1. Pesach Customs. Very many customs were practiced in Lubavitch. Lubavitch was rich in customs, but paradoxically, because they were observed not only in a way that shunned attention1 but also without being talked about, in the course of time they all crystallized into standard conduct whose observance was self-understood.

2. Dry Matzah. One of the customs is that in order to avert the possibility of sheruyah,2 the shemurah-matzah3 on the table should be covered during the meal – so that no drop of water or soup should fall on it, and so that no crumb of it should fall into water or soup.

3. Wine. Many of my father’s customs could be observed only if one paid particularly close attention to them. For example, in order not to risk the possibility of sheruyah, he never ate shemurah-matzah together with fish or meat, but only with wine. In his earlier years he used to use a particular kind of strong wine, and he always drank only wine without sugar.

4. The Rebbe’s Wagon. On Purim, 5663 (1903)4 my father was in Vienna. At the festive seudah he was joined by some of our people from Russia, as well as various Polish and Hungarian Jews. That fine farbrengen lasted from 2:00 PM until 8:00, when it was time for Kabbalas Shabbos and Maariv, followed by the seudah of Shabbos until 1:00 AM.

On Motzaei Shabbos the little group of our Russian folk came back, hoping that there would be a further farbrengen. When my father declined, we all went off to a side room and farbrenged amongst ourselves.

An hour later, R. Chayim Meir Rozin brought me an express letter. (As my father’s attendant, he accompanied us on this trip.) I quickly scanned the various papers that were enclosed. They were detailed reports of the spiritual progress of the students of the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah in Lubavitch, written by the mashgichim responsible for the study of nigleh and Chassidus.5

Having gathered from my hasty perusal that the mashgichim and mashpi’im were very pleased with the chassidishe6 conduct and studious attainments of their students, and knowing how each individual student’s progress in these areas was dear to my father’s heart, I immediately brought him the envelope.

Half an hour later, R. Chayim Meir came to tell me that my father wanted to see me. My father’s face shone with joyful pleasure, no doubt as a result of that report.

“I am really happy,” my father said, “with this warm report about the temimim. This is truly good news. May G‑d grant the mashgichim and the mashpi’im success as mentors, and may He grant success to the students as recipients!”

“Perhaps” – I ventured, not too boldly – “such heartwarming news might provide an occasion for a farbrengen…?”

My father agreed, and in a short while we all joined him in the dining room and enjoyed a fine farbrengen.

The clear and explicit spiritual teachings and narratives that my father shared at the farbrengens of that Purim and Shushan Purim were very similar to those that we had been privileged to hear on Yud-Tes Kislev. One day those Purim talks will probably be published, but for the moment I would like to relay to you just one brief teaching.

Very late at night, when we had all taken a certain amount of mashke, one of Anash asked my father: “Rebbe, how can one be lifted higher?” And with that he burst into tears.

My father answered: “Come and join me in my wagon and you’ll be lifted higher. My wagon is soaked with the tears and sweat of avodah shebalev, and is decorated with haskalah and hassagah Elokis, with toiling on the apprehension of Divinity.”

Someone else then said: “Rebbe, where are the steps by which one can climb into your wagon?”

My father answered: “True. Without steps one cannot extricate himself from lowliness, and without steps one cannot climb to a higher space. In this process there are four steps – two steps to get out of one’s lowliness and two steps to climb higher.

“What are the first two steps, the ones that enable a man to get himself out of his lowliness? (a) To consider, with regard to every material thing that a person must have, what it is useful for and what is its ultimate purpose, and then to make use of it only for that use and only for that ultimate purpose; (b) to schedule a fixed daily timeslot during which one meditates on a particular subject in Chassidus for fifteen minutes.”

5. Navigating the Mud. During one of the farbrengens that were held during the celebration of our tena’im,7 in Tammuz, 5656 (1896), my father explained how the only way to refine one’s middos, one’s character traits, is by means of avodah shebalev.

My uncle, the Raza, was by nature a man of kind and refined character, even though by nature he also had a tough heart. Despite all the suffering that he endured, and he unfortunately had plenty of that, he always had a smile on his face. It was a smile to banish pain. And it goes without saying that throughout his life he never shed a tear. All the above refers only to his own suffering. Another’s pain affected him so deeply that not only the smile vanished, but sadness changed his face, and tears could be seen. And it goes without saying that he always did his best to help the sufferer.

At the above-mentioned farbrengen, the Raza listened intently to my father’s discussion of tikkun hamiddos, and then expressed his opinion that one’s character traits can be refined only by means of intellectual understanding.8 By way of analogy, he said, a person succeeds in navigating a footbridge that has fallen into the mud, because his head looks after his balance.

My father responded: “That is true of middos that operate according to the mind, for the mind has to be constantly vigilant so that the middos will not break out according to their innate wild and uncouth nature. The mind has to guard the middos, but that is not the same as refining them: they remain undisciplined. In fact they are still decadent, except that they have a good guard. Refining middos means that they are actually corrected. True, the correction – the tikkun – of the middos also comes about via the mind, but they can be transformed only via the avodah of the heart.”

In bygone days, when chassidim were more dedicated to avodah shebalev, the correction of middos was utterly different to what it is now, both in quantity and in quality. In those days, people wore slippers with white socks, and the socks remained clean, because people knew how to navigate the mud; nowadays people wear galoshes, yet even their clothes are messy.

6. Devorah Leah. As is well known9 (and may we not know of such fears!), a threatening Heavenly verdict jeopardized Chabad Chassidus10 in the year 5552 (1792). That was eighteen years after the Alter Rebbe with self-sacrifice founded Chabad Chassidus and taught and guided Chabad chassidim, from 5534 (1774) onward. It was such a dire threat that it called for weighty advocates who could intercede and arouse Heaven’s mercies. Hence, as is well known, the Alter Rebbe dispatched emissaries to the holy resting places11 of the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezritch. He also sent word to their disciples, the members of the Holy Brotherhood who were alive in This World, and sent a pidyon nefesh to the tzaddik, R. Nachum of Chernobyl.

On12 Motzaei Shabbos Selichos, on the eve of Zechor Bris,13 the Alter Rebbe summoned a few of his elder chassidim and told them in confidence how grave the current Heavenly threat was. He added that he had reason to believe that on the approaching Rosh HaShanah, at the beginning of the year 5553 (1792), the prosecuting voices in the Heavenly Court would redirect their malevolence – to aim not at Chassidus but at himself. He explained that he was telling them this, in complete confidence, for two reasons: so that they should endeavor to arouse Divine mercy, and because he wanted to organize through whom, and in what manner, and in what areas, his son – the Mitteler Rebbe – should be helped in the leadership of chassidim and in the cause of Chassidus.

The Alter Rebbe’s daughter Devorah Leah, the mother of my [great-]grandfather,14 heard everything that her father had told his disciples. She decided that she would replace him and worked out how this could be arranged.

That erev Rosh HaShanah my [great-]grandfather turned three, so after Shacharis his hair was cut for the first time, except for his peyos.15 The Alter Rebbe rested his hands on his grandson’s head and blessed him.

After Minchah, Devorah Leah entered “the little minyan.”16 Only the Rebbe’s family and a few privileged elder disciples were present, and all were engrossed in saying Tehillim. She approached the Aron Kodesh, opened its doors wide, and said aloud: “All of you, the entire congregation, are witnesses that I am declaring in the presence of the holy sifrei Torah that with a clear mind and under solemn oath I, Devorah Leah bas Shterna, am replacing my father, R. Shneur Zalman ben Rivkah, and he shall remain alive.”

On the Second Day of Rosh HaShanah she fell ill, and the following day, the Fast of Gedaliah, the third of Tishrei, she passed away, fully aware until the last moment. Just before she passed away she asked her father to personally be the guide and mentor of her only son. And indeed, from that time on, the Alter Rebbe had a fixed time every day without exception – weekdays, Shabbos, Yom-Tov, the Days of Awe – when he would teach him. He used to say that with those sessions he was repaying the debt he owed his daughter.

7. Departed Parents. A memorandum written by his son, R. Moshe, records a lengthy explanation that the Alter Rebbe once gave in the year 5555 (1795) concerning the elevation that the soul of Devorah Leah had undergone by virtue of her son’s Torah study. The Alter Rebbe there elaborated on the spiritual bliss that children grant their departed parents by their present Torah study and upstanding conduct.

8. Private Lessons. In the course of my great-grandfather’s private study sessions after his bar-mitzvah, the Alter Rebbe taught him Sefer HaKuzari, Moreh Nevuchim, Ikkarim and Avodas HaKodesh17 from the perspective of Chassidus, and Etz Chayim18 from the perspective of Chakirah.19

9. Spiritual Adversaries. When my great-grandfather(the Tzemach Tzedek) taught my grandfather (the Rebbe Maharash) Sefer HaKuzari, Moreh Nevuchim andIkkarim, he told him that when his grandfather (the Alter Rebbe) had taught him those three works, he had an additional purpose in mind – to effect a certain tikkun, a spiritual rectification. Although the intentions of their respective authors were positive, those authors had been challenged by numerous kitrugim, spiritual adversaries, with the result that their souls required an arousal of Divine mercy to secure them their compensatory rectification and ascent (ilui).

My great-grandfather(the Tzemach Tzedek) then told my grandfather (the Rebbe Maharash): “I often felt and saw that tikkun and that ilui, which my grandfather (the Alter Rebbe) brought about by means of his study, in the nighttime visions that I experienced at that time.”

10. Rambam as a Kabbalist. At one of the sessions in which my grandfather (the Rebbe Maharash) taught my father [i.e., the Rebbe Rashab] Moreh Nevuchim, he told him that he had received a tradition, handed down from Rebbe to Rebbe all the way back to the Baal Shem Tov, that Rambam was a great Kabbalist.20 The reason that Rambam, like Rashi, went to great lengths to conceal this, even by allusion, is that at that time it was dangerous to reveal its secrets, or even to hint at them.

11. Rambam as a Maskil and Oved. In the course of a walk one summer’s day in Marienbad, two of the points that my father (the Rebbe Rashab) made about the distinctive standing of Rambam were as follows:

(a) My great-grandfather (the Mitteler Rebbe) once said that Rambam grasped intellectually as far “up” as the World of Beriah. To this my father (the Rebbe Maharash) added that what Rambam grasped intellectually he could have explained in his characteristic style, but his generation was not fit to receive it.

(b) Rambam’s intellectual conception was at the level of Daas Elyon.21 By grasping the near-existence22 of the World of Beriah, he grasped the utter non-existence of the World of Atzilus.23 The avodah of Rambam was at the level ofYichuda Ilaah.24 He uses the concepts of Chakirah as a vessel for the name Havayah. Thus, for example, the terms yesodos (“foundations”) and amudim (“pillars”) are concepts borrowed from the terminology of Chakirah – and Rambam makes of them the Name Havayah, by opening his Yad25 with the words, Yesod hayesodos ve’amud hachochmos (“The basic foundation and the pillar of wisdom”), whose initial letters spell the Four-Letter Name of G‑d.

12. Rambam as a Rosh Yeshivah. The notes that record my father’s powerful farbrengen in Menton26 on Purim, 5672 (1912), are extensive.27 On that occasion my father explained the concept of Mesivta deRakia (“the Heavenly Academy”), detailing all the chambers that relate to the Torah’s various levels of interpretation:pshat, remez, derush and sod. He added that Rambam was a resh mesivta – a rosh yeshivah – in the study hall of the Mesivta deRakia.

13. Extraneous Thoughts. The Torah states, as a definitive halachah,28 that “the power of goodness is greater than the power of evil.”29 As we plainly see, extraneous thoughts – not only during davenen or Torah study but even while eating or resting – bring about the greatest spiritual damage. When I say that “the power of goodness is greater,” I mean that in the midst of a person’s worldly affairs, and especially in the midst of what people call ordinary conversation, he should accustom himself to bring to mind a good thought, a Torah teaching,30 something from the Aggadah, anavodah-related chassidic interpretation of a passuk, or the like. Here we see how “the power of goodness is greater”: the good thought utterly destroys one’s stock of extraneous thoughts.

I know a number of practical instances of young chassidim who conduct themselves in this way, with great success.

14. What Every Jew Deserves. It is a well-known principle that “in proportion to his intellect is a man to be praised.”31