1. A vintage narrator

Year after year my great-greatuncle R. Nachum, the son of the Mitteler Rebbe and the grandson of the Alter Rebbe, used to narrate the story of Yud-Tes Kislev1 from beginning to end. He would begin as follows:

“For ten years my grandfather was a disciple of R. Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch, and for five years the leader of the holy brotherhood of the Maggid’s disciples — until he became renowned as the preacher of Liozna. For twenty years he toiled in a number of tasks. The first of these was the establishment and consolidation of the three celebrated chadarim2 for outstanding scholars. His other tasks in this period included the guidance of his chassidim, and disseminating and explaining the doctrines of his teachers, the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezritch. When the various regions were allocated to the disciples of the Maggid for this purpose, my grandfather undertook the most difficult, for this area was nearest to Lithuania.3 When Tanya first appeared4 — and by that time there were already (thank G‑d) many thousands of chassidim, including a great number of scholars and halachic authorities who followed his legal decisions (as in the construction of the mikveh, the insistence on honed slaughtering-knives for shechitah, and so on) — that was when the libelous accusation took place.”

At this point R. Nachum would proceed to describe in detail the accusation which the misnagdim brought to the czarist authorities, and the exultation in their camp when the Rebbe was taken to Petersburg. For example, when on Sunday, the twenty- seventh of Tishrei 5559 (1798), horseborne couriers arrived in Vilna, Minsk and Shklov with the news that he had been taken off to Petersburg in the infamous black wagon,5 guarded by mounted gendarmes with swords drawn, it was announced publicly that on the next day, Monday, all the synagogues and batei midrash should introduce the thanksgiving Psalms of the Hallel into the morning service and the townsmen should conduct a festive meal to mark the occasion. This announcement encountered opposition from some of the older sages in the misnagdish camp, for in each of these three towns there were scholars who had had the opportunity of getting to know the Alter Rebbe, and they exerted whatever influence they could to restrain these expressions of vindictiveness. Thus it was that in the majority of shuls in these three towns the announcements encouraging merrymaking were ignored. May their memory be blessed!

From this, R. Nachum would move on to describe the Alter Rebbe’s stay in prison, the details of his liberation, the way in which the glad tidings spread among both the chassidim and the misnagdim, and his itinerary from Petersburg. For as he made his way toward his hometown thousands of people accompanied him, until on Tuesday the second day of Chanukah he arrived in Vitebsk, where thousands of townsmen came out to greet him, and where he remained for the whole of Chanukah.

All this was recounted clearly and succinctly. When he recalled the arrest his voice would drop unawares, as if he were weeping; when he reached the liberation, his voice would rise with the joy of remembered triumph. He adopted the rule regarding the reading of the Megillah on Purim — once at night, and a full repetition by day. Moreover, if one of the dignified elder chassidim would join the gathering after he had begun, — why, he would go back to the very beginning and start all over again.

2. Why so long in Haditch?

Late in life, for some particular reason, R. Nachum more or less settled for several years in Haditch, the burial place of his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe.6 In earlier times no one had any explanation for this. Previously, when he had moved permanently from Lubavitch to Niezhin (the burial place of his father, the Mitteler Rebbe), he used to have a fixed time every year when he would travel to Haditch. There he would remain for a long time, two months or more. Generally he took up residence in the beis midrash which was near the burial place; he also had a room in the house of the shammes who took care of the Ohel, and at times he used to stay there. The town itself he visited only rarely.

When he reached his seventies his yearly visits to Haditch grew longer. At first he used to leave Niezhin before Shabbos Mevarchim Elul and remain in Haditch for some four months until after Chanukah. On later visits he would set out earlier in the year, in time for Shabbos Nachamu, and stay in Haditch for seven months until just before Purim; and at a yet later stage he would stay until after Purim.

In 5624 (1864) he was in Lubavitch on a visit to his brother-in-law, my great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek. After a few months there he traveled directly to Haditch, where he remained for three years, interrupted only by brief visits to his home in Niezhin. So it was that at the time when the Tzemach Tzedek passed away on 13 Nissan 5626 (1866), R. Nachum was in Haditch. From that time on, he settled there more or less permanently for several years. As he would put it, “I’m a guest at my grandfather’s.”

3. A classic roadmap of the Alter Rebbe

The chassidim of the time found his stay in Haditch puzzling, because when he had lived in Niezhin they used to come from all around those parts to visit him periodically. Though he did not regularly deliver chassidic discourses, they would enjoy being in his presence even when he expounded mere snippets of chassidic teaching. Above all, they valued the opportunity of ennobling their own characters by observation and emulation.

On this subject he was accustomed to saying: “My grandfather had literal mesirus nefesh in order to implant in chassidim avodas halev — divine service stemming from the heart, and finding expression in the refinement of the middos.”

He would often repeat those maamarim which he had heard from chassidim who had themselves had the good fortune to hear them from the mouth of his grandfather during his early years as Rebbe — 5538-5540 (1778-1780). On those occasions he would take care to repeat the discourses in the very same voice and tone in which he had first heard them — and as is known, the chassidim of the Alter Rebbe were punctilious in passing on to their listeners the exact intonation and singsong of their mentor’s teachings.

Here is one of those derushim which I heard from my great-greatuncle, who heard it from one of the Alter Rebbe’s earliest disciples.

The Talmud teaches: “Whoever is angry, all manner of gehinnom rule him.”7 The commentary of Rosh8 explains that through anger a man is brought to sin, and hence causes himself to come under the dominion of purgatory. The Alter Rebbe further expounded this topic which appears in Tractate Nedarim, relating it to the stages by which a person can (G‑d forbid) slip from his accustomed spiritual standards. When a man’s heart is arrogant from birth, as it is written, “For the inclination of man’s heart is evil from his youth,”9 and when he does not occupy himself with Chassidus in order to refine the middos of his character, and hence remains in the state in which his inborn nature makes it possible for him to grow angry, then it comes about that he sins. In the Holy Tongue, the word for transgression, aveirah ((עֲבֵרָה, derives from the root עבר, meaning to transfer, to go across — from the domain of sanctity to the unholy domain of the sitra achra, “the Other Side.”

Moreover, as the above quotation from the Talmud continues,10 “He is overcome by tachtoniyos.” In its literal sense, this means that he is affected by a certain physical ailment, but if תַּחְתּוֹנִיוֹת is vocalized differently, it may be understood as an abstract noun, תַּחְתּוֹנִיוּת — lowliness. That is to say, one who succumbs to anger becomes a materialistic person who is preoccupied with the lowliest aspects of man. For man comprises elements from both the elyonim and tachtonim, from both the Heavenly levels of creation and the lowly strata of creation. His soul is loftier than the ne’etzalim harishonim, the beings created in the highest of the spiritual worlds; his body is lowlier than the humblest of creatures.

[The Alter Rebbe here goes on to explain how the various consequences of anger as listed by the Talmud are in fact linked in a sequential order.] And when (G‑d forbid) materiality rules a man, then (Heaven forfend) even the Divine Presence is of no estimation in his eyes.11 When this happens, he forgets the Torah12 which he was taught before his birth.13 And when he propounds novel expositions of the Torah according to his own understanding, he merely becomes more foolish.14 In his original interpretations he even reaches a stage at which [literally, “his sins ((עֲוֹנוֹתָיו outnumber his merits ((זְכוּיוֹתָיו,”15 but here expounded on the level of derush as follows]: the wrong-headedness (from the root עוה) outweighs the clarity (from the noun זַכּוּת).

For the root of avodah is the refinement of character traits, middos.




With this discourse my forebear the Alter Rebbe gave Jews a new heart, introducing thousands to the service of HaShem; and many of them ultimately became chassidim.

The Alter Rebbe, as my great-greatuncle R. Nachum used to say, literally had mesirus nefesh in order to implant in chassidim avodas halev, divine service stemming from the heart; my father had mesirus nefesh in order to implant in chassidim avodas hamo’ach, divine service rooted in the brain. His disciples used to discuss among themselves the profoundest concepts in the subject of achdus, the Unity of HaShem, basing themselves on foundations of truth.




When my great-greatuncle stayed on in Haditch few chassidim made the journey to Niezhin, and their number increased only when my greatuncle R. Yisrael Noach moved there. As to R. Nachum’s prolonged residence in Haditch, this left the chassidim baffled.

4. A fateful detour

In the year 5572 (1812), at the height of the Napoleonic War, the Alter Rebbe fled from Liadi together with his entire household and a large following of chassidim. The convoy numbered 60 wagons in all, as well as many people who accompanied them on foot. The date was erev Shabbos Parshas Re’eh, 29 Menachem Av, erev Rosh Chodesh Elul. Though he was advised by the Russian generals to flee by way of Bayev, the Alter Rebbe directed his party instead via Krasna, and urged them to cross the Dnieper with the utmost haste.

When they were about two viorsts out of Liadi he gave the order to cross the river. He then instructed his followers to ask the Russian gendarmes who had been assigned as his escort for the duration of his journey to provide him with a light carriage drawn by two good horses, and two armed coachmen. Accompanied as well by two of his chassidim he set out in the carriage at a brisk pace and headed back to Liadi. Hastening to his house, he told his men to check thoroughly lest any item of his household effects had remained. In the attic they found a worn-out pair of slippers of his, some rolling pins, and a sieve. He instructed his men to take these with them, and to set the house on fire. And before leaving in haste, he gave his farewell blessing to his townsmen.

Barely had the Alter Rebbe left the town by the road leading to the Dnieper when the first courier of Napoleon’s army arrived from the opposite direction. Within a short time, surrounded by a retinue of generals mounted on mighty horses, Napoleon himself arrived on the scene. He immediately made his way to where the Alter Rebbe’s home had stood, but found the house and all its environs blazing furiously. He gave the command that the fire be extinguished, but all approach was barred by the flames and smoke. He then had it announced throughout the town and its neighboring villages that any man or woman who would bring him any object or vessel which had belonged to the Alter Rebbe, or even a coin which he had received from his hand, would be paid in gold rubles. His troops searched throughout the town, but in vain.

By this time the Alter Rebbe had crossed the Dnieper by ferry. He made haste to reach the convoy, and proceeded to journey on with the party until they arrived at a village half an hour before sunset. After spending Shabbos there they traveled all night until on Sunday, the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul, they reached Krasna, and rested there.

On Friday, erev Shabbos Parshas Shoftim, the sixth of Elul, they were forced to resume their flight. At this point the carriage in which the Alter Rebbe sat was third in line, while the first wagon was occupied by my great-greatuncle and the two gendarmes. Whenever they came upon a crossroads they would alight and ask the Alter Rebbe which road to take.

The Alter Rebbe would usually alight from the wagon, approach the crossroads, and lean on his stick in deep contemplation; then he would direct which road to take. Sometimes he would indicate the direction while remaining seated.

It so happened that at one such intersection my great-greatuncle mistook the instruction which he had been given. After some ten viorsts the Alter Rebbe asked when they would arrive at a certain village. Realizing his error, R. Nachum wept bitterly in his distress. The Alter Rebbe sighed deeply and said: “How good is it when a grandson follows in the path of his grandfather — and the opposite is true when a grandfather has to follow the path in which his grandson leads him.” And he gave the order for them to continue.

All of the chassidim in the party knew of the prayer which the Alter Rebbe had uttered as they had fled from Liadi: “May the Almighty have mercy, so that we will arrive within the borders of the province of Poltava before Rosh HaShanah.” The mistake at the crossroads caused all kinds of troublesome detours, and soon after, the Alter Rebbe passed away in Piena. Thereafter, to the end of his days, R. Nachum was grieved, blaming himself for whatever had come about in the wake of his mistaken direction.

And that is why there were chassidim who assumed that they knew why R. Nachum tarried so long in Haditch.

5. A silken kotinke

It once happened that a goodly number of the surviving elder chassidim of the Alter Rebbe and of the Mitteler Rebbe were gathered together in Haditch and sharing memories of the chassidic brotherhood in days gone by. On this occasion one of them mustered the daring to pose the question to R. Nachum: Why had he moved to Haditch? Would it not have been far better, especially in his old age, to live at home in Niezhin within the circle of his family?

It was then that he told them the story of the silk coat as follows.

“This is how it all came about. Among the clothes that were tailored for my wedding was a kotinke, a silk coat. My grandfather the Alter Rebbe called for me and said: ‘Nachum, would you agree that the kotinke should have a patch?’ I answered: ‘Not only don’t I agree, but I really don’t want it to be that way.’ So my grandfather said: ‘And what would you like in order that you should agree that the silk coat should have a patch?’ ‘I don’t want a coat with a patch,’ I said; ‘I want a whole garment.’ My grandfather then said that he would promise to study with me — but I still refused. Then he said: ‘If you will do this thing, I promise you that in the World to Come you will be with me, in my abode.’16 This struck a deep chord within me, so I said: ‘Very well.’ But I went on and asked: ‘Do I have to want this truthfully, or will it suffice to want the patch only out of a sense of duty, out of kabbalas ol?’ My grandfather replied: ‘Truthfully, of course — and with the truth of the innermost level of the soul, with the truth of yechidah.’ Hearing this reply I fell silent, and that was that.”

Now R. Nachum’s silk coat was made with a long collar, a sort of cape of sable or fox or some other fur. When he entered his grandfather’s study in order to receive his blessing before the chuppah, the Alter Rebbe tore off one little piece of fur from the collar, and in exchange for this promised him long life.

And in order to set aright this matter of the kotinke, my great-greatuncle R. Nachum spent several years near the resting-place of the Alter Rebbe in Haditch. This went on until about a year-and-a-half or two years before his passing, when he had to go to Niezhin, saying that his grandfather had given him a message to be given to his father. And then, for one reason and another, he could no longer return to Haditch.

6. Family reminiscences

My greatuncle R. Yisrael Noach was the son-in-law of his uncle, my great-greatuncle, R. Nachum, having married his daughter, Chanah Chaike. Their daughter, Sterna, married the son of R. Yisrael Noach’s brother, R. Shmuel (the Rebbe Maharash) — R. Zalman Aharon, the brother of my father (the Rebbe Rashab). The wedding was celebrated in the month of MarCheshvan 5634 (1873) in Lubavitch. R. Yisrael Noach lived at the time in Niezhin, and in the summer of 5634 (1874), after Shavuos, my uncle, R. Zalman Aharon, visited his father-in-law there and remained with him for over two months until the beginning of Elul.

R. Nachum, who also lived in Niezhin, showed great affection for my uncle R. Zalman Aharon, and my uncle for his part was fond of visiting him at every opportunity in order to hear stories from his mouth.

Regarding R. Nachum, my uncle told me that by nature he was a man of cheerful temperament and friendly countenance. In addition, though his hair and beard and eyebrows were white, he was so light on his feet that no one would ever believe that he was already eighty. And when he recounted a story or episode it was transmitted with every minute detail, down to the name of every single personage mentioned in it, and the precise order of events by month and day. In brief, when you heard him tell a story the events would spring to life before your eyes.

My uncle R. Zalman Aharon reminisced: “Whenever I would go to visit my greatuncle — my wife’s grandfather R. Nachum — I would imagine that I was about to open a book of chronicles covering seventy years. It was a rare delight to hear his conversation and his stories, not to speak of the chassidic expositions that were always at hand. For the most part these were maamarim of the Alter Rebbe’s early years, and R. Nachum would recall the full name of the chassid from whom he had heard every such discourse.”

R. Nachum was older than my great-grandfather the Tzemach Tzedek by two years or perhaps three. Throughout his entire life he knew neither illness nor ailment, and on this he used to comment: “All our family are healthy — except for the Rebbeim, whose health is undermined by the suffering that Jewry undergoes. My grandfather (the Alter Rebbe) was as strong as iron. If not for his hard labor, and the persecution and suffering resulting from his communal activity, he would have lived for 120 years. My father (the Mitteler Rebbe) too was a sturdy man. If not for the grinding poverty of his brethren, and the decrees which recall the Seleucid monarchs, he would have lived with the same degree of vigor with which any chassidisher young man grasps the difference between daas elyon and daas tachton. But he took all that poverty and all those decrees to heart — until he persuaded my grandfather to take him to his abode. And who would ever have believed about your grandfather (the Tzemach Tzedek) — a man so hardy that he would fast for entire weeks at a time, day after day, and then break his fast with a bit of bread and chicory; a man who would sleep three hours out of twenty-four — who would ever have believed that for five years he would be so ill, and suffer so much pain.”

It was from R. Nachum that my uncle R. Zalman Aharon heard all the details of how the Alter Rebbe was libeled and eventually liberated; particulars of his flight from Liadi, and the subsequent wanderings; his passing away, and how he was brought to Haditch for burial. All this my uncle recorded faithfully in his lucid and concise style. And when in the summer of 5666 (1906) he stayed with our family at a country resort — Chorne Rutze, some four kilometers from Liozna — he showed these manuscript pages, together with records of various other events and notes of discourses he had heard, to my father (the Rebbe Rashab), who pursued them with great pleasure.

7. Emergency conscription

R. Nachum began the story of the Alter Rebbe’s arrest with the news that reached him late on Wednesday night, Motzaei Simchas Torah, 5559 (1798), that police agents dispatched especially for the purpose had arrived in Liozna with orders to arrest him and escort him to Petersburg. The whole chassidic brotherhood was thrown into turmoil. On Thursday evening the Alter Rebbe was apprehended. He was granted permission to daven Maariv in his home, and then he was hauled off in a black-plated wagon guarded by armed militiamen. A deathly terror descended upon the entire family.

That same night a group of chassidim met to deliberate possible courses of action. The participants were the Alter Rebbe’s students in the first, second and third cheder,” who by this time had already established a reputation in the chassidic community for their assiduity in studying and disseminating the teachings of Chassidus. First of all it was agreed that all those present, as well as other chassidim who were named, were to free themselves from all their business and domestic affairs, and devote themselves — physically, spiritually, and materially — to the rescue of the Rebbe and the salvation of Chassidus.

The meeting elected a committee which was charged with coordinating all the efforts aimed at saving the Rebbe, maintaining all the activities which he had organized, and strengthening the morale of his chassidim wherever they were scattered. It was further decided that all of Anash (an acronym for anshei shlomeinu — “the men of our brotherhood”), old and young alike, were obligated to take their orders from this committee without question, on pain of exclusion from the chassidic fraternity.

The committee’s first act was to issue a signed protocol, to be binding on Chabad chassidim everywhere so long as the Rebbe was imprisoned: (a) all the chassidim were to maintain a communal fast every Monday and Thursday, unless prevented by physical disability as defined in the Halachah; (b) on weekdays they were to eat only bread and drink hot water, and on Shabbos only one cooked dish was to be eaten at each meal; (c) no engagements and weddings were to be fixed for this period; weddings which had already been arranged would be solemnized without musical instruments and with one meatless meal for ten people only; (d) every melamed was to recite Tehillim with his pupils every day, and before this he was to explain to them the episode of the libelous accusations leading to the arrest, for the tzaddik of a generation17 is brought to account for the sins of his generation; (e) each chassid was to tell his wife and young children and any other member of his household of the whole story, pointing out the extent of the Rebbe’s suffering, the villainy of his libelers, and the praiseworthiness of those who share in the anguish of a sage and tzaddik; (f) each chassid was to be punctilious in paying his regular maamad for the upkeep of the Rebbe’s household, as well as his other contributions for the maintenance of the brethren who had moved to Eretz Yisrael; (g) each man was to list all the silver and gold vessels and jewelry that he owned; (h) each community of chassidim was to choose one trustee who would superintend the fulfillment of all the above orders, and would collect funds [as in (f) above] and lists [as in (g) above]; (i) if, G‑d forbid, one of Anash were to pass away during this period, all the men of that community were to assemble and immerse themselves in a mikveh. After the deceased had been prepared by taharah and clothed for burial, his soul was to be solemnly adjured to ascend as an emissary of the community to the abode in Heaven of the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezritch, and to tell them that the Rebbe was incarcerated and the teachings of Chassidus were under threat. Three times were they to administer this oath — after the deceased was clothed, on arrival at the place of burial, and before the grave was closed. On that day, moreover, all were to fast.

The committee then set up three groups of activists: (a) those entrusted with rescuing the Rebbe; (b) those committed to raising the funds needed for this (such as traveling expenses), as well as for the maintenance of the Rebbe’s household, and for the members of the fraternity in the Holy Land through the Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess Fund; (c) those charged with protecting the survival of the teachings and customs of Chassidus, and with sustaining the morale of the chassidic communities.

The first group, whose members were named and directed by the committee, was subdivided into three cells: one based in Petersburg in order to assemble intelligence and to take action according to their findings; one based secretly in Vilna in order to be apprised of developments mooted among the misnagdim; a third cell in Shklov with the same task. These three cells were to communicate only through their own appointed liaison agents, never through the mail, and all their activities were to be kept utterly secret.

The second group raised its funds according to assessments made by the trustee and two elder chassidim of each locality. They examined the lists of all the silver and gold vessels, jewelry and valuables, in the possession of each household, and secured documents of sale from their owners, who were notified that if after a certain period the Rebbe was still (G‑d forbid) in prison, they would all be obliged to transfer these objects into the safekeeping of the trustee, so that if funds were needed there would be no delay. While these lists were being made, accounts were also drawn up of all deposits of dowry money. Here, too, the owners furnished the local trustee with documents entitling him to use them on demand. Exact copies of all these lists and documents were forwarded to the committee.

The third group undertook its task of defending and spreading the teachings of Chassidus by traveling through cities, villages and rural settlements, explaining the philosophy of the Rebbe,18 and the way of life upheld by the movement, to the masses among whom they moved. In the course of their teaching new chassidim joined their ranks.

At the same meeting the various regions had been apportioned to groups of two or three emissaries, one of them to remain longer where appropriate, and their itineraries were to include the places known to be strongholds of the misnagdim.

8. The fate of precious papers

I read R. Zalman Aharon’s chronicles extensively, and almost persuaded him to allow me to copy them, when all of a sudden some urgent public need demanded that I travel on a certain mission abroad. As is well known, 5666 (1905) was the year in which the notorious Black Hundreds19 involved Jewry in grave problems in the highest government circles, and pogroms (G‑d forbid!) were feared daily. So it was that I managed to write down only a few brief texts, as well as the notes I made of what I had heard from my uncle.

A few days before his passing, in MarCheshvan 5669 (1908), my uncle burned all of his manuscript records together with a great number of bundles of papers and notes. He collected the ash and placed it in a purse of white material, and summoned R. Meir Mordechai,20 a chassid who was a family friend, and the aged R. Levi Yitzchak (the brother of the learned R. Shneur Zalman of Lublin). He told them that this was the ash of the papers which he had written in the course of over thirty years, and asked them to do him a favor of truth21 by promising to bury it with him without anyone knowing about it.




We left Lubavitch on Sunday the sixteenth of MarCheshvan 5676 (1915) and after three days’ journey arrived at Orol on Wednesday, the nineteenth of MarCheshvan, at six in the evening. As we were sitting in our second-class railway carriage my father said: “For 102 years our family has lived in Lubavitch — 102 years to the month. The Mitteler Rebbe settled there in MarCheshvan 5574 (1813), and now in MarCheshvan 5676 (1915) we are leaving Lubavitch.”22

My father went on to explain how sometimes a bigger number can be regarded as superior, while at other times a smaller number can be regarded as superior — depending on whether one is speaking in terms of Oros or Kelim.23

My father then expounded at length the Talmudic dictum, “A person who reviews his studies 100 times cannot be compared to one who reviews his studies 101 times.”24 He concluded by pointing out that the number 102 (ק״ב) is greater than 101 (ק״א) out of all proportion to the addition of one unit, for the numerical value of the letters ק״ב is equivalent to the numerical value of the letters of the word יסוד (meaning “foundation”) when combined with כ״ב, representing the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. “In the course of these 102 years,” he explained, “Lubavitch has with G‑d’s help made a firmly-based foundation out of the 22 letters [that comprise the Torah].” There were also many other teachings on that occasion, which were duly recorded.

The above discussion led my father to mention that R. Nachum of Niezhin had passed away 102 years after the birth of the Mitteler Rebbe. This observation in turn brought to mind the narratives that he had read in the records kept by my uncle R. Zalman Aharon. When he learned that I had bought all of my uncle’s books he asked me about these papers, so I told him that before his passing my uncle had burned them all. He replied: Nu, very well.... If it wasn’t wanted, then it’s better that way.”

9. A Megillah of Yud-Tes Kislev?

In the course of the time that the Alter Rebbe was in prison, a great furor rocked all the lands which the alarming tidings reached. As is well known, the Alter Rebbe’s colleagues — the disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch — together with all the chassidim of the various trends shared in the anguish of the Chabad chassidim. This reinforced the endeavors of the above-mentioned groups of chassidim who were traveling around the towns and villages, with the result that on all sides the movement was joined by new chassidim and supporters of their cause — for the lies and slanders that had been fabricated by the instigators of strife became known. Moreover, some of the leading misnagdim realized that they had become involved in an error and withdrew from the fray. The outcome of all the above was that the justice of the Alter Rebbe’s cause became known in the world.

On his way home after his release the Alter Rebbe stayed in Vitebsk for several days. By the time he reached Liozna many hundreds of chassidim from the nearby towns had converged there, and travelers reported that all along the road they had seen throngs of people from faraway communities who were meeting and coming to welcome him home.

Some chassidim wanted to write a Megillah of Yud-Tes Kislev telling of the Rebbe’s deliverance, and to have it read annually like the Megillah of Esther. In fact a select number of elder chassidim had already prepared drafts for such a chronicle, and after secret consultation had decided to arrive in Liozna as a delegation between Pesach and Shavuos in order to request the Rebbe’s approval of their project.

When they approached the Rebbe on this question he did not agree to it, and answered as follows: (First Version:25 ) “This day will be fixed as an everlasting festival for Israel, a day on which the great Name of G‑d will be exalted and hallowed. The hearts of thousands of Jews will be aroused in repentance and in the service of the heart (i.e., prayer), for this episode is engraved in the heart of the Israel of the World Above,26 and inscribed in the heart of Israel in This World.” (Second Version:27 ) “This day will be fixed as an everlasting festival for Israel, a day on which the great Name of G‑d will be exalted and hallowed. The hearts of thousands of Jews will be aroused in repentance and the service of the heart (i.e., prayer), for when this episode will be engraved in the heart of Yisrael sava,28 it will be inscribed in the heart of Israel in This World.”

10. A leakage of nourishment

To the Alter Rebbe, Jews in general and chassidim in particular were like the apple of his eye. Moreover, what with his towering scholarship on the one hand, and his divine inspiration on the other, every word he spoke was measured. Not only was every act vigilantly checked against the requirements of the Halachah as interpreted in its richest and most stringent manner, but every word before being spoken was likewise carefully considered, so that no unworthy attribute of character could ever derive any nourishment from his speech.

If one’s middos, the attributes of a man’s character, are the product of his avodah, his labor of self-cultivation, they may be called good middos. And if moreover these middos are sparked and guided by seichel, by intellectual endeavor, then surely we are speaking of beautiful middos. Nevertheless, even in such a case, there still exists the possibility of a leakage of nourishment,29 as it were, to an unworthy attribute.

When my father taught me Tanya and lggeres HaKodesh, we came to the second epistle in the latter work, the one beginning “Katonti...,” in which the Alter Rebbe [on his release from Petersburg in 1798] writes to his chassidim: “Let not your hearts grow haughty in relation to your brethren [i.e., the misnagdim who had brought about his near-calamitous incarceration], and the like; nor are you to speak defiantly against them, nor whistle at them, Heaven forfend. An awesome warning: hold your peace!”

On this passage my father gave me profound explanations, pointing out its application to avodah as to how a lad brought up in the way of Chassidus should rework his heart. In this connection he clarified for me what is meant by the phrase, Vayigbah libo bedarchei HaShem — “His heart was lifted up in the ways of G‑d.”30 The animal soul,31 my father explained, argues that the lifting up of one’s heart is in fact prompted by positive middos stemming from a source of holiness. My father proceeded to demonstrate how through this one can (G‑d forbid) become deluded, and ultimately stumble from one failure to the next —without even sensing that one is falling, and becoming ever more grossly materialistic.

My father turned to me: “This phrase of the Alter Rebbe, ‘nor whistle at them, Heaven forfend,’ — observe it minutely; steep your mind in it. The verb the Alter Rebbe uses (lishrok) means to whistle, for it is a whistle [of scorn] that lies at the root of the expression, Aha! [even when it is] prompted by the force of holiness. And it is on this that the Alter Rebbe says, ‘Heaven forfend.’ And as if that did not suffice he adds, ‘An awesome warning: hold your peace!’

“How much ahavas Yisrael lies in those words!” my father continued. “What holiness and yiras Shamayim lie in this guidance! Recall the circumstances. After the Alter Rebbe had endured an ocean of suffering — one should not recount, nay, one may not recount, (though one should nevertheless understand and sense) how much bodily suffering and spiritual anguish the Alter Rebbe and his chassidim endured, — after all of that he issues ‘an awesome warning’: ‘Let not your hearts grow haughty in relation to your brethren.’”

Enlarging on the subject of caution regarding one’s middos, my father explained to me on that occasion that the middos of kedushah require scrupulous vigilance, for “in the open-ended alley of holiness there is also the possibility (G‑d forbid) of nourishment for the Philistines.”32




This, then, is the point of my father’s above-quoted comment — on the fact that the full story of the liberation of Yud-Tes Kislev was not recorded, and on my uncle R. Zalman Aharon’s destruction of his historical jottings: “Nu, very well.... If it wasn’t wanted, then it’s better that way.”33

11. Sober enthusiasm

According to the account that has been handed down, a great number of chassidim — including many who had formerly been misnagdim — converged on Liozna on Yud-Tes Kislev 5560 (1799), the first anniversary of the Alter Rebbe’s release from Petersburg. On that occasion he delivered the maamar which opens with the words, Baruch she’asah nissim laavoseinu — “Blessed be He Who wrought miracles for our forefathers [in those days, at this time].” (There is a reliable tradition that the Alter Rebbe introduced this discourse with the following words: “‘Blessed be He Who wrought miracles for our forefathers’ — this refers to the Baal Shem Tov and our mentor, the Maggid [of Mezritch]; ‘in those days’ — this refers to Purim and Chanukah; ‘at this time’ — this refers to Yud-Tes Kislev.”) In this maamar the Alter Rebbe exalts avodas hamochin, divine service which is intellectually based, and disparages avodas halev behispaalus, the ecstatic service of the heart. This was only a directive dictated by the needs of the time, for throughout that year the chassidim had been in a state of extreme excitement and ecstasy on account of the act of overt lovingkindness which G‑d had wrought for them and for their Rebbe, by saving both him and the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.

The above-mentioned maamar takes up the theme of the maamar of 25 Kislev, which the Alter Rebbe delivered in Vitebsk on Chanukah 5559 (1798) on his way home from Petersburg.34

Elsewhere I have told of a note which appears in a manuscript of my grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, explaining why these discourses were delivered. However, since there the subject is mentioned so briefly that it is unclear in its context, I will explain it now.

The maamar of 25 Kislev is extant in a copied manuscript, while the maamar beginning “Blessed be He Who wrought miracles”35 is preserved in a manuscript written by my grandfather the Rebbe Maharash, to which he added the following note: “I have heard from my father (the Tzemach Tzedek) that the intention of my great-grandfather the Alter Rebbe in delivering this discourse was to distance his chassidim from an excess of emotional enthusiasm [in prayer], and from externally visible modes of behavior — for they used to leave the city for the countryside and there cry out loudly in prayer. This is why he delivered this discourse which exalts the virtues of Chabad — i.e., the ecstasy of the intellect. This was indeed a timely directive for which there was a need.”

The note proceeds to explain other subjects which are of key importance for an understanding of avodah and guidance.

When my father entered his father’s study for yechidus, the Rebbe Maharash explained him that the emotional enthusiasm of those chassidim was so intense that they would suspend themselves between Heaven and earth, and through these maamarim the Alter Rebbe showed them how to internalize their experiences soberly.

12. In reward for patient forgiveness

The maamarim delivered by the Alter Rebbe after his imprisonment in Petersburg show an entirely new approach. It is true that they are also different from those of yet earlier and of long before — for from time to time he revised the manner in which he chose to reveal his teachings in Torah, as has been explained elsewhere at length. However, the contrast between before and after Petersburg is a striking one.

A certain incident took place early in the year 5567 (1806) surrounding a serious question which involved both our uncle the Maharil36 (the brother of the Alter Rebbe) and my great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek. Because on that occasion the Tzemach Tzedek acted with patient forgiveness,37 he was granted the privilege of having the Alter Rebbe set aside fixed hours during which he studied with him both the revealed levels of Torah, and Chassidus, including the manuscripts and teachings which he had received from the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezritch. The Alter Rebbe repeated especially those teachings and maamarim which he had expounded on earlier occasions in public or in private, when the Tzemach Tzedek had still been very young. He used to say: “I will repeat for you those teachings and discourses which you heard with your neshamah, though not with your intellect.”38 And most of these were culled from the maamarim predating Petersburg.

13. The soul is ignited, the mind comprehends

One of those present asked: “Would it not appear, then, that the difference between before and after Petersburg was that before Petersburg there was gilui or [lit., ‘the revelation of light;’ i.e., the Alter Rebbe’s earlier teachings gave his chassidim a direct perception of spiritual truth], while afterwards began the stage of haskalah [lit., ‘intellectualization;’ i.e., he now guided his chassidim in their meditative quest for the comprehension of spiritual truth through a more scholarly exposition of the teachings of Chassidus?”

The Rebbe answered as follows:

How can one say “the stage of haskalah began”? For according to this conception or and haskalah are two separate entities, there having been first a period of or, following which there began a period of haskalah — as if to say: “Thus far extends the realm of or; from this point on begins the realm of haskalah.” This is simply not the case. Heaven forfend that we should draw such a distinction between (on the one hand) or, light, and between (on the other hand) the seichel of Chassidus, its intellectual dimension, for the latter is a divine order of intellect. The truth is that not only can haskalah without or not be called haskalah (this being axiomatic); but moreover, or which is bereft of haskalah is not light from the World of Tikkun [lit., “Order”]: it is light from the World of Tohu39 vaVohu [lit., “Chaos”].

Haskalah and or are as one40 — body and soul. Or, on a deeper level, they correspond to Naran (nefesh, ruach, neshamah) and Chai (chayah, yechidah).41 This is the rule: or without haskalah is not or, and haskalah without or is not haskalah. Rather, once a person’s mind has been illumined by the haskalah with which it has been occupied, then that person — if he is one who discerns things in truth through the avodah of prayer — can perceive that he has before him (on the one hand) the body of the matter, that is, its haskalah (or, on a more inward level, the Naran of the matter), and (on the other hand) its soul, that is, its or (or, on a more inward level, the chayah and yechidah of the matter).

That which is today known as haskalah is in fact a veil.42 Concerning Moshe Rabbeinu it is written: “And behold the skin of his face was luminous, and they (the Children of Israel) were afraid to approach him.”43 Moshe Rabbeinu himself, however, did not know that his face glowed, for as far as the revelation of divine light that illumined him is concerned, the beginning and end were the same. That is to say: before it became known to him that his face was luminous there was a revelation of light, and after it became known to him there was likewise a revelation of light. It was only by means of the veil that the distinction came into being between (on the one hand) the time during which he either spoke with the Holy One, blessed be He, or taught the Torah to the Children of Israel, these times being without the veil, and (on the other hand) all other times, when there was a veil. It was thus by means of the veil that he too learned that the skin of his face was radiant.

Now this veil is, in general terms, today’s haskalah, and it is a source of nourishment for those self-styled maskilim — those who study Chassidus but do not engage in the service of the heart,44 nor with refining their character attributes, nor do they conduct themselves according to Chassidus — who think that haskalah and or are two separate entities. This is a veritable heartache.

But today is Yom-Tov,45 so we should really be speaking only of things that cause delight.

14. Visible self-effacement?!

As far as the essential being of the Alter Rebbe is concerned, there was no difference between before and after Petersburg. The experience of Petersburg of course effected and drew upon him a noteworthy elevation, analogous to the elevation experienced by a soul when it descends to This World to be clothed in a body. For the soul this descent is exile and captivity — but if it brings to realization the divine intention underlying its descent, this realization elevates the essential being of the soul to an exceedingly lofty degree. At such a degree of elevation was the Alter Rebbe after Petersburg. But as far as his revelation of light to others was concerned — that is, in relation to his disciples and chassidim — the situation before and after Petersburg may respectively be compared to the situation of Moshe Rabbeinu before he was obliged to wear the veil and after he was obliged to wear the veil.

The veil was worn by Moshe Rabbeinu so that the people should not be nourished46 by the rays of glory except when he was teaching them Torah — for he removed the veil from his face when speaking with G‑d, and likewise when he taught the Torah to Aharon, his sons, the elders, and all of Israel (in the order set out in Tractate Eruvin47 and cited by Rashi48 on the Chumash). If so, what did the veil accomplish?

Its function may be understood by comparison with the function of tzimtzum in the familiar analogy of a rav teaching his pupil, where it is through tzimtzum that the teaching can be transmitted. So too in our case. The very existence of a veil, and the awareness that one needs a veil, — this is the difference between before Petersburg and after Petersburg.

A query from one of the listeners: “If so, then the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu did not know that the skin of his face was radiant is in itself a virtue.”

The Rebbe’s reply follows.

Not knowing and not feeling the loftiness of one’s own level is without a doubt a wonderful virtue. This is the bittul of Tikkun in all its superiority to the bittul of Tohu. The latter is also a wonderful degree of self-effacement, but this is a bittul which may be perceived by another, who is able to see just how self-effacing one is. True, a person in this situation does not sense his existence (metzius) as such: he is an atzmi [one who is absolutely true to his true self, or etzem], and his etzem effaces itself before the light of the Infinite One, blessed be He, with a great intensity, as only an atzmi can be self-effacing. But this very intensity of self-effacement is itself visible and recognizable as a metzius, as an empirical state of existence. Here, then, lies the superiority of the bittul of Tikkun, for this is a self-effacement of one’s very existence, bittul bimetzius, a state in which one’s own existence is not felt at all.

This will enable us to understand why in the case of Moshe Rabbeinu before he needed the veil and in the case of the Alter Rebbe before Petersburg, there was a virtue in their not knowing that the skin of their holy faces was radiant. There is indeed a virtue in such a situation, but this is true only of an individual. For with every virtue or rise in stature, if it changes or if it is absent this becomes a defect; that is, in the case of an individual, since the change was brought about by a personal or individual reason. But Moshe Rabbeinu and the Alter Rebbe are souls from the World of Atzilus, all-embracing souls, leaders of Israel.49 In each of them, for we are not dealing here with an individual, the reason for a change is a comprehensive one, [embracing all of Israel].

15. A true leader of Israel loves every fellow Jew

In the case of Moshe Rabbeinu and the Alter Rebbe, their essential being in its entirety was the love of G‑d, the love of Torah, and the love of their fellow Jews. Moreover, the entire aim of their self-sacrificing divine service was to bind these three together. In every kind of Jew they saw the soul within, and invested it with the strength to prevail over the claims of corporeality. This is clearly apparent from their conduct.

When the Children of Israel grow discontented — and how much more so when there is strife — Moshe Rabbeinu pleads with them in gentle terms. Not only does he show forebearance by forgiving all those who raise vulgar and lowly suspicions against him: he exerts himself and intercedes with Heaven in order to restore peace.

So too does the Alter Rebbe plead with his opponents, writing long conciliatory letters aimed at removing all the suspicions which have been raised against the teachings of Chassidus, explaining the various paths taken by the chassidim in the service of G‑d, and in addition undertaking journeys which involve self-sacrifice — all for the sake of peace.

The reason: To a leader of Israel every Jew is as dear as the apple of his eye — as indeed this should be, according to the Torah. It follows that Moshe Rabbeinu’s becoming aware of the need for a veil, and so too the change in the Alter Rebbe after Petersburg, does not involve their own essential being: it relates to all Israel, for it was the material and spiritual good of Israel that occupied all their essential being. And with the fiery intensity of an avodah based on the concept of “The Almighty and Torah and Israel are all one,” they led50 the community of Israel.

16. At what level is a person living?

One of the chassidim present asked: “Would this not mean that the difference between before and after Petersburg was that before Petersburg there was a revelation of light, while afterwards the Alter Rebbe’s teachings resembled the Torah? — For with the study of the Torah, even if a person has not attained a spiritual pitch which is attuned to the level of his study, it is still Torah.”

The Rebbe gave this reply.

Superficially, this describes the situation in a general way. However, closer scrutiny aimed at ascertaining the truth of the matter shows that these two terms —”light” (or) and “Torah” — do not comprise the whole subject in all its truth.

To explain in brief. Before the need for a veil — that is, before Petersburg — there was a revelation of the luminary (maor), a revelation which was for everyone;51 after the veil of Petersburg the luminary became fused with the Torah and presented itself in the garments of comprehension52 which belong to the world of nature. That is to say, before Petersburg there was a revelation of light without such garments of comprehension; after Petersburg the luminary became fused with the Torah in order that it should bring about a refinement of the garments of comprehension.

It is true that even if one is [intellectually] not at the level of the Torah one is studying — that is, the person reading the letters of the Torah does not grasp what he is saying — this is still Torah.53 This is also the case with the teachings of Chassidus, that if one reads without understanding this is still Torah; and if a person goes along to hear chassidic discourses, even if he understands little, nevertheless a word or idea remains with him, and in its wake can bring (and indeed does bring) all manner of good — surely a positive thing.

But the real truth is that if we are speaking of Chassidus, then if a person is not at the level [of self-refinement] demanded by the subject under discussion, this is not Chassidus. For Chassidus makes a chassid, and such a study of Chassidus that does not cause a person to become a chassid — or at least to acquire a perception of the character attributes which Chassidus leads to — is not what Chassidus is all about. It may be called knowledge, understanding, wisdom — but none of these constitutes Chassidus. The study of Chassidus should cause one to become a chassid with the personal attributes that characterize Chassidus; if not, this is not Chassidus.

The same questioner commented: “But there are lofty levels [of spiritual achievement] that one cannot live at.”

To this the Rebbe replied.

If one cannot live at such a level, then one cannot. Chassidus is inwardness;54 a chassid is a man of inner integrity, a pnimi. And such a person does not delude himself. He knows that there are various levels, and not all of them are appropriate to him. There are levels which he is at; there are levels which he is not yet at; and there are levels which he is unable to attain. But one has to understand what is meant by saying that one is unable to attain them.

17. What are those guys doing in Gan Eden?

It is written, “A word in due season, how good it is!”55 On this Rashi comments: “One ought to study the laws of Pesach and of Sukkos in their season.”

Every subject should be studied at its proper time, as opposed (for example) to studying the maamarim of Pesach during the winter or the maamarim of Rosh HaShanah at an inappropriate time of year. And in this one should distinguish between study for the sake of knowledge or familiarity with the material, such study being equally in order at all times, and study connected with the avodah on a particular theme which a person is presently working on.

This must be clear to everyone: that (as explained earlier) the study of Chassidus isolated from avodah and deeds is not Chassidus. The effect of one’s study of Chassidus must be felt in practical avodah. It is true that in order that this should happen there needs to be — in each man according to his measure — a knowledge and an understanding of the area of avodah being dealt with, and this takes a great deal of time in advance. But then when the season of Pesach comes around, and once again the person studies in brief the themes underlying Pesach, and with these concepts occupying his mind he prays, and experiences his Pesach;56 or studies in advance the subjects appropriate to Rosh HaShanah and then exercises himself accordingly in the acceptance of the yoke of Heaven;57then his study has realized its function. True enough, even there distinctions may be drawn — as to whether or not the person involved is in fact living at the level of his spiritual exercise; and if so, to what extent. But without a doubt something meaningful has resulted from his study, even if he is one of those whose aspirations are undefined.

This may be understood by means of a physical analogy. Playing a musical instrument is a profound art: there is much to be learned as to how to produce each individual sound; or a variety of harmonizing sounds from the same instrument; or a composition combining a range of instruments, all of which need to be tuned according to the laws of musical theory. Now one who is expert in this discipline knows that if his finger touches a certain string of the violin a certain note will result, and if his finger strikes a certain drum a particular sound will result; and so too with an ensemble of instruments which combined in harmony can produce sweet music to arouse and delight the soul. It is true that when one who is unschooled in musical theory touches the string or strikes the drum a sound is likewise produced, according to all the laws of musical theory. But he is ignorant of them.

The lesson from this analogy can be understood by all. The soul has five names, whose acronym is Naran Chai [nefesh, ruach, neshamah, chayah and yechidah].58 They are, as it were, ground floor, second floor, third floor, fourth floor and fifth floor. These levels of the soul correspond to all of the Four Worlds — Atzilus, Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah59 as well as the infinite worlds above Atzilus, for these are all represented in the faculties (kochos) of the soul. This is known from the familiar statement that the faculties of the soul derive from the Ten Sefiros of Atzilus, and re’usa deliba [the soul’s innate yearning for G‑d] and mesirus nefesh [self-sacrifice] derive from the infinite worlds above the World of Atzilus. Through the teachings of Chassidus, the path of re’usa deliba and mesirus nefesh in the divine service of the Reading of Shema has, thank G‑d, become a highway open to all. In other words, the ground floor thus has a connection with the fifth floor.

So when a Jew down here on the ground floor is called up to the Torah and says, Barchu es HaShem HaMevorach — “Bless G‑d Who is blessed,” then even though he does not know what [kabbalistic] kavanos to have in mind, nevertheless these words of his are echoed in all the Four Worlds. Just as the nefesh says them here in the World of Asiyah, so too do his ruach and neshamah and chayah say them in the respective Worlds of Yetzirah, Beriah and Atzilus. And these words are all sensed by the yechidah of his soul in the manner in which they appear in the infinite worlds above Atzilus. Here too one may distinguish between a person who has mastered all the intricacies of the mystical kavanos, and one who understands these concepts in general terms only, and one who does not even have a general perception of what is involved. Nevertheless his words do set up reverberations in all the lofty worlds, just as in the analogy of the violin string. But he, poor fellow,60 knows nothing of all that.

This not knowing, however, refers only to the lowest level, the “ground floor”; at the higher levels these things are known, sure enough, and concerning this it is written, vetzidkaso omedes laad — “And his righteousness endures forever.”61 For the worshiper described above has capital deposited in the Higher Worlds: he will know in due course.

Through this we will understand something puzzling. (May the Almighty grant all Israel length of days, and good and radiant years, materially and spiritually, and may we be privileged to witness the coming of the Righteous Redeemer!)62 In the Garden of Eden — both in the Lower Garden of Eden (a level which is no mean attainment), and most certainly in the Upper Garden of Eden — when a tzaddik sits in a Heavenly palace surrounded by tzaddikim, chassidim, geonim and Torah scholars, as well as by plain householders and craftsmen, a query presents itself. There is no difficulty in understanding why the chassidim and geonim and Torah scholars are to be found in the palace of the tzaddik. But what of the plain unsophisticated Jews,63 those who recite Tehillim and who listen in to someone explaining Ein Yaakov, just simple ordinary Jews who drop in on a comradely chassidisher farbrengen,64 how did they find their way there?

The answer is, that when an ordinary fellow wearing market boots goes along to his local beis midrash to join in communal prayers, and is called up to the Torah, and recites Tehillim, listens in to the reading of Ein Yaakov, helps Torah scholars, and listens to the study and public exposition of Chassidus, then even though he may not understand everything he hears, the benefit accrues, and the account comes at the end. And that explains why after this life, men whose learning is scant occupy their due place in the Heavenly palaces of tzaddikim.

From the above one may understand that there is a difference between the revealed levels of the Torah and the inner levels65 of the Torah. For in the revealed levels, the various topics may be classified according to the degree of understanding appropriate to each, and the student’s avodah is geared to increasing his grasp and knowledge of his subject; for in addition to the observance of the laws which have practical application, knowledge too is required. With the inner levels of the Torah, however, the main thrust of a person’s avodah is preparing himself for the acceptance of the yoke of Heaven — observing even that which transcends his comprehension, in a manner that expresses his utter devotion to Chassidus. Thus it is that with an unscholarly person too, the effects of this avodah are in truth tangible.

18. Of lights and vessels: R. Yekusiel of Liepli

Now we will be able to understand the difference in approach between before and after Petersburg.

The manner of the Alter Rebbe’s teaching before Petersburg could be described as the revelation of the luminary, gilui hamaor. The luminary was in a state of self-revelation, but as to the brotherhood of chassidim, their divine service was not yet set out in orderly fashion, working upward step by step. This is illustrated in the well-known story of the chassid R. Yekusiel of Liepli. On his first visit to Liozna he clambered up to the window of the attic where the Alter Rebbe had his study, sat himself on the sill, and said: “Rebbe, chop off my left side!” — referring to the left side of the heart, where the Evil Inclination dwells.66 The Rebbe, who was sitting at his table, wearing his tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam, motioned him to step down from the window sill, and then leaned his hand on his head and said: “Master of the Universe! Is it not written, ‘VeAtah mechayeh es kulam’ – ‘And You give life to them all...?’“67 And from that time on, R. Yekusiel was charged with chiyus, vitality. (Ultimately this vitality gave rise to a command of the profoundest of subjects, though this took some years, being attained in the time of the Mitteler Rebbe.) The vitality with which he was immediately endowed manifested itself as a revelation of light: he would be utterly lit up by a flash of light.

When this light flared up within him he would become quite a different man, and would sing away, “Time to dance, it’s time to dance!” And whomever he happened to encounter had no choice but to join him in his little dance — especially since a refusal might soon make the stranger feel the persuasive weight of his cane. One day R. Yekusiel was suddenly bestirred to sing his jolly ditty while walking down a street in Borisov, so his partner for that day’s dance was — the local postman. In the words of my grandfather the Rebbe Maharash, “When the revelation came, he would be utterly lit up by a flaring light.”

R. Yekusiel had been in fact no outstanding scholar. He used to conduct his business with integrity.68 In time his comprehension of Chassidus grew so exceedingly that my grandfather the Rebbe Maharash once said that R. Yekusiel had clarified for him a certain abstruse subject in Imrei Binah.69

My grandfather the Rebbe Maharash told my father that each of the books which my great-great-grandfather the Mitteler Rebbe wrote was intended for a particular category of chassidim; Imrei Binah was written for R. Yekusiel of Liepli. Furthermore, as has been mentioned above, his grasp of Chassidus grew in the course of a number of years, but even after this time it came in the manner of a revelation from above.70 In fact, my great-grandfather the Tzemach Tzedek wanted to clothe this revelation [in the garments of steady intellectual endeavor], and instructed him to study Kav HaYashar,71 and Chumash with the commentary of Rashi — though the instruction was not so readily accepted.

I heard from my father that R. Shmuel Ber of Borisov had told him that R. Yekusiel used to call on him with his heavy fur coat, lay his cane on the table, and say: “Shmuel Ber, tell me what is the question that’s bothering me!”

Now R. Yekusiel was not the kind of man you could trifle with. In fact one had to watch one’s every word. A man once made some remark to him in jest, and R. Yekusiel reacted sternly: “He is jesting?! I myself heard from the [Alter] Rebbe that when one jests one gets involved with demons. Let the demons get hold of that man!” And that man (Heaven forfend) went out of his mind. Neither the remedies of the physicians nor the segulos that were tried were able to help in the slightest.

At any rate, when R. Yekusiel visited him and made his demand, R. Shmuel Ber would suggest all manner of topics which are discussed in the philosophical literature of Chassidus until he would light upon the subject on which his visitor had sought instruction. R. Yekusiel would then reply excitedly: “Yes, yes! You’ve found it exactly! Now go ahead and explain it to me!”

R. Shmuel Ber remarked that his visitor’s questions were sharp, and related to the profoundest concepts in the literature of Chassidus.




This, then, was the style of teaching before Petersburg; the luminary was revealed for everyone. True, the Alter Rebbe had initiated an order of inward avodah as reflected in the graded course of study in the three chadarim which he had founded. In a sense this was the making of vessels for the light, but in the main the luminary was revealed for all; and when a luminary is in a state of revelation, then that which is not a vessel also illuminates. After Petersburg, however, the light of Chassidus was revealed only in an orderly and gradated fashion, in the appropriate [intellectual] vessels, and with ample verbal explanation.

19. Let’s start with me

The path of Chassidus is a paved road; it is (thank G‑d) a broad, sealed, sturdy, clear road. But for various reasons involving certain young chassidim who study Chassidus by their own approaches, a few weeds (G‑d forbid) begin to appear on that paved road. This means that one’s own “I” — the “I” that has grasped something, the “I” that forces away the very Divine Presence — makes Chassidus cease being Chassidus. As has been said earlier, the study of Chassidus unaccompanied by practical avodah in the refinement of one’s character traits is not Chassidus. (But of course we are not dealing with fools. No doubt this kind of study does not exist — this being the difference between the wisdom of the holy side of creation and wisdom stemming from the Other Side — except in isolated cases. This needs to be rectified, and the Almighty will grant His help.)

My great-uncle R. Yehudah Leib72 once sat at a farbrengen of his father the Tzemach Tzedek. (R. Yehudah Leib was a man of varied states of mind. There were times when he was in high spirits, in the sense of the verse, Vayigbah libo bedarchei HaShem — “His heart was uplifted in the ways of G‑d,”73 and his gladness of heart found characteristic expression in the singing that accompanied his prayers. At other times, he was anxious and melancholy.) At that farbrengen he gave vent to his distress: “Where is Chassidus? Where does one find people practicing avodah? Where does one find people steeped in haskalah?”

And his father the Tzemach Tzedek replied: “What do you think my grandfather the [Alter] Rebbe expected of chassidim and Chassidus? He wanted to do away with the state of affairs described in the holy Zohar: ‘Hearts are blocked, eyes are closed, people see and know not what they see.’ So (thank G‑d) with his self-sacrifice he brought it about that Chassidus should accomplish the opposite: hearts that are open, and eyes that are open, and know what they see.”

There were times when Chassidus meant avodah, and one began with oneself. Nowadays there are those for whom Chassidus becomes a cause for haughtiness — plain ego — and for whom avodah begins by dispraising one’s fellow, which is of course the exact antithesis of what Chassidus demands. But despite all of this, one should not become despondent. Each person should be bound to Chassidus, for when one is bound one does not fall.

All in all, it’s about time to arrive at the truth.

20. Visitors from another world

The Alter Rebbe’s liberation took place at the time of the afternoon Minchah prayer. During the three prayers of that last day he had with him the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezritch.74 As is well known, the three hours [immediately following his release] which he spent in the home of one of the misnagdim75 caused him more distress than his entire imprisonment. For once he had vindicated his cause — since his imprisonment was a spiritual matter, in that it hinged on spiritual considerations — his bodily needs were of no interest to him. Having been in the company of the Maggid, and having heard the Baal Shem Tov, one can well imagine that the Alter Rebbe would not have minded remaining in prison for another three hours or even another whole day. So it was that when he was brought the news that he was now free, he had no desire to leave.

21. Enabling Atzmus to dwell down here

Many years after the events of 5559 (1798), R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev challenged the Alter Rebbe with the following question: “Why did you burden your shoulders with so much, more even than the Rebbe (the Maggid of Mezritch) intended? For there was so much suffering for Jewry in general, and so much anguish On High, as well as your own spiritual and physical distress. The same goals could have been achieved through makkifim” [lit., “encompassing lights,” i.e., by supernatural means].

The Alter Rebbe replied: “‘The Almighty desired to have an abode below’76 [i.e., in this lowest of all worlds], Atzmus desired to have an abode below. On the plane of makkifim a thing may be either so or otherwise. On the plane of pnimiyus [lit., ‘indwelling lights’] — the middle line, the attribute of Yaakov, which is the level of truth77 — there is no such thing as imaginary truth: truth is exactly so and not otherwise.”

22. The Alter Rebbe’s shluchim

In Cheder Alef,78 which the Alter Rebbe founded in 5538 (1778),79 there were fifteen students, whose entrance requirements included a thorough mastery of the Talmud, Midrash, the Ikarim80 and the Kuzari,81 and a familiarity with the Zohar. For five years the Alter Rebbe taught them as if he were locked in there (apart from essential journeys; as is known, this was a period during which some of his journeys were undertaken secretly).

Cheder Beis was founded in 5540 (1780), and Cheder Gimmel in 5542 (1782); the period of study at these levels was three years. From this time onward, the Alter Rebbe’s disciples spread out widely and began to disseminate the teachings of Chassidus and its path in divine service — with the result that chassidim and men of good deeds abounded.

The Alter Rebbe’s activities in the spreading of Chassidus were remarkably well organized. Some of his emissaries were sent out secretly to arouse in their listeners the desire to find their way to the path of Chassidus; some were dispatched to remote regions. He sent his disciple R. Moshe Vilenker, for example, to Bessarabia, with the instruction that he should not return to him until he had completed his task. This took him in fact fifteen months, and the fruits of his stay included the well-known chassid R. Yitzchak of Jassy and the chassidim of Kalarash.

23. Under the Alter Rebbe’s tallis

When the Tzemach Tzedek was slandered to the authorities for the fifth time in 5619 (1859), and was undergoing considerable suffering, he told his son, the Rebbe Maharash: “When I was a child I was brought up in the home of my grandfather (the Alter Rebbe, for he had lost his mother). During the Sounding of the Shofar and during the Blessing of the Kohanim he would take me under his tallis for tekios until the age of nine, and for the Priestly Blessing until my marriage. When it came to the Sounding of the Shofar on Rosh HaShanah 5559 (1798)82 I saw that during the forthcoming year my grandfather would undergo great distress.83 The salvation I did not see — evidently because it was not a complete deliverance.”84

24. A centenary year

This year, 5693 (1932-1933), marks the centenary of two important and connected events in Lubavitch history: it will be a century since my great-grandfather the Tzemach Tzedek bought the site on which he was to build his house, and a century since the birth of my grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash.

25. Why stay on in Mezritch?

In the days when the Maggid of Mezritch was still alive, the Alter Rebbe was once about to leave Mezritch for home. As the Maggid’s son R. Avraham the Malach (“the Angel”) was seeing him off, he said to the wagon-driver: “One has to whip the horses until they stop being horses.” (Or, according to another version, “... until they know that they are horses.’)

Hearing this, the Alter Rebbe reacted by saying that he had now learned a new path in divine service. He therefore deferred his departure and stayed on for some time in Mezritch.

In 5533 [i.e., 1773, the year following the passing of the Maggid], the Alter Rebbe spent over two months visiting85 R. Avraham the Malach, whom he called רַבִּי בְּרִבִּי,86 and after his passing he visited R. Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk several times.

26. The name Tomchei Temimim

In 5658 (1897) my father (the Rebbe Rashab) sent seventeen students to Zhebin to study under the tutelage of R. Shmuel Gronem [Esterman]. I have my father’s manuscript list with his comments on the talents, character attributes, and level of ethical achievement of each of these young men, as well as a comprehensive evaluation of where each of them stood. That was in the beginning of 5658 (1897) — the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah had been founded on 15 Elul 5657 (1897) — and at the end of 5658 (late 1898) these students returned to Lubavitch. During the Hakkafos of Simchas Torah my father began reading aloud: “Tomech temimim, hoshiah na!”87 (“Supporter of the sincere ones, help us, we beseech You!”) At this point he broke off and said: “What kind of a question is there as to what the yeshivah should be called? Why, it is written explicitly (and this he read in the traditional chant of Simchas Torah): ‘Tomchei temimim, hoshiah na; takif laad, hatzlichah na; tamim bemaasav, aneinu beyom kor’einu!”‘ (‘Supporters of the sincere ones, help us; eternally invincible One, grant success; He Who is perfect in His ways, answer us on the day we call!’) He then announced loudly: “The yeshivah is called ‘Tomchei Temimim,’ and I ask of everyone, those who are present and those who are not, Hoshiah na! (‘Help us, I beseech you!’) And in exchange I promise [the blessings of] Hatzlichah na (‘Grant success’).”