1. [The Rebbe entered the hall, took his place, and asked informally, “Where’s everyone up to?” Someone answered, “We’re still in the middle….”1 To this the Rebbe responded:] The middle path2 is the true and straight and true path. What is true is straight, what is straight is true. That is the path that our grandfather [the Alter Rebbe] drew down from its pristine source in the Essence of the Infinite Ein-Sof.

2. After the passing of the Mitteler Rebbe, the first place that the Tzemach Tzedek visited was Minsk, and from there he proceeded to Vilna. Minsk was the home of many preeminent scholars, who were joined by the leading misnagdim of the entire region, as well as a similar delegation from Vilna, at a reception in his honor. The table was set with a wide variety of fruits and delicacies: they wanted to test his expertise in the detailed laws governing the correct sequence of the berachos, by watching to see in what order he partook of the refreshments.

The Tzemach Tzedek then said: “In a case of doubt with regard to berachos, as a rule one takes the lenient option.3 In fact, however, it is more difficult to find a way to rule leniently than to find a way to rule stringently.” He then proceeded to throw new light on the law4 governing the criteria for precedence in saying berachos, by pointing out that items on the table that would ordinarily enjoy precedence lose that privilege if the person involved is not inclined to partake of them. The table talk that flowed from this showed that the scholars of Vilna were deeply impressed by their guest’s scholarship and unassuming demeanor.

They asked him: “Why is it that the whole world knows about the novel Talmudic insights5 of the scholars who belong to other circles, whereas when you chassidim – who no doubt also produce chiddushim – do the same, no one hears about them?”

“The difference,” said the Tzemach Tzedek, “is that the non-chassidic scholars organize their chiddushim with their own priorities in mind, whereas chassidic organize their own lives with the Torah’s priorities in mind.”

I told you now of this exchange because a person should conduct his life according to the Torah, and the Torah commands us to “be innocent in the eyes of G‑d and of [the Children of] Israel.”6 So – on the table before us there are pastries,7 which for health reasons I am not allowed to eat, so I’m going to say a berachah over the mashke.

LeChaim! Rashbi8 undertook to secure Divine protection for numerousgenerations.9 May his merit protect us and stand us in good stead for a universal salvation for the entire Jewish people, Amen!

3. My [great-great-]uncle R. Moshe, son of the Alter Rebbe, was older than [his nephew,] the Tzemach Tzedek. One day, when they were boys aged 8-9 or 10-11, they were studying together the passage (in Tractate Gittin 67a) that begins, “Issi ben Yehudah used to point out the characteristic qualities of various Sages.” There it is written that “R. Shimon told his disciples: ‘Study my middos, for my middos are the choicest of the choice middos of [my mentor,] R. Akiva.’ ” This R. Shimon is R. Shimon bar Yochai, and Rashi understands “my middos” here to mean “my Torah teachings,” though that phrase can also be understood in its plain meaning.10

As they pondered over this passage, the two young students could not decide which of those two meanings was the dominant one, but they did not muster the courage to ask the Alter Rebbe. At that moment, the Alter Rebbe suddenly entered the room.

Now, every movement and action of the Alter Rebbe followed a certain consistent order, and it echoed the mode of conduct Above that was appropriate to the current subject here below. This consistency was evident in the manner in which he delivered a Torah teaching, or performed a mitzvah, or conducted himself in a particular way. So, too, he always spoke in a certain singsong.

On this occasion, too, as he entered the room, he addressed his son and grandson in his familiar singsong: “The Torah that was given to us from Heaven is entirely good middos. Even the punishments that the Torah specifies are in truth lovingkindness and goodness. Those two interpretations are identical, and they depend on each other. There cannot be good middos without Torah, nor Torah without good middos.”

[The Rebbe Rayatz concluded:] Now what we need is heart. [And he urged those present to start] a niggun that springs from the heart.11

4. The chassidim of earlier times never used conventional titles of honor before people’s names, such as moreinu (“our mentor”) or harav hagaon (“the exceedingly scholarly rabbi”). That practice included towering Torah giants, veritable cedars of Lebanon,12 who were referred to and addressed as – simply – Reb Aizik Homiler, Reb Hillel Paritcher, and Reb Pesach Malastovker.13

* * *

True, they were cedars of Lebanon, but they were chassidishe cedars of Lebanon. The Creator endowed the cedar with two opposite characteristics. Although it grows to lofty heights, its branches can be pulled all the way down to the ground without breaking. When one then lets it go, it rises aloft, together with whatever one might hang on it.

In the Holy Tongue, the source for the name Lebanon is לבנון. Those letters may be perceived as alluding to two numbers – the 32 (לב) Paths of Divine Chochmah, and the 50 (נון) Gates of Binah.

When scholars such as the above are referred to as cedars of Lebanon, that metaphor implies that [by their avodah] they elevate the mochin and middos of Chabad all the way up to their Root and Source, so that this Root and Source should ultimately become apparent in the Torah and avodah of the Chabad chassidim [who hang onto their branches, so to speak].

* * *

As we were saying, those three chassidim were not aware of the remarkable heights that they had attained. They were addressed by name as Aizik Homiler, Hillel Paritcher, and Pesach Malastovker – without so much as a reverent prefix like moreinu (“our mentor”)…

5. The oldtimers used to live with a single teaching14 that they had heard from their Rebbe, and that teaching remained their guide in avodah.

For example: R. Leib Dribener was the son-in-law of a chassid in Vitebsk, one of the chassidishe disciples of the Alter Rebbe. Once, in the course of a yechidus in 5529 (1769), R. Leib heard from the Alter Rebbe the phrase,15 kol yamav biteshuvah – a person should be doing teshuvah throughout all the days of his life. The Alter Rebbe then blessed him – to live a long life, to succeed in doing his avodah joyfully, and to have a chassidisher awe of Heaven.

One evening, R. Aizik and R. Hillel, who were both visiting Lubavitch at the time, sat down together till late into the night and farbrenged earnestly on topics in Chassidus – what Chassidus demands of chassidim, and how it ought to impact them.

In the adjoining room, R. Leib Dribener was davening Maariv. That took him four hours, until long after midnight. He then joined them and said, “Aizik, what’s going to be with teshuvah? The scholarly debates on haskalah we’ll leave for the Angel Michael and the Angel Gavriel...”

His eyes were streaming with tears. Where does a Yid of ninety get so many tears? – especially if it’s R. Leib Dribener, a chassid who did his avodah joyfully! That is really remarkable.

Fellow Yidn! We must do teshuvah. The world today is painful. Jewish blood is being spilled like water throughout Europe. We see that the world is being conducted from Above in a supernatural way. What should we do? – Onlyteshuvah. Not merely saying that we ought to do teshuvah, but actually doing it.

7. Each of the Yidn who came to America twenty or thirty years ago used to be a solid and respected householder in his shtetl in the old Country. However, once those Yidn arrived here, they succumbed to the influence of individuals with whom in the Old Country they would not even want to converse.

In fact, of course, there should never be such a relationship among Jews. One should be on speaking terms with every Jew and show him closeness. True, one ought not be affected by certain kinds of influence, but one should certainly speak with every individual – and to motivate him to conduct his life as he did in the Old Country. In their early years here, those arrivals suffered considerably from the new challenges, which most of the Torah scholars found particularly painful. However, in the course of time many of them, too, were affected to a certain extent by the prevalent materialism, the elevation of Matter over Form, and thereby were left without solid ground to stand on.

I am not generalizing, G‑d forbid, but many of them removed their beard and peyos and coarsened their features, their image of G‑d. I am not speaking now about the status of their yiras Shamayim, their awe of Heaven: I’m speaking about geon Yaakov, being proud to be a Jew. Where is that pride?

When we face our sweet Father on Rosh HaShanah, while the fearsome Accuser is standing there in the Heavenly Court as the Prosecutor, we make a bold request of our Father: “Let Him (G‑d) choose for us as our inheritance the geon Yaakov, the pride of His People whom He loves forever!”16 What will come of us we don’t know – but let the geon Yaakov, the pride of His People, be preserved intact!

The geon Yaakov of a Jew is his beard and peyos, and the fact that he talks like a Jew.

It’s already Friday afternoon, the ideal time to do teshuvah. Let us do teshuvah from the very walls of our heart. Our mission is to rouse people to be active is propagating both kosher education, and the observance of the laws of family purity.17

The learned rabbis in America are no doubt deeply distressed by the state of Jewish observance in this country. However, they believe that if they speak about kosher education they will be ignored, and if they speak about family purity they will be scoffed at. As to us, the new arrivals in America, our mission in this country is to work with self-sacrifice to promote family purity and kosher education.

I am certain that even the pious folk will make fun of our labors in the field of Torah and the awe of Heaven.

My brothers and friends! It is true that to rouse people in the area of Torah and yiras Shamayim is a really tough task. We are being ridiculed, but we must remain determined in that task.

I am certain that in the merit of [my] holy forebears we shall succeed. In a couple of years’ time, all those pious scoffers will start publicizing kosher education and family purity. And by that time we’ll be busy far ahead.

Ashreinu! We are fortunate! How good is our portion!