1. A Superior Delight. On Simchas Torah in the year 5648 (1887), my revered father delivered the maamar that begins, Ein HaKadosh Baruch Hu Ba Bitrunia im Briyosav.1 It extols the qualities of ordinary, unscholarly folk,2 by means of the analogy of a heel in very hot water, [for in its ability to withstand such rigors, the heel is superior to the head]. That maamar struck such a warm chord in the hearts of the villagers of Lubavitch that they immediately set up a brotherhood which they called Poalei Tzedek. Its members not only rose every day at 3:00 a.m. to read Tehillim together, but also attended a shiur at which they learned Torah laws. This study circle met in the beis midrash that used to be called Reb Binyamin’s Shtibl, and as they left for home in pairs, they would review whatever their teacher had taught them. This routine continued until 5652 (1892).

In that year, during the week that followed the wedding of my uncle and relative-by-marriage, R. Moshe HaKohen [Hornstein],3 there was a Sheva Berachos celebration every day in the big beis midrash.4 At one of those gatherings, which attracted many visitors from out of town, my father spoke in praise of the members of Poalei Tzedek: “As to those fellow Jews who talk about a Torah law on their way out of the beis midrash, we should look at them in the same way that the Angel Michael looks at them and cites their merit, when he intercedes Above on behalf of the Jewish people. I would really like to join in a dance with those good folk.”

It so happens that one of those present was a lively member of that brotherhood who was familiarly known as Motty-Yossy David-Shlomo’s.5 He was an active worker in every matter of communal concern, such as the local fire brigade. It was he who, immediately after hearing the above maamar five years earlier, had given himself a sturdy thump on the chest as he called out: “Rebbe! I’m going to set up a brotherhood called Poalei Tzedek!”

Now, hearing how my father had said that he would really like to join in a dance with the members of that brotherhood, he called out: “Rebbe, we’re here!” Then, clearing a path through the crowd, he cried out (in Russian), “At your command!” My father at once rose from his place and joined Motty-Yossy and his friends in a fervent dance.

Among those present was a chassid called R. Yeshaya Berlin, who was not particularly known for an indiscriminate love of his fellow Jew, and next to him stood another chassid called R. Shalom Dov Kabakov, who dearly cherished the value of any fellow Jew. My father, perspiring heavily, passed by them as he returned to his place, and remarked to them: “I’ve just been bathing in the delight of the merit of our fellow Jews6 – and that delight is even loftier than the perspiration that is exuded during the performance of a mitzvah!”7

2. A Trade Union in Lubavitch That brotherhood grew so much that the apprentices of the local craftsmen, the tailors and cobblers, also became familiar with many everyday dinim because, as they worked, they would talk about (for example) the laws as to when one may respond to Barchu while davenen.

While that brotherhood of working men was flourishing in Lubavitch, a nasty scoundrel8 called Yeshaya, the son of Yisrael the Gingy (also known as Yisrael the Charity-Collector),257 used its success to cause my father severe anguish. He reported to the czarist authorities that my father had founded a workers’ trade union! As a result, my father had to appear in court in Rudnia on Chol HaMoed Sukkos, and our home was repeatedly subjected to a house-search.

It transpired that this Yeshaya had been regarded as a bigshot among his puny peers – until one day a house-search in his home uncovered illegal documents and he was exiled to Siberia.

3. How to Appraise a Diamond.One day, while R. Monye Monessohn was visiting my father and mention was made of a number of unlettered folk, my father spoke of them highly.

R. Monye was so surprised by this that he remarked, “Why make such a big fuss over them?”

My father answered, “They possess positive qualities.”

Said R. Monye, “I don’t see them.”

Now, R. Monye, as everyone knows, was a successful diamond merchant. Some time after the above exchange, my father asked him if he had brought his diamonds with him and he answered, “Yes, but now, in the sunlight, is no time to look at diamonds.”

Later, having laid out his wares in another room, he pointed out a particular stone and said to my father, “See this one? It’s something superb!”

“I don’t see anything special in it,” said my father.

“For that,” R. Monye explained, “you’ve got to be an expert!”

My father replied, “A Jew is something superb – but you’ve got to be an expert….”

4. How to Appraise Oneself. [A question was asked:] “You recently said9 that after the teshuvah that a penitent undertakes on Yom Kippur, comes the shaking up, on Sukkos. But what happens if on Yom Kippur there was no teshuvah?”

[The Rebbe Rayatz answered:] “Not true! An outright lie! On Yom Kippur, every Jew does teshuvah! My father once said that one can envisage what a chassid of the Mitteler Rebbe was like, from what the Mitteler Rebbe said about the most lightminded of lightminded people10 – that at the time of Ne’ilah, even such a person is aroused with a feeling of teshuvah and weeps bitterly. From that we can understand what the Mitteler Rebbe expected of his actual chassidim.”

My father continued: “Just as a person has to recognize his own weaknesses, so too must he be aware of his own strengths.11 Just as he has to do avodah to correct his weaknesses, so too does he have to do avodah to intensify his strengths.”

Everyone has both strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes one starts off by correcting his weaknesses, and sometimes one starts off by intensify his strengths. In medical treatment likewise there are two possible approaches: (a) healing the illness; (b) first strengthening the healthy organs so that they will able to overcome the illness and then healing it directly, for it cannot be ignored. People sometimes think that ignoring one’s own positive qualities is a praiseworthy kind of avodah, with the result that…. But they are mistaken.

Sure you have to wipe your nose – but don’t rub it off!

One is not permitted to daven in a house that contains an idol. However, one may daven there if one rubs its nose off, because without a nose it doesn’t have the image of a man.

(True, there are those who rule that this should be done to all the organs,12 but that is only an optional stringency.13 )

5. A Luminous Harmony. [The Rebbe Rayatz, before asking a chassid by the name of R. Shmuel Kantorov to sing the volach14 that had been composed by a tamim called R. Nota Pahrer,15 related:] On Yud-Tes Kislev, 5663 (1902), a decorative arch was constructed in Lubavitch in honor of my father, and 613 candles were prepared in all the windows of the village. As soon as my father set out from his home on his way to the big beis midrash to farbreng, a specially-prepared wick [gave the signal and] all the candles were immediately lit. R. Nota was perched atop the arch; in the middle of the courtyard stood a tamim called R. Shoel (Shaul) Dov [Zislin], who acted as conductor; and at the further end of the courtyard stood a tamim called R. Shmuel Katzman, who conducted the choir of menagnim.

It was on that occasion that R. Nota Pahrer first sang his well-known volach.

6. An Answer to Czarist Conscription. [The Rebbe Rayatz now asked R. Shmuel Kantorov to sing the niggun composed by R. Sh[muel] Bespalov that accompanies the words, Bemashmaneinu al yehi razon16 – a request that “in our fullness, let there be no scarcity.” He first related the following:] Many of the yeshivah students who were present at a farbrengen of my father’s on Sukkos, 5659 (1898), had been summoned to appear before the military draft board immediately after Yom-Tov. At that farbrengen my father asked that this niggun be sung (it was later sung throughout Sukkos), and then said to the temimim: “Do your task and see to ‘our [spiritual] fullness’ – and I promise you that ‘there will be no scarcity [of exemptions].’ That’s a heavy burden to carry, but I know exactly what I’m undertaking. Let your ‘fullness’ relate to Torah and mitzvos in the spirit of Chassidus, and from my side, I’m promising you that ‘there will be no scarcity [of exemptions].’ ”

In a number of the temimim, those words of my father brought about a radical change in their spiritual personality.

[Those present now sang the above niggun, and when they reached the above words the Rebbe Rayatz, in a state of rapture,17 joined them, and accompanied the melody with his hands.]

7. Inbuilt Barriers. An educator should care with his very life18 about every movement of his student. However, the student for his part has to be aware of this and has to invest the necessary effort himself.

An educator should cherish the value of his student as if he were his child, his spiritual child. Conversely, the student should know how to value his educator. The difference is that the educator’s appreciation of the value of his student exists – intellectually,19 whereas the student’s appreciation of the value of his educator ought to exist – as a feeling.20

Why when speaking of the student do we say that this appreciation does not necessarily exist but only ought to exist? – Because in the case of the student, there are inbuilt barriers.21

8. Harlatchikess. All of our Rebbeim cared and toiled to the point of self-sacrifice for the good of their chassidim, but my revered father had far more self-sacrifice for the sake of the temimim, even more than the Alter Rebbe had for his chadarim. The Alter Rebbe’s students already had a defined scholarly and spiritual stature22 when they first came to him, whereas my father also accepted, so to speak, coarse earthenware vessels,23 and not even empty ones. These vessels first had to be emptied of their sour milk, and then had to be freed of the traces of sourness that had been absorbed in them,24 and only then could be filled with rich butter. Ultimately, they became moist enough [with life-giving spirit] to moisten all those with whom they came in contact.25

9. Body and Soul. My father often stood at the window and unobtrusively observed how the yeshivah students walked across the courtyard. One day he remarked to me: “Their progress in the revealed levels of the Torah, I know from the mashgiach in charge of nigleh; their progress in Chassidus, I know from the mashgiach in charge of Chassidus; but as to how they walk, that I have to see for myself. And that detail is relevant to their ultimate growth.”

My father once observed a bachur crossing the courtyard and said: “He needs mayim shelanu.”26 At another time,27 my father wrote to me from abroad that a certain bachur should be given the arduous task of toiling to grind the wheat to be used for matzah shemurah. When my father later saw him, on Shavuos, he commented to me, “A completely changed appearance!”

10. What Matters Most. In the year 5672 (1912), my father was in Menton,28 and I was traveling on public business to Petersburg, Moscow, Vilna and Brisk, and also to Poland.29 That was a particularly difficult year. When I finally arrived at Menton, my father’s first question was: “How is your grandmother (Rebbitzin Rivkah) – my revered mother, and the family?” He then asked whether I had brought the list of the yeshivah students. When I answered in the negative, he replied, “In that case, for me you’re only half a guest….”

I immediately wrote home to Lubavitch and asked that the package, which was in a certain spot, should be mailed to me in Menton.

At that very time I had to travel abroad again on a mission for the public good, and on my return by express train from Paris to Petersburg I had no chance to stop off at Menton. There, however, my father met me at the railway station, and one of the things he gave me was the package which in the meantime had arrived from Lubavitch. (He had not wanted to open it because it was addressed to me, so I now opened it and returned it to him.)

When I eventually returned to Menton my father said, “Come, let us go for a walk near the seashore.” (My father always said that last phrase in Aramaic, because it recalls the phrase in the Zohar, “I saw near the seashore” – and seeing something indicates a more direct perception of it than merely understanding it.) Although many questions of public concern had arisen from my travels, his first question to me was about the state of the yeshivah students, and in response I conveyed to him everything that was noted on the list.30

[The Rebbe concluded:] Do you think that the director of an educational institution is someone who has people at his disposal for whom he has to find work? Not at all! A director ought to shed tears and say Tehillim, and pray that every student will flourish like “a tree planted by streams of water.”31

There’s no way to avoid the need for materiality, so that, too, must be attended to, but what matters most is the institution’s inner content.

11. Squeezed Inward. [One of those present urged his friends, “Don’t push! The table is being pushed onto the Rebbe!” Hearing this, the Rebbe said:]

No fellow Jew makes me feel crowded. I used to push my way in the crowd to come closer to my father during Tekios and to hear maamarim, and it never disturbed me that others pushed me. I wasn’t being squeezed: I was being squeezed inward. Even when that Yevsektsia agent, Lulav,32 informed me in the Spalerka prison that in 24 hours I was due to be shot, he didn’t make me feel pressured. The Jew within him didn’t pressure me. No fellow Jew makes me feel crowded.