, coupled with his systematic structuring of these Halachos and his deliberate arrangement of predecessors’ statements, renders the Halacha luminous, providing answers to questions that might have lingered from the Gemara, to Rashi, to the Magen Avraham and on. His impromptu comments, additional or supplementary explanations, and framing of ideas play a pivotal role in this, serving as a response to these questions.

The references in the margins of the original print of the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch (written mostly by the Alter Rebbe himself) further showcase this process. The systematic arrangement and structuring of the codified Halachos, combined with his deliberate organization of his predecessors’ statements, illuminate the Halacha in a manner that effectively addresses numerous questions that might have arisen from the Gemara, Rashi, and Magen Avraham. 

By piecing this all together, with the citations from the Gemara and earlier commentators, one can decipher the Alter Rebbe’s intended method and grasp the underlying concepts, elucidating and addressing queries that might have surfaced regarding these Halachos. As a result, these inquiries dissolve, leaving us with a lucid comprehension of the foundational concepts behind these Halachos. These inquiries find resolution through his comments, additional explanations, and the method he employs to synthesize his ideas.

I’ve frequently found great value in delving into the foundational sugyos which are the foundational discussions of a specific halacha. This approach has enabled me to grasp the essence of what the Alter Rebbe intends to communicate, thereby illuminating and enhancing my understanding of the sugya itself and leading to a clearer understanding of the discussions at hand.

Anash Magazine: How should one who wants to learn the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch in-depth go about this? 

Rabbi Zajac: If one follows the format provided in “Yesodai HaShulchan Vezikukei Orosav” – learning the sources attributed in the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch and the Kuntres Acharons, and subsequently delving into the “pnim” of the Shulchan Aruch, one will inherently discern the perspective of the Alter Rebbe. This comprehensive approach allows for the synthesis of various sources, revealing the Alter Rebbe’s connections and innovations. 

Through this process, the reader can attain a comprehensive understanding of the Halachic conclusions, לאסוקי שמעתתא אליבא דהלכתא. 

Anash Magazine: What are the next topics that are you working on? 

Rabbi Zajac: I daven to Hashem that he grant me the strength, to successfully edit, finalize, and publish the next three seforim that are in the editing stage. These seforim encompass the topics related to Bedikas Chometz, the Pesach Seder, Hilchos Choshen Mishpot, and Ribbis. Additionally, I daven to Hashem, that He grant me the ability to complete the seventh Sefer covering various aspects of Hilchos Shabbos, and IYH further topics from the Alter Rebbe.

Anash Magazine: Yasher koiach Rabbi Zajac for your time. May Hashem grant you the strength and ability to publish many more seforim to elucidate the depth in the Alter Rebbe’s teachings!

This article first appeared in Anash Magazine – published by

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