1. Fooling Satan. On Rosh HaShanah, 5660 (1899), my father’s customs differed in several ways from his usual routine.

Every Rosh HaShanah he would arrange the shofaros in a certain order before the tekios. Three shofaros lay on the table at which the Torah was read. One of them, which was still very long even after having been sawn down a number of times because of cracks that appeared, had belonged to the Maharal of Prague.1

My father would first lay a white kerchief on the table, and on it he would place a red one. Upon that he would place the shofaros, which in turn he covered with another white kerchief. In his earlier years he used to cover the edges of the red kerchief with the lower white one, though not in Rostov,2 perhaps because the weakness in his hands did not enable him to do this quickly, and he did not want the people near him to notice this. Finally, before the first berachah, he would turn the wide end of the shofar to the right, so that the shofar would be ready for use immediately after the berachah.

On the first day of Rosh HaShanah, 5660 (1899), however, he did not lay out the shofaros as usual – obviously not by reason of forgetfulness. The other change of custom on that day I can’t tell you at this time.

Some time later I asked him about it. He gave me an answer, and then added with a smile, “And is that all you have to ask about?!”

So I asked him about the fact that that year he had not arranged the shofaros on the table, as he always did.

He replied: “It is difficult to be certain about things appearing in dreams. Prophecy, too, is called a vision, though it is different. But about such a revealed and direct…! My father (i.e., the Rebbe Maharash) once told me: ‘On the first day of Rosh HaShanah, he3 should not know that we are about to sound the shofar. By saying the berachah we intend to perform a mitzvah, and he respects a mitzvah. When we arrive at the time of the ‘gentle judgment,’4 he is confused by the tekios – and the tefilos he is allowed to know about.’ ”

From that time on, my father would lay out the shofaros only on the second day, and not on the first.

2. Fear No Man. Whenever my father was called up for maftir on Rosh HaShanah, he would hold the machzor on a slant and cover himself with his tallis, his tears flowing freely.

On the first day of Rosh HaShanah of the year 5666 (1905), which fell on Shabbos, after he read a certain phrase in the haftarah he paused. In that phrase –ומורה לא יעלה על ראשו – [the mother of the future Prophet Shmuel undertook that] “no razor shall come upon his head.”5 During that brief pause, I observed that his lips were murmuring unvoiced words.

In Adar of that year (in 1906), there was the Poalei Tziyon incident6 against the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah [in Lubavitch]. They didn’t want me to continue as executive director of the Yeshivah because, for one thing, I didn’t allow them to step inside. My uncle, the Raza, knew a person named Bruk who had heard about all that the Poalei Tziyon activists were planning, and my uncle informed my father.

My uncle was no man to be afraid. Let me illustrate:

His house stood on the site that had earlier served as the shul of the Mitteler Rebbe. It was so long that people used to quip that you could start at Hodu at one end of the shul, and reach the other end just in time to finish with Aleinu. Once, in the middle of the night, a fire broke out in Lubavitch. Someone promptly woke up my uncle and told him that the fire wasn’t far from his home.

His response: “So wake me up when the fire reaches that far wall over there!”

With that he turned over and went back to sleep – and he didn’t pretend to sleep, he really slept.

Yet though he was fearless, when he updated my father on what the Poalei Tziyon were planning, he added: “They must be taken seriously. They are great scoundrels7 and could be fearsome.”

My father replied: “That I should have fear is out of the question. After all, on Rosh HaShanah I said explicitly, ומורא לא יעלה על ראשו.” [When the first word in that phrase is spelled with an alef instead of a hei, then even though the pronunciation is unchanged, the phrase now means that “no fear shall come upon his head….”]

My father went on to say: “If it’s only a question of money, nu8 [Before our forefathers left Egypt they were assured9 that] no dog would dare to sharpen its tongue against them. But if it does, we should toss it a coin.”

Now, my uncle was a Litvak,10 and a Litvak believes someone only after he has counted the coins and deposited them in his pocket. Nevertheless, he was struck by the simple power of my father’s words.

After he went his way, I asked my father what he had whispered in the midst of the haftarah on the first day of Rosh HaShanah. He replied: “The plain meaning11 of that word is ‘razor,’ but I said it as spelled with an alef, so that it meant ‘fear.’ That’s why I repeated the pasuk in a whisper.”

3. An Old Man’s Memories. I remember R. Micheleh Hezeleh in Lubavitch from the years 5647-5648 (1887-1888).12 He had been a chassid of the Mitteler Rebbe around the years 5582-5584 (1822-1824), and he often repeated two things that he had heard from him.

(a) He once heard the Mitteler Rebbe mention, in the course of a maamar, that a person should bend forward while saying [the confessional beginning with] Ashamnu. From that time on, R. Micheleh did exactly that, but since he was short, his head almost touched the bench in front of him.

(b) Once, in the middle of davenen on the first night of Rosh Hashanah, he heard the Mitteler Rebbe utter a piercing cry of anguish: Aay! The hearts of all those present sank within them, as if they were prostrating themselves at kor’im [during the next day’s Mussaf]. And from that time on, R. Micheleh would cry bitterly on the first day of Rosh HaShanah, even though at other times he was not an emotional person.

By the time I knew him he was an extremely old man and on Rosh HaShanah they would honor him with an aliyah. Then, too, he would cry. I once asked him if he would like to take a bite of something before Shehecheyanu.13 He just sighed with an Ah! and kept on crying. On the second day he didn’t cry.

4. The Bottom Line. R. Micheleh was a business partner with one of the sons of my greatgrandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek. As is well known, all of his sons engaged in business, that is, they were all partners with various businessmen in their commerce. For example, my greatuncle R. Baruch Shalom14 was a partner in the linen business and my greatuncle R. Yehudah Leib had a partner who was a horse dealer.

It once happened that as R. Yehudah Leib was drawing up the accounts of some business transaction, he finally had to write down the bottom line – which he did, as follows: “Bottom line: No place is devoid of Him.”15 And it was not that he planned to write that.

5. Teshuvah-Candles. In16 preparation for Shabbos Shuvah,17 it was the custom in the household of our Rebbeim over the generations to make teshuvah-candles.” These were distinct from the [24-hour] candles that were made for Yom Kippur, which were called neshamah-candles” and “living candles.”18 The Yom Kippur candles19 were long and thin; the Shabbos Shuvah candles were short and thick.

It was the custom of the Alter Rebbe to personally measure out the length of wick that was set aside for him, and as he did so he would quote the phrase, Ner Havayah nishmas adam – “The soul of man is a lamp of G‑d.”20 The Mitteler Rebbe observed the same custom, even though as a rule he did not focus on visible practices. The Tzemach Tzedek used to prepare wicks for each member of his large family21 – for his sons and his daughters-in-law, his daughters and his sons-in-law – so a number of candles were made. On one occasion, when three candles were made, Rebbitzin Moussia entered the study of her husband, the Tzemach Tzedek, and said: “Three teshuvah-candles?! If we only had the strength to do teshuvah just once!”

The Tzemach Tzedek responded: “Yes, there are three teshuvos” – as is explained in Likkutei Torah.22

6. Age-Old Customs. It appears that these customs were already practiced in the generations preceding the Alter Rebbe.23

7. Three Times a Day. Until around the year 5648 (1888)24 I had no idea of the concept of Rebbe. I knew only that my parents were people of stature. Besides, Shimshon the Melamed was in the habit of spanking three times a day, and if one of his pupils got into mischief he would spank me. He explained his logic by saying that if I, who was innocent, stood in awe of his wrath, how much more should my classmates be overawed by my punishment. The result was that there was no room in my head for anything at all apart from that cheder.

It was in that year that my father told me that the Alter Rebbe was a Rebbe and had written a Shulchan Aruch and so on.

8. Wicks and Wax. When it came to preparing the candles for Shabbos Shuvah, I was able to participate by chopping the wood, warming the water, and putting the wax in the water, but I didn’t know how to place the wick and make the candle. It was in the same year that my father said, “Come, let’s go to your grandmother” – that is, Rebbitzin Rivkah – “and she’ll place a wick for us.”

9. A Slippery Slap. In the days of the Tzemach Tzedek there was a chassid called R. Nachum Tuviah, whose initials gave him the name Ranat. He had mastered much of the learned literature of Chassidus and Kabbalah, and sported a few Rebbe-like habits. He used to claim that he could find a solution to every unsolved paradox25 throughout Chassidus and Kabbalah. My mentor, the Rashbatz,26 once remarked that this scholar was “the kelipah of R. Hillel of Paritch….”27

Once, in the midst of delivering a maamar, my greatgrandfather said: “However, what was now said is contradicted by what is written in such-and-such a source. Tzarich iyun! This contradiction demands further scrutiny.”

Some time later, R. Nachum Tuviah proposed original arguments that were intended to resolve the contradiction. Hearing this, the Rashbatz took off a slipper, slapped him on the head with it, and said: “The Rebbe says that the contradiction is problematic and demands further scrutiny – and you want to resolve it?!”

My father was not pleased with the fact that R. Nachum Tuviah composed “tractates in Chassidus” – a tractate on Atzilus, a tractate on Adam Kadmon, and so on. In fact he expressed a similar response when a greater man than this scholar, the holy R. Aharon of Strashelye, did the same.