1. From out of the depths

Thirty years have now passed since the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah in Lubavitch was granted the revelation of a new light — the following letter1 of my revered father, the Rebbe [Rashab], which tells us what the festival of Yud-Tes Kislev signifies.

Wednesday, 16th of Kislev, 5662 (1901) Moscow

My sons! Gather together on the forthcoming Yud- Tes Kislev — the students, with their mentors, teachers and supervisors — and rejoice in the joy of the festival on which “He redeemed2 our soul in peace,” and our souls’ light and vitality were granted to us.

This day is the Rosh HaShanah for Chassidus which our holy forebears bequeathed us, i.e., the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, of blessed memory.

“This day is the beginning3 of Your works,” the consummation of the real divine intention underlying the creation of man in this world — to elicit a revelation of the light of the holy Torah’s innermost dimension. On this day, that light is elicited in a general way for the whole year. It is our duty on this day to rouse our hearts, the very core of our hearts, with an inward and elemental desire and will — that [G‑d] illumine our souls with the light of the innermost [mystical] dimension of His Torah.

“From out of the depths4 I have called You, O G‑d,” to elicit the depth and inwardness of His Torah and His mitzvos from the inwardness and essence of the [Infinite] Ein Sof-Light, to illumine the innermost reaches of our souls, so that our entire being (i.e., our entire existence, comprising its essence and extensions) will be dedicated to Him alone, banishing from us any natural trait that is evil or despicable. Rather, all our actions and affairs (both in our avodah, i.e., prayer and Torah and mitzvos, and in the worldly undertakings that are needed to maintain the body) will then be sincerely motivated by the cause of Heaven, as G‑d wishes.

May G‑d, the Merciful Father, show us compassion and lead us along the good and righteous path — and “the righteous shall behold His Face.”5

2. “Know Him in all your ways”

This letter lights up the path of one’s soul-life and soul- festivals.

Talks on various occasions have indicated how subtly and perceptively Chassidus seeks out and points out the soul of any subject.

Chassidus amplifies and explains the vitality within the Torah, the life within a mitzvah, the meaning of prayer, the refined nature of a positive character trait, the spiritual dimension of any corporeal entity.

Making use of reasoned evidence, divinely-inspired and comprehensible concepts and definitive proofs, Chassidus points out the life and the soul of even a seemingly external epithet such as “the way of the world.”

“The world follows its custom.”6 The sun rises in the east and sets in the west; all natural phenomena seem to be always the same, everything frozen dead in its place, today just like yesterday, tomorrow just like today.

Then along comes Chassidus and indicates the life within everything, the Divine Providence that governs even a leaf and a wisp of straw. It awakens simple faith that had become dormant; it vitalizes one’s trust in G‑d; it warms the heart and sharpens the head; it opens one’s eyes to perceive divinity face to face.

Chassidus points out “G‑d Who hides Himself”7 — in the marketplace and in the street, and declares: “Know Him in all your ways.”8

The above letter spells out the soul’s life; the entirety of the real divine intention as to what a man does in this world; the profundity of a life lived in the spirit of the Torah’s innermost dimension; the goal and the conduct of a life lived in luminosity, even in a world of darkness.

This letter is one of the many indicators of my revered father’s intense love for the students of the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah and for the chassidic brotherhood at large. It shows how much he hoped to G‑d that they would become firmly bound in the spiritual lifestyle and study of Chassidus, and become — each in his own location — pillars of the “light which is good.”9

3. The Rosh HaShanah of Chassidus

Some of this letter’s profound concepts in Chassidus and teachings in avodah have been explained in discourses delivered at various times. It is now being mentioned only with regard to its general message — that Yud-Tes Kislev is the Rosh HaShanah of Chassidus.

We chassidim have been taught that one should not be satisfied with merely understanding a teaching; it should also be sensitively felt.

In understanding there are degrees: one man understands a concept more, another understands it less. In contrast, even a moderate measure of sensitive feeling brings a generous measure of delight and soul and life. Moreover, that feeling in itself enhances one’s understanding.

Today is the Rosh HaShanah of Chassidus, “the words of the Living G‑d.”

“The words of the Living G‑d” signifies both Chassidus and chassidim. Chassidim and Chassidus are one and the same: there cannot be chassidim without [the study of] Chassidus just as there cannot be Chassidus without chassidim.

There is a well-known teaching of the Sages that “the Torah preceded10 the world by two thousand years.” The Torah before G‑d gave it to us is called [His] plaything, so to speak; only after it was given down here is it called Torah. The same is true of the innermost dimension of the Torah, i.e., Chassidus.

Chassidim and Chassidus are one and the same: Chassidus makes chassidim, and chassidim study Chassidus.

People who support Torah students are called “the rods which carry the Ark.”11 This, too, is a lofty level to be at. [Likewise,] some chassidim themselves study Chassidus, whereas others have fathers and grandfathers who used to study Chassidus and were saturated with the sap of the chassidic lifestyle.

There is good cause to hope that the great heritage which those fathers and grandfathers bequeathed their succeeding generations will in fact be revived.

As a rule, very little is understood about the mysterious comings and goings of souls. The things one observes are wondrous. Sometimes one is astonished to see what branches and unworthy fruits grow on a fine tree; sometimes one is overawed to see what sweet fruit is produced by a stunted tree.

Through the self-sacrifice which chassidim have had for Chassidus, they have made the chassidic traditions of zeal and spiritual sensitivity eternal. There is no reason whatever to be dispirited if one observes that in some places these qualities have cooled down somewhat. With a certain measure of arousal we may be certain that with G‑d’s help there will yet be fine fruit, in the buttressing of Yiddishkeit and in the dissemination and support of Torah study.

4. Hoping for harmony

As is discussed in Chassidus, every moment of Rosh HaShanah is precious. As its name literally shows, Rosh HaShanah is the head of the year, the time at which judgment is passed over the total downflow of blessings for the forthcoming year. Today is the Rosh HaShanah of Chassidus and chassidim, the luminous day of redemption which became manifest by self-sacrifice.

All the undesirable mortal deeds that brought about the Alter Rebbe’s imprisonment should not be mentioned; they must be forgotten. Rather, we should joyfully recount that there were factors entailing suffering, anguish and self-sacrifice that granted us an eternal festival, a Rosh HaShanah of Chassidus and chassidim, a day of light and joy.

According to the Torah, if there is a joyous occasion [of this kind] involving a family or a community, and how much more so if it involves a great part of the people of the G‑d of Israel, there is an obligation to read the scroll that recounts the relevant miracle in all its details.

However, in his pastoral letter beginning Katonti,12 the Alter Rebbe adds a warning. He teaches us how to conduct ourselves in a way that will enable us to attain the highest of positive attributes — so that one becomes a maavir al middosav, a person who can forgo the instinctive reactions of his temperament, one who can “regard himself as mere remnants, as something truly superfluous and dispensable.” Accordingly, under these circumstances, it is wiser to remain silent. And may G‑d grant the fulfillment of the Alter Rebbe’s blessing at the end of this pastoral letter — [that perhaps G‑d will put a conciliatory and loving response into the heart of their brethren, for] “as water reflects one’s face,” [so too does the heart of one man reflect the heart of another] — so that in peace and harmony all will serve Him wholeheartedly.

For us, then, the Megillah-reading will be the delivery of a chassidic discourse, [for] every chassidic maamar demonstrates what a great miracle G‑d wrought for His people by granting us such a revelation of light.

5. What should hang on a Rebbe’s gate?

Let me first tell you a story.

Reb Shmuel Munkes, one of the Alter Rebbe’s well- known chassidim, once visited Liozna, where he and many other visiting chassidim listened to the newly-delivered discourses, committed them to memory, and sat together at farbrengens.

Reb Shmuel had a reputation as a prankster. One day, when a group of his venerable colleagues were approaching the Alter Rebbe’s courtyard [to resume their studies], he climbed up on the high gate and hung himself from it by the feet.

In response to the astonished outcry he climbed down, put on a straight face, and explained: “When you walk down the street and see a pair of scissors hanging up there, you know that’s where the tailor lives, right? When you see a boot hanging, you know that’s the cobbler’s house, right? So hanging on a Rebbe’s gate there should be a chassid…”

In this spirit, the Gemara tells us that before Rabbah13 delivered his discourse to his disciples, he shared a witticism. Why? The first of man’s soul-faculties is delight. Delight (oneg) and will (ratzon) are higher than the manifest soul-faculties which begin with Chochmah; the latter faculties cannot be activated (lit., “revealed”) until the faculty of delight is first activated. It opens up all the ensuing soul-faculties, and opens up the heart as well.

[But does this not imply an anomaly?] In our prayers we ask G‑d, “Open my heart to Your Torah, and let my soul eagerly pursue Your commandments.”14 Now, since Torah is Chochmah, which relates to the head, surely Mar the son of Ravina should have requested, “Open my brain to Your Torah!”

Another question: Why do we request, “And let my soul eagerly pursue Your commandments”? After all, it is the body that is obligated to observe the commandments; a soul without a body is exempt from observing physical commandments, as is a body without a soul.

The very word “Torah” denotes that the Torah is a directive15 (horaah); it shows us how the commandments are to be observed. There is a related verse that says, “Blessed be he who will raise up the words of this Torah.”16 This verb is the core of the verse,17 for the Torah needs to be raised up, so to speak, and this is accomplished by the actual, practical performance of a commandment.

With the above in mind, we can now understand the above request, “Open my heart to Your Torah.” True, the Torah is to be studied with the head — but this is brought about by the heart. Likewise with the other request, “and let my soul eagerly pursue Your commandments.” The word for “soul” (nefesh) often signifies “will,” and in order that there be the requisite will, the heart must desire it.

Chassidus, the innermost dimension of the Torah, demands that a concept be sensitively appreciated, and this takes place in the heart. First, the faculty of delight has to be manifest; this opens up the heart, which in turn activates the intellect.

6. Four themes, four Worlds

At the wedding breakfast of one of his grandchildren, my great-grandfather the Tzemach Tzedek delivered the maamar based on the teaching in the Talmud Yerushalmi, “He who cites a teaching in the name of its author should behold him (or: will behold him) as if he stood before him.”18

This principle applies to a teaching handed down by the author, to a story told by him and to a niggun composed by him.

The Tzemach Tzedek once said: “My grandfather the [Alter] Rebbe structured the Niggun of Four Themes parallel to the Four Worlds — Atzilus, Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah. That is why the fourth theme, which corresponds to the World of Atzilus, does not end: its end turns around and joins up with the first theme, which corresponds to the World of Asiyah.”

My grandfather the Rebbe Maharash told my father [the Rebbe Rashab] that as that Niggun of the Alter Rebbe was sung [after the Tzemach Tzedek had delivered his discourse about seeing the author of a quoted teaching before one’s eyes], the chassidim present were in a state of such spiritual arousal that they each looked around to see if the Alter Rebbe was standing there among them.

Chassidim have the basic principles and approaches that are called the ways of Chassidus, and through them, with G‑d’s help, one arrives at a revelation of light.

Chassidus demands comprehension, but with things as they are, it is hard to wait until people comprehend. If, as Chassidus demands, a person is to comprehend a spiritual concept and respond to it sensitively, he must first empty himself out of all unholy matters and divest himself of all plain mundanity. If those unholy matters are really worldly, he must certainly first divest himself of all such coarseness — and only then will he be able to begin to understand things.

Thank G‑d: Our holy forefathers bequeathed us a revelation of light, and in addition they created a wick of life — namely, the ways of Chassidus — which anchors that light, and is lit up by it.

The basic lifeways of Chassidus are, metaphorically speaking, its practical commandments.

In the case of the literally practical commandments, it is true that [according to a certain opinion] “mitzvos require intent,”19 and that in each mitzvah, the intent is its soul. For example: In the case of the tefillin placed on the head and arm [opposite the heart], the kavanah underlying the mitzvah seeks to indicate that the head and heart should be linked, so that the principles of positive conduct which the head has grasped should be applied by the heart to actual positive conduct, and so that this firm grasp should bridle one’s natural instincts.

At the same time, despite the importance of the intent, what matters most is actual performance.

7. “Time to start putting on tefillin!”

While mentioning tefillin, let me add that people who make a point of putting them on in the correct places on the head and arm as specified by law sometimes think that this is an optional embellishment. They make light of the various pamphlets and posters that highlight this subject.

In fact, however, this is a requirement that every individual should know about and should alert others about and should make known in his shul — for if the tefillin are not properly positioned, it is as if one had not put them on at all.

More precisely, it is worse. Someone who does not put on tefillin at all knows that he belongs to the category of “a skull on which tefillin have not been placed.”20 In an introspective moment he might therefore ask himself, “What’s coming of me? Why don’t I put on tefillin?”

In truth, of course, there are no real excuses. If he claims as his excuse that he is an apikores, a heretic, that is simply not true, because to be an apikores requires a level of understanding that he knows he is far from. If he claims that he is a nonbeliever, he himself knows that that is not true: since he can find so many things in which he believes with perfect faith, why does he not believe in this? If he claims that he has no time, he knows that this, too, is not true: hasn’t he got ten minutes to put on tefillin?!

There is only one reason: “He does not have the dread21 of G‑d before his eyes”; casting off the yoke, he resembles22 an animal; eating attracts him more than tefillin. One day, however, he will do some serious thinking about himself. One day the time will come, as it is written, “And [he] will devise thoughts, so that no one will be thrust away23 from Him.” Ultimately he will tell himself, “Enough! It’s time to start putting on tefillin.” He knows that the days which were without tefillin are now missing in his 120 years, and he will have to ask that G‑d replenish them for him.

In contrast, the individual who puts on tefillin incorrectly thinks he has discharged his obligation when in fact he has not, so he is more to be pitied.

As was said above, though the intent underlying a mitzvah is the soul of the mitzvah, what matters most is actual performance, as, in this example, putting on the tefillin correctly.

The practices and customs and lifestyle of chassidim together constitute the practical commandments of Chassidus. May G‑d grant that we, chassidim, together with our brethren of the entire House of Israel, serve Him wholeheartedly.

We will now sing the [Alter] Rebbe’s Niggun, and then (so to speak) read the Megillah.24

[After the Niggun the Rebbe [Rayatz] said:] Today is Rosh HaShanah. May G‑d grant a good year in [our endeavors in] both the revealed and inward dimensions of the Torah. If people study, then G‑d will grant them a livelihood with abundance, as in the verse, “If you walk in the way of My statutes,25 I will grant your rains….”

The wedding ring of the Giving of the Torah is the conduit for the downward flow of all material blessings. At the same time one must study personally, not relying on others. After all, according to the Shulchan Aruch there are no exemptions. As to those who nevertheless think they are exempt, let them support the scholars.

In Poland people say that the very last stage at which the benevolent inscription of Rosh HaShanah is sealed is Chanukah. At the present time Jews stand in need of great mercy from Above, both bodily and spiritually. At this time we need to see the manifest fulfillment of the verse,26 “Behold the Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.” May G‑d grant that Jews be whole and healthy in soul and in body.

After an introductory niggun was sung by those present, the Rebbe [Rayatz] delivered a maamar based on the verse, Ani Chomah VeShadai KaMigdalos.27 The maamar, which lasted an hour-and-a-half, was followed by another niggun.

8. What really matters is practical action

A well-known phrase teaches that “action is uppermost.”28 It is all very well to grasp concepts, but what counts more than everything is actual, practical performance.

Consider, for example, joyful occasions. May G‑d frequently bless His people with such occasions — whether material ones, such as weddings and circumcisions and Mazel-Tovs [on the birth of daughters], or spiritual ones, such as the day on which one enrolls a child in a devoutly-oriented cheder or celebrates his bar-mitzvah or sees him embark on his yeshivah studies. Every such private simchah, and even more so every public simchah, should fortify the dissemination of Torah study and yield support for Torah scholars.

I hope to G‑d that in response to my request in a recent circular letter to our chassidic brotherhood, funds were raised yesterday and today for the benefit of the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivos.

Here in Riga people have been privileged to behold light: they have been aroused to found a branch of the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah (May G‑d prosper their endeavors in all spheres!), though much work remains to steer it in the right direction. I now turn to all those to whom the Torah and Yiddishkeit are precious and holy (and that surely means everyone) to help build up the Yeshivah, and to bring along fine students who will be powerful sources of Torah and the awe of heaven.

All the Jews of Latvia who want to see the country survive (and that must surely be everyone) ought to help bring in the light of Torah. Speaking now is easier than last year, because a skylight has been opened up. Turn it now into a broad gateway, and not only in Riga: establish chadarim and junior yeshivos in all of Latvia’s towns!

“Look upon the rock from which you were hewn.”29 When anyone here mentions his parents, he does not pride himself on the money they had, but on the fact that they were chassidim who lived a life of Torah and avodah.


Chassidus is a sensing of Divinity

Divinity is a kind of vitality that is heard and sensed. Some people sense things immediately; others sense things later.

Chassidus is a sensing of Divinity, and chassidim are sensors. Sometimes things are sensed as soon as they are made available; sometimes they are sensed in the course of time, and they surface in one’s child or grandchild.

One can come to understand an intellectual concept through either of two approaches: (a) the individual must first refine and elevate himself and thus come closer to being able to grasp it; (b) the concept is darkened and coarsened, so that it becomes lower and closer to the individual.

The ways of Chassidus make it easier to refine oneself, and to elevate oneself to the level of the concept to be understood.

Chassidim may not and cannot be considered a party or sect, as some people would want to argue.

The 150 years during which Chassidus has been revealed, and during which chassidim have practiced avodah as guided by our holy forebears, have produced a true picture of what Chassidus and chassidim are.

These two terms are no doubt familiar to everyone from the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, where they denote a profound, clear and luminous understanding, pure attributes of character, and kindly conduct, though now is not the time to amplify this theme.

Chassidim did not sprout from the ground like some kind of supernatural herb, nor did they appear out of rainclouds in the sky. Chassidim are a part of “the people of the G‑d of Avraham,”30 who have dedicated their minds to G‑dly concepts and their hearts to G‑dly feelings, linking their minds and their hearts with a thread of self-sacrificing avodah.

10. Be roused by the mesirus nefesh in Russia!

We are now living through a very difficult period. Black clouds cover the Jewish sky of Torah and mitzvos.

“We are orphans, fatherless.”31 This is an orphaned generation, in which “every man does what is right in his own eyes.”32 There are people who would like to ease the situation by introducing leniencies in Jewish practice. An individual of this kind means well: he is doing what is right in his own eyes.

True enough, Chassidus teaches that one should look upon one’s fellow Jew with the right eye and upon oneself with the left eye — but at the same time Chassidus teaches that one must be strong and not veer from the path.

By way of analogy: One sometimes observes that an individual davens quite warmly, but at a certain point he comes to contemplate some extraneous thought, and then by the association of related thoughts he reaches such a point that he himself wonders how he strayed so far.

To revert to the introduction of leniencies: A slight divergence develops into a major deviation, bringing the greatest misfortune upon Yiddishkeit. People say that “life carries things along with it.” For sure that is true, but why is life set up in such a way that it brings along with it such dire practices as the desecration of Shabbos, the eating of treifah food, and the like?

Fellow Jews! Before you [in Stalin’s USSR] stands a substantial part of our people (May their numbers increase!), a sixth of “the people of the G‑d of Avraham,” who are undergoing self-sacrifice for the observance of Shabbos. As everyone knows, if they were (G‑d forbid) to desecrate Shabbos and eat treifah food, they would have bread.

They are naked, famished and cold; terrible descriptions have been communicated of their pained existence. Yet they observe Shabbos; with their last drop of blood they observe the law of Israel. May G‑d grant them strength and sustenance.

People of the G‑d of Avraham! We should be ashamed: those starved and frozen souls observe Shabbos with self- sacrifice — yet in other lands Shabbos is being desecrated.

Who is the guilty party? Is it only life’s desire for a finer garment and fancier food? No, the guilty party is negligence, ignorance, lack of learning, complacent apathy, and forgetfulness of one’s own lineage.

Every land must fortify its Torah institutions. Powerful sources of Torah and the awe of heaven must be brought here, to Latvia. Devoutly-oriented chadarim, and junior and senior yeshivos, must be established here, and then this country will be revived and will survive.

You who stem from chassidic roots, you who are children and grandchildren of chassidisher fathers and grandfathers, remind yourselves where you grew from. Turn around closer to your roots; observe your mitzvos more strictly; awaken your inherited wealth, your chassidic conceptions, your chassidic zeal. Devote yourselves to reviving Torah study; support the Torah institutions. Gladden the souls of your fathers and grandfathers, and then you will find success in all fields.

11. The darkness is densest before dawn

We are now living through a time of deep gloom. The dire material predicament almost matches the lean spiritual predicament. We should rectify the latter, the ruchniyus, and then the gashmiyus will become rectified.

The current situation, both spiritually and materially, casts dread over everyone, but our hope must be strong that G‑d will have pity on us. Before dawn, as everyone knows, when the sun has yet to shine forth, the darkness is densest.

Today is the Rosh HaShanah of Chassidus, a time of concealment. It is a day of judgment, but the verdict is concealed. Nevertheless, with simple faith in our Father and King, every Jew firmly believes that G‑d will grant a good year. Even the day of concealment is a festive day.33

The dense darkness of the present spiritual and material situation foretells an eternity of sunshine.

“Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.”34 The [Alter] Rebbe, whose festive day we are celebrating today, has sown an eternal ray of sunshine. May G‑d grant His people joy, so that things will be better both spiritually and materially. The joy of Jews will then thrust away all evil, and the light which is sown for the righteous will illumine all Jewish homes.