1. The Baal Shem Tov knew from his mentor, the Baal-Chai (ח"י being the acronym of חיה יחידה),1 that the spiritual mission that he was required to fulfill was the tikkun, or rectification, of the [Jewish People’s emotive] middos of נה"י (Nehi: Netzach, Hod, Yesod) and חג"ת (Chagas: Chessed, Gevurah, Tiferes). This tikkun was to be carried out by him personally and also by one of his disciples, in the course of a fixed number of years. The tikkun of the [intellective Sefiros known as] mochin, or חב"ד (Chabad: Chochmah, Binah, Daas), was to be carried out only by a new soul.2

The Baal Shem Tov knew the manner in which souls are ranged in the treasury of souls Above, as Chassidus explains the teaching of the Zohar3 that “every single soul stood in its own form before the Holy King.” The latter term (Malka Kaddisha) signifies Z’eir Anpin of the World of Atzilus, and before a soul is dispatched from there to be vested in a body below, it must undergo a year’s preparation or, in the case of a new soul, a preparation of three years.

Likewise, the Baal Shem Tov knew that the tikkun of the partzuf (i.e., the configuration of Sefiros) of Chabad had to take place by means of a new soul from Chochmah of the World of Atzilus. In a person invested with such a soul, the Chochmah that is revealed in his soul is lit up overtly by the supernal light of Chochmah Stima’ah. It is such a soul that requires a preparation of three years.

2. When the Heavenly Court decided that a new soul should be revealed in the world below and that its preparation should begin that same year, it also decided that this verdict should be revealed to the Baal Shem Tov. When he was duly informed, he wanted to know who were going to be the privileged parents, but this information was withheld even from him.

The memoirs that I committed to writing in the course of almost fifty years include many traditions on this subject that were handed down by my revered father, my grandmother Rebbitzin Rivkah, my teacher R. Nissan, my teacher Rashbatz, the elder chassid R. Chanoch Hendel, and other elder chassidim.

3. At this time we are all engaged in the difficult mission of breaking through a thick wall of ice – the customs of America. All of us arrivals, together with the students of the Lubavitcher Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah and with the help of the American Chabad chassidim, must with G‑d’s help turn America into a land of Torah and the awe of Heaven.

If G‑d helps us do the work of our shlichus with real self-sacrifice, I have the assurance of our holy Rebbeim that we will succeed.

It pains me to tell you what I know – that we are going to suffer heavily at the hands of the sweetly-slumbering rabbis who are going to publicly declare their antagonism to us, just as any sound sleeper is angry when someone wakes him up. Nevertheless, when the sleeper discovers that he stands to benefit from having been roused, he gets down to work. In due course the rabbis will start working, but the antagonistic stage is still with us, until in several years’ time they too will work. They will no doubt deny who it was who woke them up, but everyone will know the truth. Instead of a leadership of antagonism, there will be a leadership of kiruv, of closeness. I am telling this so that you will be strong of spirit, knowing that ultimately our labors in the spirit of ahavas Yisrael, loving every fellow Jew, will succeed.

4. The Alter Rebbe revealed Chabad Chassidus from its root and source in the Chochmah-Binah-Daas of the World of Atzilus. Each of those three levels of Mochin comprises all three, and each Rebbe revealed one particular level.

The Alter Rebbe effected the tikkun of the Chochmah in the partzuf of Chabad, and his chassidim were above all intellectual.4 The Mitteler Rebbe effected the tikkun of the Binah of Chabad, and his chassidim were roused by spiritual emotions.5 However, they were not outwardly hearty, but warm-hearted within;6 their hearts were aflame with a quiet and imperceptible fire. And my great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, effected the tikkun of the Daas of Chabad.

[One of these present now asked the Rebbe Rayatz:] Does that correspond to the classic analogy of a seal [that leaves an imprint which is the reverse of itself]?

[The Rebbe answered:] It is not to be understood in its plain sense that a chassid is the opposite of his Rebbe. A chassid through avodah does know what a Rebbe is.

[Question:] Do Rebbe and chassid correspond to mentor and disciple?

[Answer:] Rebbe and chassid are not only mentor and disciple. In the Rebbe/chassid relationship there are many levels, and there are many levels of chassid that can be understood, whereas the level of Rebbe is beyond comprehension.

[Question:] Do Rebbe and chassid correspond to luminary and light?

[Answer:] A Rebbe is an atzmi,7 and an atzmi is revealed in pnimiyus.

The term “chassid” is explained in Chassidus by parables and explanations at many levels. The narrative employed in one parable may be true in every detail. In another, the narrative employed is imaginary, as in the Alter Rebbe’s parable that likens a soul’s worldly descent to a prince who has lost his way. This is obviously no more than a parable, because a prince can’t lose his way. And after all of that, the concept of yechidah defies explanation.

5. [At this point, one of those present related that he had heard from Rashbatz that one of the elder chassidim of the Alter Rebbe who lived to a very old age said the following when he arrived in Lubavitch in the month of Iyar, 5626 (1866):8 “The Rebbe-the-grandfather9 drew down the Chochmah of Chabad so that it would be revealed in his chassidim, and guided them to become baalei avodah with the attribute of ahavah. The Rebbe-the-son10 drew down the Binah of Chabad so that it would be revealed in his chassidim, and guided them to become baalei avodah with the attribute of yirah. The Rebbe-the-grandson, the Tzemach Tzedek, drew down the Daas of Chabad so that it would be revealed in his chassidim, and guided them to acquire an inner sensitivity to the Daas of Chassidus. I’m now going to ask the Rebbe (i.e., the Rebbe Maharash) who is the Rebbe now.”

[The Rebbe Rayatz responded as follows:] That narrative is true and has a deep inner meaning. That chassid was R. Yekusiel Liepler. He is written up many times in my diary in connection with the subjects of grooming [young chassidim], and avodah, and the mastery of Chassidus.11 My father once told me that R. Yekusiel was one of the chassidim whose conduct was not affected by the tzimtzum, the cooling, [of the flaring fire] that had characterized the intense teaching style of the Alter Rebbe before he was slandered and incarcerated in the Peter Paul Fortress in Petersburg. My diary also has many things that my father related, in public or to me privately, about the actual mesirus nefesh and the modes of avodah with which R. Yekusiel devoted himself to the spiritual lifestyle of Chassidus. It was he who asked the Alter Rebbe to chop off his Left Side,12 so that “the disgusting scoundrel,”13 (the Evil Inclination,) would not harass him by inciting him with its lies.

7. As is well known, the Mitteler Rebbe composed each of his works for a particular individual. His Derech HaChayim he wrote for one chassid, and Imrei Binah for R. Yekusiel Liepler. Though he was not well versed in Torah scholarship in general, he had a remarkable mastery of the teachings of Chassidus. My grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, told my father that he once encountered a concept in Imrei Binah that he did not understand, so he discussed it with R. Yekusiel, who opened up his ability to comprehend.

8. [Question:] But people say that R. Yekusiel was a Yid who was at home only in Chumash and Rashi!

[Answer:] Since he was the baal shemuah [which usually means the person who knew and relayed an oral tradition,but here means the person who knew and relayed Imrei Binah], he sensed its inner meaning. The term baal shemuah is similar to the term baal shem, which literally means “the master of the Name.” Similarly, a baal shemuah is someone who has mastered the teaching at hand.

R. Yekusiel once called on R. Shmuel Dov Borisover,14 wearing a fur coat and with a whip in hand, and challenged him, “Guess what passage I’m finding problematic!”

9. The Alter Rebbe blessed R. Yekusiel with three things – longevity, children and wealth. His grandson was Solovey, the banker in Vitebsk. R. Yekusiel used to say of himself that he exchanged financial wealth for a wealth of spiritual understanding.

Despite all the above, chassidim did not hold him in the highest esteem, because he attained his spiritual level by virtue of the Rebbe’s blessing, and not by his own toil. Besides, in the area of avodah his conduct was unruly. As a rule he would not eat for a few days, and then eat a lot of bread with pepper.

10. [Question:] Did R. Yekusiel resemble R. Michl Opotzker, whose conduct also defied convention?

[Answer:] R. Michl’s conduct likewise belonged to the intense era that was tamed only at the time of the Alter Rebbe’s incarceration in Petersburg, but basically he was at a completely different level. He was an advanced scholar in the revealed levels of the Torah and extremely well versed in the Kabbalah of the Ramak and of the AriZal.15 He was also a very punctual person, and a deep thinker with a rare ability to explain concepts. In fact the Alter Rebbe once said, “I offer praise and thanks to G‑d for every individual who conducts himself in the paths of Chabad Chassidus, and for this chassid, my R. Michl, I offer additional praise and thanks. R. Michl lives down here in This World on the model of the World Above.” And the Alter Rebbe blessed him with long and healthy years.

My great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, once said that angels were always dancing around R. Michl, and one of them was always ready to do his bidding.

11. Rashbatz16 was one of the chassidim of Shventzian, whose leading figures were chassidim of the Alter Rebbe, so they sent the young Rashbatz to Opotzk where R. Michl would be his mentor. After two years, when R. Michl finally sent him off to Lubavitch, he entrusted him with a mission – to deliver a letter that was addressed to the Tzemach Tzedek.

Stepping into the beis midrash in which the Rebbe’s minyan was held, Rashbatz was deeply moved by its sights and sounds. In one corner a number of yungeleit were “davening with Chabad,” that is, davening with measured meditation; in another corner, a group of yungeleit were reviewing the new maamar of Shabbos from memory; and so on. In brief, he forgot all about his mission.

All of a sudden R. Chaim Ber, the Rebbe’s attendant, appeared in the beis midrash and announced: “Who has brought a letter to the Rebbe from R. Michl?”

When Rashbatz approached him and told him that he had arrived that very day and had brought such a letter, R. Chaim Ber said, “Come along and deliver it. The Rebbe is waiting for it!”

When Rashbatz now entered the Rebbe’s study he was so overawed that, with his mind utterly preoccupied, he gazed at the Rebbe’s luminous face – and again forgot his mission. The Tzemach Tzedek then approached him and took the letter out of his inside coat pocket.

12. A person who by nature has fine middos, positive character traits, needs to undertake a tougher kind of avodah than usual, to make those middos result from avodah. To refine and elevate17 good middos that are inborn is more difficult than to elevate evil middos, but this avodah places the oved on a really superior rung – firstly, because a person whose good middos are inborn can easily fool himself that he is just fine. He therefore needs a more deep-seated avodah so that he will grasp that he really does need to do avodah. Secondly, “the burden is proportionate to the camel.”18 Hence it is specifically the person with undesirable middos that is granted additional strength from Above. This is alluded to in the oath [that is administered to the soul about to be dispatched to This World below]: “Be righteous and be not wicked.” [The word meaning “an oath is administered” is mashbi’im (משביעים), and if the dot on the letter shin is moved from the right to the left of that letter, the resulting word (masbi’im) makes the phrase mean that] the soul is invested (“sated”) with the power that enables it to fulfill its destiny.19 A person whose good middos are inborn is not granted additional strength.

In this contrast lies a deep lesson, because standing staunchly and toiling in the battle against evil fulfills the intent of the promise that “none of them will be thrust away.”20 Here is revealed the power of Atzmus, G‑d’s very Essence, which from Above can drag a person out and rescue him even when he is sunk deep in evil. Atzmus doesn’t let go!

This is in contrast to the avodah of someone who by nature has fine middos. His avodah is a personal avodah of giluyim, which engages the revealed faculties of his soul. A revelation has to be earnestly requested. Since chassidim are clever, they request it earnestly – and when such a request is earnest, it is granted.

13. [Question:] But isn’t the man with good middos superior? After all, he has good middos.]

[Answer:] The individual with good middos is superior to the individual whose middos are bad. The latter has a deficiency; the former has a meritorious quality. However, as far as avodah is concerned, a person with a deficiency knows that he has to toil in avodah in order to correct his middos, whereas a person whose good middos are inborn can remain deficient, because he doesn’t realize what he lacks. Before the time of Avraham Avinu, too, there were people with fine middos, but those middos were not produced by avodah. In contrast, Avraham’s fine middos were the fruit of avodah. As we see, if his guests were not willing to thank the Creator for their food, Avraham charged them for all his expenses and for his services.21 That made the point that he did whatever he did because it was the Will of G‑d, and not because he was innately good-natured.

14. In the era of exile, “I am asleep.”22 A sleeper’s faculties are all asleep. True, his mind and middos, like his imagination, are still active. (Hence we observe that a sleeper’s mind can accommodate two things which, though incongruous together, are independently true.) In contrast to the sleeper’s mind, which is active, his vision and hearing are not. So, too, in the era of galus, people neither see nor hear Elokus: they neither perceive Elokus nor are they sensitive to it.

In one’s avodah it is vital to be aware that during sleep a person’s vision and hearing are not active. One must therefore constantly remember not be sleepy in his avodah, especially in a country that is crassly materialistic.

15. Moshe Rabbeinu once held a chassidisher farbrengen and reminded his listeners: “Remember the days of yore.”23 Some days are eternal, and should be remembered always.

For the chassidim of once upon a time, the core was essential, and the froth was froth. Nowadays, people regard the froth as essential, and the core as froth. The core has gone thin and the froth has grown fat. Hence, for chassidim of past generations, when things went well for them, or when (G‑d forbid) the opposite was the case, they were not fazed, because what was essential in their lives was their studies.

16. One day in the year 5638 (1878), a group of chassidim together reviewed the maamar24 that begins, LeHavin Or Ein-Sof (“To understand the infinite Ein-Sof light”). In the course of their erudite discussion they analyzed twenty-one analogies for that light – a veritable torrent of haskalah, the cerebral scholarship of Chassidus.

One of those present was the eminent chassid, R. Chaim Ber [Vilensky] from Kremenchug. After the discussion subsided, he asked: “But how does one become a chassid…?”

When this was repeated to my father,25 he said: “That perception came to R. Chaim Ber in the course of avodas hatefillah – that the smallest endeavor in correcting and refining one’s middos is superior to the loftiest and profoundest haskalah.”

17. The well-known chassid, R. Ber Mosayev, was a student of two of the Mitteler Rebbe’s chassidim – R. Shmuel and R. Baruch Tamare’s. R. Shmuel was warm-hearted, R. Baruch was cerebral.

My great-grandfather the Tzemach Tzedek told R. Ber Mosayev at his first yechidus: “My grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, cited an interpretation of a verse by the Baal Shem Tov. [On the straightforward level of pshat, the verse means:26 ‘He who goes weeping on his way, bearing a bag of seed, shall come back joyfully, carrying his sheaves.’ On a different level, in these words the Baal Shem Tov perceived the following message:]

“When after davening a person goes on his way remorsefully, he will bear a bag of seed – his avodah during davenen will prove to be fertile seeds yielding fruit. By contrast, if after davening he comes back complacently pleased with his own avodah, he will bring home only sheaves of empty straw.”

In later days, R. Ber Mosayev reported that by relaying to him that teaching, the Tzemach Tzedek transformed him utterly.

And indeed, R. Chaim Ber from Kremenchug once said that R. Ber Mosayev’s davening was so heartfelt, that whoever heard him daven became a penitent.

18. In days gone by, in addition to a regular session in halachah as prescribed by the Alter Rebbe,27 every chassid’s daily routine included a parshah of Chumash with Rashi, a chapter of Mishnayos, two chapters of Tanach, an amud of Gemara, a se’if of the Shulchan Aruch, and passages from the Midrash and Zohar.

In those days, the core was fat and the froth was thin. Today, the froth is fat and the core is thin.

19. If someone doesn’t study Chassidus and doesn’t exert himself in avodah, he can’t improve; if someone does study Chassidus but doesn’t exert himself in avodah, he’s just a nobody.

[Question:] How can one know that he has achieved nothing? Perhaps if he had not studied, he would have been much worse than he is!

[Answer:] Compassionate advocacy28 of that kind belongs to R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev and the Angel Michael…. Let’s talk honestly. If a person studies Chassidus but doesn’t exert himself in avodah, he thereby slanders the reputation of the teachings of Chassidus, and desecrates the honor of our holy Rebbeim.

20. In bygone days, people were silken and their clothes were common. Today, people are common and their clothes are silken.

In those days, one chassid at a farbrengen would admonish another candidly, giving him a thorough laundering and wringing him out – and they remained truly loving and faithful friends. This chassidisher practice transformed chassidishe butchers and wagon-drivers into Torah scholars and men of refined character.

21. The above-mentioned R. Chaim Ber used to travel from his home in Kremenchug to Kishinev, Bessarabia, to buy wine for his store. My revered father-in-law told me that on one such visit, R. Chaim Ber found that the wine dealer was not available, so he took a seat and meditated deeply and at length on some theme in Chassidus. After some time the dealer returned. However, knowing that his customer was a heavyweight intellectual, he did not want to disrupt his train of thought and went home for lunch.

Time passed, and it suddenly dawned on R. Chaim Ber that it was now time for Minchah. He opened his eyes, looked around, and saw the dealer. However, he forgot that he had come to Kishinev on business. The dealer must have come to visit him in Kremenchug! So he gave him a hearty Shalom Aleichem and asked him how were things in Kishinev. Next, believing himself to be still at home, he looked around for the familiar dipper so that he could wash his hands in preparation for Minchah….

All that was possible because for him, Chassidus was the core, and his business – froth.