Chapter 30b

1. Two guests of stature

Sunday, 20 Iyar, 5656 [1896]1

2.00 p.m.

It’s about five days now that I’ve been suffering toothache, and it’s hard to talk. After great efforts I managed to get permission to join in the Shabbos meal at the home of my respected grandmother, the Rebbitzin [Rivkah].2

The meals there are always interesting, because at the table they recount episodes full of content — especially this Shabbos, when two guests of stature arrived in town, repositories of chassidic oral tradition:3 R. Avraham Abba Persohn4 and R. Shmuel HaLevi Horovitz.5

After candle-lighting and before the prayers welcoming Shabbos,6 my father, the Rebbe [Rashab], delivered a maamar of Chassidus7 based on the following teaching:8 “Once, when the world needed rain, Rashbi expounded the verse, ‘What a good and pleasant thing it is for brethren to dwell together!’ — and rain came.” My father’s discourse resumed the theme of the maamar (“To understand the significance of the anniversary of the passing9 of Rashbi...”) which he delivered last Wednesday night after Maariv at the home of my respected grandmother, the Rebbitzin [Rivkah], in “the room with the steps.”

On Friday evening, though it was almost eleven when we began the Shabbos meal, there was no haste, and it continued until 1:30 a.m. In honor of the distinguished guest, R. Abba Persohn, my former teacher R. Nissan Skoblo,10 who loved hearing chassidic traditions firsthand, joined the company at the table.

2. Lag BaOmer in early Lubavitch

The first to share recollections was the well-known chassid called R. Chanoch Hendel [Kurnitzer],11 who began as follows: “In my first year in Lubavitch, in 5604 (1844), Lag BaOmer fell on a Tuesday. Lag BaOmer was celebrated as in the early days — we would go out of town, sometimes to the plain in front of the Hanorovo estate and sometimes to a flat field in a village called Achremovo. At that time, a chassid called R. Shlomo ben R. Shimshon lived as an arendar12 on the Hanorovo estate. He had been a chassid of the Mitteler Rebbe. Achremovo was the home of an elderly arendar called R. Yosef Michael ben R. Faivish Moshe, who had been a chassid of the Alter Rebbe.

“The venue of the celebration used to be set a week or two in advance, usually by casting lots between these two traditional hosts. The winner would invite the long-term married students [of Lubavitch], together with the out-of-town guests, to join him on the day before Lag BaOmer, and after an early Minchah there was a festive meal replete with fish and meat that lasted until Maariv. In the course of the meal one of the participants would deliver from memory a maamar of Chassidus, and others would exchange chassidic stories, sing niggunim and dance. As a rule we would stay up all night and daven early with a minyan, deliberately and at length. At eleven there was a dairy meal ready, with strong drink in abundance, and from about three we would wait for the Rebbe [the Tzemach Tzedek] to arrive.

“That year, R. Yosef Michael won the lottery.

3. 400 visitors converge on Lubavitch

“From the beginning of the month of Iyar the Rebbe had again permitted his chassidim to visit Lubavitch, after having forbidden them to do so throughout the winter because of all the tribulations13 that had lasted from the beginning of MarCheshvan until close to Pesach.

“During that winter, the Rebbe had delivered maamarim only on limited occasions — on Shabbos Parshas Vayeitzei, the ninth of Kislev;14 on Yud-Tes Kislev; on Shabbos Rosh Chodesh [Teves], Shabbos Chanukah; on the twenty-fourth of Teves;15 on Shabbos Shirah; and on Purim. And even on those occasions the maamarim had been delivered in his small private minyan which included a few of the yoshvim.

“On Shabbos HaGadol, after a break that had lasted all winter, the Rebbe delivered a maamar of Chassidus (beginning with the phrase, Zos Toras HaOlah) in public. All the townsfolk [of Lubavitch] were overjoyed, and especially the yoshvim. Emissaries gave out the word that the Rebbe had again allowed chassidim to visit Lubavitch. Many already arrived in time for the first Shabbos after Pesach, Parshas Tazria-Metzora. As the news spread their numbers increased, so that for Shabbos Parshas Emor and Lag BaOmer which followed it there were about four hundred visitors,16 the most prominent among them being the distinguished R. Aizik of Homil and R. Hillel of Paritch.

“On that Shabbos Parshas Emor the Rebbe delivered three maamarim. The first, Ein Omdin LeHispalel Ela MiToch Koved Rosh, was delivered after Shacharis on Friday; the second, LeHavin Inyan Koved Rosh BaAvodah BeNefesh HaAdam, was delivered before Kabbalas Shabbos; and the third, LeHavin BeTosefes Biur: Yisrael — Li Rosh, on Shabbos before Minchah.

4. A brotherly rebuke

“The joy of that year’s Lag BaOmer celebration was doubled and trebled.

“Since the third fast [of the Behab1718 series of fasts] fell on Monday, the eve of Lag BaOmer, three celebrated rabbis — R. Nechemiah of Dubrovna,18 R. Aizik of Vitebsk,19 and R. Aizik of Homil — convened a beis din, and ruled that on this particular occasion, in view of the imminent communal celebration, those present should not complete the fast. Instead, after an early Minchah, they were to observe their well-established custom and participate in the annual festive meal.

R. Hillel of Paritch, even though he agreed with their ruling in principle, and participated with his colleagues in jointly reconstructing the newly-delivered maamarim from memory, and joined in the melodies and the dancing, nevertheless completed his fast. Only after Maariv did he break his fast with a cup of tea.

“That night, when the elder chassidim gathered around a table to farbreng together, R. Aizik of Homil complained that [his revered and beloved colleague] R. Hillel was carrying hiddurim to excess. To make his point, he borrowed the rule [concerning the anomalies that make an animal treifah] that ‘a superfluous [limb] is equivalent to a missing [limb].’20

“With bitter tears, R. Hillel begged him not to accuse him of acting wrongfully out of conceit or arrogance, G‑d forbid. R. Hillel continued thus in a spirit of agitated entreaty, but of his many words I recall only the following: ‘In the four months during which I prepared myself to enter the study of the [Mitteler] Rebbe for yechidus,21 I brought my body to the level of being good, and not only right.’ Another thing I recall: ‘It’s a pity to waste time on arguments and counter-arguments: every moment is precious.’

“One of the yoshvim, Moshe David from Avtzuh, was moved to tears by these words, and said: ‘Now I understand why the two occasions on which I saw the Rebbe at yechidus did not leave their expected mark on me — because in order to be effective, yechidus demands a preparation of actual and practical avodah.’

“Those twenty-four hours — from our arrival at the home of R. Yosef Michael at Achremovo until the Rebbe [the Tzemach Tzedek] arrived during the day of Lag BaOmer to give his blessing to the celebrations — passed like a few hours, so joyful were we from the spiritual pleasure of that time.

“The Rebbe delivered a maamar (beginning Eid HaGal HaZeh VeEidah HaMatzeivah), and after about two hours left for home.”

5. Reconstructing an old-time farbrengen

R. Abba of Tchashnik22 then related that he, too, had been present at the time.23 Moreover, among his records he had found notes24 of all four maamarim, the three delivered on Shabbos Parshas Emor and the one from Lag BaOmer. He had also found notes of a story that the Rebbe [Rashab] had told at the time about R. Feivish Moshe of Dubrovna,25 the father of [their host] R. Yosef Michael, as well as notes of the narratives and thoughts exchanged by the elder chassidim at that farbrengen on the night of Lag BaOmer.26

“Yes, yes!” exclaimed R. Chanoch Hendel Kurnitzer. “You’ve reminded me what the Rebbe [Rashab] said about R. Feivish Moshe the Yishuvnik27 — that in earlier times he had been one of the most esteemed citizens of Slutzk and among the greatest opponents of the Baal Shem Tov. Later, for a reason which remains unknown, he left Slutzk and settled in a village near Dubrovna. There he became an ardent chassid of the Baal Shem Tov, and there his only son, R. Yosef Michael, was born.”

6. The printer of Likkutei Torah is arrested

My teacher, the Rashbatz,28 recounted that 5609 (1849) was the year of the last Lag BaOmer celebration, in the field near Hanorovo, in which the Rebbe [the Tzemach Tzedek] participated. As he told it:

“That year Lag BaOmer fell on Thursday. After Shacharis on Wednesday all the yoshvim and the yeshivah students and the visitors who had come to Lubavitch for the preceding Shabbos, Parshas Acharei-Kedoshim, and who intended to remain until after Shavuos, together with the new visitors who had come from out of town for Lag BaOmer, — all of these, in response to the invitation of R. Shlomo, traveled to his home in order to celebrate Lag BaOmer according to the custom that had been observed every year since the [Mitteler] Rebbe had settled in Lubavitch in 5574 (1813).

“For us that was a day of pure jollity. The white-bearded elders danced in their talleisim ketanim, and we young yeshivah students pranced like rams, with ears and mouths open to catch every precious word from their lips.

“At about four o’clock on the afternoon of Lag BaOmer, the Rebbe [the Tzemach Tzedek] arrived, and delivered the maamar that begins, LeHavin Inyan HaKeser, SheHu Memutza Bein Ohr Ein-Sof HaMaatzil LaNe’etzalim. This discourse explains the one that begins Shechorah Ani, which he had delivered on Shabbos Parshas Acharei-Kedoshim.29 The Rebbe stayed for about three hours.

“Before he left he asked those present to sing the Alter Rebbe’s celebrated Niggun of Four Themes.30 As the chassidim sang, the Rebbe [the Tzemach Tzedek] sat with eyes closed in a state of intense dveikus, tears rolling down his cheeks. When the singing came to an end he stood up straight and said: ‘May the merit of the tzaddik whose anniversary is being marked today31 protect the commonalty of our brethren, the Children of Israel,32 and also the particular commonalty.’33

“As a spontaneous response to these words, there gushed forth from the hearts of all of us a mighty Amen!’

“His holy face showed a faint smile, and he said: Amen, may this indeed be G‑d’s will!’

“As soon as he left for home, the elder chassidim with R. Hillel at their head gathered together, and from memory reconstructed the text of the maamar that they had just heard. They wondered at the Rebbe’s instruction to sing the Alter Rebbe’s Niggun,34 and his closing words left them very anxious.

“On the Monday after Shabbos Parshas Emor a horse-borne courier brought [to the Tzemach Tzedek in Lubavitch] a letter from one of the printers in Zhitomir: On [that day] police detectives had come to investigate how many copies of Likkutei Torah had been printed and to which towns had they been sent. They stamped approximately 280 copies that they found on the premises, and delivered a warrant ordering [the printer] to report to their headquarters in Kiev on Wednesday.

“The news spread through the township in a moment. The sons of the Tzemach Tzedek went to ask him what had actually happened, because within one hour the townspeople were already circulating exaggerations and unreliable rumors.

“Early in the evening of the same day we heard from R. Asher Sofer, quoting the Maharil,35 that the Rebbe [the Tzemach Tzedek] had remarked to him and to his brother, the Rashaz:36 ‘Once a case is delayed37 overnight, the dispute falls away.’

“On Thursday evening an express courier arrived from Kiev with a letter from a magnate called Dobry who wrote that when R. Shapiro, the printer from Zhitomir, had reported on Wednesday to the police detective headquarters in Kiev, he was spoken to crudely and was arrested. On Thursday morning he had been brought before an interrogator and was returned to his cell, but early that evening he had been freed. The next day, on Friday, the secret police of Kiev wrote to their counterparts in Zhitomir instructing them to remove the marks stamped on the copies of Likkutei Torah; the matter could be considered closed.”

7. Magnetized by “the Sect”

R. Shmuel Horovitz recalled that among the elder chassidim of Denenburg and Griva there was a hoary scholar known as R. Abba’le David Iskasya.38 In the study of nigleh he was the longtime colleague of the learned R. Baruch Mordechai39 when the latter was still in Vilna, and in Chassidus he was his disciple.

R. Abba David, who was born in Polotzk, was gifted and assiduous, and advanced from one yeshivah to the next until he found his way to the yeshivah of the Gaon of Vilna, where he shone as an outstanding student. By nature he leaned towards solitude and intensive study.

For some days he lived in the shul in a suburb called Shnipishak, and then moved into the center of town. Throughout all that time not one idle word escaped his lips; he knew of nothing but conscientious study; and he made the acquaintance of no man.

“However, when it became known that the son-in-law of the head of the Rabbinical Court of [Vilna], ‘the Jerusalem of Lithuania,’ the brilliant R. Baruch Mordechai, was now loyal to the banner of ‘the Sect’ and was now at the head of the [local chassidic] movement, there erupted such a scandal that it aroused even the curiosity of R. Abba David: What lay at the root of this storm that was rocking all of Jewry and Vilna, and especially agitated its most eminent scholars?

“To cut a long story short, the more he savored the scholarly expositions of Chassidus on themes such as knowing G‑d by understanding the concept of creation ex nihilo, the more did his soul cleave to its teachings. Since he was a scholar of great standing, whom the Alter Rebbe chose to be the teacher of his grandson the Tzemach Tzedek for a full year after his bar mitzvah, he was offered numerous rabbinical posts. He refused them all because of his love of solitude, preferring to live in a village for about thirty years. And that was why the chassidim used to call him ‘Abba David Iskasya.’

“When he was about eighty years old he came to live near his son, R. Zerach, the moreh tzedek of Griva, who rented him an apartment near the shul. He spent most of his days and nights studying in the shul, and sometimes slept there.

“The chassidic communities of Denenburg and Griva treated him with reverence, since he was known to be a scholar of repute in both the revealed and esoteric planes of the Torah. Indeed, elderly chassidim testified that forty years earlier, in 5567 (1807), the Mitteler Rebbe had said: ‘Abba David’s brain is saturated with Divine intellect.’

“A chassid by the name of R. Zalman Moshe Leitzener, who for many years had known R. Abba’le David from the time he had been in Vitebsk and in a village near Nevl, and who had also met him on many occasions in Lubavitch, was amazed that he had changed his conduct — far from being a silent recluse, he was now companionable and a ready talker.”

8. The good old days

Among the events recalled by R. Abba’le David Iskasya [as transmitted at my grandmother’s Shabbos table by R. Shmuel HaLevi Horovitz40] was the celebration of Lag BaOmer in Lubavitch in 5604 (1844). This is how he described it:

“From the first year that the past [i.e., the Mitteler] Rebbe settled in Lubavitch, in 5574 (1813), he renewed the old custom of celebrating Lag BaOmer in the fields out of town. Every year there would be a light festive meal that included mashke and hard-boiled eggs, and there was singing and dancing. In the middle of the meal or at the end, the Rebbe [the Tzemach Tzedek] would arrive and deliver a maamar of Chassidus, and would then urge the elder chassidim to tell him whatever they remembered of Lag BaOmer celebrations [with his predecessors] in bygone years41 — customs, teachings, narratives. After he left, the chassidim would continue to celebrate together at the table until early evening. From the time that two chassidim — R. Shlomo ben R. Shimshon and R. Yosef Michael ben R. Faivish Moshe — settled as arendars in villages near Lubavitch, the setting for this celebration was a full festive meal.

“Early in MarCheshvan of that year a special messenger brought the chassidim of Nevl a circular letter written on the Rebbe’s instructions by his emissary, R. Yosef,42 son of the esteemed R. Yissachar Dov. The letter conveyed the Tzemach Tzedek’s directive that his chassidim should not visit Lubavitch nor write letters there, and detailed the slanders initiated by the maskilim of Vilna.

“For all of us, the chassidim of Nevl and the whole province and the whole country, that winter was a time of anguish — until the affair of the slanders was cleared up early in Nissan, and once again we were allowed to visit Lubavitch. Among the dozens of chassidim of Nevl who went there at that time were my mechutan R. Eliyahu Yosef Dig and myself and my son Yisrael.

“From the time that the above-mentioned R. Shlomo and R. Yosef Michael settled near Lubavitch, the celebrations began after Shacharis on the eve of Lag BaOmer.

“That year, Lag BaOmer fell on Monday, which was Taanis Sheni Basra [i.e., the third in the Behab series of fasts43], a public fast that most of the chassidim observed. However, three halachic authorities — R. Yitzchak Aizik of Homil, R. Yitzchak Aizik of Vitebsk, and R. Nechemiah of Dubrovna — ruled that out of deference to the community’s celebration it was permissible on that particular occasion to cut the fast short after an early Minchah. The revered chassid R. Hillel of Paritch, however, did not interrupt his fast.

“At the farbrengen that then took place, R. Yitzchak Aizik of Homil rebuked R. Hillel of Paritch for his numerous hiddurim and for his excessive vigilance. A basic principle in avodah, he argued, is that one should follow the middle path. As the medieval thinkers44 conclude, superiority is not to be sought in either extremity, even in the higher; true happiness lies only in the middle path.

“R. Yitzchak Aizik explained this principle beautifully by expounding the verse, ‘For G‑d is righteous, He loves righteousness; those who are upright shall behold His face.’45 That which is innately superior, he explained, is praiseworthy in any time, place or circumstance — but it can bring a person to descend and fall, even suddenly, for ‘the Wicked One [i.e., the Evil Inclination] beleaguers the righteous.’46 Since the middle path, by contrast, has no opposite counterpart, it leads to true happiness: it is based on one’s present condition, and is a passage which leads one to a praiseworthy level that is as strongly entrenched as an immovable tent peg.

“The above-quoted verse begins: ‘For G‑d is righteous (tzaddik), He loves righteousness.’ The infinite Ein-Sof is garbed in spiritual lights and in epithets which signify that He is vested in garments. G‑d as described by the epithet tzaddik — i.e., the infinite Ein-Sof light that is so described — loves (so to speak) acts of righteousness, which are the most highly-prized of all attributes. At the same time, however, ‘those who are upright (yashar; lit., straightforward) shall behold His face’: It is those who walk along the middle path who behold and are nourished by the innermost Divine light, for this light is revealed only after the recipient has duly prepared his vessels, the capacious vessels of the World of Tikkun.

“[In response to R. Aizik of Homil’s rebuke], R. Hillel of Paritch sought to explain that he had not been prompted by conceit or arrogance. Weeping as he spoke, he recounted the story of his life until he first came to meet his mentor, the saintly R. Mordechai of Chernobyl, and then the events through which he eventually found his place under the wings of Chabad Chassidus and its teachings.

“At fourteen he began to study Kabbalah, to accompany his prayers with the kavanos of the AriZal, and to engage in fasting and self-mortification. At eighteen he first beheld the holy light of R. Mordechai of Chernobyl; he cleaved to him and pursued the paths of Chassidus.

“In 5571 (1811) the Alter Rebbe journeyed to Vohlyn, and on his way back through the Mozir region, thousands of people gathered together to hear him at every town and village. At one of the inns on the way, some five hundred people awaited him. Among them was R. Hillel, and below are the holy words that he heard from the lips of the Alter Rebbe.”

9. Varying individuals have varying life-tasks

“The Gemara says: ‘A man should always incite his Good Inclination (yetzer tov) against his Evil Inclination (yetzer hara),47 as it is written, ‘Tremble, and do not sin.’48 If it goes away, good; if not, he should engage in Torah study, as the verse goes on to say, ‘Speak in your heart....’ If it goes away, good; if not, he should read Krias Shema, as the verse goes on to say, ‘...upon your bed.’ If it goes away, good; if not, he should remind it of the day of death, as the verse concludes, ‘...and be silent.’’

“The Mishnah teaches: ‘There are four character types (middos) among men.’49 This refers to traits and modes of conduct that are inborn.

“‘What is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours’: [On the mystical level,] this signifies a mode of avodah in which the divine soul does not become garbed within the animal soul in order to refine it; rather, it simply does not allow it to dictate any opinions or modes of conduct in ‘the little city’ [which is man], because these are exclusively mine. This is described as ‘a median characteristic’ (middah beinonis), for this is avodah at the level of beinonim.50

“‘What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine’: This signifies a mode of avodah in which the divine soul does become garbed within the animal soul in order to refine it; it harnesses the strength and power of the animal soul (as alluded to in the verse, ‘There are many harvests in the strength of an ox.’51) People whose avodah is at this level are described as am ha’aretz (lit., ‘the people of the earth’), for through their avodah they refine and purify earthy materiality.

“‘What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours’: Through the endeavors of the divine soul in refining the animal soul, the divine soul itself is upgraded. Thus, ‘What is mine is yours’ means that these labors of the divine soul — in refining the individual’s traits — benefit the animal soul; and ‘What is yours is mine’ [as in the previous paragraph, describing the level of the am ha’aretz] refers to what the divine soul gains through this avodah. The level of a chassid, however, is superior. In the words of the Zohar: ‘Who is pious52 (a chassid)? He who is benevolent (mis’chassed) towards his Creator — towards his Nest.’53 Such an individual has no thought of the benefit that his avodah will bring him. For him, ‘What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours’: his only intent is that his Creator’s intent should be fulfilled.

“‘What is yours is mine, and what is mine is mine’: If a person engages in avodah only for the sake of what his divine soul will gain from it, then even if he secures mighty ascents and salvations within his soul, the materiality of the world remains just as physical as it was. Indeed, the letters of the word רָשָׁע (lit., ‘a wicked person’) signify that [in such a person] the רַע (‘evil’) is [paradoxically] animated and sustained by the letter שׁ (‘the letter of truth’), as is known from various sources.54

“The above discussion deals only with avodah that relates to the middos, the emotive attributes. Higher than this there is a mode of avodah that relates to the middos of the intellect, and a yet higher mode of avodah relates to the intellect itself. Assuredly, the middos of the intellect belong to a level far higher than the middos of the heart. The middos of the heart become palpably excited: the heart physically experiences the emotive attributes of Chessed or Gevurah or boastfulness, or love or hatred as expressed in actual bodily trembling. Though the middos of the intellect also experience excitement, their excitation is intellectual. Nevertheless, the middos of the intellect are still incomparably inferior to the intellect itself, which knows and becomes bonded with [Divine] concepts.

“In light of the above we can understand the above-quoted teaching, ‘A man should always incite his Good Inclination against his Evil Inclination.’

Among those who serve G‑d there are likewise [as with the above-quoted ‘four character types’] four kinds of approaches. There are ovdei Havayah, servants of G‑d. These are the tzaddikim who are connected with Divinity and who study the Torah. There are baalei Torah, who are at the level of Beinonim. Then there are baalei middos, who serve G‑d with intellectually-aroused love and awe, but especially with love. Finally, there are yir’ei Elokim, those who fear Him on account of future judgment with its possible punishment by Gehinnom or by the withholding of the wondrous rewards of the World to Come.

“By nature, people often misjudge their actual spiritual standing. Hence the Sages warn: ‘An adam — a term which denotes an intellectual55 — ‘should always incite his Good Inclination against his Evil Inclination.’ Such a man should be aware that even a person who is at the level of a tzaddik needs to be constantly vigilant that the Evil Inclination should not suddenly ensnare him. For this reason, he must always incite his Good Inclination against it, and keep watch over it. Beinonim need to study Torah constantly and remain free of the Evil Inclination. The baalei middos who serve G‑d with love and awe should engage in the avodah of Krias Shema, meditating on Havayah echad (‘G‑d is one’). And ir’ei Elokim56 should serve G‑d by keeping in mind the day of death, when teshuvah is no longer of any avail, when the only remaining opportunity is hayom laasosamthis day,57 to do them [i.e., the mitzvos].’”58

10. Honest self-appraisal

[R. Abba David Iskasya now resumed his account of what R. Hillel of Paritch had said back in 1844:]

“One of the venerable chassidim who accompanied the [Alter] Rebbe on that journey [in 1811], my distinguished mentor R. Zalman Zezmer, clarified for me both the principles and the details of the above discourse. He discussed how a man may erringly consider himself to be at a lofty spiritual level, though when he examines all the details of his dispositions and attributes and meditates upon them, he recognizes his failings. This explains the sequence of stages within the above teaching of the Sages: ‘An adam’ — a man who thinks — ‘should always incite his Good Inclination against his Evil Inclination.’ A person who is really at this level knows himself: he knows that he is not at the level of a tzaddik nor at the level of a Beinoni nor at the level of one who serves G‑d with intellectually-aroused love and awe. He wishes he could simply be a fearer of sin, constantly keeping in mind the day of death when he will no longer be able to correct his actions nor regret his past; and what remains is this day, to do them.’

“For three years the teaching that I then heard from the [Alter] Rebbe stirred me from within, and in Elul of the year 5575 (1815) I visited the [Mitteler] Rebbe in Lubavitch. For three years I toiled to refine my body and all my organs so that they should attain the level of being truly good, and not only right. First of all, avodah can be considered proper only when the body is good, and not merely in the right by virtue of various excuses. Besides, when one departs this world and arrives at the World of Truth, time is precious: it’s a pity to waste it on judicial proceedings involving trivial matters.”59

11. A maskil and an oved

My father the Rebbe [Rashab] now commented: “With the elder chassidim, every word and every movement reflects their very essence.

“At the time that my father [the Rebbe Maharash] began to deliver the series of maamarim known as Mayim Rabim,60 he once told me at yechidus: ‘R. Aizik of Homil is a maskil; R. Hillel of Paritch is an oved.61

“‘Haskalah and avodah are two distinct worlds, and maskil and oved are two distinct people. That’s how it was ever since the day the world was created. Along came the [Alter] Rebbe, and joined these two worlds and these two people.

“‘R. Aizik is a remarkable maskil who devises parables that strike the precise core of whatever concept he is explaining — and he is also an outstanding oved in the divine service of the heart.

“‘R. Hillel is a servant of G‑d with his very body: his body itself feels what it should do and how this should be done. Just as the brain is a vessel for the intellect and the eyes are a vessel for vision, and so on, so is R. Hillel’s body a vessel for whatever has to be done. At the same time, he is a remarkable maskil who clarifies the profoundest concepts by means of explanations based on sturdy foundations.’”

12. When old friends meet

The big clock at the south wall chimes 1:30 a.m., but R. Yosef the Meshares says that it is slow; he prefers to believe the rooster that crowed an hour ago. He is right: any minute now the morning star will rise, so we say the Grace After Meals.

The morning star rose as we left my grandmother’s home, and the air was fresh. For over an hour we stood around and sat around in the courtyard, repeating the talks and the narratives that we had heard at the table. Then they all went off — apart from R. Abba Persohn — to immerse in the mikveh, and I went to sleep.

At 7:00 a.m. when my father came home from the mikveh, he handed me the maamar beginning Zimna Chada that appears in Sefer [HaMaamarim]62 5629 (1869). He said that I should study it a few times, and that later, between Minchah and Maariv, he would review it with me just as he had delivered it.

After [the morning] davenen, when most of the worshipers had gone home and only a few remained (including R. Yaakov Koppel Zeligson, R. Shlomo Chaim the Shochet, and my teacher R. Nissan), three elder chassidim sat together in the room adjoining the zal and exchanged narratives — my teacher R. Shmuel Betzalel, R. Abba Persohn, and R. Shmuel Gurevitch.63 Some of them I had already heard several times and had recorded in my Diary. Others I had either never heard before, or had heard in less precise versions.

Time won’t allow me to record them in detail, so I’ll just jot down a few notes for memory’s sake.

13. Oral traditions of vintage chassidim

R. Abba Persohn recollected:

1) The chain of causes and events by which his father-in-law’s father-in-law, R. Zalman Vilenker, became a chassid,64 and a seudas mitzvah with his friends in which he celebrated the fact that he had been privileged to have been struck for the cause of Chassidus.

2) A chassid called R. Shimon Menashe, his voyage to the Holy Land, and the blessing he was given for long life.

3) The story of a chassid called R. Shlomo Raphael’s,65 one of the outstanding scholars of Vilna, a man of noble character and warm emotions, who underwent self-sacrifice for Chassidus and chassidim.

4) An aged chassid by the name of R. Chaim Shmuel of Kreslava: Five times he visited the Maggid of Mezritch, who gave him his blessing that he should live to see a fourth and a fifth generation engaged in Torah and Chassidus. After he brought his grandson’s grandson to the local cheder to begin his schooling, he passed away at the age of 116.

Here are some of the things that this R. Chaim Shmuel of Kreslava heard during his visits to Mezritch:

1) Our mentor the Baal Shem Tov66 was born in 5458 (1698), a year whose Hebrew letters spell the word נַחַת (nachas), which means “peaceful contentment.” He “came to know his Creator at the age of three,”67 and for the next 33 years remained unknown. (This number is hinted at in the word גַּלְעֵד.68) When he was 36 years old his identity as a tzaddik became revealed, and for 26 years he headed the Holy Brotherhood [of chassidic disciples].

2) In the years of his anonymity the Baal Shem Tov dressed like a villager and was always in the company of simple and ignorant people. He fortified their unsophisticated faith and habituated them not to learn from their gentile neighbors, but instead to guard their tongues from slander, gossip and curses.

3) He would hand out nuts and apples to little children in order to accustom them to recite blessings before eating, and would respond Amen with intense rapture.

4) In those years he would often place his holy hand on the hearts of children and bless each one: “May you grow up to be a warm Jew!”69

5) For six years the Baal Shem Tov refused to become revealed; on account of this, six years were deducted from his lifetime. He passed away on a Wednesday. A mnemonic of this is to be found in the phrase referring to the fourth day of Creation70 [as יוֹם שֶׁנִּתְּלוּ הַמְּאוֹרוֹת — “the day on which the luminaries were suspended (in the Heavens),” which the Alter Rebbe once paraphrased in this context] as נִטְּלוּ הַמְּאוֹרוֹת — “the luminaries were taken away.” He passed away on the First Day of Shavuos in the year 5520 (1760), at the age of 61 years, eight months, and eighteen days.

6) At the extremely joyful festive meal on Lag BaOmer of that year, the Baal Shem Tov expounded the verse, Ve’ahavta eis HaShem Elokecha — “And you shall love the L-rd your G‑d.”71 He explained that the numerical value of וְאָהַבְתָּ (“And you shall love”) is twice the value of אוֹר (“light”). This in turn is the numerical equivalent of רָז (“secret”), whose mirror image is זָר (“a stranger”). I.e., the spiritual task of tzaddikim is to reveal the secret [Divine spark] which is present even in a [seeming] stranger [to Divinity]. This revelation generates light — through the fulfillment of וְאָהַבְתָּ (“And you shall love”), which is twice the value of אוֹר (“light”), alluding to the two directions or modes of [Divine] light: or yashar (lit., “direct light”) and or chozer (lit., “reflected light”). When regarded as units (by the mystical mode of calcuation known as mispar katan), the three digits that indicate the numerical value of the three Hebrew letters that spell אוֹר (“light”) total nine. Twice this equivalent of אוֹר comes to 18 [alluding to the second mode of light].

“And in 18 days,” he concluded, “I will behold the sublime or chozer (lit., ‘reflected light’); as it is written, ‘And the spirit will return to G‑d, Who gave it.’72 Moreover, ‘The spirit evokes spirit and draws forth spirit,’73 with a new light that will shine until the coming of the King Mashiach.”

7) The Maggid of Mezritch once remarked that the 26 years of the Baal Shem Tov’s leadership correspond to the numerical value of the Four-Letter Divine Name Havayah, and to twice the numerical value of אֶחָד — “One” [as in the verse, Shema Yisrael...].74

8) During one of his visits to Mezritch, R. Chaim Shmuel of Kreslava watched how the Alter Rebbe conducted himself and how he waited on the Maggid; he observed the affection that the Maggid showed him, and the reverence with which he was regarded by his colleagues of the Holy Brotherhood.75

Incidents involving the Alter Rebbe which R. Chaim Shmuel recalled from his visits to Mezritch:

1) The Maggid delivered two teachings — on the verse, “Raise your eyes aloft,”76 and on the mishnah which teaches that “one should stand up to pray77 only in an earnest frame of mind” — but the Alter Rebbe was the only one among the disciples who fully grasped them.

2) On a certain halachic query involving a sircha, a blemish in a lung of questionable kashrus, the Maggid deferred to the Alter Rebbe’s ruling.

3) The Maggid once convened a beis din whose task was to rend a dire verdict of the Heavenly Court against a certain desperately ill individual. The beis din comprised the Maggid, the author of Pri HaAretz,78 and the Alter Rebbe.

4) One Friday evening the Alter Rebbe ate the portion of fish79 which the Maggid had prepared himself (as the Maggid did every erev Shabbos and erev Yom-Tov).80

5) The Malach81 used to speak of the Alter Rebbe in the most laudatory terms.

6) During R. Chaim Shmuel’s first visit to the Alter Rebbe at Liozna in 5537 (1777), the Alter Rebbe reminded him of an incident involving the saintly R. Meshullam Zusya82 of Hanipoli. On Shabbos Parshas Emor, 5530 (1770), in the course of a discourse on the verse, Ner Havayah nishmas adam — “The soul of man is a lamp of G‑d,” the Maggid interpreted the verse to mean that the soul of a man teaches him.

The Maggid then went on to illustrate: “...Just as the saintly R. Zusya grasps and knows a certain topic in Tractate Arachin by virtue of his soul.” R. Zusya did not hear those words. When he realized that the Maggid was speaking and he did not hear he was deeply distressed, and questioned all his colleagues of the Holy Brotherhood about what had transpired.

7) The background to the above incident: The most formidable Talmudic scholars of the Holy Brotherhood — including the author of Sefer Hafla’ah,83 his brother, R. Shmuel Shmelke,84 and the aged author of Toldos [Yaakov Yosef]85 — were once debating a certain problematic text in Arachin. R. Zusya edged his way into the group in order to listen in. When he discovered to his grief that he could not follow the train of their argument, he asked them to show him the printed text. He took the Gemara to his lodgings and wept bitterly: “Ribbono shel Olam, L-rd of the Universe! You created Zusya and You gave him a soul. Zusya wants to taste the sweetness of Your holy Torah!” And, except for scant rations at night, he fasted for three days.

Meanwhile, after the above scholars had vigorously debated this thorny text for a few days, they entered the study of the Maggid in order to propose their reasoned solution. Some of the other disciples went in with them; among them — R. Zusya. After listening to their scholarly arguments for two hours, the Maggid leaned his head on his arms and for some time remained in a state of rapturous dveikus. When he finally opened his eyes, he gazed upon the faces of his disciples. Turning to R. Zusya, he asked: “And how do you propose to untangle this text?”

R. Zusya replied: “Zusya is no scholar; in scholarship, Zusya is poverty-stricken. Zusya cried and entreated G‑d to let him taste the sweetness of the Torah’s reason. So this is how I read this text...:”

And then, from memory, R. Zusya analyzed and clarified that entire legalistic text. His scholarly colleagues were amazed.

The Maggid’s comment: “The soul of a man teaches him.”

14. The sweet longing of a sensitive soul

The recollections of my teacher, R. Nissan Skoblo:86

1) R. Nissan’s father-in-law, R. Pesach the Melamed, slept in a room adjoining the room of the Tzemach Tzedek for the few months in the summer of 5602 (1842) during which he taught the Rebbe’s son, the Rebbe Maharash.87 At 3:00 a.m. one night he heard the Tzemach Tzedek saying Tehillim: “Even the sparrow88 has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself.”3 And then he heard how the Tzemach Tzedek said aloud: “The smallest bird that You created has a place, but You alone, the greatest of the great, have no place.” The Tzemach Tzedek then sang the Alter Rebbe’s Niggun of Four Themes, and for the next two hours studied Tractate Bava Kama.

2) R. Nissan’s paternal grandfather, R. Chaim Yehoshua, was born in Bichov to a family of misnagdim. Since his father supported himself by hiring out his flourmill near Slutzk, he moved there with his family. After a few years of conscientious study in a local yeshivah, his son Chaim Yehoshua transferred at age fifteen to one of the yeshivos in Minsk, where his studious habits were exemplary. At this time there was vigorous opposition to the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. The ire of the Lithuanian scholars was aimed especially at the Maggid of Liozna89 who, throughout Lithuania, spearheaded the dissemination of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and his disciple the Maggid of Mezritch. Moreover, he had attracted many prominent scholars to the customs of “the Sect.” Loyal to their irate teachers, the yeshivah students at large slandered “the Sect” and its leaders.

One day, word reached the young Chaim Yehoshua that the Maggid of Liozna was due to visit Minsk and was going to engage in a disputation with those who maligned his teachings. All around him, in readiness for this confrontation, outstanding scholars devised elaborate legalistic problems with which to trap the visiting leader of “the Sect.” From the moment the Alter Rebbe arrived,90 they and their teachers surrounded him with their questions, and for hours on end, day after day, for a whole week, he stood at the bimah in the local beis midrash and answered them. To their amazement, in the course of his documented responses he quoted all the relevant texts — Gemara, Rashi, Tosafos, Rambam and Rosh — from memory, verbatim.

When his turn finally came to pose questions, no one could answer. And when he was asked for the answers he replied that these could be heard from the foremost students at his hometown yeshivah. In brief, sixty of the most gifted students of the Minsk yeshivah accompanied the Alter Rebbe to Liozna. It was as a direct result of this news which soon reached Vilna, that it was decided to excommunicate the chassidim and their leaders.

3) R. Nissan’s grandfather R. Chaim Yehoshua lived in Minsk for five years, until in 5546 (1786) he married the daughter of R. Yosef Moshe of Drivin, who supported him throughout fifteen years of study. During this time, he drew close to the chassidic community.

In 5563 (1803) he visited Liadi for the first time. The Alter Rebbe gave him his blessing for a son; at that time he had three daughters. A year later R. Nissan’s father, R. Yosef Beinush, was born — a robust and talented child, taught by educators who were chassidic in character and in practice. When he was twenty, he married the daughter of R. Avraham the Melamed from Liadi.

In between all these stories I took a look in the beis midrash to see what was going on there. What I beheld was something beautiful. My father the Rebbe [Rashab] was seated in his place at the south-eastern wall, his tallis over his head down to his chest and his left hand resting on his thigh. Occasionally he clicked the thumb and middle finger of his right hand in time with the meditative melody that he was quietly singing to himself.

R. Chanoch Hendel sat on a bench near the table at the south wall with his tallis over his shoulder, a few words of prayer alternating with a few notes of song and a few contrite tears.

Another chassid, R. Meir Mordechai Tchernin,91 sat at the northern wall near the middle window. The edge of his tallis rested on his head, but his face could be seen as he prayed with eyes closed. Three young married students — R. Moshe Zarchi, R. Mendel Beshe’s and R. Nachum Chona Henye’s — were standing near the basin at the door, ears and mouths wide open, listening. Standing at the table where the Torah is read, R. Dovber from Cholopenitz92 was reading Tehillim and melting into tears. His son, Mendel the Meshares, was sitting on the bench next to the stove at the right of the entrance from the room that adjoined93 the main beis midrash,94 studying Chumash with Rashi.

From time to time, in the middle of a story, one of the elder chassidim [with whom I sat in the cheder sheni] would pause: he had heard my father singing quietly to himself in the course of his davenen. Together they listened and were stirred, sometimes to the point of tears, by the sound of a soul pouring forth its sweet longing.

15. A subtly-tuned sensitivity to souls

One of them, R. Yaakov Koppel [Zeligson], wept at the memory that this sound recalled: “Now we can plainly see the truth of what the Rebbe [Maharash] said on Yud-Tes Kislev, 5637 (1876), to myself and to my uncle, R. Aharon Chozer.

“That year, Yud-Tes Kislev fell on a Tuesday. On the preceding Shabbos, which was Parshas Vayishlach, the Rebbe [Maharash] delivered the maamar which begins with the words, Katonti MiKol HaChassadim,95 and which contrasts the Chessed of Avraham and the Chessed of Yishmael. We committed the maamar to memory by repeating it as a group, and in the course of the three days until Yud-Tes Kislev the Rebbe [Rashab] repeated it aloud 18 times. When I asked him why he repeated it so much more than usual — three times in the course of a Shabbos, and in winter on Motzaei Shabbos as well, apart from once daily throughout the following week — he gave no reply.

“On the evening which inaugurated the festival of Yud-Tes Kislev,96 the Rebbe [Maharash] left his study and joined the assembled chassidim for only a short while. He discussed the relative merits of the days of the month, which are ‘world-days’ (velt-teg), with the days of the week, which are ‘Torah-days’ (Torah-teg). He commented that in that year the festival of Yud-Tes Kislev fell on the same ‘day of the parshah97 as it fell in the year of the [Alter Rebbe’s] liberation — 5559 (1798). The Rebbe [Maharash] then began to sing the Alter Rebbe’s celebrated Niggun of Four Themes, and gave a sign that his [older] sons, R. Zalman Aharon and today’s Rebbe,98 should join in. When his youngest son*99 heard them singing he edged his way in through the crowd and sang with his brothers, loudly and jubilantly. The Rebbe [Maharash] was seated with eyes closed, tears trickling down his white cheeks. When the melody came to an end he gave his parting blessings to those assembled and urged us to partake of the mashke and refreshments that had been prepared.

“We then sat down to repeat and memorize his sichah together. R. Yaakov Mordechai,100 who was then quite a young chassid, explained that ‘world-days’ signify ‘the small days of the middos,’ while ‘Torah-days’ signify ‘the days of mochin.’

“Today’s Rebbe pointed out that [in the language of Chassidus], yom (lit., ‘day’) denotes revelation. Accordingly, ‘world-days’ signify the avodah of prayer, whereas ‘Torah-days’ signify avodah as applied in practice.

“R. David Hirsch,101 one of the prominent chassidim present, queried this. He argued that ‘Torah-days’ are loftier than ‘world-days,’ whereas avodah as applied in practice belongs to a lower level than the avodah of prayer, which is avodah in one’s heart. It would thus appear more appropriate that ‘Torah-days’ refer to avodah in one’s heart, while ‘world-days’ refer to avodah as applied in practice.

“In response, today’s Rebbe said that from the scholastic point of view R. David Zvi was right: ‘Torah-days’ should refer to avodah in one’s heart, while the ‘world-days’ should refer to avodah as applied in practice. However, he argued, there are authoritative maamarim that make it clear that whatever derives from a loftier spiritual source in the universe ultimately reaches further down in the universe. Thus it is taught that ‘the beginning [of the loftiest levels of creation] is wedged in their culmination.’102 It is likewise taught that ‘The final act was the first to appear in [G‑d’s] thought,’103 just as the innate superiority of physicality will become evident in the Time to Come. He concluded that when one meditates upon these concepts with superrational sensitivity,104 it becomes apparent that ‘world-days’ signify avodah in one’s heart — contemplating how to refine the world and uplift it. By the same token, ‘Torah-days’ signify practical avodah, through which the superiority of physicality will become manifest when the innermost reasons underlying the Torah will be revealed by our Righteous Mashiach, speedily and in our own days.

“As these two views were being debated by those present, two local butchers, R. Chaim Meir and his brother R. Avraham, came in and approached the rabbanim among us with a halachic query involving the kashrus of a recently-slaughtered animal which they were in the process of examining. My father and the other rabbanim began to consider their question.

“The Rebbe [Maharash] had instructed my father to consult with him on every major query in this area. Since my uncle, R. Aharon Chozer, was present when the Tzemach Tzedek had once handed down a ruling on a similar query on the authority of his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, he accompanied my father to the study of the Rebbe [Maharash] when he put the question to him. My uncle added that R. David Zvi Chein had likewise heard of the Alter Rebbe’s ruling on this subject from his father, R. Peretz. In response, the Rebbe [Maharash] called for R. David Zvi and asked him to repeat firsthand what he had heard.

“When the Rebbe [Maharash] had dealt with that subject, he asked my father and uncle how the chassidim at the farbrengen had spent the past two hours and what they had discussed.

“My uncle reported that while reviewing the Rebbe’s sichah they had debated the meaning of ‘world-days’ and ‘Torah-days.’ One speaker had explained that ‘world-days’ signify a revelation of middos while ‘Torah-days’ signify a revelation of the first three intellective attributes known as Chabad; the second speaker had argued that ‘world-days’ signify avodah in one’s heart, while ‘Torah-days’ signify avodah as applied in practice; the third held that ‘world-days’ signify avodah as applied in practice, while ‘Torah-days’ signify avodah in one’s heart.

“The Rebbe [Maharash] looked straight at my uncle and said: ‘The second explanation comes from a person with a finely-tuned sensitivity in avodah.’ And after a pause he added: ‘It was probably given by my middle son;105 he has a subtly-tuned sensitivity in understanding the concepts of Chassidus in general, and most particularly in avodah. When he sings a niggun, in every phrase he apprehends and expresses the spiritual mindset of the composer and the soul of the niggun.’”

16. Hearts attuned in holy awe

It106 is already after 2:00 p.m. and my father is still in the middle of Birchos Yotzer. As he meditates, he is softly singing one of the old niggunim with its three familiar themes.

The first theme depicts a chassid meditating upon a Divine concept in stage after stage of increasing profundity. The second theme echoes his exhilaration at the intellectual enlightenment that he has attained. The third theme discloses his intense yearning for an expanse that is boundless, for a height that is infinitely sublime.

And as the hoary chassidim in the adjoining room strain to hear this niggun that solemnly accompanies my father’s prayers, his voice strikes a chord of holy awe in their listening hearts.

17. Rebbeim and hoary chassidim

These107 are the memories that my teacher the Rashbatz shared with his colleagues:

1) The manner in which the Tzemach Tzedek used to daven on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.

2) The melody to which he used to sing the words, Ashrei ish…— “Happy is the man108 who does not forget You, the son of man who holds fast to You.”

3) An account of how a chassid by the name of R. Yerucham of Dalhinov was healed by listening to the prayers of the Tzemach Tzedek.

4) A description of the davenen of R. Yehudah Leib and R. Chaim Shneur Zalman, sons of the Tzemach Tzedek.

5) The davenen of the Rebbe Maharash.109 Unlike his brothers, he did not have his own house of worship; he prayed alone in the early morning, but every day visited the small minyan of the Tzemach Tzedek to join in the congregational responses of Barchu, Kedushah, and so on.

The recollections of R. Shlomo Chaim the Shochet:

1) His father, R. Yaakov Leib the Shochet, had heard from his father, R. Zvi Hirsch the Shochet, a description of how the Mitteler Rebbe used to daven in private, sometimes to the accompaniment of a whispered melody.

2) There was a chassid [of an earlier generation] called R. Yaakov Leib (the father of R. Zvi Hirsch of Yanovitch), who was one of the first close disciples of the Alter Rebbe. The Mitteler Rebbe related to him with special warmth, and told him of two visions that he had experienced:

(i) A teaching that he heard from the Baal Shem Tov — when awake, not dreaming — in the study of his father, the Alter Rebbe, in Liozna, in the year 5553 (1793). The teaching expounded the verse, “Those who go down to the sea in ships.”110

(ii) On Yud-Tes Kislev, 5559 (1798), the actual day of the Alter Rebbe’s liberation, during Minchah (at which the aged R. Meshullam Yaakov of Tchashnik led the prayers), the Mitteler Rebbe saw the Maggid of Mezritch, who told him: “Your father, the Nasi, now left prison. He is undergoing anguish, but will soon be free from that as well.”

18. My toothache

It’s now 8:00 p.m., and I’m now reading all that I’ve written over the past six hours. Though my toothache has been very painful I have tried to keep my suffering under control. Now I must stop writing, because soon people will be getting together for a farbrengen at the lodgings of R. Abba Persohn, who is visiting.

(Only this far was released for publication.)