1. By the time that the gaon, R. Aizik Homiler,1 first visited the Alter Rebbe when he was twenty-odd years old, his reputation as an ilui had already spread throughout the entire region. Arriving at Liozna he said that all his preparations to date were insufficient, and he set about preparing himself afresh to meet the Rebbe at yechidus.2

He once said: “The Rebbe opened up for me the Chabad3 of my soul to enable a comprehension of Chassidus. One of his maamarim that enabled those faculties to reveal their light within me was the one that begins, Al Shloshah Devarim HaOlam Omed.”

R. Aizik once told R. Hillel [of Paritch], “We have no conception of what the Rebbe – the grandson – is. (He was referring to my great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek.) Even the initial spark of his comprehension derives [directly] from a revelation of the Chabad in his soul, [rather than from regular intellectual processes]. We must not delude ourselves with regard to the high value of revealing the faculties of the Chabad in our soul, just as we must not delude ourselves with regard to how much is missing when the faculties of the Chabad in our soul are not revealed, [i.e., as was the case with me, before I encountered Chassidus].

“The geonim of Minsk, Vilna and Shklov with whom I engaged in learned discussions praised my original contributions to Torah scholarship,4 my profound mind and my wide-ranging knowledge. But only when I came to the Rebbe did I recognize the poverty of my Torah scholarship. He drew up a schedule for my study of nigleh, Kabbalah and Chassidus, gave me his blessing for success in cultivating an expansive intellect,5 and for long life. And by nature I applied myself conscientiously and punctually to my studies.

“For thirty-five years, from 5553 to 5588 (1793-1828) the Rebbe’s berachah granted me success in the study of nigleh, Kabbalah and Chassidus.

“When we elder chassidim prevailed upon the Tzemach Tzedek to accept the nesius6 and he delivered his first maamar as Rebbe, he delivered the maamar that begins, Al Shloshah Devarim HaOlam Omed. I thought to myself, ‘That’s really a Rebbe-like feat – to repeat a maamar that you heard when you were three years old!’

“At that point he turned toward me and said: ‘One shouldn’t suspect me of showing that I can do tricky feats. What could I do once my grandfather commanded me to deliver that maamar?’ ”

R. Aizik then told R. Hillel that after hearing the whole maamar, he returned to his lodgings, and all night long shuddered with very high fever. Two days later the Tzemach Tzedek came to visit him and quoted an incident recorded in the Gemara7 [in which R. Chanina visits an ailing colleague and tells him]: “Give me your hand.” R. Yochanan gives him his hand, and R. Chanina raises him out of his illness. Having quoted that passage, the Tzemach Tzedek went on to tell R. Aizik that it contains Divine Names that are responsible for healing,8 and explained it. The Tzemach Tzedek then asked R. Aizik to give him his hand; R. Aizik sat up and the fever vanished.

In conclusion, R. Aizik told R. Hillel: “I saw with my own eyes that he fully filled the place of his forebears,9 our holy Rebbeim, so I became utterly bound to him from within.”10

2. R. Aizik held R. Hillel in the highest esteem, and said of him [in a rhyming Russian pun], “Once a farmer, now a doctor.” R. Hillel was innately and essentially a pnimi, and a pnimi knows not only his own faults but also his own strengths. It takes time for a pnimi to disencumber himself of the cloak of intellect.

[Question:] Does the fact that R. Aizik spoke of R. Hillel enviously indicate that he was lacking in avodah?11

[Answer:] The Sages speak [in a critical tone] of “one whose wisdom exceeds his good deeds.”12 They do not specify by how much it exceeds; rather, this varies according to each individual’s spiritual status.

My grandfather the Rebbe Maharash once said that R. Aizik’s maamarim of Chassidus are based on good foundations, and even the parable of the little folk13 has a basis in the Kabbalah.

3. R. Hillel stood humbly before chassidim and Chassidus, with an inner bittul that was born of self-sacrificing avodah. He related to his body very sternly, and coerced it to obey orders – to eat or not to eat, to sleep or not to sleep.

As is known, R. Hillel would never cross a bridge in a carriage,14 and whenever he approached a bridge the horses would come to a halt.

4. R. Betzalel Azaritcher was a colleague of R. Hillel; R. Zalman Zezmer15 was R. Hillel’s mentor. R. Betzalel’s mentor was the Mitteler Rebbe.

The Alter Rebbe had appointees who had various responsibilities in relation to his chassidim. His brother R. Mordechai was responsible for the study of nigleh; his brother Maharil was in charge of answering queries in nigleh; the Alter Rebbe guided his chassidim personally; and when the Mitteler Rebbe turned sixteen, the Alter Rebbe made him responsible for the guidance of the young married students.

5. R. Betzalel used to learn a positive character trait from every individual. He would quote the comment of the Baal Shem Tov on the teaching of the Sages,16 “Who is wise? He who learns from every person – as it is written, ‘From all my teachers I have gained wisdom.’ ” On this the Baal Shem Tov asks: “Should that quotation not have said, ‘Who is wise? He who learns from every teacher’?!”

And the Baal Shem Tov answered his own question as follows: “The mishnah is telling us to learn a positive middah, a positive character trait, from every individual, including an evil person.”

In this spirit, R. Zusya of Hanipoli taught that we must learn even from a burglar17 – because every Jew has a letter in the Torah, and has one middah of the thirteen middos, the thirteen principles of interpretation, according to which the Torah is explained.

6. R. Betzalel Azaritcher used to say that he didn’t understand what is so difficult about the avodah that Chassidus demands. He would say: “All you have to do is to apply the ax to the log,18 and then one becomes a servant of G‑d in one’s davenen and Torah study and performance of the mitzvos.”

7. [One of those present related that once, while a maamar was being reviewed,19 the Rebbe Rashab said that seeing by means of the faculty of chochmah20 recalls what R. Aizel experienced when he took hold of the Alter Rebbe’s door handle. At that moment R. Aizel attained a complete and satisfying grasp of the concept of ein od, the concept that nothing exists apart from Him. The Rebbe Rashab had concluded: “And that is an instance of seeing something by means of one’s chochmah.”

[To this the Rebbe Rayatz now responded:] Wonderful! Sometimes the truth of a concept is confirmed in a person’s mind, which means that he has understood it so clearly that there are no screens; they have all been removed. That, too, is a lofty level of comprehension, but beyond that, the vision afforded by one’s chochmah means that one sees the concept itself.

8. With the chassidim of earlier times, their chassidic avodah recognized no differences between little tasks and big tasks. For them, no big task was too big. Conversely, every little detail in avodah was regarded as spiritually important, and occupied a deep, inward place in their lives.

The Sages teach that one should yearn and say, “When will my deeds match those of my forefathers, [the Patriarchs]?”21

Even a soul that is innately an atzmi nevertheless exists at a variety of levels, having derived from the World of Beriah or Yetzirah or Asiyah. So one might well ask: How can a soul that comes from the World of Asiyah speak of itself with the same wording that is used by a soul that comes from the World of Yetzirah, and even more, from the World of Beriah?

The answer is that as far as a soul is concerned, even the greatest challenge is not beyond its reach, and no challenge is too small to be noticed.

9. A chassid from Beshenkovitz once visited the Mitteler Rebbe and asked for a blessing that he should become involved in avodah. To this he added: “Exactly what avodah is, I don’t know, but from the fact that I have no inclination at all to do it, I gather that it must be something really good…”

10. The learned R. Yitzchak Aizik Vitebsker22 once studied in the Alter Rebbe’s chadarim, and was later the rav of Ostrovna and then in Vitebsk.

11. My grandfather the Rebbe Maharash once asked him: “What did the Alter Rebbe accomplish in Vitebsk?”

R. Yitzchak Aizik answered: “He gave people spectacles so that they would be able to see the truth of G‑d in the world.”

My grandfather asked further: “What new approach did the Alter Rebbe give his first disciples – his yungeleit, the young married students?”

The answer: “He revealed to them the Chabad, the intellectual faculties, within their souls, and thereby those yungeleit became elderly scholars.”