1. Today is the Shabbos of Parshas Pinchas. At the time that this passage in the Torah is read, in 5640 (1880), I was born. And the passage that is read in the week during which a Jew is born and enters the big world is in some way related to the sequence and to the events of his life.

I was born on Monday of the week of Parshas Pinchas, and most of the events that happened to me and around me in the course of the sixty years of my life (May it continue for long days and years with success in avodas HaShem and ahavas Yisrael!) are hinted at in Parshas Pinchas, whether obscurely or overtly.

2. The Alter Rebbe personally attended to the guidance of his [youngest] son Moshe and of his grandson, the Tzemach Tzedek, in the years of their formal education. As part of this program, he explained to them that during their after-school hours they should listen to the stories that chassidim tell.

3. When the Tzemach Tzedek turned eight, in 5557 (1797), on erev Rosh HaShanah, he began to write his Book of Narratives and Events. Its first entry records the schedule for his birthday which the Alter Rebbe laid down for him, while instructing him earnestly that it should be kept in perfect secrecy. He explained at the time that a secret is something that is not divulged; a complete secret is so well kept that it is indiscernible.

That schedule began on the Tuesday of Parshas Haazinu, 28 Elul, 5557 (1797). In the words of the Tzemach Tzedek: “At 3:00 AM, before Selichos, my grandfather learned with me for half an hour and planned what I should do on erev Rosh HaShanah and on both days of Rosh HaShanah.” At 1:00 PM on erev Rosh HaShanah the Alter Rebbe gave him a birthday blessing, and after Minchah he gave him a New Year blessing in the course of blessing the members of his family.

4. The Tzemach Tzedek also described how the Alter Rebbe conducted himself on Yud-Tes Kislev: he delivered a maamar to mark the passing of [his Rebbe,] the Maggid of Mezritch, and led the davenen at all three services. In the words of the Tzemach Tzedek: “At the seudah to mark the yahrzeit,1 he spoke of the deep-seated bond of a disciple with his mentor, and in particular the bond by which the mentor’s successor devotes his entire self to him.”

5. On Motzaei Shabbos of Parshas Re’eh, the Tzemach Tzedek recorded in detail the events of that Shabbos, which fell on the birthday2 in the year 5557 (1797).

In his words: “On that Shabbos, my grandfather spoke of the three crowns that adorned Chai Elul:

“(a) In the year 5458 (1698), a year whose three key letters spell נחת (nachas – ‘spiritual bliss’), on Monday, the eighteenth of Elul, our mentor the Baal Shem Tov – son of the holy hidden tzaddik, the gaon Reb Eliezer – was born.

“(b) In the year 5484 (1724),3 on Wednesday, the eighteenth of Elul, when the Baal Shem Tov turned twenty-six, the soul of Achiyah HaShiloni4 was revealed to him. (The Baal Shem Tov refers to him as the Baal Chai ((בעל ח"י, the two letters of the acronym alluding to the names of the two innermost levels of the soul, chayah and yechidah.) For ten years Achiyah HaShiloni taught the Baal Shem Tov the Five Books of the Chumash.

“(c) In the year 5494 (1734), on Thursday of the week of Parshas [Ki] Savo, by command of his holy mentor, the Baal Chai, the Baal Shem Tov revealed himself.5 (As explained by my uncle,6 the name Baal Chai indicates that Achiyah HaShiloni was master (baal) over the manner in which the two transcendental soul-powers, chayah and yechidah, were to be revealed in their innermost essence.)

6. Chassidim are baalei shir, masters of melody.7 They were endowed with that gift by the Alter Rebbe, who composed ten melodies, corresponding to the sequence of the sefiros in the spiritual worlds of Atzilus, Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah.

On Yud-Tes Kislev, 5663 (1902), we were privileged to hear my father’s long, structured explanation of how the [Alter Rebbe’s] Niggun of Four Themes corresponds to the Four Worlds. All those of us who witnessed that holy sight should preserve the recollection of how my father rose from his place and said: “We Chabad chassidim, all of us, owe a specific expression of praise and gratitude to the Al-mighty for the privilege of having a connection8 with the [Alter] Rebbe. Through that connection we are connected with the Ein-Sof which is in Chochmah of the World of Atzilus. And with the niggunim of the [Alter] Rebbe we will greet our Righteous Mashiach.”

My great-grandfather the Tzemach Tzedek recorded his recollections of the order of events at the celebration of Simchas Beis HaShoeivah in the year 5557 (1796).9 He writes that on that occasion, the Alter Rebbe delivered a short, cold-fiery maamar which focused on avodah, and was based on a teaching of the Mishnah:10 כל בעלי השֵׁיר יוצאין בשֵׁיר ונמשכין בשֵׁיר. [The context defines the restrictions applying to animals on Shabbos – under what circumstances may they move freely and be led from a private domain to the public domain.] This particular sentence says: “All animals bearing a chain or ring (שֵׁיר) may go out wearing their chain and may be led along by it.” [Reading this same text from a mystical perspective,] the Alter Rebbe gave the following interpretation: “All the masters of song (שִׁיר) – that is, the angels and souls [that inhabit the World Above] – go out in song and are drawn in song. It is by means of [the outpouring of a worshiper’s soul in] song that both of the avodos of the soul take place – both (a) its going out from concealment and becoming revealed and drawn down from the level of Chochmah of Atzilus, and likewise (b) its ascent from revelation to the initial concealment of Chochmah of Atzilus, which is the pristine concealment11 of Atzmus Ein-Sof, the Essence of the Infinite One.”

[The Tzemach Tzedek later wrote:] “That year, 5557 (1796), at the above-mentioned celebration of Simchas Beis HaShoeivah, my father-in-law the [Mitteler] Rebbe relayed what he had heard from the aged chassid, Reb Yitzchak Shmuel, who had studied under the Alter Rebbe, as follows: ‘When the Alter Rebbe came home after his first visit to Mezritch, he said that the Maggid had revealed to him three things: (a) who he was – a soul from the World of Atzilus; (b) the purpose for which his soul had been sent down to This World – to disseminate Chabad Chassidus; and (c) that the revelation of Chabad takes place [i.e., one’s Chochmah-Binah-Daas can be harnessed into avodah] by means of song, in two modes: elevation and drawing down.’ ”

* * *

The Alter Rebbe teaches [as above] that all the masters of melody go out and ascend by means of song, and are drawn downwards by means of song.12 It was mentioned above that one’s voice arouses kavanah.13 That quotation, [in the light of the Alter Rebbe’s above teaching,] refers to the real, objective kavanah [for which a person’s soul was dispatched down here below], and not only to that person’s kavanah,14 in its usual sense of devout concentration – because his understanding is finite, whereas the real kavanah is the intent of the Creator, which is infinite.

And now, please, sing the well-known niggun from Warsaw15 with an arousal that wells from within, so that by means of that niggun we will draw the students of Tomchei Temimim in Warsaw to us here.

7. The [Alter] Rebbe is an atzmi.16 An atzmi is constantly bound to Atzmus and reveals Atzmus, in two ways.

The [Alter] Rebbe opened up in chassidim the Chabad, the soul’s intellective faculties, which are to be applied to practical avodah. For a chassid, practical avodah means the avodah of meditation, including a spiritual stocktaking of all the times and periods that he has lived through.

The first period is the year preceding one’s bar-mitzvah when he is “close to being called a man,”17 and the second is the period during which one is already considered an ish, a man.

The Mitteler Rebbe writes18 that one ought to do teshuvah even for things that were done before the age of bar-mitzvah, that is, things that were done without thinking, like an animal. However, one is not punishable, because punishment varies according to age, whether from thirteen years of age, or twenty.

8. In everyone’s life there are two stages, varying with his spiritual standing, at which he is first “close to being called a man,” and then the stage at which he is considered a man.

In my case, the first stage was in the year 5648 (1888), when I heard my father delivering the maamar that begins, Ein HaKadosh-Baruch-Hu Ba BiTrunya im Briyosav – “The Holy One, blessed be He, does not confront His created beings with unfair demands.” And for me the stage of being considered a man began in 5651 (1891),19 when my father told me: “Our Rebbeim trained the community of Chabad chassidim that even a vort, a seemingly lightweight insight [heard from one’s Rebbe], is a full-fledged teaching in the haskalah of Chassidus, and that a mere gesture is a directive that should guide one’s conduct.”

9. Once at a farbrengen [in 5650/1890], my father delivered the series of maamarim that begins with the one whose first word is Tik’u, and my uncle the Raza repeated my grandfather’s maamar that begins with Ve’asisa Tzitz. It was a dynamic farbrengen, and those present included Reb Yehoshua Khersoner and Reb Asher Nikolayever.

At one point Reb Asher addressed my father: “Rebbe,20 please repeat the maamar that your father, the Rebbe [Maharash], delivered on Purim Katan in 5635 (1875)!”

My father leaned his head on his hands and wept earnestly. Those present then began a heartfelt niggun, and my father repeated the maamar entitled VeKibeil HaYehudim. That maamar speaks about how all the Jews of that time maintained a stance of mesirus nefesh, self-sacrifice, throughout an entire year, and how Mordechai with his 22,000 students activated that power among Jews at large. This capacity for self-sacrifice means that by means of avodah one should not desire what the body and the animal soul desire, and that by means of avodah one should desire and actually do what the body and the animal soul do not desire.

After that farbrengen, my teacher Reb Nissan explained me the meaning of avodah that is undertaken with mesirus nefesh, in terms that I could understand at the time.

10. Thanks to my father’s tearful pleas for Heaven’s mercies for my education, I was fortunate to have good teachers.

My first melamed was Reb Yekusiel, whose father-in-law’s father was a chassid of the Alter Rebbe. Reb Yekusiel taught me alef-beis. At the end of every school day he would tell a story of the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples, while we pupils, fascinated, would gather around him and watch the words coming from his mouth. In fact one of his severest punishments was – having to stand behind him as he told that day’s story.

My second teacher was Reb Shimshon. The Tzemach Tzedek had told him, “Become a teacher, and I’ll send my two grandchildren to learn with you.” [By nature] he was cruel, and would hit his pupils for no reason.

My third teacher was Reb Nissan, and to him I owe an enormous debt of gratitude. As I have often repeated, he made me rich in chassidic narratives and fired me with enthusiasm to keep a diary.

My fourth teacher was the eminent chassid and oved, Reb Shmuel Betzalel. He stood on a higher plane, both in scholarship and in avodah. He understood things at a particularly refined and profound level. He had a rare gift for explaining the Chabad soul of every narrative, and especially for describing the distinctive level of the outstanding chassidim whom he had known. He was my teacher in 5654 (1894).

As mentioned above, thanks to my father’s prayers and tears I was fortunate in that my upbringing from early childhood was blessed with success. And in order to develop my spiritual sensitivity, my father invested considerable effort, including the kinds of games that help one to cultivate his capacity for comprehension and imagination.

11. Reb Zalman Zlatopolsky was a chassid of my grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, who would deliver a maamar especially for him whenever he visited Lubavitch.

On one such occasion, in 5637 (1877), the Rebbe Maharash repeated for him the same maamar that he had delivered publicly the previous Shabbos. The following year he delivered a maamar for him alone. Now, it often happened that in the midst of a maamar the Rebbe Maharash would utter a few words that had no connection whatever with it, or sometimes a really obscure connection. In this maamar, which he delivered in 5638 (1878), he discussed the teaching of the Sages that “R. Elazar would give a coin to a pauper and then daven.”21 On this the Rebbe Maharash commented: “Prayer should be energetic. Giving tzedakah to a poor person and enlivening him before praying greatly increases one’s own vitality while praying.” With this he waved his hands upward, as was his custom to indicate something truly wondrous.

12. Reb Zalman Zlatopolsky, an utterly devoted mekushar to my grandfather, was not only an intellectual with a broad chassidisher heart, but was also very deliberate and organized. Whatever he did was deliberate, duly weighed in the terms of the concepts of Chassidus. That was his approach to everything. For example, he had an orderly plan about when he should visit Lubavitch, how long he should stay in the Rebbe’s court, and when he should leave for home. He was one of the most highly-regarded maskilim and ovdim, the pnimiyusdike chassidim for whom undertaking the journey to Lubavitch and hearing maamarim of Chassidus and facing the Rebbe at yechidus constituted a weighty spiritual experience at the very core of their lives.

Every veteran chassid would stop off at certain towns and villages on his way to and from Lubavitch, and would repeat teachings and maamarim that he had once heard there for the benefit of the local chassidim. On his way back he would be welcomed with a warm farbrengen, which was attended by all the local Chabad chassidim, regardless of whether they were rich or poor – in material or in spiritual wealth, in scholarship or in avodah.

At one such farbrengen, when Reb Zalman was on his way home from Lubavitch, he repeated a few words that the Rebbe Maharash had said in the midst of a maamar: “When one enlivens a fellow Jew materially, such as by giving him a meal, the reward is both material and spiritual.”

After the renowned chassid, Reb Chaim Ber [Vilensky],heard this vort, he would often give a coin before davenen to by-passers or other poor folk who were in shul, so that they would have something to eat after davenen.

My father once remarked that the deeply-felt devotion that this chassid had to the Rebbe Maharash set him on the path to success in his avodah with his mind and heart.

13. Thechassidishe householders22 of earlier generations implanted in their children, in their sons and daughters equally, a deep-seated devotion and bond to the Rebbe. They consulted the Rebbe about all their affairs, including questions of family and livelihood, and acted according to his directives. This was beneficial to them personally and to their families.

There was once a chassid called Reb Eliyahu Vorbaitchik. He was brought up by his father, an ordinary chassidisher storekeeper in Polotzk, who had been a chassid of the Mitteler Rebbe. Now, the Tzemach Tzedek in his earliest years as Rebbe invested great efforts in encouraging Jews to settle in villages.23 So when Elye’s father24 complained to the Tzemach Tzedek about his dire financial straits, the Rebbe advised him to settle in a village near Polotzk. The chassid said that he couldn’t see this happening,and even if such an opportunity did materialize, he didn’t have even enough money to move there and start doing something.

The Tzemach Tzedek replied: “I’ll lend you 300 rubles in banknotes, and may G‑d arrange a place for you where you will succeed. But don’t you mess things up,25 because when I give people loans, things go well for them and for their offspring, for generations ahead!”

Returning home, the chassid encountered an acquaintance who told him that his local squirewanted to sell an estate that included a mill. The acquaintance proposed a partnership: “You buy the mill and I’ll buy the estate.” This they did and greatly prospered. That village grew into the little township called Abel, and a few years later into a substantial settlement where Jews lived well both materially and spiritually.

Reb Elye Vorbaitchik was unlearned, but was firmly bound to the Rebbe Maharash. When after his marriage he asked my grandfather what he should do for a livelihood and whether he should remain in his birthplace, Abel, or leave for Polotzk, my grandfather instructed him to remain in Abel and gave him his blessing for success. And indeed he was blessed with good health and prosperity.

Once26 when he visited Lubavitch, my grandfather told him, “Elye, I envy the trials that confront you!” Reb Elye was passionate by nature, and was tall and handsome. He did very well materially. Within a few years he bought up considerable real estate in and around a settlement called Seliba. He bought forests from the people who owned the nearby estates, transported the logs to Riga, and traveled there every year to sell them. Since he had business contacts with the people in the neighboring estates, he frequently met them and their families and was often obliged to spend time in their company, where he was exposed to serious tests.

When he turned seventy he told my father that throughout his life he had been confronted and tormented by severe trials. However, the closeness that the Rebbe Maharash had shown him and the blessings that he had given him stood him in good stead so that (Thank G‑d!) he never faltered. Reb Elye used to say that when he came to the Other World and they would hit him so hard that no vestige of his materiality would survive, he would ask them to be admitted to see his Rebbe.

Here we see the impact of the Rebbe’s words. Reb Elye didn’t await reward; he wasn’t lacking gashmiyus, and ruchniyus he couldn’t comprehend. The only thing he hoped for was that after a punishment so severe that no vestige of his body’s materiality would survive, his soul should be privileged to be bound to his Rebbe.

This was the typical lifestyle and earnest wish of the average fruits of a chassidisher education.

14. My father once pointed out to me how, in the midst of the hakkafos of Simchas Torah, an outstanding tamim called Reb Yeruchamwas (so to speak) Yom Kippuring.27 My father explained to me that what we saw was teshuvah motivated by joy, since teshuvah can be inspired either by remorse or by joy. He added that generally, the latter kind is present only in an oved who is a pnimi – without noise, in someone who is genuinely connected to truth.

[However,] the main motivation for teshuvah should be the avodah of davenen – that is, prayer fuelled by structured meditation on Chassidus – because davenen is the same as yechidus. [One of the meanings of] the term yechidus is clarification,28 as in the words of the Sages, that “they knew clearly (beyichud) that the Ark was hidden there.” Rashi explains there29 that beyichud in that context means “clearly.” In the course of the avodah of davenen, both the “I” with its good thrust and the “I” with its evil thrust become clearly defined.

[To illustrate:] Stopping off at a town on his way from Kremenchug to Lubavitch together with his chassidim, the Mitteler Rebbe once met a wealthy man who loved the Torah, and who had taken as a son-in-law a fine scholar with a sharp brain called Zavl David. After the Mitteler Rebbe delivered a maamar of Chassidus, this young man developed a strong bond with him, studied the abstract teachings of the haskalah of Chassidus intensively, and progressed in his studies.

Once, while he was spending the month of Tishrei in Lubavitch, the Tzemach Tzedek spoke at a farbrengen celebrating Simchas Beis HaShoeivah, and described how the avodah of davenen is the very basis of Chassidus. He went on to say that if someone invests all his efforts only in the haskalah of Chassidus and does not toil in the avodah of davenen to a degree that matches his scholarship, he resembles a magnate who exchanges all of his wealth for counterfeit coins. Not only has such a man lost his entire property and can’t buy anything, but he is also heavily punished for trying to make his purchases with counterfeit coins.

After that, someone nicknamed this young man “Zavl the Counterfeit Coin.”

My father once said to me that a farbrengen of his grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, in the lifetime of the Alter Rebbe and the Mitteler Rebbe, used to uncover within chassidim the innermost potential of their intellects and of their hearts.30

16.31 In the Alter Rebbe’s earliest years as Rebbe in Liozna, both his maamarim on haskalah and his maamarim on avodah were very short and fiery.

Once, during the period in which he already had thousands of chassidim who were ordinary folk and not necessarily scholars, he delivered a maamar whose message related to avodah. It was based on the verse,“By G‑d are the steps of man made firm, and He is pleased with his way.”32 The Alter Rebbe explained: “Every soul is an emissary from Above with a mission to accomplish, and thereby it realizes the intention of the One Who dispatched it. The soul is given the power and the opportunity to accomplish its mission – and also, unlike an angel, it is given freedom of choice. A Jew should keep in mind that every situation that G‑d engineers for him is a directive and a mission from Above that he should accomplish.”

Now, one of the ordinary chassidim present supported himself by trading with the nearby squires and villagers. After he heard the above teaching he decided that henceforth, whenever he did business with those gentiles, he would not speak with them on any subject apart from what was needed for the transaction at hand. And indeed, from that time on, whenever he met one of them he would ask: “Do you want to buy something? Is there anything you want to sell?” And if the answer was No, he would walk away without a word.

One day, on his way with a group of chassidim to Liozna, he encountered a gentile acquaintance who long earlier had moved out of that region. He was now so delighted to see him that he invited him to accompany him to his village. In fact, he explained, he was about to hold a celebration to mark the purchase of his new cottage, and the chassid’s presence would make his joy complete. He repeated his request so persistently that the chassid reluctantly accompanied him.

As he entered the cottage, the chassid met some more gentiles who had once been lived in his region. They too were glad to see him and asked about their former neighbors. In the course of the conversation, one of them told him that in their present village there lived a certain gentile who was utterly unlike the gentiles who lived in their previous neighborhood. In fact he had stolen a sefer Torah from a shul and for the last three years had kept it in a stable.

The chassid lost no time. He found the gentile, paid a ransom, and redeemed the sefer Torah.

Stories of this kind that chassidim exchange are the true interpretation, in the spirit of avodah, of the above verse, “By G‑d are the steps of man made firm, and He is pleased with his way.”

17. Some people excuse themselves from studying Chassidus every day with all kinds of pretexts – they have no time because they have to make a living, or they are very busy teaching Torah to others – but in fact these are all false pretexts. True enough, one must make a livelihood, and this certainly applies to those who are teaching Torah. That said, one ought to study Chassidus every day. What really matters is not necessarily the amount of time; what really matters is that this study should be firmly fixed in one’s soul. Even if one studies only a little while every day but what one has studied is engraved in one’s heart and soul, then wherever he finds himself throughout the day he will jolt his memory and ask himself: “What did I study today?” And this will leave a positive impact on whatever he does throughout that day.