1. Sweet Blessings. In Lubavitch, the custom on the second night of Rosh HaShanah was to eat the new season’s fruit, over which the berachah of Shehecheyanu was said, immediately after Kiddush and before the washing of hands for the meal. Enough of the fruit was eaten to warrant an after-berachah.1 This berachah related only to the fruit and not to the wine of Kiddush, because of a learned halachic question as to whether that berachah would be deemed an interruption between the Kiddush and the meal, and as to whether the later Grace after the Meal would exempt it from the present obligation to say an after-berachah.

Moreover, even the apple that is customarily eaten [with honey] on the first night of Rosh HaShanah was eaten in Lubavitch before the meal,2 after Kiddush. And when saying the blessing, boreh pri ha’etz, the practice was to intend that it also cover the fruit that would be eaten at the end of the meal as dessert.3

2. Sour Fruit. Just now I recalled an incident that took place in the year 5658 (1898), when R. Baruch Shneur4 was in Lubavitch.

(R. Baruch Shneur, by the way, entrusted me with the notes he had made of everything he had heard and seen in the presence of my grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, and my father, [the Rebbe Rashab]. Those jottings were recorded in such precise detail that they even include entries such as, “On such-and-such a day I entered the study of my uncle,5 the Rebbe, and he greeted me with a Gut Yom-Tov!”)

It so happened that on the first night of Rosh HaShanah that year, the fruit for Shehecheyanu was so sour that R. Baruch Shneur couldn’t eat it. My father told him that one ought to eat enough to warrant an after-berachah, so he made up that quantity with a different fruit. This shows that it was customary to make a point of eating that amount.

3. Negating Negativity. No part of the service in the Beis HaMikdash was carried out at night.At daybreak, in preparation for the first service of the day, which was the offering of the first daily sacrifice, mention was made of zechus avos, the merit of our forefathers. The watchman on duty would announce, Barkai! – which means that from his elevated vantage point, he had just observed the first crack of dawn. According to another opinion, his fellow kohanim would ask him, “Has the eastern face of the sky lit up as far as those who are in Hebron?” And he would answer, Yes. Why was Hebron mentioned? In order to recall the merit of the Patriarchs, who are buried there.6

Actually, there are profound concepts underlying these terms – “east,” “the eastern face of the sky,” and “the eastern face of the sky [is] lit up.”7 Now, however, we’re not talking about that, but about invoking zechus avos, the merit of our forefathers. And for this, even merely mentioning an incident or a place is effective.

For us, the mention of zechus avos is – Liadi, Liozna, Niezhin, Lubavitch and Rostov.8

By mentioning these placenames, I don’t mean to negate others. Negation in general is not a positive quality.

There are 49 “gates to holiness,” a gate being an entrance wide enough for many people to pass through. There are also many paths, a path being a route for an individual – and each of them9 had his own path.

One should never disparage Jews, because a Jew is not what we see. When one does undervalue a Jew, it is not him that one is undervaluing, because this Jew is not what one sees revealed. (The Alter Rebbe makes a parallel statement, though on a different plane, in Torah Or:10 The essence of Elokus is not the fact that He creates the worlds and animates them.) This Jew’s [visible faults] are not his essence; they are merely a prominent appendage, like the hump of a camel.

A little while ago I mentioned Niezhin, having in mind the Mitteler Rebbe – but even the fact alone that Niezhin is the burial place of my [great-]uncle, R. Yisrael Noach,11 and of R. Nachum,12 is itself sufficient.

As to the higher rungs,13 they are not specifically ours.

4. Imagination and Reality. A wise chassid should picture to himself, at least once a year, how he stood at yechidus in the presence of the Rebbe.

[Beyond the three initial intellectual stages of] hassagah (“comprehension”), havanah (“understanding”) and haskalah (“intellection”), there is tefissah(“grasping”). This means that one is utterly caught up in the concept that he is thinking about; he is in its grasp.14 There are two terms for connection – hiskashrus (“bonding”) and dveikus (“cleaving”). Hiskashrus describes the state in which two entities are bonded together, but they are still identifiable as two distinct entities. Dveikus describes the state in which two entities are so completely fused that in their union they lose their separate identities. And this is what takes place in the mind of a chassid when he pictures to himself how he stood at yechidus in the presence of the Rebbe.

[One of those present asked:] But wouldn’t this relate only to a chassid of stature?15

[The Rebbe responded:] It is not true that this [fusion] relates only to a chassid of stature. This can be demonstrated, as follows. The Sages teach that “the attribute of benevolence is greater than the attribute of punishment.”16 So if entertaining an unholy fantasy (G‑d forbid) can be counted as an action,17 then surely envisaging a positive thought can be counted as an action.

Besides, some stages of thinking are present in the World of Thought in the form of action.18

Moreover, picturing a certain [spiritual] situation in one’s mind is only an arousal: it lifts one up to that place, even though intrinsically he is not really at that level. By way of analogy: When in prayer a person mentions the Patriarchs, Avraham Avinu and so on, their merit shines upon him. His words serve merely as an arousal; action is taken by someone else. Another analogy: The fact that a person calls another by name and causes him to turn around does not mean that in fact he knows him or has a real connection with him. After all, even a toddler can make an eighty-year-old turn around by merely calling him.

And in fact there exists a state of being19 in which the subject of a person’s thoughts and imagination is currently present in fact.

5. “Father, rescue me!” [Another question was asked:] The maamar beginning Min hameitzar that was delivered on Rosh HaShanah this year cites a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov – that the cry of arousal which is uttered by the Sounding of the Shofar and which resembles the way a son calls out, “Father! Father!” should not spring from a sense of pain. It should be the cry of a son who calls out, “Father, rescue me! Father, have pity on me!” What is the meaning of this concept?

[The Rebbe responded:] This becomes clear in the light of Tanya – Iggeres HaKodesh20 concerning suffering (G‑d forbid), where it is written that a person should believe that suffering is G‑d’s hidden love, and it should be accepted joyfully21 – because the above teaching of the Baal Shem Tov was a basis for what the Alter Rebbe wrote in Tanya. That is the explanation in brief.

6. A Cry from the Heart. As a rule, our master the Baal Shem Tov would be present for the Sounding of the Shofar together with the members of the Holy Brotherhood.22 On one such occasion, however, he joined a congregation of simple folk and boys. (He had asked the author of Toldos23 to be with the Brotherhood at that time.) When it came to the Sounding of the Shofar, the Baal Shem Tov’s unlettered fellow-congregants cried out spontaneously, “Father in Heaven, have pity on us!” And it was their unsophisticated cry from the heart that created the greatest stir Above.

7. The Baal Shem Tov’s Spectacles. In [the first generations of] the chassidic movement we find no mention of haskalah, havanah or hassagah;24 the theme at that time was the cultivation of middos Chassidus, chassidic character traits. Moreover, the original contribution of Chabad Chassidus – namely, hassagah, havanah and haskalah – came as an addition to that theme. From this we see that the most essential task is the cultivation of middos Chassidus, chassidic character traits.

My father [the Rebbe Rashab] once heard from his father [the Rebbe Maharash] about a certain chassid who came to Lubavitch to see the Tzemach Tzedek. Observing the marks of closeness that the Tzemach Tzedek showed him, the [future] Rebbe Maharash was curious, but when he asked the gabbai who he was, the gabbai said that he didn’t know, because this visitor had not entered the Rebbe’s study for yechidus. The other people whom he asked told him that this visitor was not a chassid of particular repute; he was just a laskardigge – a local nickname for anyone who was an unenthused mediocrity. Eventually the Rebbe Maharash approached the visitor himself, and after greeting him, asked him where he came from. He answered that he came from Paritch and had had a close connection with the celebrated R. Hillel – but he showed no visible sign of any singular quality.

With his query still unanswered, the Rebbe Maharash asked the Tzemach Tzedek directly: What manner of man is this?

The Tzemach Tzedek replied: “It’s hard to find a person who undergoes as much suffering as this man has, yet he accepts it all tranquilly, ‘with joy’40 – which does not mean necessarily starting up a dance. He is a Talmudic scholar25 with a profound grasp of Chassidus. People treat him with disrespect, but he is utterly self-effacing.” The Tzemach Tzedek concluded: “A man like that deserves that the good from Above should come down to him [not as ‘hidden love,’ but] in a manner that is visible and manifest!”

For about three years that visitor wasn’t seen in Lubavitch. Then one day he appeared, together with a minyan of chassidim whom he had brought at his expense, because the words of the Tzemach Tzedek had been fulfilled and he had become wealthy. During this visit he also spoke with the Tzemach Tzedek at yechidus.

When the Rebbe Maharash asked his father how he had been able to recognize this chassid’s spiritual standing, the Tzemach Tzedek replied: “My grandfather [the Alter Rebbe] bequeathed to me the Baal Shem Tov’s spectacles, so that I can use them whenever they are needed…”

8. The World as a Parable. A person always needs a will. If one really wanted to attain a [spiritual] goal, one wouldsucceed – like a baby, whose very essence is wanting things. That’s all he does: he wants to eat; he wants to sleep. He just wants.

Ahavas olam26 [does not mean a love of the world]: it means understanding Elokus, G‑dliness, by observing the created world.

Comparisons such as the above27 are parables for Elokus. The world itself is a parable to enable us to understand Elokus. That is why the parable was created – in order to point to Elokus.

9. A Foolish Chassid?! Chassidim ought to be wise. A chassid shoteh (“a foolish chassid”)28 is like a hadass shoteh, “a deviant myrtle.”29 It is a myrtle, and it has the right leaves, but it is deviant – because its leaves are disorganized.

10. A Goyisher Tzaddik. [When Sarah is abducted and the Philistine king Avimelech receives a dire warning from Heaven, he protests: “G‑d, would you kill even a righteous nation?!” In the Torah,30 that last phrase is hagoy gam tzaddik, which means “a nation that is also righteous.” Here, however, on the non-literal level of interpretation known as derush, the Rebbe Rayatz expounds this phrase as if it meant “a goy who is also a tzaddik.”]

A goy can be a tzaddik.

The distinction between what Jews believe and what other nations believe is well known:31 the nations of the world believe in the Divine Name Elokim,32 whereas the Jewish people believe in the Divine Name Havayah.33 A goy who is a tzaddik knows of the Divine Name Elokim. He also knows that if there exists a person [such as Avraham] in whom he recognizes [as did Avimelech] that “G‑d is with you,”34 he should make a covenant with him. Immediately after that, however, Avimelech returns to his “open-ended alley” – the land of the Philistines, [which in Chassidus is a metaphor for unbridled lightheadedness].35 By contrast, what was Avraham’s response to that encounter? He was inspired to “plant a fruit orchard” [or: to “set up an inn”] for the benefit of wayfarers, and “there he made known the Name of G‑d, the L‑rd of the Universe.”36

In brief: a gentile-like tzaddik37 is not the ideal.

Not only then, but in every generationthere exists such a concept as a goy who is a tzaddik. This calls for discernment, for if within the tzaddik there is a little goy,38 that is unsatisfactory. A tzaddik is someone who, [like Avraham,] “plants a fruit orchard.”

11. How to Eat. The haftarah of Rosh HaShanah [tells how Chanah, the mother of the prophet Shmuel, went up to pray] “after she had eaten in Shiloh [where the Sanctuary was situated at the time] and after she had drunk.”39 Now, what does that detail add to the narrative?– That one should eat as a person eats when in [the holy precincts of] Shiloh.40

My grandmother, Rebbitzin Rivkah,41 once had a lung ailment, and Dr. Heibental from Vitebsk gave up hope for her.

Hearing this, her father-in-law, the Tzemach Tzedek, quoted the teaching of the Sages42 that from the phrase [verapo yerapeh – “he shall surely heal”] we learn that a doctor is permitted to heal. The Tzemach Tzedek added: “A doctor is permitted only to heal; the opposite is not his business.”

He instructed his daughter-in-law to have breakfast, including bread and butter, immediately after negel-vasser in the morning, and gave her his blessing for a long life.

Some time later she dropped this routine. She explained to him that nowadays she would finish off the Morning Blessings and Shacharis quickly, and would then wash her hands for breakfast.

He replied: “Better to eat for the sake of davenen than to daven for the sake of eating.”

What he had in mind was a Shiloh-like eating.