🕯 HaRav Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson zt’l, The 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe (1880-1950) – 10th of Shvat

January 12, 2022

Today is the yahrtzeit of Rav Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson zt’l. In his lifetime, he encountered every conceivable challenge to Jewish life – the persecutions and pogroms of Czarist Russia, Communism’s war on Judaism, and America’s apathy and scorn toward the Torah and its precepts. There is really so much to write about and learn from this great personality (and the same goes for his esteemed grandmother Rebbetzin Rivka Schneerson (1833-1914), who shares the same yahrtzeit!). However, being a music blog, I thought we could touch upon the musical aspect of the Rebbe’s life before highlighting a few well-known Chabad tunes.

Music has always been at the heart of Chassidic life and practice. But perhaps more so than even Modzitz, there may not be another chassidus whose essence revolves around music more so than it does in Chabad. Many of us know that there are hundreds of Lubavitch niggunim – many of us can even sing a healthy handful of them with relative ease. But what many do not know is that the rescue and preservation of the music of Lubavitch can be directly attributed to Rav Yosef Yitzchak, zt’l. For the sake of brevity, here is just a brief overview of how this came to be.

In 1935, a Chabad chossid named R’ Shaul Dov Zislin wrote to the Rayatz (an acronym for R’ Yosef Yitzchak) that perhaps the time has come to record the notes of the various Chabad niggunim in writing:
“It causes me great sorrow to see members of our sect beginning a niggun at their gatherings, but there is no one who can end it, or they do not even know how to start from the beginning and they only start playing from the middle… Chas v’shalom, if they are not written down soon, there will be no one left who will know how to sing our songs in their entirety, and the songs will be lost forever!”

In response to this letter, the Rebbe wrote that Zislin should have someone who is proficient in In response to this letter, the Rebbe wrote that Zislin should have someone who is proficient in writing music begin to transcribe the niggunim immediately. Zislin did so and sent his work to the Rebbe. Then in 1944, The Rayatz would appoint R’ Shmuel Zalmanov to arrange a booklet of niggunim of Chabad in order to gather them and clean them of errors. Just to be clear, R’ Shmuel was not randomly selected. Zalmanov was methodical and meticulous and enjoyed a very close relationship with the Rebbe. He was an erudite intellectual and a Talmid Chacham. He was the director of the Chabad yeshiva in Warsaw and Vilna, a “chozer” (which, in Chabad terms, is a chossid with a good memory and deep understanding of the chassidus who repeats teachings of the Rebbe which were delivered on Shabbos and Yom Tov when they cannot be recorded in writing), and had a well-developed musical talent.

With his musical mission in hand, R’ Zalmanov went on to compile and edit what is referred to as The Sefer HaNiggunim – a three-volume anthology of hundreds of Chabad Niggunim, The book compiles transcriptions of notes of various Chabad niggunim, along with a foreword and explanations about the different niggunim. The first volume was published in 1948 in New York by “Nichoach” (an acronym for Niggunei Chassidei Chabad) and contained 175 songs. After the first volume was published and accepted, the Rebbe encouraged R’ Shmuel to publish another volume. But, not long after this, R’ Yosef Yitzchak was niftar.

Understanding the significance of the project, his son-in-law and successor, R’ Menachem Mendel Schneersohn zt’l, requested that R’ Zalmanov continue the project. After extensive efforts, the second volume of the Sefer HaNiggunim was published with a relatively small number of niggunim (35 in total), with the intention of publishing similar small booklets from time to time. In the final years of his life, R’ Shmuel worked on publishing a third volume, work which was abruptly cut short by his death in Yerushalayim in 1975. R’ Shmuel’s son, R’ Yisroel Yosef, completed the work, and so the third volume was published in 1980 that contained another 137 niggunim.

It would be difficult to highlight just one Chabad song, so I thought we could enjoy a few of them from a relatively recent recording. Chabad Medley was performed by Yaakov Shwekey on his 2019 second album of oldies entitled Those Were the Days, Vol. 2. In honor of his yahrtzeit, I think we can all take a moment to appreciate the significant role that Rav Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson had in safeguarding his dynasty’s sacred tunes – the world just wouldn’t be the same without them.

HaRav Yosef Yitzchok ben R’ Shalom Dovber – Yehi zichro baruch, zechuso yagen aleinu.

Songs in order:

Tzama Lecha Nafshi – Attributed to The Baal Hatanya, Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi, zt’l
Tzama – Ech Ti Dorin (Russian) – Old Chabad Niggun, Niggun #196
Didan Natzach (Niggun Rikud) – Old Chassidic Niggun
Anim Zemiros – Rav Menachem Mendel Schneerson, zt’l (1961)
Rosh Chodesh Kislev Niggun – R’ Shraga Feitel Halevi Levin (1977)
Shalom Aleichem – The Baal Hatanya, Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi, zt’l, Niggun #6
Ki Anu Amecha – Rav Menachem Mendel Schneerson, zt’l, Niggun #194 (1956)
Avinu Malkeinu – The Baal Hatanya, Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi, zt’l
V’atah Amarta – Niggun Hisvaadus, Nigun #124
We Want Moshiach Now – (Niggun Rikud) Chabad Simchas Torah Hakofoh Melody, Niggun #169
Niggun Simcha (Tzemach Tzedek Niggun) – Attributed to the chassidim of the Tzemach Tzedek

Der Rebbi Hut Geheisen – Old Chassidic Niggun
Ki Besimcha – Old Chabad Niggun, Niggun #159

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