1. The DNA of every Jewish child

Our Father in Heaven refers to us, His chosen people, by various lofty titles, because any typical Jewish child, whether boy or girl, innately possesses rarely beautiful and refined characteristics which refine his or her perceptions and give rise to the noblest attributes in a Jew’s daily life.

Among Jews, as among other nations, there are individual differences: there are ordinary folk; there are intellectuals and Torah scholars; and there are those who devote their time and exertion to toiling toward the refinement of their understanding and of their character traits.

2. Looking beyond oneself

Every occasion or happy event at which Jews gather together — especially a farbrengen at which a chassidic narrative may be heard, and particularly a farbrengen whose theme is avodah — should open with a dvar malchus, a statement made by royalty. For chassidim this means repeating a Torah teaching or an inspirational directive that was first uttered by a Rebbe, a Nasi of Israel. Doing so sets up both the speaker and the listener in a stance of hiskashrus, bonding them to the Rebbe who is the originator of the teaching, and he in turn arouses Heaven’s mercies on them and on their households.

A country’s dominant concern is to guard its internal and international security and to increase its prosperity. A citizen who seeks only to improve his own material position, and thereby neglects or even prejudices the public good, is a traitor to his nation and country. And a person who does this in error, considering it the proper thing to do, is a plain fool.

In the same way, a person who thinks only of himself, and is not interested in hearing that he ought to do a real favor to a fellow Jew — in Torah, in avodah, or in the ways of Chassidus — does not know what true good is. And good of this kind can be merited only through a soul’s descent into the corporeal life of a body.

3. Why were we sent down here?

In my childhood years it was my good fortune to hear the following teaching:

The Baal Shem Tov revealed the connection between the love of G‑d, the love of the Torah and the love of a fellow Jew; the Maggid of Mezritch revealed the conceptual rationale for this connection between these three kinds of love, and also the underlying meaning of the three ways of loving — “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might”;2 and the Alter Rebbe revealed the way in which every individual Jew can, should and must actualize the three [former] kinds of love, by pointing out that loving a fellow Jew is the gate through which one enters. This is the entrance upon which is inscribed in luminous letters, “This is the gate through which one should enter.”3 People think that the unique contribution of Chassidus is merely the intellectual apprehension of Divinity. In truth, however, the entire goal of Chassidus is the fulfilling of G‑d’s intent in causing one’s soul to descend into a body.4

On a number of occasions, we have recounted the words of the Alter Rebbe to a certain eminent chassid: “You are saying everything that you need; as to what you are needed for, you say nothing.”5

With these thirteen words [in Yiddish] the Alter Rebbe aroused and elicited within that chassid a quintessential light that utterly permeated him. As the early chassidim used to express it, “It permeated him so intensely that it ignited his toenails.”

That is what is called derhern.

Hearing (hern) and sensitively apprehending (derhern) are two distinct concepts.6 Hern means hearing something tangentially and superficially — in one ear and out the other, as people say. Whatever was said simply passed through the ears, leaving no effect or trace. Derhern means that what one hears leaves an impression: one ponders over one’s own current spiritual condition, determining which character attributes are positive and which demand correction.

4. The world is seething

My revered father [the Rebbe Rashab] graciously shared with me something of his essence. He transmitted to me teachings that concern the world in general, our Jewish brethren in particular, and especially the interests and conduct of the individuals who comprise the fellowship of Chabad chassidim.

On one occasion he expressed himself in these words: “Look, I have warned you. I have made it luminously clear to you that you must be strong in all these matters. Keep in mind that it is now Friday afternoon.7 Wherever you may be, be strong in the eternal path of our forefathers, the Rebbeim.”

My father’s talks, and especially his warnings on public and individual matters, made my spirit humble and contrite.

I am quoting his holy words in order to arouse Divine mercies, as I stand here in his sanctum.

People gifted with inner sensitivity know and feel that this is a tempestuous era. “The everlasting mountains are exploding”8 and shaking. The world is seething. Of course, “do not dread9 the signs of the skies;” one has to be strong; Jews will remain intact. Nevertheless, when things are seething, “those above10 are below, and those below are above.”

Considering the material condition of the coarsely materialistic world in general and of grossly physical America in particular, one needs a vort to live with, a teaching that animates — a teaching of a Rebbe.

One of the innovations of Chassidus is that chassidim have a Rebbe: you can live with a teaching of his, a gesture of his, or a melody.

5. Knocking on the Rebbe’s door

When a chassid hears someone recounting a teaching or a gesture or a melody of a Rebbe, at that moment he becomes — with his nefesh, ruach and neshamah — bonded to the Rebbe, a mekushar of the Rebbe.

Repeating a teaching that the Rebbe once uttered or a melody that he sang, even if this is done only with the externality of one’s soul, means that one is knocking at his door. Knocking on his door means that this chassid is here and he wants to enter. No one would knock and not want to enter. No one is (G‑d forbid) so brazen as to be like that. Only superficially might one perhaps be like that — so basically it means that this individual has knocked on the Rebbe’s door.

For someone brought up in the ways of Chassidus this door knock means: “Rebbe, I am yours; I dedicate myself to you completely. It’s only that the smart little fellow,11 who is wise for evil matters12 — the Evil Inclination — is trying to fool me and ensnare me into a sack. Basically, that’s not what I want. I’m yours: I want to be as I ought to be. Rebbe, have pity on me: take me out of where I am, and set me up where I ought to be!”

It’s only lightmindedness: people don’t hear what they themselves are saying. This is no better than during davenen. People say their prayers and don’t hear what they are saying. People study Chassidus, including the subject of avodah, and don’t hear what they are saying.

However, this lack-of-avodah-deafness affects only the nefesh-ruach-neshamah-chayah,13 whereas with one’s yechidah, one hears perceptively. One should really make little perforations, so that one’s nefesh-ruach-neshamah-chayah will also hear perceptively. The passage isn’t blocked up: it’s only closed. (In fact there are also people whose passages are not only closed, but so blocked up with junk that they can’t hear.)

6. Time to wake up

It is painful to see that chassidim are not active in [the prolonged meditation entailed by] the avodah of prayer. The Chabad-Chassidus approach to the avodah of davenen is (G‑d forbid) not to be found.

The older temimim no doubt recall the holy words of my father [the Rebbe Rashab]: “Avodah begins with the Reading of Shema before retiring at night. When one does this properly, one’s sleep is altogether different. When one rises in the morning and says Modeh ani lefanecha’ — ‘I offer thanks to You...’ — and contemplates just Whom he is addressing, this is a positive beginning for [that day’s] avodah.”

Considered in terms of one’s spiritual avodah: When one does not do this Reading of Shema properly, one is always (so to speak) asleep. There are people who suffer from a medical condition in which they walk and talk and do everything in their sleep. Here, too, people daven and put on tefillin — but they are fast asleep.

It’s time to wake up.

7. Evil can’t withstand sunlight

Following a tradition handed down from his forebears, the Rebbeim, my revered father [the Rebbe Rashab] used to deliver brief teachings at certain public farbrengens.

On one such occasion he said:14 “‘The sun came out15 over the earth’: When the sun shines, the forces of evil flee. Their work can be done only in the dark.”

On another occasion he expressed it in these words: “‘The sun came out over the earth’: When the sun rises it blushes from shame, as if to say, ‘For whom am I shining? No one wants me; no one feels a need for me.’”

In today’s pervading atmosphere of avodah-frigidity, it is difficult even to imagine the deep-seated desire for avodah that the above brief teaching activated and actualized.

8. Ignore overly-pious arguments

There is no justice in the claim of some young married chassidim that the time is not yet ripe for them to engage in the chassidic avodah of davenen.

One should realize that this claim is prompted by that smart little fellow.16 He is willing to agree to everything — that a chassid study nigleh, that he study Chassidus, that he do a fellow Jew a favor, that he be a maskil, or a scholar — but not that he should engage in avodah.

“You are a liar,” he argues. “You are not really of the right standing. What makes you think you should already be engaging in avodah? That’s falsehood!”

To be sure, there are times when this argument may be true, painfully true. Nevertheless, one must answer the Evil Inclination: “Don’t speak of a blemish17 which you yourself have!”18

Chassidim at large, temimim in particular, and especially ovdim, should seriously engage in the avodah of prayer. There’s certainly no lack of talk; there should be at least a bit of action.

9. It’s time to be showered with joy

When I had the good fortune to be in Eretz Yisrael, and to be (according to the chassidic idiom there) “at the Rashbi and “at” the sages of the holy Idra, I heard people saying, “Meron19 is a happy ohel. When you come to Meron you grow stronger.”

I also heard the following: “Rashbi is a happy Rebbe. Anything that Jews leave out (G‑d forbid) in Torah and mitzvos, he has taken upon himself.”20

There is a verse that requests, “Give us joy corresponding to the days You afflicted us.”21 We have already tasted enough bitterness. As was once said, there is already a long list of “the days You afflicted us.” It’s time for the revelation.

It’s coming closer all the time, but as people proceed along the road, they get themselves soiled by all kinds of nonsense. That’s why one has to get washed and change one’s clothes.22 But we’re getting closer all the time.

[The Rebbe then asked those present to sing a deep and cheerful niggun.]

10. Sowing and planting

When my father first taught me Chassidus immediately after my bar-mitzvah, we began with the Siddur [Im Dach], and Likkutei Torah on Shir HaShirim. [Before that,] the very first maamar was the one which begins Adam Ki Yakriv,23 and which speaks of “springing away” from one’s current situation.

As I have often related, my father introduced every lesson with some narrative connected with a theme in avodah.

In Shir HaShirim we studied the maamar that begins with the words, “Shir HaShirim,” and my father discussed the difference between “sowing” and “planting;” the concept of being a baal seichel; and the elevation of the mind over the emotive attributes.24 He said that “sowing” implies that a [spiritual] “seed” is absorbed inwardly, with results that continue for generations on end.

In a brief gloss to this maamar, the Tzemach Tzedek records a teaching that he heard from the Alter Rebbe on the difference between the Egyptian exile and the present, final exile: This exile is extending over such a long period because Atzmus, G‑d’s own Essence, has to be revealed — and integrated [within the Jewish people] — by Mashiach.

May G‑d grant that we all prepare well to receive the Torah25 inwardly, so that whatever mitzvos the Torah commands us to do, we will fulfill with energetic vitality.