1 1. In Velizh there lived a melamed by the name of Reb Yisrael Dov. He was a maskil and an oved, whose davenen almost every day was prolonged and meditative, and both tuneful and tearful. Sometimes his davenen was so loud that it shook up the people around him. By nature he was a jolly fellow who would often say, “A chassid is always doing fine. If he has what he needs, he’s happy; if he hasn’t got what he needs, he’s happy then, too.”

Reb Yisrael Dov had studied under Reb Moshe Dov of Velizh, who was one of the chassidim who remembered having seen the Mitteler Rebbe. Most of his life his bond was with the Tzemach Tzedek, later with my great-uncle, the tzaddik known as the Maharil,2 and yet later with the Rebbe Maharash.

Reb Moshe Dov was highly reputed among chassidim as a man who had a mastery of Chassidus, who took his avodah seriously, and who had refined his character by sheer hard work.

He used to say: “Whoever wants to earn must work hard.” And at a farbrengen, this is what he used to say when he came to the subject of refining one’s character traits: “People say, ‘Even flay carcasses in the market place, but don’t make yourself dependent on others!’3 Gross character traits are like a carcass. Don’t touch them with your hands; just shake them off like you shake off mud that has stuck to your slippers. That’s the meaning of the message, ‘Flay carcasses in the market place.’ And if you don’t do it yourself, others will do it for you. That’s the meaning of the warning, ‘Don’t make yourself dependent on others!’ If you don’t cast off your carcass – your gross character traits – yourself, you’ll have to become dependent on others to do it for you!”

One day, this Reb Moshe Dov said to Reb Yisrael Dov: “I don’t know what’s doing with you! You toil and toil, you study and you daven,4 you are aroused as you sing, you clap with your hands and stamp with your feet – yet at the end of the day you’re still at first base, the same man you were yesterday and the day before. When we were young men, we didn’t give in until every resolve made during a session of davenen was translated into a practical action.”

2. I knew Reb Yisrael Dov and heard his davenen. The last time I heard him I was about twelve years old, yet even today (thank G‑d) I remember that sight in “The Little Minyan,” where he used to daven – how with his singing and his tears he poured out his soul.

3. I also knew his son, Reb Chaim Velizher, a timber merchant who would travel as far abroad as Riga. From this chassidisher businessman I learned a great deal about his father.

4. Likewise from Reb Meir Mordechai Tchernin,5 who for many years was a melamed in Velizh, I heard a lot about Reb Yisrael Dov.

5. For many years, Reb Yisrael Nachman HaKohen Mariasin6 was the melamed in Velizh of Reb DovBer Tzukerman (Berlin). He, too, gave me information about Reb Yisrael Dov.

6. Reb Yisrael Dov was one of the young men who were educated in the time of the Tzemach Tzedek, and later connected with the Rebbe Maharash.

7. The Alter Rebbe imposed heavy expectations for tzedakah on his chassidim. He used to dispatch itinerant emissaries to collect their contributions – for the living costs of our mentors in the Holy Land; for the ransom of tenants who had been imprisoned for arrears in paying rent for the lands, mills and crossroad inns that they leased from the local squires; for the maintenance of Torah scholars; and for many other causes.

8. A chassid of the Alter Rebbe once bemoaned the fact that he felt no vigor in his Torah study and in his “service of the heart,”7 that is, in his davenen. “I study and I daven,” he said, “but it’s all lifeless.”

“What is so surprising about that,” responded the Alter Rebbe, “if one allows oneself to consume luxuries, such as eating white bread on weekdays? A person who holds that his financial situation allows him to eat white bread even on weekdays should eat brown bread, and give away the difference in price as charity.”

9. The Alter Rebbe had a chassid who sold various vessels in the homes of the landowners throughout the week, and then went home for Shabbos. He used to say that if he earned more than usual, he was sure that at home he would find either an emissary or a letter from the Alter Rebbe waiting for him. This filled him with joy, that G‑d had granted him the privilege of carrying out the will of his Rebbe.

10. One summer’s day in the year 5655 (1895), when we were at the midday meal in a country resort in Bolivke, my father asked my teacher, the Rashbatz, to repeat something of interest.

My teacher thereupon stood up8 and said: “At the wedding of the Rebbe Maharash and Rebbitzin Rivkah in the year 5609 (1849), the Tzemach Tzedek was extremely happy and delivered many new maamarim. At the last celebration of Sheva Berachos he delivered the exceedingly profound maamar that begins, Mashiach is coming in order to induce the tzaddikim to do teshuvah.’9 He then added that ‘the kind of teshuvah that a tzaddik does has a flavor all of its own and a relish all of its own.’ ”10

[The Rashbatz continued his recollection:] “Among the prominent elder chassidim who participated in the cheerful and comradely farbrengen that ensued were Reb Aizik11 Homiler, Reb Nechemiah Dubrovner,12 Reb Aizik of Vitebsk, Reb Hillel Paritcher, Reb Peretz Beshenkovitzer13 and Reb Pesach Malastovker. At one point, Reb Aizik Homiler stood up and declared in a voice that shuddered with emotion: ‘The Alter Rebbe’s chassidim knew what was expected of them, and recognized what level they had reached. Today’s chassidim know what is expected of them, but they don’t recognize what level they have reached!’ ”

My father (the Rebbe Rashab) listened closely to the Rashbatz. Then, his eyes streaming with tears, he said: “That exclamation was made by a disciple of the Alter Rebbe 45 years ago. So what can we say now…?”

* * *

That statement was made by my father in the year 5655 (1895), in Lubavitch. So what can we say now, in the year 5700 (1940), in New York…?

11. In the summer of 5638 (1878), in the series of maamarim14 that opens with the maamar based on the teaching, Chayav Adam (“A person is obligated to say a hundred blessings”),15 the Rebbe Maharash delivered the maamar that begins, Gal Einai (“Uncover my eyes, so that I will gaze upon wonders from Your Torah”).16 The esteemed chassid, Reb Shmuel DovBer [Borisover] the Mashpia,17 had come to Lubavitch for that Shabbos. The maamar was not long (it took only 35 minutes), but it was rich in content. My uncle, known as the Ramal,18 retained the maamar better than my father and his brother – my uncle, the Raza (Reb Zalman Aharon) – so he repeated it for them from memory.

My grandfather the Rebbe Maharash invited Reb Shmuel DovBer to his home for Kiddush. After his guest asked for certain explanations, he repeated the maamar that begins Gal Einai at the Shabbos table, and then they all mastered it thoroughly.

Now in Borisov there lived a simple oven-maker called Reb Moshe David the Bricklayer, whom no one took particular notice of. Since he belonged to the chassidic fraternity, every couple of years he would visit Lubavitch – on foot, of course – and would stay for about three weeks. All his life he lived from the toil of his hands, so whenever he passed through an estate on his way to Lubavitch, he would earn something by repairing an oven or a stove. When he ran out of cash during his stay in our township, he would leave for a few days and find more work on the estate of some nearby paritz, but never in Lubavitch – for fear of affecting the livelihood of the local repairmen.

That Shabbos, as it happened, Reb Moshe David was in town. And now, before the Rebbe Maharash repeated the maamar beginning Gal Einai, he told his attendant, Reb Pinchas Leib, to ask Reb Moshe David, who was then saying Tehillim in the little shul, to join them at the table.

Hearing this, Reb Shmuel DovBer remarked: “Moshe David is a constant listener of mine, but a meager receptor.”

To this my father responded: “Moshe David’s neshamah hears Chassidus, and Moshe David hears what his neshamah says.”

My grandfather began to repeat the maamar as soon as they were joined by Moshe David, who stood and listened, his lips murmuring, and his face as pale as whitewash.

My father later told me what my grandfather had told him at yechidus, early on Monday morning:“Moshe David is a Yid whose mouth never ceases saying words of Torah.19 He’s a very simple fellow, who was orphaned from father and mother at age five. He went out to work when he was twelve. At that time he had already memorized the Five Books of the Chumash, and Tehillim as well. Ever since, for some sixty years, he constantly repeats their words from memory, by day and by night, on weekdays and on Shabbos and on Yom-Tov. Moshe David is the richest of men in the Torah’s words. With his simplicity, Moshe David has outpaced many leading maskilim and even baalei avodah. What maskilim accomplish with their haskalah and what ovdim do with their avodah, Moshe David does with his simplicity.”

My father also told me: “Very early on Wednesday morning I came to shul where I found Reb Shmuel DovBer, because whenever he planned to go to the Ohel of the Tzemach Tzedek, as on that day, he would daven very early. Reb Moshe David was also there, standing next to the stove, which was cold, because it was summer. His hands were clasped behind his back, his eyes were closed, and his lips were murmuring in silence.”

12. In the maamar of Rosh HaShanah, 5640 (1879), the Rebbe Maharash said: “When one cleaves to Elokus as a result of one’s faith – that is, from the quality of simplicity that Jews have – one is cleaving to Atzmus, to the very Essence of Elokus, and there is nothing higher than cleaving through one’s innate simplicity. This is so because when one’s cleaving to Elokus results from a particular level of attainment, such as one’s avodah or intellectual comprehension, one can cleave only to the extent of that level of attainment. By contrast, the simple mode of cleaving springs from the innermost essence – the etzem – of the soul. That is why it reaches up and connects with the very Essence – the etzem haAtzmus – of G‑d.”

13. Chassidim do their avodah in a variety of ways. Some chassidim used to do their avodah only in secluded solitude; with others, their “service of the heart”684 was heard aloud, intensifying their focus.20

There is an oral tradition about those of the early chassidim who davened at length, but ensured that their avodah should remain unnoticed. They detected a [half-serious] justification of their approach by focusing on two of the Hebrew words in a teaching of the Sages:21 אם פגע בך מנוול זה, משכהו לבית המדרש. Plainly translated, that sentence means: “If this disgusting wretch [i.e., the Evil Inclination] encounters you, induce him to come to the beis midrash.”22 Those chassidim, however, pointed out that in Chassidus, the word זה (“this”) is a code word for “revelation.” Hence, by inverting the two words מנוול זה they perceived a novel subtext, whose message was that zeh is menuval: “revelation is disgusting.” In other words, any avodah that is freely revealed to public view discloses a disgusting undercurrent that must be eradicated.

14. My grandfather’s doctor, Prof. Berthenson, who lived in Petersburg, would spend the summer months at his estate near Vitebsk. During that time he would occasionally visit my grandfather in Lubavitch, and occasionally my grandfather would visit him at his summer residence.

For one such visit, in the summer of 5634 (1873), my grandfather took my father with him. For my father, this was his second journey ever. Until several days before his bar-mitzvah he had never left Lubavitch, except for a few rare trips for a few miles out of the township. This time, on Tuesday, the 14th of MarCheshvan, 5634 (1873), my grandfather called for my father and his brother, the Raza, and said to my father: “Since next week, at an auspicious hour, you will be bar-mitzvah, set out today to visit my brother, your uncle [Reb Chaim Shneur Zalman] in Liadi, to receive his blessing. He will also no doubt deliver a maamar of Chassidus.”

My grandfather then said to my uncle,the Raza: “Travel with him, both of you spend the night there, and come home toward evening tomorrow. The roads are muddy because of the rains and the bridges are unsafe and one has to be cautious, so travel only by day.”

At that time, about thirty young men, some of them not yet married, were studying fulltime in Lubavitch. (Among them were Yitzchak Moshe ben Avraham Chaim from Vietke, Chaim Baruch from Zhlobin, and Elye Moshe from Optzueh. From them I heard about the arrangements for the journey to Liadi, the reception they received on arrival, and the return trip.) My grandfather chose twelve of those thirty young men to accompany my father and uncle. He arranged that four horses should be harnessed to the big carriage, for my father and his brother and the two attendants, Reb Pinchas Leib and Reb Yosef Mordechai. The twelve students traveled separately in two wagons.

The second trip was in Menachem Av of the same year, and my father told me at length all about it. It lasted five days, from Sunday, the twelfth of the month, until Thursday, the sixteenth, in the evening, when they returned to Lubavitch. I want to tell you just one part of that description.

On Wednesday of the week of Parshas Eikev, which was the Fifteenth of Av,23 a large crowd gathered in a spacious courtyard surrounded by shady trees, next to my grandfather’s lodgings. A large platform was soon brought from a local shul, and the courtyard, despite its size, was soon crowded.

A delegation of elder chassidim and local dignitaries went upstairs to my grandfather’s apartment and requested, on behalf of all those waiting below, that he grace the assemblage with his presence and deliver, as usual, a maamar of Chassidus. He replied that his frail health would make that a difficult task, but he would join them all for a short while and say a few words. That news spread quickly below.

Taking his place on the platform, my grandfather said: “The aggados of Chazal and the Midrash often use expressions such as: ‘The custom of the world is…’; ‘What does this resemble?’; ‘To use the parable of a king…’; ‘To use the parable of a prince…’; ‘To use the parable of a person who…’; and the like.”

[The phrase ahavas olam24 means an everlasting love, but literally would imply a worldly love. Hence:] “My great-grandfather (the Alter Rebbe)25 understands that this phrase speaks of a love that draws on worldly matters. This means that one should love G‑d with the same kind of feeling with which one loves worldly things. Thus, for example, well-liked verbal expressions that are understood on the worldly level should also be used for the service of G‑d.

“In common worldly Yiddish usage, people often say that ‘this is appropriate, and that is inappropriate.’26 Those terms relate not only to actions, but also to speech, to middos, and to comprehension. By way of example: For a person of a certain standing, it is appropriate that he should speak in a certain way and that he should not understand such-and-such. By contrast, for a person of different standing it is inappropriate that he should speak in that way – for example, angrily – because ‘the words of the wise are heard calmly,’27 and it is inappropriate that he should not understand such-and-such a subject. In fact, it is appropriate that he should definitely understand a profound subject.

“For Jews in general, and for chassidim in particular, the criterion that ‘this is appropriate, and that is inappropriate’ in spiritual matters should be as axiomatic as it is in material matters.

“For a chassid it is appropriate that he should learn a little Chassidus every day. For a chassid it is appropriate that he should be preoccupied with what will benefit another. For a chassid it is appropriate that he should be cheerful, and beyond that, that his attitude to others should be goodhearted. For a chassid it is appropriate that he should clearly see his own faults and another’s positive qualities. For a chassid it is appropriate that he should regard the most unimpressive and the least learned Jew as superior to himself. For a chassid it is appropriate that he should learn and emulate every other individual’s positive character trait and conduct. For a chassid it is appropriate that he should practice love and brotherliness, peace and comradeship.

“It is inappropriate for a chassid not to habitually study Chassidus. It is inappropriate for a chassid not to be preoccupied with what will benefit another. It is inappropriate for a chassid to be melancholy. It is inappropriate for a chassid not to see his own faults. It is inappropriate for a chassid to regard himself as the greatest of the greatest. It is inappropriate for a chassid not to learn and emulate something from another person’s example. It is inappropriate for a chassid to bring about divisiveness, even for the sake of chassidic values and practices.

“Jews in general, and chassidim in particular, ought to utilize the worldly criterion that ‘this is appropriate, and that is inappropriate’ in the service of G‑d.”

The Rebbe Maharash rose from his place, blessed those present, and retired to his apartment.

15. Two chassidim from Vitebsk, Reb DovBer Hershman and Reb Shmuel Brin,28 told me that they were present on that memorable Fifteenth of Av. The voice of the Rebbe Maharash, which was heard by all those present, brought most of them to silent tears.

In the words of Reb Shmuel Brin: “It was the actual spirit of Yom Kippur. On that day the words of the Mishnah were fulfilled29 – that ‘the Jewish people had no festivals that could compare with the Fifteenth of Av and Yom HaKippurim.’ ”

And in the words of Reb DovBer Hershman: “Those fifteen or twenty minutes that the Rebbe spoke cleansed us and washed us thoroughly. If only I could feel that way after the Al Chet confessional on the eve of Yom Kippur! On that day in Vitebsk we sensed the meaning of Rebbe.”

16. Now, this Reb DovBer Hershman was the wealthy owner of substantial houses. He was charitable in proportion to the conceptions of the townsmen of Vitebsk, and his heart was tough – very, very far from being humble and contrite. So if he was so overwhelmed that he wished that the Minchah of erev Yom Kippur would cleanse him as thoroughly as he was cleansed by what was said by the Rebbe Maharash, we can begin to grasp what impact was made by those holy words.