1. The Rav of Berditchev, the learned tzaddik R. Levi Yitzchak, heard three Torah teachings from our master, the Baal Shem Tov. One of those teachings was an interpretation of the statement of the Sages1 that “any Torah study that is not accompanied by work will end in futility.” The Baal Shem Tov taught that here, the word melachah (lit., “work”) signifies activity – specifically, being active in ahavas Yisrael, in the mitzvah of loving a fellow Jew. Thus, if any particular item of Torah that one studies does not lead to ahavas Yisrael, it cannot be called Torah.

A person with spiritual sensitivity can appreciate and visualize the ahavas Yisrael of the Baal Shem Tov.He would intercede and make a pidyon nefesh for the sake of any individual who was in distress, even if he did not know him, but merely heard his sigh of anguish from the other end of the world. He was ready to sacrifice himself in the cause of ahavas Yisrael, even for people whom he did not know at all.

The teachings that the Rav of Berditchev heard from the Baal Shem Tov sparked the revelation of the innermost essence of his holy soul. With his self-sacrificing avodah [of challenging the Heavenly Court] as defense attorney on behalf of every single Jew and Jewess, he was privileged to found a new Palace of Merit2 in the worlds above. The Alter Rebbe held this activity in high esteem, and said that when a Jew says Tehillim and mentions the Rav of Berditchev, the words he utters reach up to the Palace of Merit and arouse Divine compassion upon him and upon his family.

2. [Question:] Did the Giving of the Torah relate to all of the soul’s levels – nara”n,3 chayah and yechidah?

[Answer:] The revelation at the Giving of the Torah applied to all the levels – nara”n, chayah, yechidah – of the souls, and to all the worlds, from the highest levels to the lowest. G‑d’s descent on Mount Sinai was from the loftiest level down to “beneath the world’s mighty forces.”4 They all experienced the Giving of the Torah, each to its etzem – to its essence, or nucleus.

[Question:] What novel contribution did the essence of the souls gain from the Giving of the Torah?

[Answer:] They received an apprehension of the Atzmus of the Ein-Sof which one can attain specifically by virtue of the descent of the soul into a body.

3. On Motzaei Shabbos Bamidbar in the year 5656 (1896), on the night before the eve of Shavuos, my father told me that before daybreak I should come to his study. I went there at around 2:00 or 3:00 AM and we took a wagon to the Ohel.5 As a rule, such visits took place at fixed, known times. A visit on erev Shavuos was somewhat surprising.

Arriving there, my father gave me an explanation of the well-known teaching of the Alter Rebbe that every Shavuos there is a revelation of the Giving of the Torah, and the vessel that enables one to be a receptor of that revelation is – saying the words of the Torah.

My father then cited the teaching of Tosafos (Shabbos 59a) that Satan, the Accuser in the Heavenly Court, did not prosecute at the time of the Giving of the Torah. This, my father added, repeats itself every Shavuos. One’s teshuvah on Shavuos should focus on Torah – a Torah-related teshuvah, an intellective teshuvah.6

On the night of Shavuos, my father taught me the debate in Tractate Nedarim7 between R. Meir and R. Yehudah, in the course of which R. Yehudah states: “The pietists of former times would have loved to bring a sin-offering [but were not qualified to do so], because the Holy One, blessed be He, does not allow a [sinful] mishap to come their way.” On this my father commented: “A soul has an instinctive desire to bring a sin-offering.”8

The revelation of Atzmus, G‑d’s Essence, that took place at the Giving of the Torah, shines forth on Shavuos. So when a Jew is aroused from within to set aside fixed times to study Torah, his avodah is blessed with success.

4. The disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch used to take turns to wait on him according to a certain schedule.

The Alter Rebbe heard of the following episodefrom R. Zusya, who heard it from his brother, R. Elimelech.9

One night, when R. Elimelech was on duty, the Maggid called him from his room nearby and said: “Meilech,10 do you hear what they’re saying in the Academy on High?11 They’re saying that ahavas Yisrael means loving an utter rasha just as one loves an utter tzaddik!”12

The Maggid continued: “A tzaddik is able to arouse the powers that are latent in every soul, and to empower that person to do teshuvah. A minyan of members of the Holy Brotherhood13 are able to arouse even an utter rasha to do teshuvah!”

In the morning, when R. Elimelech repeated this to his colleagues, they responded by saying, “Let’s get to work!” They then farbrenged at length in clarification of that subject, and illustrated it by exchanging anecdotes and teachings of the Sages about baalei teshuvah.14

They were interrupted by the entry of a wayfarer. He listened in, and then suddenly broke out in raucous laughter and ridiculed them: “What on earth are you guys doing, sitting around together here in shul and holding forth about teshuvah and studying Torah? Enough of that! Torah?! Doing teshuvah?!”

As they then davened Shacharis, the Holy Brotherhood were moved to tears, and the Tehillim that followed gushed forth from the depths of their hearts.

The wayfarer, sitting and watching from the side, made fun of them and called them lazybones, but as they spoke to him they portrayed how dear every Jew is in the eyes of G‑d. He was thus aroused to thoughts of repentance, and within a few days they made of him a complete baal teshuvah.

5. The Alter Rebbe once told the Mitteler Rebbe that among chassidim, ahavas Yisrael had (Thank G‑d!) become deeply engraved. In those days, the mutual love among chassidim was greater than the love between brothers. (In fact, non-chassidic Jews used to wish that in their circles, the love between brothers should be as powerful as the love between chassidim.) Nevertheless, the Alter Rebbe added that even this gratifying degree of ahavas Yisrael did not begin to match the expectation of the Baal Shem Tov – that one should be prepared for mesirus nefesh, to sacrifice oneself, even for the sake of a fellow Jew whom one does not know at all.

My father heard at yechidus with his father, the Rebbe Maharash, who heard from his father, the Tzemach Tzedek, that the above words of the Alter Rebbe ignited the eternal lamp of ahavas chassidim – the lamp with whose light our people will go forth to greet our Righteous Mashiach.

6. The Alter Rebbe used to lead the davenen on the first day of Shavuos, to mark the yahrzeit of our mentor, the Baal Shem Tov. He would also speak of the dependable path along which the Baal Shem Tov enabled Jews to be guided in their service of G‑d. To illustrate this he recounted the following episode.

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The Baal Shem Tov had a close friend, an outstanding scholar and a hidden tzaddik, who constantly went from place to place incognito, seeking out fellow Jews who had sinned in matters between man and G‑d, individuals whom he could bring to the path of repentance. He was called R. Aharon Moshe Kremnitzer, but he went to great lengths not to divulge his name or the name of his hometown. In every town and village that he reached he would deliver a public address that included serious scholarship and earnest ethical admonition, and always concluded with a story.

The local scholars were invariably struck by his rare gift to explain the weightiest subjects in the revealed plane of the Torah in such clear and simple language that even quite ordinary students of nigleh could follow him. And his stories were listened to thirstily.

All of those stories focused on baalei teshuvah. He would detail the sins involved, the circumstances that enabled the sinners to lapse, the seriousness of the offenses, and the ways in which teshuvah could correct them until his listeners were aroused to thoughts of teshuvah. In fact they were convinced that he knew their life stories by virtue of ruach hakodesh, Divine inspiration.

In one of the towns that he visited from time to time there lived a respected, upstanding and openhanded householder who never went to hear the addresses of the itinerant preacher. He even found ways to ensure that they should never meet.

This R. Yisrael Yitzchak the Benefactor, as he was known, was a serious scholar who studied Torah day and night, and the income from his cereal store enabled him to be generous with his charitable gifts and free loans. Businessmen big and small saw that receiving the cash that he lent with a smile from his gemilus chessed free loan fund ensured that their enterprises would prosper.

However, as time went on, he became increasingly arrogant and increasingly pleased with himself. True, he was G‑d-fearing and scholarly, but he began to regard himself as a man of imposing spiritual stature and hence fully entitled to his financial success. Accordingly, hearing that the itinerant maggid was accustomed to admonish his audiences with sharp words of mussar, he was afraid that he would not be shown the marks of esteem that he so richly deserved. That was why he avoided any encounter with him. And even though R. Aharon Moshe Kremnitzer understood this very well, he decided that he really must get to know him.

When one day they finally met, R. Aharon Moshe raised some Talmudic query and told him how pleased he was by the knowledgeable response. He added, however, “Your Torah learning is to be pitied,” and explained the teaching of the Sages15 that “the arrogance of Yerov’am16 drove him out of the world.”

R. Yisrael Yitzchak lost his peace of mind. He was most upset by the tzaddik’s message: it was more than his arrogance could tolerate. In fact it even disturbed his concentration while he was studying Torah. R. Aharon Moshe eventually realized this, and was sorely pained. So when he next met the Baal Shem Tov he told him about the whole episode. The Baal Shem Tov responded that the means to arouse an arrogant Torah scholar is ahavas Yisrael, to love him with a closeness that will ultimately enable him to become aware of what he is lacking.

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The Alter Rebbe concluded his above narrative by saying: “This is the path that the Rebbe, the Maggid of Mezritch, relayed in the name of the Baal Shem Tov, together with a berachah that he gave me specifically – that I, and the generations following me, should be blessed with success in our efforts in ahavas Yisrael.”

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[The Rebbe Rayatz resumes:] For us, “the people of the G‑d of Avraham,”17 today – the first day of the festival of Shavuos – is a reminder of the first day on which we were told, “Today you have become a nation unto the L‑rd your G‑d.”18 This is a unique day, the day of days, on which “You revealed Yourself in Your cloud of glory to Your holy people.”19 On this day G‑d chose us, the people of Yisrael, and granted us the paths of life that are to be found in the Torah and in the mitzvos. Every Shavuos (and the same applies to every Yom-Tov), there is a revelation as there was on the first day that that Yom-Tov was given to us.

When it was decided that we have to come here, to America, I suffered considerably. It was painfully difficult to leave that galus-country, Russia, especially in order to land in this frigid and materialistic America. In my “many thoughts in the heart of man,”20 I consoled myself with the hope that when, with the help of G‑d, I turned sixty, He would grant me the good fortune of a peaceful life. However, “the counsel of G‑d”625 chose that I should make my galus-home in America and become the messenger entrusted with the task of bringing, to America as well, the mesirus nefesh for unadulterated Torah study which my revered father implanted in Tomchei Temimim.

There is a well-known teaching21 that the Alter Rebbe delivered in the year 5562 (1802) on the verse, “He stretches the north over chaos, and suspends earth over emptiness.”22 The Alter Rebbe said there that the revelation of the Giving of the Torah in the other side of the orb of the earth is obscurity, relative to the revelation of the Giving of the Torah in the side of the orb of the earth that includes the Land of Israel and all the countries in which Jews live.

I am certain that whoever is familiar with the lifestyle of Jews in Russia and Poland in general, and the lifestyle of chassidim in particular, and especially the lifestyle of our forefathers, the Rebbeim of Chabad, will appreciate the bruised heart with which I undertook the voyage to this American galus.

The ten days from Riga to New York were my Ten Days of Penitence, and of decision-making about the kind of life that I would have to undertake on the site of my new shlichus.

I have a letter that my father wrote to the well-known chassid, R. Avraham Chayim23 and to the Chabad chassidim of America. It was written on Monday, the 24th of I Adar, 5662 (1902), in response to a detailed letter in which Anash, headed by R. Avraham Chayim, described their lifestyle and the way their community was organized, in particular with regard to their regular sessions for the group study of Chassidus.

This is what my father wrote in response: “Your letter filled me with pleasure, and I thank G‑d that not one of the offspring of my late revered father is (Heaven forfend!) unworthy. Those who were truly bonded to him, even when in a distant land have not become spiritually distant, and the spirit of G‑d flourishes yet within them. You, my brethren, be strong and of good courage and be valiant warriors, for the land in which you live is in need of reinforcement. ‘Let him who is weak say, I am strong!’24 – with the strength of the Torah and of avodah.

“Even though you are no doubt kept busy by your daily affairs and also live at a distance from each other, make vigorous efforts, for the sake of your very lives, to gather together for a regular session for the study of divrei Elokim Chayim – ‘the words of the Living G‑d’25 – because that which is studied with a group endures.

“There is also much to be gained by gathering together with one heart to engage in the study of Torah and the service of G‑d, when those who fear G‑d will speak with each other and every man will help his friend. You should gather together at least three times a week – on Thursday night, which is connected to Friday and erev Shabbos, and on Shabbos, and on Motzaei Shabbos.

“You should also arrange for law and order in your davenen, so that the congregational prayer that is beloved by the Al‑mighty will not be plucked in haste, G‑d forbid, but deliberate and with a desirable intent. Similar regulations should be instituted so that the various mitzvos will be observed with all due vigilance, with regard to their respective locations and times. On this subject, see Likkutei Torah, Parshas Matos, in the maamar that begins, ‘And her father will hear her vows,’ which discusses the cautionary regulations that the Sages initiated specifically in the final years of the Second Beis HaMikdash.

“From this precedent we may learn that in a distant land where permissiveness reigns, there is a particular need to buttress the observance of mitzvos by enacting a variety of protective measures whose widespread observance will endure, with G‑d’s help. And may G‑d lend your hearts strength so that you will serve Him in utter truthfulness, and raise your banner on high, and grant you success in all your affairs, both material and spiritual.”

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[Having quoted the letter of the Rebbe Rashab, the Rebbe Rayatz now concludes:] There is no need to spell out what a deep-seated spiritual arousal I was given by the holy words of that letter.26 It awakened within me the latent strengths required to toil with actual self-sacrifice in the dissemination of Torah, in keeping with the desire of my father, as soon as I was to arrive in America.