The Rebbe’s Grandson Who Was Challenged with Fashion

Ahead of his wedding, a young R. Nochum, was called in by his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, who tried to discourage him from getting fitted with a collar of the latest fashion, and promised him Gan Eden – but only if he really meant it.

Reb Menachem Nochum, the oldest son of the Mitteler Rebbe, was born around the year 5547 (1787) and resided in Lubavitch. Later on, he moved to Niezhin, making frequent extended visits to the kever of his grandfather the Alter Rebbe in Haditch. He passed away around eighty years old and is buried in Niezhin.


During the time of the Alter Rebbe, a new fashion in Russia dictated that jackets should henceforth have collars. When his grandson Reb Nochum, son of the Mitteler Rebbe, was preparing for his chassuna, the Alter Rebbe called for him and asked him about his silk kapota: would it be made in the traditional way, or would it conform to the new fashion? “It’ll have a collar, of course,” Reb Nochum replied.

The Alter Rebbe requested that he have it made without one, but Reb Nochum, then still a young bochur, argued, “Everyone else will have one, and I’ll be embarrassed.” The Alter Rebbe then promised him that if he wore a kapota without a collar, he would be together with his grandfather in Gan Eden. He then asked Reb Nochum that when his kapota was ready, he should come to him dressed in it. Reb Nochum asked if he must do it wholeheartedly or kabolas ol would be sufficient. The Alter Rebbe replied, “Of course, it must be truthfully, and with the truth of the ‘yechida.'” Reb Nochum was silent and nothing more was said.

Before the chassuna, the young man entered the Alter Rebbe’s room, dressed in his new kapota… which had a collar. The Alter Rebbe then tore off a small piece of fur from the inside of the coat and promised him long life for that. Years later Reb Nochum commented, “I was young and didn’t appreciate how great was the promise I had been given.” To correct this incident, Reb Nochum would spend much time in Haditch by the Ohel of the Alter Rebbe.

The Rebbe explained that at that time and place, the challenge of fashion was extremely difficult. Had the Alter Rebbe been successful, that challenge would have been removed for generations to come. And that explains why he offered his grandson such a rich reward.


The Mitteler Rebbe’s kapelia included two groups of chassidim, musicians and horse riders, who would enliven joyous occasions. The Rebbe’s son Reb Nachum was one of the horse riders.

One ordinary day, the Rebbe called for a performance and stood by his window to watch. Suddenly, Reb Nachum was flung from his horse and was badly hurt, but surprisingly, the Rebbe motioned that the performance should continue. Meanwhile, a doctor was called, and after examining Reb Nachum, concluded, “He has only broken his leg.”

Some chassidim later asked the Mitteler Rebbe why he had ordered that the performance continue, despite the accident.

“Why don’t you ask the reason for calling for a performance on a regular day?” responded the Rebbe, and he explained: “I became aware of a harsh decree being issued in Shamayim on my son, and since simcha sweetens stern decrees, I called for the kapelia. The simcha helped, for his fall turned out much less harmful than what had been planned for him. Then, to ensure a complete recovery, I instructed that the festivities continue. With HaShem’s help, he will recover completely.”


Year after year, as if for the first time, Reb Nachum, the Alter Rebbe’s grandson, would relate in patient detail all the events that took place during the stormy time of the Alter Rebbe’s arrest.

He would describe the tense atmosphere of that period, the libelous accusation the misnagdim brought to the czarist authorities, and their exultation when the Alter Rebbe was arrested. Reb Nachum would then describe the Alter Rebbe’s stay in prison, his geula, the way in which the good news spread, and the Rebbe’s return trip to Liozna from the prison in Petersburg.

When he recalled the arrest, his voice would drop, as if he were weeping; when he described the liberation, his voice would rise with the simcha of a remembered victory.

Like the Megilla Reading on Purim, he would tell the whole story once at night and again by day. Moreover, if one of the dignified elder chassidim would join the gathering after he had begun, he would go back to the very beginning and start all over again!

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