Photo Credit: Jewish Press

In the town of Lubavitch, cutting the wheat for matzah was a special event. Reb Zalman of Shzerbina was the chassid who supplied the wheat for the matzah of the Rebbe Maharash, the fourth Lubavitch Rebbe, and later for the matzah of the Rebbe Rashab, the fifth Lubavitch Rebbe, known by the chassidim as “the Rebbe Nishmoso Eiden.”

All the local Yiddish farmers, some of the “yoshvim,” the men who studied full time in the Rebbe’s beis medrash, and some guests in Lubavitch at the time would join Reb Zalman and his family for the reaping.


The Rebbe himself would also participate – first the Rebbe Maharash and later the Rebbe Rashab. The harvest day had to be clear with a hot sun, and had to be preceded by three dry days. Reb Zalman would travel to Lubavitch with several wagons to transport the chassidim, and since they could not forecast the weather, they often stayed in Shzerbina for a week or longer.

The Rebbe was brought by special transport on the chosen day. For Reb Zalman, this was a tremendous simcha. Blessed with the zechus of reaping the wheat for the Rebbe’s shemura matzah, being able to fulfill the mitzvah of hachnsosas orchim, welcoming guests, which he truly enjoyed, and especially having the opportunity to host the Rebbe, gave him strength and vitality, for the whole year.

From the day he set out with his wagonloads of helpers, the townsfolk in Lubavitch began their speculations about the next day’s weather. Day by day, they eagerly awaited the messenger from Shzerbina who would let them know that the harvest day had arrived. When that finally happened, the Rebbe would set out on the two-hour ride to Shzerbina. When the sun blazed its strongest, between the hours of twelve noon and two, the chassidim reaped the wheat, happily and earnestly. Wearing their full chassidic garb with hats and gartels, they worked energetically in the sweltering heat as if they were accustomed to such intense physical labor.

Even when he was already advanced in years, Reb Zalman himself, with his flowing beard and joyful, shining face, would rush around the fields like a young man, with scythe in hand. His simcha carried him. His feet lifted off the ground to fulfill a shlichus of Hashem, as can happen only to one of His true servants who feels an inner delight in performing His mitzvos. While some men reaped others sang, their pleasant voices reaching far and wide. The local women and their children, dressed in their Shabbos best in honor of the occasion, stood at a distance. Their faces clearly showed that something extraordinary was taking place. When the work was over, some of the chassidim went to wash up.

Reb Zalman would put on his silk Shabbos kapote and lead the Mincha prayers to the joyous tune sung on Simchas Torah. As he concluded the final Kaddish, he would wait for the minyan to help him turn over in somersaults, as they were accustomed to do on Simchas Torah. He did this three times back and forth and then broke into a lively dance.

Next came a festive mean of dairy delicacies. At this seudah the Rebbe delivered a maamar, a chassidic discourse, and continued the farbrengen for hours. After Maariv, the Rebbe would retire to rest in a room that had been prepared for him while the chassidim continued the farbrengen through the night.

At ten o’clock the next morning, after Shacharis, the Rebbe would leave for Lubavitch. Later that day, Reb Zalman would bring the chassidim back to Lubavitch, bringing along the sacks of wheat they had reaped, ready to be hung in a designated room.

It is most interesting how the previous Rebbe very carefully recorded these events in great detail so that we, today, should get some “taste” of the conduct of the chassidim of yore and adopt their ways in our daily lives as we prepare for the great Yom Tov of Pesach.


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Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman is director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization. He can be reached at [email protected].