During the winter of 5663 (1903), when I accompanied my father for the couple of months he spent consulting medical specialists in Vienna, he would sometimes go out in the evening to visit the shtiblach (small informal “houses” of study and prayer) of the local Polish Jews—to be among chassidim, to hear a story from their mouths, to listen to a chassidic saying, and to observe fine conduct and refined character.

One Wednesday night, on the eve of the Fifteenth of Shevat, my father visited one of these shtiblach, where several hoary chassidim were sitting around together and talking. As my father and I drew nearer, we heard that they were telling stories of the saintly Rabbi Meir of Premishlan.

Among other things, they related that the mikveh (ritual bath) in Rabbi Meir’s neighborhood stood at the foot of a steep mountain. When the slippery weather came, everyone had to walk all the way around for fear of slipping on the mountain path and breaking their bones—everyone, that is, apart from Rabbi Meir, who walked down that path whatever the weather, and never slipped.

One icy day, Rabbi Meir set out as usual to take the direct route to the mikveh. Two guests were staying in the area, sons of the rich who had come somewhat under the influence of the “Enlightenment” movement. These two young men did not believe in supernatural achievements, and when they saw Rabbi Meir striding downhill with sure steps as if he were on a solidly paved highway, they wanted to demonstrate that they too could negotiate the hazardous path. As soon as Rabbi Meir entered the mikveh building, therefore, they took to the road. After only a few steps they stumbled and slipped, and needed medical treatment for their injuries.

Now one of them was the son of one of Rabbi Meir’s close chassidim, and when he was fully healed he mustered the courage to approach the tzaddik with his question: why was it that no man could cope with that treacherous path, yet the Rebbe never stumbled?

Replied Rabbi Meir: “If a man is bound up on high, he doesn’t fall down below. Meir’l is bound up on high, and that is why he can go up and down, even on a slippery hill.”

My father was under doctor’s orders to walk about outdoors for a certain period every day. So from the shtibl we stepped out into the clear and balmy night, and strolled along the garden path that ran down the middle of one of the local avenues, where the moon lit up every detail for several paces ahead.

My father was so deep in meditation that he drew the attention of many passersby. Whenever I observed him in this state I yearned to know what he was thinking about. I watched intently for any facial expression or movement that might disclose a hint of what thoughts were engaging his mind, and what world his mind was now surveying.

Chassidic teaching discusses the differences between speech and thought, one of which is that speech reveals something to another, whereas thought obscures: one person can think all day long, and the next person will not know what he is thinking about. It is further pointed out, however, that it is the details of his thought that remain hidden. A general perception of his thinking—whether it concerns an intellectual concept, or an emotional matter—can be gleaned from his facial features.

We walked on together for such a long time that I began to feel uncomfortable. Continuing our stroll in this way made me feel morose and downhearted. Every minute lasted an hour, until at length a deep sigh inadvertently passed my lips.

At this my father stopped short and looked me through—all the way through—and said: “Why do you sigh? If a man is bound up on high, he doesn’t fall down below.”

Likkutei Dibburim, a collection of transcribed talks by the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, translated by Uri Kaploun and published by Kehot Publications.