The story is well known. Once, while R. Shmuel Munkes and several other chassidim of the Alter Rebbe were sharing a farbrengen, a delicacy was brought to the table — a roasted lung. R. Shmuel took hold of the dish, held it aloft, and began dancing around with it. At first the other chassidim were amused by his antics, but with time they lost patience and reached for it. R. Shmuel ignored them and then suddenly threw the whole delicacy into the garbage.

The other chassidim were upset and determined that R. Shmuel deserved to be punished. He willingly accepted their verdict and lay down on the table. Some of the younger men volunteered to mete him out a fair measure of slaps, and he then went out quietly to find some alternative dish.

Minutes later, the butchercame running in and cried out, “Don’t eat the lung! It’s not kosher!” He explained that a non-kosher lung had been sent to the house by mistake.

When R. Shmuel returned, his fellow chassidim admonished him even more forcefully: “What business do you have showing off your ruach hakodesh (prophetic inspiration) in public?”

R. Shmuel denied that his action had come from a spirit of prophecy.

They were puzzled: “So how did you know?”

He then related that before his first yechidus with the Alter Rebbe, he resolved to no longer have any desire for material things.

“But,” he said, “when the lung was brought in, I felt a powerful desire for it, the strongest desire I had ever felt since that yechidus. And I saw that others around me had a similar desire. It occurred to me that such strong cravings could not be aroused by a permitted object. That’s how I understood that that delicacy must be treif. So I dumped it in the garbage.”

What is the key to understanding this story? That self-control — the ability to face oneself squarely and say, “I will not be a mindless slave to my natural drives and instincts” — is at first a very challenging task. Afterwards, however, as one continues to wage and win battle after battle, this ability becomes second nature and gradually less difficult.1

Three Phases of Divine Service

In the maamarim that follow, the Rebbe Rayatz focuses on this mode of avodah, considering it as the initial phase of a person’s spiritual growth. He cites2 a teaching of the Maggid of Mezritch3 that the Talmudic technique of interpretation4 known as gor’in u’mosifin vedorshin — literally,“subtracting, adding, and interpreting” — can be applied within the context of our Divine service.

Gor’in refers to “diminishing [one’s pursuit of his whims] and distancing himself radically from his previous conduct, acting completely opposite to the way he conducted himself previously.”5 Thus, by bridling the self-expression of the animal soul, one becomes its master, as the maamar states:6 “This pattern was indeed followed by the early chassidim7 when they drew close to G‑dliness and [began to] engage in Divine service. The first stage of their Divine service was making a firm resolution to simply avoid any matter to which they had a desire and a heartfelt attraction, even if the matter was permissible. In doing so, they broke their desire.”

The second phase, mosifim (“adding”), involves “increasing one’s acts of service to G‑d, [following the advice] of our Sages…: ‘If one was accustomed to reading one chapter, he should read two chapters. If he was accustomed to reading one page, he should read two pages.’”8 More particularly, “To the extent that he previously sought and took pleasure in material matters, he should diligently accept upon himself the yoke of holiness, the yoke of Torah and the yoke of mitzvos.”8

The activities demanded by the third phase, dorshin (which in its Talmudic context means “interpreting”), can be understood from two different meanings of the term: (a) examining, as in the cross-examination of witnesses, and (b) seeking. In the context of our Divine service, “examining” means “probing for even the subtle evil in one’s character so that he can eliminate it and thereby become ‘pure of heart.’”9 “Seeking” refers to “seeking [G‑d] with all your heart and with all your soul.”10 This seeking is expressed when one prays sincerely, and also, when a person involved in worldly activities endeavors to see hashgachah peratis, Divine providence, in everything that transpires in his life.

The Power of Light

Having charted this pattern of Divine service, the Rebbe Rayatzraises the question: Why must our Divine service begin with gor’in, reducing the expression of the animal soul? Let us rather begin with the service of mosifin, increasing light, enhancing the influence of the G‑dly soul!

In resolution, it is explained that just as the animal soul begins to exert its influence over the body before the G‑dly soul — at birth, not at bar-mitzvah — so, too, the service of refining it must precede the service of the G‑dly soul. This is not merely a function of chronology. Since the animal soul is the first to establish its claim over the person’s consciousness, then when the G‑dly soul does appear, the animal soul conceals it, preventing it from expressing itself freely. Therefore, before the G‑dly soul can begin its service, the animal soul’s control must be broken. Hence, the initial step of Divine service must be gor’in, and only afterwards can the phase of mosifin begin.

As One Year Prepares for the Next

The maamarim begin “Forgiveness is Yours,”11 highlighting how the concluding days of the year must be invested in spiritual self-preparation for the coming year. In the month of Elul, Divine service is easier. Thus, applying oneself to this program of service in Elul enables one to experience full-hearted kabbalas ol on Rosh HaShanah.12

After stating “Forgiveness is Yours,” the verse states the reason — “so that You be feared.” Implied is that the fear of G‑d is the apex of man’s Divine service, for it takes a person beyond his own desires, even beyond his own love for G‑d. In this way, it attaches him to a level of G‑dliness that transcends his understanding. Thus, by granting forgiveness, G‑d encourages a person and reinforces his efforts to reach this goal.

Rising from a Foundation

The two maamarim translated here are based primarily on a teaching of the Maggid of Mezritch in Or Torah, p. 262.13 That teaching was expanded and explained by the Rebbe Rashab in the maamarim entitled VeAvraham Zakein and Machar Chodesh that appear in the series of maamarim entitled Tik’u, 5670 (1869).14

In the maamar entitled Ki Imcha, 5683 (1923),15 the Rebbe Rayatz adapted the teachings of his father, combining the fundamental points of those two maamarim into a single maamar. He gave it most of its present form, by adding the explanations of the Tzemach Tzedek, in Yahel Or, on that initial verse. In 5709(1949), the Rebbe Rayatz divided the maamar of 5683 (1923) into two maamarim, introducing the second onewith material from the maamar entitled Ani LeDodi in Likkutei Torah. At that time, as the director of Kehot, our Rebbe prepared these maamarim forpublicationand added select notes and references.

In the process of translating the maamarim, we have added connecting words and explanations. To distinguish them from the original words of the maamar, we have framed them in square brackets [ ]. (Words included in parentheses ( ) or squiggle brackets { } are part of the original text.) Similarly, we have added explanations and references. To distinguish them from the notes added by the Rebbe, they too are set off by square brackets.

On Our Reader’s Pulse

While this translation was being prepared, it was shown to several readers for review. Certain passages created a unique approach-avoidance conflict. On one hand, some readers appreciated the artless power of the words of the Rebbe Rayatz. On the other hand, questions arose. Consider, for example, the following teachings from the maamar:

Certainly, the [all-]encompassing material orientation [of the animal soul], the evil tendency which is engrained and rooted in it, must be broken and removed entirely.16

The G‑dly soul should thunder against [the animal soul] with a loud and angry voice, ruling over it and restraining it, not allowing it at all to do what it wants — whether it involves eating, drinking, speaking, or the like — or indeed, anything else. In this way, the material orientation and the crudeness of the animal soul is broken.17

Now, in comparison, consider the following sampling of the approach of our Rebbe:

Conversely, however, our involvement with material things is necessary to enable us to fulfill a unique G‑dly intent. Chassidus explains18 that every element of material existence contains G‑dly sparks which are unrevealed. Through the Divine potential he himself possesses and through the power of the Torah, man can reveal this hidden G‑dly energy invested within the world.19

Every spark of holiness is destined to be refined by a particular soul, and conversely, every soul has certain sparks of holiness which it is destined to refine, for these souls and these sparks share an inherent connection to each other…. With Divine Providence, G‑d structures the events of the natural world to enable a Jew to encounter the sparks he is destined to refine.20

Or, to express the point on a personal level: Many of us have memories of venerated chassidim from the times of the Rebbe Rashab and the Rebbe Rayatz. Iskafya — the endeavor to control one’s natural desires and subdue the “I want” of the material world — was ingrained in their personalities. For them, something like walking into an ice-cream parlor, a place made to indulge taivos, physical desires, was unthinkable. We cannot always say that about ourselves.

In resolution: Before one can say Yes, he has to be able to say No. Elevating the G‑dly sparks invested in material things demands avodah — literally, “labor” — for one’s natural tendency is to indulge in material things for his own satisfaction. For a person to truthfully refine those entities, he must first refine himself to a point at which he indeed does not desire them. Why, then, does he nevertheless involve himself with them? — For G‑d’s desire, His desire for a dwelling in the lower worlds,21 not for his own desires. When one has undergone the preparatory stage of saying No, his Yes is an expression of commitment to G‑d’s purpose.

One might suggest that just as the concept is played out in the life of an individual, it is likewise played out over the course of the generations. First, in the era of the Rebbe Rayatz, Chassidus taught us to say No, not to indulge our personal desires and wants. That made possible the Yes that the Rebbe taught us to say — being actively involved in the world in order to fulfill G‑d’s purpose.

The Ultimate Yes

From a longterm perspective, both the Yes and the No are preparations for a future age when there will be no questions that require answers. In today’s prevailing mindset, material involvement poses a question, for a person’s natural tendency is to use it for the satisfaction of his individual desires. In the era of Mashiach, the answer will be obvious; indeed, there will not be a question. The G‑dly nature of our existence will be overtly apparent — that whatever exists was created for a G‑dly purpose.

As we strive to that goal, may the publication of this maamar serve as a catalyst amplifying our efforts and hastening the dawning of that era and the fulfillment of the prophecy:22 “The world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the ocean bed.”

Sichos In English

The third Chanukah light, 5772 (2011)