1. The Neshamah Recharges. In the year 5651 (1891),1 my father began to learn Tanya with me2 three times a week. At each session we learned only a few lines of text; he mainly recounted incidents and explained subjects related to Tanya.

One day my father said: “The Midrash states3 that when a person is asleep, his neshamah ascends on high and energizes itself with life.4 Among chassidim, this means understanding a thought5 from Tanya.” With that he told me that at night, after saying HaMapil, I should think through the current passage of Tanya and fall asleep with it.

Several years later, in 5657 (1897), he explained the concept of drawing life while one is asleep as follows: Life is Torah, and among chassidim there is a bonus – understanding a thought from Tanya.

2. Impregnated Souls. In the course of Rosh HaShanah, 5653 (1892), my father delivered two maamarim. The first began with the words, Shofar shel Rosh HaShanah, and the second, Amar R. Abbahu. When my father spoke to me about the second maamar, we were left with a seeming contradiction from a certain maamar in Likkutei Torah. On erev Yom Kippur, when I entered his study to learn with him (that was the first erev Yom Kippur on which my father learned with me), he said that that problem was not a problem, and began to explain the entire subject to me. He disregarded the fact that at the time I didn’t understand what he was saying, and spoke to me just as one speaks to a man of mellow understanding.6

He then said: “I was told this by my grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek.”

At the time I assumed that my father had been told this during the lifetime of the Tzemach Tzedek, and didn’t stop to think that this was virtually impossible. (After all, my father was only five or six years old at the time of his grandfather’s histalkus.7 )

So I asked him, “If so, then you already knew the solution when we learned the maamar the first time!”

He gave me no answer – just a smile, and when I asked him why he was smiling, he again gave no answer.

In the year 5658 (1898) he explained the subject to me as follows: “People have no sensitivity to a spiritual concept. They do understand statements such as, ‘The soul of man is a lamp of G‑d,’8 and ‘A man’s soul teaches him.’9 But when it comes to the concept that the souls of [departed] tzaddikim can be impregnated in someone here below, at least temporarily, they become apprehensive.

“The Mitteler Rebbe once said; Rambam, by means of his intellect, reached up to the World of Yetzirah, and from there he apprehended the light from the World of Beriah.

“That statement relates to tzaddikim in general. It applies more particularly within ‘their families,’ ‘according to their fathers’ households,’10 and even with regard to [each individual within those families11 ]. True, measurement in the Worlds Above [where distances are infinite] is different from measurement down here [in the finite world], with the result that the distance12 [between the Worlds Above, such as between Beriah and Yetzirah] is greater than distances down here. Nevertheless, [what was said above, with regard to Rambam, is still valid].”

My father concluded: “People have no sensitivity to a spiritual concept.”

3. Davening and Singing. In 5644 (1884) or 5645 (1885)13 I started going to cheder, which was in the anteroom of the beis midrash, and my teacher was R. Zushe.14 My father used to daven all three daily tefillos in the beis midrash – at great length, while singing as he davened, walking back and forth, clicking his fingers, and freely making movements with his hands. His tallis did not cover his face, but only his head, leaving the head-tefillin uncovered. On Shabbos, however, his face was covered by his tallis.

As a young child I had the impression that davenen meant singing. Now, in those days my father used to eat at the home of my grandmother, Rebbitzin Rivkah.15 My uncle, the Raza, used to eat in his own home, even when he was divorced. He would often take me fondly by my curly hair, by the cheek or by the ear, and ask, “What does your father do?” Once I answered him by saying, “My father eats and davens” – because on Shabbos my father used to accompany each course with a niggun, and for me, davenen and singing were one and the same.

In the good old days, singing a niggun was a meaningful activity.16

4. Guiding Oneself. On Rosh HaShanah, 5648 (1887), there were two maamarim. One began with the words, Min HaMeitzar, and the other, Zeh HaYom. As a rule, my father did not weep freely. On Shabbos Shuvah of that year,17 my father finished davenen very late, and when he arrived at the home of my grandmother for the Shabbos midday meal, his eyes were red from weeping. One of those present was the elder chassid, R. Hendel.18

A number of other elder chassidim also used to eat at my grandmother’s home. One was R. Meir Mordechai Tchernin. Another was R. Shmuel Horovitz, the yeshivah’s bookkeeper, an oldtimer who had studied in the yeshivah of my greatgrandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek. (By the way, my teacher the Rashbatz19 once recounted that in those days each student was given 75 kopikes a month. Of this, they would spend a certain amount on food, and the same amount for permission to copy the maamarim that had been written by the local scribes. It goes without saying that there wasn’t much left for anything else.)

At any rate, when my father entered, R. Hendel turned to him and remarked: “After such a Min HaMeitzar, it’s high time for a Simchas Torah….”

(R. Hendel often spoke to my father just as one speaks to any fellow chassid, even though he regarded him with humble awe.20 )

My father replied: “Do you really think you’re doing me a favor? That’s the story with elder chassidim. They’re not aware of the real yoke – the obligation of an elder chassid to devote himself to guiding the growth of a younger chassid. And as much as one guides another, one needs to guide oneself twice as much.”

5. An Unpleasant Task. An unpleasant task came my way on erev Shabbos Shuvah, 5661 (1900). My father summoned me to his study and told me that I should call for one of the mashpi’im of Tomchei Temimim and tell him that he should study the maamar entitled Heichaltzu21 with tears, for tears launder. My father concluded, “And let us hope that it will have an effect.”

Now, even though I was the executive director of the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah, I didn’t know what this was all about. So I asked my father, “Does this perhaps also apply to the executive director?”

My father thought for a moment and replied, “Yes, you should study the section in Derech Chayim22 that begins with the words, Chomas Bas Tziyon.”23

6. A Word in Season. My father delivered the maamarentitled Heichaltzu twice in the same year – on Simchas Torah of the year 5659 (1898) and again on Shabbos Parshas Noach.24

[One of those present remarked:] I’ve heard that the maamar was delivered because of a certain controversy.

[The Rebbe responded:] I don’t know about that, but that maamar accomplished a great deal.

That Friday evening there was no maamar, because my father was not feeling well, so there was a farbrengen in my home which began before candle-lighting time and continued for many hours. In the course of that time I repeated the maamar beginning Vaychulu that my father had delivered on Shabbos Bereishis. It was agreed that the next morning we should daven early so that we would be able to hold a Kiddush and still leave time to enable me to join my father for the midday seudah.

At about twelve the next day we began the Kiddush at my home, and in the middle, at about 1:30, my father entered and said, “I have come to join you for Kiddush.” As you can imagine, we were caught by surprise.

One of those present was a learned chassid called R. Leib Velizher. He was an earnest yerei-Shamayim and utterly free of personal agendas, but he was tough and uncompassionate, especially when relating to simple folk, whom he scorned. At that time Velizh was torn by a bitter controversy, and in it R. Leib took a harsh stance.

It was at that Kiddush, then, that my father repeated the maamar entitled Heichaltzu.

7. To be a Smorgonite. That maamar draws on a maamar of the Alter Rebbe,25 who delivered it while the Maggid of Mezritch was still alive.

The following incident took place in 5525 (1765), when for the first time the Alter Rebbe made his way to Mezritch by wagon. Until that time he would go there by foot and take a wagon only for the way home – until the Maggid told him: “You shouldn’t spend your energy on external things. You need lots of strength, because hard work is awaiting you.”

That year, on his way home from Mezritch, the Alter Rebbe stopped over in Smorgon, which at that time was seething with controversy. There had once been a major yeshivah there, and the current householders were its alumni who had married into local families and had settled near them. However, they were so proud of being impressive scholars that they never begrudged any newly-appointed rav a chance to maintain his tenure there for any length of time.

Hearing of this, the Alter Rebbe delivered there a maamar [on sin’as chinam, baseless hatred], based on the Talmudic teaching:26 “Regarding the early people [i.e., those who lived in the time of the First Beis HaMikdash], whose sin [such as idolatry, bloodshed and incest] was revealed, the end of their [punishment] was revealed. By contrast, regarding the later people [i.e., those who lived in the time of the Second Beis HaMikdash], whose sin [i.e., baseless hatred] was not revealed, the end of their [punishment] has not been revealed.”

From that time on, whenever a chassid wanted to tease someone who was over-impressed by himself, he would call him a Smorgonite….

8. Maamarim in Manuscript. The maamar entitled VeYadaata that my father first delivered in 5657 (1897) is based on the maamar entitled VaYikach Korach, which he had delivered in 5656 (1896). In the middle of that maamar there is a section that begins, U’lehavin ha’inyan: Ksiv, VeYadaata hayom…

When my father instructed me to copy the maamar of 5657 (1897), he gave me the text of the earlier maamar so that I should copy from it, even though it includes some subjects that do not appear in the later maamar.

9. Random Access Memory. R. Aharon the Chozer27 was amazingly at home in the learned literature of Chassidus. People would ask him, for example, how many times a certain concept was discussed throughout that vast literature, and he would know the answer. As to understanding it deeply – well, that was a different story.

He was a friend of R. Yaakov Leizer Skoblo, who headed the local yeshivah in Lubavitch which already existed before the foundation of Tomchei Temimim, and also continued for a couple of years after its time.28 This R. Yaakov Leizer was a scholar of stature, who had studied in the yeshivah of the Tzemach Tzedek.