1. A Jew knows that every step of a created being is determined by Divine Providence.1 As the Baal Shem Tov taught, G‑d causes a strong wind to blow in order that a wisp of straw lying around in the marketplace should be carried from one spot to another – because that little stray straw serves a particular purpose. Both the mud, and the bit of straw that is rolling about in the mud, are part of the scheme of Divine Providence by which the world is conducted.

Such is G‑dliness. It goes without saying that even the loftiest levels of spirituality are accounted as naught in relation to Atzmus, the Essence of Elokus, and hence are obviously directed by specific Divine Providence. This is true even of the sefirah of Chochmah in the World of Atzilus. Now, no mortal thought can grasp the real identity of any Heavenly sefirah, and certainly cannot fully grasp the identity of sefiros in the World of Atzilus, and most certainly cannot fully grasp the identity of [the highest of those sefiros, namely] Chochmah in the World of Atzilus. Yet even a level of spirituality as G‑dly as that is accounted as naught in relation to Atzmus. And the Baal Shem Tov taught that not only a soul or a sublime Heavenly sefirah is conducted by Divine Providence, but also the passage of a mere wisp of straw from one place to another, for the sake of which G‑d sends forth a storm wind and engineers various circumstances, both seen and unseen.

The Alter Rebbe taught the following to all Chabad chassidim, heavyweight intellectuals and unsophisticated Tehillim-sayers alike: Every single individual, no matter how unintellectual he may be, is endowed – at the time of his soul’s descent – with the requisite strength to fulfill the Divine Will underlying his soul’s mission in This World below. Moreover, every Jewish soul in a body ought to know not only that every step of his is determined by Divine Providence; he also ought to know that every place to which G‑d brings a Jewish soul is a directive from Above – that the purpose of his arrival there is to light up that place with Torah and mitzvos and refined character traits.2

[Thus,] Divine Providence has kept us on the move. The first in the series of relocations that we underwent was from Lubavitch to the wilderness of Rostov. It was there that my revered father – the luminary of our people’s eyes, the Holy Ark – was hidden from sight. From Rostov we were moved to the exile of Petersburg, then from Petersburg to the exile of Latvia, then from Latvia to the exile of Poland, and now from Poland, G‑d has brought us to the exile of America.

In the course of my transit from Riga to New York, I contemplated and relived the main events that I encountered in the course of my forty-four years of laboring for the public good until, exhausted and crushed by the public and individual woes of our people, I landed in the materialistic turmoil of America.

Every Yom-Tov, a Jew is granted from Above the requisite strength to translate that festival’s distinctive revelations into practical avodah. On Shavuos, for example, every Jew is specifically empowered from Above to receive the Torah. As to us new arrivals in America, G‑d must – and ought to – give us additional spiritual and physical powers so that we will not lose ourselves in the material prosperity of America, and so that we will toil with the greatest powers of self-sacrifice to make of America a place steeped in Torah.

We new arrivals – more correctly: we who have been brought here – were brought here for the sake of that toil, to turn America into a place steeped in Torah. I know full well what self-sacrificing strengths that task will demand. However, I am certain that the merit of our holy forebears will secure me success in our labors for the furtherance of Torah and mitzvos in the ways of Chassidus.

In the course of time, the Tomchei Temimim Lubavitcher Yeshivah will be the greatest yeshivah. Its students will light up Jewish homes, and will raise the spirits of the local rabbis to the point that they will tackle the task of disseminating Torah study.

On this day, the first festival of the Giving of the Torah that we newly-arrived galus-Jews are spending in America, we must dedicate ourselves with our most deep-seated strengths to working to fulfill our mission, undeterred by any obstacle – and G‑d will grant us success.

2. This day, the festival of the Giving of the Torah (and may it bring material and spiritual success), is the first Shavuos, with its holy mission, being celebrated in America by us exiles from Russia, which was so richly blessed with Torah study and the chassidic lifestyle.

I find it very hard to say and foretell at this time how G‑d is going to grant success to our mission in this materially happy land – how in several years’ time, the Tomchei Temimim Lubavitcher Yeshivos will be aglow with the light of the Torah and the mitzvos. I am certain that in the merit of our holy forebears, they will not only constitute the first great multi-branched yeshivah in the country, but will also rouse the local rabbis and rosh-yeshivos and show them the path. And may G‑d bless our efforts with both material and spiritual success.

3. The childhood notes of my great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, include things that his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, had told him about his own childhood years.

In the Alter Rebbe’s words: “When I was five years old, I knew that the verse, ‘And souls which I have made,’ alludes to the two souls that are present in every son and daughter of Israel – a G‑dly soul and an animal soul.3 At that time I used to make every strenuous effort that whatever I knew I should understand to the core. So I thought a great deal about what was the difference between the two souls. After all, as the verse says, they were both made by G‑d.

“It took me quite some time until G‑d shone the answer into my mind that both the G‑dly soul and the animal soul possess spiritual powers that animate the soul-faculties – intellect and emotive attributes, and will and pleasure.4 But this is the difference between the two souls:

“The pleasure and will of a person’s G‑dly soul is that the understanding of his intellect, and the desire of his emotive attributes, and his conscious thoughts, and his speech, and his actions, should all be devoted to studying the Torah, fulfilling the mitzvos, and cultivating refined character traits.

“Now, the animal soul is also spiritual. However, it conceives only of bodily benefits. It rouses all of its faculties – its transcendent faculties5 (pleasure and will), and its immanent faculties6 (intellect and emotive attributes), and also its soul-garments (his conscious thought, his speech and his capacity for action7 ) – only for material purposes.

“Thinking more deeply on the spiritual make-up of these two souls and on the means by which they seek to influence a person, I realized that their respective approaches differ: the G‑dly soul is candid, whereas the animal soul is an outright liar who seeks to tempt people by telling all kinds of falsehoods.

“After I discovered who the animal soul really is, G‑d was kind enough to allow me to discover how one can tell whether it is the G‑dly soul or the animal soul that draws one towards any particular permitted object that is desired and desirable.

“Some time later, G‑d lit up my mind’s eye so that I could understand that there is also an intellective soul,8 which enlightens a person with some awareness of the truthfulness of the G‑dly soul and the falsehood of the animal soul. At that point I was certain that I had arrived at the right path in life.”

4. The Tzemach Tzedek also recorded the following: “My grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, told me that already as a child he monitored his time exactly. He would rise very early. His [great-]grandfather Reb Moshe9 used to daven with the earliest minyan, and would then sit down to his daily session of in-depth Gemara until the early minyan for Minchah. It was then time for breakfast. He used to fast three times a week – on Monday, Thursday, and erev Shabbos. On those days he was contrite and despondent, and as he read Tehillim he wept profusely.”

[In the Alter Rebbe’s words:] “There were three employees on my father’s estate: Reb Avraham Leib the Potter, Reb Elye Ber the Fur-Boot-Cobbler, and Reb Zundel Aharon the Shepherd. They all davened early with that vasikin-minyan, and my [great-]grandfather would often grimly remark to me that he felt weighted down by the Heavenly punishment of having to daven together with those ignoramuses…

“Some of the people who passed through our region were outstanding scholars, including several with a flair for innovative reasoning,10 which my [great-]grandfather enjoyed listening to. Some of them would stay on my father’s estate for a few weeks doing whatever work was available, and after their workday they would take a seat in the beis midrash and study.

“There came a time when it was decided that I should travel to a town in which I could further my studies.11 From the viewpoint of my [great-]grandfather, this was a case in which ‘joy is wedged in one side of my heart, and weeping is lodged in the other side of my heart.’12 My [great-]grandfather was pained by the thought of my departure, but consoled himself with the happy thought that I would now advance my studies considerably.

“I arrived in Lubavitch, where I encountered Reb Yosef, the learned Maggid of Lubavitch, and his brilliant son-in-law, Reb Yissachar Dov [Kobilniker], who was renowned as an innovative scholar. The Maggid immediately saw where I stood scholastically, and arranged that I should study under this son-in-law.”13

[At this point the Rebbe Rayatz comments:] R. Yosef himself [also] influenced [the Alter Rebbe] considerably, with his explanations of the concepts of knowing G‑d, loving Him, and standing in awe of Him. He also added directives regarding the appropriate approach to Torah study, as well as guidance in the paths of Chassidus and in the avodah of davenen, in the spirit of the Siddur of the AriZal and the classic works of Kabbalah.

[The Tzemach Tzedek now resumes the recollections that the Alter Rebbe had shared with him:] “When I came home from Lubavitch, I had a certain schedule for the study of nigleh which Reb Yissachar Dov charted for me,14 as well as a schedule for the study of Kabbalah, and an outline for my conduct in the paths of Chassidus – together with a stern warning to do everything unobtrusively.

“My [great-]grandfather, R. Moshe, was overjoyed by my arrival. Since this was one of his regular fast days,15 he shared a profound and original piece of learned reasoning on the annulment of a vow that might clash with the obligation to honor a Torah scholar.16 Reb Yissachar Dov was most impressed by his scholarship.

“My father, too, honored by the presence of the distinguished guest, requested that he spend a couple of weeks in his home, which he did. After davening in the same minyan as my father, he would sit down to his regular study program, and would also enjoy my [great-]grandfather’s original teachings.

“My [great-]grandfather tested my scholarly attainments, was pleased with what he heard, and laid down [a supplementary] study schedule for me, which I strictly observed.

“From my early childhood I loved the outdoors. I had my favorite spots among the trees and the fields of grain where I liked to study after coming home from cheder. Now, too, when I came home from Lubavitch, I found a cozy corner among the trees that overlooked the workplaces of Reb Avraham Leib the Potter and Reb Elye Ber the Fur-Boot-Cobbler. Also, I would often go walking in the forest or the fields near the estate, and there I would often find Reb Zundel Aharon the Shepherd – seated, deep in thought, his face radiant.

“Now, during my stay in Lubavitch, I had found out that there existed a number of gifted scholars who were hidden tzaddikim. They would either wander from one place to the next in a self-imposed galus, or would settle in a particular location where they would work as simple laborers, whereas in fact they were towering scholars and hidden tzaddikim.

“One day, after I had been at home for some time, I was meditating in the forest on some profound concept in the Kabbalah, when I heard the sweet sound of someone studying alone. Noiselessly tracking the voice, I caught sight of Reb Zundel Aharon. He was sitting on a mound under a tree and studying, his face radiating luminous joy. It was now clear to me that he was in fact one of those hidden tzaddikim.

“Though I was eager to get to know him via whatever he was studying, I weighed the subject in my mind and decided not to interrupt him in his mode of avodah. Nevertheless, this acquaintance with the lifestyle of the hidden tzaddikim made an impact on my conduct, and on my yearning to have a defined route in the paths of Chassidus.

“True, I respected the academic style of my [great-]grandfather, R. Moshe, and enjoyed hearing his structured shiurim that were based on solid halachic principles. At the same time, however, I was utterly unable to accept the parched frigidity of his G‑d-fearing conduct, which was also accompanied by such self-satisfaction.

“As time went on, I became more acquainted with the bypassing scholars, and already had a sharp eye that recognized the hidden tzaddikim. Getting to know them strongly influenced my approach to Torah and avodah.

“One day, as I was studying a certain Talmudic subject conscientiously, Reb Avraham Leib the Potter approached me and began to explain how he understood it. I was so happy. And when I asked him why he hid himself and posed as an ignoramus, he said that I would know the answer when I was older. He went on to say that Reb Elye Ber, with his quick grasp and his extraordinary memory, had memorized the Babylonian Talmud, the Jerusalem Talmud, Rambam, Arba’ah Turim and the Shulchan Aruch. He added that Reb Zundel Aharon had a remarkably profound mind.

“At the time I did not know why it had been granted to me that these hidden tzaddikim should reveal their identities to me – but their self-revelation blessed my spiritual progress with success. I felt that day by day I was coming closer to deep-seated avodah, and that my understanding was becoming enriched in breadth and in orderliness. And for that, I thanked G‑d.”

5. Let me relay to you another one of the episodes that my great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, recorded in his memoirs, [as told to him in his childhood, like the above, by his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe].

“There was once an unlettered villager17 called Reb Yosef Meir. Though his knowledge of Torah was scant, he was devoutly G‑d-fearing and conscientious in his observance of the mitzvos. This was during the time when the Baal Shem Tov was very young and worked as a teacher’s aide.

“Reb Yosef Meir lived in a village near Polotzk where he managed to make a comfortable living for himself and his upstanding family, which included two sons and a son-in-law. Yet though he spent freely on maintaining tutors for them, they remained ignorant. His children married into similar families of businessmen in the village and in the nearby town.

“As he continued to prosper, he and his wife and family were exceptionally charitable. Whenever a bypassing guest arrived they tended to him personally and farewelled him with a generous sum, and word of this spread. However, most of the bypassing scholars left them with the soul-destroying feeling that after all, their hosts were plain ignoramuses.

“On the other hand, some of the wayfarers would spend a few days in the house, but refused to accept any money or to benefit from another’s table. Instead, they would do whatever work was available around the house. Moreover, some of them would raise the spirits of their host and his family by their brotherly manner of speech, especially when they sometimes sat and learned with them. In fact, in the course of time, their host and his sons and son-in-law were able to study easy texts alone.

“One day they emptied out a large house that had stood unoccupied on his grounds and turned it into a shul and a free hostelry, where they personally provided the room service. By this time, even the prominent Torah scholars who had earlier made light of those simple and ignorant folk began to respect them for their openhearted warmth.

“A certain wayfarer who stayed in the hostelry for an extended period was not prepared to accept free meals, so he worked in Reb Yosef Meir’s mill. While he worked he would repeat passages of Tanach and Mishnayos from memory, and after working hours he would take a seat in the little shul and study with relish.

“His host was so envious of the way in which this Reb Chaim Shmuel was able to repeat from memory the 24 Books of the Tanach and the Mishnayos as well, that he began to memorize the Chumash. When he eventually mastered the Book of Bereishis, he was the happiest of men. Reb Chaim Shmuel the Miller then offered to learn every day with him and the three young men, and in the course of time, they had all memorized the entire Chumash, which they constantly reviewed.

“Reb Chaim Shmuel used to tell them how the Baal Shem Tov lived his life and how he loved every fellow Jew, and how he thereby encouraged and empowered hundreds of unlettered people to become Torah scholars and baalei avodah. These narrations sparked a desire in Reb Yosef Meir to see the Baal Shem Tov’s lifestyle for himself. After discussing his plan with his sons and sons-in-law he set out for an extended visit, during which the Baal Shem Tov provided him with a program of avodah. And on his return, he sent those young men on a similar visit.

[The Alter Rebbe continues his narration:] “When I came to the Rebbe in Mezritch for the first time,18 I met over twenty aged chassidim, half of whom remembered having met the hoary hidden tzaddikim who preceded the Baal Shem Tov. They used to repeat stories about the Baal Shem Tov and describe his conduct from the time when he was still a hidden tzaddik. One of them I knew. He was commonly called ‘the hospitable Reb Yosef Meir.’ Whenever he visited my father, everyone respected him, even my [great-]grandfather, Reb Moshe.

“When I arrived in Mezritch and decided to stay there near the Rebbe for a period, this old Reb Yosef Meir recited the blessing Shehecheyanu, including the Divine Name.19 He did this in thanksgiving for the fact that he had been preserved in life to see with his own eyes what the Baal Shem Tov had revealed to a select few of his holy disciples, namely, the identity of my soul,20 and the nature of the Chabad-Chassidus path to avodas HaShem that I must blaze, with self-sacrifice.

“The aged Reb Yosef Meir and the other old chassidim showed me marks of closeness and told me stories about the brotherhood of hidden tzaddikim. In particular, Reb Baruch Moshe, Reb Aharon Beinush, Reb Moshe Yitzchak and Reb Shlomo Yitzchak were the most precise narrators. They remembered Reb Eliezer, the hidden tzaddik who was the father of the Baal Shem Tov, and remembered the Baal Shem Tov in his childhood.”

6. A chassidisher niggun reflects the spiritual mood of its composer. A niggun is an experience, in either of two modes. Sometimes, an experience finds expression in a niggun; sometimes, a niggun creates an experience.

The Alter Rebbe was a born menagen.21 While he was in Mezritch he learned many niggunim that had been sung in the court of the Baal Shem Tov and precisely committed them to memory. Each niggun had a name that indicated its history, or its composer, or the period or event that it described.

The tzaddik Reb Michel of Zlotchov22 was a great composer of niggunim. The Baal Shem Tov said of him that “Reb Michele23 is a frequent guest in the [Heavenly] Palace of Song, and there he chooses niggunim that express spiritual arousal and yearning.”

It once happened that Reb Michel’s health was so frail that he was unable to visit his Rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov. It was in those circumstances that he composed the [haunting and evocative] melody that chassidim know as “Reb Michele Zlotchover’s Niggun of Yearning.24 The Alter Rebbe brought it home on his return from Mezritch. The melody’s three themes give voice to the chassid’s yearning for nearness to the Baal Shem Tov’s presence, his joy on arrival there, and the chassid’s dedicated cleaving to him.

7. When the Alter Rebbe returned [to Vitebsk] from Mezritch, he disseminated the approach of the Baal Shem Tov to meditative prayer and immediately revealed the approach of Chabad, which influenced many Torah scholars. The elder disciples of the Gaon of Vilna living in Vitebsk thereupon dispatched a number of their senior geonim to tell the Gaon of their complaint – that “the ilui of Liozna” had become a disciple of the school of Mezritch and was disseminating the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and of the Maggid. Moreover, he was exerting a powerful influence on the leading young scholars and also among the ignorant populace. The Gaon responded: “I am not involved in hidden [i.e., mystical] matters.”

8. It was the custom of “the Toldos”25 to visit [his Rebbe] the Baal Shem Tov from time to time, to do him a service of some kind, and then to return home. Once, while he was engaged in his studies, he felt that no pioneering insights were coming to mind. After some time passed and he saw that his scholarly labors proceeded blandly and had still not sparked any chiddushim, he set out for Mezhibuzh. There he met the Baal Shem Tov, who had not yet davened. The Toldos brought him a glowing coal to light his pipe, and the Baal Shem Tov responded: “In recompense for this service, may a G‑dly fire light up your innovative Torah insights.”

9. The Baal Shem Tov once said that Jews are the tefillin of the Master of the Universe, in the spirit of the teaching of the Sages, who ask (in Berachos 6a), “What is written in the tefillin of the Master of the Universe?” And they answer their own question by quoting the verse,26 “Who is like Your people, Yisrael, a unique nation on earth (…goy echad baaretz)?”

The Baal Shem Tov interpreted: “The Jews are a nation (goy) that draws down G‑d’s unity (echad) into the material world (baaretz).”

Tefillin are of two kinds, the head-tefillin and the arm-tefillin.27 The Jews who are G‑d’s tefillin are likewise of two kinds: there are the head-tefillin Jews, that is, the intellectual Torah scholars, and there are the arm-tefillin Jews, that is, those who have refined their middos, their character traits.

The blessing that one recites before putting on tefillin includes the phrase, “Who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us.” This blessing is recited over both kinds of tefillin, and one obligated to put on both, but one puts on the arm-tefillin before the head-tefillin.

With regard to the tefillin in the World Above, the arm-tefillin signify what is brought about by the avodah of ordinary, unlettered Jews, and the head-tefillin signify what is brought about by the avodah of Torah scholars. And in the World Above, the avodah of the unlettered Jews who serve G‑d with unquestioning kabbalas ol28 is valued more highly than the avodah of the intellectual Torah scholars.

10. The Baal Shem Tov taught his disciples that the true approach in avodah is to realize that whatever a person sees or hears is not a chance occurrence, but a directive from Above. He added that one ought to arouse Heaven’s mercies that one should be privileged to understand whatever one sees [or hears]. He taught that true avodah requires that one should perceive the truth – that every Jew is an emissary to uncover Divinity, and that the ordinary, unlearned and artless Jews are true servants of G‑d. He therefore urged his disciples one day to observe Reb Pesach the Watercarrier when he was about to enter the shul.

It was time for Minchah. They watched as he poured water on his hands a few times and dried them before opening the shul door, and as he entered, his awe showed on his face. When he then gazed upon the Aron Kodesh and said the verse that begins, Shivisi… – “G‑d, I hold You constantly before me”29 – his face changed colors.

The Baal Shem Tov was the true mentor who knew what to point out to his disciples, and their truly luminous eyes were able to perceive.

11. The Alter Rebbe had a chassid called Reb Ephraim. He was a well-to-do and hospitable yishuvnik, and that is how he was regarded. He used to offer free loans to his fellow villagers, and made every effort to daven with a minyan three times a day. In his old agehe handed over his farming affairs to his sons and son-in-law, and eventually moved with his eldest son to Liepli. The money that he had taken for himself he distributed as charity, and he and his wife became caretakers in one of the local shuls.

The Alter Rebbe once remarked to his son, the Mitteler Rebbe, that this Reb Ephraim was rich in Torah words, because from as early as he remembered himself, he used to repeat the Five Books of the Chumash and the Six Orders of the Mishnah from memory.

12. The vintage chassid, R. Abba of Tchashnik, had an uncle known as Reb Gedaliah the Baker, who as a young man had been one of the chassidim whose avodah was guided by the Mitteler Rebbe. This is what Reb Gedaliah told his nephew:

“The [Alter] Rebbe’s son, the Mitteler Rebbe, was a devoted mentor who not only guided the students whom the Alter Rebbe had entrusted to his tutelage, but also took exact notice of the manner in whichthey did their avodah.

“We students thought that in order to upgrade one’s own avodah, and most certainly in order to upgrade another’s avodah, one must first set himself firmly – at least visibly – on a higher rung. The [Mitteler] Rebbe corrected us: One must toil in one’s own avodah to the point that this alone will have a positive effect on another.”