During the month of Tishrei, 5674 (1913), my father did not feel well, so immediately after Sukkos we set out to consult doctors. At the suggestion of the specialists in Berlin and Vienna he had to spend the winter in Menton, and at the end of winter, he had to undergo a strict regimen of curative baths in Wiesbaden. On Wednesday, 12 Nissan, we and the children joined him there. He tested their comprehension of the Haggadah and was very pleased with what he heard: they knew not only the plain dry meaning of the words, but also many of the teachings of the Sages that are more or less related to the Haggadah.

My father spoke at great length at both Sedarim and also at the daytime seudos. He expounded several verses and passages in the spirit of Chabad Chassidus so clearly that the children were able to understand.1 He illuminated most of his explanations with stories of events in the lives of our holy forefathers, the Rebbeim, and in the lives of elder chassidim of various generations, and pointed out the lesson to be learned from each narrative.

The venerable R. Shmuel Gourary,2 who was in Wiesbaden at the time, was present at both Sedarim and at the daytime seudos. He sat in an adjoining room from which he could hear my father’s sichos, which he and R. Avraham Gorelik and I reviewed after the Sedarim.

On both days of Pesach, at the request of our children, I repeated for them the talks and the anecdotes that we had heard by night and by day. I was particularly gratified when one of them would comment that I had not quoted the exact words that they had heard from their grandfather, or that I had not repeated his interpretations of the Haggadah in exactly the same order, or that I had omitted a phrase – all of which I had repeatedly done in order to test their grasp.

One day during Chol HaMoed we were joined by one of the temimim3 – R. Shmuel Ikoniyov, son of the rav of Velizh. He lived in a Litvisher shtetl, but because of financial pressure (his uninsured store had burned down a couple of times), he made a reasonable living by serving as an itinerant chazzan in Prussian townships. Now, after a successful visit in Koenigsberg for the first two days of Pesach, he decided to visit my father for the last two days.

In this alumnus one could perceive the education and guidance that the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah represents – fruits that are most evident at a chassidisher farbrengen. He was not particularly gifted, and when his father brought him to the Yeshivah he was a spoiled only child, eighteen years old, neither able nor willing to study. Yet despite that, the mashpi’im and the mashgiach succeeded in implanting within him a measure of yiras Shamayim and of refined attributes, together with a warm, chassidisher sensitivity.

On the Seventh Day of Pesach, my father delivered a maamar based on the words, LeGozer Yam Suf LiGezarim – “[Praise Him] Who split the Sea of Reeds into sections.”4 [In the language of Chassidus, “dry land” signifies alma de’isgalya – lit., “the revealed world,” the level at which Divinity is relatively evident. By contrast, just as the creatures in the ocean are hidden from view, “the sea” signifies alma de’iskasya – lit., “the hidden world,” the elevated level at which Divinity is normally beyond the reach of mortal perception.] The maamar teaches that at the time of that miracle the Jewish people, whose souls belong to the revealed world, walked on dry land within the sea: they were elevated to the sublime level of the hidden world by the intense revelation of the innermost lights of the World of Atzilus.

* * *

At the seudah on the eve of the Seventh Day of Pesach, my father spoke about the childhood of my revered great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, as follows:

1. The Sages teach us that at the age of three, Avraham Avinu “recognized his Creator.”5 Now, the term “recognized” is appropriate only after something was previously known. On the other hand, the term “his Creator” implies that Avraham Avinu arrived at his knowledge of the Creator by observing the created beings around him. These two terms thus appear to contradict each other. If he arrived at his conclusion by observing now the wonders of creation, how can we say that he now recognized something that he had already known?

A solid explanation is called for, regarding what is known about Elokus beforehand that can later be recognized, just asAvraham Avinu arrived at his realization.

As the Alter Rebbe writes in chapter 35 of Tanya,6 a soul’s real knowledge of Elokus is that “He alone exists, and there is nothing besides Him.” And as the Alter Rebbe explains further in Iggeres HaKodesh (in the Epistle that begins, “He and His life-giving emanations are one”),7 “It is therefore in His power and ability alone to create something (yesh) out of absolute naught and nothingness, without this yesh having any other cause and reason preceding it.” The soul also knows that the yesh (i.e., all of existence) comes into being by virtue of Atzmus, G‑d’s very Essence. And when the soul descends into a body, it recognizes what it already knew.

In the case of my grandfather,8 the date on which “at the age of three he recognized his Creator” was the eve of Rosh HaShanah, 5553 (1792).

2. For the Alter Rebbe, as is well known,9 the year 5552 (1792-93) was an extremely trying time. For many months, from Rosh HaShanah of that year until Shavuos, even his immediate family, the Mitteler Rebbe, and the closest of his elder disciples, did not know what intense suffering he was undergoing on account of the harassment of chassidim by the misnagdim.

That Shavuos, as always, the Alter Rebbe spoke at the Yom-Tov table about the Baal Shem Tov.10 When he sang he was severely earnest; he was in a profound state of rapture. Though his holy face was revealed, his eyes were closed. As his lips uttered unheard words, and streams of tears trickled down his cheeks, his awesome expression revealed to all those around him that this was a prayer of entreaty, a plea for Divine mercy.

Suddenly he stood up and wept these words: Zeide!11 Rebbe! Arouse Heaven’s mercies upon me, upon all of your disciples, upon all those who are connected to them, and upon your teachings!”

He then cried out, “Oy, oy! Gevald, gevald!”12 and fell into a deep faint.

Alarmed by the clamor, his rebbitzin and daughters came running in. Someone sent for Yonah the doctor. Meanwhile his 2¾-year-old grandson – my grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek – ran in. Seeing his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, lying on the floor, he threw himself upon him and screamed, “Zeide, Zeide!”

When the Alter Rebbe opened his eyes, he saw the child stretching out his tiny hands and crying out, “Zeide! Hold on to my hands and stand up!”

The Alter Rebbe said, “Give me your hand,” took hold of him, and as he rose to his feet he said, “This one will console us!”13

3. In the month of Elul the Alter Rebbe directed that the child’s cot be brought into his study. He said, “It would be a pity that he should forget what he has been taught – and Torah studied for its own sake14 he will learn though his own avodah and exertion.”

4. On the eve of Rosh HaShanah, 5553 (1792), the Alter Rebbe gave my grandfather his blessing that he should not find undue difficulty in the avodah of arriving at the lofty level at which “a man’s soul teaches him.”15

5. During the shivah following the passing of my great-grandmother, Rebbitzin Devorah Leah,16 the Alter Rebbe led the davenen three times a day and my grandfather said Kaddish.

* * *

[The Rebbe Rashab narrated further, at the seudah on the eve of the Seventh Day of Pesach, as follows:]

6. My father (the Rebbe Maharash) once related that he had heard the following traditions from a chassid who was known as R. Avraham ben R. Shimshon the Melamed:

(a) On the eve of Yom Kippur, 5553 (1792), the Alter Rebbe visited the gravesite of his daughter, Rebbitzin Devorah Leah.

(b) He had the child carried to that holy resting place as they visited it together.

(c) There the Alter Rebbe said: “Just as tzaddikim are greater after their passing than during their lifetime,’17 so are the blessings of tzaddikim greater after their passing than during their lifetime.”

A mournful shudder overwhelmed all those present as the Alter Rebbe, standing by the grave and holding his grandson’s hand, then pleaded: “Devorah Leah, daughter of Shterna! Today is the eve of Yom Kippur. Bless your orphaned only son, Menachem Mendel the son of Devorah Leah, that this young child should grow to be great in both the revealed and the mystical planes of the Torah, and that he enjoy success as he does good deeds throughout a long life! Entreat Heaven to be merciful to me, to the entire community of chassidim, and to the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, of blessed memory!”

(d) That Yom Kippur my grandfather – so I heard from R. Avraham, the son of R. Shimshon the Melamed – fasted the entire day, like all the adults.

(e) On Motzaei Yom Kippur, the Alter Rebbe called for R. Avraham, the son of R. Shimshon the Melamed, and suggested that he move with his family from Lubavitch, where he lived, to Liozna. There he would teach the Alter Rebbe’s grandson.

(f) My father, the Rebbe Maharash, related that his great-grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, studied [in Lubavitch] under the tzaddik, R. Yissachar Ber Kobilniker,18 who was the son-in-law of R. Yosef the Maggid. In Lubavitch there was a melamed, a teacher of young children, called R. Shimshon Semilianer.19 The Alter Rebbe was very fond of his teaching style: he gave due weight to grammatical precision, and at the end of every school day he would tell the cheder children a story from the Gemara or the Midrash that conveyed a message of Yiras Shamayim or positive character attributes.

Years later, during one of his visits to Mezritch, the Alter Rebbe met R. Shimshon Semilianer and discovered that he had been connected with the Baal Shem Tov, whom he had often visited in the course of twenty years – from 5500 to 5520 (1740-1760). After the passing of the Maggid of Mezritch he became a chassid of the Alter Rebbe.

Since R. Shimshon [Semilianer] the Melamed was physically weak, and teaching did not improve things, when he reached seventy he passed on this work to his son, R. Avraham. And when he turned seventy-five, the Alter Rebbe sent him to be a mashpia in Beshenkovitch.

(g) The Alter Rebbe told R. Avraham the Melamed that according to the Torah, a husband is not allowed to move even from one house to another without his wife’s consent; how much more so, from town to town. So even though R. Avraham usually spent the whole of Tishrei with the Rebbe in Liozna, the Rebbe told him that he should now go home for Sukkos, and then, with his wife’s consent, return with his family. The Alter Rebbe added that in the meantime, for undisclosed reasons, on the day after Yom Kippur which the entire Jewish world calls “G‑d’s Name,”20 he planned to bring his grandson, Menachem Mendel ben Devorah Leah, to the cheder for the first time.

(h) On the day after Yom Kippur, the Alter Rebbe davened very early, earlier than usual.

(i) The Rebbe personally led the davenen and read the weekly Torah reading.21 (It was the Thursday of Parshas Haazinu.) The little boy said every Kaddish, from the Kaddish DeRabbanan that precedes Shacharis to the Kaddish DeRabbanan which followed the Mishnayos that the Alter Rebbe then learned.

(j) As is well known, the Alter Rebbe – except for certain occasions – was particular that those called to the Torah should be a kohen, a Levi and a Yisrael.

(k) That Thursday was one such rare exception. On that day, 11 Tishrei, 5553 (1792), he instructed R. Baruch Shlomo the Shammes to call him up in place of a kohen, and for the following passage, beginning HaTzur tamim, which is normally read for a Levi – his son-in-law, the tzaddik R. Shalom Shachna, the child’s father. Finally, for the third passage, beginning Zechor yemos olam – he instructed the shammes to call up the [three-year-old] child, with the following words: “Menachem Mendel the son of HaRav R. Shalom Shachna and of Devorah Leah, and R. Avraham the son of R. Shimshon.”

As the Alter Rebbe read that third passage, beginning Zechor yemos olam (“Remember the days of old”), he was in a particular state of spiritual arousal. As R. Avraham the Melamed later related, “Every word struck deep into my head and heart. When the Alter Rebbe read the passuk beginning Yimtzaeihu and came to its second half (Yesovevenhu, yevoneneihu, yitzrenhu ke’ishon eino – “[G‑d] encircled him, endowed him with understanding, and watched over him like the apple of His eye”), two big tears dropped onto the lower margin of the sefer Torah. My knees quaked.”

(l) After davenen, the Alter Rebbe directed that the child be wrapped in a tallis so that he should be able to see nothing, and that he should be carried in someone’s arms to his mother’s resting place.

(m) The Alter Rebbe also went there, accompanied by all his relatives and numerous chassidim. Then, together with the child and his father, the Alter Rebbe approached the gravesite of Rebbitzin Devorah Leah and said in a loud and joyful voice: “Mazel-Tov, Devorah Leah bas Shterna! Today I am bringing your son, Menachem Mendel ben Devorah Leah, into the Torah. Give him your blessing, that as he has entered into Torah study, so may he enter into marriage and good deeds, throughout many long days and years!” And all those present responded heartily, Amen!

(n) [R. Avraham continued:] When we came home from the House of [Eternal] Life,22 the Alter Rebbe directed that the child be carried into the shul in the little courtyard. He then told me that I should now teach the little boy the first passage of Sefer Vayikra.23 The Rebbe meanwhile sat nearby, his head resting on his arms, in a state of rapture.24

(o) When I finished teaching the child that passage, the Rebbe gave him an oil-honey cookie that had various psukim engraved on it, and a hard-boiled egg that was likewise inscribed with various psukim.

(p) The little boy then asked the Rebbe why the word Vayikra (ויקרא) is written in the Torah with a small alef.

Opening his holy eyes after a long time in a state of dveikus, the Rebbe answered: “Adam was ‘made by G‑d’s Hands,’ and G‑d Himself testifies that ‘his wisdom exceeded that of the ministering angels.’25 Adam was aware of his own stature, was over-impressed by that awareness, and lapsed with the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge.

“The soul of Moshe Rabbeinu was actually Chochmah of the World of Atzilus, which lit up even the physical world. This is hinted at in the teaching of the Sages26 that when he was born, nismaleh habayis orah – ‘the house was filled with light.’ [On the non-literal level of interpretation, these words communicate a mystical allusion, as follows:] In the original, the verb nismaleh shares a root with memalehkol almin – ‘the [lesser] light that (lit.) fills all the worlds.’27 Moreover, the word orah is spelled אור (‘light’) plus the letter ה (‘G‑d’). This implies a superior light, from the World of Atzilus, for relative to the spiritual light that is present in the lower Worlds of Beriah-Yetzirah-Asiyah, the light from the World of Atzilus is like the transcendent level of sovev in comparison to the light called memaleh.

“Now, like Adam, Moshe Rabbeinu too was aware of his own stature. However, not only was he not over-impressed by that awareness, but in fact it left him with a humbled and bruised heart. In his own eyes he was lowly, because he thought: ‘If some other Jew, who was not a son of Amram and not a seventh-generation descendant of Avraham Avinu, had been endowed with such a lofty soul and had been boosted by such ancestral merits, he would certainly have outshone me.’ This is what the Holy One, blessed be He, writes in the Torah – that ‘this man, Moshe, was very humble, more so than any man on the face of the earth.’28 Moshe compared himself with any man, no matter how ordinary and unintellectual, and felt that if such a man had been granted his unearned gifts of soul and ancestry, he would certainly have risen to greater heights than Moshe Rabbeinu himself had attained.”

[The Alter Rebbe now concluded the answer to his grandson’s question:]

“The letters that G‑d gave at Sinai appear in three sizes – large, intermediate and small. The Torah is written in letters of intermediate size. This teaches us that a man ought to become a beinoni (‘an intermediate man’),29 and that he can attain this level via the Torah. By recognizing his own lofty stature, Adam stumbled with the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge. His name (אדם) is therefore written30 with a large alef. Moshe Rabbeinu, by contrast, via the avodah of realizing his own lowliness of spirit, attained the ultimate degree of humility. Therefore, when G‑d calls him, that verb (ויקרא) is written with a small alef.”

(q) The Alter Rebbe then delivered a maamar based on the opening theme of Sefer Vayikra,31 namely, “If a man among you should offer a sacrifice to G‑d….” He had a seudas mitzvah32 prepared, and urged all those present to participate in it.

(r) Accordingly, soon after the Rebbe left the shul, all those present washed their hands for HaMotzi and took their seats. The elder chassidim sat the little boy on a chair on the table and asked him to repeat his grandfather’s answer to his question about the small alef in the word Vayikra. And, in a child’s voice, loud and clear, the little boy obliged.

The aged chassid R. Reuven Senner stood up and declared: “May the One Above fulfill all the blessings that the Rebbe has given his grandson, Menachem Mendel ben Devorah Leah!”

And all those present responded together, Amen, Amen!”33

* * *

7. R. Nissan the Melamed was the son-in-law of R. Pesach the Melamed, the son of R. Avraham, who in turn was the son of R. Shimshon the Melamed.

R. Avraham the Melamed was a great man of words, both in writing – he wrote with unusual speed – and in speech. When I was twelve to fourteen years old, and my teacher was R. Pesach the Melamed, I read several manuscript booklets in which his father, R. Avraham the Melamed, recorded the narratives and traditions that had been passed down to him by his father, R. Shimshon the Melamed.

[The Rebbe Rashab further recalled:] My father [i.e., the Rebbe Maharash] used to call R. Pesach the Melamed “the baal shemuah,” the master of oral traditions, because he was the second link in the chain of oral transmission that began with the aged chassid, R. Shimshon the Melamed. For a start, R. Shimshon was one of the first of the chassidim in White Russia who were connected, as disciples, to the Baal Shem Tov and later to the Maggid of Mezritch. Moreover, he knew all the details of the Alter Rebbe’s childhood years before his father, the learned R. Baruch, brought him to Lubavitch to study under R. Yissachar Dov Kobilniker.

In addition to the narratives and traditions that R. Avraham had heard from his father, R. Shimshon, and recorded in writing, there were dozens of others that were recorded only in his memory. He had also written dozens of accounts of incidents in the life of the Alter Rebbe, from the year 5553 (1792), when R. Avraham had moved from Lubavitch to Liozna and thence to Liadi, until 5572 (1812), when the Alter Rebbe left Liadi.

When the Mitteler Rebbe settled in Lubavitch,34 R. Avraham the Melamed left Liadi and moved there. For ten years he taught older students. Then, in 5584 (1824), the Mitteler Rebbe appointed him as one of the mashpi’im charged with the task of guiding the chassidishe bochurim and married chassidim.

His son, R. Pesach, studied under his father, and after his marriage became a melamed. In his spare time he would farbreng with the zitzers, the fulltime married students, and in 5595 (1835) he became a neighborhood melamed. For almost fifty years, from 5575 (1815) to 5625 (1865), he kept notes of whatever he heard from the elder chassidim whom he met in Lubavitch.

R. Nissan the Melamed, the son-in-law of R. Pesach the Melamed, was born in 5597 (1837). He described in writing whatever he had observed in the household of the Rebbeim,35 and whatever he had heard from his father-in-law and from other chassidim, from the year 5620 (1860) until after the passing of the Rebbe Maharash on 13 Tishrei, 5643 (1882).

[Summarizing the recollections preserved throughout the above three generations, the Rebbe Rashab concluded:] All in all, thanks to the handwritten booklets of memoirs kept by R. Avraham the Melamed and R. Pesach the Melamed and R. Nissan the Melamed, we have before us a history of the Rebbeim and of chassidim and of hidden tzaddikim, spanning about 300 years – from 5350 (1590), the time of R. Eliyahu Baal Shem,36 until 5643 (1882).

8. [The Rebbe Rashab continued:] On the Seventh Day of Pesach, 5556 (1796), my grandfather the Tzemach Tzedek asked his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe: “During the night between the fourteenth and the fifteenth of Nissan, our forefathers were granted a revelation of the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He – that is, a revelation of the level of the Sefirah of Malchus of the infinite Ein-Sof – and He redeemed them from Egypt. What new element was added, then, on the Seventh Day of Pesach, at the Splitting of the Sea of Reeds?”

The Alter Rebbe answered with a very brief parable: “The revelation and redemption from Egypt resemble a father’s turning towards his child and hugging him; the exclamation of This is my G‑d! at the Splitting of the Sea resembles the child’s turning to face his father.”

The Alter Rebbe explained the parable to his grandson ten years later, in 5566 (1806).

My grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, studied every single teaching of the Alter Rebbe at all four planes and modes of interpretation pshat, remez, derush and sod – the entire Pardes, and in each of them he reveals “seventy facets.”37 In this case, for example, he makes a point of distinguishing between (a) the level of faith in Egypt, where “the people believed… and they bowed their heads and prostrated themselves,”38 and (b) the level of their faith at the Splitting of the Sea, where “they believed in G‑d and in Moshe, His servant,”39 and, empowered by this faith, they leaped into the sea.