I heard a few more stories from Rabbi Paltiel’s shiur today.
Tzemach Tzedek and a number of other Jewish “authorities” (I am using quotation marks, because among them were not just frum Jews and gedolim, but also major appikorsim of the time), were brought by the government to Petersburg to vote on a number of “Jewish questions”, most of which, as was usual for such conferences, had to do with “modernization” and assimilation of Jews.
There was a garden which was off-limits to most of the people, but could be used by the government officials and the guests of the government. Tzemach Tzedek never entered that garden. Even though to walk from the hotel where he was staying to the place of the conference, he had to go around the garden, which was quite a walk, he still did that every day.
On one day, they were supposed to discuss and then vote on the proposal to ban all books containing Kabbalah and Chassidus. Rabbi Paltiel says: appikorsim knew the power of Chassidus and Kabbalah. He also tells a story of one girl who was interested in Judaism and was going to a Reform temple. At the same time she encountered a local shliach and went to a few classes by him. One day she came to the Reform “rabbi” of the temple and asked: “I was looking in the library, and I couldn’t find one book. Do we have a copy of Tanya here?” The rabbi became pale and answered: “No, we don’t have that book. Look, I have to talk to you”. And he proceeded to explain to her all the dangers of learning Tanya and Chassidus. The girl later said: “Nothing made me more interested and motivated in learning Chassidus than that rabbi explaining its ‘dangers’.”
Anyway, so that day, Tzemach Tzedek went through the garden. On a bench was sitting one of the most prominent appikorsim of the time. He was one of the most dangerous appikorsim, because he was very learned in Torah. At the same time, he was not a bully, but a refined person. With tears streaming down his cheeks, Tzemach Tzedek approached him and said: “The Rebbe [Rabbeinu HaKadosh] said: ‘In one hour, a man can acquire for himself the World-to-Come.’ Vote with us today.” And on that day, the man supported Tzemach Tzedek and Reb Itzhe Volozhiner.
When Tzemach Tzedek came from that conference together with his son Maharil, the latter, having seen the mesirus nefesh that Tzemach Tzedek showed for chinuch (he had been arrested twenty two times total), went to his mother and said: “I have a new Rebbe” (meaning, he recognized Tzemach Tzedek as his Rebbe).
Somebody in the audience asked a question, which I couldn’t hear well, but I can guess its contents. What do you mean, he only now recognized Tzemach Tzedek as a Rebbe? Even assuming that he had been a chossid of Mitteler Rebbe, so what? Mitteler Rebbe was nistalek, there is a new Rebbe (and not just anybody, but Tzemach Tzedek!), who, furthermore, is his father — what’s the question?
Rabbi Paltiel answered: Rebbeship is not about politics. It’s not about family. It’s an inyan in avoidas Hashem. People who don’t take the chossid–Rebbe relationship seriously can switch Rebbeim easily too. But Maharil took the fact that he was a chossid of Mitteler Rebbe very seriously. Furthermore, Tzemach Tzedek and Mitteler Rebbe were very different Rebbeim. So, it was very difficult for the Maharil to “switch”.
To me it is also interesting that the Maharil switched not because he recognized Tzemach Tzedek’s awesome greatness in nigleh and nistar, but because of Tzemach Tzedek’s mesirus nefesh for chinuch.