1. Ups and Downs. The more one compares the present with the past, the more does one see what is lacking in the present. That is true even after taking into account that the memories of the past that are retained are more of the good kind than of the opposite kind.

[One of those present commented:] But in the past, too, there were ups and downs.

[The Rebbe responded:] For sure there were also ascents in the past, because if (G‑d forbid!) in the time since the Giving of the Torah there were only descents, who knows in what kind of a state we would now have been? Nevertheless, when one compares the present with the past, one sees how much is lacking in the present.

2. Environment. Today I studied again the Yiddish maamar that appears in HaKeriah VehaKedushah1 of Tishrei, 5705 (1944). It is stated there that when the Jews came out of Egypt they were at the level of tzaddikim, and they were submerged in the 49 Gates of Impurity2 only because of their environment. From this we see what effect an environment can have.

3. Thought and Speech. Thought is a means of expression3 for the mind; speech is a means of expression for the mind and also for the middos. The Mitteler Rebbe illustrates the latter statement by the analogy of the defendant in a court case. Determined to clear his name, he not only raises the volume of his voice, but also speaks from the depths of his innermost breath. So, too, when a concept is verbalized, [not only the speaker’s mind but also] his middos are engaged.

As a rule, one can distinguish between (a) simply thinking about a concept, and (b) the vitalizing energy that is aroused within a thinker by his innovative input. This difference is discernible in the way he speaks – whether he is discussing a concept in general, or whether he is focusing on a novel insight or on the nucleus of the concept. My father once remarked that this distinction may be seen in the Chassidus of the Mitteler Rebbe: after explaining his subject, he adds a few words in Yiddish.

4. Sweet Savor. Rebbitzin Mussia, wife of the Tzemach Tzedek, sometimes made mistakes when she read Tehillim. One of their sons smilingly commented on this to his father, who reprimanded him.

The son, as if excusing himself for his comment, replied, “We’re not talking about Freidke;4 we’re talking about Tze’enah U’Re’enah.”5

The Tzemach Tzedek protested: “How do you speak lightly of Tze’enah U’Re’enah? Have you ever learned it? I have, and I appreciated its sweet savor. Tze’enah U’Re’enah has produced G‑d-fearing baalei teshuvah as numerous as the stars of heaven!”

5. Veiled Activity. Little is known of the life of the Rebbe Maharash, forty-eight-and-a-half years in all.6 His activities for the benefit of Jewry at large were also conducted quietly and discreetly.

6. A Drastic Decree. My great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, participated personally in the sessions of the Rabbinical Conference7 in Petersburg in the year 5603 (1843). Although he was also summoned to its sequel ten years later, in 5613 (1853) – and again in 5618 (1858) – he deputed his son, the Rebbe Maharash, to represent him.8 At that time the Rebbe Maharash was in Kiev, endeavoring to secure the annulment of a decree that would drive all the Jews out of their estates. He met with the regional governor-general and found favor in his eyes. When the latter asked him whether he was the leader of the Jews, the Rebbe Maharash answered that the leader was someone else, while he himself was a servant of that leader, just as Yehoshua was the servant of Moshe Rabbeinu. That explanation earned the Rebbe Maharash a warm spot in the governor’s heart.

The governor explained that he was not authorized to annul the decree, but he would provide him with a letter expressing his opinion that it should be deferred for ten or fifteen years.

7. Out of the Window. The public activities of my grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, earned him fierce enemies from among the worldly [Jewish] functionaries of that time – firstly, because he neither consulted them nor took their views into account, and secondly, because he held that government officials should be spoken to explicitly and openly, even if this harmed the status of those functionaries.

In the year 5640 (1880), before traveling abroad, the Rebbe Maharash asked R. Yeshaya Berlin9 to come to see him together with a number of fellow chassidim.10 R. Yeshaya, who at that time lived in Velizh, as also did the family of Rashal,11 did not take this request very seriously, because he assumed that this would repeat the Dvinsk episode.12 Besides, he was very busy, so instead of setting out personally, he dispatched Rashal, whom the Rebbe Maharash greeted as follows: “It’s good that you came. Here, take a first-class ticket and you will travel together with me for a few stations.”

When they boarded the train, the Rebbe Maharash asked him to take a seat in the same compartment, next to him. At that moment they were joined by a young Jew carrying a suitcase. He took a seat directly opposite the Rebbe Maharash, who immediately addressed him: “A Jew shouldn’t have ‘the hands of Eisav.’13 Give me what you’ve got there!”

The young man took a revolver out of his briefcase and handed it to the Rebbe Maharash, who tossed it out of the window.

That done, the Rebbe Maharash told Rashal,“Very well, now you can travel home.”

8. The Dvinsk Episode. What was the Dvinsk episode that we mentioned a moment ago?

Two years before the above-described incident in the train, on his way to travel abroad, the Rebbe Maharash passed through Dvinsk. The local Kopuster chassidim14 got together and mustered a huge crowd to greet him at the railway station in order to create an unpleasant situation. In this they succeeded. In fact, the sheer pressure of people was so great that windows and doors were broken. Since Dvinsk was a fortress town, someone immediately notified the officer in command of the fortress and asked him what should be done.

As soon as he gave the order, “Arrest him!” (that is, the Rebbe Maharash), the gendarme marched his troops off to the station and asked, “Who here is the Rebbe?”

The people nearby were so terrified that they stepped back. The Rebbe Maharash took a letter out of his pocket and showed it to the gendarme, who read it, stood meekly before him, and shuddered.

When the Rebbe Maharash told him that he wanted to make a note of his name and number, the gendarme went pale, afraid he would be punished. In the end, the officer in command of the fortress arrived on the scene and personally tendered his apologies to the Rebbe Maharash.

That letter, which had been issued by the government in Petersburg, ordered all uniformed and plainclothes policemen to give every assistance to the Rebbe Maharash if he was ever in need of it.

9. Fearlessness. As a matter of policy, my father likewise addressed Russian government officials explicitly and openly. In this spirit, at the Rabbinical Conference in Petersburg,15 he declared:16 “Not because of our desire did we leave Eretz Yisrael, and not through our efforts will we return to Eretz Yisrael. Our Father, our King, banished us into exile and He will redeem us. He will gather in our dispersed people from the four corners of the earth and will lead us upright, through Mashiach, our righteous Redeemer, to our Holy Land, speedily and in our own days, Amen!

“All the nations on the face of the earth must know that our bodies alone were consigned to exile to be ruled by the nations of the world. Our souls were never banished into exile nor handed over to the rule of nations. We must declare, outspokenly and publicly, that with regard to everything involving our religion – the Torah, its mitzvos, and Jewish customs – no one is entitled to tell us Jews what to do, and no force may be used for such a purpose. We must staunchly declare, with the obstinate insistence that Jews have, and with the self-sacrifice that Jews have maintained for a thousand years: ‘Do not touch My anointed ones, and do not harm My prophets!’ ”17

After those words, which were proclaimed in the presence of high-ranking government officials, he fainted. As soon as he came to, he was arrested – but not imprisoned, thanks only to the signed share note worth 10,000 rubles that R. Shmuel Gourary handed them, plus the 10,000 rubles that R. Shmuel Michl Trainin gave them, plus the surety signed by a certain wealthy Mr. Levin to the value of his entire property. Nevertheless, a policeman was stationed at the Rebbe’s door throughout that night.

10. The Rebbe and the Casino. My grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, once set out for Paris, together with two gabba’im, R. Leivik and R. Pinchas Leib. He was also accompanied by two chassidim, R. Monye Monensohn and R. Yeshaya Berlin. On their arrival, R. Yeshaya asked the Rebbe Maharash where they should proceed and was told, “To the Alexander Hotel” – one of the largest hotels, whose guests included royalty. The Rebbe Maharash put him at ease: “You’re an uncultured kid who can’t speak French…, so I’ll do the talking.”

He asked for a fine suite of several rooms and was told that one such apartment was available, but it cost 200 francs a day. When he asked if there was a better one on the same floor as the casino, he was told that there was, but that it was very expensive. He took it – with one room for himself, one for R. Leivik and one for R. Pinchas Leib. (The latter tried to cook himself a milchiger borscht that spilled all over a costly divan, and the damage amounted to 200 francs.) R. Yeshaya Berlin and R. Monye Monensohn18 booked places in a nearby hotel because they were not prepared to pay so much.

A few hours later, stepping into one of the gaming-rooms, the Rebbe Maharash took a seat next to a young man who was playing cards and sipping wine from a glass goblet. Resting his hand on his shoulder, the Rebbe Maharash said: “Young man! One is not allowed to drink wine touched by heathen hands!” Then he added: “Such wine dulls the sensitivity of the mind and the heart. Be a staunch Jew!”

Finally, after wishing the young man a good night, he retired to his room, his emotions bestirred. R. Yeshaya Berlin later recalled: “I’ve never seen my uncle19 in such a state of excited arousal as at that time. In those days, in the absence of elevators, guests were seated on special chairs and carried upstairs and downstairs by stewards. The Rebbe was so overwhelmed on the way back to his suite that he sat down on one of those waiting chairs – which was promptly hoisted into the air by two stewards. Thus reminded that his suite was on the same floor, he apologized for his mistake and went to his room.”

A couple of hours later, the young man inquired as to the whereabouts of the person who had spoken to him, and then spent a long time in the Rebbe’s room. The next day, the Rebbe returned home.

Some time later, the Rebbe Maharash stated that many generations had passed since such a pure soul had come down here – except that it had been submerged in the depths of the kelipos until the young man returned in teshuvah. That young man is the patriarch of the well-known Klein family in France.

11. A Life Continued. In the course of the disputation between the sons of the Tzemach Tzedek after his passing, the Rebbe Maharash displayed an impressive familiarity in the realm of nigleh, too.20 So one of his elder brothers, my great-uncle R. Yisrael Noach, asked him, “Where did you get that expertise in nigleh from? After all, you’re still a very young man.”21

The Rebbe Maharash replied: “Counting your years, you are older. Counting our father’s years, too, I’m older….”

12. A Spiritual Rainbow. My great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, had an epithet for each of his sons. He would say, “This one is my baalabos, this one is my lamdan, that one is my chassid,” and so on. About the Rebbe Maharash he would say, “He includes them all.”22

13. Brother to Brother. After the passing of the Tzemach Tzedek,23 all of his sons delivered maamarim of Chassidus.24 On Friday evening, the Rebbe Maharash delivered a maamar beginning with the words, Az Yashir… Ali Be’er. The next morning my great-uncle R. Yehudah Leib repeated the same maamar, with an original addition. On Motzaei Shabbos the Rebbe Maharash again delivered his maamar, and my great-uncle R. Yehudah Leib repeated it on Sunday morning. The same sequence was repeated on Sunday evening and Monday morning, and again on Monday evening and Tuesday morning, each delivery being enriched by the addition of a novel insight. After the Rebbe Maharash repeated the maamar on Tuesday night, his elder brother, R. Yehudah Leib, approached him and said: “This time it was our father who delivered the maamar – and him I’m not going to challenge.”

One of the people from whom I heard this episode was the scribe known as R. Shmuel Sofer, who told me that he and his associates had the task of copying those maamarim. However, since their opening words and their topics were identical, the scribes found it hard to determine which name to write in each heading. He alone was able to distinguish the difference, according to the mode of explanation and the content.

14. Just Two Words. During the pogroms in Russia in 5640-5641 (1880-1881), the Rebbe Maharash said: “If my words had been heeded, a lot of Jewish blood would have been saved.”

He once told my father: “I wanted to tell the representatives of the Russian government that if they did not change their attitude to the Jews, I would leave for Eretz Yisrael and take a hundred thousand Jewish families with me. And I would have actually done that – except that Bilu was then active, and I didn’t want to reinforce them. If only they had completed that verse with its last two words, I too would have made the journey.”25

15. A Hundred Years. My grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, was born a hundred years after our mentor, the Baal Shem Tov, revealed himself.26