1. Chai Elul

Someone remarked that the Baal Shem Tov was born near the time of Jewish martyrdom in the wake of the [Chmielnicki] massacres of 1648-49.1 The Rebbe’s comment follows.

From these events until the birth of the Baal Shem Tov a long, long time elapsed — some 40 or 50 years. For the Baal Shem Tov was born on the 18th of Elul (Chai Elul2 ) in the year 5458/1698 (תנ״ח), and those letters when transposed comprise the word נַחַת (“peacefulness, a sense of fulfillment”).

Among the letters known collectively as the Kherson Archive3 there is a letter written by the Baal Shem Tov to R. Yaakov Yosef HaKohen [of Polonnoye], the author of Toldos Yaakov Yosef, and dated Tuesday of the week of Parshas Miketz 5513 (1752). In this letter4 the Baal Shem Tov fulfills his longstanding promise to let his correspondent know the day and the year in which his mentor Achiyah HaShiloni5 revealed himself to him. These are his words: “On the day on which I turned 26 years of age, on the 18th day of Elul in the year 5484 (1724), in the town of Okup, at about midnight, he revealed himself to me. [...] The first subject we studied was Parshas Bereishis, and when we completed the Torah6 up to ‘before the eyes of all Israel7 I was 36 years of age, and I became revealed.”8

Accordingly, since the Baal Shem Tov turned 26 on the 18th of Elul 5484 (1724), he was born on the 18th of Elul in the year 5458 (1698), and became known on the 18th of Elul 5494 (1734). This latter date is likewise clear from all the letters that are extant. It is true of the letters from R. Adam Baal Shem9 to the Baal Shem Tov covering the years 5491-93 (1731-33). These contain expositions of the Torah and of excerpts from the Zohar and the Tikkunim, and rebuke10 him for his refusal to reveal himself, informing him that the entire brotherhood11 had decided that he ought to do so. The same date — 5494 (1734) — is also evident from a letter addressed by the Baal Shem Tov to his brother-in-law,12 R. Gershon [of Kitov].

Certain aged chassidim passed on the following tradition that they had received from the chassidim of R. Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, who had heard it from the mouth of their Rebbe. The year in which the Baal Shem Tov was born was (ה') תנ"ח — 5458. When rearranged, the letters that constitute this date comprise the words נַחַת (nachas “peacefulness, sense of fulfillment”) and חָתָן (chasan —”bridegroom”). That is to say: חַד מִשְּׁמֵי שְׁמַיָּא נָחִת — “There was one who descended (נָחִת) from the highest Heavens;13 this is also the meaning of חָתָן, from the root נחת, as in the Talmudic dictum, נְחִית דַּרְגָא וּנְסִיב אִתְּתָא — ‘Descend a rung and marry a wife’;14 and his descent brought about peacefulness and a sense of fulfillment below (נַחַת רוּחַ לְמַטָּה), that is, in this mortal world, for a new spirit descended into This World (שֶׁנָחַת רוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה בְּעוֹלָם זֶה). That is to say, he taught a way of divine service which showed how one should bring about a state of satisfaction or contentment to the One Above.”

I once heard from the well-known chassid R. Chanoch Hendel — who heard from R. Zisskind Kurnitzer, who in turn quoted R. Zalman Zezmer — that the Baal Shem Tov was born and was revealed in a land that was saturated with the blood of Jewish martyrdom.15

When my father16 read the above-mentioned letter from the Baal Shem Tov to R. Yaakov Yosef of Polonnoye he said to me: “How would this correlate with the tradition handed down from one Rebbe to the next that the years of the Baal Shem Tov’s life in This World numbered 72 (ע״ב)?17 But it is not known whether this number is intended to represent the years as they are revealed, or as they were filled.”18

My father strongly disapproved of the inaccurate transmission of stories, the more so if the story in question told of something wondrous. On this subject he used to say: “The Torah was given at Mt. Sinai in space and time. The divine intention in so doing was that through one’s avodah there should be a perception within the confines of time and space of the reality which transcends time and space. The power to thus perceive is what is meant by the Gates of Light19 that were opened up during the Revelation at Mt. Sinai. This too is the meaning of the Torah and the mitzvos. They themselves are expressed in time and space — except that in them and through them there can be perceived within time and space that which is beyond the limitations of time and space. The commandment of tefillin, for example, is to be fulfilled only in specified categories of time and space, but the tefillin are a means [keilim — lit., “vessels”] of drawing down into This World that which transcends time and space.

One of those present remarked that there is a tradition current amongst the chassidim of Volhynia20 that the Baal Shem Tov passed away on a Wednesday; a mnemonic of this is to be found in the phrase [referring to the fourth day of Creation21 as] yom shenitlu hameoros — “the day on which the luminaries were suspended [in the heavens].” According to this tradition it is clear that the Baal Shem Tov passed away on the first day of Shavuos.22

To this the Rebbe replied:

Now I understand the meaning of the words that the Alter Rebbe said on Wednesday, the day following his liberation from imprisonment: “On the fourth day the luminaries were taken away (בַּיּוֹם הָרְבִיעִי נִטְלוּ הַמְּאוֹרוֹת) — but on the same day the luminaries were suspended (נִתְלוּ הַמְּאוֹרוֹת).”2324

2. Recollections of elder chassidim

On Wednesday of the week of Parshas Ki Savo 5657 (1897), during the seven days of celebration following my wedding, I was honored by a visit from a group of venerable chassidim — including R. David Zvi Chein [of Chernigov], R. Dov Ze’ev [of Yekaterinoslav], R. Yaakov Mordechai Bespalov, R. Leib Hoffman, R. Shalom-R. Hillel’s,25 R. Asher [Grossman, of Nikolayev], R. Monye [Menachem Manes] Monensohn, and R. Yaakov Kuli Bass. Since my room was small we retired to the table and benches in the garden behind our house, and there my guests exchanged thoughts on the teachings of Chassidus and the customs of chassidim.

R. Monye Monensohn recalled: “When I was little I heard this from my teacher R. Gedaliah. (R. Gedaliah was an extremely old man who still remembered the Alter Rebbe’s first visit to Shklov.26 He also remembered the first person in Shklov to become a chassid,27 who recounted how he had visited Mezritch and with his own eyes had seen the Maggid; and this chassid was an outstanding scholar and a G‑d-fearing man. What the emissaries from Vilna tell about the Maggid and his disciples is a lie.) This R. Gedaliah told me that long, long ago, the 18th of Elul (Chai Elul) used to be observed as a Yom-Tov: the Baal Shem Tov was born on the 18th of Elul.”

R. Shalom-R. Hillel’s then told the gathering that R. Hillel once recounted that he had heard from the guter Yid R. Mottele of Chernobyl, that his father (the tzaddik R. Nachum of Chernobyl) had said: “The Baal Shem Tov was born on Chai Elul — in body, in nefesh, and in ruach. ‘In body’ (begufo) — simply, on that date he was born physically; ‘in nefesh’ (benafsho) refers to the revelation of his mentor on Chai Elul; ‘in ruach’ (berucho) refers to his own revelation on Chai Elul. All those events took place on Chai Elul.”

R. Shalom proceeded to pass on R. Hillel’s own comment: “I would have liked to establish Chai Elul28 as a day of feasting and rejoicing — except that instituting a Yom-Tov should be left to a Rebbe. And why in fact was it not instituted as a Yom-Tov? The reason, it seems to me, is that Keser is not enumerated with the [other] Sefiros.”

3. Chassidisher teshuvah produces energizing joy

R. Dov Ze’ev told us that on one of the seven days of festivities following the wedding of my father in Elul 5635 (1875), my grandfather29 explained: “The three days before Shabbos are a preparation for Shabbos.30 The Zohar says about Shabbos that ‘from it all the days are blessed.’31 ‘All the days’ refers to the six days of the week on which G‑d conferred a general blessing — ‘G‑d will bless you in all you do.’32 Now the blessing of Shabbos extends both to the days preceding it and to the days following it. The preparations for Shabbos begin on Wednesday, and are heralded by the brief Lechu neranenah of three verses.”33

“On this occasion,” recalled R. Dov Ze’ev, “the Rebbe was in an exceedingly joyful and outgoing frame of mind. The seudah took place in the garden, and a great number of people had come to participate. His countenance was strikingly handsome at all times, but now in his joy it was literally luminous: the Divine Presence rested on his holy face. Radiating joy he now said,” — and here R. Dov Ze’ev resumed his account of the words of the Rebbe Maharash: “The ultimate truth of what these three verses signify should be apprehended — and it is in fact apprehended — in a general way in the course of one’s study of Chassidus; and as to the particular ways in which this affects each person according to the nature of his soul and his tasks in avodah, this should be explained individually. But now is a time of joy in the World Above for our grandfathers34 and their Rebbeim,35 and, yet higher, it is a time of joy for the Holy One, blessed be He, and His Divine Presence, as well as a time of joy in This World below. So I will explain these three verses as they apply to a middle path, in a manner meaningful to all men.

“On Wednesday we begin thinking: ‘What will we have for Shabbos?’ This is a concern in the literal sense, and spiritually as well: How can we live a real Shabbos?36 After all, every Jew is quite different on Shabbos than he is on a weekday.37 So we become a little despondent. The solution to this is: Lechu neranenah (‘Come, let us sing [to G‑d]’) — place your trust in Him. Comes Thursday, it is now closer to Shabbos, and we are still emptyhanded. It doesn’t seem to neranenah so easily;38 we realize we must do something. But when we settle down on Thursday night to study Chassidus, by Friday we sense that ‘The L-rd is a great G‑d and a great King....’39 And with this a Jew can live his Shabbos.”

“This coming Shabbos,” the Rebbe Maharash had gone on to say, “will be Shabbos HaGadol a great Shabbos: the day on which the Baal Shem Tov was born. My father40 told me that the chassidim who hailed from Horodok used to relate a wealth of stories that they had heard from R. Menachem Mendel [of Horodok]:41 stories that had been passed on to him — about the Baal Shem Tov before his revelation, the manner of his revelation, the brotherhood of his disciples, and the trials and tribulations which he encountered.”

R. Dov Ze’ev resumed his description of that memorable occasion: “When the Rebbe concluded his words he had it announced that whoever could sing should join in the niggun which he indicated. The melody was to be sung three times over, and in measured tones, all singing together. In order to make this possible he instructed R. Eliyahu (Virabaitchik) of Obel and R. Tzadok (Nechamkin) of Homil to stand in a high spot and lead the singing. When the singing drew to a close the Rebbe42 delivered the maamar which opens with the words, Ki al kol kavod chuppah— lit., ‘For over each [kind of] honor there will be a canopy.’43 He explained that kavod and chuppah are both makkifim [lit., ‘encompassing lights’], an immediate and a distant makkif,44 respectively. In the course of his teaching he said in a singsong: ‘The immediate makkif — this refers to our predecessors;45 the distant makkif — this refers to the Maggid and the Baal Shem Tov.’

“The joy that we chassidim then experienced is indescribable,” continued R. Dov Ze’ev. “Immediately after delivering the maamar the Rebbe left the table to dance for a short while, and then went up the steps which led from the garden to the porch.46 There he sat by the window watching us, the chassidim, as we danced in the garden in dozens of circles. Next to him stood his son R. Zalman Aharon, and my uncle R. Moshe Aryeh Ginsburg, from Vitebsk, the Rebbe’s son-in-law. They later said that the Rebbe had remarked to them: ‘See, my children, how chassidim are glad in the joy of a mitzvah. This is how Jews will dance in the streets when Mashiach comes!’

“That Shabbos, which was Chai Elul, was a cloudy day, so the Kiddush took place in the large hall.”47

“In the course of the Kiddush the Rebbe said: ‘The Baal Shem Tov was born on Chai Elul. Through the teachings of Chassidus the Baal Shem Tov introduced vitality48 into the mode of avodah [of teshuvah through love, initiated by the worshiper] which is represented by the words, Ani leDodi veDodi li — lit., “I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine.”‘49 The Rebbe then delivered a maamar opening with these four words, whose initial letters (א-ל-ו-ל) spell the name of the month [which is the classic season for this mode of teshuvah], and whose final letters are four times yud [whose numerical equivalent is ten], totaling 40, and representing the 40 days which Moshe Rabbeinu spent on Mt. Sinai receiving the Torah.50

“After the maamar those assembled sang together, and following this the Rebbe said: ‘Dancing in a circle, the way chassidim do, is a custom renewed in the days of the Baal Shem Tov. A circle represents that which is makkif. The first stage of revelation [of divine light] must be in a mode of makkif [lit., “encompassing the recipient from without”]. It does not allow itself to be brought down at all in “vessels” (keilim), and certainly not in a mode of pnimiyus [that is, capable of perception by conscious and intellectual means]. My great-grandfather the Alter Rebbe, through his self-sacrifice for the teachings of Chassidus and for chassidim, drew down the encompassing (makkif) lights into the [internalized] mode of pnimiyus; he constructed “vessels” [of intellectual perception] for the pnimiyus. Now, when chassidim dance in a circle, this represents a state of oros bekeilim,51 lights contained within vessels; a light which is makkif rests upon them; and this makkif has its effect on the [lesser, indwelling] light which is pnimi.’

“The Rebbe retired to his study, while the chassidim went out to the courtyard and danced in dozens of circles.

“At the Shabbos meal which followed, the Rebbe said: ‘The Baal Shem Tov opened the gates of the inner realms of the Torah (pnimiyus haTorah), and the Alter Rebbe opened the gates of Chabad.52 Accordingly, the meaning of Chai Elul nowadays is that Elul itself has come to life [lit., “Elul lives”]. In days gone by, when the month of Elul drew near, everyone became enshrouded by melancholy. Each individual was stowed away in his own cloud. The Alter Rebbe, however, brought down the above spirit of vitality into a state of inwardness, making it intrinsic to the worshiper. That is, he drove out the extrinsic melancholy, and in its stead introduced a merirus53 [lit., “bitterness”; i.e., a constructive and penitent anguish] which is generated from within.’”

R. Dov Ze’ev continued his account of what he had heard on that occasion from my grandfather the Rebbe Maharash.

“The Alter Rebbe opens his Tanya with a discussion of the tzaddik and the rasha, the righteous man and the wicked. He raises queries concerning the status of the rasha, quoting the Mishnah, ‘And do not be a rasha in your own estimation,’54 and proceeds to ask, ‘Furthermore, if a man considers himself to be wicked,’ and so on. Now one might have expected that he should have discussed instead the level of the tzaddik.

“However, the matter can be understood thus. It is characteristic of baalei makkifim [i.e., those whose mental attitude toward reality is subject to the powerful overt impressions of makkifim, ‘encompassing lights’ (or: intuited potential states of being), these impressions not being integrated into their inner character], that they are baalei ketzavos [lit., ‘men of extremes’]. From their perspective, one may waver between two opposite positions. On the one hand the speaker may consider himself at times to be a tzaddik, while at other times he may describe himself as being (G‑d forbid) a rasha. The reason: such a person’s perceptions are not settled (behisyashvus). However, in the realm of pnimi [that is, in the realm of perceptions that have been intellectually digested, integrated, and internalized], the confusion of extremes is inconceivable. That which is pnimi is by definition organized. It follows that in bygone times, when Elul approached and people felt that it was time to become more pious, they were beset by melancholy. For in order to rouse himself a person would refer to himself as (G‑d forbid) a rasha, so that a heavy despondence set in, and throughout the month of Elul everyone was weighted down by a cloud. Came the Baal Shem Tov and injected vitality into the service of G‑d. The Alter Rebbe then illuminated the path of the Baal Shem Tov. He dispelled the murky melancholy and dolefulness, and in addition brought people to realize that a tzaddik too has to do teshuvah. The Chassidus which the Alter Rebbe and his successors gave us is a revelation of Mashiach.

“And the Rebbe Maharash went on to expound the statement in the Zohar that ‘Mashiach will come in order to cause the tzaddikim to return in teshuvah.’“55

“The Rebbe Maharash then delivered the maamar which begins with the words,

‘Then will the maiden rejoice in the dance.’“56

4. How a chassid perceives a life-story

R. David Zvi Chein now recounted something that he had heard from his father R. Peretz Chein, who in turn had heard it from the aged chassid R. Yaakov of Horodok, who had received it from the mouth of his Rebbe, R. Menachem Mendel of Horodok, as follows: “The Baal Shem Tov was born on Chai Elul in the year ה׳תנ״ח — 5458 (which was 1698). The three key Hebrew letters when rearranged comprise the words נַחַת and חָתָן [as explained in section 1 above]. The year that the Baal Shem Tov was born saw the second printing of Shnei Luchos HaBris,57 the Shlah HaKadosh, in Amsterdam. At that time a stern edict was being considered in the Heavenly Court against the Jewry of Poland, exactly as had been the case when that work was first published.58 (While the printing was then still in progress, readers bought the work section by section. The hearts of many Jews were ignited, and an Evil Eye took effect; and soon after came the massacres of 1648-49.) The year of the second printing, however, the year in which the Baal Shem Tov was born, was (thank G‑d) a year of repose. For the first 26 years of his life he had the outward appearance of an ordinary individual; for ten years his holy mentor taught him; he then became revealed, and for 26 years he was a leader of his brethren.”

R. David Zvi Chein went on to repeat a [related] teaching of R. Menachem Mendel of Horodok which had likewise been passed down by the latter’s close disciple, R. Yaakov of Horodok.

It once happened that during the festive meal of Shavuos, R. Menachem Mendel was rapt in the ecstatic state of dveikus (lit., “cleaving [to his Maker]”). In due course he quoted the following phrase from Tehillim: Yodeia HaShem yemei temimim (lit., “G‑d knows the days of the perfect ones”59 ), and began to expound its component phrases homiletically, as follows: “Yodeia HaShemThe Name of G‑d can be known by means of yemei temimim, the days of the perfect ones,60 who draw G‑dliness down into This World and connect it with G‑dliness; for through this activity one renders the world complete, and realizes the Divine Will.

“[Thus, for example,] the Rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov, lived twice 26 years and once ten years. The first 26 years correspond to the numerical value of the letters comprising the Hidden Name of G‑d,61 which explains why during those years he was a hidden tzaddik. The later 26 years correspond to the numerical value of the letters comprising the Revealed Name of G‑d,62 and this is why at this stage in his life he was revealed. But in order that it should be possible for him to be revealed, he had to pass through the series of Ten Sefiros.63 This corresponds to the middle ten years of his life. “The above verse in Tehillim concludes: venachalasam l’olam tihyeh — ‘Their heritage shall be forever.’ And indeed, with the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov we will come to our Holy Land.”

With this R. Menachem Mendel rose, and broke out in a joyful dance.

5. “Leibe, you’re thinking about the Baal Shem Tov!”

[At this point the Rebbe Rayatz cited an exposition of the above teaching on the Hidden and Revealed Names of G‑d, propounded by the above-mentioned chassid named R. Leib Hoffman, and couched in part in the learned terminology of the Kabbalah. The Rebbe then proceeded to quote an episode recounted by R. Leib.]

“Once when I was in the presence of the Rebbe [Maharash] at yechidus,” R. Leib Hoffman recalled, “I had asked for clarification on various points encountered in my studies, and had made a mental note of certain further queries. However, since I had been in the Rebbe’s study longer than the time allowed me by the gabbai R. Leivik Meshares, who determined the order of entry — even though the Rebbe spoke to me in a cheerful manner, answering all my queries clearly and at length, I made a move towards the door, because R. Leivik had by now opened it twice.64 The Rebbe then gave me his blessing, and looking at me at length he said: ‘Leibe, you are thinking about the Baal Shem Tov. What do you want to ask? Ask!’

“So I said: ‘I have a notion that the Baal Shem Tov, the Mezritcher Maggid and the Alter Rebbe represent the Keser, Chochmah and Binah65 of Chassidus.’

“A change overcame the Rebbe’s face. Elated, he stood up from his chair, and said: ‘This is the case only in the general manner of the revelation Above; that is, it is true of the sequence in which the teachings of Chassidus were progressively revealed from the higher levels to the lower. From our perspective, the Baal Shem Tov, the Mezritcher Maggid and the Alter Rebbe are the Keser, Chochmah and Binah of Chassidus. And in practice this is what is apparent to the observer. The manner of the revelation of the Baal Shem Tov parallels the manner of the revelation of Keser — first being concealed, then revealing itself; and in its revelation encompassing (like a crown66 from above) all levels equally, from the loftiest to the nethermost. So too was the manner of the revelation of the Baal Shem Tov — being at first concealed, and then revealing himself; and in his revelation adopting the mode of a makkif klali — an all-encompassing mode of revelation which transcended in equal measure the loftiest levels and the nethermost, so that from this perspective there was no distinction of degree between the occasions when his soul would ascend to the realms Above, and the occasions when he would reveal himself in a miraculous incident in this world.

“The Baal Shem Tov won the Maggid as a disciple neither through working miracles67 nor through makkifim [lit., “encompassing lights”; i.e., superrational revelations]. The Maggid was seeking haskalah, intellectual awareness; he was seeking nekudas hachochmah, the initial and quintessential point in the intellectual perception of G‑dliness; and when he found this in the Baal Shem Tov he became his disciple.

“As to the Alter Rebbe, what made its mark on him was not haskalah: he sought havanah, the fully integrated understanding afforded by Binah. My father [the Tzemach Tzedek] once told me that his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, had told him the following: ‘When I had with the help of G‑d established myself in the knowledge of the Torah, I sought havanah, understanding. In those days two places were talked about — Vilna and Mezritch; in Vilna one learned how to study, and in Mezritch one learned how to pray. I was in search of the understanding which resides in the heart — in the words of Pasach Eliyahu:68 Binah – liba. Through a miracle I reached Mezritch and there, thank G‑d, I found what I was seeking, and in generous measure.’

“All the above, however,” the Rebbe Maharash continued his reply to R. Leib Hoffman, “is true of what goes on Above, in relation to the workings of Divine Providence vis-à-vis the created universe as it is gradated in various levels. But when viewed from the perspective of the divine service of the individual, the Baal Shem Tov, the Mezritcher Maggid and the Alter Rebbe correspond to Chabad — Chochmah, Binah and Daas.”

The Rebbe Maharash concluded his words by quoting two verses from Mishlei.69 [Literally translated, those verses mean: “G‑d founded the earth with wisdom; he established the Heavens with understanding. With this knowledge the depths burst open, and the highest Heavens drip with dew.” The Rebbe Maharash, however, expounded them phrase by phrase in the spirit of the teachings of Chassidus, on the non-literal level of derush, as follows:]

“הוי': In order that the essential and transcendent Name of G‑d should be perceived in This World in a mode of internalized understanding,70

בְּחָכְמָה יָסַד אָרֶץ: G‑d founded the earth with Chochmah — this corresponds to the Baal Shem Tov;

“כּוֹנֵן שָׁמַיִם בִּתְבוּנָה: He established the Heavens with understanding (tevunah/Binah) — this corresponds to the Mezritcher Maggid;

“בְּדַעְתּוֹ: with His Daas (i.e., with the Daas of the revealed levels of the Torah and Chassidus together with the avodah of the heart to the extent of literal self-sacrifice),

“תְּהוֹמוֹת נִבְקְעוּ: the depths of the abyss were burst open — this corresponds to the Alter Rebbe; and in consequence,

“וּשְׁחָקִים: the highest Heavens71 (referring to all of the Rebbeim, through whose avodah and guidance even stony hearts are crushed [שחק — “to grind”] and replaced by hearts of flesh) —

“יִרְעֲפוּ טַל: will drip with dew [signifying the gift of life-giving divine inspiration], until the coming of Mashiach.”

6. “When there is a Rebbe there are chassidim!”

In the course of that same visit by the delegation of elder chassidim to my home soon after my marriage, R. Yaakov Mordechai Bespalov recounted that once while at yechidus he had asked the Rebbe [Maharash] to elaborate on certain points that had been raised during the maamar of the preceding Shabbos, concerning the definition of the Kabbalistic term, Adam Kadmon. In reply the Rebbe had told him to study the discourse in Likkutei Torah72 which opens with the words LaMenatzeiach al HaShminis, and had then said: “Ask my son [i.e., the Rebbe Rashab] for the unpublished explanation of this maamar.”

[Here is recorded a brief but involved exchange between the Rebbe Maharash and his chassid R. Yaakov Mordechai, which connects the definition of the term under discussion with the path in avodah taught by the Alter Rebbe.]

R. Yaakov Mordechai concluded his account of that yechidus by quoting the words with which the Rebbe Maharash closed his discussion of the Alter Rebbe: “And he was the Rebbe — and when there is a Rebbe there are chassidim!”

With those words R. Yaakov Mordechai broke down in such bitter tears that all those present were amazed. They tried to calm him from his sobbing, but to no avail — until R. Leib Hoffman said: “Come now, this is a time of threefold joy — it’s the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov; it’s the day on which the Baal Shem Tov was revealed; and our Rebbe is celebrating the marriage of his only son. Is this a time to cry?! Rav of Poltava, it’s time to do teshuvah!”

And with this he began to sing a niggun he had a wonderful voice — and all of his companions joined in. R. David Zvi Chein, R. Shalom-R. Hillel’s and R. Asher Grossman then rose from the table and began to dance. They were soon joined by all the others — all, that is, except for R. Yaakov Mordechai, who sat with his head in his hands, still weeping. The other elder chassidim returned to the table and filled glasses for LeChaim! — and while they were so occupied his crying ceased, but he said in a tearful voice: “The Rebbe told me then, ‘When there is a Rebbe there are chassidim!’”

R. Yaakov Mordechai then resumed his account of the words with which the Rebbe Maharash had concluded that yechidus: “That is, chassidim who are active in avodah. But if one is a chassid who is not a chassid, this causes the Rebbe to cease being a Rebbe. The Alter Rebbe was a Rebbe, so he made chassidim. And the chassidim, by being chassidim and men of deeds in the realm of divine service that stems from the heart, gave strength to the Rebbe.”

7. What impacted a vintage chassid

Yesterday I recounted73 that the three hours which the Alter Rebbe inadvertently came to spend in the home of one of his opponents immediately after his release caused him more anguish than his entire imprisonment. I said too that when he was brought the tidings of his impending release he did not want to leave the fortress.

The whole episode of the imprisonment came about with the consent of the Alter Rebbe. And indeed not only the Alter Rebbe, but every tzaddik likewise rules over all material matters. What the Torah has to say about the created universe is decisive: all temporal matters are subject to the dominion of the Torah. It follows that whatever is due to befall a tzaddik takes place only with his consent. And this of course includes the imprisonment of the Alter Rebbe.

Had the Alter Rebbe not been agreeable he would not have been arrested — as witness his journey to Petersburg. On Friday the black wagon remained stationary, and harnessing four horses to it did not help in the slightest. The wagon did not budge because the Alter Rebbe did not want it to.

Six hours before candle-lighting time the Alter Rebbe did not want to travel any further, so the wagon stopped in its tracks. When the general and his gendarmes understood that this was no simple matter — first an axle had suddenly broken;74 and when it was repaired one of the horses collapsed; and when fresh horses were brought they were unable to drag the wagon an inch — they asked the Alter Rebbe’s permission to travel on as far as a nearby village. When he declined, they asked him to allow them to move the wagon to a field at the roadside. To this he agreed, and that is where they spent Shabbos. This spot is two or three viorsts from Saliba Rudnia, which is near the town of Nevl. The vintage chassid fondly known as Michael der Alter (“the aged R. Michael”) used to relate that he knew elder chassidim who were able to point out the exact spot at which the Alter Rebbe had spent that Shabbos. In fact he had gone there himself to see it with his own eyes. All the way there he had seen drooping old trees on both sides of the road, but near that spot where the wagon had stopped for Shabbos stood a tall tree with luxuriant foliage.

And whenever R. Michael used to recall that moment, and would describe the site in detail, his soul would light up with a noble awakening of pious awe. Indeed, the recollection of the tree did more to arouse his soul than the study of a whole moral tract in Chassidus does to certain chassidim today….

8. The key to a happy family life

I would like to mention something parenthetically. It does not directly concern the present narrative, but it is relevant to the whole make-up of chassidim. It is something that affects oneself, one’s wife and one’s children. (May they be blessed with good health!)

It is said that everything depends on the heart, and the heart depends on the purse.75 Now the root and source of the avodah of chassidim76 has always been — rubbing shoulders with elder chassidim. Everyone knows that if you want your house to be warm you have to heat the stove. If a person yearns for the ardor of holiness, zeal in the performance of a mitzvah, and a relish in the study of the Torah, he must heat the stove, that is to say, arouse his heart. And this can be accomplished only through close and humble contact with chassidim who tackle their life-tasks energetically. This, then, is what is meant by the phrase, “Everything depends on the heart.”

The heart, however, depends in turn on the purse. Heat alone will not suffice: it needs to be supplemented by ready cash, tangible merchandise. That is to say: the hours set aside daily for Torah study must be scrupulously guarded. Each hour of study is of consequence to oneself and to one’s entire household.

There are people whose affairs at the moment are all being conducted on a credit basis. The heart is there, to be sure; it succeeds in drawing its possessor to a chassidisher farbrengen; he feels moreover that he is being aroused; but what is still lacking is hard cash, the fixed times set aside for Torah study.

Everyone needs to know — and everyone knows — that a Jew’s good-heartedness (and in particular a chassid’s good-heartedness), as expressed according to the Torah, is a wellspring of happiness in family life. This is the greatest of all blessings. It is well known that a pure family life as directed by the Torah is one of the happiest things known to all humanity. And this can be arrived at only through the fixing of times for Torah study in the company of good friends.

Though this subject has now been raised only by the way, parenthetically, it warrants close attention, for it is vital to the life of the sons and daughters of all the House of Israel, and to their children likewise.

9. A Rebbe loves his chassidim

The story of the Alter Rebbe’s journey to Petersburg gives us tangible testimony to the above statement that whatever happens to a tzaddik, and especially to a tzaddik who is a leader of Jewry, takes place only with his consent. When the Alter Rebbe did not want to travel further, the wagon came to a halt — and it came to a halt where and when the Alter Rebbe so desired.

Had the wagon stood still at candle-lighting time this would have been not at all remarkable. For such things we find concerning even an unwitting reaction. Take for example the incident in which the wealthy scholar R. Yehoshua Tzeitlin,77 seeking to put the Alter Rebbe’s perception to the test, served him wine which had been handled by a gentile. When his little trap failed he said: “Concerning you it is written, ‘No evil shall befall the righteous....’”78 In this incident, for example, there is nothing remarkable. But that the wagon should stand still at ten-thirty on Friday morning, and not budge, — this is one of the visible wonders of G‑d, like any overt miracle.

From all of the above it is abundantly clear to anyone, that a person whose word carried weight over material things, as was the case with the Alter Rebbe, had the option of not being imprisoned at all, and he had no need to hide, even for a solitary hour. If he did go nevertheless, this was for the sake of a profound purpose involving the service of G‑d.

Avraham Avinu opened the channel of self-sacrifice for the sanctification of the Divine Name,79 and the Alter Rebbe opened the channel of self-sacrifice for the service of G‑d according to the teachings of Chassidus. From all of this one can gather that the whole episode of the Alter Rebbe’s imprisonment was only a garment worn by choice, in order to avoid making use of supernatural means.

Truth to tell, this subject warrants a detailed explanation, especially since this would provide at least an inkling of an appreciation of the Alter Rebbe’s quintessential inner love for Jews in general — for he wanted every individual to start living with a zest in his Torah study, and in his divine service according to the teachings of Chassidus — and his love for chassidim in particular. And this love the Alter Rebbe implanted in the Rebbeim who succeeded him.

To explain this theme in passing is impossible: it deserves detailed attention in a hallowed nook all of its own. I am nevertheless mentioning it in brief, so that chassidim will know that they are not (G‑d forbid) alone – for such a deepseated and quintessential love is everlasting, throughout all the generations until the coming of Mashiach, when it will be granted us, at the time of the Resurrection of the Dead, to gaze directly upon the living and luminous countenances of the Rebbeim.

10. Kaddish is both a ladder and a conduit

After the brief introduction above, as to how the imprisonment and all the suffering it involved was of no account in the eyes of the Alter Rebbe, I would like to tell you of a certain incident.

In the year 5666 (1906), my father [the Rebbe Rashab] and I were in Moscow on 24 Teves, the anniversary of the passing80 of the Alter Rebbe, and a minyan was needed for the afternoon Minchah prayer. It was midwinter, and the days were short. Besides, the only way to be allowed to live in Moscow in those days was by holding a document of proxy, and every Jew knew that he had to be on his guard so that he should not be recognized when walking in the streets, for fear of his life. So it was that for a number of Jews to assemble, especially at a fixed time, was exceedingly difficult. While we were waiting my father said: “If people only knew the lofty worth of responding Amen to the Kaddish which is soon to be said — what rich spiritual and material blessings and success it bestows upon all the five levels of the soul, and what blessings for children, health and livelihood it brings in its wake, to generation after generation, — then there would be a considerable number of minyanim.”

In the meantime people started to wander in one by one. My father was always punctilious about the proper times for prayer, especially in the afternoon, so he had already prayed the Minchah service. When the tenth man arrived — a chassid by the name of R. Baruch Shalom HaKohen Rudner — the minyan prayed the Minchah service, after which my father said: “There are times when Kaddish is recited for the sake of the departed, and there are times when Kaddish is recited for the benefit of those who recite it. There are times too when for the one who recites it the Kaddish is a ladder,81 while for the listener it is a channel through which divine blessings flow. The initials of the first four words of Kaddish – Yisgadal veyiskadash Shmei raba – comprise the word יוֹשֶׁר. May the blessing elicited by the Kaddish be drawn down in a manner of Yosher,82 finding expression in the kind of good that is visible and revealed.”

On the anniversary of the Rebbe’s passing a disciple is bound to him with all the five levels of his soul — nefesh, ruach, neshamah, chayah and yechidah.

Even if an ordinary person is imprisoned he becomes refined by the experience. How much more so the Alter Rebbe; and particularly since he was imprisoned for the revelation of the innermost dimension of the Torah, risking his very life for this cause; and, as is known, his daughter gave her life on this account.83 Considering self-sacrifice of this order, and his dveikus with the Infinite One, blessed be He, and his close communion with his saintly teachers, one will be able to appreciate the extent to which the entire incarceration did not engage his attention. From this one will likewise to be able to understand, or at least imagine, the following divinely-ordained situation: After the Alter Rebbe had spent time in the Peter-Paul Fortress, being in the company of the Maggid, and listening to the Baal Shem Tov, how much must he have suffered during those three hours in the home of the misnaged.

Now the above-quoted statement which has been handed down from Rebbe to Rebbe — that those three hours caused the Alter Rebbe more anguish than the whole imprisonment — may be well understood.84

11. “On no account!”

In the course of the five years 5548-555285 (1788-1792) the circle of chassidim grew exceedingly, both in numbers and in quality. That is to say, all the disciples of the three chadarim86 spread out in various places. As is well known, the Alter Rebbe was highly organized, both in his own life and as a leader of men, so that their mission of awakening their brethren to the teachings of Chassidus was closely planned. I had jotted down what I had been told on this subject, and much of this I recorded in a long letter to a certain individual. At any rate, in the course of these five years there was a great increase in the number of chassidim who were men of mellow understanding. The misnagdim saw that the chassidim were growing into a body to be reckoned with, and observed that the disciples whom the Alter Rebbe dispatched as emissaries to disseminate the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov were G‑d-fearing men, and scholars of formidable stature. Seeing moreover that in every town they won over more individuals to the cause of Chassidus, their opponents once again sought to incite the Gaon of Vilna. At first, as is known, he refused to listen to them. But the factious men among them, who fanned dissension, conspired to surround him with falsehood and deceit, bringing him slanderous allegations about the lifestyle of the chassidim in general, and in particular the charge that they disparaged the study of the Torah.

During this period — in the years 5551-5552 (1791-1792) — the rose of Chassidus flourished, and the Evil One who cast his malevolent eye on the First and on the Second Beis HaMikdash now made his presence felt. A harsh edict was mooted in the Heavenly Court. During that summer the Alter Rebbe had sent his chassid R. Yaakov of Semilian to the tzaddik R. Nachum of Chernobyl, bearing a pidyon nefesh on his behalf, and on behalf of the cause of Chassidus in general. He then called for his daughter87 — the saintly Rebbitzin Devorah Leah, mother of the Tzemach Tzedek — and imparted to her what he had intended by the names which he had given her (that is, after which of the many Devorah’s and Leah’s he had named her). He also explained his life-work in disseminating the teachings of his mentors, and told her of the success with which his endeavors had met. But this had served only as “an arrow in the eye of Satan,”88 for now a dire verdict against him had been passed down in the Heavenly Court. He told her further that he considered that the divine influence which was to be brought down to the World Below could be directed too from the World Above; this was the result of avodah, but it was not an approach appropriate to the world-scheme of Tikkun.

The Alter Rebbe’s daughter replied not a word. She left the room, and later returned to tell him: “To this you ought never agree: this — on no account!”

She then called for a few selected and discreet chassidim of her father, told them in brief of what she had now heard from his mouth, and declared: “My father — on no account! I undertake to stand in his stead, so that he will be able to carry out the intention and the will of my grandfather and my great-grandfather — which is also the Divine Will.”

The children of the Alter Rebbe used to refer to the Maggid of Mezritch as their grandfather, and to the Baal Shem Tov as their great-grandfather.

12. How not to feel lonely

In my father’s farbrengens of bygone days, every word is a pearl. And as time goes by one comes nearer to an understanding of an old vort, a memorable dictum from long ago, and it becomes clear and luminous in quite a novel way. Each word warms one, and gives one a sense of wellbeing. Then, when one ponders over it, one does not feel so lonely.

On the physical plane we see that if a person owns a number of individual pearls, they may well be valuable merchandise — but they are after all only individual pearls. If however those selfsame pearls are threaded together in a certain order, then even though there is nothing new in the pearls themselves, their beauty is now of quite a different kind. They light up their entire surroundings, and around them is created a purer air.

13. Upward toil is superior to revelation from above

In the year 5639 (1878), Yud-Tes Kislev fell on Sunday. The day before, on Shabbos, my grandfather the Rebbe Maharash delivered a maamar which opens with the words, Atah echad — “You are One, and Your Name is One, and who is like Your people, like Israel, the one nation on earth?”89 He explained there that the unity in the levels of G‑dliness represented by אַתָּה (“You”) and שִׁמְךָ (“Your Name”) is brought about by the avodah of גּוֹי אֶחָד בָּאָרֶץ [i.e., the particular task of the Jewish people (גּוֹי) — of revealing the divine Unity (אֶחָד) underlying the material creation of This World (אָרֶץ)]. He went on to explain the difference between — on the one hand — the innate unity of אַתָּה הוּא קוֹדֶם שֶׁנִבְרָא הָעוֹלָם (“You were [the same] before the world was created”) and אַתָּה הוּא לְאַחַר שֶׁנִבְרָא הָעוֹלָם (“You are [the same] since the world has been created”),90 and — on the other hand — the unity that is effected by avodah.

My grandfather used to mark Yud-Tes Kislev as follows. On the eve of the 19th of Kislev there was a festive gathering which was known as the seudah of my grandmother, the saintly Rebbitzin Rivkah. He would sit at the table for 15 or 20 minutes, and would say: “This is the seudah which the grandson91 is celebrating.” The next evening, on the eve of the twentieth of Kislev, when the main seudah took place, he would remain at the table together with those present for 50 minutes or an hour. It was on one such occasion that he recounted the following.

When the Alter Rebbe was on his way from the house of the misnaged and saw how overjoyed his chassidim were — they were even rolling about in the streets of Petersburg — he was overcome by fear. His apprehension did not stem from his immediate circumstances, for he had been granted unqualified freedom. His fear was rather from the way in which the victory had burst forth in all directions. After prayers the next morning (on Wednesday, for Yud-Tes Kislev that year fell on a Tuesday), the Alter Rebbe said: “Concerning the fourth day of Creation it is written, יְהִי מְאֹרֹת — ‘Let there be luminaries,’92 and the word מְאֹרֹת is spelled there without the letter vav.” The Alter Rebbe then cited the interpretation of Ramban on this verse — that the light that was created on the first day served for three days. To this the Alter Rebbe added, “Three generations: The Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid,” — and stopped. He later resumed: “On the fourth day the luminaries were taken away93 (בַּיּוֹם הָרְבִיעִי נִטְּלוּ הַמְּאוֹרוֹת) — but on the same day the luminaries were suspended (נִּתְּלוּ הַמְּאוֹרוֹת).94 Everything now depends95 on the chassidim. Now” — he addressed them here directly — “everything depends on you.”

In the course of that Wednesday the news of the Rebbe’s liberation spread throughout the breadth of Petersburg, and as evening fell, a great number of people assembled. When the Rebbe made it known that he did not intend to deliver a chassidic discourse, two men who had jostled their way through the thick crowd approached the Alter Rebbe and said: “We have been thrown far into the depths of Russia. Yet G‑d is our witness that we serve Him and fulfill whatever we know of what is written in the Torah. Rebbe! Please teach us Torah, and strengthen our hearts in the service of the Creator!”

Soon after, the Alter Rebbe went out to the courtyard and delivered the maamar that begins with the words, Kamayim hapanim (“As in water face answers to face, so is the heart of one man to another”96 ). And even though it was bitterly cold outside where they all stood, everyone felt warm, and the warmth permeated every last little bone. (This was the phrase as I heard it from my father.)

Before the Alter Rebbe delivered the maamar he cited the verse from Tehillim97 that begins, Zeh dor dorshav…. (lit., “Such is the generation of those that search for Him, of those among [the children of] Yaakov who seek Your Countenance forever”). This verse he now proceeded to expound phrase by phrase according to the teachings of Chassidus, and on the non-literal level of derush, as follows:

“זֶה דּוֹר: This is such a generation —

“דֹּרְשָׁו: that if its leaders98 and mentors —

“מְבַקְשֵׁי פָנֶיךָ: seek Your Countenance,99 that is to say, the innermost levels (pnimiyus) of the Infinite One —

“יַעֲקֹב סֶלָה: then its ordinary Jews (יַעֲקֹב — י׳ עָקֵב) are at all places and at all times strong (סֶלָה) in the strength and eternity100 of the Infinite One.” [The name יַעֲקֹב is comprised of two components — י׳ עָקֵב, signifying the indwelling of the loftiest levels of divine light (yud being the first letter of the Four-Letter Name of G‑d) within the lowliest levels of His people (akeiv = “heel”)].

The Alter Rebbe then quoted the phrase which describes the struggle between Yaakov and Eisav’s guardian angel: Vayei’avek ish imo (lit., “And a man wrestled with him”101 ), and with it quoted the comment of the Talmud: הֶעֱלוּ אֲבָק... עַד כִּסֵּא הַכָּבוֹד (“They raised dust ... up to the Throne of Glory”).102 On this the Alter Rebbe asked the question: “Surely the verse should have said, Vayilachem ish imo (lit., ‘And a man fought with him’). Why then does it say וַיֵאָבֵק (‘wrestled’)?” And he answered: “This word appears because it hints at the fact that there are battles that originate in nothing more substantial than dust (אֲבָק) — as for example, a dispute which is instigated by lovers of discord, whose life-force is sustained by dust alone.”

Following this statement, the Alter Rebbe delivered the above-mentioned maamar.

The Rebbe Maharash once said that this maamar is based on a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov. My father then asked him, when speaking with him at yechidus, whether the Alter Rebbe had heard this maamar from the Maggid of Mezritch, or whether he had heard it while in prison [i.e., by direct revelation from the Baal Shem Tov].103

With a smile his father chided him: “People who want to know everything grow old before their time!”

My father continued telling me of his yechidus: “But when my father perceived that this question was really important to me” (and this, despite the utter self-effacement of my father with respect to his father, especially at yechidus), “he replied: ‘In the World of Tikkun the proper direction for avodah to take is working upward from below, and not through the downward revelation of what is Above.’”104

Another discourse on the same verse, Kamayim hapanim — delivered by the Rebbe Maharash in 5639 (1879) — discusses the above-mentioned teaching on the words Zeh dor. It is extant in two versions, an incomplete one recorded by my father, and a complete one by R. Moshe Leib Ginsburg.

14. The gift of a lifetime

The Alter Rebbe had sent his pidyon nefesh to R. Nachum of Chernobyl early in the month of Elul.

On the first evening of Rosh HaShanah the Alter Rebbe came out of his study, and although, as is well known, he never spoke at all on the first night of Rosh HaShanah, yet this time he asked: “Where is Devorah Leah?” And when he saw his daughter he began to say: “LeShanah....”

No sooner had he said that first word than she sprang forward and said to him: “Leshanah tovah tikasev veseichasem!105 Father, please don’t say anything!”

On the Second Day of Rosh HaShanah the Alter Rebbe gave a discourse on the teachings of Chassidus until Havdalah. (It was his custom to deliver maamarim on both days.) After Havdalah he asked his daughter Devorah Leah and her husband R. Shalom Shachna to come to his study. R. Shalom Shachna stood by the wall and sobbed: “What is one to do about a child of two years? And such a child!”

The next day, on the Fast of Gedaliah, Devorah Leah passed away.106 The Alter Rebbe took his grandson — later to be known as the Tzemach Tzedek — to sleep with him in his room, and when he turned three he arranged for him to sleep next to the Ark in which stood a Sefer Torah, so that he should be within four cubits of Torah.

Once, after his mother’s passing, when he was in the Alter Rebbe’s room, he woke up and cried: “Mother! Take me away to you!”

And his saintly mother patted him and said: “No, no. Sleep soundly. Your grandfather is here; you stay with Zeide!”

15. Love your neighbor… truthfully!

Before my father’s bar-mitzvah, his father (the Rebbe Maharash) taught him Tanya. At that time he told him three things.

1) “Thank G‑d that my107 great-grandfather108 was arrested in 5559 (1798) and not in 5539 (1778). For what would he have done then? He would have had to make use of supernatural means,109 and scorch the world.110 And that is not the divine intention in creating the world.”

2) “The first of the pastoral letters published under the collective heading Iggeres HaKodesh111 (lit., ‘The Sacred Epistle’) — the one beginning with the phrase Pos’chin biverachah (‘We begin with a benediction’) — was written and disseminated ten years before the writing of the second epistle,112 which begins with the word Katonti (lit., ‘I have become small’).”

3) “At first the epistle beginning Katonti concluded with the words veruach necha’ah (‘and with a restrained spirit’). But after the Alter Rebbe had delivered the maamar beginning Kamayim hapanim three times in Liozna,113 explaining the verse according to the interpretation of Rashi114 and not according to the Targum,115 he appended to the epistle known as Katonti the following words: v’kulei hai v’ulai yiten HaShem b’lev acheihem kamayim hapanim… (lit., ‘And through all that, perhaps G‑d will put into the hearts of their brethren that as waters [reflect] the face ...’). And by so doing he implanted positive middos, positive character traits, in the hearts of his chassidim.”

When my father taught me this epistle he told me that when his father (the Rebbe Maharash) had taught it to him, he had said: “If the Alter Rebbe had not inserted the three words bemiddas emes leYaakov (lit., ‘according to the attribute of truth unto Yaakov’116 ) he would have had another 50,000 chassidim. But the Alter Rebbe demands the attribute of truth!”

The Maggid of Mezritch granted the Alter Rebbe the gift of a smile with which he could have captured the world. Since however the entire mission of the Alter Rebbe was to inculcate in chassidim the practice of avodah pnimis (i.e., avodah that the individual himself generates from within), he did not want to make use of that smile, for it would be an expression of the makkifim of the soul, stemming from the soul’s superrational and transcendent faculties.

16. Making the other fellow feel good

The year 5600 (1840) saw the first appearance of sections of Likkutei Torah,117 and of the halachic responsa which the Tzemach Tzedek had written to his various rabbinic correspondents.

In 5603 (1843) the authorities in Petersburg compelled him to leave for the provinces. (Their intention was otherwise, but this is not the time for an explanation.) He set out in 5604 (1844), accompanied by my greatuncle R. Yisrael Noach,118 visiting Shklov, Mohilev, Rogatchov, Zhlobin, Minsk and Vilna, and returned by way of Smorgon and Dokshytz, arriving in Lubavitch via Polotzk and Vitebsk.

While they were in Shklov, at the beginning of their journey, R. Yisrael Noach told his father that many of the young chassidim were too bashful to meet and speak with the Rebbe at yechidus.

Hearing these words the Tzemach Tzedek wept bitterly, and said: “How can one say ‘bashful’? Here is literally a matter of life and death — and people are bashful?!”

R. Yisrael Noach then said to his father: “Many of the older chassidim see in you your grandfather.”119

“How can one say that?” replied the Tzemach Tzedek. “In the days of my grandfather, when a chassidisher householder120 stood next to someone, that other fellow felt good, simply on account of his neighbor’s noble character traits. And when a chassid arrived somewhere, people would crowd around him like bees around a beehive. Chassidisher folk in those days used to light up Jewish homes; they planted wholesome saplings to last for generations.”

17. The most challenging self-sacrifice

Reading through the letters of the Rebbeim, whether general (pastoral) letters or whether letters addressed to individuals, one is struck by their sheer love for their chassidim. In common parlance the greatest love is a person’s love for his children. In truth, however, this is nothing when compared with the love of Rebbe for chassid.

As is known, the Alter Rebbe suffered from a debilitating nasal disease which his physicians explained as a symptom of some deep-seated yearning. This is the same longing as described by the Psalmist: “My soul yearns, yea, it faints [for the courtyards of G‑d].”121

The Tzemach Tzedek once said that all the various kinds of self-sacrifice which his grandfather the Alter Rebbe underwent were of no consequence when compared to the self-sacrifice of having to tear himself away from cleaving to his Creator (as it is written, v’imcha lo chafatzti — “And beside You, I desire nothing”122 ), and devoting himself instead to doing someone a favor, and caring that some Jew somewhere should do teshuvah through his own endeavors and become a real servant of G‑d.

18. Cultivating sensitivity to another’s feelings

After speaking at length about the need for cultivating brotherly love, the Rebbe said the following.

I would like to make chassidim aware of this, and request this – that chassidim should become more bound up with each other, more caring about each other. Any Jew should be cherished, and especially so among chassidim. Nowadays it can happen that one does not come to hear of a happy event in another’s family for three months. May the Almighty grant that you should all be enabled to share good tidings and to receive good tidings.

Having been raised on the yeast of ahavas Yisrael, on the love of a fellow Jew, temimim in particular and chassidim in general ought to be warmer, must be warmer. The dominant spot in one’s attention should be occupied by one’s fellow. His joy is mine: my joy is his.

When the news reached Lubavitch that R. Elchanan Morozov was freed from conscription in the czarist army, his fellow chassid R. Hendel danced about the courtyard with a singsong: “Chonye is free!” He then walked straight into the study of my father, who always held him in high esteem, passed on the good news, and then (I was there to witness the scene) danced around exuberantly. My father stood up from his chair, laid his hand on R. Hendel’s shoulder, and when they had danced around each other a few times, he said: “For this I will now share with you an exposition in Chassidus.”

Chassidim ought to hold every Jew dear, and especially chassidim and those who are of chassidic stock. Each man ought to help his fellow in every way possible — though help should always be extended discreetly, in order to spare the recipient any embarrassment. Likewise one needs to know how to rebuke one’s fellow – not increasing his anguish (he already knows his own shortcomings, and his heart aches over them), but rather showing him warmth and bringing him near,123 first with a finger, then with a hand. And then, when one is quite alone, one ought to shed a tear over the other fellow’s imperfections,124 and should say a little Tehillim for him.

19. Thoughts, words, deeds

Ample in thought; sparing in words; prolific in deeds. And the one to be worked on is me. Such was the mettle of a chassid of bygone years.

A certain Rebbe (this was of course before he became Rebbe) asked a question of a certain Rebbe at yechidus, and received the following reply: “Your task in avodah is to work on yourself until another person senses it, until the efflux of nozlim125 becomes more generous. The peasant who brings his wheat to the mill to be ground thinks that it is the spout at the outlet that provides the flour; the miller knows that if you want flour at the outlet you have to fill up the funnel at the top — provided, that is, that you fill it with wheat, not sand; if you stoke the mill with sand you don’t get flour. One’s Chassidus therefore needs to be without compromise, so that the piece of bread that reaches one’s fellow should be life-giving bread.”

Chassidus demands not only that one should hear, but that one should cultivate sensitivity126 — to be sensitive to G‑dliness, sensitive to Torah, sensitive to one’s fellow.

20. Pity the regretful souls of the departed

By their accustomed opposition to chassidim through actions or words, today’s misnagdim are causing distress to the souls of the departed geonim who are in the Lands of Life.127 (May the memory of the righteous be a blessing!) It is written: Al tizkor lanu avonos rishonim — “Do not bring to mind our former wrongdoing.”128 Souls in the World of Truth experience intense regret over the past — for having allowed themselves to be led by fomentors of dissension and slanderers of chassidim. Those who now raise opposition to chassidim and spark off controversy are thus causing anguish to the souls of the departed geonim. “May G‑d bless His people with peace.”129

21. Bridge the generational gap!

The Rebbe told the young men standing near him that he had heard something remarkable: the ice had carried away the bridge! (This is what had happened a few days earlier on the frozen Dvina River.130 ) The Rebbe then proceeded to explain his meaning.

When I heard this it occurred to me that a bridge should be fearful of cold, that cold can (G‑d forbid) break a bridge. Listen well, young men, for you are the bridge between the children and the adult generation; remember that a bridge needs to be guarded vigilantly against destruction (G‑d forbid) by cold. Keep yourselves warm with the study of Torah and the observance of the mitzvos so that the bridge will remain sound. May the Almighty grant that everyone keep to the right, and may He make their way prosper.

22. The harvest of group study

It makes me really happy to hear that people gather together for group study. There is sowing and there is planting, and both are needed. Sowing represents the study of nigleh, the revealed levels of the Torah, and planting — the study of Chassidus.131 In this way roots are struck deeply, roots that will benefit one’s children’s children. The same is true of brotherly love, and of the comradely talk exchanged between friends. Make yourselves strong, my friends of the chassidic brotherhood. “Let each man help his neighbor”132 to set aside times for the study of Torah and for meeting in the comradeship of a farbrengen. And in the merit of our forefathers, the Rebbeim of blessed memory, may the Almighty help us all, together with the entire House of Israel, and make us worthy of hearing glad tidings, both materially and spiritually.