18. The Rebbe Rashab and Jewry at large

For my father’s work — and this includes his activities on behalf of Jewry at large — the year 5669 (1908-09) was a time of outstanding importance.

In the month of MarCheshvan (late 1908) a secret meeting presided over by my father took place in Lubavitch. The participants were a number of rabbanim, as well as some wealthy businessmen with a sound grasp of communal endeavors; the objective was to hear and discuss a report involving several weighty issues.

Since I was my father’s private secretary,1 the coordinator of the office, and one of its five active workers, I was directed by my father to acquaint those present with the following three main questions: (a) how to organize the ground-work and the elections for the forthcoming rabbinical conference;2 (b) the manner and extent of our involvement in the preparations and elections for the forthcoming Duma, the Russian parliament; and (c) amendments to the regulations that had been instituted by the rabbanim of Germany, led by HaRav Breuer, for Machzikei HaDas,3 the organization which my father had left two years earlier.

The meeting lasted five days, in the course of which decisions were reached on all the above subjects. The office was charged with executing them, and the necessary budget was seen to.

The winter months were spent in dealing with the above responsible tasks, as well as in routine representations in government circles on questions involving the economic situation of Russian Jewry. My father spent the last three winter months in various health spas abroad, and during his stay in Germany discussed the platform of Machzikei HaDas with rabbanim and communal workers. These several weeks of exertion weakened him considerably, so that he was compelled to extend his stay abroad by several days.

Finally, on Wednesday morning, the ninth of Nissan, we left Berlin via Koenigsburg, Dvinsk, Vitebsk and Rudny, and at six on Thursday evening, the tenth of Nissan, we arrived at Lubavitch.

19. Stories of tzaddikim are a life-giving dew

As we drove through a few of the Jewish streets of the township of Rudny we saw tables and benches outside every house, some already washed, some being washed.4 In the gentile streets there was nothing to be seen.

As we drove out of the town, taking the road to Lubavitch, my father said: “I will tell you a story that I heard from my father5 some 30 or 32 years ago.”6

Now, every story should teach one a lesson in avodah, and open up one’s heart and mind in haskalah; every story should smooth out and straighten the crookedness in one’s heart. The Book of Bereishis is largely composed of narratives, and is accordingly known as Sefer HaYashar7 [lit., “the straight book”], because its holy stories straighten out a man’s heart and mind, enabling them to become vessels fit to contain Torah and avodah. So too every story should do something useful for the advancement of one’s haskalah and avodah.

My father now told me something that he had heard from my grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, that he in turn had heard from his father, the Tzemach Tzedek, who had heard it from the mouth of the Alter Rebbe, namely: the stories of tzaddikim that chassidim exchange when sitting together at a farbrengen are an illustration of the phrase, טַל אוֹרֹת טַלֶּךָ — “Your dew is a dew of lights,”8 for stories of this kind infuse vitality both into one’s haskalah and into one’s avodah.

“Rain,” my father now began to explain, “enhances growth. The nature of water, which is to ‘promote the growth of all kinds of pleasure-giving things,’9 improves both crops that are sown and those that are planted.10 And the water which augments the growth of field and vineyard alike rains down in four forms — geshem, matar, yoreh (early rain) and malkosh (late rain). All of these, however, benefit only the substance of the grain and fruit harvests; the contribution of dew is to their flavor and their nutritional value.

“With this we can better understand the above-quoted phrase, tal oros talecha. For, [to paraphrase a teaching of our Sages on these words,] ‘Whoever makes use of the dew of the Torah,11 the dew of the Torah revives [in the context: ‘resurrects’12 ] him, and whoever does not make use of the dew of the Torah, the dew of the Torah does not revive him. The stories and the informal talk that are heard at a chassidisher farbrengen are the dew of Torah, a dew that gives vitality. Rain, as we have said, benefits the body of the grain and fruit harvests, while dew makes them more delicious and more nutritious.

“What we have said so far in praise of the stories and conversation of chassidim has related to their innate value, without particular reference to the stature of the narrator. After all, what counts is the story.

“However, the stature of the narrator has its importance too — not insofar as the story itself is concerned, but certainly as far as the effect of the story is concerned.

“When my father related something,” my father concluded, by way of introduction to his father’s story, “one had to listen attentively with all ten faculties of one’s soul, noting the choice of every single letter — for every word of his was meaningful to all the ten faculties of one’s soul.”

20. Ordinary folk can create angels

Here, then, is the story, as my grandfather told it to my father.

When I was in Marienbad13 I decided that I would travel home via Vienna and Warsaw, visiting Berditchev on the way, though without anyone’s knowing: I would be accompanied only by Pinchas Leib.14

Arriving in Berditchev very early in the morning, I drove off to a hotel, prayed Shacharis, and went to the resting place of the Rav of Berditchev.15

When I left the ohel I went to see the shtiblach of the local Polish chassidim. In the first little shul I visited I found quite a number of people sitting and studying, while others were indulging in the conversation of chassidim, or exchanging stories. From there I went on to a second and a third shtibl, everywhere finding old and young alike studying, and likewise spending their time in positive talk. This went on for quite some time, as I wandered from one kloiz to the next. I engaged a few individuals here and there in conversation — some of them older chassidim, some of them younger — asking them questions about whatever they happened to be studying at the time, and often receiving answers that evidenced a firm grasp of their subject.

I was about to return to my hotel to rest, for there remained a few hours until my train was due to depart, when I caught sight of several elderly chassidim with white beards. Though it was not a warm day, their long coats were tucked up, and on their feet they wore nothing more than shoes and socks. They were carrying a big bucket of water, and talking excitedly. This scene attracted my interest: I could tell that these were no common water-carriers. Moreover, as they walked, the younger people who accompanied them kept on offering to carry the bucket instead of them, but were constantly refused.

After quite a long walk they turned into an alley, where a few houses down the way I saw several elderly folk who had all taken off the long black coats that usually covered their tallis katan; they had rolled up their sleeves, and were busy washing the floor and the walls of the house at which we had arrived.

I found out after a moment’s wonderment that this was a shtibl of Tolna chassidim. Speaking with a couple of those who had brought the water here, I saw at once that these were real Torah scholars, and chassidim through and through. When I asked them what was going on, they told me that since their Rebbe was due to visit their town the next day, they wanted to put their kloiz in order, in fit condition to receive such an honored guest.

“So why are you doing all of this yourselves,” I asked them, “instead of giving the younger men a turn? After all, young people do need to be brought up in the ways of chassidim, don’t they, and for their sake older chassidim ought to have mesirus nefesh, self-sacrifice.”

“The reason that we are doing this ourselves,” they answered, “and not through hired laborers, is that we want to have healthy angels to help out the advocating angels who come out of the tekios, out of the blasts of the shofar.”

One of them explained: “You know the Yehi ratzon16 which we say after the tekios of Rosh HaShanah, the one that mentions ‘the angels that are formed from the sounding of the shofar, and from the tekiah, the shevarim, the teruah, and the tekiah, and from the קשר״ק' [i.e., from the initials of these four Hebrew names of the various kinds of sounds of the shofar]? Well, one Rosh HaShanah the holy Rav of Berditchev said: ‘Sweet Father, compassionate Father! Just in case the angels that proceed from the shofar that Levi Yitzchak the son of Sarah17 has just sounded are weak angels, then let their place be taken by the holy, healthy angels that were created by the toil of Your people in preparation for Pesach, as they cleaned their kitchen utensils in order to fulfill their mitzvah as perfectly as possible, kratzen (scouring), shobben (scraping), raiben (rubbing), and kasheren (making kosher)!’ [— for the initials of these four Yiddish words are likewise קשר״ק].

“As for us,” the old chassid concluded, “we are doing all of this for the sake of His Name, and for the sake of His servant, our Rebbe (May he be blessed with good health!).

21. Setting oneself aside to benefit another

[My grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, resumes his recollections, as repeated to me by my father.]

As I contemplated these chassidim, the whole scene before me left a remarkably favorable impression. But then, when I was about to leave, I noticed that right next to their kloiz there was a well.

“Why did you have to bring the water from so far,” I asked the old folk, “if you have water right here?”

The same old man answered me: “R. Baruch Yossi, one of our well-to-do chassidim, asked and promised that if we would now take water from his well — both today, in preparation for the Rebbe’s arrival, and tomorrow, the first day of the Rebbe’s visit — then in honor of the Rebbe he would prepare a big festive meal for all the chassidim, at his expense.”

Having finished recounting this incident as he had heard it from his father, the Rebbe Maharash, my father now commented: “We may gauge the impression that this encounter made upon my father from the fact that he related it in all its details. “Moreover, when he had completed his narration he said to me: ‘Here we can plainly see what spiritual forces the Baal Shem Tov drew down in This World, both for the mentors,18 that is, the Rebbeim, and for the taught,19 that is, the chassidim, so that both the recipients and their mentors should — and shall indeed — ready the world for the coming of Mashiach, speedily, and in our own days, Amen!’

For a long while now my father remained silent, deep in thought.

Then he said: “The old man’s answer, as to why they did everything themselves instead of through hired workers, was good. But when it comes to the question as to why they did not let their young men take a turn, they gave no answer — for such a mesirus nefesh, of setting oneself aside for the sake of some young man, is the distinctive contribution of Chabad Chassidus.

“Belief in tzaddikim is what stood the chassidim of Poland firmly on their feet. As the verse says, be’emunaso yichyeh — ‘He lives by his faith’;20 they truly live with their faith.

“The sensitivity to the beauty of holiness that led that chassid to promise that if the water would be taken from his well he would provide a public feast at his expense — and this entails not only expense, but also a commitment of physical exertion by himself and his whole family — this is the meaning of ‘living by their faith,’ for such faith actively permeates one’s whole life.

“However, the virtue of ‘living by one’s faith’ properly belongs to the period preceding the Giving of the Torah. Thus, for example, the Exodus from Egypt took place by virtue of faith, as our Sages teach, ‘By virtue of faith our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt.’21 While in Egypt our forefathers transmuted their faith into chiyus, vitality, and thus lived with faith. By virtue of this, they — and all of us too — were redeemed from Egypt, and by virtue of this faith great revelations took place; in the words of the Haggadah, ‘the supreme King of kings revealed Himself to them,’ as is explained in Chassidus. For indeed there is nothing loftier than faith, especially when it is translated into vitality, so that one is made alive by one’s faith. And when we say ‘alive’ we mean life of the kind that encompasses all the aspects of one’s existence, so that one’s spiritual affairs, one’s material affairs, the way one guides one’s family, — all of this is made alive by one’s faith. And this, to be sure, is a praiseworthy level.

“All this, however, is true of the period before the Giving of the Torah. With the Giving of the Torah, Jews were given an order of conduct for their divine service, an order involving Torah and the commandments — so that they would be able to infuse vitality into their faith. For the faculty of faith is makkif [lit., ‘encompassing’, transcendent; being by definition superrational, it is not restricted by the bounds of mortal reason]. Faith can tolerate the coexistence of opposites. Hence, at the very same moment at which one believes in G‑d and lives by one’s faith, one can conceivably do something which is opposed to His Will.

“When the Alter Rebbe visited Minsk for the first time for the great disputation,22 and stayed for the following well-known Shabbos during which time he showed the so-called scholarly world the meaning of scholarship, and refuted the arguments of all the opponents of the teachings of Chassidus — scores upon scores of really erudite young men were drawn towards him. His opponents, seeing that men of this caliber were on the verge of becoming chassidim, called meetings, and decreed that it was forbidden to study Chassidus because of bittul Torah [i.e., a waste of time that should be spent on the study of Torah!]. When the Alter Rebbe heard that this was the reason given for the prohibition, he said: ‘The Evil Inclination23 has tackled the opponents of Chassidus with the reasoning of a clever thief: as soon as he is caught in the act he starts calling out to G‑d.24 True, he invokes the Name of Heaven, but there can indeed be a veritable thief who at the mouth of his tunnel calls out to G‑d.’

“This paradox is clearly explained in Chassidus. Faith, as we said earlier, is by nature makkif. This thief believes that it is in fact G‑d who ‘provides nourishment and sustenance’25 — except that he considers that his means of sustenance is theft, and that is why he asks the Almighty to prosper his endeavors at making a livelihood. A person’s task in avodah, however, is to internalize his faith;26 that is, to bring vitality into his faith. This is what we are taught by the verse, ‘Let there be no lack of oil above your head.’27 The oil and the wine in Torah,28 — these are the study of Chassidus, through which one’s faith is internalized.

“And when one’s faith is thus brought to the level of pnimiyus, the manner in which one conducts one’s avodah is utterly changed. In this new order of conducting one’s avodah each individual grows sensitive to the positive value of the other; it begins to dawn upon a person’s understanding that for the sake of bringing another closer to divine service,29 one ought to set oneself aside. When this happens, a person discovers within himself the power to find mesirus nefesh worthwhile — for the sake of warmly guiding a younger colleague,30 and setting his feet firmly on the path of truth.”

22. Guidance is an obligation

My father now enlarged on this theme: “My grandfather31 once told my father32 that one ought to sacrifice oneself for the sake of guiding a young colleague in the ways of Chassidus just as one ought to do so for the sake of saving the community of Israel. On his way from Minsk after the well-known disputation, the Alter Rebbe stopped off at Semilian, a town known for its Torah scholarship, and the home of many learned young men. In the course of the week that he stayed there he made chassidim of a minyan of them, all of whom were scholars with a reputation throughout the entire region. One of them was R. Avraham Beirach of Semilian.

“When R. Avraham Beirach visited the Alter Rebbe for the first time at Liozna and entered his study for yechidus, the Alter Rebbe said: ‘It is written, ki haadam etz hasadeh — ‘For a man is a tree of the field.’33 When a tree does not yield fruit it becomes barren. It is possible to have mastered the entire Talmud,34 and yet to be (G‑d forbid) barren. A Jew should yield fruit! What is the value of your Torah study and your avodah if you have not diffused light, if you have not brought light into someone else’s life? Rava taught: ‘He who loves Torah sages will have sons who are Torah sages.’35 He who turns a person who knows Torah into a lover of G‑d,36 and shows him a path in the service of G‑d, — such a man will have sons who are sages.”

“That visit of R. Avraham Beirach’s in Liozna lasted several weeks. On his way home to Semilian he passed through Liepli, where he stayed for some time, and began to yield fruit. One of his first fruits was R. Mordechai of Liepli.”

Having completed his story my father paused, deep in thought, and I could see that he was in a happy frame of mind.

After a little while he said: “This episode provides us with a profound explanation — in the terms of haskalah — of the following statements of the Midrash.37 There is a verse involving Yaakov Avinu that says, וְשִׁמְעוּ אֶל יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲבִיכֶם — ‘And listen to Yisrael your father.’ The Midrash, [by replacing the segol in the second word of the above phrase by a tzeireh,] expounds as follows: אֵ־ל הוּא יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲבִיכֶם — ‘Your father Yisrael is a G‑d. For just as the Holy One, blessed be He, builds worlds, so too does your father build worlds;38 just as the Holy One, blessed be He, apportions (מְחַלֵּק) worlds, so too does your father apportion worlds. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to His world: My world! I shall tell you who created you, and who formed you: יַעֲקֹב בֹּרַאֲךָ, יַעֲקֹב יֹצֶרְךָ — Yaakov created you, Yaakov formed you.’’39 [The Midrash also cites the verse: כֹּה אָמַר ה׳ בֹּרַאֲךָ יַעֲקֹב וְיֹצֶרְךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל. In its plain meaning, the prophet — here addressing his people — is saying: ‘Thus says G‑d Who created you, O Yaakov, and Who formed you, O Yisrael.’]40 Yalkut Shimoni, on the non-literal level of derush, expounds and paraphrases as follows: ‘The Holy One, blessed be He, said to His world: My world! Who created you? I shall tell you who created you, I shall tell you who formed you: יַעֲקֹב בֹּרַאֲךָ, יִשְׂרָאֵל יֹצֶרְךָ — Yaakov created you, Yisrael formed you.’

My father now proceeded to explain how the story he had just told of the Alter Rebbe threw light on the latter Midrash: “The Alter Rebbe built worlds and apportioned worlds; the Rebbeim who followed him formed worlds.41 [As a stage in the creative process, the World of] Beriah42 (‘creation’) represents the first created matter43 which subsequently underwent Yetzirah (‘formation’).

“In the above-quoted Midrash, then, G‑d asks: ‘My world, My world! Who created you? I shall tell you who created you, I shall tell you who formed you.’ The answer is given in two parts. Firstly, יַעֲקֹב בֹּרַאֲךָ — ‘Yaakov created you.’ Now, the name יַעֲקֹב comprises two elements, namely, י׳ עָקֵב. The letter yud [as the first of the Four Letters of the Name of G‑d] signifies Chochmah, while עָקֵב (lit., ‘heel’) signifies the lowest level of creation. Hence, in terms of avodah, יַעֲקֹב בֹּרַאֲךָ signifies the drawing down of the loftiest insights of Chochmah (י) into the lowliest levels (עָקֵב) of the world which is thereby created (cf. בֹּרַאֲךָ) out of the beirurim.44

“The second part of the answer is יִשְׂרָאֵל יֹצֶרְךָ — ‘Yisrael formed you,’ for Yisrael represents the drawing down of divine light45 through one’s avodah.”

After another few minutes’ silence my father said: “Praised be the Almighty for the light of Chassidus which our fathers, the Rebbeim, have bequeathed us. For it is an inheritance without bounds or limits. With G‑d’s help, from one chassidisher seed a tree can grow, with many branches and abundant fruit — and each fruit in turn will contain the seed of new growth.

“One must exert oneself to the utmost in guiding one’s students.46 May the Almighty grant that they grow to be luminaries that radiate light,47 and ‘moist enough to moisten.’48 It was for this that the Rebbeim of the respective generations sacrificed themselves, and their mesirus nefesh is the strength which is invested from Above in the individual who strives to fulfill the divine command, uvacharta bachaim — ‘Choose life!’”49

23. Erev Yom Kippur with the Rebbe Rashab

In Lubavitch there was a resemblance between the eves of two festivals — erev Yom Kippur and erev Pesach — in the striking difference of mood that prevailed in each case between the first and the second half of the day. In fact the noon of each day seemed to mark off two different seasons of the year.

On erev Yom Kippur my father would rise no later than 1.30 a.m. The subjects he studied that day included Tractate Yoma,50 Rambam and Pri Etz Chaim.51 I would often join him in his study by 3:00, and remain there until 5:00 or 5:15; kapparos would take place no later than 5:30.52 These couple of hours were spent in the study and discussion of the avodah of Yom Kippur in general, and the avodah of the Kohen Gadol in particular, all in a spirit of extraordinary joy and pleasure. We would daven early, and the blithesome and holy mood would continue until noon. The midday meal too, which on erev Yom Kippur would take place not later than 11:00, was marked by a certain degree of cheerfulness.

At this meal my father would always explain some theme in Chassidus and in avodah. This was usually a discussion of how the avodah of erev Yom Kippur will be carried out when Mashiach comes — speedily, and in our days, Amen.

On one such occasion my father explained how when Mashiach comes the divine light will be revealed here below, in the level of Asiyah within the world of Asiyah53 that is to say, in this material world — in a manner of Elokus begilui, G‑dliness revealed, just as it is now in the world of Atzilus. (Strictly speaking, my last phrase — “just as it is now in the world of Atzilus” — is not exactly apt, for the future revelation will in fact be loftier than the degree of revelation in the world of Atzilus now. It is only that from our present perspective the world of Atzilus is the highest level among the worlds; though there exist worlds of Ein-Sof above Atzilus, these are beyond our grasp. And my father went on to briefly point out the distinction between the Ten Sefiros54 of Atzilus and [the yet higher level of divine emanation known as] Adam Kadmon.)

Chassidim know that the world of Atzilus signifies the world of unity, the world in which “He and His life-giving emanations are one,” and “He and His causations are one.”55 The Ten Sefiros of Atzilus [each] comprise oros and keilim56 (“lights” and “vessels”) — and the keilim of Atzilus are actual Elokus,57 Divinity. For the very beginning of metzius (“existence”) is the world of Beriah, and everyone who studies Chassidus knows that this does not at all mean existence literally: it refers only to hiuli58 (“prime, potential, unformed matter”) — and the way in which Ramban understands the verb59 בָּרָא (“created”) in the opening verse of Bereishis is known to all.

In the world of Atzilus, however, the keilim too are actual Elokus. My father now expanded this point, explaining that in the world of Beriah — which is “the world of the throne”60 (olam hakiseh), and which is part of “the hidden world” (alma d’iskasya) — the chiyus (“life-force”) of the nivra’im (i.e., the created beings whose source is in the world of Beriah) is in itself their metzius,61 their existence, as is illustrated by the well-known analogy of the sea-creatures. All this obtains when [one speaks of a level of creation at which] that which exists, the metzius, is Elokus (by virtue of its being immersed in Elokus and permeated by it). When, however, one speaks in terms of the keilim of Atzilus, Elokus is the metzius, that which exists (i.e., “existence” is exclusively Elokus). And this my father illustrated by an analogy drawn from the keilim (i.e., the “vessels” or faculties) of the intellect.62

When Mashiach comes, This World here below will accord exactly with the truth. Physical space will be actual Elokus, not clothed at all by any of the garments of physicality, for the true face of physicality will then be discernible — the fact that it is actual Atzmus.

Just as this will be true of space, so too will it be the case with time. Each day will be illuminated by the real revelation appropriate to that day. When Mashiach comes, the divine utterance besish’ah lachodesh (“on the ninth of the month,”63 referring to the eve of Yom Kippur) will illuminate its day exactly as it did when it proceeded from the mouth of the Holy One, blessed be He. Just as in relation to space and to one’s own corporeality, one will be able to see the Word of G‑d which constantly brings them into being and gives them life,64 so too will one be able to see the Word of G‑d that brings time into being and gives it life.

The era of Mashiach, then, will be the time of the realization of the verse, “And the glory of G‑d shall be revealed, and together all flesh shall see that the mouth of G‑d has spoken.”65 That is to say, the Word of G‑d will be visible in space and in time.

When Mashiach comes, everyone will possess true perception, and whatever one sees one will understand — and truly understand, with the truth of the soul. Hence everyone will perceive the divine utterance, besish’ah lachodesh (“on the ninth of the month”),66 as it exists in its absolute essence.

My father concluded: In that era, when Mashiach comes, people will start hankering after the bygone days of galus. It is then that they will start feeling regret for not having devoted themselves to avodah; it is then that people will feel anguish over their lack of avodah. As for now, during the era of galus, these are the days of avodah — to prepare oneself for the Coming of Mashiach.

Straight after the early midday meal the light and joyful mood would change, and a few minutes past twelve my father would start readying himself for Minchah. This preparation consisted of Tehillim, which he read in a voice of hushed entreaty that would grip the innermost depths of your heart. Standing outside his door and listening to how he read Tehillim you would soak in tears. Here, so it seemed, a sheliach tzibbur for the whole House of Israel was closeted in his sanctuary, begging for mercy for an entire people.

This reading of Tehillim would usually take about one-and-a-half or two hours, after which came the avodah of the Minchah67 prayers, which also took a couple of hours. All in all, the several hours from midday until after the Kol Nidrei service were marked by a spirit of stern self-scrutiny.68

So it was, then, that the first half of the day of erev Yom Kippur was a time of Yom-Tov and joy, while the avodah of the second half of the day was marked by tense and visible awe.

24. Erev Pesach in Lubavitch – intense, and sweet

On the morning of erev Pesach my father would rise no later than three. After putting on his tefillin, before Shacharis, he would hold a siyyum to mark the completion of the study of a tractate. He would daven no later than five-thirty, and the time that remained until biur chametz was over was occupied with supervising and directing the removal of all leavened products and the storage of the utensils used for chametz. At noon it was time to make preparations for the baking of matzas mitzvah.

After the reading — or rather, the study — of the Order of the Pesach Sacrifice,69 which would take from over an hour to an hour-and-a half, the house was aglow with a fresh radiance: such an otherworldly bliss that everything bespoke joy. Every object on which one’s eye fell shone with its own distinctive grace.

On erev Pesach my father used to daven Minchah early. During the couple of hours between the above reading and the Maariv prayers he would usually discuss the Korban Pesach from the perspective of Kabbalah and Chassidus, indicating too what this implied in avodah. In addition, he would pass on and discuss interpretations on the Haggadah that he had heard from my grandfather.70

The spirit of tranquil pleasure that pervaded the house on erev Pesach after the study of the Pesach Sacrifice was not only a preparation for a Yom-Tov; rather, it was in itself an actual Yom-Tov, for this was the kind of joy that proceeds from positive thinking about the greatest and best hopes for the Coming of Mashiach.

Mashiach is just around the corner!71 The Beis HaMikdash is being built, we are offering the Korban Pesach, and we are occupied with it with such delight!

The delight of erev Pesach was different to the spirit of Simchas Torah or Yud-Tes Kislev. The mood of erev Pesach was one of tranquil pleasure, delight, and good spirits.

The Night of Watchfulness72 sprouted forth from every corner; the aroma of redemption could be felt on all sides; there seemed to be something aristocratic about our present situation. Wait, wait! In just another little moment something is going to happen that only we Jews have, something that is ours alone.

Within an hour, within half an hour, the air will resonate with “the voice of G‑d striking flames of fire,”73 for it is “a night of watching unto G‑d,... of watching over all the Children of Israel throughout their generations,” when all the Jews of the whole world will unite in one thought, word and deed — to fulfill in exultation the mitzvah of recounting the Exodus from Egypt, [beginning with the phrase, Avadim hayinu].74

Elated with joy and free from care, we would go to Maariv. It was a pleasure of the soul to see the packed crowd of worshipers. True, all faces were worn with toil from the strenuous preparations for the festival — but everyone was in high spirits and radiant, and everyone was dressed in clean clothes. The walls and ceiling, freshly whitewashed, sparkled. No one spoke: everyone was waiting for the buoyant melody of Shir HaMaalos75 that would open the Maariv prayers.

A little later, when the praises of Hallel76 began, the many-throated voices of that congregation broke forth in tempestuous joy, with a beauty all their own. And from one song of praise to the next, the voices of the worshipers gain in intensity and certainty. When we reach the verse that says, Hodu LaShem ki tov — “Praise G‑d for He is good,”77 it is everyone’s heart that speaks out. You heard such a “Praise Him!”78 that choirs of angels are put to shame.

Voices are now subdued for Min hameitzar — “From out of distress I called to G‑d.”79 But the stillness is soon shattered by the thundering plea: Ana HaShem hoshiah na — “We implore You, G‑d, deliver us! We implore You, G‑d, grant us success!”80

And the prayers of noble awe are brought to a close with greetings of Gut Yom-Tov! that spring from the warmth of ahavas Yisrael.

How loving and cordial is that Gut Yom-Tov as it is heard among our brethren — and how beautiful it was in years gone by!

25. The Seder experience

The full delight of Yom-Tov was experienced at the Sedarim — especially the Seder of the second night, when we were less limited in time than on the first night.81

My great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, once told my grandmother82 that the Seder table should be set with all of one’s silver and gold utensils, to commemorate the “great treasure” with which our forefathers left Egypt, and that this should be done openly, for Seder night is “a night of watching.”83

For a start there was the physical charm84 of the numerous silver candlesticks with their candles that stood on the tables together with various other vessels of silver and gold, and the long table surrounded by family, relatives, and guests of venerable visage. Then, on the spiritual side of physicality,85 there were the ceremonial objects that had been handed down in the family by the Rebbeim, our forebears — the Alter Rebbe, the Mitteler Rebbe, my great-grandfather, and my grandfather. Then, on the physical side of the spiritual world,86 there was that beautiful face — a Holy of Holies, suffused with wondrous joy — and that sweet voice that read out the Haggadah.87 And transcending all, on the spiritual side of the spiritual world,88 stood my father’s explanations of the phrases and verses of the Haggadah.

Of the 30 years in which I was privileged to be together with my father89 in this world — I say 30, because I am counting only from 5650 (1890)90 — it was my privilege to spend Pesach with him 28 times. (On two occasions, 5661 (1901) and 5667 (1907), I was for various reasons alone.) And in the course of those 28 years I heard numerous maamarim and expositions relating to the Haggadah.

With my father everything followed a certain order, and this was true too of the way in which he conducted the Seder. Before arranging the three matzos mitzvah, and again before arranging the Seder Plate and reading the Haggadah, he would consult the Siddur of the AriZal that lay on the table. He would read the Haggadah out of a Siddur Torah Or91 (Vilna, 5649/1889), while on the table next to him lay the Siddur with the kavanos of the AriZal (Korets, 5554/1794), out of which my great-grandfather92 used to daven throughout the year.

The first Seder used to start at about eight, and the Haggadah would be read and discussed until 10:30. By eleven my father was making haste to perform the mitzvos of eating the kazayis of matzah and maror, and then korech, each item being an avodah with a beauty of its own.

Many paths in avodah could be learned by closely observing how my father drank the Four Cups, or ate the kazayis of matzah and maror. In all of these avodos one could see that the physicality of the body was of no account. The body was no more than an agent for executing the will of the soul. Moreover, everything was carried out with such a tranquil deliberateness that it cast a deference and awe over everyone around — and a deepseated love as well.

My father’s holy and visibly joyous countenance, and the droplets of tears meandering down his face as he ate the maror, both seemed to transcend the usual state of human nature. And in this was reflected the whole loftiness and beauty of the dominion of Form over Matter.

26. Prerequisites to comprehension

The Alter Rebbe explains the statement that haavos hein hein haMerkavah— “The Patriarchs themselves constitute the Chariot,”93 by saying that all their organs were holy and detached from mundane matters. A chariot is subjugated to its driver. Because the Patriarchs were separated from matters of This World, their body was subjugated to their neshamah, to their divine soul.

Being holy and detached from mundane matters entails relinquishing one’s hold on This World — not desiring it, and taking such steps as will distance oneself from it. Such was the path in divine service of the fathers of the Tribes, who chose solitude for themselves so that worldly considerations should not distract them.94

This path, to be sure, is a lofty one. The ability to resign oneself from This World and to make every endeavor to shake oneself loose from mundane affairs certainly indicates a high level of attainment. Those who practice this may accordingly be termed baalei madreigah (lit., “men of [high] standing”), and through this avodah they become baalei tzurah (lit., “men of [refined] appearance”), i.e., baalei nefesh (lit., “men who have a [perceptible] soul”) in a high degree.

Now, everything in the world has its own way of being set up — the handles, so to speak, by which it may be approached. A vessel, for example, has a handle by which it can be grasped. So too a concept has its “handles,” through which it too may be grasped. And solitude is one — and only one — of the several “handles” of intellect. These follow a certain order, and solitude, though not the first in importance, is chronologically the first, because it paves the way for the other — and more important — “handles” of intellect.

I once heard from a chassid called R. Yisrael Nachman HaKohen the Meshares95 that when he was a zitzer in the yeshivah of the tzaddik R. Hillel, the latter was asked a certain question at a farbrengen by an elder chassid whom he particularly respected, and who was known as R. Avraham Yosef der Shosek (“the Silent”).96 The question was, why did R. Hillel use a dipper with three handles when washing his hands for netilas yadayim, and R. Hillel had answered: “As is known, the concept on which one should concentrate97 during netilas yadayim is the drawing down of the light of intellectual perception (mochin) into one’s emotive attributes (middos). Water represents Chochmah, and I once heard from the [Mitteler] Rebbe that grasping the initial flash (or consciousness) of intellect98 takes place by means of three “handles”: solitude, profound contemplation, and deliberateness;99 and this flash is invested in the intellect100 in three stages: first it appears as a point, then it radiates light, and then it gives life.”101

Indeed, we see this in our own experience. In order to approach intellect and to grasp a concept, one requisite handle is solitude, for intellect by definition resides only in a domain that is exclusively its own. As to the vessel itself, however, the real vessel for intellect is bittul, self-effacement. And bittul entails not only foregoing things of This World, but in addition foregoing one’s own self— attaining a level at which the intellect becomes one’s self.

This, then, is the direction to be taken in avodah, even if one seeks to attain no more than the comprehension of a mortal concept. That is to say, that if one seeks to secure the comprehension of a mortal concept, this too is possible only if one surrenders oneself to it, for thinking demands complete possession, that all of one’s faculties and senses be subject to it.

This utter devotion of one’s faculties and senses to the grasping of a particular concept has two sides to it. On the one hand, those faculties that advance this goal each need to fulfill their function; on the other hand, those faculties and senses whose function is unconnected with the attainment of this goal need to be as dormant as if they were nonexistent, in order that they should not distract. And this is where solitude comes in, for it facilitates both the eclipse of the faculties that need to be absent, and the revelation of those faculties and senses that promote the comprehension of the desired concept.

27. The pros and cons of solitude

No matter how lofty the avodah of solitude may be, it has a notable disadvantage that outweighs all of its virtues: it causes a person to be torn away from the world.

True indeed, by means of solitude one attains the highest levels of haskalah. One moves to a world that is all good, a world in which Heaven and earth, mountains and rivers, trees and grass, birds of all kinds, and the varied works of the Creator, all proclaim in their own way, Mah rabu maasecha, HaShem — “How manifold are Your works, O G‑d!”102 to the point that one arrives at an understanding of the exclamation, Mah gadlu maasecha — “How great are Your works!”103 And from this one begins to yearn for higher levels of perception, arriving too at a certain level of klos hanefesh, expiry of the soul out of sheer love for the Creator.

True it is, that the genuine seeker of solitude advances by this means to the highest levels of haskalah, his thoughts soaring unencumbered throughout the loftiest worlds. With his spiritual faculties and senses, with his whole being, with his entire self he is utterly devoted to the highest of things, to the point that he becomes completely drawn into the loftiness and the holiness in which his thoughts are occupied.

However, all of this is not the divine intention underlying the descent of the soul to one’s body, and the creation of the world at large. No matter how lofty hisbodedus (“solitude”) may be, it is not the intention that underlies the descent of the soul to one’s body.

Before this descent, when it was in the storehouse of souls, the soul had already experienced solitude, and had seen sights more beautiful than one sees in This World. Here one sees creatures with bodies; there one sees Divinity. It follows that when the soul was sent down from that treasure-house to This World, this must have been for a specific purpose — and that purpose cannot be realized through living in solitude.

Now, our Master the Baal Shem Tov lived in solitude for many years. He was in a world that was all good, all light. He studied under Achiyah HaShiloni,104 saw things from one end of the world to the other,105 heard the conversation of creatures and palm-trees, walked about in celestial worlds — and was very reluctant to take his leave of the world of solitude.

From the letters that R. Adam Baal Shem wrote the Baal Shem Tov,106 in which he compelled him to reveal himself [as a tzaddik], two things are apparent — the virtue and the greatness of solitude, of being separate from the world, and the loftiness and the necessity of revelation, of living in the world.

We, who live in the seventh generation after the Baal Shem Tov, can see the palpable difference between solitude and revelation. Consider how many hidden tzaddikim and Masters of the Name there were until the time of the Baal Shem Tov. R. Yoel Baal Shem, R. Adam Baal Shem, R. Mordechai the Nistar, R. Kehos the Nistar, — each of them accomplished great things in his generation, both by bringing salvation and healing to individuals and by bringing salvation and blessing to communities. Likewise, before he was revealed, the Baal Shem Tov wrought mighty deeds unperceived. These, however, were all the revelations of a tzaddik in solitude, not the revelations of a tzaddik in a state of revelation. But when the Baal Shem Tov revealed himself there began a state of affairs in which light was revealed, its accompanying avodah characterized by order and leadership.

Among my notes of the year 5663 (1903) there is a record of a talk of my father’s on Shabbos Chazon, which fell that year on the eve of Tish’ah BeAv,107 at the last meal before the fast. The talk, addressed to myself and to R. Yitzchak Gershon the Melamed, was a long and wonderful discussion of the generation of the Baal Shem Tov. We’ll talk about it one day, with G‑d’s help. It is a subject that deserves a special niche of its own, not the kind of thing to be mentioned in passing. It is a talk both profound and seminal, rich in haskalah, and amply instructive as to the ways in which avodah should be tackled.

28. Avraham Avinu / Moshe Rabbeinu

Solitude and revelation, then, are two distinct paths in avodah, each of which has a virtue and a drawback. The virtue of hisbodedus is that it serves as a handle for intellect; its drawback is that through such a kind of avodah the divine intention of sifting and refining the world108 is not realized. The virtue of hisgalus is that it causes light to be revealed in the world; its drawback is that the initial revelation sears and shatters the world.

“Praise G‑d for He is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting”109 — for the Almighty had compassion on His holy people, His sons and His inheritance, and arranged circumstances in such a way that the Baal Shem Tov should become revealed. Moreover, He saw to it that a new path in avodah should thereby become revealed through him, a path that would combine the advantages both of hisbodedus and of hisgalus.

The roots of this subject go back to ancient times — to the respective generations of Avraham Avinu and Moshe Rabbeinu. Both were generations of light and of revelation, yet they are essentially different.

“Until Avraham the world was conducted in darkness; Avraham appeared, and light began to appear.”110 Until the time of Avraham there had also been great tzaddikim,111 but in general the light that was then revealed was above hisyashvus; that is to say, forces of a different order would have been needed if this light were to be drawn down and (so to speak) settled in the universe.

This we see in a statement of the Gemara. “It was taught in the school of Eliyahu: ‘The world will last for six thousand years — two thousand years of Tohu (“chaos”), two thousand years of Torah, and two thousand years of the Days of Mashiach.’112 Although during the two thousand years of Tohu there were revelations from on high to tzaddikim of stature, we see that those revelations are nevertheless classified as the light of Tohu — and in the world of Tikkun,113 the light of Tohu is called darkness.

Avraham Avinu lived at the beginning of the two thousand years of Torah,114 so light began to appear, for Torah is a radiating light. But this is the light of hisbodedus, a light without order — the outpouring of lovingkindness on all comers, turning everyone into servants of G‑d — for this is a light that transcends vessels and that can have no relation with them.

The generation of Moshe Rabbeinu, however, is quite a different matter. Moshe Rabbeinu represents the Chochmah of the world of Atzilus. Chochmah also transcends actual (i.e., independently existent) vessels, for they are at the level of Binah. Nevertheless, though Chochmah transcends keilim, it is a light that comes down and (so to speak) settles in the confines of vessels.115 Indeed, even the highest level of Chochmah can be held in some way by a vessel.

We observe in our own experience that when someone beholds an exceedingly beautiful picture or hears a wise saying of rich profundity he can become so enthralled by the experience that he can lose his tongue, as it were. He can find no words nor means of expression. He is filled to overflowing — with light.

When a person studies his portion of Chumash day by day, and along comes the ordinary workaday Wednesday of Parshas Shmos,116 and he studies the passage beginning, “And Moshe used to pasture...,” and ending, “This is My Name forever, and this is My remembrance from generation to generation,”117 and when with his mind’s eye he closely examines the theme that underlies this passage, he can then have some inkling of the question at issue in the spiritual tussle between the Baal Shem Tov and R. Adam Baal Shem over the subject of hisgalus, self-revelation.

29. Turning aside and coming nearer

The Baal Shem Tov, as we have seen, did not want to reveal himself. In this we may discern two trends — a reluctance to bid farewell to the isolated world of hisbodedus, and a reluctance to join in the world of revelation. For a long time he wrestled with R. Adam Baal Shem and evaded acceding to his demand — until his Rebbe, Achiyah HaShiloni, assured him that only by revealing himself would he secure the wondrous advantage of solitude; in other words, that through his revelation the virtue of hisbodedus and the virtue of hisgalus would unite.

From the above-quoted phrase, “And Moshe used to pasture,” we see that Moshe Rabbeinu chose to be a shepherd in order to be able to live a life of solitude. As we have seen, the great advantage of solitude is that it serves as a “handle” to contemplation, and in fact it was when he was in that state that the divine light was revealed to him.

When he beheld this light he said to himself: “I shall turn aside and see this great sight,”118 and Rashi comments, “I shall turn aside from here to come nearer there.”

On this aspiration — to turn aside from here to come nearer there — hangs the whole of humanity; in this aspiration lies the whole of avodah, and most particularly the avodah of the misboded, of him who serves in solitude. For with this aspiration he climbs ever higher, never satisfied with his present rung. This aspiration of his pours forth in two directions — in an urge to “turn aside from here” and in an urge to “come nearer there.”

It is an all-encompassing aspiration — not the inner content of some particular situation, but the inner content of a universal situation: it expresses the highest level of humanity in general, and of avodah in particular. It signifies a yearning, opening up new sources that lend strength to one’s faculties and senses, so that one becomes an ever-flowing wellspring, a river that never ceases.

This aspiration exists both in relation to haskalah and to avodah. It is the peak of each, enabling one to perfect the haskalah of the avodah in which he is presently laboring.

In haskalah this aspiration finds expression in intellectual sharpness. Thus we observe that one who is gifted in this way handles concepts by constantly climbing and clambering through them with the greatest acuity. No sooner has a proposition presented itself in his mind than it is thrust aside by a more closely-argued proposition — and in this manner such a person climbs higher and higher. All these propositions and concepts constitute the pure essence of haskalah. They are the flashes of ko’ach hamaskil, the superconscious origin of intellect that pours forth perceptive ideas. These arguments are expressions of the intellective soul,119 and through the exercise of intellectual sharpness one arrives at the perfection of haskalah.

30. Unlacing one’s mental shoelaces

Only a misboded can arrive at a level such as the perfection of haskalah. Only one who of his own accord forgoes mundane matters and harnesses his spiritual faculties and senses to intellectual activity can aspire to the highest perfection of haskalah.

When Moshe Rabbeinu was a shepherd he was at the highest level that a misboded can attain. And, as we have seen, as soon as he beheld the divine light he said: “I shall turn aside and see”; that is to say, “I shall turn aside from here to come nearer there” — this being the aspiration of a misboded.

To this he received a reply from Above: “Remove your shoes from your feet.”120

True enough, the avodah of a misboded is something lofty — but there is something higher than it. And that higher level of avodah also contains the kernel of the aspiration, “I shall turn aside from here to come nearer there.” However, in order to arrive at this aspiration as it is experienced at the higher level of avodah, there is a prerequisite, namely, “Remove your shoes from your feet.” This signifies the avodah of being able to divest oneself of the dictates of one’s reason,121 and subjugating oneself to that which transcends reason.

In the above-mentioned passage concerning Moshe Rabbeinu we see his path in avodah. First there is a revelation from Above, in which the Almighty tells him that He is the G‑d of Avraham, of Yitzchak, and of Yaakov. Until this point his path has followed the inner direction of hisbodedus; from this point on, a new path in avodah will have to begin. Moshe Rabbeinu does not want to take leave of the world of hisbodedus, nor does he want to encounter the world of hisgalus, of self-revelation. And then a certain amount of bargaining goes on, until the Almighty reveals to him the teaching hidden in the verse, “This is My Name forever, and this is My remembrance from generation to generation.”122 In other words, G‑d reveals to him the secret of beirurim, which is the divine intention underlying the creation of the world — that the tasks of beirurim can be realized only through the avodah of hisgalus, of self-revelation.

And indeed, through the self-revelation of Moshe Rabbeinu we were privileged to be given the Torah — and through the Torah and its mitzvos one sifts and refines the world. Likewise, through the self-revelation of the Baal Shem Tov we were granted the revelation of the pnimiyus of the Torah, the innermost levels of the Torah.

That is to say, that through the study of the Torah123 and the fulfillment of the mitzvos one readies the world in such a way that materiality should become a vessel for G‑dliness; and through the pnimiyus of the Torah — the study of Chassidus, and being occupied with Chassidus — one draws down the revelation of G‑dliness in This World.

The teachings of the Baal Shem Tov thus combine both advantages — the virtue of hisbodedus and the virtue of hisgalus, for they are a “handle” making possible the revelation of the essential light of hisgalus in such a way that it should find expression in one’s intellectual faculties.

31. The Maggid’s disciples branch out

We lack the brain to understand — and the strength to give praise for — the mighty gift that the Almighty bestowed upon us, Chabad chassidim, with the revelation of our great mentor and Rebbe,124 that giant among giants, who raised aloft the yoke of the avodah of Chassidus.

Speaking of the diversity of Torah teachings, the Sages discuss the verse, “They were [all] given by one shepherd.”125 All of the disciples126 received the teachings of the Maggid of Mezritch, but each of them opened a distinctive gate and paved a public road so that the simple multitudes of our people should be enabled to arrive at the gate of Heaven.

In the years from 5628 (1868) to 5632 (1872), my teacher the Rashbatz was an emissary of the Rebbe Maharash in the towns of the Ukraine.127 It once happened that when he was in Kremenchug, one of the people who came to hear him repeating a maamar was a prominent and learned chassid of Volhynia called R. Aharon.

In honor of the Kiddush that was held at midday on Shabbos all the dignitaries of the chassidic community of the town assembled. Thus it was that at that farbrengen there sat some of the well-known maskilim among the Chabad chassidim, such as R. Dov Masayev and R. Chaim Dov Vilenski, as well as some notable chassidim of Volhynian stock. In the course of the table talk some of the latter chassidim commented that Volhynia and the surrounding regions were the home of the Baal Shem Tov, as well as of the Maggid and his outstanding disciples, while in Lithuania there was no Rebbe apart from the Alter Rebbe and his successors.

Now all those present were men deeply steeped in the teachings of Chassidus, and men who engaged earnestly in avodah.128 And though the two parties were divided in their views, and each was a zealous advocate of his own tradition, they were nevertheless faithful friends, each side standing in respectful awe of the other’s Rebbe. Both the Chabad chassidim on the one hand, and the Volhynian and Polish chassidim on the other, were familiar with the vort of the well-known chassid R. Binyamin Kletzker, “Pan to pan”129 (“The master’s a master — but he’s not mine”).

When the tzaddik R. Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, author of Pri HaAretz, set out for Eretz Yisrael, his fellow-disciples of the Maggid chose the Alter Rebbe as their leader in the all-embracing question of how they should relate to those who opposed the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and his disciple, the Maggid.

In the year 5542 (1782) or 5543 (1783), an assembly of the disciples, the tzaddikim of Volhynia, was called. There a certain resolution was decided upon, which proposed means of casting off the exceedingly harsh edicts that had been issued in Vilna.130 Since for a certain reason the Alter Rebbe was not present, the participants delegated two of their number to visit him and inform him of their resolution. Accordingly, the tzaddik R. Shlomo of Karlin and the tzaddik R. Wolf of Zhitomir made the journey to Liozna in order to ask the Alter Rebbe to add his name to the assembly’s proposal.

That resolution, the prolonged disputation between the two emissaries in the Alter Rebbe’s study, and the very severe expressions that R. Shlomo addressed to the Alter Rebbe, — together these constitute a matter of some importance, and certainly not a story to be told in passing. So we will leave these points for now, and resume with what concerns us.

32. In the company of R. Shlomo of Karlin

Following that visit, R. Ze’ev Wolf of Zhitomir remained in Liozna for almost three months. A number of stories of his stay there, told by the Mitteler Rebbe, have been preserved. R. Shlomo, however, left at once.

When he was about to set out, the Alter Rebbe sent several of his scholarly chassidim who studied in Cheder Beis to see him on his way. One of them was R. Binyamin Kletzker. On the way he and his colleagues attended to R. Shlomo’s every need with the greatest respect. R. Shlomo of course understood that they were motivated not only by their esteem for him, but more particularly by an explicit instruction from their Rebbe. As they traveled he discussed with them divrei Torah — the revealed Law, Kabbalah, philosophical speculation131 and Chassidus — and was most impressed with the depth of their scholarship.

His destination was Beshenkovitz, and the party of young men intended to accompany him part of the way there, as far as Vitebsk. As they arrived there R. Shlomo turned to R. Binyamin and said that if he would agree to continue with him as far as Beshenkovitz, he would be most grateful. R. Binyamin, as is well known, was a man with a rich soul and a profound intellect. He spent a couple of days in Vitebsk and decided to accompany R. Shlomo to Beshenkovitz.

On their way there R. Shlomo asked the wagon-driver to draw rein in a certain field, for it was time for Minchah. He climbed down, but could find no water with which to wash his hands before praying. He climbed up again, and sat for a while in the wordless ecstasy of dveikus. Suddenly the horses began to gallop along some side track, and no one could stop them. Across fields and hills and valleys they galloped — until they reached a stream. R. Shlomo smiled, climbed down, washed his hands, and said the Minchah prayers.

Though R. Binyamin Kletzker felt himself overwhelmed by the fiery ardor and the ecstatic enthusiasm of R. Shlomo’s davenen, he nevertheless found it appealing.

When the tzaddik took his seat again, the wagon-driver said that since this region was utterly unknown to him he had no idea which direction to take. R. Shlomo thereupon told him to allow the horses to choose their own direction. On they galloped until they reached a highway. Arriving at an inn R. Shlomo gave the order to stop, and they climbed down. There they prayed Maariv, and the midnight service of Tikkun Chatzos, and when morning came, the Shacharis prayers. Resuming their journey, they arrived in Beshenkovitz in time for Minchah.

33. The Baal Shem Tov’s varying disciples

This was a Thursday, and by this stage it was quite out of the question for R. Binyamin to return to his Rebbe in Liozna in time for Shabbos. He therefore stayed in Beshenkovitz, where he encountered many fellow chassidim of the Alter Rebbe. When they saw how their Rebbe held R. Shlomo in such esteem that he had sent scholars as revered as R. Binyamin, who was by now well known, to accompany him on his journey, they too began to like and honor the visiting tzaddik more than they had previously done.

In the days when R. Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk was still in Horodok, R. Shlomo of Karlin used to visit various towns in the Vitebsk region, such as Beshenkovitz, Tchashnik and Liepli, spending some time in each. At the meeting that was held before R. Menachem of Vitebsk and R. Avraham of Kalisk left Russia for Eretz Yisrael, the other disciples of the Maggid divided up amongst themselves their respective spheres of influence in the dissemination of the teachings of Chassidus. In the course of this discussion, the Alter Rebbe was allotted Lithuania and White Russia (including the regions of Mohilev and Vitebsk). The disciples, however, had allowed special permission to R. Shlomo of Karlin to visit the three above-mentioned towns in the Vitebsk region.

Some time later R. Shlomo wanted to reside in Beshenkovitz, but he first wanted the sanction of the Alter Rebbe for the move. The Alter Rebbe made his consent contingent on three conditions. Firstly, R. Shlomo was not to speak lightly of those who devoted themselves to the assiduous study of the Talmud and the Halachah — the revealed levels of the Torah; secondly, he was likewise not to speak disparagingly of those who were endowed by nature with the fear of G‑d; thirdly, he would inculcate his own chassidim and disciples with a sense of obligation to do their own toil in the service of G‑d — with an exertion of the flesh and of the spirit, with intellectual endeavor and with prayer, the service of the heart — as opposed to the approach which demands of the individual chassid only that he should have faith in his Rebbe’s ability to elevate him spiritually.

This, after all, is the basic difference between the Chassidus of Volhynia and Poland — and Chabad Chassidus, for this school of thought founded by the Alter Rebbe demands of each individual chassid (in keeping with his ability) prolonged intellectual exertion directed at attaining some grasp of Divinity. Moreover, so intensely should he become united with the concept under contemplation that it should be felt in his heart, the emotive experience of the love and fear of G‑d having been generated by intellectual effort.

Thus it was that though R. Shlomo was prepared to accept the first two conditions he could not agree to the third, for he taught that those who are bound up with a tzaddik are raised up by his efforts in divine service. The task of such chassidim, therefore, is only to be enthusiastic in the practical observance of the Torah and its mitzvos, and to maintain their bond with the tzaddik.

In support of his approach R. Shlomo was fond of quoting the verse, “And do not rely on your own understanding,”132 which he saw as an admonition that one should not engage in that which cannot be grasped. His other favorite verse was, tzaddik be’emunaso yichyeh — “And a tzaddik lives with his faith.”133 [This he interpreted on the non-literal level of derush, treating the verb (יִחְיֶה) as if it were in the causative mood (יְחַיֶּה). Hence:] For R. Shlomo this verse came to mean that through his faith, and by cleaving to G‑d, the tzaddik indeed gives life134 to all those who are bound to him.

34. “The master’s a master — but he’s not mine”

For two whole days after Shabbos R. Binyamin walked around like one in a daze, from all that he had seen and heard and sensed in R. Shlomo’s divine service. It even occurred to him that he should stay on and spend some time in his company. When he finally entered his study in order to take his leave, R. Shlomo spoke to him for a few hours, entreating him to stay with him. He promised that he would reveal to him the most wondrous mysteries of the universe, and finally even told him that through his staying on, his host would come closer to the Alter Rebbe’s teachings. Moreover, he promised that he would gather around him a circle of disciples who would be worthy of his teaching.

R. Binyamin listened quietly to everything he said. When it came to giving his reply, he did so by quoting a Ukrainian folk-rhyme135 (for R. Shlomo too would often flavor his conversation with folk adages in Ukrainian):

“The master’s a master — but he’s not mine;

The servant’s a servant — but he’s not thine!”

And he returned to his Rebbe in Liozna.

R. Binyamin’s reply became a guidepost for real chassidim. Every chassid who was bound to his Rebbe knew that his friend’s Rebbe was a master — but not his. And this approach strengthened chassidic conduct as a whole.

In the course of the above-mentioned farbrengen in Kremenchug,136 when the elder chassid called R. Aharon began to hand out points for aristocracy,137 boasting that Volhynia had many more tzaddikim to its credit than Lithuania, my teacher the Rashbatz replied: “Linen is made out of flax, and flax grows in fields — in whatever fields Divine Providence ordains that it should grow. Without flax one cannot produce linen, but there are various ways of doing this. The best work comes from abroad — from Holland, because there they have the advanced machines that brush all the impurities out of the flax, which they then spin into the finest linen. Over there, where the big machines are, there are people who know the real worth of flax, and can tell which fibers can produce the finest, cleanest, strongest linen.”138

My teacher the Rashbatz did not like spelling out the moral of every story. For every topic he would produce a parable that was so subtly and precisely apt that the moral was self-evident.

35. Abstract terms in the esoteric reaches of Chassidus

About a hundred years passed from the year in which the Alter Rebbe began to reveal his teachings in Chassidus until the year in which my father began to study Chassidus — 5633 (1873).139 And in the course of that century the teachings of Chabad Chassidus were further revealed by the Rebbeim of the successive generations in an orderly progression.

For ten years during the lifetime of my grandfather the Rebbe Maharash — from 5633 (1873) to 5643 (1883) — my father studied Chassidus and labored in its avodah. Manuscripts in his own hand are extant from the year 5635 (1875), when he was 14 years old, onwards — notes of maamarim that he had heard from my grandfather. Beginning in the following year, quite a number of maamarim bear notes of his own explanations, as well as lists of questions that he had asked my grandfather together with their respective answers, and notes of sessions of yechidus.

There is a distinctive flavor of vitality in my father’s own maamarim of the early years, 5636 (1876) and 5637 (1877). Their theme is avodah. Every topic touched upon is seeped with a feel for the awe of Heaven; in every word there is an echo of the service of the heart.

Once when I was strolling with my father in Marienbad, in the summer of 5668 (1908), he told me that about a year before his bar-mitzvah he asked my grandfather how one should go about one’s studies if one seeks to ensure that they will find practical application in one’s life.140

When my grandfather had answered his question, he resolved to study all those laws of Orach Chaim141 that entail actual activity and to thoroughly accustom his body to them, so that of itself his body would be habituated to observing them. Thus, concerning the prayer of Modim,142 it is written that “It… (the head) bowed spontaneously.”143

On that occasion my father devoted a profound and scholarly talk to explaining the difference between the subjugation of the spiritual faculties (kochos) and the subjugation of the senses (chushim). This led him to a differentiation between the essential nature of the faculties and of the senses.

Although in general terms there are ten faculties of the soul,144 three of them intellective (seichel) and seven emotive (middos), these are in fact ten categories comprising several branches, each of them in turn further and further subdivided. Likewise, although there are five senses, these too are comprehensive categories. And so it was that in the course of a four-hour stroll my father discussed the essential differences between the faculties and the senses.

At that time too my father explained in general terms the difference between ko’ach (“potential”) and yecholes (“ability”). He said that philosophers,145 using intellectual speculation, do not know where lies the demarcation between the two. In the mind of Chassidus, however, this becomes clear, for Chassidus speaks of the concept of the yecholes of Atzmus, which is higher than the yecholes of Seder Hishtalshelus. And this enables one to attain a limited understanding of the distinction between ko’ach and yecholes.

After his clarification of the difference between the faculties and the senses, my father explained that the discussion thus far had referred to their essential nature, where the term used for each is a descriptive name, shem hato’ar. However, one sometimes finds in the literature of Chassidus that the term ko’ach or chush is no more than a borrowed name (shem hamush’al), each of them borrowing the name of the other. And sometimes either of those terms is used as no more than a label (shem hakinui).

I spent about ten days at Marienbad at that time, and at every stroll there was a talk, the first few strolls being devoted to defining and exemplifying the distinction between the latter two kinds of names.

36. Becoming a vessel for divine intellect

These walks, which occupied almost twelve hours, served only as an introduction to the concept that the core and goal of avodah is setting oneself aside with kabbalas ol, the acceptance of the yoke of Heaven. This kabbalas ol, however, ought to be an outgrowth of one’s grasp of the divine concept that kirvas Elokim tov — “The nearness of G‑d is good”;146 not merely the sensation that li tov — lit., “The nearness of G‑d is good for me,” meaning that I find it pleasurable. For this is a sensation of self, even though the source of the pleasure is Elokus, Divinity. And though this too is a worthy level of attainment, it contains nevertheless a sensation of self. There should be only an awareness of Elokus, the sensation that it is good.

And it is this awareness that should be the product of intellectual comprehension, and explained in the terms of mortal intellect — even though the proposition that G‑d is good is axiomatic, for whomever one asks, so long as he has some degree of understanding, will immediately affirm that Elokus is good.

“True,” said my father, “one must not build on mortal intellect, for to a certain degree it is an acquired faculty, comparable to the kind of knowledge referred to in the verse, ‘An ox knows its master, and the donkey knows its master’s trough.’147 With beasts, to be sure, this knowledge is acquired through a trough, whereas with man, the creature gifted with the power of speech, his knowledge is acquired through means that reflect his higher status. Nevertheless, his understanding too is only acquired. One must not build, then, on mortal intellect. Instead, mortal intellect must be turned into a vessel fit to contain the divine intellect.’’

My father now devoted an entire profound explanation to the necessity of doing this. He discussed at length the essential natures of mortal intellect and divine intellect respectively, pointing out how distant they are from each other, how opposite they are to each other — and how they can unite, explaining in clear terms how the former can be turned into the finest vessel to contain the latter.

It is at this stage, when mortal intellect becomes a vessel for divine intellect — and in this there are dozens of ways and levels — that the mortal intellect perceives that Elokus is good. And as a direct result of this understanding a person comes to setting his own self aside, out of a spirit of kabbalas ol which is directed to harnessing his spiritual faculties and senses to the service of G‑d.

“The harnessing of one’s faculties,” said my father, “may be counted as a certain degree of a life of tranquility.148 When with the Almighty’s help one gets out of the Stagnant Vale149 of gashmiyus, of materiality; when one has come out victorious from the bodily battle, and has arrived at the point of harnessing the faculties of one’s soul; — then begins the life of tranquility. But even this is incomparable to the level at which one harnesses one’s senses, for here there is not only a life of tranquility, but a life of actual delight.”150

37. Who would be the successor of the Rebbe Maharash?

If one does not count the year of mourning, ten years elapsed from the passing of my grandfather the Rebbe Maharash, on 13 Tishrei 5643 (1882), and my father’s assumption of the leadership as Rebbe, on Rosh HaShanah 5654 (1893). Throughout this period my father could be termed a misboded, a person living in solitude. It is true that he taught Chassidus publicly, and from the year 5650 (1890) received chassidim at yechidus — but he was still behind closed doors, alone. In the course of the ten years there were varying periods, as has been recorded in various jottings, but generally speaking this was a time during which my father followed the path of hisbodedus, working on himself and within himself.

From Rosh HaShanah 5654 (1893) a new order begins, the path in avodah characterizing hisgalus, revelation — which has, as we have said above, the advantages of both paths. Now is not the time to relate the details of how my father conducted his avodah at that time — during Rosh HaShanah, the Ten Days of Penitence, Yom Kippur and Sukkos — except for a few isolated points that are relevant to our present subject.

On the first day of Sukkos my father delivered a maamar that opened with the verse, Ush’avtem mayim besason — “And you shall draw water in joy.”151 It began after Minchah and went on for a long time. Apart from the family, a number of guests from out of town joined in the festive evening meal, which turned spontaneously into a chassidisher farbrengen that lasted until daybreak. This happened several times during the nights of Chol HaMoed, as we celebrated Simchas Beis HaShoevah.

On Shemini Atzeres my father delivered a maamar that began with the words, Torah tzivah lanu Moshe — “The Torah which Moshe commanded us.”152 Again there was a farbrengen that went on right through the night. On this occasion my father spoke of the difference between repentance that stems from merirus (lit., “bitterness,” i.e., earnest contriteness), and repentance that springs from joy. At the festive midday meal of Simchas Torah the joy of those present was indescribable, as my father delivered the well-known maamar on the words, Ein aroch — “There is none comparable.”153 Indeed, this farbrengen lasted from three p.m. until midnight.

Every Shabbos that year, from Shabbos Bereishis to the month of Tammuz,154 there was a maamar, and most of those discourses were also issued in writing. Besides this, the year 5654 (1894) was one of the happiest years for the avodah of Chassidus. A considerable number of yoshvim engaged in the study of Chassidus and in “the service of the heart,” and for me personally this was the first year of inner vitality.155

At the festive meal of Simchas Torah in 5665 (1904), my father delivered a maamar which opens with the verse, Velo yada ish… — “And no man knew his burial place,”156 and which proceeds to quote the statement of the Sages that “it seemed to those on high that it was below, while it seemed to those who were below that it was on high.”157 This was one of the many maamarim hearing which one beheld light; during its delivery one breathed quite a different atmosphere.

At that farbrengen my father said: “Our Sages teach us that ‘the Almighty does not deprive any creature of its reward.’158 Just as a person may not delude oneself concerning his own failings (chisronos), so may he not delude himself concerning his own positive points (maalos). Apart from the fact that a well-ordered person ought to know what virtues he has, just as he ought to know what are his weaknesses, this knowledge affects his labors — for just as a chisaron needs to be rectified, so should a maalah bring about a benefit.

“A maalah is a step leading upwards [for in the Holy Tongue, “maalah” means both a virtue, and one step of a staircase]. If one stays put with one’s maalah, it becomes a chisaron, a drawback. When is a maalah truly a maalah? — When it leads one upwards. And apart from all that, one may not ‘deprive any creature of its reward’: every individual should know that he has a maalah.

“The years of toil have nurtured a deep-seated appreciation and a close identification with the vort of R. Shimshon Ostropolier:159 ‘Praiseworthy is isolation with people, and solitude in the midst of one’s fellows.’”

When one follows this path, and is steeped in the haskalah and avodah of Chassidus, one realizes the real intention that the Alter Rebbe and all the succeeding Rebbeim had in mind; one realizes the destiny that Chassidus ought to fulfill, both in the individual and in the whole community of Israel.