The guidance that is offered in the spiritual lifestyle of chassidim comprises two modes of divine service.1

Avodah is always the first stage; goals should be attained only by means of avodah; among chassidim there is no such thing as saying that such-and-such happens to be the case for no particular reason.2

In the [scholarly Jewish] world at large a person is sometimes considered to be a prodigy, a phenomenon,3 for whom everything starts in the middle; he already knows everything; he’s already halfway there. Among chassidim, by contrast, everything starts off with alef; indeed, everything starts off before the alef.

The four blank, white lines [indicating intervals] in a sefer Torah signify that which transcends mortal intellect.4 We do not mean that this is not intellect: rather, it is intellect’s essential nucleus,5 which transcends the revealed intellect.6 The parchment (so to speak) is waiting to be scored with the parallel grooves which make writing possible. If writing (so to speak) is called for, there is material ready to be written — but it cannot be written, for it is so sublime that it cannot be garbed in letters.

This is a fundamental concept in the Torah.

A Jew is a sefer Torah. The ultimate simplicity of a Jew is the ultimate simplicity of G‑d’s Essence [within him, which finds expression in] his self-effacement [before G‑d]. A simple Jew works at his divine service. He does not know why; he doesn’t think why; he works at it. This approach is the pshitus haAtzmi, the ultimate simplicity of G‑d’s Essence — the essential nucleus of a Jew, his innermost Jewish spark.7


Some decades ago I heard an explanation of this concept, according to which the Rebbe — the Alter Rebbe — corresponds to the lower dot in the segol.8 (The following words are part of a longer discussion.9 )

The Baal Shem Tov perceived the lofty worth of simple Jews, in whom the simple Essence of Divinity10 is to be found. The Baal Shem Tov’s perception corresponds to the righthand dot of the segol, for the right signifies the attribute of Chessed.

The Maggid of Mezritch sought that the innermost and most essential point of the soul should find revealed expression. He concentrated on scholarly and intellectual Jews. His approach corresponds to the lefthand dot of the segol.

The Alter Rebbe made of these people sensitized receptors (“vessels”),11 so that their soul’s innermost and most essential point would be able to find revealed expression. He could not bear to see the pitiful state of simple folk.

That12 which the Baal Shem Tov innovated and the Maggid revealed, the Alter Rebbe drew downward and transformed into vessels, by means of which there should be revealed in every Jew the innermost and most essential point of the soul — the simple Essence of Divinity.

The self-sacrifice of the Alter Rebbe13 was physical; it was a mesirus nefesh that involved the Alter Rebbe’s body, which was a body of mesirus nefesh. Adam’s body was sublime, but it was endowed to him as a gift from above; the Alter Rebbe attained his own level by means of avodah. The self-sacrifice of the Alter Rebbe and of the subsequent Rebbeim made it possible for a man to reveal within himself pshitus haAtzmus, the simple Essence of Divinity.


The sichos of Sukkos14 mention chassidim who used to lament the fact that their prayers did not well forth spontaneously. (Such things are usually expressed in brief.)

In bygone years, 55 years ago, before you were born (one cannot say “before you became chassidim”), chassidim used to bring their plaint to my father: When they were davenen, why didn’t they experience vitality? Moreover, why didn’t their prayers issue forth under their own steam?15 (We are speaking of the period in which my father’s Nesius was not yet overt,16 so they didn’t use the word “Rebbe”.)

I recall the elder chassidim who really took their davenen seriously, who toiled in the avodah of prayer, who listened to my father and heeded his words.

There were times when davenen was done hastily.17 Some chassidim sought only the heavy philosophical themes in Chassidus. They bypassed Likkutei Torah: after all, what striking novelties does it have to offer?... They did not know what was written in its learned crossreferences:18 they did not understand the small print of the glosses in which they appear; and as to the text proper, they glossed over the passages that speak of the need to generate a love and an awe of G‑d. Instead, in their quest for theoretical dialectics, they trained their sights on Toras Chayim.

For the elder chassidim, by contrast, the focus of their avodah was davenen. I remember even unscholarly Jews, ordinary people whose world included kashe and kugel,19 who invested earnest effort into their davenen, townsmen of Lubavitch such as Ben-Zion20 and Yosef Mordechai.21

Yosef Mordechai, who was burly and bulky, took his davenen seriously indeed. Monday’s and Thursday’s davenen was different from Sunday’s. On those days, as he recited the penitential entreaties beginning VeHu Rachum,22 the tears would trickle down his cheeks. I am almost certain that he did not know the meaning of most of the words, especially in the rougher patches — but his davenen was real. His sighs as he read those passages have accompanied me for decades.


Oh for the Jewish townships23 of those days! People don’t even realize what damage we have suffered from their loss.

The simple Jew of those days was something unique; even the Jew who had never savored Chassidus was a world apart from his counterpart today.


Chabad chassidim should daven — in the unhurried, meditative Chabad tradition.24 Perhaps we’re not so wealthy that we can afford to splurge, but at least once a week every chassid should invest time in the avodah of davenen.

There should be a clear progression — the time of self-preparation for davenen, the actual time of davenen, and the time that immediately follows the davenen. It is true that there are obstacles in the areas of health and making a living. True, indeed, one should ask G‑d for these things, too; and true, indeed, G‑d should grant these things. I don’t want to make excuses for Him: may He indeed grant all Jews everywhere an ample livelihood and tranquil well-being. But we for our part ought to take some little practical step. At least once a week one should exert oneself in the avodah of davenen, and then, as a matter of course, the obstacles will be no longer, and there will be good health and a livelihood.


The chassidim of former years were strong and determined: they were able to distil a resolve into a deed.

A farbrengen25 in former years bred action. It scrubbed and scoured with hot water and cold. The speaker — i.e., the mashpia who urged his listeners to demand more of themselves — was privately contrite regarding his own spiritual state, and in response to this, the listener too was humbly contrite.

Today, by contrast, there’s no shortage of talk, but neither the speaker nor the listener is contrite. All you hear in the words of rebuke is the sting.

To be sure, the words spoken at a farbrengen should be brief, tough, and stinging — but the speaker should address the sting to himself. For a farbrengen should exemplify attributes which are characteristically chassidic.


People used to claim that [the farbrengens addressed by the Rebbeim] did not give rise to avodah because the maamarim delivered by the Rebbeim were academic — haskalah-oriented rather than avodah-oriented. In fact, however, the haskalah of Chassidus “purifies the vessel:” it refines the listener’s receptivity.


We have fallen to a sorry state indeed. The wagon of Chassidus has been led away to other places.


In addition to my own suffering, I find it most painful that one’s talking does not produce results: chassidim are not engaging in the above-described avodah of davenen. I do not understand why this is so.


While studying a philosophical maamar a chassid can think that he’s sitting high on a horse. Whose horse? — Someone else’s. His own horse is growing grosser.


As everyone knows, a grain can sprout only when it is placed in the ground, provided that the soil above and below it has been plowed and crushed. The grain doesn’t have to be three cubits deep, but it must be in soil. Watering it arouses the soil’s vegetative property, and then the grain can sprout.

The crushed soil represents one’s efforts at humbling oneself through avodah.

Depth isn’t a precondition for sprouting. There’s no need to be concerned nor to toil about that, nor does one have to toil over the sprouting. One must, however, crush one’s soil, for that is what makes it possible for things to sprout.26


Let it be just one line of Tanya, even half a line, the final phrase of a topic — so long as it finds its way into the heart, and the heart brings it up to the head, and it crystallizes into practical action.


Everyone should learn how to utilize his own positive qualities. Just as a man ought to know his own shortcomings, so too should he know the positive qualities that he possesses. Also the positive qualities that he does not possess....


Chassidus has enriched man’s capacity for depiction. My father, the Rebbe [Rashab], could make an idea spring into life with five words.


Every chassid should set aside a fixed time at least once a week during which to meditate upon a past yechidus, especially when he finds himself in a rut.


Chassidim have to be strong, so that they can translate a noble resolve into a palpable action. An evil attribute should be altogether cut off, so that one has nothing more to do with it. A positive attribute should be internalized, more and more deeply, more and yet more truthfully.


Have pity on yourselves and start exerting yourselves in the avodah of davenen. Let there be due preparation beforehand, and some practical outcome after it.


One can picture how heaven is pained when blessings are withheld. If a father sees how his children go about in rags and tatters, and with one little coin he can set things right, except that he hasn’t got it, — how intense is his pain. If that is the case with a material father, how much more so is it with regard to our Father in heaven: when He sees that His children’s Torah- and mitzvah-garments are tattered, how intense is His pain. And when we set this right, this will bring intense satisfaction to our Father in heaven. We have the inner, essential strength to set things right, and when that is done, then as a matter of course things will be well on the material plane, too.

* * *

[The Rebbe [Rayatz] asked those present to sing a niggun of preparation before the singing of the Alter Rebbe’s Niggun of Four Themes.27 Then, when the Rebbe [Rayatz] asked for “a happy niggun,” those present sang Nieh Zhuritze Khloptzi.28 Finally the Rebbe [Rayatz] said:]

Doyedem!29 We shall set out and arrive!

May G‑d grant that everything be blessed with success materially and spiritually.