1. The Chicken and the Egg. There’s an old chassidisher teaching on the phrase “a motion of teshuvah1 as it relates to baalei teshuvah,2 and on the phrase “a motion of [spiritual] delight” as it relates to tzaddikim.3 In the years 5654 (1894) and 5674 (1914) my father discussed that teaching, and in fact toiled over it throughout those twenty years.

The phrase “a motion of teshuvah” does not mean that making a move creates the teshuvah; it means that a person’s teshuvah moves him. It shakes him up. (Likewise with the phrase “a motion of [spiritual] delight” as it relates to tzaddikim: it is the experience of spiritual delight that sets the tzaddik in motion.) After the teshuvah that a penitent undertakes on Yom Kippur, comes the shaking up, on Sukkos.4

But first of all, one has to observe the directive, “Set your hearts to it!”5

2. To Become a Receptor. [The Rebbe indicated that mashke be offered to the temimim who had joined those present in the sukkah, and recounted the following:] At the farbrengen of Simchas Beis HaShoeivah in the year 5654 (1893), my father saw to it that mashke should be given to the bachurim who were present and, [addressing the elder chassidim at the table,] said: “These are our receptors.6 Our task is to turn them into receptors. With a drop of mashke at a Simchas Beis HaShoeivah such a person can be turned into a receptive vessel.”

3. Mentor and Disciple. There are two well-known pairs of terms: (a) the educator and the individual being educated,7 and (b) the guide and the individual being guided.8 An educator and a guide should not only be busy transmitting their hashpaah to their listeners; they must also transform each of them into a vessel that is a receptor for both the oros pnimi’im9 and the oros makkifim10 that are being beamed towards him.

Right now we’re not going to go into the distinctions between the above terms.11 That’s a separate subject. However, in both cases there must be a deep-seated preparation on the part of both the givers and the recipients.

This may be understood by drawing an analogy with the soul and the body. It is written,12G‑d made man upright,” in a manner whereby the soul animates the body. In order to animate the body, the soul needs to undergo preparation, and the body needs to undergo preparation in order to receive the influence of the soul.

Now, the body is alive with a life of its own, apart from the soul. Likewise, the soul is complete in itself, independently of its function of animating the body. This function, by virtue of which it resides in a body, enhances its completeness, but nevertheless the soul is complete in itself.

The soul does not need preparation to enable it to animate the body, because the soul itself is essentially alive and it animates. The preparation is needed to enable it to reside in the body.

It is written,13 “Every single soul stood, in its own identity, before the Holy King” – that is, with its own individual identity, unlike the [earlier]state alluded to in the verse,14 “By the life of G‑d… before Whom I stood,”15 i.e., in the Treasury of Souls [before its descent]. That refers to a different state. The above-mentioned state, in which the soul“stood, in its own identity, before the Holy King,” relates to the stage at which the soul is already taking its leave in preparation for its descent into a body. In the course of that descent, which the Alter Rebbe calls a journey,16 the soul already yearns for the body, for something that it does not yet know, and then it finally descends [via the Four Worlds].

It is written,17 “The soul which You have placed within me is pure.” This reference to purity alludes to the World of Atzilus,18 and the following three phrases (“You created it, You formed it, and You breathed it into me”) allude respectively to the lower three Worlds – Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah. In the course of its downward journey, the soul acquires an appreciation of the positive value of the body; it now realizes that something exists apart from “the life of G‑d… before Whom I stood.” The soul does not yet clearly know what that is, but its awareness that something else exists gives rise to its yearning for the body.

A person’s emotions are not usually excited by something that he clearly knows, nor by something about which he knows nothing. His emotions are excited by something whose existence he knows of, but without knowing what it is. So, too, with the soul as it descends on its way to being clothed in a body. This is the ratzo vashov that the soul experiences with regard to the body.19 This is the preparation that will enable the soul to reside in the body.

As to the body, its preparation for receiving the soul is the process of pregnancy, whereby the limbs of a newborn body will proceed from virtually nothing,20 from a mere drop of semen, and will grow from minuteness to their full dimensions.

[And now, to proceed from the analogy of soul and body to the analogue – the relation between mentor and disciple:] In the same way, a mentor must undergo a deep-seated preparation so that he will come to appreciate the positive value of his disciple. And the disciple, for his part, must also undergo a deep-seated preparation, so that he will come to recognize his nothingness and be humbly subordinate21 to his mentor. He will come to recognize that via his mentor he will grow from minuteness to his full capacity.

4. One Continuous Chain. It is written,22 “The mighty ones, the foundations of the earth....” In the Holy Tongue, the word eisanim (אתנים), here translated “the mighty ones,” has the same letters as tannaim (תנאים),23 the Sages of the Mishnah. The prophet here calls them mosdei aretz (מוסדי ארץ), “the foundations of the earth,” because they are meyasdei aretz (מייסדי ארץ), those who established the Oral Law – and eretz, in the language of Chassidus, is a code word for the Oral Law, Torah shebe’al peh. And why are they also called eisanim? Because they call forth the eisan [within every individual’s soul and allow it to surface].

The word eisan has three meanings24 – hard (as in its plain meaning25 ); strong (as in the phrase, eisan moshavecha26 ); and aged (as in the phrase, yerach ha’eisanim27 – “the month of the eisanim,” which Onkelos translates as yarcha de’atikaya, “the month of the ancient ones”28 ).

One might well ask: What positive quality is there in hardness? Oldness can be viewed as a positive quality, because we are commanded to “rise before the hoary head”29 even when encountering someone who is not a Torah scholar. But hardness?!

When, at a time of Divine fury, Moshe Rabbeinu interceded on behalf the Children of Israel [who had sinned by making the Golden Calf], the highest virtue that he could cite in their favor was that “they are a stiffnecked people.”30 This virtue is expressed in an unwavering resolve that insists, “Exactly so, and not otherwise!”

This firmness springs from the mah ((מה of a Jew’s soul, [i.e., its innermost nucleus]. Now, the word chochmah (חכמה – “wisdom”) is composed of the lettersכח (which constitute the word ko’ach – “power”) and the letters מה (which constitute the word mah – “what”). [Putting these two words together, we get chochmah, which is the self-effacing power of asking, “What?”31 ] Since ko’ach is an intellectual power, it is one of the soul’s manifest powers or faculties.32 By contrast, the mah in a person’s soul is the innermost essence that defines him: it is the Jew himself. The current [perhaps unsatisfactory] status of his manifest faculties is distinct from this, and immaterial – what is called in the local language “a private matter.” It goes without saying that one should feel compassion for such a person, distancing him from evil and drawing him close to good. To simply discount him is out of the question, for whatever his manifest state may be, his mah – the innermost essence of his soul – remains intact.

This, then, is the quality of eisan that Moshe Rabbeinu brought the Jewish people at the Giving of the Torah, when “G‑d spoke with you face to face.”33 Actually, the souls of the Jewish people were given nothing new at that time. They had this quality beforehand, too, for it is written that “a part of G‑d is His people,”34 and Rashi lets us into the secret that this means that “part of Him is captive within them.” Yet though the people already possessed this quality before Sinai, Moshe revealed it from its latency, and after his time, the tannaim – the eisanim who are “the mighty foundations of the earth” – continue to bring this quality to light, generation after generation.35

The Introduction to the Mishneh Torah of Rambam – whom non-chassidim claim as their exclusive property – includes both Kabbalah and Chassidus. There he explains that in the verse, “I will give you… the Torah and the mitzvah,”36 “the Torah” refers to the Written Law37 and “the mitzvah refers to the Oral Law.38 One might ask: How is it that Rambam, who was both a giant in nigleh, the revealed dimension of the Torah, and a philosopher,39 should say that “the mitzvah” refers to the Oral Law? Moreover, later in the Introduction he writes that Moshe passed on the Torah to Yehoshua and to the seventy elders, and eventually it was passed on to the tannaim, and then to the amoraim40 – until Rav Ashei.41 Moreover, Rambam goes on to say that from Rav Ashei all the way back to Moshe Rabbeinu there were forty generations, [which he then enumerates, step by step].

This explains why Rambam stated that “the mitzvah” refers to the Oral Law – because the word mitzvah (מצוה) shares a root with a word meaning “connection.”42 And the concept of connection lies at the very heart of Oral Law, which is passed on from one generation to the next, but remains the same.

* * *

People sometimes wish, “If only I had a bit of sensitive understanding! Or at least, if only I weren’t a fool!”

Suppose that I relay a teaching that I heard from my father forty or fifty years ago, which he heard from my grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, ten or fifteen years earlier, which he in turn heard from the Tzemach Tzedek ten or fifteen years before that, who heard it some years earlier from the Mitteler Rebbe and even earlier from the Alter Rebbe, who heard it some years earlier from the Maggid of Mezritch, who heard it even earlier from the Baal Shem Tov.

Now, if a listener at least was not a fool, he would hear the Baal Shem Tov speaking. And if, beyond that, the listener had a bit of sensitive understanding, in his mind’s eye he would picture all the above sitting together and passing on the original teaching to each other, one by one.

5. Like Brothers, Like Chassidim. At a farbrengen of Simchas Beis HaShoeivah in the year 5654 (1893), my father said that only among chassidim can one find true ahavas Yisrael.

Among those present were two brothers from Dokschytz – R. Aharon (familiarly known as Areh), who was a melamed of older children, and R. Yekusiel (familiarly known as Kusheh), who was a melamed of little children.

When R. Aharon heard the above remark, he added, “Exactly like the love between brothers.”

R. Yekusiel responded: “No, exactly like the love between chassidim.”

Hearing this, my father commented: “Behold the sensitive perception of a chassidisher teacher of little children! That’s the reflected light43 of kometz-alef-oh!”44

Why is that love missing today? Because it is blocked by yeshus, ego. Worldly mindsets must be shaken off. Actual evil isn’t the problem, because with regard to Jews that isn’t relevant, but one must break free of the chains of worldly mindsets.

6. Join me on the Flight. When one is recounting an episode from long ago,45 during that time the narrator is there. So why don’t you come along, too?

When the chassidim of bygone days used to hear something recounted, whether by a Rebbe or by a chassid, they themselves would be there.

7. Zhebin is not Lubavitch. The elder chassid R. Shmuel Gronem [Esterman]46 once came from Zhebin to Lubavitch to see my father. Zhebin was a truly chassidic town – the shul; the rav, R. Avremke Zhebiner; the man in charge of the mikveh; the butcher – chassidic from one end to the other.

Everyone knows how R. Hendel used to teach Chassidus in Lubavitch,47 but R. Shmuel Gronem was able to implant the Chassidus that was studied in the hearts of his students. Nevertheless, my father told him during that visit, “Zhebin is not Lubavitch. It’s not enough to observe the current state of one’s students; one must look at a student as he will be when he is a grandfather.”

Assuming that his students were lacking something, R. Shmuel Gronem said, “Very well, so we can bring them to Lubavitch.”

My father responded, “No, their mentor….”

8. A Clean Corner in America. Now, Baruch HaShem, here in America there’s already this clean and cozy spot.48 The mire that used to be here has now been dried up, but what is still missing is the avir (אויר) – the atmosphere, which means the light of G‑d, for that word אויר is made up of the letters אור (ohr – “light”) and yud, the initial letter of the Four-Letter Name of G‑d.

And that yud, standing for the Divine Presence, must now be drawn down into the lowest level – “the heel” – of This World. This is the task of the Jewish people at large, represented here by the Patriarch Yaakov, whose name (יעקב) is made up of that letter yud plus the word for “heel” (עקב). In other words, the spiritual wealth of yud, the Divine Presence, must be found within the material reality of This World.

9. A Cheerful Niggun. We should sing a niggun. Let’s hear Nicho’ach49 at work!

[After all those present had sung several niggunim, the Rebbe said:] We’re now coming close to the time of Simchas Beis HaShoeivah, so it’s time for a cheerful niggun.