1. Among all the nesi’im of chassidim, whether of the general school of Chassidus or of Chabad Chassidus, the daytime meal of the Last Day of Pesach had a distinctive routine. In principle, it was a heritage passed down from among the customs practiced by the Baal Shem Tov.

In fact, it would be a good idea to compile a compendium of all the customs of our revered predecessors, the Rebbeim (May their merit stand us in good stead), and construct a book of customs that would relate to and be matched with one’s daily life – a book of daily readings for Chabad chassidim, including Chabad customs, selected teachings, and very short narratives.

A well-organized compendium like this can be composed only by a person of deep-seated spiritual integrity,1 who is fundamentally methodical, and whose mind is broad and profound.2 I rely on the G‑d-given success that has been granted me. With every project that I consider to be for the public welfare – relating to Torah, or the awe of Heaven, or the livelihood of Jews in general and chassidim in particular – the One Above engineers circumstances in such a way that sooner or later it becomes a reality. I trust that ultimately, with His help, my hope for an organized compendium will likewise be actualized, thereby gladdening my heart and benefitting the chassidic community.3

2. Bitachon (trust in G‑d) and hefkeirus (irresponsible lawlessness) differ only by a hair’s-breadth. At first glance they appear to be so identical that it is hard to distinguish between them. To explain that difference is of course even more difficult, because every rational explanation needs to be backed by evidence.

The subtle distinction hinges on two points, which are innately divergent but in practice are not.

(a) The person whose life is guided by bitachon does not think about himself: he thinks about Him in Whom he trusts.

In contrast, the person whose life is guided by hefkeirus thinks only about himself: he thinks about how his hefkeirus can bring him pleasure.

(b) The person whose life is guided by bitachon thinks about what will be later, in three ways: (i) whatever results from his decisions will accord with the Will of G‑d; (ii) whatever happens according to the Will of G‑d will assuredly be good, despite his mortal understanding; and (iii) if G‑d so wills it, the kind of good that is not visibly good can be transformed to revealed good within a moment.

In contrast, the person whose life is guided by hefkeirus does not think about what will be later.

In one area, mesirus nefesh, even though the nature of their respective self-sacrifice differs, when it comes to the actual practice of self-sacrifice, the above two individuals are identical.

[At this point, the Rebbe Rayatz draws subtle distinctions between (a) the manner in which rational explanations are validated – or invalidated – by what is perceived by one’s tangible, physical senses, and (b) the manner in which rational explanations are validated – or invalidated – by one’s ethereal, spiritual sensors. In this connection he comments on the poverty of mere words to faithfully convey the delicate distinctions that need to be drawn.]

3. When the Baal Shem Tov first revealed himself, his disciples4 used to question whether they ought to observe his customs. Their hesitation was not of the kind spoken of severely in the teaching of the Sages, about “whoever entertains doubts about his Rebbe.”5 Quite the contrary: they were examining themselves as to whether they had already attained the level at which they could allow themselves to follow his holy path without fear that they would be doing so merely because their Rebbe did so.

4. Those of the Baal Shem Tov’s disciples who were plain, unlettered folk accepted and practiced his customs immediately, without agonizing over the finer questions as to whether or not they had arrived at the appropriate level. They simply knew that the Baal Shem Tov conducted himself in a certain way, so they did the same.

In this lies the superiority – according to the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov – of the avodah of unsophisticated and unlettered people, for whatever they do in the realm of mitzvos is not based on reason but on the kabbalas ol of faith. By contrast, tzaddikim who are baalei avodah, and whose Divine service is based on knowledge and awareness, are first required to thoroughly understand the subject at hand [i.e., as above, a custom of their Rebbe] and to actually be living at the appropriate spiritual level. This is why the members of the Holy Brotherhood investigated each custom of their Rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov, and then meditated upon the question of whether or not they were at the level which the practice of that custom presupposed.

5. One of my father’s well-known customs is that when he did netilas yadayim before a meal, he would pour water three times on each hand while holding the dipper with a towel, in order not to touch it with wet hands.

On Shabbos Parshas Toldos in the year 5654 (1893),6 the esteemed guest who had come to spend Shabbos in Lubavitch was invited to my father’s table for seudas Shabbos.7 After washing his hands, taking his seat and saying HaMotzi, my father invited his guest to go ahead and wash his hands. The guest washed his hands with a lot of water, pouring half of a big dipper on each hand for the first two times and a filled big dipper for the third time, and holding the dipper with a towel – exactly as my father had done.

I observed that my father watched his guest’s movements very earnestly, and felt that this no doubt resulted from some profound intent relating to avodah. So when the guest returned to his own apartment – at that time we used to have the meals of Shabbos and Yom-Tov in the apartment of my grandmother8 – I asked him what was the meaning of the way he had scrutinized his guest.

He explained that when an ordinary person copies a hiddur practiced by a Torah scholar who is a mehader, that is not surprising. After all, that is as it should be: the ordinary person does everything with kabbalas ol, which is as it ought to be. However, when something is done by a Torah scholar,9 particularly if he is involved both in the haskalah and the avodah of Chassidus, his action should well from within. It should be done because it reflects the spiritual level at which he actually lives, and not merely because he saw someone doing it. That’s what I wanted to discern – whether his action was prompted by his actual level, or merely by a desire to attain that level one day….

6. My father went on to say that whatever one sees or hears is a vital directive from Above for one’s avodah. That principle applies not only to things that people consider important, but also to minute details that ordinary people wave aside as trivial. Whatever one sees or hears, whether good and refined, or evil and gross, is a directive from Above that one needs to find something similar within himself. For everything a person sees or hears is a mirror that serves to show him, within himself, the evil and gross traits that he needs to banish and the good and refined traits that he needs to acquire.

Accordingly, anyone who is actively involved in avodah should – and must – observe everything. For his labors in avodah, the role of the minutest detail equals the role of a major sight or sound. In one’s service of G‑d, nothing is a detail: everything is meaningful.

7. When the Baal Shem Tov first revealed himself, he often traveled – to big cities and little townships, to rural settlements, villages, and roadside inns. He traveled for three purposes: (a) to ransom farmers and leaseholders who had been imprisoned by the local squire because they had been unable to pay their rent;10 (b) to inspire people to study Torah and love their fellow Jews; and (c) to reveal pnimiyus haTorah, the Torah’s inner, mystical dimension, to Torah scholars.

8. The Baal Shem Tov did this by visiting almost all of the prominent yeshivos of his time and meeting with their heads and senior students. He is known to have visited Brisk and to have paid two visits to Slutzk, Pinsk and Hlusk, and he also visited Minsk and Smorgon. Each of these towns hosted a prestigious yeshivah with hundreds of students.

9. When his disciples, the members of the Holy Brotherhood, asked him why he traveled to visit those yeshivos instead of waiting for their students to visit him, he gave no answer. When the members of the Holy Brotherhood, the disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch, asked him for an explanation, he too gave no answer.

The first to explain this approach of the Baal Shem Tov was the Alter Rebbe. In a few concise words he explained the difference between a rosh yeshivah, who waits for students to come to him, and a Rebbe of pnimiyus haTorah, who does not wait, but goes out to the Torah scholars and reveals it to them.

He said: “The revealed dimension of the Torah is innately drawn towards the revealed dimension of the Torah.11 That is why, in relation to the revealed dimension of the Torah, the recipient goes to the mentor.12 The function of the inner dimension of the Torah is to arouse and reveal the inner dimension [of the soul].13 That is why, in relation to the inner dimension of the Torah, the mentor goes to the recipient, in order to arouse his pnimiyus, the inner dimension of his soul.”

The Mitteler Rebbe explained: “The difference between galia, the revealed dimension of the Torah, and Chassidus, which is the pnimiyus of the Torah, is that the revealed dimension of the Torah is [likened to] water,14 and people approach water readily. The pnimiyus of the Torah is fire, which people are afraid of. That explains why the mentor has to go to the recipient and reassure him, ‘Don’t be afraid, because ‘the L‑rd your G‑d is a consuming fire.’ ”15

My great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, added: “Water by nature is cold; fire by nature is hot. Studying the revealed dimension of the Torah without the pnimiyus of the Torah is cold and can (G‑d forbid) cool one’s ardor. The pnimiyus of the Torah is fire, which injects a little G‑dly fire into the revealed dimension of the Torah that one studies. It burns out all the stratagems by which the study of the revealed dimension of the Torah alone can cool the ardor of someone who was not found worthy.”16

10. In a letter that my father wrote me in the winter of 5662 (1902), he said that the Mitteler Rebbe once said: “My father (the Alter Rebbe) used to remove spiritual ‘adhesions in the lung’17 by means of fire.” When my father returned to Lubavitch he repeated this teaching and added: “The avodah of G‑dly fire exists in various modes. As far as leading chassidim is concerned, the path in avodah that was transmitted to me is the provision18 of the Torah’s levels of wine and oil.19 And may G‑d grant success to this Divine service.”

11. Before R. Aizik Homiler entered the study of the Alter Rebbe for yechidus, he prepared himself for two years. Finally, on his way to visit the Alter Rebbe, he passed through a rural township called Kazan, near Polotzk, and called on a fellow chassid who was known as R. Shaul Kazaner. (He was not one of the elder chassidim.) R. Shaul told him that he had heard from the Alter Rebbe’s earliest chassidim from Vitebsk that when the Alter Rebbe founded the path of Chabad Chassidus, he delivered the following Chabad teaching:

“[Before the women of Shushan approached the king, their cosmetic preparations included] ‘six months with oil of myrrh and six months with aromatic spices.’20 [In the Holy Tongue, the word for myrrh is mohr, whose key letters are echoed in merirus, meaning remorse. Hence,] the ‘six months with oil of myrrh’ are a mystical allusion to the earnest meditation that gives rise to a genuinely contrite frame of mind. The ensuing ‘six months with aromatic spices’ are a mystical allusion to the sweet savor that one relishes from an apprehension of Elokus. And all of that together constitutes a chassid’s preparation for yechidus.

R. Aizik heard that teaching, waited another twelve months, and only then did he approach the Alter Rebbe at yechidus.

12. As is widely known, the Alter Rebbe’s chassidim used to call the room in which they used to wait for their turn at yechidus, Gan Eden HaTachton (“the Lower Garden of Eden”), and the yechidus room was known as Gan Eden HaElyon (“the Higher Garden of Eden”).

The Alter Rebbe’s earliest chassidim, from the period before his incarceration in Petersburg [in 1796], used to say that when they stepped over the threshold and entered his study for yechidus, they forgot all their previous conceptions and the entire I of This World. When they left their yechidus, they experienced the ideal to “know Him in all your ways.”21 And when the chassidim who were endowed with an intellectual appreciation of Elokus left their yechidus,22 they experienced the ideal of serving “G‑d alone.”23

13. The well-known chassid, R. Chanoch Hendel, visited Lubavitch for the first time in the summer. My great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, was then in Petersburg for the Rabbinical Conference, and came home in Elul.24 R. Chanoch Hendel began to prepare himself for yechidus, which took place some time after Shavuos, almost a year after he arrived in Lubavitch.

14. In mochin (intellectual avodah) and middos (the refinement of character) there is a variety of levels, some higher, some lower. In the level of truth, by contrast, there is no variety: it is the same in everyone.

Truth and faith are not giluyim, [external] revelations; truth and faith are atzmi’im: they belong to one’s essence. The revelation of faith and truth is a revelation of the essence, the atzmus, of the soul.

15. A certain tamim arrived in Lubavitch and cleaved to the aged mashpia, R. Michoel der Alter,25 who set him firmly on the path to become a chassidisher bachur. When the young man left Lubavitch for home and entered his father’s timber business, he used to sing in Russian, Nyet, nyet, nikavo, kromia baga adnavo! (“No, no! Nothing exists, only One God!”) When my father (the Rebbe Rashab) heard that niggun he commented, “That’s a Tohu-like Ein od.”26

My father added a teaching of the Mitteler Rebbe – that by studying Torah in the language spoken in any country, one elevates27 that language. This tamim was at home in Russian because his business was in forests, but wherever he was, he was dedicated to the spiritual lifestyle of chassidim. So his niggun is a foresty Ein od!”

16. [One of those present at the farbrengen asked the Rebbe Rayatz:] “Through what kind of avodah can one arrive at ahavas Yisrael, a love of one’s fellow Jew?”

[The Rebbe responded:] What we once said about the Shpoler Zeide28 – that he was gifted with a particular sensitivity to the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael – is unrelated to the present question.

A person has both kochos (faculties) and chushim (spiritual senses). Some kochos are revealed and others are latent. The function of the chushim is to see to it that the kochos will be revealed and find expression in a positive manner, and this function requires avodah. In contrast, no avodah is needed for the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael itself, just like the love between brothers, which is innate and tangible, or a father’s love for his son. And that is how the love of one’s fellow Jew should be.

A similar distinction applies in the mitzvah of tzedakah. Giving something to the needy does not require avodah; what does require avodah is the pacifying message that accompanies the gift. As the Sages teach,29 “He who gives a copper coin to a pauper is granted six blessings; he who [in addition] soothes his feelings with words is granted eleven blessings.” The fact that here avodah does play a role indicates the high standing of the mitzvah of tzedakah.

17. Chassidim have the teachings of Chassidus, but for chassidim, Chassidus is not an addendum: it is the chassidic way of life in all four parts of the Shulchan Aruch. Among chassidim, the Shulchan Aruch is not merely a book that stands in the bookcase, nicely bound (and in some cases, bound with two spines…). Among chassidim, [it is not the chassid who binds his Shulchan Aruch; rather,] the Shulchan Aruch binds the chassid.

Chassidim know that Orach Chayim30 (lit., “the path of life”) is the way of life for living as a Jew; the title Yoreh Deah (lit., “he teaches understanding”) implies that living as a Jew teaches one how to arrive at a proper understanding; the title Even HaEzer (lit., “the stone that helps”) suggests that a pure family life is the touchstone of a Jew; and Choshen Mishpat (lit., “the breastplate of judgment”) is the part of the Shulchan Aruch that lays down the proper law in all of life’s questions.

Our predecessors, the Rebbeim, taught chassidim that from every Shabbos and every Yom-Tov one ought to learn something that he can apply as he lives his life of practical avodah.

[Concerning the pilgrim festivals, the Torah commands:31 “Three times a year all your males shall appear (lit., ‘shall be seen’) before the L‑rd your G‑d in the place that He will choose (i.e., the Beis HaMikdash).”] There, just as each man came to be seen, so too he came to see, and just as he came to see, so too he came to be seen.32 In the Beis HaMikdash, what mattered most was to see, for if one doesn’t see, he in turn is (G‑d forbid) is not seen.

The same principle applies with regard to the command,33 “They shall build Me a Sanctuary and I will dwell within them.” Within one’s own life, too, [from every Shabbos and every Yom-Tov] one ought to learn something that he can apply – in the realm of understanding Elokus, in middos, and in practical avodah.

And just as with bedikas chametz, the search before Pesach must relate to at least a tiny tangible amount34 of chametz, so too in one’s efforts in the side of kedushah, at least a mere something has to be attained – but there must be something.

18. When a Torah scholar walks down the street and treads on a stone, the stone should feel that it is a Torah scholar who is treading on it.

[In the Ultimate Future,] “A stone will cry out from the wall and a sliver will answer it from the beams.”35 The stone is an inanimate object; the superiority of a man lies in his power of speech. If so, a man ought to fulfill the mission for which his soul was sent down to This World. If he does not do so, “A stone will cry out from the wall.” For “if the eye were permitted to see,”36 we would not see the physicality of matter but only the Divine ayin (lit., “nothingness”) that animates it. The stone in the street should therefore feel that it is specifically a Torah scholar who is treading on it. If not, why shouldn’t the stone be trampling on him?37

19. A Torah scholar ought to light up the world with Torah and avodah and positive character traits. He ought to be a beacon of Torah and mitzvos and good middos.

Some Torah scholars refrain from toiling in avodah, and their animal soul convinces them that they are motivated by humility. That reason is false. It’s an invention of the animal soul to distance a person from Divine service.

At Simchas Beis HaShoeivah,38 my great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, used to farbreng with chassidim, discussing teachings of Chassidus and avodah. Speaking of avodah on such an occasion in 5575 (1814), he said that his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, and his father-in-law, the Mitteler Rebbe, had made chassidim clever: they enabled a chassid to recognize his animal soul with all of its sham disguises and sly deception.39

In that connection, my great-grandfather used to sing the well-known niggun that the Alter Rebbe’s early chassidim from Vitebsk used to sing: “Ashreinu, mah tov chelkeinu (‘We are fortunate! How good is our portion!’) in the revealed faculties of our G‑dly souls; Mah na’im goraleinu (‘How pleasant is our lot’) in the latent faculties of our souls!”40

20. A businessman ought to focus on the verse, “Know Him in all your ways.”41 This avodah is relevant not only to a tzaddik but to everyone,42 including a person who sells his wares at the market. In fact it is more relevant to someone involved in worldly affairs more than to a fulltime Torah scholar.43