The Baal Shem Tov

The following story1 tells of the source of the Holy Baal Shem Tov’s soul, and one may learn a profound lesson from this story, namely, how great is the Bar Mitzvah day, and how great is the attribute of tznius (modesty).

On one occasion, Rabbi Adam Baal Shem — the third leader of the group of hidden tzaddikim — revealed to the Baal Shem Tov, the source of his holy soul.

In the year 5333, there lived a simple Jew in the holy city of Tzfas in Eretz Yisrael. This Jew knew how to pray, and was simple and modest.

One night, after he had finished saying Tikkun Chatzos, he heard a knock on his door. He asked who was there and the man answered “Eliyahu HaNovi.” The man opened the door, and Eliyahu HaNovi entered, the room becoming illuminated with light and joy.

Eliyahu HaNovi turned to the man and said, “I have come to reveal to you the year in which Mashiach will come. However, I will only reveal this to you on the condition that you will reveal to me what you did on the day of your Bar Mitzvah. It is in the great merit of what you did on the day of your Bar Mitzvah that it was ruled in the Heavenly Court that I should come to you and reveal to you such secrets.”

The simple Jew from Tzfas replied, “That which I did, I did only in the honor of Hashem — how can I therefore reveal it to others? If you will not reveal to me these secrets, so be it, but I know that what has been done in the honor of Hashem must remain a secret, and I will not share it with you.”

Immediately, Eliyahu HaNovi disappeared and returned to heaven. A heavenly storm had been created by the simple yet profound answer of this Jew: that he was prepared to forego such secrets in order to preserve the secrecy of what he did on his Bar Mitzvah day in the honor of Hashem. The Heavenly Court finally ruled that Eliyahu HaNovi should again appear to the man and teach him Torah and reveal to him secrets of the Torah. In time the man became unique in his generation, a perfect tzaddik, but so modest that nobody knew of his greatness.

The time came, and that man passed away. The Heavenly Court discussed his case, and finally decided that his reward would be to again descend to this world, where he would be forced to reveal his greatness, and he would initiate a knew path in the service of Hashem, infusing the world with holiness and purity and paving the way for the coming of Mashiach.

This holy soul was the soul of the Baal Shem Tov.

The Alter Rebbe

When the Alter Rebbe became Bar Mitzvah he was accepted into the Chevra Kadisha2 and his name was entered into the communal ledger, prefaced with great titles such as “Tanna U’Palig.”3

The Tzemach Tzedek once spoke about this title that was conferred on the Alter Rebbe and said; “The Aruch4 quotes the saying, “Rav is a Tanna U’Palig” and refers to three occasions when Rav is called a Tanna. 1) In Berachos 49a, in the subject of admission; 2) Shabbos 135b in the subject of circumcision and immersion; 3) Kesubbos 81a. He then continued to explain each subject in avodah. When his words were later repeated to the Alter Rebbe, the Alter Rebbe responded, “Boruch Hashem I am hearing this, the education has succeeded.”5

On the occasion of the Alter Rebbe’s Bar Mitzvah in the year 5518, many Geonim and Lamdanim from the areas of Vitebsk, Polotzk and Minsk participated. It was like a meeting of the great Sanhedrin. Amongst those gathered, were three most distinguished guests; The Alter Rebbe’s uncle (his father’s brother-in-law) the gaon Reb Yosef Yitzchak, who was well known throughout the entire region as the ilui from Tsharei (and with whom the Alter Rebbe was especially close and friendly). The gaon Reb Moshe Reuven, the son of the great gaon Reb Avrohom Zev of Beshenkovitch, who succeeded his father in running the Yeshivah Gedolah in Beshenkovitch; and the gaon Reb Avrohom Meir, the most distinguished student of the Baal Seder HaDoros.”

The entire week of the Bar Mitzvah, the Alter Rebbe’s father, Reb Boruch, and his grandfather, Reb Moshe, celebrated, there being every day a seudas mitzvah graced with many chiddushei Torah. However the chiddushei Torah of the Alter Rebbe surpassed them all. All the geonim present gave him ordination and conferred upon him the title “Rav”. It was this title that was written in the ledger of the Chevra Kadisha as a remembrance for all generations.6

The Alter Rebbe maintained a responsa correspondence with all the geonim who attended the Bar Mitzvah. The chassid and gaon Reb Yitzchak Aizik, the Av Beis Din of Vitebsk, related that he possessed three volumes of handwritten responsa (which had been copied from the handwritten copy of Reb Yehuda Leib (the Maharil) the brother of the Alter Rebbe — responses to questions posed to the Alter Rebbe by those who attended his Bar Mitzvah.7

The Mitteler Rebbe

When the Mitteler Rebbe was young, he had a melamed who learned constantly with him, only taking a break to go home to his family for the festivals. Before he traveled home for the festivals he always went to see the Alter Rebbe, who would request that he return after the holiday.

On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, 5547, as was his custom, before he left for home, he went to see the Alter Rebbe, but was quite surprised when the Alter Rebbe did not request that he return after the festival. After the festival, he was undecided whether or not to return, but in the end he decided to return, whatever the consequence might be. When he returned to Liozna, he entered the room of the Mitteler Rebbe, and upon engaging him in a Torah discussion found that he could not fathom the depths of the Mitteler Rebbe’s learning and that he was on a much higher level than when he left him in the previous year.

He asked the Mitteler Rebbe why this was so, and the Mitteler Rebbe replied that during the month of Tishrei he had begun to lay tefillin. Before he began, his father the Alter Rebbe blessed him that putting on the tefillin shel yad should have an effect of opening up his heart, and putting on the tefillin shel rosh, of opening up his mind. From that moment on, a major change had occurred.8

The following account of the Mitteler Rebbe’s Bar Mitzvah is given in Likkutei Dibburim.9 It is in fact a narration of R. Pinchas of Shklov to R. Nachum:

That year, in honor of the Bar Mitzvah of his son, the Rebbe (the Alter Rebbe) had permitted chassidim to visit Liozna for this Shabbos, which would have otherwise been forbidden by the Liozna regulations.

Twice on each of the following three Shabbosos, the Rebbe publicly expounded Chassidus — on Parshas Chayei Sarah and Toldos, before the Bar Mitzvah, and on Parshas Vayeitze, after the Bar Mitzvah.

On Thursday morning, candles were lit in the big Beis HaMidrash in the courtyard, and Shacharis began at daybreak. Three wooden walls with windows and a roof of boards had been added to the Beis HaMidrash, in order to accommodate the chassidim who had come from out of town.

The Rebbe went up the steps of the bimah, and read the Torah himself. After a Kohen and a Levi had been called up to the reading, the Rebbe was called upon, and at the conclusion of his aliyah he recited the blessing of Boruch... sheptarani, complete with the name of G‑d.

Immediately after Shacharis the Rebbe expounded the verse, “Ki Lekach Tov Nosati Lochem Torosi Al Taazovu — For I have given you a goodly teaching; do not forsake My Torah.”

He began by pointing out that in the usage of the Sages, both Lekach (teaching) and Tov (goodly) signify Torah; why, then, does the verse seemingly repeat itself by adding the word “Torosi” (My Torah), in the phrase, “Do not forsake My Torah?”

In order to answer this question, the Rebbe explained that Lekach represents the revealed levels of the Torah — that is, its laws, which stem from G‑d’s wisdom. In this spirit, as a synonym for Lekach, Rashi gives Limud (learning). This word is etymologically related to Malmad Habakar (the goad of an ox), for the laws of the Torah must be fulfilled by accepting the yoke of heaven. This is Divine Wisdom — and, indeed, the Targum translates Lekach by the Aramaic word Madaa (wisdom).

As for the other word, the Rebbe explained that Tov represents the innermost levels of the Torah, the unfathomable mysteries underlying each law.

This then, explains the Lekach Tov, — the twofold “goodly teaching.”

As to the question: what is added by the word Torosi, the Rebbe pointed out that “the Torah was given as a gift,” as in the phrase Mattan Torah — the “Giving of the Torah.” And this Torah which we are told not to forsake, is referred to (in the second half of our verse) as Torosi — “My Torah,” the Torah of the very essence of the Infinite One, Blessed be He. Likewise, it is this quality in the Torah that the Sages refer to in their teaching, “Osi atem lokchim” — “It is Me whom you are taking.”

Having completed his exposition, the Rebbe then told his son, the Bar Mitzvah, to deliver the discourse which he had told him to prepare.

The Bar Mitzvah thereupon began to expound the verse, “He tells His words to Yaakov, His statutes and ordinances to Yisrael.”

He first explained the statement of the Midrash: “It has five names — nefesh, ruach, neshamah, chayah and yechidah.” These five levels of the soul divide into two brackets — Naran (an acrostic for the first three levels) refers to the indwelling oros (“lights”) invested in keilim (“vessels”); Chai (an acrostic for the two highest letters) refers to oros makkifim (“encompassing lights”).

He went on to explain that the two alternative names, Yaakov and Yisrael, allude to two diverse approaches in divine service.

The former name (Yaakov) comprises the letter yud and the word okaiv (lit., “heel”). This means that the yud of the Four-Letter Divine Name as found in the soul — that is, the indomitable quality of souls, the innate resoluteness of the soul, and the Essence of Ein Sof — irradiates in the eikev [that is, the lowliest levels within the Jewish people], in other words, in simple folk. In them too the yud of the Four-Letter Name in the soul shines forth, by virtue of the letters of Torah and prayer that they utter with simple faith. Even though they do not know the meaning of these words, this yud sheds light within such folk nonetheless — because the comprehensive intention motivating their words is that they should be uttered for the sake of heaven.

The second name (Yisrael) echoes the words, Yisar Eil (lit., “G‑d prevails [within their souls]”). This alludes to “intellectuals,” whose Divine service lies in the direction of mind and heart, through meditation and comprehension.

[Having compared the terms “Yaakov” and “Yisrael,” the Mitteler Rebbe now turns to another pair of contrasting words in the verse, as follows:] The term Mishpatav (“His ordinances”) signifies the commandments that may be grasped by mortal intellect; the term Chukav (“His statutes”) signifies those commandments that transcend mortal intellect. Our verse teaches that one’s observance of the former category of mitzvos should be prompted by an acceptance of the yoke of heaven — simply because G‑d is the one who prescribed the mitzvah — just as is the case with the latter category of mitzvos, namely, the chukim.

As to the verb (Maggid) which opens our verse [and serves both of its clauses], it suggests “drawing forth,” or “progression”, since it may be seen as being cognate with the first verb in the phrase, Nehar... Naged VeNafek — “A river... flows and goes forth.”

[To sum up: Magid Devarav LeYaakov Chukav U’Mishpatav LeYisrael (lit., “He tells His words to Yaakov, His statutes and ordinances to Yisrael”), these are the words of the verse. The latter phrase, which relates to avodah at the level of “Yisrael,” may now be understood as follows:] the quintessential statutes (chukim) and ordinances (mishpatim) of the Essence of the Ein Sof are drawn forth into one’s avodah in mind and heart, so that the mishpatim are observed out of the same unconditional acceptance of the yoke of heaven as are the chukim.

[Likewise, the opening phrase of the verse, which relates to avodah at the level of “Yaakov”, may now be understood thus:] the quintessential words (Devarim) of the Essence of the Ein Sof are drawn forth into that kind of avodah that consists of reciting the letters of Torah and prayer out of simple faith.

As soon as the [Alter] Rebbe’s son had completed this discourse [R. Pinchas of Shklov here resumes his account of the Mitteler Rebbe’s Bar-Mitzvah], the Rebbe was most joyful, and for quite some time entered a state of dveikus. A hushed silence reigned in the big shul in the courtyard, and in its newly-opened extension. All eyes focused on the raised Bimah where the Rebbe and the Bar Mitzvah stood, together with the Rebbe’s brothers.

Finally, the Rebbe quoted the statement of our Sages: “He who cites a teaching in the name of him who first taught it, should think of that teacher as standing before him (at that very moment).”

And with that he began to intone his niggun, the niggun whose four themes parallel the letters of the Four-Letter Name of G‑d, and the Four Worlds — Atzilus, Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah. The Rebbe sang each theme twice, except for the fourth, which he sang several times.

As he sang, all the people assembled in the big beis midrash and in the adjoining hall were bound to his singing with all their thoughts, with all their spiritual faculties, and with all their senses. With each theme that the Rebbe sang, another facet of the soul was awakened. That niggun raised up every individual — one higher, one lower — from his accustomed spiritual plateau. In fact R. Yosef Kol-Bo and R. Issur Kisess told me that, as the Rebbe sang, they recalled everything that had taken place within them from the day when they began to become thinking individuals.

Having come to the end of his melody, the Rebbe said: “When I was in Mezritch, I heard from the Rebbe, in the name of my grandfather, that honey-cake made of cornflour causes one’s heart to be drawn towards the Torah, because the spiritual roots of grain and of honey are vessels for containing the Torah.”

The Rebbe took a piece of honey-cake and pronounced the blessing of mezonos, and a little glass of mashke, over which he pronounced the blessing of shehakol and said LeChaim. Everyone was then given some lekach and whiskey, and there was an atmosphere of joy.

After Maariv there was a festive meal at which the Rebbe delivered a number of chassidic discourses and the chassidim embarked on a farbrengen that lasted the whole night. This was the Rebbe’s first Bar-Mitzvah celebration.

Three times in the course of that Shabbos, Parshas Vayeitzei, the Rebbe expounded Torah publicly — before Kabbalas Shabbos, on Shabbos at the daytime kiddush, and after Minchah and the Shabbos meal. Both the Kiddush and the Shabbos meal were held in the big shul in the courtyard.

At Minchah that day, the Rebbe read the Torah himself, and said that the third aliyah should be given to his son, the Bar-Mitzvah.

All those who were present when the Bar-Mitzvah was called to the Torah, who saw the Rebbe’s dveikus when his son pronounced the blessings, and who heard the Reading of the Torah, — all of them to a man must have been overawed when they heard how the Rebbe read that brief passage of four verses: Vayomer Yaakov, koton-tee, hatzilainee, veAtah amarta.

The Rebbe was always insistent on grammatical precision, and meticulous about the traditional melody for the Torah Reading. Though he followed the Ashkenazi pronunciation, he nevertheless distinguished between alef and ayin and between ches and chof, as is in the case in the Sefardi accent. And though he intoned that day’s portion exactly according to the prescribed cantillation, each of its four verses nevertheless echoed the melodic line of one of the four themes of the well-known niggun.

The eminent scholars who were present were engrossed in learned speculation as to why the Rebbe had deferred the calling of the the Bar Mitzvah to the Torah from Thursday to Shabbos. Their discussion took into account the halachic definition of Ish (man), which begins at the age of thirteen years and one day, whereas on the day of one’s Bar Mitzvah one reaches the age of thirteen years (exactly), and they also considered the rule that “Part of the day counts for the whole day. The arguments that they raised were all reasonable — but no one was able to explain why the aliyah should have taken place at Minchah instead of at Shacharis.

The Rebbe’s younger son, R. Chaim Avraham, was a child of six or seven at the time. He would often walk into the little Beis HaMidrash in the courtyard, because he liked listening to what chassidim had to tell. He was a child of serious temperament, and had no time for mischief.

When he walked in soon after the Bar Mitzvah, he found a number of chassidim there, including R. Yitzchak of Yanovitch — a particular favorite of his, because he was such a gifted storyteller. They asked the little boy whether he had perhaps heard an explanation as to why the Rebbe had said that the Bar Mitzvah should be called to the Torah at Minchah on Shabbos instead of in the morning.

R. Chaim Avraham told them that on Friday night his father had learned Zohar with the Bar Mitzvah.

“I didn’t understand a word,” he confessed, “but my brother understood it thoroughly.”

“When they finished learning, my father told my brother that his Zeide (the Baal Shem Tov) had told his Rebbe (the Maggid of Mezritch) that one should endeavor to arrange the first aliyah of a Bar Mitzvah for the reading of the Torah on Monday or Thursday morning, or at Minchah on Shabbos.

The little boy went on to relay what his elder brother had later explained him: “Zaide said that the Torah reading of Mondays and Thursdays is an auspicious time Above, in the same way as all of Minchah time of Shabbos, and the Torah reading at Minchah time on Shabbos, is the pinnacle of the most sublime moment of Divine gratification.

“I understood nothing of what my father was telling my brother. My heart ached so badly that I started to cry. My brother told my father that I was crying, and my father called me over and asked me why. So I cried even more, and told him that I hadn’t understood a word of what he had been explaining to my brother. My father told me to finish with my tears, and then he would explain it all to me. I stopped crying, and my father said: “Berl asked my why he was to be called to the Torah at Minchah on Shabbos instead of at Shacharis; so I answered him, “Because at Minchah on Shabbos we say, “May my prayer to You, G‑d, be at a propitious time.”

“Then I asked my father; “But, surely, whenever a person davens is a good time! Why especially Minchah time?”

“My father said, “There is a certain time every day during which a king listens to the requests of those who come to see him. There are people who are close to the king, and they know which are the best times to approach him, and those who know such a person ask him to submit their request to the king at a good time. Now, until one is thirteen years old, one is free of sin. At thirteen, one becomes Bar Mitzvah, and the Good Inclination appears. This Yetzer Tov is one of those who are close to the King of kings, the Holy One Blessed be He, and it comes from Him as an emissary — to remind the person to observe the mitzvos and to do good deeds. And that is why a Bar Mitzvah is called to the Torah for the first time at the auspicious hour of Minchah.”10

The Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek

The Tzemach Tzedek related to his son, the Rebbe Maharash, that at the time of his Bar Mitzvah the Alter Rebbe told him: “One should learn Torah Lishmah. As a preparation for this, one should be clear in Shas Bavli, Yerushalmi, Tosefta, Sifra, and Sifri in the same measure as the Rambam was fluent in them.

Until the age of Bar Mitzvah, his main area of study was in nigleh, but after the Bar Mitzvah, the Alter Rebbe fixed times to learn with him Kabbalah and Chassidus.11

The Rebbe Maharash

“I was very diligent in learning Mishnayos by heart — for I was already fluent in five of the Sedarim and in a few Mesechtos in Seder Taharos — for my father (the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek) had told me that by the time of my Bar Mitzvah I was to know by heart and be able to say clearly all Six Orders of the Mishnah, the entire Tanach and Tanya.

The night before my Bar Mitzvah I slept for two hours in the room of the Tzemach Tzedek, and it was then that the event that I told you about happened — said the Maharash to his son the Rebbe Rashab — also the gartel was put on before tefillah and he said, “Chogro B’Oz Mosneha”, and a short Maamar on the subject of “Chagor Charbecha Al Yarech Gibor.” The Tefillah B’Tzibbur was davened with tremendous simchah, many chassidim came, there was a large seudah, and the Rebbe said chassidus three times.”12

The Rebbe Rashab13

Already by the age of Bar Mitzvah, the Rebbe Rashab had a phenomenal knowledge of many areas of the Torah. He knew; Chumash with Rashi, Nach and five orders of the Mishnah thoroughly. This was in addition to much Talmud and clarity in Shluchan Aruch, particularly in the section of Orach Chaim.14

The Previous Rebbe related that his father learned the whole of the section Orach Chaim thoroughly and that he had, moreover, trained his body to act in accordance with the din.15 By the age of Bar Mitzvah, his limbs only moved in accordance with the halachah. His learning schedule was closely supervised by the Rebbe Maharash.16

Even as a young child the Rebbe Rashab was very orderly and he invested much energy and effort into translating what he had learned, be it in Shulchan Aruch or in Chassidus, into actual avodah.17 His father, the Rebbe Maharash, related: “My son, Rashab, was never childish. Even at a very young age, he was G‑d fearing, orderly and diligent. He worked hard to ensure that he conducted himself in the ways of Chassidus. By the time of his Bar Mitzvah, he was already a chassid, a. Sefer HaSichos 5701, p. 27.

In the year of his Bar Mitzvah, the Rebbe entered into the room of his father, the Rebbe Maharash, for Yechidus and he asked his father, “How should one learn so that it may be called ‘learned’?” His father answered, “It is an explicit verse;18 ‘And teach it to your children,’ the word V’sheenantom, Rashi interprets it to mean “to sharpen,” (from “shinun,” “to sharpen”) and the word Levanecha may mean — until what you have learned is absolutely clear (from the word lavan meaning white), that is, what you have learned should be sharp, clear and to the point. “And speak in them” — this is a directive for life; “when you sit in your home” — the entire time the soul descends into the body, “and when you go on the way and when you lie down and when you stand up” — that is, at the Resurrection. The Talmud states: a person should divide his learning years into three, a third studying Scripture arousing the hidden love in the depths of the heart; a third in Mishnah: in changing oneself, (the word Mishnah deriving from the word “shinui,” a change); and a third in Gemara: in completing the vessel, (the word Gemara deriving from gmar, “end of”) and thenone is a proper vessel.”

The Rebbe Rashab said: “When I heard these words from my father, I decided to learn Shulchan Aruch, section Orach Chaim, and particularly the mitzvos connected with the body, in such a way that my body should do the mitzvos by itself, the way that one bows automatically at Modim. I then became a man.”

Before his Bar Mitzvah, the Rebbe Maharash taught Tanya to the Rebbe Rashab.19

On Tuesday, the 14th of Cheshvan, the Rebbe Maharash called his son, the Rebbe Rashab, and his brother, the Raza, and said to the Rashab: “In the coming week, you will be Bar Mitzvah, Mazal Tov. You should travel today to my brother, your uncle, Reb Chaim Shneur Zalman20 in Liadi, to receive his blessing, and most certainly he will say a Maamar Chassidus. You (turning to the Raza) should go with him. Stay overnight and return tomorrow night. Since the rains have made the roads and bridges dangerous, you should only travel by daylight.”

At that time, there were about thirty young men, some of them unmarried, who were resident in Lubavitch, including Yitzchak Moshe ben Avraham Chaim from Vietka, Chaim Boruch from Zhlobin and Elia Moshe from Aftzua. The Rebbe Maharash chose twelve of them to accompany the Rebbe Rashab. Four horses were attached to the large wagon in which the Rebbe Rashab and his brother, the Raza, traveled, together with the servants, Reb Pinchas Leib and Reb Yosef Mordechai, and the twelve accompanying chassidim, who traveled in two separate coaches.

On the 20th of Cheshvan, 5634, the Bar Mitzvah was celebrated amidst great simchah. The Rebbe Rashab then said the Maamar “Issa B’Midrash Tehillim,” a Maamar of his father, the Rebbe . See Chanoch LeNaar, p. 9.

On the 24th Teves, 5663, the Rebbe Rashab gave three reasons why chassidim drink mashkeh.21 He then said, “We need to be careful about drinking mashkeh. I say “we” as an heir to my holy fathers. My father taught me how to take mashkeh. When I was Bar Mitzvah he gave me a cup of mashkeh to say lechaim on. Those present protested that I was still too young. My father then answered: “The reason I am giving him mashkeh is so he stop being a naar (a child). It was then that my father explained to me the well-known tune, Nee Zshuritshi Chloptzi.”22

At the Bar Mitzvah, the Rebbe Maharash related; “The chassid and gaon Reb Yitzchak Aizik of Vitebsk received a blessing for long years from the Alter Rebbe. In the year 5607, Reb Yitzchak Aizik told me: “I merited to have blessings from the holy Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid of Mezritch and the Alter Rebbe. The Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, held the chassidim who lived in the times of the Alter Rebbe in great esteem, particularly those who were members of the chadarim. “I,” said Reb Yitzchak Aizik to the Rebbe Maharash, “was honored by the Alter Rebbe with the ability to rule on the halachah truthfully and my entire lifetime I merited to clarify halachah truthfully.”

“I can keenly remember even today,” said the Rebbe Maharash, “how Reb Yitzchak Aizik trembled when he repeated to me the blessings he received from the great tzaddikim. Then at the request of my father the Tzemach Tzedek, Reb Yitzchak Aizik blessed me also.”23

The Previous Rebbe24

1. The first time he put on tefillin:

On Thursday, the 10th of Tammuz, my father instructed me to get up very early, and at eleven o’clock, after davening, my father took me to the Oholei Kodesh of my grandfathers, the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek and the Rebbe Maharash.

This was the first time that my father had taken me with him to visit the Oholei Kodesh, and he instructed me exactly where to stand and which Tehillim to say. He gave me a Pidyon Nefesh written in his own handwriting, and he instructed me to read it out, and showed me what to do with it after it had been read.

On that day — the 10th of Tammuz, 5651 — my father blessed me by putting his hand on my head inside the Oholei Kodesh of the Rebbeim. Upon our return, my father instructed me to complete the fast, and to tell nobody of the matter — not even my teacher Reb Nissan.

The next day, Friday Erev Shabbos, 11 Tammuz, my father called me at seven in the morning. When I arrived, he told me to shut the door. He then opened his desk drawer and took out a small pair of tefillin and said to me: “These tefillin belonged to my father, the Rebbe Maharash. He used to put them on for saying Kerias Shema Ketanah — in fact he wore two pairs, Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam, at the same time, and these are the Rashi tefillin.” My father instructed me to put them on without a berachah and to daven the entire prayers in his room.

From Sunday the 13th of Tammuz and on, I would come to his room every day and put these tefillin on with a Berachah. Thereafter I went to shul to pray with the Tzibbur, at which time I would review Mishnayos by heart. My father warned me to reveal this to no one.

On Shabbos, the 12th of Tammuz, my birthday, after the Shabbos meal, my father called the chassidim, Reb Chanoch Hendel, Reb Abba, Reb Shmuel and Reb Meir Mordechai Tshernin, and they farbrenged together. They sent Mendel the servant to inform Reb Nissan that there was a farbrengen, (my father was very grateful to Reb Nissan for all the instruction he had given me), and he came immediately. Reb Shlomo Chaim, the Shochet, Reb Yaakov Kopel Zelikson and the Rav, Reb Dovid, arrived later. My father davened Minchah with the melody of Simchas Torah, and the farbrengen continued until late into the night. About half an hour before sunset, they took a break and made an after-blessing. My father spoke a great deal and he was in a very joyous mood, something that astonished all, but nobody dared ask why.25

2. In his diary,26 the Previous Rebbe adds more detail:

On Wednesday, the 9th of Tammuz 5651, my father called me and warned me that what he would now tell me I should reveal to nobody, and I should do exactly as he would instruct me. He said: “On the coming Shabbos, 12th of Tammuz, it will be your eleventh birthday and I wish to give you a seder, just as my father gave it to me in the name of my grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek. The seder that the Alter Rebbe gave his son the Mitteler Rebbe, and his grandson the Tzemach Tzedek, was that tefillin should be put on, on the eleventh birthday, but in complete privacy.

On Thursday evening I was afraid to go to sleep, for fear of getting up later than the designated time. The lack of sleep made me weary, and after I laid the tefillin on Friday morning for the first time, I fell into a deep sleep still dressed in my clothes. When Mendel the servant saw me sleeping in my clothes, he tried to awaken me but because I was so tired he did not succeed. Because my complexion had turned so pale, he decided to tell my mother. When my mother came into my room and saw the pallor of my face and what a deep sleep I was in, she grew very frightened and immediately went to tell my father. My father calmed her and told her that she had nothing to worry about.

On Friday, my parents took me to my grandmother, the Rabbonis Rivkah, to receive her blessing for my birthday. At that time, my grandmother, the Rabbonis Chanah,27 was also staying with us and she too blessed me. Afterwards, my parents blessed me as well.

Thereafter, my father instructed me to review the Sedrah with the cantillations marks. He then called me to his room and said: “On this Shabbos, when I say the Maamar Chassidus, you will stand by Reb Kopel Zelikson.” The chossid, Reb Kopel, would always stand in the first row when my father said chassidus. This piece of good news made me very happy and I ran immediately to tell my mother. Long before candle lighting, I stood in the room where my father said chassidus after Kabbalas Shabbos, and waited there for him, together with all the chassidim.

In the year 5651, my father started to learn Tanya with me three times a week. We learned only a few lines at a time, and the content was mainly stories and ideas about Tanya. Once my father told me: “It says in Midrash that when one sleeps, the soul is elevated and draws life from the supernal realms. Chassidim explain this to mean that, at that time, the soul is granted understanding of an idea or phrase in Tanya. My father then instructed me that after saying the blessing Hamapil before going to sleep I should reflect upon the lesson in Tanya we had learned together, so that I should fall asleep while thinking about Tanya.28

3. The Bar Mitzvah celebration:

On Sunday, 11th Iyar 5653, (two months before the Bar Mitzvah) Parshas Acharei Mos Kedoshim, — the day of my yom chinuch (that is, the day on which, to all appearances, I began to put on tefillin, although in fact I had begun to lay tefillin much earlier), my father said a Maamar on the verse, “Be strong and be a man.”

The Maamar discussed the four terms for “man” — Adam, Enosh, Ish, Gever. In it, my father described an admirable Adam, and a fine Ish, and showed how being termed Enosh or Gever depends on each man alone.

Adam and Ish, he pointed out, are terms describing the essential level of the individual concerned. Specifically: Adam speaks of mochin, that is, the level of avodah which focuses on Chabad — divine service that is generated by intellectual activity. Ish speaks of middos, that is, the level of avodah which focuses on the emotive attributes of the soul and on the refinement of one’s character traits. Enosh and Gever are (as it were) adjectival terms, describing the essential levels of Adam and Ish. Specifically: Enosh indicates weakness, while Gever indicates strength. That is to say, that if the level of avodah characterized as that of Adam or of Ish is performed in a weak manner, then it may be described by the term Enosh. If, however, an Adam or an Ish performs the avodah expected of him energetically, then it may be described by the term Gever. This, then, is the meaning of my father’s statement, mentioned above, that whether a man is termed Enosh or Gever depends on him, and on him alone.

That was the first Maamar during which I experienced a pleasure that was distinctively personal. In that Maamar I sensed the meaning of “Rebbe,” according to my understanding of those days, and felt the meaning of “father.”

I remember the farbrengen at which the above three chassidim sat together after that Maamar, each of them explaining it to me in his own style. R. Meir Mordechai explained the level of Adam as referred to there, R. Hendel discussed the level of Ish, and my teacher, Reb Nissan, clarified the use of the terms Enosh and Gever, pointing out the extent to which one’s weakness and strength depend solely on the manner in which one’s avodah is carried out in practice.29

4. As the day of my Bar Mitzvah drew near, my father impressed three things upon me:

1. Never to fool myself.

2. Never to fool somebody else.

3. Never to allow myself to be fooled.

All this (he said) should be “without any fuss.”

On Simchas Torah, 5704, the Previous Rebbe mentioned this story and he added: “It is now fifty years that I have been keeping my father’s instructions, month in month out, week in week out, day in day out. It is therefore impossible to fool me. I, what am I? My “Ani” is all “Mah.30 Although I do not wish to speak of myself like this, nonetheless, this matter affects the Klal. Those who think they can fool me, even slightly, are fooling themselves. I know them, and if, sometimes, I do not know them, there are those who let me know.”31

5. In preparation for my Bar Mitzvah, I had to memorize and master three Maamarim, one short and two long. My father directed me to repeat one of the long ones on the Monday of the week of Parshas Balak, which was the 12th of Tammuz, at the burial places of my grandfather (the Rebbe Maharash), and great-grandfather, (the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek). He told me to repeat the short one publicly, at the festive table on the same day after prayers, and the third Maamar at a certain time which is recorded in my notes of that time.

No one was to know of this third Maamar. In those days, I saw this as a major trial — but this too I withstood, even though it entailed a major battle with myself. Indeed, my life in that period presented a number of such fresh challenges, all of them seeming to demand more of a struggle than my childhood strength could muster.32

6. In the year 5640, the year I was born, the 12th of Tammuz, my birthday, fell on a Monday. Likewise in the year 5653, the year of my Bar Mitzvah, the 12th of Tammuz fell on a Monday.

On Monday, the day of the Bar Mitzvah, my father began saying the Maamar: “The tefillin of the Master of the Universe,”33 and he continued saying the Maamar until Shabbos Parshas Balak.

Every day, after he said the Maamar, there was a chassidisher farbrengen and a seudas mitzvah. The farbrengen actually started on Thursday, the 8th of Tammuz. Many guests came to Lubavitch for Shabbos Parshas Chukas, among them, also, guests from the Ukraine, and they all farbrenged with great simchah. However the principal talks given by my father started on the day of the Bar Mitzvah.

Here is not the place to recount all that my father said on that occasion. I have recorded all the sichos in detail in my diary and I hope with the help of G‑d to be able to publish certain sichos for public consumption. However, I will not let the occasion pass without recalling one story.

In general, the memories of any individual can fill an entire volume. This is how my father explained the verse:34 “This is the book of generations of Man,” that is, that the generations of man serve to fill a book.

On Monday, the 12th of Tammuz, after we returned from the Ohel, and after the Maamar Chassidus, there was an uplifting chassidisher farbrengen that continued for many hours.

At six o’clock, they washed for the seudas mitzvah. My father was in high spirits and he said that there was a familial tradition among the Rebbeim that on the day of a Bar Mitzvah, the Rebbe would ask the Bar Mitzvah to “ask for something.”

The Alter Rebbe had requested his son, the Mitteler Rebbe to “ask something” on the day of his Bar Mitzvah, and when the Tzemach Tzedek became Bar Mitzvah on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Alter Rebbe also requested from him to “ask something.” And so too, the Rebbe Maharash asked his son, my father the same request on his Bar Mitzvah. And so did my father ask me at the seudah, “Yosef Yitzchak — ask something.”

I asked my father:

In the Siddur, it is written, “It is proper to say before praying: “I accept upon myself the positive commandment to ‘Love your fellowman as yourself.’” Why was this instituted to be said before prayer — if it is because one has to have Ahavas Yisrael immediately upon awakening, then why is it not said together with the morning blessings?

My father replied:

When a father has many children, his greatest pleasure is to see them unified and full of love for each other. Prayer is man’s request to G‑d both for his material and spiritual needs. Before such a request, one should give some pleasure to our Father in Heaven, and that is why we take this mitzvah upon ourselves just before the prayers.

I am recounting this story so that you may understand what kind of instruction a father should give his son on the day of his Bar Mitzvah.

Ahavas Yisrael is manifested not only through giving another person what to eat, or room and board, or a free-interest loan. Ahavas Yisrael must also be reflected in one’s recognition — with all one’s essence — that the needs of another are more important than one’s own. There is the well-known saying of elder chassidim: One should love oneself as much as one loves one’s fellow Jew.35

In Likkutei Sichos,36 the Rebbe refers to this story and points out that the message the Previous Rebbe received from his father on the day of his Bar Mitzvah was the preparation that paved the way for the entire leadership of the Previous Rebbe. The fact that the Previous Rebbe related the story to us should be taken as a personal directive to each individual. The first step in leadership — and every person can be a leader, be it in the wider community, the family, or at the very least in relation to himself — should be imbued with a spirit of Ahavas Yisrael, the needs of another taking precedence over one’s own needs. Even before one requests success in avodah — an act of Tefillah — one must first be united with every Jew. This is the vessel for Hashem’s blessing, both spiritually and materially.

7. Before my Bar Mitzvah my father gave me — for a few days — the Maamar Issa B’Midrash Tehillim. He told me that this was the Maamar that the Tzemach Tzedek gave the Rebbe Maharash for his Bar Mitzvah, and which subsequently the Rebbe Maharash gave the Rebbe Rashab for hisBar Mitzvah.

A few days before my Bar Mitzvah, my father called me to review one of the Maamarim, and when I finished, my father noticed that I wished to ask something. However, at that moment somebody came in to speak to him. After they had finished, my father asked me what I wanted to ask. I started to say the Maamar, “Yordei HaYom Bo’Onios.” As soon as I started to say the Maamar, my fathers lips started to tremble and he asked me when I had seen his father the Rebbe Maharash? I answered, that I had seen him on Friday before Shabbos — while I was awake — and I finished reviewing the Maamar.

Afterwards, we both went to the Ohel and when we set out, my father said:, “May the angel who has delivered me from all evil bless the lad” — and he mentioned my name and the name of my father. I asked my father: “If Yaakov was so humble, so why did he start with himself first? My father answered that a person must start from what is closest to himself.37

8. On the 12th of Tammuz, 5653, the day of my Bar Mitzvah, I had to recite one of the Maamarim I had learned for the Bar Mitzvah in the Ohel of my grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash. The Tammuz days were very long and the seder was: that the Bar Mitzvah celebration continued until Minchah and Maariv, after which there was a farbrengen until the morning. They then went to mikvah, davened Shacharis followed by the Bar Mitzvah meal.

The Rebbe

Most of the Rebbe’s younger years were spent in the home of his father, where he amassed his immense knowledge of all areas of Torah. Eye-witnesses say that the Rebbe’s father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson — the Rav of Yekatrinoslav — would pass entire nights learning with his son!

The chassid, R. Shneur Zalman Vilenkin, relates that, one Shabbos, the Rebbe’s father’s lecture was particularly esoteric in content, based as it was on Kabbalah. One of those present had the audacity to ask for whose benefit the Rav was saying this Torah, for nobody understood it! Reb Levi Yitzchak said: “There, in the corner, is a young boy who understands everything that I am saying.”

Often Reb Levi Yitzchak used to consult with his wife, the Rebbetzin Chanah. She was wont to say: “We should hear what Mendel has to say—he has a straight head.”

The Rebbetzin said, in the name of her husband, that by the time the Rebbe reached the age of Bar Mitzvah he was already a Gaon Olam!

A chassid once visited the Yeshivah Toras Emes in Yerushalayim. The Rosh Yeshivah, Reb Moshe Leib Shapira asked the chassid who he was and where he came from. The chassid answered that he was from Yekatrinoslav. The Rosh Yeshiva immediately asked him if he knew of the Rav and his son. The chassid answered that he knew the Rav and his son well, and he even attended the Rebbe’s Bar Mitzvah. He remembered that, at the Bar Mitzvah, the Rebbe’s father asked the Rebbe:, “Do you know what you are becoming today?” The Rebbe did not respond, but tears sprung to his eyes.

The Rebbetzin once reminisced about the Bar Mitzvah: “After the Bar Mitzvah derashah — which left a great impression upon all those who heard it — the Rebbe burst out crying. Many of the guests, seeing the Rebbe cry, cried with him. I know that my husband asked our son to promise him something but I don’t know what. I do remember, however, that on Friday night, the 11th of Nissan 5675, when finally the Rebbe agreed to make the promise, there was a great simchah in the house, and the dancing continued late into the night.38