1 Reb Gershon Dov described to me how the early chassidim used to take care to preserve the dignity of Chassidus. They did this out of awe for what is holy, and with heartfelt emotional involvement. As everyone knows, the people who are generally called “common folk” achieved an entirely new status in the days of Moreinu the Baal Shem Tov. He was the first to raise the banner of Torah study and mitzvos as performed by the common people, with their acceptance of the yoke of Heavenand fear of Heaven.

Moreinu the Baal Shem Tov perceived a great light in the avodah of simple folk. The Baal Shem Tov’s maxim was handed down from generation to generation, concerning those who do mitzvos, daven, and recite Tehillim with innocent sincerity and simple faith (even if they don’t know the meaning and translation of what they are saying):

[It is written]:2 “And Your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the earth forever.” This refers to simple Jews who do business in the marketplace, or who travel about the villages and the estates of the nobility, and mention the Name of Heaven in these places; those who support themselves by the labor of their own hands, and at the same time support Torah scholars; and those who purchase seforim for use in the shuls. Thus, “Your people are all tzaddikim,” for they are the ones who “shall inherit the earth forever.” It is they who elevate the fear of Heaven here on earth.

There are hundreds of stories that tell of the great love that the Baal Shem Tov bore for simple, yet innocent and sincere folk, who daven and recite Tehillim with simple faith. These lessons in ahavas Yisrael became the main foundation and fundamental principle of chassidim and Chassidus in all succeeding generations.

Obedience and discipline are the principal tools for guiding chassidim. Regardless of the circumstances, and no matter how prominent a chassid one might be, he had no choice in the matter. He was compelled to submit himself to the discipline and methods ordained by the official teacher and mentor of the local chassidic community.

The teachers and mentors of each chassidic community would involve themselves in the details of the lives of the chassidim; they investigated closely — and concerned themselves with — their material and spiritual situation. When necessary, they would encourage them and fortify them, through love and friendship.

Reb Gershon Dov’s narrative resumes:

While I was still a child, I studied under my uncle and master, Reb Azriel Yaakov Melamed. Whenever he traveled to town, he would usually take me along with him. There, I was always amazed by the cordial manner in which I would see the chassidim treat Reb Shlomo the coachman at their gatherings.

This Reb Shlomo lived in the same small village as my uncle. He was very pious, and he awoke every night after the rooster crowed, reciting Tikkun Chatzos with tears. Afterwards, he would recite the entire book of Tehillim. But he remained a very simple person, who didn’t even know the meaning of the words of simple blessings like HaMotzie.

Once every two or three years, Reb Shlomo would accompany the other chassidim to Lubavitch. Upon his return, he always joined the other guests returning from Lubavitch, seated at the head of the table. He was also invited to tell what he had seen and heard there.

Much to my surprise, I discovered that people would listen to Reb Shlomo the coachman’s stories with the same attention that they paid to Reb Yeshayah the melamed or Reb Yekusiel the shochet when they told a story or repeated a chassidic teaching they had heard.

The chassidim loved and cherished each individual member of their society. They were even more careful when it came to the younger folk — they would be sure to train them in the ways of Chassidus, and draw them close with abounding love.

I will now describe the reception I received from the chassidim when I returned from Lubavitch. In fact, they had already held a reception for others who returned from Lubavitch with me. But they held another reception especially for me, and the elder chassidim took a leading role in it.

The aged Reb Yitzchak Shaul — one of the elder chassidim, who had attended the courts of the Mezritcher Maggid and the holy Baal Shem Tov — told of a tradition handed down among chassidim:

It is said that whenever someone returns after spending some time at the court of a tzaddik, he brings back with him some of the light that emanates from that tzaddik. However, as we know from the teachings of our holy Rebbeim, that emanated light is only an external, encompassing light.

The purpose of the teachings and the avodah of our holy Rebbe, is to show us how to know G‑d in such a way that the emanated light we receive at a tzaddik’s court will shine in an internalized manner. This is brought about through the various tools of Chochmah, Binah, and Daas, and through Torah and mitzvos and the avodah of the heart. We must also arouse ourselves to perfecting our character traits, and our ahavas Yisrael

As we all know, the Alter Rebbe had the privilege of washing the Mezritcher Maggid’s head [during the taharah].3 I once heard from the chassid Reb Chayim of Rudnia, who heard from the tzaddik Reb Menachem Mendel of Horodok: “We all drank from the same fountain.4 Some of us were even privileged to drink from the source of the fountain. However, most of us drank only from the most external aspects of the source.” But the Alter Rebbe drank from both the external aspects, and the most internal aspects.

That was the legacy he left to all those who follow after him. This is the supremacy of Chabad Chassidus: to cause the mind to rule over the heart, especially by means of internal avodah.

After my return from Lubavitch, the chassidim (melamdim, ordinary folk, and storekeepers) would gather together, and I would repeat to them the discourses I had heard from the Rebbe. Even the oldest chassidim used to come, paying no attention to the snow and the cold. I now understood the power of the original chassidic teachers and mentors, who had implanted in them such obedience and discipline — even mesirus nefesh — in honoring Chassidus.

I would repeat each discourse two or three times. Then, we would discuss the nuances of the discourse, and tell various stories, until late at night.

The last discourse I had heard from the Rebbe then, was on the verse,5 “Thus said the L‑rd of Hosts — if you will go in My ways and if you will keep My watch, and you will also oversee My house and also guard My courtyards, I will give you access to move among these [angels] who are standing still.” The discourse deals with the question: Why did the soul make such a great descent into the body?

We must say that the descent was for the purpose of an eventual ascent, the ascent from the state of “standing still” to the state of “moving.”

The state of “standing still” refers to [the Divine Light that] fills all worlds. It is true that this state has many levels, but all these levels are dependent on the ray of Divine light that measures and dispenses vitality to all existence.

Therefore, the angels are referred to as “standing still,” though they exist at many different levels and in different categories. For example, the host of the Angel Michael consists of 186 thousand legions, but they are all confined to the realm of love. And the Angel Gavriel’s legions are all confined to the realm of fear.

On the other hand, the state of “moving” refers to [the Divine Light that] transcends all worlds, which is infinite. This is the supremacy of human souls [over angels]; it may be achieved through the avodah of Torah and mitzvos, and by refining the lower worlds.6

The Rebbe then explained this avodah in detail: it consists of Torah study; the avodah of the heart through awakening the attributes of love and fear; the minute details of refining and elevating [the lower worlds] through the three daily prayers and Kerias Shema upon retiring; the ascent experienced on Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh, and Yom Tov; and the general ascent of the soul, when it achieves its eternal elevation [in Gan Eden] in reward for its avodah, which can be performed only in this world.

I repeated this discourse several times during Thursday evening of Parshas Vayechi, for we were awake that whole night. By request of the chassidim, I repeated this discourse before Kabbalas Shabbos, on Shabbos before the davening, and again after Minchah.

On Tuesday, 21 Teves in the morning, while we were still davening, Reb Dov the melamed came and informed us that his grandfather, the chassid Reb Yitzchak Shaul, was sick. We therefore hurried to finish our prayers, and we went to visit him. In the meanwhile, the physician Reb Lipa had bled him. Thus, when we entered his room, he was feeling a little better. He prepared himself for prayer, and he davened in his usual fervent manner. After the prayer, he studied his usual lessons.

In the evening we came to visit him again, and at his request I repeated the aforementioned discourse, “Thus said the L‑rd ....” Then, we sat with him for several hours. The same thing happened on Wednesday evening. But when we stood up to depart, he suddenly fainted.

When we managed to arouse him, and he finally opened his eyes, he inquired whether it was already daybreak. He explained that he wished to put on his tefillin and daven, for he was in a hurry to travel to his home before Yom Tov — “מען דארף פארען אויף יום טוב א חיים! [We must reach home in time for the festival.]

These words of his alarmed us; though his facial expression appeared normal, we feared that he was not in his right mind. But when we told him that it was still an hour before midnight, he washed his hands, recited Kerias Shema in a melodious voice, and then fell asleep.

At daybreak, he requested his grandson Reb Dov Ber to hurry and change his shirt for a clean linen one. He then put on his tallis and tefillin, and davened for a long time with great fervor. However, because of his weakened condition, he had to interrupt the prayer several times. When we returned to him, he was already finished davening.

Yosef Shalom — send for Shaul Leib, Peretz, Chayim Eliyah, and the other chassidim,” said Reb Yitzchak Shaul. “I wish us to bid each other farewell before I journey home for Yom Tov. Meanwhile (he said to me), you — Gershon Dov — repeat the discourse ‘Thus said ... I will give you ...’ again. When I see your father, I will give him your regards, and tell him that you are traveling on the right road.”

By the time all those who had been summoned were assembled (joined by many who had not been summoned), Reb Dov Ber the melamed’s house (where Reb Yitzchak Shaul lived) was filled to capacity. Reb Yitzchak Shaul then declared, ברידער! איך פאהר אויף יום טוב א חיים! [Brothers! I am going home for the festival!]

All the assembled people rubbed their eyes, having no idea what he was talking about. Only the elderly Reb Shaul Leib [understood, and] he said — in all sincerity — “Do you expect to get there for Yom Tov?”

“Certainly!” replied Reb Yitzchak Shaul. “But first, I wish to daven Minchah. Don’t you remember what we heard from the mouth of the Holy of Holies — the Alter Rebbe — concerning the Minchah prayer?”

Abruptly, Reb Yitzchak Shaul rose from his prone position and sat up in bed. He asked for his hat and gartel, which he put on his head and around his waist. Then he said: “It is more than seventy-five years since we two — Reb Shaul Leib and I — heard the Alter Rebbe say, when he first came to Liozna ...”

(Here, Reb Yitzchak Shaul struggled to stand up, but was unable to do so. He remained seated in his place, and red blotches appeared in his snow-white face;)

[The Gemara says,]7 “A man must always be scrupulous about the Minchah prayer.” Now the supremacy of the Minchah prayer over the Shacharis and Maariv prayers stems from the fact that it is recited in the middle of the day, when people are busy and occupied with their private affairs. But they interrupt everything to daven Minchah.

The perpetual avodah of a person in this world is to strive to be “a man,” i.e., his intellect must illuminate and control his emotions. The [Hebrew] word for “scrupulous” [about Minchah] also means “to illuminate.”8 This means that [spiritual] form must govern material substance. This can be discerned through the Minchah prayer.9

When Reb Yitzchak Shaul finished repeating the discourse (which he managed with great difficulty, because of his very weakened state), he declared: “this evening will be the yartzeit of out holy Rebbe.10 I beg you chassidim not to spend too much time on the preparations [for my funeral]. Bury me in time, so that I will have a chance to immerse myself in the ‘River of Fire,’ and still arrive at the yartzeit celebration [in Gan Eden].”

He then hurried to begin davening Minchah. Before Reb Yekusiel had a chance to finish reciting the last Kaddish, we suddenly heard Reb Yitzchak Shaul reciting, Shema Yisrael A-donai Elo-heinu A-donai Echad! Then, with a glow on his face, he surrendered his soul to its Creator, in perfect serenity and complete faith.

With powerful tears, all those who stood by responded “Blessed be the Name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever!” They then repeated Shema Yisrael and the other verses [usually recited on such an occasion].11

The news of the passing of the vintage chassid Reb Yitzchak Shaul spread like lightning. Huge crowds, from all corners of town, immediately began to stream toward the home of his grandson, Reb Dov Ber the melamed.

The heads of the Chevra Kadisha arrived, and they decided to allocate a place of honor for him in the cemetery. There was snow on the ground and the earth was frozen. Nevertheless, the elderly Reb Shaul Leib and Reb Yosef Shalom urged the young members of the chassidic community to hurry the job [of digging the grave], so that Reb Yitzchak Shaul’s final request could be fulfilled to perfection.

By the time we returned to town, it was already late at night, and we all went immediately to the shul. We spent the whole night there, as each of the elders repeated things he had heard from the chassid Reb Yitzchak Shaul, and they shared fond memories of him.

Reb Dov Ber the melamed led the prayers three times a day, as required by law. Additionally, the friends of the deceased — the elder chassidim, Reb Shaul Leib and Reb Yosef Shalom — also said Kaddish for their departed comrade. From the expressions on their faces, it was evident that they envied his situation, for they were confident that he was now privileged to visit the Alter Rebbe in his domain.

Standing close to the elder chassidim, we witnessed the fruits of the Alter Rebbe’s labors. This is what I saw from the chassidim of Klimovitch, and this is the sort of thing that I saw from my master and mentor, the tzaddik Reb Hillel of Paritch.

(Tears flowed from Reb Gershon Dov’s eyes as he spoke these words.)