This is the Torah (law): A man who dies in a tent… (19:14)
The Torah is only acquired by those who kill themselves for it in the tents of study.
- The Zohar
It happened in the winter of 1798 or 1799, when Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch was a child of eight or nine. Every Friday night Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi would deliver a discourse of chassidic teaching to a select group of disciples. Little Mendel begged to be allowed in, but his grandfather refused.
The dwelling of Rabbi Schneur Zalman consisted of two two-room buildings, joined by a connecting passageway. In one of the wings, a large wood-burning stove, used for heating and occasionally to bake bread, was set in the wall between the two rooms. The stove opened into the outer room, and also protruded into the inner room which served as Rabbi Schneur Zalman's study.
One Friday night, the Rebbe was delivering his weekly discourse in his study. It was an exceptionally cold night, so a gentile was summoned to heat the oven. For some reason, he found it difficult to push the logs all the way in to the oven, so he built the fire near the opening of the stove. As a result, the outer room soon began to fill with smoke. Once again, he tried to push the burning logs further in, but they wouldn't budge. The poor man had to start all over again. He put out the fire, pulled out the logs, and peered into the stove to see what was preventing the logs from going in.
His shouts and shrieks summoned the entire household. The session in Rabbi Schneur Zalman's room was disrupted; those in the second building also came running. Inside the stove lay a young boy. A small lamp was the only source of light in the smoke-filled room, so it took some time until the child was identified as the Rebbe's grandson, little Menachem Mendel.
For some weeks now, the child had discovered that he could hear his grandfather's words through the thin wall of the stove. Every Friday night he would clamber deep into the large stove, and listen to the profound and lofty words of the Rebbe's teachings. And now, because of the bitter cold, his listening post had been discovered.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman's daughter-in-law, Rebbetzin Sheina, who was present at the time, related:
"When they pulled the child out of the stove, he was paralyzed with fright. My mother-in-law, Rebbetzin Sterna, cried to my father-in-law, the Rebbe: 'See what could of happened! A tragedy! Strangers you allow to enter, but when your own child begged you, you wouldn't let him in!' Father-in-law replied: 'Sha, sha. Moses reached Mount Sinai only by beholding fire - only then did he merit that the Torah be given through him. Torah is acquired only through self-sacrifice.' "