An Indelible Imprint

It’s an image engraved in the minds and hearts of anyone who witnessed it. At a given point in specific farbrengens, an understated signal from the Rebbe1 would prompt the chassidim to sing a slow and evocative niggun.2 The Rebbe’s facial expression would change and it appeared that his focus turned inward. At a point in the melody, he would close his eyes. When it concluded, he would speak — eyes yet closed — in a distinct sing-song, communicating refined spiritual concepts.

In contrast to his sichos (“talks”), where the Rebbe looked at his chassidim and spoke to them, during these discourses,he was not focused on his listeners. Instead, he was absorbed in the ideas and imparted them in the abstract. At that time, many a chassid would recall our Sages’ words:3 “The Divine presence spoke from Moses’ throat.”

Such discourses, called maamarim,4 represent a distinct element of the chassidic tradition. Indeed, in previous generations, this was the primary medium by which the Rebbeim would communicate teachings to their followers.

The Spoken And The Written

Most frequently, these maamarim were delivered on Shabbosos and festivals. They were preserved by chassidim who were blessed with reliable memories,5 reviewed together by members of the chassidic community, and then drafted in written form when that became possible. At times, these drafts would be submitted for editing and revision to the Rebbe who had delivered the maamar. And on other occasions, the Rebbeim themselves produced the transcripts of their maamarim. Ultimately, a large number of these maamarim have been published in book form. Nevertheless, even after being published, they are referred to as maamarim, discourses, to highlight the fact that they were conceived and communicated verbally rather than as written texts.

Why the emphasis on the verbal form? There is a saying among chassidim6 that Chassidus is not the way a mortal understands G‑d, but the way G‑d projects Himself and His wisdom into the understanding of a mortal.

What were they saying? There is no way a limited mortal can comprehend an unlimited G‑d with his own intellectual resources. To refer to a traditional aphorism,that is harder than putting an elephant through the eye of a needle.7 So when men — even holy men with spiritual insight — try to describe G‑d and His oneness, they will always come up short.

On the other hand, since G‑d is the ultimate of perfection, there is no realm which He cannot penetrate. Therefore, He can manifest Himself in human intellect as well. Nevertheless, the manifestation of G‑dliness in mortal intellect — the Torah — is not ordinary wisdom. Even as it enclothes itself in stories, laws, and ethical truths that man can understand, it is fundamentally G‑dly truth.

This concept is alluded to in the word Anochi, the first word of the Ten Commandments,which is, as our Sages explain,8 an acronym for the Aramaic words meaning: “I wrote down and conveyed Myself.” When a person studies the Torah, he is not merely studying a particular law or reading; he is connecting to G‑d’s Essence.

This conception changes the manner in which a person approaches Torah study, for he realizes that he is not speaking his own words, but G‑d’s. In that vein, we can understand our Sages’ statement:9 “Every new insight developed by a seasoned Sage was given to Moshe at Sinai.” When one communicates a genuine Torah truth, it is not his own personal insight. It was given to Moshe at Sinai; i.e., it is part of the ongoing process of Divine revelation that began with the Giving of the Torah.

The term commonly used to describe the teachings of Chassidus, “Dach”— Divrei Elokim Chayim (“the words of the living G‑d”)10 — underscores this concept. Implied is that the words being recited are not the author’s, but those of “the living G‑d.”

This approach is expressed to a greater extent in a maamar, a discourse, than in a written text. For a text, even when written b’ruach hakodesh (with Divine inspiration), is crafted by the mind of its author. When a discourse is delivered, by contrast, one can more readily perceive Who the Ultimate Author is.

Initial Rays Of Light

The first to deliver maamarim in the Chabad tradition was the Alter Rebbe.11 His process of instruction went through several stages of evolution. At first, he would deliver very short teachingsthat would arouse the heart and inflame it with spiritual emotion. These were called derachim (“paths”).12 Later, he would elaborate more, and these longer teachings were called igros (“letters”). When his teachings were further developed, they were called Toros. These became the root and core material for the maamarim in Torah Or and Likkutei Torah. Afterwards they became slightly longer, and were called kesavim (“writings”). These included explanations that enabled relatively thorough comprehension.13

Almost all of the mamaarim delivered by the Alter Rebbewere committed to writing by others, including his brother, R. Yehudah Leib; his sons, the Mitteler Rebbe14 and R. Moshe; his grandson, the Tzemach Tzedek;15 and a prominent chassid named R. Pinchas Reizes. A significant number of the drafts (hanachos) of these discourses were then scrutinized and edited by the Alter Rebbe.

Grandchildren Are The Crown Of Their Elders


The Tzemach Tzedek, the Alter Rebbe’s grandson, and ultimately the third of the Chabad Rebbeim, shared a special relationship with his grandfather. His mother passed away when he was only three17 and the Alter Rebbe raised him as his own child.

In 5564 (1804), at the age of fifteen, he established a fixed program for the study of the Alter Rebbe’s teachings that had been committed to writing. Later in life, after successfully resolving a problem that could have affected the future of the Jewish community,18 he stated that one of the factors that had been the spiritual cause of his success was the 32,000 hours that he had toiled in the study of the Alter Rebbe’s discourses over a period of thirty years, from 5564 to 5594 (1804-1834).

In 5594 (1834), at the request of his uncle and father-in-law, the Mitteler Rebbe, he began to work on their publication. He did not simply cut and paste. As the Rebbe Rayatz wrote:19 My revered grandfather, the Rebbe [Maharash], once told my revered father, the Rebbe [Rashab]: “My father (the Tzemach Tzedek)chose the maamarim that appear in Likkutei Torah from two thousand maamarim [delivered by the Alter Rebbe].”

The first volume of the Alter Rebbe’s teachings, Torah Or, was published three years later (in 5597 {1837}). In a letter of 3 Shvat of that year, the Tzemach Tzedek describes that work as follows:20

Torah Or, which was just published…, includes most of the maamarim that the Alter Rebbe delivered between 5556 (1795) and the end of 5572 (1812). Many of them were critically read and edited by our master himself, and he gave his consent for their publication.

“Afterwards, my revered uncle and father-in-law, the Rebbe,21 desired to print them in their original form, as delivered by our holy teacher, the Gaon. He did not, however, desire to print them bit by bit, but [to wait] until they were collected together.

“It is now several years that I have gathered and collected these holy writings, one by one, and scrutinized them to the greatest degree possible, because due to the extensive numbers of copies made, there were many scribal errors.

“This work comprises two parts. The first part [includes maamarim] on the first two Chumashim, [i.e., Bereishis and Shmos]; [and] on Chanukah and Purim. Some maamarim on Shavuos, the season of the Giving of the Torah, are included in Parshas Yisro; and a few on Pesach, in Parshas Vayakhel. With G‑d’s help, the second part [will include maamarim] on [the last] three Chumashim, [i.e., Vayikra, Bamidbar, and Devarim]; on Shir HaShirim; on the festivals;22 and on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur….

“The name of the author, Shneur,23 befits him, just as ואהבת (‘And you shall love’) is twice the numerical equivalent of אור (‘light’).”24

Likkutei Torah

At the time, it was possible to publish only the first of the two planned volumes, for due to the allegations of informers, the Russian government closed several Jewish printing houses in Russia, including the one in Kopust, where Torah Or was printed.

By the time the task of printing the second partof Torah Or had been undertaken,25 the chassidim had already found out that the Tzemach Tzedek had written glosses and explanations to the maamarim. They pleaded with him to print them together with the maamarim, but he refused. The Tzemach Tzedek then dreamtthat his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, came to visit him and asked him to publish them. However, he concealed the matter until three of his sons had the same dream and related it to their father. Only then did he agree to append his glosses and commentary to the second part of the text which was printed in Zhitomir in 5608 (1848), but with a different title:26 Likkutei Torah.27

From that time onward, these two texts have become chassidic classics, featuring prominently in the libraries of chassidim and serving as reference points for many of the chassidic teachings of later generations. They have been studied as fundamental works in Lubavitcher yeshivahs and have served as the basis for communal study sessions in Chabad shuls. The Rebbe would often say, just as there is an obligation to be maavir sedrah, i.e., to study the weekly Torah reading, so, too, chassidim should also study the chassidishe parshah the maamarim in Torah Or or Likkutei Torah that relate to the current week’s Torah reading.28

As a sampler of these classic texts — and hopefully, as an inspiration for future publications —we have prepared this volume, presenting a translation of landmark maamarim for each of the festivals of the first half of the Jewish year. The second volume, focusing on the second half of the year is already in advanced stages of preparation, and with G‑d’s help, others will follow.

Spreading The Wellsprings

About a century ago, Likkutei Torah was out of print. A learned chassid of that time, R. Anshel Aronovitch, took it upon himself to prepare the text for reprinting, editing it so carefully that he corrected more than three thousand typographical errors.

With what he felt was well-earned pride, he showed his work to another vintage chassid, R. David Zvi Chein.29 When his colleague failed to respond with enthusiasm, R. Anshel asked him why his work had not found favor in his eyes.

“Your edition will radically change the way people study Likkutei Torah,” the colleague explained. “Until now, when a chassid read a passage whose wording did not make sense to him, he would stop, weigh the matter back and forth in his mind, and consider the concept from all vantage points. If, after this process of give and take, the concept was still confusing, he would conclude that there was a printing error. Now, after your corrections, the ideas will go down like water, and the reader won’t pause to think them over.”30

With all due respect to Reb David’s approach, we have taken the opposite tack and done whatever we could so that “the ideas go down like water.” After all, for a contemporary Western reader, the concepts and the terminology require enough effort. Anything that we thought would make the text more user-friendly was done. With that goal in mind, we made bracketed additions to the text,31 provided thorough references, and an extensive running commentary.32 We separated the maamarim into sections,33 composed summaries for those sections,34 and introduced each maamar with a short description of its general theme.

Following the example of Heichal Menachem’s Chassidus Mevueres series, we have separated the additions of the Tzemach Tzedek from the text, printing them as endnotes. It is with endless appreciation that we mention their work, because their series on the Moadim was an invaluable resource, providing sources and explanations that greatly enhanced our text.

We are speaking in the plural, because this was definitely a team effort, combining the efforts of many individuals in productive symbiosis. Among them are:

R. Eliyahu Touger who researched and composed the translation, comments and footnotes;

R. Aharon Leib Raskin of the Chabad Research Center, who provided the references and the explanation of many difficult concepts, and who checked the accuracy of the translation;

Rochel Chana Riven, who edited the text, refusing to look at it as a mere professional job, but instead asked question after question until she felt satisfied a reader would understand;

Uri Kaploun, who was always available for sage counsel and guidance;

Yosef Yitzchok Turner and Ephraim Gotbeter who designed the layout and typography; and

R. Yonah Avtzon, who supervised and participated in every dimension of the project, nurturing it from an abstract ideal to a polished work.

Looking To The Horizon

As was mentioned above, Likkutei Torah was first published in 5608 (1848), a year that the Tzemach Tzedek had designated as a ketz.35 At the end of that year, his 14-year-old son, the Rebbe Maharash,complained that though the year 5608 had come and gone, Mashiach had not arrived.

The Tzemach Tzedek replied: “But Likkutei Torah appeared this year!”

This answer implied that such a momentous dissemination of the wellsprings of Chassidus afforded not only a foretaste of the coming of Mashiach, but was surely a significant catalyst toward that future era.

The Rebbe Maharash was not satisfied: “But we need Mashiach in the here and now, in this world!”36

It is our hope that the publication of this text will enable our readers to anticipate and precipitate that future era, making it possible for them “to know the hidden matters; grasping the knowledge of their Creator according to [the full extent] of human potential,”37 leading to the time when “The world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the ocean bed.”38

Sichos In English