Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah 5694 (1933) [Warsaw]1

1. Learning to listen

In days gone by, a chassidisher farbrengen was a cornerstone in one’s life: it literally laid foundations in people’s lives. After a farbrengen one felt cleaner. Sometimes the farbrengen utterly washed away the mud of undesirable traits and rinsed off the uncleanliness of various habits; sometimes these were not washed away completely. But whatever the case, all unwanted attributes2 became in some measure despised. A person looked at his past with pain. Not only did a farbrengen bring about the resolution that his past was not in order and his accustomed conduct was unsatisfactory: it also gave rise to a firm resolve for proper conduct in the future. In other words, one’s vigilance in refraining from transgression (sur meira), and one’s diligence in the performance of the commandments (aseh tov),3 were both raised by the farbrengen to a higher level.

For the chassidim of long ago, evil and good were conceived of on a level utterly different from today. The obvious basic task of a chassid was to toil in order to introduce light, in order to illuminate oneself. This meant washing one’s “I” with the light of the labor of self-cultivation, with the light of real and actual avodah.

In those days a chassid4 longed to hear5 a chassidic thought.6 People would yearn their eyes out in search of an elder chassid. People were eager to hear a live word of Chassidus. And when through the grace of the Almighty one came to hear such a thought, it infused new life.

The chassidim of bygone days dedicated themselves to living their lives as chassidim. The aura of Chassidus and the life of Chassidus encompassed them and permeated them. Any practice which one observed in the conduct of an elder chassid was law. There were no whys and wherefores. It simply went without saying that this was how things ought to be done, and that with precisely this kind of conduct one could be a chassid.

Whenever the early chassidim heard a vort, they would as a matter of course devote all their energies to implanting it in their hearts. They would exploit that resource while making their way to market or to a neighboring village. With this vort they lived all the twenty-four hours of their day. With this vort in mind they read Kerias Shema before going to bed at night, and with this vort in mind they opened their eyes in the morning. With this vort they said their prayers and with this vort they lived, each according to his occupation and source of livelihood.

Among my childhood jottings there is a note recorded in the winter of 5654 (1893-94). My melamed at the time, the Rashbatz7 of blessed memory, described for me the conduct of the elder chassidim who in their youth had visited or studied under the Alter Rebbe in Liadi. He had seen them in his hometown of Sventzian in the year 5603 (1843).8 One of them was R. Yitzchak the Tailor,9 who in the course of his work used to discuss with his employees theoretical topics10 in Chassidus.

Not only among chassidim, but among G‑d-fearing Jews in general at the time, their spiritual life was of prime importance and their material life was secondary.11 The basic material requisites of life were bounded within certain limits. True enough, people used to occupy themselves with the demands of their livelihoods; they conducted households, and raised and guided their children; they owned their own houses and property; they were dressed cleanly and well; they supported their married children who were Torah scholars oif kest. In brief, people lived a serene and honest life, each according to his place. But the “I” of a Jew was Torah and mitzvos and Chassidus. There were also (Heaven forfend) poor folk, people who were heavily preoccupied with eking out a livelihood and who lived in very straitened circumstances — but none of this impinged on their real “I”. For their true “I” was Torah and the fear of Heaven.

In those days there was no such thing as a partition of pride12 separating people from each other. Of course there were differences and gradations, but everything was taken in earnest. And just as there were no partitions between the pauper and the regular householder and the rich man (people were measured in those days not according to their silver and gold thread, but according to criteria of intellect and character, irrespective of their financial status), so too was there no partition between the simple Jew and the learned ben-Torah, or the chassidisher Yid. In his soul the common ignoramus sensed the worth of a Torah scholar or a chassid. And the greatest chassid for his part was able to appreciate the loftiness of the unsophisticated faith which underlies every move of the simplest Jew.

More than the simple Jew envied the maskil or oved, the oved envied the simple Jew. In him he saw truth, and innate piety; he saw zest in the performance of a mitzvah, and delight in the exercise of a positive character trait; and he saw too the sweetness of brotherly love.

The simple Jew was a healthy tree sprouting from a sound upbringing — an education toward the awe of Heaven and toward kabbalas ol, an education which engraved and inculcated in every child that the first step which a Jew should make on rising in the morning is directed towards the beis midrash, there to read a little Tehillim and worship with the congregation.

The time-honored tradition of studying Aggadah13 in the local beis midrash during the twilight interval between Minchah and Maariv gave us clean, fine Jews, men with clean hearts and clean thoughts, men of charity, men with a warm sensitivity to the love of the Torah and the love of a fellow Jew. The “I” of every Jew, great or small, was Torah, the awe of Heaven, and positive traits of character. It followed as a matter of course that the atmosphere in which such people lived was something different, something cleaner.

Then the Rebbeim arrived on the scene with the teachings of Chassidus and opened people’s eyes, and of course their conceptions of good and evil as seen in the light of Chassidus were refined and upgraded. And at every farbrengen the meaning and the understanding of good grew until people attained to such levels of spiritual development that what had previously been regarded as good now became spurned as evil; in the spirit of the verse that says, “And you shall clear out the old [harvests] because of the new.”14

The chassidisher farbrengen of yesteryear was a blessing from Above. It opened up windows into each man’s dark corners, illuminating them with the delight of Chassidus.

A farbrengen was a cornerstone in one’s material life and a cornerstone in one’s spiritual life. Both the elder chassid who was the guide and mentor, and the younger chassid who was being guided and led, knew their spiritual status.15 Among the chassidim in general there was a profound respect for an elder chassid. Everyone knew his own place, and the elder chassidim too knew their obligations to the other chassidim.

In those days people used to have “ears that hear,”16 and many were the chassidim who furthermore had ears of sensitive17 perception.18

At a farbrengen one would discuss concepts in Chassidus. All talk was directed to the comprehension of a concept — analyzing a vort, showing how one should understand it. The younger chassidim would ask, the older ones would answer. For this is the approach that characterizes a true learner:19 when he ought to be hearing he toils to hear. And as is well known, it takes serious exertion to become a recipient.20 To be a disciple demands avodah, and the more one labors to become a disciple capable of receiving, the more one becomes a vessel capable of containing. All this refers to those times when one is learning.21 But when one ought to be talking and asking,22 then one should talk23 and do so in clear words. And as to the kind of chassid who constantly stands prepared only to receive, it is questionable whether he is a recipient even in those times when one should be only a recipient.

2. With souls intertwined

There are four modes of connection between Rebbe and chassid:

1) rav and talmid (teacher and student), or, in other words, mashpia and mekabel;

2) hiskashrus and dveikus (lit., “being bound” and “cleaving”). This refers to the fusing of chassid and Rebbe, both becoming bound together in a complete unity through their Torah study and their avodah. This bond relates to the well-known answer which my saintly father gave to a certain individual who at a yechidus said that he wanted to be bound (mekushar) to him: “All hiskashrus is through the study of Torah. Study the Chassidus which I expound,24 and you will become mekushar.”

3) Rebbe and chassid as av and ben (father and son);

4) Rebbe and chassid as maor and or (luminary and light).

Now even in the mode of luminary and light, which is the highest of the above levels, what is crucial is the state of being bound inwardly and with one’s very being. We are not speaking only of the kind of bond25 in which the chassid constantly remembers the Rebbe and the Rebbe constantly remembers the chassid. We are speaking of a state of being utterly intertwined at all spiritual levels,26 in such a way that both chassid and Rebbe complement the true essence of each other like or and maor, light and luminary. The luminary reveals a light from its very being (or atzmi), and such light is a revelation of the luminary. Each is dependent on the other, just as with Rebbe and chassid. And this entire bond finds expression in a manner of inner love.

3. A moment of silent confesssion

The silent confession27 during the Sounding of the Shofar represents the highest point within the level of revealed repentance that is called “lower-level repentance.” For teshuvah comprises two levels — “lower-level repentance” (teshuvah tata’ah) and “higher-level repentance” (teshuvah ila’ah).28 And though they have a common direction, each has its own definition. “Lower-level repentance” is definable in terms of revelation, and every kind of revelation is expressed loudly and with hispaalus, an unloosing of emotions.

Hispaalus too has it own boundaries, and these lie at two opposite extremes — on the one hand noise and tumult, and on the other, a sensation of being faint, drained, and weak. This can be seen in practice — that every unloosing of emotions begins with noise and upheaval, and ends with a quiet stillness. This quiet stillness is the exhausting of the person’s energies.

The silent confession is the climax and practical application29 of the entire avodah of teshuvah which begins with Rosh Chodesh Elul, the whole process being a chain of levels in teshuvah.

During a recent chassidic discourse (in the maamar beginning BaYom HaShemini) a certain parable was explained. A man owns a precious vessel which becomes soiled, or even damaged. He sighs, and is anxious; then he washes it, and finally mends it, restoring it to perfection.

Rosh Chodesh Elul is the time of spiritual stocktaking.30 And soon after, when the time comes for Selichos, a person washes his vessel with the tears that he sheds over the state of his spiritual life. And the avodah of Rosh HaShanah repairs the vessel through his acceptance of the yoke of Heaven.31

The Sounding of the Shofar is the time of teshuvah — in a revealed state — which finds expression through an outcry from within, originating in the innermost point of the heart. The parable taught by the Baal Shem Tov to illustrate this is well known — in which the son cries out, “Father, father, have pity on me! Father, father, save me!”32

When a son has given offense to his father by damaging an exceedingly precious vessel, then in addition to the father’s anguish at its loss, he is distressed doubly and trebly by the fact that the one responsible is his own son. The mere fact that the son is insensitive to the value of the vessel would cause pain; how much more so when he has sunk so low that he could even have destroyed it.

The Sounding of the Shofar is the time which the Infinite One, blessed be He, has set aside for all Jews to give account for all the arguments and charges presented by the evil angels, and concerning which they testify.

Rosh HaShanah is a time of trial and judgment for everyone. At this point the individual takes stock of where he stands as regards the fulfillment of the Torah and its mitzvos, and where he stands as regards the labor of refining the various traits of his character. He takes account of the fact that [in the Heavenly Court] the prosecuting angels, who are called “sons of G‑d,”33 bring to mind and verify the existence of all the sins, iniquities and transgressions of which he was guilty in the course of the year, and demand that he be sentenced to harsh and bitter punishment. He further considers that if at this time he truthfully regrets his past, this will alter things for him.

Now if a person meditates along the above lines, two opposite reactions result. On the one hand, a reaction of tumult, caused by the anguish experienced over the undesirable situations he has brought about — both the destruction of valuable things, and the distress which he has caused (as it were) Above. This anguish is all the more intense when he considers Whom it is that he has distressed — a father so devoted that even when there are grievous prosecutors his fatherly love is so great that he grants his child a chance to experience regret.

This latter reaction is the silent confession. It is a level of yearning: the child is now longing to draw close to his father. The repentance which was tumultuous was the person’s regret over the undesirable things that he had done; the silent confession is the son’s inward yearning for his father.

The Sounding of the Shofar is a propitious time,34 and within that propitious time, the silent confession occupies the most propitious moment. It is the time of the Sounding of the Shofar that sees the revelation of the verse, “And the L-rd your G‑d did not want to listen to Bil’am.”35 It is explained in Likkutei Torah that Bil’am (Balaam) is the one who seeks to act as prosecuting attorney (G‑d forbid) towards Israel — and the sound of the Shofar confuses him. And the silent confession, the most propitious of propitious moments, is the moment at which the penitent son becomes united with our blessed Father in Heaven.

4. Is the Torah happy with me?

On Simchas Torah every man grasps hold of the wooden roller of a Torah Scroll, and joins in the Torah’s dance. The great and the small, the scholarly and the simple, — all are swept up in the joy of the Torah; all are firmly locked hand in hand in the utmost affection and brotherly love.

Each of the wooden rods around which the parchment is wound is universally called etz chaim (“a tree of life”). Since the Torah is something involving wisdom and understanding, one would have expected them to have borrowed the name of the Tree of Knowledge.36 Yet they are universally known by the name of the Tree of Life — for the Torah is “a tree of life for those who hold fast to it:”37 those who hold fast to it, live. When it comes to understanding, people are at different levels, one higher, one lower. But when we are speaking of being alive, there are no differences: whoever holds fast to the Tree of Life — the Torah — lives.

On Simchas Torah, then, people seize the etz chaim of a Sefer Torah and leap right into the Torah’s dance. People dance with the Torah — they are making the Torah happy. In the midst of this joy, however, one needs to do some thinking. True, we are happy with the Torah. But is the Torah happy with us?

In the material world, even if a person is capable of taking an object without weighing whether it wants to be taken or not, this kind of taking possession is termed “taking by force,”38 and this is not legally classified as taking possession. The thing has not been taken: it has been forced. And if this is the case in the world of material objects, how much more so in the spiritual realm is a thing taken by force not really taken.

We are happy with the Torah — but is the Torah happy with us? In practice one should of course dance with the Torah, and joyfully so. But at the same time one should ponder this question, as to whether the Torah is happy with us. Such meditation arouses a noble resolve concerning one’s acceptance of the yoke of Heaven — setting aside fixed times for Torah study, and a workplan for one’s avodah throughout the forthcoming year.

There are people who become warmly aroused with the joy of the Torah whenever Simchas Torah comes around. This is no doubt felt genuinely, for at this time the innermost point of their soul is revealed. Indeed, it is a delight to see how happy they are in the joy of the Torah. But this awakening must be channeled into real and actual avodah — so that they set aside fixed times for the group study of the Torah throughout the year.

5. Refining the nature of one’s character

“How long shall we stand in a situation that rests on one support?”39

Within our brotherhood there are a number of chassidim who could be men of quite some stature. That is, they could well be the kinds of people that Chassidus would like them to be. The only trouble is that they satisfy themselves with a level of avodah which belongs to the order of makkif. [I.e., their spiritual endeavors encompass them as if from a sphere outside themselves, rather than being internalized – brought to the level of pnimiyus – through the systematic and intellectual regulation of their avodah.] They do not have a workplan for their avodah, involving self-cultivation on the level of pnimiyus, and proceeding by gradated stages. Instead, everything is done at the level of makkif, as if sporadically.

When Rosh Chodesh Elul comes such people are aroused in a positive manner. They take stock of how the year has passed, sum up their accounts, and in conclusion make practical resolutions. Arriving at this balance-sheet gives rise to heartache and anguish over their spiritual status. A person senses how poor and naked he is. He knows that he is a year older — but in what has the year passed?

He feels pained thinking about what will finally come of such a chaotic life, a life of Tohu a life which is constantly thinking about “tomorrow,” and because of this, every day loses its “today.” In this way one forgets to think in terms of Baruch HaShem yom-yom — “Blessed be G‑d, day by day,”40 being preoccupied instead with what will be tomorrow.

However, Elul is the month of mercy, when the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy shine forth, and it is a propitious time. The spiritual stocktaking therefore brings about an intense longing for the acceptance of the yoke of Heaven which characterizes Rosh HaShanah. The individual makes a firm resolve that in future things will be completely different.

And indeed, when Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur come around, he is in quite a fine state. His time is carefully invested, and he is never idle. So when Sukkos and Simchas Torah come, he is in a decidedly joyful frame of mind. Things aren’t too bad at all. There is only one thing wrong: everything is in a manner of makkif. He has indeed experienced a hispaalus, an emotional arousal, in the awe of Heaven; a hispaalus of teshuvah; a hispaalus of joy — but it is all at the level of makkif.

That which is makkif may be observed in either of two ways — coming from either the loftiest heights or the nethermost depths. Light and power which are makkif are more intense than their counterparts which are pnimi. As discussed in Chassidus, makkif and pnimi correspond to sovev and memaleh. That which is memaleh is an or pnimi.41 The kind of light which is or pnimi is present according to the measure of the recipient vessel, and (as it were) fills it. When light and vessel unite, the vessel becomes refined42 to such a degree that it is possible for the vessel itself to become light.

As stated above; the light and power of makkif are more intense than light and power which are pnimi. They cannot be bounded by a vessel, but they can give life-force to the light which is pnimi. When they unite with the or pnimi, the latter increases greatly in strength.

Intellect (seichel) is light which is pnimi. Will (ratzon) and pleasure (oneg) are lights which are makkif. The intellect is limited to the vessel of the brain. Will and pleasure, however, cannot be delimited to a vessel, for they are “encompassing lights” (oros makkifim). They illumine the intellect, and the middos, and practical activity as well. But wherever they may be, by their very presence they give life-force to the or pnimi of the faculty in which they are to be found, and this faculty becomes animated with greater vigor than it would have had alone.

This may be observed from tangible experience. One cannot compare the manner in which a person studies a subject when prompted by understanding alone, that is, because he is a man of intellect, and such a man by nature wants to understand, — with the manner in which a person studies a subject either because he wants to master its reasoning, or because he derives pleasure from his study. In the latter two cases, in addition to the fact that his very comprehension of the subject will be on a higher level, deeper and richer intellectually, his whole grasp of the subject will be intensely animated. This results from the revelation of ratzon and oneg, which are powers of makkif, in seichel, which is a power of pnimi.

There are specified ways in which a light or power which is makkif can become revealed in a light or power which is pnimi. This however demands a certain preparation on the part of that which is pnimi, to enable it to absorb the light which is makkif. Without such preparation, not only will the light which is makkif not enhance and invigorate its pnimi counterpart, but it will crush and destroy it.

The above explanation will enable us to understand why, when speaking of the revelation of an or makkif the expression used in Chassidus is: “the or makkif strikes the pnimi.” The use of the term “strikes” is surprising. If we are speaking of a revelation of light, one would have expected to hear that the or makkif “is revealed” in the pnimi, or that it “illuminates” the pnimi. The reason for the use of the term “strikes” is that in or makkif there is no middle path, for it is an extremely intense light. Since it knows no middle path, “revelation” and “illumination” are not appropriate to it. Indeed, in this lies the difference between or makkif and or pnimi. With the latter, the terms “revelation” (hisgalus) and “illumination” (he’arah) are in place. The or pnimi becomes revealed in a revelation of light and illuminates — unlike or makkif, which has no [such] middle path.

Or makkif affects its recipient in one of two ways. If it has a prepared place, encountering the proper preparation of the or pnimi which is to receive it, then it is utilized to the highest extent possible. This means that whereas the or pnimi was previously unable to reach a particular level, with the powerful influence of the or makkif it is now enabled to attain it. If, however, the proper preparation of the or pnimi is lacking, then the or makkif shatters the or pnimi.

This, then, explains the use of the expression, “the or makkif strikes the or pnimi,” for the only manner in which or makkif operates is striking with force. This can sometimes give rise to the attainment of the loftiest levels; sometimes it can lead downward (G‑d forbid) to the lowest depths.

The discussion so far has been about makkif in general terms. As far as the ordered explanation of its details is concerned, I am certain that those who study Chassidus are well acquainted with this subject, especially as regards the details of its analogy in the faculties of the soul — regarding seichel and middos, which are powers of pnimi, and regarding ratzon and oneg, which are powers of makkif. Even though all this is Torah, and the main consideration in the comprehension of Chassidus is that each concept should be articulated clearly, and this includes the repeated discussion of even the most familiar concepts in Chassidus, for the very speaking of them invigorates, — nevertheless now is not the appropriate time for lengthy explanations in general, and of familiar concepts in particular.

Everyone knows from their tangible experience that when ratzon (“will”) strikes the seichel (“intellect”), the latter becomes elevated to a degree which stands in no relation to its potential in its own right. The same is the case when oneg (“pleasure”) is revealed. If, however, the ratzon is not internalized, in a manner of pnimi, but remains as ratzon, then it destroys (G‑d forbid) all of the faculties which are pnimi.

In bygone days, a person whose avodah remained at the level of makkif43 used to be called a chitzon. In the eyes of the temimim, the kind of character thus described was despised and out of bounds. There were a number of quite fine students, who toiled earnestly in their [Talmudic] studies, spent their time conscientiously in the study of Chassidus, comprehended their studies (each according to his abilities), and prayed with commendable warmth. But all this was experienced in an outward manner, in a manner of chitzoniyus.

Chitzoniyus is related to that which is makkif. Whatever is makkif is not only outward, or external; this characteristic indeed represents the superiority of that which is makkif over its pnimi equivalent, for the latter is received within a vessel, which is impossible for a light or power which is makkif. But when we say, as above, that chitzoniyus is related to that which is makkif, this is not meant (so to speak) in a complimentary way. For it is easier to err with regard to something makkif than to its pnimi counterpart. A person who is characterized by chitzoniyus lives in delusion — he deludes himself; one who is a pnimi does not live in delusion. He knows where he stands, and what the particular concept before him means, and is preoccupied with making himself more of a vessel that will be able to absorb the things which occupy him.

A chitzon, by contrast, is deluded both as regards himself and as regards whatever concept confronts him. His error can take one of several forms, sometimes veering too much in the direction of ascent, and sometimes too much in the direction of descent. This may be readily observed. There are times when he describes a thing in glowing terms that are well beyond its justifiable proportions, and there are times when he disparages a thing more than is warranted, for a chitzon in general is a person who exaggerates. It is not that the exaggeration stems from falsehood: it comes from the fact that he is a person who lives in delusion. He fools himself. He grasps concepts superficially, without the inward dimension of pnimiyus. And “just as he absorbs, so he exudes.”44

A chitzon studies nigleh, the revealed levels of the Torah; he studies Chassidus; quite often in the course of his prayers he meditates on the Chassidus he has been studying;45 — and all of this is done with warmth. Indeed there are such whose warmth may be perceived more than that of a pnimi. A pnimi needs time. He cannot hurry. First he studies; then he meditates on the concept he has been studying; he absorbs it inwardly; until eventually he is warmed by it, and is aroused by it. And this all takes time.

A chitzon — with his spiritual situation characterized by the forces of makkif — does not need so much time. When he has studied his fill he thinks that he knows his subject. He is so deluded within himself that he truthfully thinks, with the outward truth of his chitzoniyus, that he has mastered it. Moreover he is already warm — but his warmth is the outward warmth of chitzoniyus.

Whatever a chitzon studies, be it in nigleh or Chassidus, — as soon as he has finished studying, and has not yet even had time to thoroughly digest his subject, he already begins to expound upon it, propounding opinions and arguments, and can even insist on the validity of his own interpretation.

With him, every item of spiritual knowledge and comprehension is inextricably encrusted with coarseness of spirit.46 To borrow the expression of Likkutei Torah, “his spirituality is coarse.” Accordingly, when he proposes a learned argument, he insists on its validity. In the study of Chassidus — which is the pnimiyus, the inner dimension of the Torah — his failing, of belonging only to chitzoniyus and makkif, is even more apparent. When a chitzon studies Chassidus it may well be said of him, “Just as he absorbs, so he exudes.”

Moreover, a chitzon can even be an oved — but in this too he is deluded. A pnimi knows that avodah demands time. It takes a great deal of toil indeed until one transforms a middah, a character trait; and even when one has already brought oneself to the point of doing so, one still needs to check oneself critically lest the unwanted trait reawakens.47 A chitzon, however, is not involved with avodah on the level of pnimiyus, with carrying through a task to its very end, as one should; with him everything remains at the level of chitzoniyus and makkif. His innate character traits, therefore, remain as they were.

On Yud-Beis Tammuz I told you that a little note is extant which records the questions that my great-grandfather the Tzemach Tzedek once posed to his grandfather the Alter Rebbe at yechidus. The note appears to date from the years 5565-5568 (1805-1808). One of the questions asks: “What is the ultimate point of Chassidus?” And the Alter Rebbe replied: “The entire point of Chassidus is that one should transform the nature of his character traits.”48

It should be noted that my great-grandfather’s question was: “What is the ultimate point of Chassidus?” — and not: “What is Chassidus?” My great-grandfather knew what Chassidus is — a divine level of wisdom, the inner dimension of the Torah. His question was: “What is the ultimate point of Chassidus?” And it was to this question that the Alter Rebbe answered that “the entire point of Chassidus is that one should transform the nature of his middos.”

In the Written Torah we count letters: each letter expresses divine light in its very essence.49 In a saying of the Alter Rebbe we should count letters. And the Alter Rebbe said that “the entire point of Chassidus is that one should transform the nature of his middos.”

Now everyone understands with absolute clarity the difference between “his natural middos” and “the nature of his middos.” That much requires no explanation.

What Chassidus demands is that one should transform the nature of one’s middos. Chassidus demands of everyone who studies its teachings that he should transform the nature of his middos, for Chassidus is not only a schoolmaster who teaches one how to transform the nature of his middos.

It is clear to everyone that the Alter Rebbe’s reply reaches up to the loftiest heights of Chassidus. That is to say: His reply describes the uppermost extreme of Chassidus. In every or yashar whose direction is from below upward, the lowermost extreme is the beginning, and the uppermost extreme is its true consummation.

The Alter Rebbe’s answer, then, as to what constitutes the ultimate point of Chassidus, is a description of the uppermost extreme of Chassidus. And the uppermost extreme of Chassidus, the ultimate purpose of Chassidus, is that one should transform the nature of one’s middos.

All the richest sequences of concepts in the teachings of Chassidus, all the most broadly-based comprehension of the ideas of Chassidus, all the profoundest depths plumbed in the teachings of Chassidus that encompass all of the three faculties (Chochmah, Binah and Daas) of the divine soul, which is “truly a part of G‑d above”50 — the intention of all of these is that a person should transform the nature of his middos.

“Turn it over and over — for everything is in it.”51 In this [above-quoted dictum of the Alter Rebbe] lies the entire point of Chassidus. Chassidus opens one’s eyes and shows one the truth in each thing. Chassidus explains that in the phrase chet v’avon [usually translated “sin and iniquity”52 ], chet implies a “lack,”53 and avon derives from the noun ivut, meaning “distortion.”

A reminder: One must not forget for a moment that if a person is lacking in the self-refining labor of practical avodah, then the entire point of Chassidus is missing. As for those who study Chassidus and occupy themselves with comprehending it, but without being brought by their study to practical avodah — this is an indication that their study of Chassidus has become distorted, and has veered away from its proper path. For the entire point of Chassidus is that a person should transform the nature of his middos, and this can be accomplished only through inward avodah day by day, working on all of the soul’s three “garments” [i.e., the soul’s means of expression] — thought, word and deed.

6. We pray for blessings that are visibly blessings

At the conclusion of the above talk on makkif and pnimi in avodah, which left a considerable impact on the listeners, one of the chassidim who felt a nearness to the Rebbe asked for his blessing — “that the Almighty should help [us to bring these ideas into practice].” The Rebbe replied as follows:

Of course one needs a blessing that the Almighty should help – but at the same time we need to know, without any self-delusion, that with a blessing alone we will not advance in our way through the world. A blessing is a very fine thing, valuable indeed. But it is effective only when one takes action. In the Torah it is written that “the L-rd your G‑d will bless you in all that you do.”54 There has to be real and actual avodah. This labor includes plowing and sowing — plowing one’s ego, casting away the stones that prevent effective sowing, and then sowing within oneself the kinds of seed that will sprout well.

Avodah begins with one’s “I”. One needs to make a truthful account: Who am I, and what am I?

Who am I? — A divine soul; and this is “a part of G‑d above,”55 or, as the Alter Rebbe cites this verse in Tanya,56 “truly a part of G‑d above.” Not satisfied with the general statement that the second soul of a Jew is “a part of G‑d,” the Alter Rebbe adds the word mamash — “truly and actually.” All men of understanding know full well what that word signifies. Actual G‑dliness — this is one’s “I”. Next, one needs to know who is this “I”; to ponder deeply what is this “I” — that is, in what is it occupied; what should this “I” want; and what does the “I” want.

This kind of detailed meditation is a plowing. It plows up the hardness, and the stones that make up one’s stony heart57 are laid bare. This makes it possible for one to clear the field in which the avodah is to take place, and to sow good seeds in it.

If a person engages in orderly avodah, as Chassidus demands and teaches one to do, then a blessing is effective and achieves results out of all due proportion. In the verses that promise divine rewards “if you will walk in the way of My statutes,”58 the expression used is that “the land will yield its harvest.”59 In the verses that warn of divine retribution — “Take care lest your heart be lured away,”60 the expression used is that “the soil will not yield its harvest.”61 The former verse uses the word eretz (“land”), while the latter says adamah (“soil”). In the language of Chassidus, eretz signifies ratzon62 (“will”), while adamah signifies seichel63 (“intellect”). And of the four terms which the Torah uses for man (adam, ish, enosh, gever), the first (adam) signifies seichel, and the second (ish) indicates middos, character traits.

The Gemara says that “the Jews in the Diaspora64 practice idolatry [lit., ‘perform an alien service’] in a state of purity.” Rashi explains: “That is to say, [their divine service is] without devout intent, and without taking it to heart.” In the light of the teachings of Chassidus this may be understood as follows. If a thing is done without kavanah and without being taken to heart, then it is avodah zarah, alien worship – for real avodah is only that which is done with kavanah and with attentive care. Hence [the promises contained in] the verse that begins, Vehayah im shamoa tishm’u — “And it shall come to pass, if you will diligently obey….”65 66 This is an avodah to be done with kavanah — a labor of the intellect, to meditate on this G‑dly subject; and an avodah that must be taken to heart — the labor of refining one’s character traits. If the avodah is done in this way, then come the promises of v’achalta v’savaata — “You shall eat and be satiated.”67 But if it is done without kavanah, and without being taken to heart — and this is what is termed avodah zarah, “alien worship” — then even the adamah will not yield its harvest [and adamah, as we have seen, signifies intellect]. That is to say, that even if a person whose avodah is like that is exceedingly learned in Chassidus and master of numerous concepts, then even when he expounds Chassidus and offers explanations and expositions of its teachings, there will be no fruit. There will be “clouds and wind, but no rain.”68 There will be arrogance and coarseness of spirit — but no real, practical avodah.

If, on the other hand, “you walk in [the path of] My statutes,” with avodah which is orderly, comprising divine service both by the intellect and by the heart, then there follows the consequence: “the land will yield its produce.” In such a case, not only will the adamah (signifying one’s intellect) be fertile, but so too will the eretz (signifying one’s will) yield its produce.

It was explained a short while ago that there is a light which is pnimi, and a light which is makkif; that the or makkif is more intense than the or pnimi. In the context of the faculties of the soul, or makkif and or pnimi represent respectively ratzon (“will”) and seichel (“intellect”). And when the or makkif becomes united with the or pnimi, the latter becomes stronger — but only because of the influence and revelation within it of the or makkif. The produce that is yielded, then, the fruit that comes forth, stems from the or pnimi.

To sum up: The “produce of the eretz” refers to the direct results of the or makkif itself, not merely to its effects on the or pnimi. In terms of avodah, this is [the level of the love of G‑d which is] called re’usa deliba;69 in terms of haskalah, it refers to understanding both the essence of a concept, and the G‑dly content which lies in that concept.

This is the point of the blessing that “the land (eretz) will yield its produce.” It is palpably observable that ratzon (“will”) comprises more than what in fact comes down into practice. This, then, is the point of this threefold blessing: [Firstly:] That one’s will should yield produce, and not remain restricted to will alone. [Secondly:] That this harvest should find expression in actual deeds; not being confined to a sound understanding of the subject, merely “sermonizing beautifully,”70 as is the case with one who studies a great deal of Chassidus without its affecting his actions by doing good deeds, “fulfilling beautifully.”71 [Thirdly:] Since the influence of the will is an or makkif, concerning which it is easier for one to delude oneself [as to one’s actual spiritual standing] than in the case of avodah animated by an or pnimi, the concluding part of the blessing is — that one’s avodah should be done truthfully.

One of those present asked: “If so, what is the difference between a blessing and prayer?”

The questioner evidently sought to imply that prayer entails avodah, whereas a blessing effects a drawing down from Above by means other than avodah.

To this question the Rebbe replied as follows:

Regarding the general difference between a prayer and a blessing, it is well known that blessing refers to a hamshachah, a drawing down from Above. Its aim is that that which is present in the source,72 set aside to be drawn down, should indeed be drawn down — without any hindrance, and to its proper place.

For example: Our Father and our King has given us, all of [the Children of] Israel, a good year, with health and sustenance. Our Sages teach us that “A person’s livelihood is determined for him from Rosh HaShanah,”73 and it has been explained in Chassidus that the word for “livelihood” (mezonosav), in the plural form, implies both forms of sustenance, physical food and spiritual food, as it is written, “For it is a decree for Israel, a [day of] judgment for the G‑d of Yaakov.”74

In this context, the purpose of a blessing is that the physical and spiritual sustenance which has been set aside this Rosh HaShanah for all of Israel throughout the world should come down in a revealed kind of good — in the form of children, health, and ample sustenance, and the study of the Torah and the fulfillment of the mitzvos through the awe of Heaven. And when we say “good,” we mean “good” in the way that we created mortals understand it. Thus, in the prayers of Yom Kippur75 we ask: V’otzarcha hatov lanu siftach ((וְאוֹצָרְךָ הַטּוֹב לָנוּ תִפְתַּח — “And Your good treasure-house, open up for us!” In this phrase, the pause should come after the first Hebrew word [instead of after the second word. Hence, instead of the adjective הַטּוֹב (“good”) qualifying the preceding noun, as in the usual translation given above (“And Your good treasure-house”), it joins the following word, so that the request now reads:

וְאוֹצָרְךָ — And Your treasure-house,

הַטּוֹב לָנוּ — which is good for us, i.e., good in our eyes,

תִפְתַּח — open up!].

It is clearly explained in Chassidus that “Your treasure-house,” the treasure-house Above, is goodness in its entirety. However, within the realm of good itself there is a hidden good,76 the kind of good of which the Alter Rebbe speaks in Iggeres HaKodesh, in the epistle beginning Lehaskilcha binah.77

What we request is revealed good. And revealed good is that which is visible and revealed in the form of children, health, and ample sustenance, and the study of Torah with the avodah which Chassidus demands. May the material and spiritual sustenance come down to all of Israel without any hindrance, and to its proper place.

The above is the meaning of blessing.

Prayer is a request that something new be drawn down, in the shape of a livelihood, health, salvation, and the ultimate Redemption — things which were not yet existent in the Source.

This is the general difference between a blessing and a prayer. A blessing seeks that that which is present in the Source should indeed be drawn down in practice without any hindrances, as it is written, ad meheirah yarutz dvaro — “His word runs most swiftly”;78 it seeks that the word of G‑d with its flow of material and spiritual good should be drawn down speedily. Prayer seeks to effect a desire Above that something should be drawn down from a higher level than the source.

Both approaches, however, both blessing and prayer, require plowing and sowing. Though these preparations are different in the two cases, yet plowing and sowing there must be. One must toil. And may the Almighty grant that this toil should yield fruit, fruit which is good both spiritually and materially.

7. You can make things move in your community

When one of our brotherhood or one of the temimim arrives here from some township and I ask him if Chassidus is being studied over there, and whether there is a time set aside in the local shuls for the study of Chassidus and of nigleh, the revealed levels of the Torah, there are those who answer that there is no one to study with. So I ask: “Is there absolutely no one?” And they answer that there are one or two, perhaps even three. This is the answer to my question as to the public study of Chassidus! I ask further: Nu, and what about a study session in Gemara, a section of Shulchan Aruch, and the like?” Again the same answer: “There’s no one to study with.”

If some effort had been made, then seven or eight people would have met for group study, perhaps even a minyan.

I am duty-bound to make it known to all those who satisfy themselves with the excuse that “there is no one to learn with” that they bear a weighty responsibility. This they need to know. The truth is that if a person lives in a little township or village where there are no Torah scholars, if he has a will to do so he can see to it that Torah will be studied publicly.

Experience has shown that if there is even one person who is actively devoted to awakening the people around him to the need for public Torah study, things move, thank G‑d. Everyone, even the simplest and most ignorant of Jews, is eager to hear a word of Torah. Everyone is happy to hear a saying of our Sages, a passage from the Aggadah, a Midrash, a Torah law. There are those too who want to hear a word of Chassidus. It all depends only on the one who proposes such study — a person to whom the outcome really matters. And the obligation to initiate these things lies on each member of the chassidic fraternity and on each one of the temimim.

Let everyone keep in mind the following statements of our Sages: “Whoever saves one soul among Israel [is regarded by the Torah] as if he saved an entire world;”79 and again: “Whoever teaches Torah to his friend’s child [is regarded as if he was his father].”80 The Sages do not speak of “saving souls” or “teaching his friend’s children,” in the plural – for one soul, one child, is an entire world.

The times that are fixed for the public study of the Torah are the etz chaims, the wooden rollers of the Torah which are known as the Trees of Life, to which every individual should hold fast throughout the year. Then the Torah will be happy with us. That will literally be Simchas Torah — the Rejoicing of the Torah, for the Torah will rejoice with the Jewish people.

As to whoever will devote himself to rousing the people around him to set up public study sessions, it is obvious that the Almighty will grant him success in his material endeavors. The Torah will not remain in debt to him.

The Torah is called Toras Chessed — “a Torah of lovingkindness,”81 because it always arouses mercy for the Jewish people. For this reason too the Torah is called kos shel berachah — “a cup of blessing,”82 for by her entreaties to the Almighty she secures for them an abundance of blessings. To the individual who dedicates himself utterly to sparking off the establishment of regular Torah study sessions in public, the Torah wil bring an abundance of good, both materially and spiritually.

8. A glimpse of the worlds above

Praise and gratitude to the Almighty for the revelation of the light of Chassidus in general, and for the revelation of the luminary in particular — our predecessors, the Rebbeim.

Every expression of praise and gratitude should be articulated in clear words, every word of which shines forth and is heard. Blessed, then, be our G‑d, Who has placed our lot among the living. We in this world belong to generations in which the light of Chassidus is following a direction of revelation, and the luminary — the Rebbeim — is following a direction of revelation, and the luminary — the Rebbeim — is to be found in a phase of self-revelation.

Since the day that the Holy One, blessed be He, created man on the earth there have been Chassidus and Rebbeim. The first man in the world was a chassid. As the Gemara says, “Adam was a great chassid (pious man).”83 In every generation there were Rebbeim and chassidim, but only in a concealed manner — there were hidden tzaddikim — until the Almighty began a direction of revelation, so that there should be revealed Rebbeim and chassidim, and He revealed for us the saintly Baal Shem Tov.

From that luminous day on which the Baal Shem Tov became revealed, the light of Chassidus began to shine forth in a revealed manner; then began a trend of the “revelation of the luminary,” and then began the nearing of the luminary to the spark.84

Until the time of the Baal Shem Tov, and for a certain period of his lifetime as well, there were indeed Rebbeim and chassidim, but only hidden ones. With the revelation of the Baal Shem Tov, the Tree of Life was revealed, with all of its branches — Rebbeim, who like luminaries give forth light among Israel.

Everyone knows the inner meaning of the words which R. Yehudah Leib HaKohen [of Hanipoli} writes in his approbation to Tanya: “Israel [alluding to R. Israel Baal Shem Tov] shall now rejoice as his saintly words are revealed.”85 By revealing the teachings of the Chassidus of Chabad, the Alter Rebbe opened up a new world for chassidim.

The Alter Rebbe’s Chassidus, however, is the Written Law of Chassidus.86 “Great is G‑d, and exceedingly exalted,”87 therefore, for having granted us this beautiful gift, and for having given us Rebbeim who explain us the Written Law of the Alter Rebbe.

Our Rebbeim have opened (and open) for us the “wellsprings of the great depths”88 — in the comprehension and knowledge of G‑dliness, and in the service of the Almighty. They open up doors for us in all the worlds up to the highest levels, enabling one to have an intellectual grasp, as if in a tangible manner, of G‑dliness. They bring a G‑dly lamp into the fleshly, material world, and show us the union of this lowly world with the worlds Above.

9. Not knowing comprises many levels

Everyone knows that the spiritual domain is utterly different from the material domain. As was discussed in the maamarim of Rosh HaShanah and Yom-Tov, we material and created beings have no grasp of that which is spiritual. We do however have an inkling of that which is spiritual, and this appraisal89 gives us some image of it. This does not mean that we have a grasp of it: it does mean that we have attained some clarity as to what we do not know. For just as knowing has its definition and its image — a defined image, which one knows — so too does not knowing have its defined image, of that which we do not know.

By way of illustration, let us compare an ignorant person who does not understand a certain topic in the Gemara, with a scholar of stature who has encountered the difficulty of an apparent internal contradiction in the text, which he is unable to resolve. True enough, neither of them understands — yet they are utterly different. The ignoramus knows nothing; that is, he does not even know what it is that he does not know. The scholar, though he too does not understand, knows what it is that he does not know. The latter situation can be called a clear not-knowing. And this too can be reckoned as a kind of knowing, for at least it brings about some kind of appraisal. We created and material beings know that which is spiritual; that is, we have some appraisal of spiritual things through the experience of the faculties of the soul; and though we do not know them either, nevertheless they are known to us.

There is a difference between our knowing something (hassagah) and its being known to us (yadua). Wherein lies the difference? In the former case we know the known thing by virtue of itself; in the latter, we know it through something else.

For example, we know the spiritual world (ruchniyus) through the faculties of the soul. We do not know the spiritual world itself. But since the faculties of the soul are spiritual, and we know them through the ways in which they manifest themselves, it may be said that the spiritual world is known to us.

A thing’s being known to us does not quite mean that we know it; on the contrary, this state causes anguish. For just as grasping something gives rise to delight and pleasure, so too not knowing something thoroughly gives rise to pain and distress. This is plain to see. A person who has thoroughly grasped a certain idea is filled with joy to the point of satiety; quite the opposite of one who has not grasped the idea, who is distressed.

But even after this entire distinction has been made, being at the level at which spiritual things are known to us does enable us to draw nearer to the level of knowing them. It gives some hope that one will perhaps be granted the possibility of understanding.

[At this point the Rebbe Rayatz quotes an exposition of his father, the Rebbe Rashab, on the difference between the material domain and the spiritual domain. The former passes through phases of motion and rest, whereas one’s spiritual life, one’s ruchniyus, is constantly active within itself even when one is unconscious of it. (In the homey Yiddish original, Seichel seichelt-zich ven du herst nit oich – lit., “The mind does its thing even when you’re not aware of it.”) The discourse of the Rebbe Rashab, the continuation of which ranges over the more esoteric reaches of the terminology of Chassidus, includes an explanation of the statement in the Zohar that “the gates of Gan Eden are closed at night.”]

10. Am I able to give myself orders?

Rambam opens one of the chapters of his Hilchos Deos90 as follows: “Just as the sage is distinguishable in his wisdom and in his mental attitudes..., so should he be distinguishable in his actions.”

On Yud-Beis Tammuz it was explained in detail that one who is a pnimi is orderly, and one who is well ordered is ordered well in all of his affairs. With him, the very order of things is itself orderly.

In divine service, hachanah (“preparation”) is one of the indispensable factors, for hachanah is part of hachsharah, making oneself fit to become a vessel capable of receiving what it needs to hold. The preparation itself needs to be done in a methodical way. Indeed, sometimes the mere setting of things in order suffices to show that no preparation is called for; that is, there are things which do not need to be preceded by lengthy preparation.

There were times when in the avodah of certain chassidim, men of commendable standing inwardly, preparations did not play a role. Instead there was haatakah, which means moving oneself across from one place to another. This can be done in a number of ways. Moving oneself [mentally] away from circumstances that disturb one’s avodah may also be called haatakah — but only at quite a modest level. Properly speaking, haatakah means moving oneself away from one field of avodah to another field, in which he now chooses to be occupied. And what is crucial here is that a person ought to be able to give himself a decisive directive91 to move where necessary — and this is an ability that every chassid needs.

We have explained92 that one’s avodah should not be confined to the level of makkif, and that one must not live in self-delusion. Accordingly, since most of us have not yet attained those levels of haatakah that involve (as it were) moving oneself away, in the meantime we should toil at the task of hafanah (lit., “emptying oneself”).93

It is unnecessary to explain the difference between hafanah and haatakah. Chassidus sharpens one’s intellectual tools well, so that one can understand a concept with absolute clarity. And though haatakah is an advanced level in avodah, one should nevertheless strive towards it. One should want to be able to be there. And when a person toils with a will and a desire, the Almighty helps him along.

11. The persistent spiritual nucleus of every Jew

May the Almighty grant that the Torah be happy with us; that there be a Simchas Torah, a Rejoicing of the Torah, in the sense that the Torah should rejoice. And if the Torah rejoices, then it will be Simchas Torah all the year round. This rejoicing of the Torah will illuminate all the countries in which Jews are to be found, and will fill all Jewish homes with happiness.

The Mishnah teaches: “Whoever fulfills the Torah in poverty will ultimately fulfill it in wealth.”94 As we said earlier: The Torah does not remain a debtor to whoever studies it, nor to whoever exerts himself to arrange for the communal study of the Torah. Exhausted though he may be after a long day’s toil, scorched by the heat of the sun, or frozen by the winter’s cold, and yet he sits down in the evening for his nightly shiur, the Torah itself pleads in the Heavenly Court on behalf of such a Jew, that he and his household be judged with mercy.

Simchas Torah — the Rejoicing of the Torah, that is, the Torah’s rejoicing— is present only when one studies it. It is then that it rejoices, and intercedes for the bestowal of blessings upon the entire House of Israel. And when this takes place, the lives of Jews everywhere will be lit up materially and spiritually.

Needless to say, the above promise to “Whoever studies the Torah…” refers not only to its study but to its fulfillment as well — including both the observance of its mitzvos in actual practice, and the regulation of one’s interpersonal conduct in the light of proper character traits, as the Torah requires. The prologue to fulfillment, however, is study. And when one’s study is imbued with the awe of Heaven — that is, when one’s regular studies are accompanied by the study of Mussar and Chassidus — one’s studies then find their way into one’s heart, and the study of the Torah leads to its fulfillment.

Every individual who has a sense of ahavas Yisrael, who simply likes a fellow Jew and is anxious for the spiritual and material welfare of Jewry at large, should explain to his friends and acquaintances the moral obligation that lies on everyone to study Torah daily. Each person according to his own status ought to be a member of a group that studies at a fixed time every day.

“The People of the G‑d of Avraham95 have always stood (and, thank G‑d, today too stand) at a high level of intellectual development: “a wise and understanding nation”96 in every sense of the phrase. Every Jew — including even one whose childhood learning, due to various family circumstances, was scant — has the intellectual potential to master a page of Gemara and follow a reasoned explanation.

Every Jew is eager to hear a word of Torah, and to understand it too. It sticks to him; he finds a certain delight in it; it makes him feel good.

A Jew must have spiritual nourishment: he cannot be satisfied with physicality alone. Every Jew has a sensitivity to spiritual things and the spirit within him aspires to higher things, just as he seeks the fleshly life of This World.




Every Jew cherishes his lineage, the “rock from which he is hewn.”97 From the depths of his soul he respects his forebears, and at every opportunity he is happy to point out his descent from rabbis and Torah scholars. To be sure, with some people this is truer than with others, but even in the case of a Jew who is (G‑d forbid) well and truly frozen, there is a spark of life that from time to time casts up within him memories of his roots, and he seeks out names of relatives who were rabbis and Torah students. There is no need to dwell on this at length, for within everyone’s frequent experience there are individuals who themselves are (poor fellows!98 ) far removed from the Torah, and yet with the greatest enthusiasm tell all about their parents and relatives who were Torah scholars.

We were in Rostov, Russia, in the winter of 5681 (1920-21), during the years of famine. The situation at the time is common knowledge: the new regime was in its early years, and the Yevsektzia – the virulently anti-religious “Jewish Section” of the Communist Party – was beginning to make its presence felt. Prospects looked grim for the survival of the various religious organizations, Torah institutions and mikvaos. Until that time all these religious bodies were organized at a level that would be hard to find in a major Jewish community, let alone in such a town on the River Don where Jews were barred.

The fact is that it would be a mitzvah to recount all of this in detail, for it enables one to see the beauty of the natural face of Jewry.

Rostov was a town in which only craftsmen and those holding diplomas of higher education were allowed to live. It goes without saying that Torah scholars and truly G‑d-fearing Jews never went to the town, and in any case the authorities did not allow Jews in general to go there.

Jewish craftsmen from the good old days, who had been raised on a genuine, healthy Torah-education, had laid the foundations for the local religious institutions, the shuls, and a mikveh, all of which eventually flourished, and these causes, together with a variety of charitable bodies, all enjoyed the material support which the unobservant Jews with a secular education gave them with the greatest degree of involvement and energy.

At the first opportunity for a permit, which untiring endeavors with the czarist authorities had finally managed to secure, the little community had brought itself a scholarly rav and a number of G‑d-fearing shochatim.

Despite the fact that only a short while earlier the czarist regime had annulled the restrictions on Jewish residence in the town, we and a large number of Polish Jews who had fled the war zones and arrived there found that all the religious organizations were in good order. (They also included chadarim where children were taught just as in the regular Jewish communities.) The hospitality shown by all the local Jews without exception, whether observant or non-observant, is indescribable. None of the new arrivals (thank G‑d) was in need of any material help, but the friendly goodwill raised everyone’s morale.

The head of the community and several members of the council, who were a far cry from the Torah scholars who were the leading lights in the Jewish towns, at their first meeting expressed their pleasure at the arrival of the observant families. They stated that they were prepared to set up shuls for those who desired to maintain their own nussach, as well as Torah schools for their children in the spirit of their previous education. They asked the newly-arrived families to make themselves just as much at home as they had felt in their own Polish towns. Moreover, they invited them to play a part in the local religious institutions, and to give their cooperation to the rav as well as to all of those who were involved in strengthening their various organizations.

In all the above one can see the natural Jew face to face. The beautiful feelings of a Jew are not (G‑d forbid) swept away in the tempest of life in This World; they are not lost in the turmoil of the workaday world. In the course of the few years that elapsed until the rise of the new regime, the Jewish life of Rostov flourished.

One winter’s day during my stay there, there arrived a firm directive that the local mikveh must be closed down. A commission was immediately set up, headed by a certain doctor, and it came to the conclusion that the mikveh was not clean. The truth which everyone knew and saw — that the mikveh could not be in that state — interested no one.

Within a few days word came through as to the doctor’s identity. The reports about him were bleak: he was one of the greatest destroyers of the faith. It was decided in the community that I should invite the doctor and plead our cause with him. This was one of the hardest things imaginable for those times — yet it happened. We spent a winter’s evening together conversing on various subjects, until finally the doctor began telling of his family background, and who his grandfather was..., and out of this conversation the opportunity arose for the mikveh question to be aired. And, thank G‑d, it worked. In fact he himself offered advice as to how we could secure a permit for the mikveh.

Such cases abound in their thousands, that demonstrate what a Jew is, and what kind of a spiritual nucleus a Jew possesses. The man who can measure the extent of what a Jewish heart contains has never existed, and never will exist.

It is true that at times light and darkness, good and evil, alternate erratically. At times there are wayward deeds that derive from the nethermost depths — but there are also noble deeds inspired by the loftiest heights. In the most unlettered of Jews we can find beautiful sensibilities that are hard to find in highly educated non-Jews.

For this we are obliged to the healthy Jewish education of yesteryear, to the love of the Torah and of good character traits which grandfathers and great-grandfathers bequeathed to their children and grandchildren.

We spoke earlier of the Jews of wholesome sensitivity who were produced for our people by the group study of Ein Yaakov in synagogues between the Minchah and Maariv services; what a pure type of person was given us by the custom of reciting Tehillim in the beis midrash before daybreak; how great was the contribution of the yeshivos with their Torah students, which yielded scholars and sages of world standing — the veritable crown of Israel’s glory.

The spark of ahavas Yisrael in every Jew should rouse itself and set up circles for Torah study. Every Jew gives money for Torah causes. True, this is a personal obligation devolving on every Jew — but it must be known that one cannot discharge one’s obligation as a Jew by donations alone. One must support the Torah with one’s time, with one’s very self; one must keep up with the entire House of Israel; one must himself study every day. By not studying, one becomes coarsened and ignoramus’d, and thereby harms all of Israel.

Every Jew has a sacred obligation to exert himself for the sake of Jewry in general, to enhance the crown of Israel’s glory. And this can be done only through Torah study. Accordingly, each individual ought to devote time and effort to enrolling members in the various study groups, to influencing his acquaintances to seat themselves at the study tables — and then indeed there will be light in all the dwelling-places of the Children of Israel.99

12. Reb Aizik Homiler’s self-portrait

We are rejoicing with the joy of the Torah, in the hope that with the Almighty’s help the Torah will be happy with us — for then there will be a consummate joy, both spiritually and materially.

The truth is that we do have what to be happy about; even now, in a situation in which spiritual matters are a little clouded over,100 we should be joyful. We are at the very eve of the footsteps of Mashiach, and now is the time at which the ultimate purpose originally conceived comes to its realization.101

We of the generation [that hears the approaching] footsteps of Mashiach are realizing the divine purpose in this bitter exile which weighs upon us from within and without, and people are (thank G‑d) studying Torah and praying with devotion. If people study a word of Chassidus and digest it, and then employ it in prayer, “the service of the heart,” then there is what to be happy about.

It is explained in Chassidus that the difference between the material world and the spiritual world is that in the former, in gashmiyus, the foundation is below and the edifice is above it, whereas in the latter, in ruchniyus, the foundation is above, and the edifice below. Jews in this exile, therefore, are realizing the divine purpose — to make a dwelling-place for G‑d among mortals.

In the times of my great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, the learned Reb Aizik of Homil was a chassid of considerable stature. Earlier, in the times of the Alter Rebbe, he was one of the young chassidim, but while yet a young man he knew how to receive.

My father once asked my grandfather what it means to be an atzmi, and in reply my grandfather described Reb Aizik. And once Reb Aizik had already lived at that level for some years, even though he used to make the journey to my great-grandfather in Lubavitch as a chassid, nevertheless he did this out of kabbalas ol, out of a noble sense of duty.

Once when Reb Aizik was on a visit to Lubavitch for Shavuos in the year 5608 (1848) or 5609 (1849), my great-grandfather called for him — either because of the closeness which he felt toward him, or (according to the alternative version, which was confirmed by my father) because of Reb Aizik’s extreme devotedness to my great-grandfather. Having summoned him he said: “I am going to repeat for you a discourse in Chassidus which I heard from my grandfather the Alter Rebbe — a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov, transmitted letter by letter, with my grandfather’s explanation of it.”

On his way out of the Rebbe’s study Reb Aizik encountered a number of young men and youths who were students in my great-grandfather’s yeshivah, and danced around with them and embraced them. The chassidim all found it quite remarkable that one so steeped in profound intellectuality as Reb Aizik should be carried away with such abandon. It was clear to them all that something of consequence had taken place, but none of them took the liberty of asking him for the meaning of his exultation.

It was the custom of the elder chassidim that whenever they came to Lubavitch they would meet informally for a farbrengen together. On one such occasion Reb Aizik, referring to himself in the third person, said: “When Mashiach comes they’ll put Aizel102 on their hand (as if he were some tiny creature) and they’ll say: ‘See this? This used to study Torah; this used to meditate on Chassidus during his prayers!’”103

Reb Aizik’s belittling his own standing in the realm of intellectual perception and avodah should have taken place within himself. When the Kohen Gadol had to immerse himself in the mikveh and in preparation for this examined himself lest his immersion be disqualified because some foreign object had adhered to his body, we are told that “they spread out a sheet between him and the people.”104 A great man too must scrutinize himself lest his purification be hampered by unwanted obstructions — but this should be done privately.

[However,] the Alter Rebbe’s explanation of the use of the term “chassid” is well known — that it is based on the statement of Tosafos that a chassid acts for another’s good even in a matter that harms himself.105 Reb Aizik spoke as he did for the sake of chassidim in general, so that people should learn how to conduct themselves.

The ultimate purpose of the beginning [of a divinely-ordained process] is realized only at the end.106 The divine intention — that “the Holy One, blessed be He, desired to have a dwelling-place among the nether creatures”107 — is now being realized by Jews in exile. Every year that passes brings us nearer to the time of the Coming of Mashiach (May it be speedily and in our own days, Amen!) and to the revelation of the or atzmi. We should therefore be exceedingly joyful.

Before dawn comes, the darkness of night thickens, and it is when daybreak is imminent that a heavy slumber descends upon one. We can see this from our own experience, when one stays up throughout a long winter’s night when there is time to steep oneself in some profound concept, and as dawn draws near a heavy sleep threatens to weigh one down. It is then that one needs to gather strength, so that one will not fall asleep.

The light is about to come, thank G‑d; daybreak is beginning. Now is therefore the time when we should invest every effort and exertion to ensure that we are not overtaken by sleep. Chassidim should study Chassidus in public. In all chassidic synagogues times should be fixed for the group study of Chassidus. And with the Almighty’s help we will be spared to see in serene joy the light of day, and “the light, that is good,”108 will be revealed to all of Israel.

13. Defrosting a frigid environment

All material things are an analogy for the understanding of Elokus, i.e., Divinity.109 In truth, of course, everything is Elokus and Elokus is everything. However, in order to make this comprehensible, the Almighty created a physical world comprising many components, each of which is an analogy for the understanding of Elokus.

Imagine a huge cauldron that is filled with hundreds of buckets of water. Since water is by nature cold, and it is difficult to warm such a quantity all at once, one first heats one gallon110 of water to the highest degree that its container can stand without bursting. Having been heated over its own fire, the vessel with its boiling water is now placed in the huge cauldron, whose hundreds of buckets of water are gradually warmed.

Water is Torah.111 Lithuania is, thank G‑d, a huge cauldron full of Torah scholars (May they continue to increase!112 ). In addition to news gleaned from letters and conversations with people who come from there, I have happy memories of the times when I was the guest of our folk in Lithuania. From my meetings with various rabbis and Torah scholars who are not of our circles,113 as well as from questions of all kinds which reach me from quite ordinary householders,114 the same impression is gained — of Lithuanian Jewry’s love of Torah.

In fact when I was in Riga I told the people there that in addition to their commendable attainments in the field of tzedakah and mutual help, they should learn this attribute — the love of Torah — from the Lithuanians. Lithuania takes pride in a Torah scholar; with them a yeshivah student occupies his rightful place. Their adult scholars are immersed in their studies, and exert themselves to advance their scholastic attainments. But the nature of water is cold — and it’s cold there, freezing cold.115 Though it is not in the nature of water to stagnate, this is nevertheless possible. If, however, water bubbles and flows, then it does not stagnate — and what keeps water in motion is heat. In brief, the cauldron needs to be warmed up.

Each student of the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah, each chassid worthy of the name, is such a vessel, a gallon of boiling water with the capacity of being heated from within. The temimim who are in Lithuania should be happy that they are living in an atmosphere of the love of Torah, for the yeshivos there are its life-giving waters. At the same time they, together with the other chassidim who live in the towns of Lithuania, ought to strengthen the establishment of regular study sessions for the study of Chassidus.

At this point the Rebbe addressed a remark to a tamim by the name of Yehoshua Aizik [Baruch] who had come for Yom-Tov from Kovno, Lithuania:

Your letter on the organizing of the study of Chassidus among the temimim and Anash in various Lithuanian towns caused me considerable pleasure. A child is a continuation of his father. My pleasure is my father’s pleasure, and my father’s pleasure is a source of spiritual life and blessing to all those who engage in Torah and avodah. Please convey our greetings to all the temimim and Anash of Lithuania and see to it that you consolidate the regular sessions for the public study of Chassidus. And may the Almighty help you all materially and spiritually.116

Someone asked a question: “It would appear from the analogy that not only is it impossible for a person to occupy himself with another’s spiritual welfare until he himself has attained the level expected of him, but moreover the cold water could prevail over the hot.” To this the Rebbe replied:

Though it is true that the nature and details of all material things should serve us as analogies for the understanding of spiritual matters, one should nevertheless keep in mind that an analogy is only an analogy. Even though this fact is obvious, the very awareness of it serves to free an analogy of unwanted limitation and corporealization.

So it is in our analogy of the cauldron of cold water, where the analogy is not absolutely comparable to the subject being illustrated. In the analogy, one cannot in fact put the hot water into the cold without its being cooled unless one first boils it properly. This is so because whatever is material has no real existence, and its heat is not of its essence; it can therefore cool down. In the case of a spiritual value, however, through its very encounter with something cold which it seeks to warm, its quintessential inner strength is aroused. We are not speaking here of the arousing of this inner strength through its determination to vanquish an opposing power; here the arousal is effected by its purposeful activity alone.

One can find a way of using every material thing for the understanding of a spiritual subject. It goes without saying that the analogy will not match the subject in all its details, and one needs to exercise discernment as to what to select and what to ignore. This is what is meant by the common abbreviation, וְדַ״לi וְדַי לַמֵּבִין)), for a mere remark suffices to light the way for a man of understanding.

14. From the study of Torah to an awe of Heaven

The way it is now conducted, your Yagdil Torah School in Kovno117 lays a firm foundation in the fear of Heaven. May the Almighty bestow an abundance of material and spiritual blessings on all those who are involved in it and who support it. May He grant them the desire to strengthen and enlarge it, so that it will increase its enrollment of capable and conscientious pupils who are devoted to the study of the Torah and the awe of Heaven. May the Yagdil Torah (lit., “an increase in Torah”) increase the numbers of people who stand in awe of Heaven.

15. Deeds, not words

Certain words in the Tanach, in the Written Law, have two forms — the kri, the way the word is to be pronounced, and the ksiv, the way it is spelled. In the Oral Law the Sages sometimes interpret the content of a word by means of the instruction Al tikrei (“Do not read... but...”), as in the phrase, “Do not read banayich, which means ‘your children,’ but bonayich, which means ‘your builders.’”118 In Chassidus, the instruction Al tikrei is the inner life of a word: it brings the word to life, both on the intellectual plane of haskalah, and on the plane of avodah.

On Simchas Torah last year119 one of the functionaries of the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah was given the honor of reading aloud the sentence, “And may our words find favor before the Master of all things.” It was explained at the time that the word אֲמָרֵינוּ can be interpreted in the manner of kri and ksiv, as if to say: “Do not read ‘our words,’ but ‘our deeds and our labor’” — “May our deeds find favor.” One cannot support a yeshivah with words alone: one has to take action.

As far as the yeshivah is concerned, whether materially or spiritually, thought and speech alone cannot be counted as action. We once explained the statement of the Sages that “the Almighty joins a good thought to a deed”120 [or: “reckons a good thought as a deed”]. That is for the Almighty to do; as far as people are concerned, the deed has to be actually done.

A question was asked: “A verse in Yeshayahu says אַף עֲשִׂיתִיו — ‘and, moreover, I have made it,’121 implying that in translating an intention into action (מַעֲשֶׂה) one is confronted by spiritual obstacles which obscure the way. As far as one’s avodah with oneself is concerned, Chassidus offers advice. But when it comes to influencing another, how does one cope with these obstructions?”

The Rebbe replied as follows:

In Chassidus there is sound advice on all matters of conduct and guidance, both with regard to one’s own conduct and with regard to the conduct and guidance of another. Tanya is called Likkutei Amarim (“Selected Sayings”), because it is entirely composed of answers given to questions asked at yechidus;122 it is the source of the purifying spring of living waters.

The relationship between rav and talmid123 (“teacher” and “student”) is more than simply a relationship of mashpia and mekabel (“mentor” and “recipient,” i.e., disciple). The task of the rav should be to make of his student a recipient, to extend the bounds of his sensitivity and of his abilities. This demands a certain dedication on the part of the mashpia towards his mekabel. It requires great effort, and constant prayer — that it be granted him to raise G‑d-fearing disciples. And then the Almighty helps one to find the real ways and means of turning one’s student into a true recipient.

16. Recognize where you stand

A chassid must be well ordered.

(Because time is short124 we will have to be brief, and the expression of brevity is always somewhat pungent. Generally speaking, concepts are by preference explained at length, with ample details and instances, and each additional positive or negative illustration enhances their comprehension. But just as every concept must have a beginning and source, so must it have an end. The beginning of a concept is a point; the end of a concept is brevity. Even though the point precedes the concept and brevity comes at the end of the concept, and moreover the two extremes are by definition different from each other, yet this they have in common — that each when expressed gives rise to a certain degree of pungency.)

To revert to our subject: A chassid without order loses the very semblance of a chassid. Without order, not only will he be constantly losing his way and not arriving at any destination, but even what he does do will not be properly done; it will be dead, without vitality.

A chassid should carefully observe elder chassidim in order to learn from their conduct, but should first measure himself well to determine whether he is already at a level at which it is appropriate for him to emulate a particular practice.

Suppose someone observes another who is in a state of spiritual awakening in the course of his prayers, and is himself aroused at the sight — but he is not yet really at that level. One must not cool anyone down, but at the same time a person should know that this particular avodah is not yet appropriate for himself. For the moment, the observation should be pocketed, until such time that it becomes appropriate for him to put it to use.

In the meantime, a passage of Tehillim with tears asks the Almighty for help in attaining the desired awakening. There is a lot of entreating to do — that one’s prayers should come forth spontaneously,125 that one should be helped to cultivate an open and sensitive heart.

My father once told someone: “Washing each hand three times before meals, and holding the handle of the dipper with a towel, is not a practice that is appropriate to you.126 When you are at that level, then you will do it.” To someone else he said: “As to washing each hand three times before meals, and holding the vessel with a towel, you should not wait until you have attained to a certain level, but should do so out of kabbalas ol because that is what the law requires.”

A chassid has to be well ordered both in his study and in his avodah. In fact these depend on each other: if one is orderly in his study then he is orderly in his avodah too.

17. Speech is a double-edged sword

The Rebbe asked those present to say LeChaim! over a drop of mashke, and added that there was no need to talk about this, because talk of this kind displaced subjects that did need to be talked about. He then amplified this theme, as follows.

Each soul that is about to descend to this world is allotted a certain number of letters of speech which it will utter in the course of its lifetime. Those letters are uncombined, for free will in the choice of combinations is left to each individual. He decides for himself which words to speak.

The superiority of man over the whole of Creation lies in speech — to the point that mankind at large is termed medaber (“the speaker”).127 That name indicates the highest level of humanity. One would have thought at first glance that the superiority of man lies in his intelligence. The distinctive quality of intelligence, however, is to be perceived when it finds expression in speech.

According to the dictates of worldly wisdom, speech may be divided into four categories; according to the Torah, following the opinion of Rambam, it falls into five categories: (a) speech which is a mitzvah, such as reading words of Torah and prayer; (b) speech which is beloved, as in praise of the quality of intellect and good character; (c) speech which is permitted, such as that involving a person’s needs of food and livelihood; (d) speech which is forbidden, such as falsehood, slander and tale-mongering; and (e) speech which is repugnant — idle talk and pointless narrative.

Chassidus discusses and clarifies these five categories at various levels, throwing light on their foundations. It reveals the inner mystery hidden in speech, and explains how the tongue is the quill of the heart, and speech is the servant of intellect and character.

With the divine light in Chassidus we can see the clarity of the above five distinctions, the quality and nobility of speech which is a mitzvah and which is beloved, the vulgarity of forbidden speech, and the lowliness of repugnant speech.

Chassidus clarifies the meaning of permitted speech, explaining first what is meant by permissibility. According to the teachings of Chassidus, permissibility is a very closely-defined concept. Before partaking of what is permissible one is first required to establish whether it is needed. If the object is not needed, but merely desired, then Chassidus teaches that even if it is permissible of itself, the desire for it is absolute evil, requiring teshuvah.

Everyone needs to be vigilant with speech — that is, with the third category, permitted speech, for it commonly leads to the fifth category, the repugnant speech of pointless prattle, which in turn leads to the fourth category, forbidden speech. Particular care needs to be taken by businesspeople, for the superfluous talk of commerce is a well-trodden threshold leading to all kinds of evil. By superfluous talk is meant that every delectable detail of a subject is repeated over and over again with gusto. And this kind of talk can lead to evil consequences.

The Mitteler Rebbe says that businesspeople have an advantage over fulltime Torah scholars, for they see the tangible workings of Divine Providence in practice. But the inflated talk of commerce draws cataracts over one’s eyes, so that not only does it blind a person from perceiving the workings of Divine Providence, but moreover it removes his delight in spiritual things, making him coarsened by materiality. People in the business world, then, should vigilantly shun this kind of talk.

Whether he is standing in his store or in the marketplace, every businessman should have a book in his pocket — such as a Chumash, Tanya, Mishnayos or Tehillim — so that whenever he has a free moment he can read a verse of Chumash, or a few lines of Tanya, or a mishnah, or a passage of Tehillim.

The words directed above to businessfolk are not addressed only by one who guides and warns a certain part of our people (May they all enjoy good health!); as one who loves all of Israel I offer these words as a piece of good advice. If people act on it the Almighty will grant His help, and an abundance of blessings will flow in through their very doors and windows.

This is a matter that affects not only each individual separately, but also the entire House of Israel, for a word which a Jew utters — in Torah, prayer, supplication, or request — opens up all the pipelines of divine blessing, silences charges leveled in the Heavenly Court, rescinds harsh edicts, and blesses one’s endeavors with success.

Let me tell you a story. The Baal Shem Tov once saw that the entire House of Israel stood under a dire threat which was being weighed in the Heavenly Court. He consulted with his saintly disciples, but despite their many fasts they were unable to revoke the impending decree. They managed to persuade the local rav to ordain a public fast — not because he understood the inner meaning of what was at hand, but on the pretext of certain overt circumstances. At a certain point in the course of the fast, when all the men and women of the community had assembled for the reading of Tehillim, the Baal Shem Tov saw that the decree of the Heavenly Court still stood intact. Soon after he turned joyfully to R. Nachman of Horodenka and with a radiant face told him that the sentence had been revoked. The joy of his disciples was unbounded.

When they next sat at his table, the Baal Shem Tov told them that one woman had caused the edict to be rescinded. In the midst of all the Tehillim and the wailing in the synagogue, the arguments of the Accusing Angel had risen to a pitch: it was an hour of woe for Israel. But in the women’s gallery of that synagogue there sat one simple peasant-woman who was so ignorant that she could not even read Tehillim. When she heard the sobbing and weeping all around her she cried out: “Master of the universe! Aren’t You our Father?! Your children are asking something of You with bitter tears. I’ve got five little ones at home, and when they all start crying I can’t bear to hear them. So You on High, Who have so many children, even if You had the heart of a Tartar You’d have to answer them. Father: answer Your children!”




A story should be not only heard, but rather sensed.128 In fact at any time one ought to have “ears that hear,”129 and hearing is worthy of the name only when it leads to sensitive perception.

This story tells us how potent is a word uttered by a Jew, how cherished is the reading of a passage of Tehillim. Though he may live in the remotest corner of the world, yet with a word of Torah or Tehillim he can open up the pipelines of livelihood for the entire House of Israel.

However, a person who is intellectually able to comprehend the unity of G‑d — both how everything is G‑dliness and how G‑dliness is everything — cannot discharge his responsibilities by Tehillim alone. If he seeks to do so, this is no less than casting off the yoke of Heaven.

18. Taking the first step in avodah

There is a verse in Tehillim in which David HaMelech says: Lecha dumiyah tehillah. This means [in paraphrase]: “To You, G‑d, dumiyah [for the moment translatable as ‘silence’] is praise; G‑dliness is in Tziyon; and to You, G‑d, shall the vow be fulfilled.”130 There are three statements here: two which David HaMelech addresses to the Creator — (a) “Your praise is through silence,” and (b) “To You, G‑d, shall the vow be fulfilled” — and (c) a third which he addresses to the world at large, so that all should know that “G‑dliness is in Tziyon.” In the following verse he makes a fourth statement (d): Adecha kol basar yavo’u – “To You, Who hears prayer (tefillah), shall all flesh come.”131 (This concept is similar to that expressed in the paragraph in Shemoneh Esreh that begins with the words Shema koleinu and goes on to say, ki Atah shomeia tefillas kol peh — “For You hear the prayer of every mouth.”)

At first glance the connection between these four statements is incomprehensible. We begin with a seeming contradiction. In the first statement we are told that “Your praise is through silence”; on the other hand, the fourth statement refers to prayer, which is through speech.

Next, what is the meaning of the phrase, ulecha yeshulam neder — “To You shall the vow be fulfilled”? These words appear to refer to some well-known vow that every Jew is obligated to fulfill. Indeed, from the word yeshulam (lit., “shall be paid”), it would seem that the verse is addressing the Almighty as follows: “G‑d, You may rest assured that the debt which is owing to You will be paid.” What is this debt of which David HaMelech speaks with such certainty, as if he were speaking of some debt which must be paid, whether through goodwill and pleasure, or through duress and suffering?

Finally, what is the nature of the public announcement that David HaMelech makes: Elokim beTziyon — that “G‑d is in Tziyon”?

[Let us first consider the opening phrase: Lecha dumiyah tehillah, tentatively translated above as follows: “To You, silence is praise.”] The word tehillah means “praise” — as, for example, when some person praises a great talmid chacham, describing his stature in the study of Torah and in the fear of Heaven, repeating the learned discourses and moral teachings that he has heard from his mouth, and dwelling upon his noble attributes of humility, truth, lovingkindness, charity, and his love of his fellow Jew. Suppose now that this person recalls an entire address which he once heard from this Torah scholar, and which he now repeats, as follows: “My children, my friends! If your child falls ill with convulsions or whatever disease, you are at your wit’s end, and in tears, and your poor hearts are sore (May He Who is in Heaven protect you and the whole of Israel from all evil!). Parents tear their hair; the situation is so desperate that G‑d alone can have mercy. Total strangers are unnerved at the sight of a wee soul, a budding little body, collapsing all of a sudden, convulsing, and wrestling with death; it struggles, it wants to live, but the dread disease drags the little body away. How great, then, must be the heartache when some fathers and mothers are themselves (Heaven forfend) the Angels of Death of their own little ones, through not observing taharas hamishpachah, the laws of family purity, with immersion at its due time in a mikveh which is kosher.”

Suppose that the speaker further recalls how that same talmid chacham, continuing his address, had gone on to speak about ahavas Yisrael, about how one should cherish every fellow Jew, both in a mundane sense and (even more so) in a spiritual sense; about how one should be prepared for self-sacrifice in order to do a favor to a fellow Jew, sparing neither time nor effort; and about how this applies in heightened measure to the dissemination of Torah among one’s brethren — a task which warrants literal self-sacrifice.

Approaching his listeners in gentle terms, the sage had explained at the time what a weighty responsibility lies upon parents to bring up their children in the straight path of Torah and mitzvos, by following which they will be protected from the crooked paths of dishonesty and violence, and their parents — after 120 years132 in This World — will leave behind them Kaddeishim133 of whom they can be proud. Indeed, the good deeds of the children will open up for their departed parents the portals and palaces of Gan Eden. The talmid chacham had also warned of the contrary possibility: if parents did not take due care and enroll their children in chadarim and yeshivos imbued with the awe of Heaven, they would bring misfortune both upon themselves and upon their children.




Now when a person repeats an address such as the above, not only does he relive anew the original experience of standing and listening to it from the mouth of the sage, but moreover the very repetition sets up a certain bond between himself and the original speaker. For the fact is that speaking of the worthy character and the Torah teachings of a talmid chacham arouses within the narrator himself a noble sensation of warm nearness to him.

This too is what constitutes the Book of Tehillim — the songs of praise which David HaMelech sings to the Almighty, whether expressed in words of thirst and yearning, as in the verse, Tzam’ah lecha nafshi, kamah lecha besari — “My soul thirsts for you, my flesh longs for you”;134 or whether expressed in piteous entreaties for help, as in the verse, Keili, Keili, lamah azavtani? — “My G‑d, my G‑d, why have You forsaken me?”135 — and as in the plea [of a person struggling to stay afloat in a turbulent world], Hoshieini, Elokim, ki va’u mayim ad nafesh — “Save me, O G‑d, for the waters have reached up to my very soul”;136 or whether expressed in cries of woe, as in the following verses: “Nations have come into Your inheritance, and have defiled Your holy Temple”;137 “They take crafty counsel against Your people, and conspire against Your hidden ones”;138 “They have said, ‘Come, let us cut them off from being a nation, so that the name of Israel be no more remembered’”;139 or whether expressed in a surge of hope, as in the verse, “He has remembered His lovingkindness and His faithfulness towards the House of Israel: from the farthest corners of the world all have witnessed the deliverance by our G‑d.”140

This, then, is the meaning of the word tehillah — the kind of praising and recounting that gives rise to a bond of nearness between the speaker and the one being praised.

Affinity of this type is readily observable. If someone describes in glowing detail how he once happened to see all the glory that a certain country bestowed upon its ruler on one of its national festive days, with all its sumptuousness and all the nobility of the realm, the very description brings him to a state of elation, which alone suffices to raise him out of his regular existence: he transcends it, he is nobler.

This explains why prayer is called a ladder,141 as it is written, “And behold a ladder standing on the earth, its top reaching up to the Heavens.”142 Prayer is the ladder that connects the worshiper with the Holy One, blessed be He; the bond between them comes into being through the praises expressed in prayer.

The phrase we have been considering is, Lecha dumiyah tehillah — “To You, silence is praise,” [and we have seen the word tehillah implies a connection established through praise]. The first word in the verse — Lecha — addresses itself to Atzmus Ein-Sof, the very Being of the Infinite One. The phrase thus states that the worshiper’s connection with Atzmus Ein-Sof comes about through dumiyah (“silence”). What, then, is this state of dumiyah, that is capable of connecting mortal man with Atzmus Ein-Sof?




A real massig, a person of true understanding, is not deluded: he does not fool himself. Indeed, this is part of his very definition. With him, everything is clear and explicit. Such a person, a baal hassagah, relates to every concept in one of two ways — either he understands it, or he sees that it cannot be understood;143 both of these states, however, are grasped perfectly. Just as in the former case the concept is clear to him, in that he knows exactly what he understands, so too in the latter case does he know with perfect clarity exactly what it is that cannot be understood. With him, indeed, the latter knowledge is sometimes accompanied by a rational explanation as to why the concept in question cannot be understood.

A baal hassagah understands furthermore that the fact that he has understood something does not yet mean that he has understood it in its entirety; his present understanding is merely a prelude to a real understanding. In other words, his understanding of the positive dimension of a subject is a prelude to his understanding of its negative dimension. Or, in yet other words, clothing oneself in intellect leads to abstracting oneself from intellect.

There is something further that a real massig can understand, and that is, that understanding must be set aside in the face of that which transcends it, namely, gefihl — spiritual sensitivity or perceptivity, for the insight that arises out of the intellectual process transcends it.

Haskalah, here meaning the intellectual process, can be brought down into terms of rational explanation, unlike gefihl, which often cannot be explained; if the person is challenged on grounds of illogicality or a seeming contradiction he will not have words at his disposal with which to rebut the objection, yet his gefihl tells him nevertheless that things are as he said. This means that haskalah descends (as it were) into the vehicle of words, thereby assuming a measure of obscurity — for every kashe, every logical objection of the above kind, is a form of obscurity. Not so is the case of gefihl (or, in Hebrew, hergesh), which does not descend (as it were) into lengthy verbalization and does not become veiled by obscurity. It follows that an idea intellectually conceived is strengthened by confirmatory evidence and weakened by a logical objection; an idea which is spiritually perceived is neither strengthened by evidence nor weakened by an objection.

We find an instance of this in the Gemara, in Tractate Beitzah,144 where Rav states a law — that a chicken hatched on Yom-Tov is not permissible for food because it is muktzeh.145 It should be borne in mind that very law, every halachah, is the end product of a reasoned argument. Accordingly, two of Rav’s disciples, Rav Kahana and Rav Assei, challenged him: Why should the law in the case of the chicken hatched on Yom-Tov be different from the law governing a calf born on Yom-Tov? To this question Rav gave an answer.146 Rav Kahana and Rav Assei asked further: But why should the law of the chicken hatched on Yom-Tov be different from the law governing a calf born on Yom-Tov to a [treifah] cow147 which even though it were to be properly slaughtered cannot be rendered kosher? Rav remained silent, and gave them no answer — but he did not retract from his decision on the halachah, and the Gemara goes on to discuss why he offered no reply to their second question.

On careful analysis of the various lines of argument involved in this discussion we see that Rav’s thinking on the subject of the chicken hatched on Yom-Tov was a product not only of reason, but of gefihl. In its early stages, a line of thinking which proceeds from gefihl also comprises reasoning that can be explained. This explains why Rav answered the first question of Rav Kahana and Rav Assei, pointing out that the chicken is muktzeh while the calf is not. The second question, however, which queries the distinction that was based on a line of thinking proceeding from gefihl alone, Rav was unable to answer — for a reasoned argument can be (as it were) brought down into verbal explanation, but this is not the case with a line of thinking based on gefihl. No matter how much it may be explained the gefihl remains, unexhausted and unplumbed. As was said above, a line of thinking based on reason can be rebutted by a logical objection; a line of thinking proceeding from gefihl weathers such objections.

With a real massig, the lines of thinking that proceed from gefihl are far loftier and far more delectable than the lines of thinking that are based on his reason. Hence a baal hassagah can set aside a profoundly comprehended conception out of deference for a gefihl. By “set aside” it is meant that he transforms that entire conception into a seed from which gefihl will sprout, and this gefihl in turn connects him with the very essence of the conception which cannot find expression in words — but in gefihl alone.

Gefihl is an epithet regarding which one may be particularly vulnerable to self-deception. For so scant is our explanatory vocabulary that we are reduced to using one and the same expression for a variety of instances of the soul’s manifestation; so weak is our intellectual perceptiveness [of these various instances] that they impinge on each other. One thus needs to exert considerable intellectual effort in order to define each descriptive word in its precisely correct and clear connotation.

More clearly expressed: Every epithet includes an instance in which it is used only in a borrowed sense, as a to’ar hamush’al, and not in its own essential sense, as a to’ar atzmi. However, even the latter category can be subdivided. Sometimes an epithet in this category is used only as a servant (meshares), that is, as a garment (levush) [— a means of expression] for the faculty (ko’ach) which clothes itself in it, and at other times it is used in its own primary sense [— the atzmi of the atzmi, as it were].

As with epithets in general, so too the epithet hergesh or gefihl can be used either in a borrowed sense or in its own essential sense; and the latter usage itself can be further subdivided — into usage as a levush, and usage in its own primary sense.

[The Rebbe [Rayatz] illustrates this by contrasting four pairs of Hebrew/Yiddish phrases. On the one hand: a kerper (“body”)-gefihl, a middos-gefihl, a seichel-gefihl, a nefesh-gefihl; on the other hand: a gefihl in kerper, a gefihl in middos, a gefihl in seichel, a gefihl in nefesh. For example: a middos-gefihl, as opposed to a gefihl in middos. The former phrase signifies “an emotional sensation”; the latter signifies “a sense of (or: an insight into) emotion.” In the former phrase (a middos-gefihl), though “middos” appears to be an adjective qualifying “gefihl,” it is “gefihl in this phrase that is defined as the levush (lit., the “garment”), ancillary to “middos.” In the latter phrase (a gefihl in middos), by contrast, gefihl is defined as the melubash (lit., “that which is clothed”), i.e., the object.

The Rebbe goes on to show how this distinction — as to whether gefihl is the subject or the object — does not obtain equally when this term is paired with kerper or middos, as in the case when it is paired with seichel or nefesh.

Proceeding to draw ever subtler distinctions, the Rebbe now points out that the inner dimension of gefihl (i.e., gefihl when it is a melubash, the object), though it is a spiritual faculty, itself comprises (as it were) body and soul. Its metzius (“existence”) is its body, and its mahus (“essence”) is its soul. Moreover, each of these two grades may be further divisible into its own respective metzius and mahus. At this point the baal hassagah pauses — for though when speaking of the metzius of gefihl gradated levels are conceivable, the mahus of the inner dimension of gefihl is in all cases identical and indivisible, “for this is a gilui atzmi.” (The phrase gilui atzmi here means: a revelation of the innermost self of the baal hassagah; and since his atzmi is a cheilek Eloka mamaal mamash, “truly a part of G‑d above,”148 it is of course identical with the Atzmus of Him of Whom he is a part.)

Throughout the entire train of thought outlined above, instead of expounding the ideas as his own the Rebbe presents them as if they are the conclusions which a hypothetical baal hassagah arrives at, stage by stage, in the course of his own meditation. Accordingly, at this point we find this baal hassagah contemplating the phrase “gilui atzmi” in all its possible depth, and in the course of so doing transcending the bounds of seichel, of intellect, and beginning to perceive the above concepts through the heightened spiritual insights of gefihl.]

Poised on the threshold leading from the chamber of understanding to the chamber of gefihl, the moment of transfer from one to the other is characterized in the baal hassagah by three states of being — silence, waiting, and hoping.

And this brings us to understand the meaning of the phrase with which we began: לְךָ דֻּמִיָּה תְהִלָּה — “To You, silence is praise.” The bond between לְךָ [here referring not to the Almighty, but addressed to the individual listener or reader] and Elokus, Divinity, is established only through דֻּמִיָּה. This word bears three connotations — silence, waiting, and hoping149 — all of which are components of gefihl. The first step is — silence; this step means divesting oneself of seichel dehalbashah, concrete intellect150 [as opposed to intellect in the abstract]. The second step is — waiting; the individual yearns and waits, waits and [as the third step] hopes for a gilui atzmi, an intuitive illumination from the innermost point of his hergesh. And no matter at whatever level he stands, he constantly hopes to attain heights yet loftier.

[The verse which we have been expounding now proceeds:] אֱלֹקִים בְּצִיּוֹן. [This was translated literally above as, “G‑d is in Tziyon.”] Tziyon here signifies etzem haneshamah,151 the innermost point of the soul. Accordingly, Elokim beTziyon signifies the Elokus of the soul. As is known, the etzem haneshamah is not clothed in the body; the levels of the soul which are clothed in the body are only a reflection (he’arah) of the neshamah, while the etzem haneshamah remains Above. Thus we read in the Midrash that the soul is known by five names — nefesh, ruach, neshamah, chayah, yechidah.152 The lower three levels, known by the acrostic נַרַ״ן (Naran), are those described by the adjective pnimiyim; these are the indwelling or permeating levels of the soul. The other two, whose acrostic is חַ״י, are known as makkifim, the “encompassing” or superrational levels of the soul. It is the highest level — yechidahthat is known by the name Tziyon; this is the level hinted at by the phrase Elokim beTziyon, in the sense of “the Elokus of the soul.” And this level of the soul is called yechidah because its Source is the level of Elokus known as Yachid [i.e., Atzmus].

[Our verse concludes with the phrase,] “To You shall the vow be fulfilled.” This refers to the oath administered to the soul of every Jew before its descent into a body in this world. In the words of the Gemara, “An oath is administered to him: ‘Be righteous and be not wicked.’” This vow everyone must fulfill, whether willingly or under duress, and it is in order to make this possible that souls descend to this world a number of times in transmigration.153

There are people who claim that for various reasons they cannot fulfill what is expected of them with regard to fixing set times for Torah study, and with regard to prayer, the service of the heart. There are plenty of excuses, but people forget the truth — and nothing can make it budge — that the vow must be paid up.

The first stage in avodah is, in the above-quoted words of Tehillim, adecha kol basar yavo’u — “To You shall all flesh come”; that is, a person needs to bring his own bundle of flesh before Him “Who hearkens to prayer.” As we have seen above, תְּפִלָּה (tefilah – “prayer”) signifies joining.154 And it is revealed and known to Him “Who hearkens to prayer” that it is the desire of every Jew, in the innermost point of his heart, to be bound in utter unity with Elokus. The starting-point of avodah, then, is to bring one’s bundle of flesh before Him “Who hearkens to prayer” — to pray with a congregation and to set aside fixed times for the study of Torah.

We now understand what David HaMelech is saying in our opening quotation from Tehillim. He is telling us the truth: ulecha yeshulam neder — the vow that the soul undertakes, to “be righteous” through the fulfillment of the Torah and its commandments, must be fulfilled. Listen to what he is saying: One must pay up this vow. And it will be paid, whether willingly or (G‑d forbid) otherwise. As to those who imagine that various obstacles hinder them from doing their duty in prayer and Torah, let them be well reminded that [as in the same verse] Elokim beTziyon; that is, the Elokus to be found in every soul is not only powerful enough to remove all the obstacles and hindrances that life in this world raises up against the observance of Torah and mitzvos, but, moreover, it even contains the potential to enable the person to elevate himself to the bond implied by the words, Lecha dumiyah tehillah — “To You, silence is praise,” [and we have seen the word tehillah implies a connection established through praise]. To realize this latter potential, however, demands a level of avodah that is not within the reach of every man. The first step in avodah nevertheless remains: Adecha kol basar yavo’u – “To You, Who hears prayer (tefillah), shall all flesh come.”— to bring one’s own flesh before Him “Who listens to prayer,” by praying with a congregation and fixing times for Torah study, this being the cup of blessing that overflows with material and spiritual bounty.